Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Consequences from the Special Election, Part Two

Board of Education Member Nancy Navarro is about to take her seat on the County Council after winning the tightest of victories in the primary. What will become of her?

Navarro arrives in office facing several problems. First, she lost the single largest location of votes in her district, Leisure World, by a 67-24% margin to Ben Kramer. The near-unanimous consensus of our sources in and near Leisure World is that her negative mailers soured her reputation there. Navarro also lost precinct 5-04, which contains the Riderwood Village retirement community, to Kramer by 104-73 (53-37%). Navarro must reach out to seniors or leave open a huge base for an opponent.

Second, after two races in two years that have cost nearly $150,000, Navarro will have significant challenges in raising money. Some of her union allies have maxed out (including my union, the Carpenters). Some of her business friends may be preoccupied by other races. Navarro herself is not wealthy and does not have access to national fundraising networks.

Finally, Navarro must rid herself of the label slapped on her by both Don Praisner and Ben Kramer: a servant of “special interests.” That was particularly ironic coming from developer Kramer, who enjoyed widespread support from the business community. And never mind the fact that Navarro presided over $89 million in concessions from the school unions last year. Images tend to stick in politics when they are not challenged. Regardless of the invaluable aid given to Navarro by the unions, she cannot be seen to be going along with everything they want. As for the developers, while they did support Navarro against Don Praisner in 2008, Kramer was clearly their candidate this year. Kramer received endorsements from the Montgomery County Business PAC, the Apartment and Office Building Owners Association and the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce and benefitted from two independent mailings by the Maryland Realtors PAC. The development community should not be surprised if Navarro remembers their fairweather friendship with a jaded eye.

Navarro can really help herself by doing one thing: focusing relentlessly on constituent service. That is the primary job of any district Council Member. Potholes must be filled. Trees must be trimmed. Parks must be maintained. Police service must be abundant and visible. The Department of Permitting Services and the county’s Department of Transportation must be monitored. State agencies must be harassed – especially the State Highway Administration – by writing if possible. Navarro should hold a town hall meeting at least once a quarter. If residents feel that their Council Member is attentive to their needs, they will soon forget the ups and downs of the last two special elections. The power of incumbency is important, but its greatest source is service.

Assuming that all goes well and money can be raised, there is little reason to believe that Navarro will be easy to dislodge in 2010. She won 33 of the district’s 45 precincts this year. General turnout next year will be higher than in the special elections and the role of Leisure World will be reduced. Navarro’s coalition of labor, environmentalists, progressives, immigrants and non-whites could be more effective with higher turnout. Her base will be encouraged to vote if Help Save Maryland’s harassment continues. The Apple Ballot had little role in the special elections because most voters had their minds made up by the time they arrived at the precincts. But in 2006, the Apple Ballot played a huge part in down-ticket races, picking the winner in 90% of the contested Democratic primaries. And if Ben Kramer does not run against her again, Navarro may not face a name opponent next year. No Praisners will be in the race and no other potential candidates can match Navarro’s name recognition and alliances.

Tomorrow, we’ll examine the impact of the special election on the rest of the county government.