Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Sorry Moment for the Slow Growth Movement

Dear readers: those of you who read this blog know that nothing ticks us off more than double-talk. We can deal with differences in policy or ideology. Indeed, we have had a few such debates here over the years. But dodging, ducking and dissembling can really get our juices flowing. And we already have seen the reek of some of it in this year’s District 4 special election.

As usual, the issue is developer contributions. It’s an ancient issue in Montgomery County politics; witness its use back in 1998. In last year’s special election, Don Praisner vowed not to accept developer money and his supporters demanded that Nancy Navarro adhere to the same standard. But there were two problems. First, 42% of Marilyn Praisner’s contributions from 2001 through 2008 came from business interests, including developers like Bryant Foulger and Aris Mardirossian. Second, Don Praisner himself accepted a contribution from a co-owner of the Privacy World complex, which is seeking redevelopment to higher density. And so Nancy Navarro was required to hold to an anti-developer-contribution pledge that Marilyn Praisner never made and Don Praisner made but did not keep.

But it does not end there. Now the Praisners’ daughter, Alison Klumpp, is supporting Ben Kramer – a commercial property owner and manager by trade. She informed Maryland Moment that part of her reason for backing Kramer was that he told her he had “no intention of taking developer money.” When I pointed out that Kramer had already taken money from two real estate PACs, Mrs. Klumpp replied, “Let's keep in mind that the reports Adam are quoting are from 2006 and 2007.” So now the prohibition on accepting developer contributions has a statute of limitations attached.

There are many legitimate reasons to support Ben Kramer. He is a very intelligent man, has served in three general sessions and one special session in the state legislature and has been active in county politics for a long time. He could easily assume the demands of county office immediately after winning an election. Labor people should respect the fact that he was supported by both MCEA and MCGEO in his prior council races. As a businessman, he brings a perspective that is not shared by many of his potential colleagues on the County Council. And pro-growth voters should be delighted with Kramer’s support of Pay and Go and his 2006 endorsements by the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Washington Board of Trade. My problem is not with Ben Kramer himself, a serious candidate and a plausible office holder.

But to support Kramer because of his sudden apparent willingness to turn away developer contributions is a bizarre mutation of logic. Mrs. Klumpp herself describes him as a “commercial developer” and says that he “builds and owns shopping centers.” So a candidate who accepts developer contributions (as our County Executive and many County Council Members do) is bad, but a self-financing candidate who happens to BE a “commercial developer” is just fine. Let’s remember that if Kramer is indeed a developer, every penny he contributes to his own campaign is a developer contribution.

Given the brain-bending mental gymnastics around this issue, people who care about this are now facing an unappetizing choice: either accept a definition of “developer contributions” that is so elastic that it vaporizes on contact or abandon the issue altogether. This is a sorry moment for the county’s slow-growth movement.