Friday, April 10, 2009

District 4 Debate Shorts: The Candidates

Yesterday, we explored the candidates’ positions on the issues. Today we’ll assess each candidate individually.

Delegate Ben Kramer (D-19)

Kramer was impressive in both debates he attended (ACT/Sierra Club and Young Democrats). He is intelligent, displays a solid command of issues and, most of all, he projects an air of leadership. Even though Nancy Navarro has more experience in public office, Kramer comes across as more of an incumbent.

Kramer regularly mentions his bills in Annapolis, especially those that crack down on crime and protect seniors. On issues, he emphasizes job creation, economic growth and funding for transportation. Kramer is the only candidate who regularly mentions the need to redevelop the Wheaton Central Business District, a major plus for this author. He tries to position himself as a statesman and emphasizes his endorsement by County Executive Ike Leggett. Consider these two statements:

I want to reach out to the County Council Members to formulate a plan for Montgomery County and we should not personalize those issues.

As a state Delegate, I have proven I am thoughtful and independent. One of the things I’ve learned in Annapolis is that you get a lot further from cooperation than confrontation. You don’t take issues personally and you move on.
Kramer’s weakness is that he is almost humorless in public. Audience members respected him but did not warm up to him. In the Young Democrats debate, Kramer grumbled twice under his breath about being asked a question last. Kramer’s best moment came when he recounted his shock at the sight of his foreclosed former family home. That was good for him because it showed the audience that a wealthy man born to many advantages could still relate to the circumstances of most county residents.

Former Montgomery County Civic Federation President Cary Lamari

Lamari is an unreconstructed civic activist with a capital “A” and brings all the pluses and minuses of that pedigree. Like many dedicated activists, Lamari has a lot of experience and can speak with great detail about county functions, especially on growth policy. But he lacks the polish of a professional politician.

Lamari’s stump speech goes something like this:

Montgomery County is reaching a crossroads. We can head in one of two directions. One direction is more growth, decreased quality of life and more taxes, all getting out of control. The other direction is a strategic plan for growth and taxes.
Lamari brings back many issues to growth policy. He often says that every new unit costs $36,000 in county services, but only $8,000-16,000 is collected from developers. In his view, the county’s budgetary health and its ability to provide all manner of services to protect residents’ quality of life goes back to the amount of growth it allows. “The more we grow, the deeper we dig the hole.”

Lamari has the opposite problem from Kramer. While he often projects warmth and good humor, he does not carry the statesmanlike demeanor of the Delegate from District 19. That said, there is an inherent honesty about Lamari in that what you see of him is what you are likely to get.

Board of Education Member Nancy Navarro

I attended three District 4 debates last year and two of them played out the same way: the other candidates, led by Don Praisner, piled onto Navarro over alleged “fiscal irresponsibility” and the school system’s “unsustainable” union contracts. Navarro fended off the pressure as best she could but it was a harsh political baptism. This year, she is a much better performer. She delivers her message with clarity and class and never responds to any bait dangled by other candidates.

Navarro emphasizes job creation, smart growth and the need to reach out to District 4’s residents. She is the only candidate who regularly mentions that District 4 is a majority-minority jurisdiction. Tipping her hat to President Obama, she never fails to mention her background as a “community organizer.” Navarro points to a need to “look at taxes on developments” and “coordinate infrastructure before we go ahead with redevelopment.” She even references the salary concessions given up by the school unions, saying, “Compromise is why we were able to get our unions to give up $89 million early on.”

One issue Navarro faces is that Kramer looks like the incumbent when in fact she has almost double his experience in public office (55 months vs. 28 months). She would benefit from being more assertive. For example, she has not mentioned that she is the only candidate who has had a leadership role on multi-billion dollar budgets. This is a common problem for female candidates who risk coming across as abrasive when they try to demonstrate leadership skills in the same way that men do. We asked one of the county’s savviest female politicians about this. She said, “It’s true there is a different standard for women… The best you can do is contrast yourself with the other candidates with a big smile on your face. Be charming about it.”

Rob Goldman

Goldman is a smart, personable young lawyer from Burtonsville who is making his first run for office. At times, he seems to be attempting to persuade the audience to hire him for legal representation rather than the County Council. Consider these statements:

I intend to vigorously represent all District 4 residents.

The important thing is that you listen to your client’s or your constituent’s needs.

My goal is to diligently represent all the individuals in District 4.
Goldman regularly talks about the need for economic growth and more attention for Burtonsville. His handicap is that he has very little working knowledge of how the county operates. For example, when he called for allowing developers to have greater density in return for more affordable units in the ACT/Sierra Club debate, he seemed to have no idea that the county’s Moderately-Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) program already does that. As a result, Goldman tends to speak in generalities and seldom approaches the specifics of Kramer, Lamari, Navarro and Hardman.

But Goldman has brains, talent and speaking skills. He had one of the best lines of the Young Democrats debate when he said, “I’m an attorney and I have three-year-old twins. My days are full of conflict and my nights are full of chaos.” We certainly need fresh faces in this county and maybe Goldman can be one of them. Whatever happens in this race, Goldman should stay active in his community, pay his dues and meet more people to prepare for the future. He may be better suited for the House of Delegates than the County Council.

Michael Bigler

Left to right: Thomas Hardman, Rob Goldman, Michael Bigler.

Bigler is a nice older gentleman who reminisces about his experience in the Lions Club. He is given almost solely to generalities such as the following:

I’ll be honest with you. I don’t want to see taxes raised at all.

If there’s no infrastructure, as far as I’m concerned, there can’t be any growth.

I don’t have all the answers. I’ll look to you for the answers.
Bigler’s only specific proposal is to impose ambulance fees. He did have one great line in the Young Democrats debate. When asked what his most contentious moment was, he replied it was “when I went home and told my wife I was running for office.”

Thomas Hardman

Hardman is an Aspen Hill resident who ran as a Republican for State Delegate in 2006 and in last year’s District 4 special election (when he received 97 votes in the Republican primary). Now he is running in the Democratic primary.

Hardman believes in limiting development, cracking down on code enforcement against illegal subletting and improving use of information technology on the schools. He is a voracious reader who knows much more about county programs than Goldman or Bigler.

But Hardman’s biggest problem is that he does not believe in the Democratic Party regardless of his current voter registration. When he dropped his Republican registration last October, he wrote this concerning a discussion he had about politics with his friends:

I pointed out that having been twice rejected by the voters of my respective State and County districts, and having got passed over by them in favor of bozos and people making unkeepable promises, I wasn’t too sure I even wanted to legislate on behalf of those folks, and in fact might not think highly enough of them to do a good job, should by some incomprehensible fluke I might actually be elected…

As the most unpopular Republican in the Councilmanic District 4 Special Election primaries, I figured I might as well consider myself unacceptable to the Republicans and have since changed my voting registry to Unaffiliated. This means that if I want to get on the ballot for the next go-round, I have to collect about 2500 signatures, more or less. That would take lots of time…

I can’t register and run as a Democrat because in my opinion all of the things that most desperately need done or changed in MoCo simply cannot be done under the current Democratic Party here. It’s not that the ideas are bad or that the need is not there, it’s that the votes cannot be there, because the Democrat Party platform here cannot let the votes be there, or even have the issues considered. I can’t run as a maverick Democrat, not because nobody would vote for me -- look at the State District 19 near-total replacement of the incumbents and favorites in the last elections -- but because the Party would destroy me and anything associated with me, simply for having ideas of which the Central Committee didn’t approve.
If these really are Hardman’s views about the Democratic Party, then he should not be running in its primary.

The Republicans and George Gluck

Robin Ficker with his favorite statistics.

Robin Ficker is the most famous of the three Republicans but he is also the most one-dimensional. He is almost solely concerned with taxes. Ficker’s references to “our district” and “we” are appalling because he just moved into District 4. Add to that his unapologetic violations of election law and this statement made during the Burtonsville debate:

Ike Leggett and I got 80% of the vote for County Executive. We will work together to lift this district.
Andrew Padula is an interesting person with a long career in jazz. Lou August is a businessman and non-profit founder who is unhappy with inefficiencies in county government. George Gluck is running as a progressive environmentalist. Each of them needs more resources to have a shot at winning. The fact that only 10 people attended the sole Republican debate bodes ill for the party.