Thursday, February 19, 2009

Council District 4 Special Election Preview, Part Four

In Part Three, I gave my take on this race. Now we consult a group of our spies who have knowledge of this district. None of them have committed to support any of the candidates at this point. Here’s what they had to say.

Spy #1:

The race will effectively be between Navarro and Kramer, the other two won't have the name recognition or campaign experience to put together a serious campaign over the short term. Anecdotally, a lot of people seem to think Kramer has an edge because of name recognition, money, and the large concentration of Jewish voters on the western side of District 4. But I think Navarro has the edge right now for a couple of reasons:

1. Last year, she came within 350 votes of beating the widower of the beloved former councilmember, quite a feat given the sympathy Marilyn's death elicited in the electorate and the institutional power that had lined up behind Don.

2. Kramer has never run a great campaign, he squeaked in to his delegate seat after running a lackluster race and his performance in the precincts that overlap D19 and Council 4 was unimpressive.

3. In a special election with a short timeline money only helps so much and at some point you experience diminishing returns on your 10th or 12th mailing - and anyway Navarro is starting with 40k in the bank.

4. Navarro at least right now has the better team of organizers. David Moon is very good at what he does.

So I'd put my money on Navarro, but, in politics, there's never a sure thing.
Spy #2:

As I see this race shaping up, it will come down to two candidates: Ben Kramer and Nancy Navarro. Chris Paladino is impressive, earnest and well motivated, and he will be able to self-fund, but for a first time candidate, a special election with very low turnout is going to favor those with name-ID going in, so unless lightning strikes, I don’t see him making it. No one else has a shot.

Ben Kramer will run well in his part of the district, including Leisure World, where he and his dad are very popular, and this alone might be enough to take it. He has deep ties in the district and most of the local business community will line up behind him, given his longstanding ties there, and Ben is a likeable guy with a record of supporting job creation that will resonate well in this economy. A candidate with real business experience may be more attractive than ever now as voters look for leadership to help chart our way out of this fiscal mess. Also, he reportedly did some polling before the last race and the numbers looked very good for him for what that’s worth. He will be a real contender and is probably the front-runner going in.

Nancy Navarro is the other candidate with a real chance of winning this thing. She can pull together the broadest coalition, labor, minority groups, some business leaders, and she has the right inclusive message about expanding economic opportunity, a good theme in a time like this, and a balanced view on growth and transportation issues, plus she has positive name ID from last time. But her chances depend on running a highly disciplined and focused campaign and we will see if she does a better job this time at turning her supporters out in a low-turnout special election. If she does, she might overcome Ben’s advantage in Leisure World. Last time there was a great “sympathy” factor that worked to Mr. Praisner’s advantage but I don’t see that happening this time. District 4 voters have gone down that road, and many who did not support Nancy last time have commented recently that they regretted backing Don. They won’t do that again, even if another Praisner family member jumps in. Some of that potential support may be more comfortable with Nancy than with Ben on issues, and some may go with Ben because the civic crowd so harshly and unfairly demonized Nancy last time. We’ll see, but I think some of that vote will break her way and that makes her a contender.

As for Cary Lamari, let’s face it, the guy is a shallow, hypocritical windbag who loves to hear himself talk, but he is well outside the mainstream and his appeal is very narrow. He has been preaching his Johnny-one-note anti-growth message (anti-jobs, anti-housing, etc.) for years. This may resonate with some in the militant civic crowd, but I don’t see that message resonating at all with voters in the midst of a deepening economic crisis, and he will not be able to win over labor, teachers and other public employees, minorities or local businesses – all of whom pay the price for his “let’s all go back to the ‘60s” stance. If he were elected, you could count on a declining tax base and lots more furloughs and layoffs for public employees, teachers, firefighters, etc. for years to come. I think people get that connection now, and understand the “no-growth=no-jobs” equation: We need some job growth, some new roads and transit, and some new home construction to keep our economy alive. He talks a “smart growth” game, but his record is anti, anti, anti. Now we’ve seen what happens to our budgets when we bring everything to a grinding halt and it’s not pretty. It is interesting that he continues to blast away at the building and development industry, when he has dabbled in those industries himself as a small-time would-be builder and developer. Anyway, the good news is, he’s got about as much chance of winning as George W. Bush has of beating Martin O’Malley in the 2010 Democratic Party Primary in Maryland. That would be zero, zip, nada, and that is a good thing for you and me.

Ike has got to be smarting from his role last time too. What a mistake he made. He is the main reason Don won the seat, and how many times could Ike count on Don’s vote these last few months? Now District 4 is again deprived of leadership at a critical time, plus Ike took a lot of heat from the minority community that he is still paying for. Don’t look for him to get as visibly involved this time.
Spy #3:

I believe the only candidate in the race thus far deserving of support is Cary Lamari. Mr. Kramer is beholden to the business and developer community and this county needs an advocate for neighborhoods. Ms. Navarro too has taken an inordinate amount of money from developers and Supt. Weast's support of her against Don Praisner shows that as a Board of Ed member she showed no independence and served as a rubber stamp for him. Weast's record is an extremely tainted one and his arrogance about relating to the communities he is supposed to serve has reached epic proportions. As to Mr. Paladino, nothing is known about him for the reason he has done nothing in and for our communities and it is the height of egotism and arrogance for him to come forward to desire to represent one fifth of the county with absolutely no record of activism at anything.

No one in this race is more knowledgable on county issues nor more concerned for our communities than Cary Lamari. His service as President, of his Civic Association and of the Montgomery County Civic Federation is only a small reason why his experience is head and shoulders above the rest.

It is my opinion that Kramer will attempt to buy this election as he did the delegate seat he now holds. A family name is no qualification for the office he seeks.
Spy #4:

The only candidate who would genuinely reflect what the voters have gotten from Marilyn is probably Cary and he'll never get the resources to mount a credible campaign. Cary would most likely vote like Marilyn 95% of the time. The unions probably wouldn't find him more friendly than Marilyn or Don, and he's not going to lie down and play dead for Weast. I think Paladino will have a ton of money from the developers and business folks who gave a lot to Nancy, but he has almost no community connections. Debates are sparsely attended and it will be hard to get to know him via a mail campaign. They'll try to do with him what they did with Nancy - paint the landscape with his flyers and try to buy it. It's hard to say where he is because he hasn't answered any hard questions, but you got to figure that the Chamber and business interests don't line up behind a candidate that they don't think/know will take care of them. I don't think Nancy can win - the unions are tapped out for money and a bunch of her $$$ supporters have gone to Paladino. The power play for an election during vacation failed, nice try though, so her road gets harder. There are also one, possibly two, more minority candidates in the race who won't have much money or ground game, but they could sap some of her vote.

All that said, I think Ben likely wins and he'll eschew taking any developer money, so I heard, and then play that against Nancy. He's less of a developer, in the actual world, than he's perceived to be - he owns a couple of shopping centers but he's not out there building housing or office buildings. He's going to have to fight off the perception, but like Paladino he'll have enough money to paint himself any way he wants to. He's very pro-business and he played a big role in fighting the millionaires tax. Not sure how that plays in a district without many millionaires. He has a base in Leisure World and Kemp Mill, the precincts that vote are very favorable to him and I heard an interesting number - 63% of the voters in the last special election were over 65.

It will be interesting.
Spy #5:

This is a tough one.

Last time, Nancy nearly upset the sentimental favorite Don Praisner with a combination of labor, business and the teachers, and by running a smart campaign where she raised a lot of money in a short time. Ben Kramer will take much of the business support away from Nancy. I see Leisure World as the issue here. Ben likely will have the support of Ike, and with his dad helping him work Leisure World, he will get a lot of votes there. Nancy has a strong coalition with minorities, teachers and unions. If she can take just enough of the vote from Leisure World, she may be able to pull it out. The question is, how much of the Leisure World vote does she need?

At this point, I would give Nancy a slight edge.