Sunday, March 29, 2009

Audubon Hosts a Horde of Candidates

By Sharon Dooley.

Last Sunday evening showcased the first outing for the Democratic candidates for the special primary for the County Council District 4 seat. This meeting was held at the historic mansion headquarters of the local advocacy group, which was joined by several local progressive groups in promoting this meeting. (The special Primary is less than one month away on April 21st.)

All announced Democratic candidates attended and were joined by the Green Candidate George Gluck. The Democratic candidates were: (in alpha order) Martin Bigler, (a Silver Spring funeral director), Robert Goldman (a Burtonsville attorney), Tom Hardman (an Aspen Hill IT professional), Ben Kramer (a businessman/current D19 delegate from Olney), Cary Lamari, (a Norbeck area businessman and former President of the Civic Federation) and Nancy Navarro (a Silver Spring resident and member of the Board of Education).

After brief opening remarks, each candidate was asked questions that were given to them and to the audience at the start of the meeting. Each candidate was given one minute to answer each question. The questions and summaries of their responses follow:

A. Police disability reform: Most respondents indicated that this agreement needs to be re-evaluated and re-worked by contract; Tom Hardman felt that there should be a case by case evaluation, Nancy Navarro thought that this should be brought back to the negotiating table.

B. Ambulance fees – yes or no – Those in favor of imposing ambulance fees are Bigler, Goldman, Hardman, and Gluck; those opposed are: Kramer, Lamari and Navarro.

C. All candidates voiced support for campaign finance reform and were in favor of allowing Montgomery County to institute its own transparent process.

D. Knapp proposal concerning Historic preservation restrictions: Navarro was in favor if it would improve options for public housing, Goldman and Hardman wanted more information about it; Kramer, Lamari, Gluck and Bigler were opposed.

E. The questions about the Agricultural Reserve were divided into sand mounds, Child lots and BLT’s (should you explain these concepts in a sentence or two).

a) Sand mounds were not to be used for development and should be used only when systems failed according to Hardman, Kramer, Lamari, and Navarro; Bigler was undecided and Gluck and Goldman wanted more information.

b) All candidates deemed Child lots in need of monitoring and vigilant enforcement.

c) How to fund the Building Lot Termination (BLT) program – most candidates felt that this was a problem to be decided, perhaps by legislation in the future.

F. Master Plans to be decided for Germantown, Gaithersburg West and White Flint – none in District 4 - but all in need of infrastructure and to be decided by the council – how would you vote on these concerns?

Gluck – delay building until county can afford infrastructure
Navarro – there is a disconnect between the planning process and the follow through this must improve
Lamari – Process of development needs to be measurable and quantifiable; there should be no development districts
Kramer – First for the areas of the upcounty, the CCT needs to be built; need to have the transit hub in place before the JHU center is developed.
Hardman – need to ensure we have adequate water stores before we allow development; no Pay/Go.
Goldman – Need infrastructure first – District 4 has been neglected – Burtonsville has not been well planned.
Bigler – We need to have the roads in place first.

G. Budget/Education – How to find savings with large shortfall?

Bigler – don’t spend wildly – closer audits
Goldman – Don’t touch schools, keep COLAS
Hardman – Stop using Microsoft software and switch to Open Source software
Kramer – The cuts being made now by Ike are unsustainable; We must continue to find savings
Lamari – Cuts being made now are symptoms of a bigger problems; our culture is wrong – electronic boards too expensive
Navarro - Under my leadership as President of the Board of Education for 2 years, we worked with the unions, cur COLAS and found $50 millions in savings
Gluck - My wife and daughter are both teachers and find those electronic boards very helpful in their teaching – they have to learn how to use them but they are good for the students

H. 20% of the County budget is allowed for non-education/non-salary spending; what is your sacred cow that you would protect in the budget?

Gluck – No answer
Navarro – We need to have a safety net for HHS
Lamari - Need to protect the most vulnerable; care for mental health needs of those in jail
Kramer – HHS would be my first priority; Council member Trachtenberg has noted the needs for supplemental food and medication; we cannot forget the disadvantaged and those with mental health needs.
Hardman – We must prepare for the common defense and make certain we have supplies for our emergency responders and follow the Boy Scouts by being prepared. We also need to care for mental health.
Goldman - Must take care of public transit, not discontinue needed routes – cannot isolate Burtonsville from access to the rest of the county.
Bigler – need to protect Mental health and public safety

I. Affordable Housing needs are not met – how to address 10 year backlog?

Bigler - Needed at the Metro
Goldman - Developers need incentives offer at below market rates – subsidies for county employees
Hardman - cannot plan, too many foreclosures need to intersperse affordable housing
Kramer - Provide rent subsidies – currently no state or county monies
Lamari - need a tenants bill of rights; do not allow builders to buy out of requirement for MPDU’s, need funds for land trusts and to help first time home buyers
Navarro – We need a safety net, help those faced with foreclosures increase densities have rent stabilizations for condos
Gluck – need to put all of this on hold until we can provide the supportive infrastructure on hold

J. Undocumented felons who have committed violent crimes – do you approve of the compromise worked out by County Executive Leggett and Police Chief Manger? Yes or No answers – Yes – Navarro, (within limits) Lamari, Kramer – ( careful compromise) Hardman, Goldman, Bigler No – Gluck

K. Should the Council act on health matters such as Trans fats?

All responded Yes.

L. The ICC is costing a lot of money. Would you support a scaled down version, perhaps along Rt. 198 and dropping section B?

All responded No.

There were also questions from the audience – all stated they supported the Purple line and answered additional questions about the environment, the ICC, the Patuxent watershed and public financing.

So generally, there was little controversy or conflict voiced during these discussions. The audience appeared engaged and the candidates seemed, for the most part, to follow the announced format. There were no startling admissions or surprising stances taken by any candidate. Most seemed knowledgeable concerning county issues and made few gaffes. Some astute listeners found slight errors or minor misstatements, but nothing occurred that was shattering to a campaign. Obviously the front-runners are Kramer and Navarro – they have gathered the most endorsements, (Kramer won the endorsements from the volunteer firefighters, a chamber PAC and Alison Praisner Klumpp, while Navarro touts her union endorsements and support from the same 4 council members who stood with her in 08). Past council members Ewing and Crenca have favored Lamari.

Where this race will go depends upon which candidate can turn out the voters, who have not exactly been excited by the race so far – but the debates, forums and discussions are just starting. The big precincts of Leisure World (LW) went for Don Praisner in 08. Many LW residents fondly remember Ben Kramer’s father, former County Executive Sid Kramer, who was said to be among the supporters of Nancy Navarro in the last race; that is not likely to be the case this year!

What a difference a year makes. Turnout was just a few thousand voters in the primary last year and Nancy Navarro lost by only a few hundred votes. In the District 19 race in 06, Ben Kramer came in third and narrowly beat the fourth place finisher in the 3 person Delegate race. Navarro has been said to be the candidate of the developers, based on her previous contributions, while Kramer - who self funded before and will probably do so again, for the most part - has stated he will accept no developer contributions. Many politicos in the know are awaiting the first required finance reports of the pre-primary period, since there were many accusations of hidden or delayed reporting in 08. Navarro is thought to have several thousands unspent from the previous race, but several contributing groups were noted to have maxed out then.

So message, turnout and money – all turns on how well these are delivered. District 4 voters need to listen, learn, do their homework and show up on Election Day! (And then there is the added Ficker Factor!)

Stay posted!