Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Pay and Go and the Special Election, Part Three

Pay and Go, a proposal to lift some of Montgomery County’s infrastructure requirements from developers, produced one of the biggest conflicts over development policy this county has ever seen. It played a big part in the 1998 County Council elections. And two District 4 special election candidates have a history with it: Delegate Ben Kramer (D-19) and former Montgomery County Civic Federation President Cary Lamari.

Kramer, the son of former County Executive Sid Kramer and a commercial property owner, had run unsuccessfully against Republican Nancy Dacek for the District 2 seat in 1994. In 1998, Kramer ran for an At-Large County Council seat. In a July 1998 debate sponsored by the Gazette and News Channel 8, Kramer said he favored the application of Pay and Go to commercial projects. According to the Gazette:

Kramer said the law is needed to help the county compete in the metropolitan area and in the region for businesses.
The Gazette labeled Kramer as belonging to the “pro-growth camp” in the At-Large race along with Steve Silverman, Mike Subin and 2006 Leggett campaign manager Fran Brenneman. Kramer finished seventh of eight At-Large candidates despite having “high-profile endorsements from County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and powerful public employee unions.” The Gazette reported:

“I don't have an answer [about what happened],” said a key Kramer supporter, Gino Renne, president of the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization.
Lamari was not a candidate for office – his first run for an At-Large seat would come in 2006. But he was a member of the Mid-County Advisory Board and called for a “complete reversal” of Pay and Go in December 1997. The Gazette said that Lamari was a “harsh public critic of Pay and Go since it was enacted, writing opinion pieces against it in local newspapers and leading rallies to try and have the policy overturned.”

In January 1999, Lamari quit the advisory board. The Gazette stated:

In his resignation letter to Duncan and the board, Lamari said he was departing prematurely because the board’s chairman, Henry Lee, told him that board members should not publicly express any position conflicting with Duncan's or adopted county policy.

“I truly have a moral conflict with this philosophy,” Lamari stated in the letter. “To me, silencing dissenting opinions is counter to the purpose of an Advisory Board. I fundamentally believe you are a good Executive for Montgomery County, but there are times when citizens will honestly, sincerely and legitimately have opinions that conflict with yours.”
Lamari also alleged that board chairman Lee told him that County Executive Doug Duncan had “concerns” with Lamari’s expression of his views. Bruce Romer, Duncan’s Chief Administrative Officer, appeared before a November 1998 Mid-County board meeting to offer advice to board members. Lamari recalled Romer “stated that being a member of a board limits our freedom to express concerns as individuals that may be different from county or executive policy. Mr. Romer spoke of a continuum, a sliding scale of control, from volunteerism to being an employee of the county.” Romer disagreed with Lamari’s account, saying the question of when a board member crosses the line should not be addressed.

Regardless of the circumstances of Lamari’s departure from the advisory board, he was clearly an active opponent of Pay and Go and on the opposite side of the issue from Ben Kramer. Lamari went on to become President of the Montgomery County Civic Federation and opposed the development liberalizations of the 2003 Annual Growth Policy. Kramer left electoral politics before returning to win a District 19 Delegate seat in 2006.

Growth activists are famous for their long memories and District 4 has lots of them. Are they willing to overlook Kramer’s support for Pay and Go and vote for him in the special election? Will they throw all their effort behind Lamari, who criticizes Pay and Go to this day? Or will they go their separate ways? And what will the slow-growth County Council Members and Ike Leggett do?

We’ll find out by April 21.