Sunday, December 09, 2007

The District 18 Forum

Al Carr, Fred Cooper, George English, Rick Kessler, and Roz Pelles at the District 18 Forum

The Leland Center was packed tonight as people gathered to hear the six candidates who have thrown their hat into the ring for the seat made vacant by the sudden passing of Delegate Jane Lawton. Many central committee members joined community residents to hear from the candidates to fill the vacancy. Fortunately, District 18 is blessed with a wealth of political talent. I went into the Forum undecided but came out convinced that Kensington Councilman Al Carr is the best choice to fill the vacancy. One member of the Central Committee suggested I rank my picks since there is often more than one round of voting. Here you go.

Al Carr repeatedly used his experience as a Kensington councilman to demonstrate not only how he would deal with issues but how has already worked on them. I imagine voters who don't live in municipalities may not like the idea that municipal office is a requirement for serving the General Assembly. However, Al used his experience to demonstrate his firm knowledge of the issues and the district. He spoke with greater authority and confidence than at the forum in 2006. Al is smart, clearly knows the district, and is well-known--and liked--by Democratic activists. I was impressed.

Roz Pelles was the forum's best speaker, showing her long experience of political involvement and an ability to handle issues deftly. Her answer on the Purple Line had something for everyone. She was hardly alone in that respect but Roz's answer was delivered so well that I almost didn't notice. She would be an eloquent advocate in District 18. A woman of her gravitas would provide the district with an strong, moral voice. She would unquestionably be an effective advocate in the fight to promote civil rights for all people not just in the legislature but in the community. Roz's great weakness is that she is not well-known to District 18 Democratic activists. On the other hand, the support of the Lawton family weighs heavily in her favor--at least with me. While Al ultimately gets my support because of strong knowledge of local issues and activists, Roz (pictured standing on the left) would be a very strong second choice and represent the district well.

Rick Kessler spoke well (and would like the folks over at PolitickerMD to know that his wife's name is Cindy, not Mindy). He spoke out especially strongly on the issue of energy deregulation, smartly tapping into unhappiness over rising prices and warning the audience that Maryland faces energy shortages as a result of this policy. While Rick knows the federal level well, he is not well known to district activists. However, I know Vic Weissberg (who is well-known and liked in District 18) thinks highly of him which shouldn't hurt a bit since Vic sits on the Central Committee.

Dana Beyer surprised the audience by withdrawing from the race at the end of the forum. The decision to participate was a mistake if she planned to withdraw. It reduced the time available for community and central committee members to hear from actual candidates. She should have stayed in the race to the end once she did the forum or dropped out sooner. Not a good ending to her third bid for the seat. (Dana Beyer speaking with moderator Charles Duffy on left and Al Carr seated)

Fredric Cooper moved back to Silver Spring just two years ago though served on the Howard County Central Committee in the past. An affable man, his lack of knowledge on local issues showed at times. For example, he wants to take determine the percentage of slots money going to the state, information which is easily available and already in the approved legislation. On gay marriage, Fred said that he is a "supporter of civil rights and this is a civil rights issue" but then proposed that all civil marriages should be civil unions with people going to church if they want to get married. A bad idea and a non-starter.

George English is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore to borrow a phrase. A man of strong opinions, he livened up the event. George referred to the outcome of the special session as "an abortion." On gay rights, George said that the legislature should put it on the ballot "but let's not wave the bloody flag and tie up the legislature." He favors a monorail instead of the Purple Line above the Capital Crescent Trail which might unite trail supporters and purple line proponents since both would view this as a terrible idea.

P.S. Hats off to the District 18 Democratic Caucus, especially Dee Schofield, Charles Duffy, and Chair Arthur Schatzkin, for organizing the event on such short notice. Also thanks to Kevin Gillogly for getting a much better picture of Roz than I did.