Friday, October 10, 2008

Reaction to MoCo’s Most Influential People

If we can take a break from Saqib-Mania for a moment, let’s return to the biggest story from last week: our series on Montgomery County’s most influential people. We have had quite a bit of reaction to those posts that we would like to address.

Perhaps it is no great surprise that the lists were passed far and wide. Visit counts were 59% above average on Wednesday (when Part Three was posted), 45% above average on Thursday (when Part Four was posted) and 32% above average on Friday. The Washington Post covered Part Three, no doubt generating additional interest. The series came in second in traffic only to our Gazette series, revealing that most people care more about their local news coverage than who’s up and who’s down among the politicians!

The lists have become at least temporarily entrenched in the local political culture. For example, when Senator Rich Madaleno appeared before the Committee for Montgomery on Monday, he was introduced as, “the third-most influential person in the county.” An eye-witness told me that everyone seemed to understand the reference. From now on, we should all refer to Senator Madaleno by his new nickname – “Third.” (Isn’t that a better nickname than “Tied for Nineteenth?”)

Most of the reactions were some variant of the following three statements:

“How on Earth did X make the list?”

“How on Earth did Y not make the list?”

“Z is really mad at YOU because YOU left him off the list!”

Sigh... I spent two straight days explaining my methodology. Fifty-five knowledgeable people voted. It’s not MY list, it’s THEIR list. The only discretion I had was in weeding through the comments. Some of them would have gotten this blog deleted by! Like, for example, the ones about Weast... OK, I won’t go there.

Several readers commented that this list was only a snapshot. I agree. Imagine who would have made it three years ago: Doug Duncan, Steve Silverman, Marilyn Praisner, Bruce Roemer, perhaps Ida Ruben, and more. I would have not been on the list because this blog did not exist back then. As a matter of fact, there would have been no such blog lists at all! How different would a list of this kind look three years from now?

A few people said they thought the series measured visibility rather than influence. That might be true. One example they cited was that of Comptroller Peter Franchot, who tied for 6th with 22 votes. What would Annapolis reporters do without him? The only way Big Daddy will ever get Franchot’s microphone away from him is to pry it from his cold, dead hands!

Here’s an interesting theory from one of our smartest readers. She believes that the lists measure electoral influence, not policy influence. Eighteen of our 55 respondents (about one-third) were elected officials and she thinks that they voted for people who could affect whether they get elected. Serious policy and community people, the kind who are influential leaders but may not directly sway elections, would be less likely to get votes. Is she right?

To test this idea, I broke out the tallies of elected voters from non-elected voters. Here’s who they picked:

Electeds Voting for Electeds

16 Votes: Ike Leggett, Chris Van Hollen
13 Votes: Rich Madaleno
12 Votes: Brian Frosh, Sheila Hixson
10 Votes: Karen Britto
8 Votes: Peter Franchot, Doug Gansler
6 Votes: Marc Elrich, Brian Feldman

Non-Electeds Voting for Electeds

32 Votes: Ike Leggett
27 Votes: Chris Van Hollen
22 Votes: Rich Madaleno
18 Votes: Brian Frosh
16 Votes: Marc Elrich, Sheila Hixson
15 Votes: Mike Knapp
14 Votes: Valerie Ervin, Peter Franchot
13 Votes: Doug Gansler

Electeds Voting for Non-Electeds

8 Votes: Jerry Weast
7 Votes: Royce Hanson, Adam Pagnucco
5 Votes: Esther Gelman, Tom Perez
4 Votes: Tim Firestine, Jon Gerson, Gino Renne, Karen McManus
3 Votes: Bonnie Cullison

Non-Electeds Voting for Non-Electeds

20 Votes: Royce Hanson
19 Votes: Jerry Weast
16 Votes: Bonnie Cullison, Tim Firestine
12 Votes: Gino Renne
11 Votes: Adam Pagnucco
9 Votes: Blair Lee, Gustavo Torres
5 Votes: Wayne Goldstein, Bill Robertson

Most of the names were similar with one prominent exception: MCDCC Chairwoman Karen Britto. Of her 12 votes, 10 came from elected people and only 2 came from non-electeds. As you can see, more electeds voted for Ms. Britto than for either Peter Franchot or Doug Gansler. This indicates that politicians are much more attuned to MCDCC’s power of legislative appointments than are non-politicians. In fact, a few of the respondents who voted for Ms. Britto believed that she helped arrange the appointments. One even said, “20% of our state delegation is honorable due to her efforts to gain their appointment. Al Carr, Bill Frick, and Kirill Reznik owe her big.”

Lastly, everyone expects me to do this again. Well, maybe next year. In the meantime, one wag suggested doing a new poll identifying “MoCo’s Least Influential.” Lordy guys, aren’t I in enough trouble already?