Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Kramer and Ficker, Together Again

Former District 4 County Council candidates Ben Kramer and Robin Ficker are re-united at a new venue: Sligo Creek Golf Course. But the course is outside District 4 and Kramer’s state legislative district. That has people talking.

In our history of the Battle of Sligo Creek Golf Course, the names Ben Kramer and Robin Ficker do not appear. That’s because neither of them were involved until very recently. Kramer is a Derwood resident who represents state legislative District 19 as a Delegate. Ficker is an East County resident (if you believe him) or a Boyds resident (if you believe his property tax records). Sligo lies in state legislative District 18 (represented by Senator Rich Madaleno and Delegates Ana Sol Gutierrez, Jeff Waldstreicher and Al Carr) and County Council District 5 (represented by Valerie Ervin). Kramer was defeated by Nancy Navarro in the Council District 4 special election primary and Ficker lost to her in the general. Both men are rumored to be running for council again. Kramer’s refusal to endorse Navarro against Republican Ficker has still not been forgotten by Democratic Party loyalists. The fact that the two of them are surfacing at Sligo fuels talk of their future ambitions.

Kramer has attended two recent meetings of the Sligo golfers to much praise. One Sligo supporter wrote on Facebook, “For a second week in a row, proponents of golf at Sligo owe great thanks to Delegate Ben Kramer. Having just written a letter to Valerie Ervin offering his support and assistance in protecting the golf course, Del. Kramer again showed up in person at the golf course snack bar for our regular Tuesday meeting (BTW, no meeting Tuesday the 11th). He spoke extemporaneously and passionately on the details of his argument against the MCRA’s rationale for closing the course.” Kramer claimed to have met with Council Member Duchy Trachtenberg, who according to the golfer “may well be sympathetic to our cause if you are persuasive.”

That would be an improvement. Your author made an appointment to meet with Council Member Trachtenberg to discuss the golf course on February 13, 2008. She canceled it due to bad weather and we were never able to get her office to set another appointment. In July 2009, Trachtenberg’s office wrote the email below containing numerous factual inaccuracies (such as the supposed takeover of the course by the Revenue Authority on October 1, which is the date the Revenue Authority is due to give it up). That email made Trachtenberg look really ill-informed in the community and the staffer who wrote it should be disciplined. If Kramer can educate Trachtenberg – who was the only Council Member to endorse his District 4 candidacy – on the basic facts of the issue, perhaps he can be of service.

Just an aside: do Kramer’s District 19 constituents know about all the time he has spent working on an issue inside District 18? What would they think if they did know?

Before the Sligo golfers get too excited over Kramer’s aid, they need to contemplate a few facts. Any politician can write a letter and show up at a meeting. If Kramer really wanted to be helpful, he could try to get a bond bill passed through the General Assembly paying for part of Sligo’s capital costs. Last year, Kramer was the lead sponsor on a bond bill securing $150,000 for the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. If Kramer is such a passionate defender of Sligo, what is stopping him from getting a commitment from the House leadership for a bond bill of similar size for Sligo? The Olney bond bill matches the amount of public funding requested by County Executive Ike Leggett to keep Sligo open.

Of course, no such thing is going to happen. The state budget is a fenced-off disaster zone with little to no money available for any kind of bond bills, much less any financing golf courses. And Kramer, who ticked off the Governor and the General Assembly leadership by voting against the slots amendment, the slots authorization bill and the millionaire tax would not be first in line for money if any was available. In any event, Kramer’s deficient record on telling the truth creates ample grounds for skepticism of anything he says.

Why is Kramer suddenly active outside his council and legislative districts? Our sources see this as preparation for a coming at-large County Council run. The fact that the course is in the district of Council Member Valerie Ervin, the most active backer of victorious former Kramer opponent Nancy Navarro, makes his cross-border advocacy all the more interesting. This has nothing to do with golf and everything to do with politics.

Robin Ficker has also suddenly become active on Sligo. We admire his energy. Who else splits time between running for office, passing anti-tax amendments, crusading against Bethesda road stands and campaigning for public golf courses? Ficker is urging the Sligo golfers to hold a protest march down Forest Glen Road and is offering road signs (one of his specialties). When a course supporter warned his colleagues not to “get in bed with Robin Ficker,” Ficker replied, “Your heart holds hate for me.” If the golfers do take Ficker’s advice and hold a march, we hope they will avoid the Intersection of Death for their own safety.

All of the above distracts from one key fact: Valerie Ervin is doing a lot of work behind the scenes on Sligo. Her office is trying to arrange a partnership involving the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs to save the course. Ervin is one of five freshman Council Members (the others being Trachtenberg, Navarro, Marc Elrich and Roger Berliner) who never voted to transfer Sligo to the Revenue Authority, an action that led to the current dispute. The freshmen had no role in causing Sligo’s problems, but together they can certainly fix them.

So Ben Kramer can write a letter a week and Robin Ficker can march to his heart’s content. In the tiny cubicles of the County Council building, the real work of preserving the course goes on.