Tag Archives: Takoma Park

Does Takoma Park Dominate the At-Large Council Seats?

By Adam Pagnucco.

The county’s Charter Review Commission is considering recommending a charter amendment that would abolish or reduce the number of the County Council’s at-large seats, which account for four of the council’s nine seats.  One reason for this is that currently three of the four at-large seats are held by residents of Takoma Park, long regarded as the most left-wing jurisdiction in the State of Maryland.  Over the years, your author has heard sporadic complaints that Takoma Park’s alleged dominance of the council has pushed the council to the left and/or directed excessive resources to Downcounty and the city.

The fact is that Takoma Park’s current holding of three seats is very disproportionate relative to its population (roughly 18,000 in a county of a million people).  But it hasn’t always been that way.  Below is the residence history of at-large Council Members since the current council structure was created in 1990.

At-Large Council Member Residency, 1990-2018

1990-1994

Bruce Adams: Bethesda

Gail Ewing: Potomac

Ike Leggett: Burtonsville

Mike Subin: Gaithersburg

1994-1998

Gail Ewing: Potomac

Ike Leggett: Burtonsville

Neal Potter: Chevy Chase

Mike Subin: Gaithersburg

1998-2002

Blair Ewing: Silver Spring

Ike Leggett: Burtonsville

Steve Silverman: Silver Spring

Mike Subin: Gaithersburg

2002-2006

Nancy Floreen: Garrett Park

George Leventhal: Takoma Park

Steve Silverman: Silver Spring

Mike Subin: Gaithersburg

2006-2010

Marc Elrich: Takoma Park

Nancy Floreen: Garrett Park

George Leventhal: Takoma Park

Duchy Trachtenberg: North Bethesda

2010-2014

Marc Elrich: Takoma Park

Nancy Floreen: Garrett Park

George Leventhal: Takoma Park

Hans Riemer: Silver Spring/Takoma Park

Note: Riemer moved from Silver Spring to Takoma Park in the middle of his first term.

2014-2018

Marc Elrich: Takoma Park

Nancy Floreen: Garrett Park

George Leventhal: Takoma Park

Hans Riemer: Takoma Park

At-large terms with a resident on the council, 1990-2018

Takoma Park: 8.5

Gaithersburg: 4

Garrett Park: 4

Silver Spring: 3.5

Burtonsville: 3

Potomac: 2

Bethesda: 1

Chevy Chase: 1

North Bethesda: 1

It’s also worth noting that over these seven terms, only one term saw a Takoma Park resident representing Council District 5 (Tom Perez in 2002-2006).  The other elected District 5 Council Members – Derick Berlage, Valerie Ervin and Tom Hucker – have lived in Silver Spring.

Takoma Park’s dominance of the at-large seats began in earnest in 2006 and appears to be temporary.  Council Members George Leventhal and Marc Elrich are term-limited and leaving the council.  Council Member Hans Riemer will get one more term before he is out too.  Of the current field of Democratic at-large candidates, your author knows of just one – former City Council Member Seth Grimes – who comes from Takoma Park and intends to run.  A bigger issue is that most at-large members tend to come from Downcounty, but that’s natural considering that’s where most regular Democratic voters live.

There may be good reasons for going to an all-district council structure and your author does not have a strong opinion on that.  But instituting a permanent, structural fix like reorganizing the council is not an appropriate remedy for dealing with a temporary issue like Takoma Park’s number of at-large seats.  Proponents of reducing the at-large seats need a better argument.

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Black Representation in Municipalities II

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Last Thursday, I examined the relationship between the share of African Americans and the share of black elected officials (BEOs) in Maryland’s 35 most populous municipalities. While there is a clear and strong overall relationship, which municipalities have the largest gap between the share of African Americans in the population and on the council?

The table at the top of the post is organized in descending population order; it shows the share of BEOs, including the mayor, in each municipality and compares it to the share of blacks. Baltimore–Maryland’s largest municipality by far and really more comparable to a county–shows an unusually tight link, facilitated in part by the large size of the Baltimore City Council compared to those of Maryland’s other municipalities.

Most Maryland municipalities have councils with just five members, which can explain the gap in many cases. Since councilmembers only come in whole numbers, towns that are 30% black will have a -10% gap if there is only one black councilmember but a +10% gap if there are two black councilmembers.

The following table sorts the 35 municipalities by the difference between the percentage of BEOs and African Americans in the population. Despite the strong overall relationship, the difference within individual cities and towns varies dramatically–from around +25% in Elkton to -33% in Greenbelt.

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Elkton, the county seat of Cecil County, tops the chart as two of its four councilmembers are black (the mayor is white) but the town is just 15% black. College Park scores next highest with three black councilmembers out of eight total (the mayor is white), though the city is just 14% black.

Taneytown in Carroll County is less than 5% black but has elected one black councilmember. Blacks in Bladensberg may benefit from their majority status to elect a disproportionate share of councilmembers. Rockville, Maryland’s third largest municipality, has elected one black councilmember, though the city is just 10% African American.

On the bottom is Greenbelt, which is nearly one-half black, but has just one black councilmember out of seven total. Perhaps even more strikingly, two of New Carrollton’s five councilmembers are black (the mayor is white), though the municipality is 60% black. Aberdeen and La Plata–both in counties that have experienced rapid growth over the last few decades–have sizable black populations but no African-American members of their councils.

Famously left-wing Takoma Park has just one recently elected African American on its City Council out of six members (and also has a white mayor). African Americans form 35% of the Takoma Park’s population. So much for stereotypes.

Of course, none of this explains why some towns have a relatively or low or high share of BEOs–a topic perhaps for a future post. And one must also note that black councilmembers are not the same as black representation. People can be well represented by people from a different background. At the same time, one expects to a diverse range of officials in diverse towns.

[Note: Salisbury ranks low in the table but is set to have a second councilmember elected from a black-majority district starting with the 2015 elections, as noted in a previous post.]

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