Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Great Civic Grand-daddy

Yesterday, Montgomery County lost a great champion of the little guy: former Civic Federation President Wayne Goldstein. Today, I pay homage to one of my heroes.

The first time I met Wayne, he was running one of his Monday night Civic Federation meetings. There he was, wearing his trademark flat cap, a pony-tail running down his back and his amused, vaguely conspiratorial voice coming out of that super-sly smile. “What a weird guy,” I thought. But Wayne wasn’t weird. He was simply a man who derived immense joy from what he did.

And what Wayne did was cause trouble – endless trouble. Wayne was the best researcher in Montgomery County. There was nothing he couldn’t figure out. There was no information, no matter how ancient or obscure, that could elude him. If you don’t believe me, just check out the small sample of his work featured here on this blog. Wayne loved facts – especially embarrassing facts. He would use them to torment the powerful, whether in private industry or in government, and pressure them to come around to the interests of the county’s residents. He was a resource for all of us. If you couldn’t figure something out, you just called Wayne. He either knew what you needed to know or he knew someone who did. Hundreds – maybe thousands – of civic activists originally met through Wayne.

Wayne loved historic preservation. He lived for battles like Falkland Chase and Mike Knapp’s historic preservation law. He loved tutoring young activists. For a rookie like me, Wayne’s sly smile always said one of two things: “I know something juicy!” or “You look like you know something juicy, so tell me!” And Wayne really loved to hate MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast. He wrote hundreds of Civic Federation columns devoted to exposing Weast’s “ongoing subterfuge” of test data, his charging curricular fees to parents, his hiring of ethics-challenged subordinates like John Q. Porter and much, much more. Wayne had a strange symbiotic relationship with Weast. Weast’s misbehavior fed Wayne’s twin passions of research and taking down the big guys. And Wayne’s constant Machiavellian depictions of Weast fueled Weast’s image as an omnipotent overlord, something that is craved by every emperor.

The tribute to Wayne Goldstein does not end today. It goes on every time a neighborhood mobilizes against a proposed rezoning. It goes on every time an amateur historian opposes a building tear-down. It goes on every time a parent questions the school system. It goes on every time a citizen challenges bureaucracy in our eternal quest for a voice in government. Whether they know it or not, they are all Wayne’s kids.

And wherever Wayne is, he’ll be watching us and rooting for us with that super-sly smile.