Thursday, March 11, 2010

Montgomery County Pays Tribute to Harry Sanders (Updated)

We received the following comments on the passing of Action Committee for Transit co-founder Harry Sanders.

Delegate Bill Bronrott (D-16)
Harry Sanders was a sincere, honest and decent man who was a selfless and relentless advocate for transit and most especially the Purple Line. I think Harry was the epitome of what Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter spoke to when he said: “In a democracy, the highest office is the office of citizen.” The truly honorable Harry Sanders will be terribly missed. I extend my heartfelt condolences to Barbara at this difficult time, as well as my thanks to her for letting us have so much of Harry’s time and talents over the years to better our community and region.

Delegate Al Carr (D-18)
I will miss Harry, who was my constituent and supporter. I had the good fortune of crossing his path many times over the last few years. He was a passionate and effective advocate for the causes in which he believed and a darn nice guy.

County Council Member Phil Andrews
Harry Sanders was a class act, thoughtful, civil, and remarkably persevering. He did the most work - and very effective work at that - to advance the Purple Line, which was his primary civic passion. Harry gave me a walking tour of the proposed Purple Line route in 1994, and it influenced my support for it. I am sure he did the same and had the same impact on many others. Many people don't know that he was a leader in the early days - the late 70s and early 80s - of Common Cause/Maryland, which is how we first met. Harry was a special guy, and his passing is not only a terrible loss to his family but to our community.

County Council President Nancy Floreen
Harry was famous for his strong, yet low key and unassuming commitment to community. We will miss him sorely.

Delegate Bill Frick (D-16)
Maryland lost a terrific advocate and a special person in Harry Sanders. He was devoted to the Purple Line because of what the project could do for our communities, and perhaps more important, because he felt it was the right thing to do. But this was not a vanity project for Harry. He wasn’t looking for acclaim or headlines, and often took hours out of his day just to be there to hold the banner in the background at a press conference where politicians took to the cameras. I liked and respected Harry and am so very sorry to lose him.

Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-20)
Gentle giant. The transit conscience of the County.

County Council Member Roger Berliner
I did not know him as well as some, but what I did know was this: he was an extraordinarily decent man.

Hans Riemer, Vice-President, Action Committee for Transit
Harry and his lovely wife and soul-mate Barbara are two of the most inspiring people I know. I was very lucky to get my start in the County’s civic life under Harry’s tutelage. My own neighborhood was a flashpoint of opposition on the Purple Line and I found a perfect way to get involved in the issue through Harry’s Action Committee for Transit. As I learned and navigated in my advocacy, Harry always had the answer at every layer of questioning, from handling personal politics to campaign strategy to the finest details of policy. I always got a little bounce in my step when I saw Harry at a community event or out for an early morning of flyering at the Metro. Harry was a Northstar for me and whenever I needed to find my way I could look for him.

Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher (D-18)
Harry Sanders was an unparalleled advocate. He was passionately civil and zealously reasonable. It was a privilege to call him a supporter, and an honor to have him as a friend.

Gus Bauman, Former Chairman, Montgomery County Planning Board
I met Harry 25 years ago as we were gearing up in Silver Spring to build support for the vision of the Silver Spring-Bethesda Transitway. Five years later, the County Master Plan for that vision, now a “project,” had been studied, drafted, fought over, and, at a highly charged moment, adopted. Twenty years after 1990, that vision and that project have since been expanded to the full-fledged Purple Line. We’ve been through many battles over the transitway, and we’re almost there; and Harry, from day one, was one of the handful of visionaries and leaders for what should be, and will be.

Phil Alperson, Montgomery County BRAC Coordinator
Harry Sanders represented the best in community activism. I couldn’t attend a community meeting without running into him or Barbara. He was passionate about the issues that were important to him, but was able to advocate his positions in a mature and thoughtful way that commanded attention and respect. In my years of working on Montgomery County matters, Harry was the “go to guy” if we had questions relating to all manner of transportation policy matters. And he was a genuinely nice guy.

Lisa Fadden, Vice-President, Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce
I can’t imagine advocating for the Purple Line without Harry. He was the heart and soul that made this advocacy group tick. He had been there from the beginning, and those of us who came after just sat back and learned from him. He will be incredibly missed.

Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-18)
Harry Sanders was a constant and stable force for good in our community, a man of quiet strength and passion for what he believed was worth fighting for. He envisioned a future for our transportation systems that went well beyond master plans, alignments, and budgets; it was about the kind of world we could aspire to live in. Advocacy was never about ego or power for Harry. The strength and power of his advocacy came from his heart, his knowledge, his integrity. He genuinely cared about people and communities. For me, the Purple Line will always be the “Harry Line!” I will indeed miss my good friend Harry. “Que en Paz Descanse.”

Ben Ross, President, Action Committee for Transit
What Harry believed in even more than the Purple Line was good citizenship. Harry dedicated his life to that belief and he was an inspiration to all of us.

Jon Gerson, Director of Community Outreach, MCEA
If those who knew Harry were to honor his memory by reflecting on his character and genuinely trying to embody his values, thereby ensuring his continued presence, that would be a wonderful tribute.

Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20)
Harry was a gentleman, a citizen and a fighter of surpassing commitment to public infrastructure and civic things. I don’t think you can name whole transportation projects after one individual but when we finally build the Purple Line - and we will, Harry should at least have a stop named after him. Like Harry, it will be filled with dignity, decency and a deep respect for people and their needs.

Barbara came to visit me in Annapolis week as she was lobbying on democracy issues; Harry’s optimism and integrity and passion for our community live on through her work. My deepest sympathies to the whole family.

Sean Dobson, Executive Director, Progressive Maryland
Harry was one of the greatest citizen activists I have ever had the privilege to know. He was effective, determined, and a great leader. He was also a great guy. Progressive Maryland will miss him. And I personally will miss him very much.

Webb Smedley, Chair, Purple Line Now
Harry was a mild mannered stand-up guy who was tenacious but gentle. No one deserves more credit than he for getting the Purple Line to the point it is, but his efforts were always principled and his arguments were always rational and based on careful analysis. Still, transit for Harry was not just about moving people. It was one part of a broader equation to give more people, especially less advantaged people, the opportunity to live well without needing to depend on the private automobile.

County Council Member George Leventhal
Montgomery County has lost another champion. As founder and leader of Action Committee for Transit and Purple Line NOW, Harry Sanders was the model of the citizen-activist. He cared passionately about creating livable communities, but he never let his enthusiasm interfere with his kind and gentlemanly nature or his excellent relationships with elected officials across the political spectrum.

On March 22, Purple Line NOW! will gather for a mobilization and public tribute to our leader Harry Sanders. Harry will be present on film and in spirit. My sympathy goes out to his loyal wife Barbara; their son Greg; and Harry’s thousands of friends. Although Harry won’t be present for the groundbreaking or ribbon cutting, I know the Purple Line will be built because of Harry’s leadership.

Delegate Tom Hucker (D-20)
Whoever said that one person can’t make a difference never met Harry Sanders.

Harry was a giant of citizen activism who personified the best of Montgomery County’s legendary civic tradition. He was prepared, smart and thorough, full of insight and foresight. He made prescient arguments decades ago that people would increasingly value dense, walkable, transit-friendly communities – a vision that seems obvious now but ran counter to the prevailing wisdom then.

Harry made persuasive argument seem effortless. His voice was clear, thoughtful, and credible. He was deeply passionate but unfailingly levelheaded. He wrapped his relentless determination in a reasonable, gentlemanly baritone that made his arguments seem irresistible. When Harry spoke sometimes you could feel the whole room nod.

Montgomery County is much poorer because of his loss. A few years from now, tens of thousands of commuters will ride a quiet, efficient Purple Line. They will marvel over its speed and convenience. They won’t know it happened because of Harry Sanders. And the modest Harry who inspired us all would be fine with that.

Glenn Orlin, Deputy Council Staff Director, County Council
Harry was simply the best civic activist I have known in my 30 years working in Montgomery County, and one of the most effective.

Among the members of the County's Georgetown Branch Task Force (1986-1989) he consistently contributed the best ideas in developing the Bethesda-Silver Spring Trolley/Trail project that was, in the eventful year of 1990, adopted into the County's master plan, programmed for construction by the State, and then de-funded when the revenues in the State's Transportation Trust Fund cratered.

During the 1990s the project was deep in the political and bureaucratic wilderness. But rather than wallowing in bitterness for a missed opportunity, he and his sidekicks (Ben Ross, Webb Smedley, among others) used this time to develop an even bigger idea, the Purple Line, and to grow the Action Committee for Transit from a small cadre of “trolley jollies” into the County's largest and most effective advocacy group for transit, pedestrianism, and smart growth.

Over the years I’ve encountered countless activists who are well prepared with facts and arguments and dogged in pursuit of their issues. But I have never known anyone who combined these attributes with such an optimistic outlook and a positive presentation. Sure, Harry would get angry and frustrated in the many times we spoke over the years; until recently we talked at length at least once a month, trading news, ideas, and opinions about our shared purple passion. But outwardly, in his scores of trips to Annapolis and Rockville, he always tried to find a positive way to move the Purple Line forward, even if only by the proverbial inch at a time.

Finally, it is hard to think of Harry without thinking of Barbara, too. (I am SO glad you showed the picture of the two them at the Governor’s announcement.) They were by each other’s side through every promotional event and trolleyman’s holiday over the years. Here’s hoping she continues her advocacy for the two of them.

Harry was, in short, the person I’ve most admired in my 30 years of public service. That’s why it’s so deeply disappointing that the Purple Line - or at least the section from Bethesda to Silver Spring - is still not under construction after a quarter-century. But when it finally opens all should recognize it for what it is: the legacy of Harry and Barbara Sanders.

Update: Just Up the Pike author Dan Reed has written his own tribute to Harry.

Update 2: The Post has now profiled Harry.

Update 3: Fellow Purple Line and trail activist Wayne Phyillaier remembers Harry here.