Sunday, May 17, 2009

It’s All Over But the Voting

By Sharon Dooley.

Wednesday evening the final debate of the Council District 4 campaign was held at Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring. This evening was sponsored by two local groups - Sandy Spring-Ashton Rural Preservation Consortium (SSARPC) & Greater Sandy Spring Green Space.

It was obvious that fatigue has crept in like those fogs mentioned in Carl Sandburg’s poetry …on little cat feet. None of the candidates were spouting fiery rhetoric, although Robin Ficker at times returned to his favorite lines about the voters being the ATM for the council. But, he even forgot his handwritten prop about taxes, which had to be retrieved by one of his sons who were in attendance with their mother. Ah yes, when all else fails – bring in the family to show what a man of the people the candidate might be.

Taking note of MPW recent posts, Ficker did claim to be among the residents of Council District 4 and introduced one of his sons as the actual farmer on the family farm in Boyds, (the one where the candidate no longer lives, if he is to be believed). He also benefited from a rude and noisy cheering section, which made frequent and often inappropriate outbursts; all were discouraged by the moderator.

The two other candidates in this upcoming Tuesday election were also there. George Gluck - the Green candidate - is a serious man, an engineer and grandfather who cares about such things as global warming and free trade and other progressive issues and his sincerity shone through his remarks. He also spoke of living in the Brookeville area previously and noted he had a real appreciation for the quaint town and other rural areas nearby where the residents are trying to preserve historic areas and open spaces.

Nancy Navarro, recently returned from her native country of Venezuela and the funeral of her mother, who died suddenly, seemed subdued, but did not cave under the attacks of Ficker, or the accusatory questions his supporters submitted. Living in the most diverse district council district was a theme she returned to, as she mentioned ensuring services for all residents of the county. She stuck to the issues she had identified early on in the race as the core components of her campaign – reaching out to the minority members of District 4, promoting her successes on the Board of Education and speaking of the need to bring jobs and affordable housing to the eastern portion of the county. She also mentioned the needs for safety and security for our elder residents. She spoke of painful education budget cuts and sacrifices of the union members who turned back raises that they were expecting. She plowed no new ground, nor was she expected to at this late date. Each candidate was more in safe mode – not willing to make a mistake that might provide any opening for an opponent to exploit in a last minute mailing or robo-call.

Growth was a concern on the minds of the sparse audience as questions concerning zoning and the ICC were asked as well as future development. Navarro – who touted her Sierra Club endorsement – spoke against the ICC and the fact that Council District 4 would suffer disproportionately from the devastating effects of this highway, which has been questioned by many over the years. Gluck mentioned the deforestation that has already occurred. Ficker claimed the negative environmental effects will be worsened by the shopping malls and high rises that will appear at each ICC interchange and mentioned the need to replace devastated parklands. He claimed that development dollars, which fuel politics, will be in play in this area.

None of the candidates voiced support for the plan to move the Wheaton Library to the urban center as is planned. Each mentioned the need for the new planning board member to be smart and independent; Navarro spoke also in favor of a new member who could support Smart Growth concepts.

In closing statements, Navarro repeated her themes, mentioned the schools, which are the jewel of Montgomery County and the need to protect the quality of education for our community. She spoke of the need for a council member to speak up for the neighborhoods as a voice for those locals who might not be heard on the council.

Gluck was philosophical in a benediction to his campaign, speaking of lessons learned while sometimes speaking truths before their time. He mentioned his hope for progressive issues such as verifiable voting, campaign finance reform and an instant run-off system. He quoted Mark Twain in mentioning that “Irreverence is a Champion of Liberty and its’ only sure defense.”

Ficker was rambling in his closing and mentioned that all of his campaign funds had come from District 4 residents – a statement not verified by this writer! He claimed that the council was spendthrift and irresponsible with taxpayer dollars. He repeated his frequent ATM remark and noted that his multiple petitions over the years had garnered over 2 million votes (not mentioning the costs to the taxpayers of dealing with all of the defeated petition drives during this time.) He repeated that he was a man of the people who had lived in the county his entire life and he would do a good job and not be aloof; in proof he gave out his cell phone number if any in the audience had questions.

So District 4: The horses are in the starting gates – you can stay home and let the wrong winner be selected, you can vote your party and if turnout is along registration lines, elect a Democrat, or you can confound the experts and vote for a 50 to one third party candidate. The choice is up to you. But if the Preakness were any harbinger, I’d say keep your eyes on the filly in the race – she may well gallop to the finish!