Thursday, April 30, 2009

On the Death of a Friend

By Jim Humphrey, Chair, Montgomery County Civic Federation Planning and Land Use Committee. Reprinted from the Montgomery Sentinel.

I was shocked and saddened this past Monday to learn that Wayne Goldstein, my friend and fellow civic activist, had died suddenly that morning. He had suffered a heart attack while walking in to the County Council Building in Rockville to participate in a hearing on expansion plans for Suburban Hospital. It is always a shock when someone so vibrant and lively is taken so suddenly. But how appropriate, I thought, that he had left us while engaged in the activity that he enjoyed so much and did so well--advocating, as an unpaid volunteer, on behalf of the residents of Montgomery County.

Marc Elrich and Wayne Goldstein.

After saying a silent prayer for his family and loved ones, my thoughts turned to the magnitude of the loss. Since the mid-1990s, Wayne had been a fixture in the civic community. The depth of his knowledge on issues ranging from land use and education, to the environment and historic preservation, and his experience in navigating the processes of local government were legendary.

Wayne would often call late in the evening to discuss some development project or zoning issue confronting one of the county's communities, usually after attending one or more public meetings earlier that evening. Who would I have those talks with now? If I was stumped as to what aspects of an issue should be focused on when drafting MCCF testimony for a hearing before the County Council or Planning Board, he always provided wise counsel, invariably suggesting an approach I had not considered. Who will provide that counsel now? And in those rare times of frustration, when the likelihood of a positive outcome on an issue made my involvement seem nearly pointless to me, Wayne was the person who had lifted my spirits and urged me to get back in the game. Who, I thought, will be my cheerleader now?

Over the past few days my phone line has been kept busy by community leaders from all over the county, calling to relate their shock and grief over the death of our friend and colleague. And in the sharing of stories with these callers, I came to realize that one of Wayne's most remarkable attributes was that each person I spoke with felt they had had a special relationship with Wayne...that their issues of importance had received particular attention from Wayne...that he had boosted their spirits at critical times by focusing solely on them. This quality was the more remarkable because he stayed so busy. As I would jokingly say to him, "wherever two or three county residents are gathered together to confront an issue that could negatively impact the quality of life in their neighborhood, you're there too--organizing, educating, and supporting their efforts."

And when Wayne was done for the day (attending all of the meetings or hearings he could cram into his schedule), and perhaps spent precious personal time visiting his mom or girlfriend, like many other civic activists I've known he would often stay up late into the night writing, researching, and responding to emails. I would sit amazed when receiving one of his research emails containing a list stretching yards in length of links to internet articles he'd found on a particular topic, with his personal notes tacked on each entry. A small example of the depth of his research was the 3-article series Wayne wrote as a Federation Corner columnist in January of this year on the problem of breaks in the pre-cast concrete water and sewer pipes used by WSSC. The knowledge he acquired helped educate both citizens and elected and appointed officials alike on a whole host of problems and their possible solutions.

For all his hard work and dedication, however, Mr. Goldstein was not a man without humor. He always wore a hat, indoors or out, and often one themed to the event which he was attending. I remember well one Planning Board session where Wayne strode into the hearing room wearing boots and a white cowboy hat and announced in his testimony that he'd heard a new sheriff was needed in town to clean up the particular mess the Board was confronting that day. The twinkle in his eye and his customary Cheshire cat grin always gave one the impression that he knew some juicy bit of news he couldn't wait to share with you, or that he suspected you knew something which he couldn't wait to hear.

Another remarkable aspect to Wayne was that his ego was never at issue. He volunteered his time and abilities on behalf of the residents of the county without a care for personal gain. But, thankfully, his efforts did receive richly deserved recognition.

Wayne was awarded the 2008 Educational Excellence Award from the Maryland Historical Trust Board of Trustees, for planning the COMSAT charrette as a means of showing the developer/owner that it was possible to profitably redevelop the site while retaining and reusing the historic building on the property, which was designed by world-renowned architect Cesar Pelli. (And, when Wayne felt the success of the effort might be enhanced by Mr. Pelli's attendance, he simply contacted the architect who willingly agreed to travel to the county and participate.) Wayne served as MCCF Vice President from 2004 to 2006 and President from 2006 to 2008, and was awarded the Star Cup last May in recognition of his outstanding service to the Federation and the people of the county. And in a survey conducted by a local political blogger in the fall of last year, respondents voted Wayne one of the "most influential non-elected people in Montgomery County."

Wayne Goldstein was a one-of-a-kind personality and a truly gentle man. And he will be sorely missed.


Probable Case of Swine Flu Identified in MoCo

Following is the press release from the Montgomery County government.

Statement by Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Ulder J. Tillman Regarding Probable Case of H1N1 (Swine) Flu‏

Statement by Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Ulder J. Tillman

Regarding Probable Case of H1N1 (Swine) Flu

Thursday, April 30, 2009

As expected, Montgomery County has identified a probable case of H1N1 (Swine) flu that we are following closely. The County Executive and health officials are working closely on an hour-by-hour basis with the Governor’s office, as well as state and federal health officials. We expect confirmatory tests to be completed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the next several days. I want to assure everyone that we are doing everything we can at the present time and we will continue to respond as the situation unfolds.

The definition of a “probable” case is an individual with flu-like symptoms who has a recent history of travel to an area affected by swine flu or contact with a known case and has preliminary testing suggestive of a novel virus that needs further confirmation.

The probable case was an individual who traveled to Mexico on business. The individual is recovering from their illness and was not hospitalized. Due to confidentiality concerns, no further information about the individual will be released.

We are also working closely with the Montgomery County Public Schools on necessary precautions involving this particular case, as the individual is related to a school staff member.

The situation with the H1N1 virus is still fluid and the CDC is continually updating its guidance and we will respond accordingly.

To keep the flu from spreading, we continue to urge the public to help stop the spread of germs and illness:

· Always cover a cough or sneeze with a tissue—and throw the tissue away. Or cough or sneeze into the inside of the elbow.

· Wash hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze and before you eat. Alcohol hand sanitizer (minimum 60% alcohol) will do if soap and water are unavailable.

· Avoid touching the eyes, nose or mouth. These are places germs can enter the body easily.

· Try to keep at least six feet away from sick people. This is called social distancing. Swine flu, like all flu, is spread through the air so keeping some distance will give the virus space to drop to the ground if someone is coughing or sneezing.

· Monitor yourself and your family for symptoms of fever, chills, headache, sore throat, cough, body aches, and vomiting or diarrhea. If you are sick, stay home from work, school or other public places until you are feeling well. Persons who have difficulty breathing or believed to be severely ill should seek medical attention.

If you have questions or concerns, please call the Public Health Information Line at 240-777-4200 or go to the County’s website at

Media Contact: Mary Anderson, 240-777-6534 (cell 301-529-7669)


Rob Garagiola on Bill Frick’s Credit Card Bill

Senator Rob Garagiola (D-15), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, sent us this statement on Delegate Bill Frick’s (D-16) credit card bill.


First, the bill would have covered every conceivable contract beyond just credit cards. We heard from many industries who said that they would be affected under the bill as passed by the House and expressed concerns about unintended consequences. Delegate Frick said that was not his intent so he went back to the drawing board and had some suggested amendments drafted to his bill. He presented them before a work group (a handful of Senate Finance members), which included me. However, the amendments would have brought in all regulations of the Federal Trade Commission, Federal Reserve, and I am not sure which other federal agencies, since the beginning of time - and did it by reference to a federal statutory provision - rather than by saying specifically which federal regulations we wanted the State Attorney General’s office to enforce.

His bill as it came before us, and the suggested amendments that he presented, were both overly broad beyond what he was trying to accomplish. He essentially acknowledged that his original language was overly broad by trying to remedy it with an amendment. Unfortunately, his amendment was also overly broad and we were not presented answers to questions about what federal regulations we would actually bring under the enforcement of the State Attorney General if we passed the bill with his amendments. He could not answer what regulations he was essentially bringing under Maryland law via simple statutory reference.

Delegate Frick stated that he was aware that the Federal Reserve considered thousands of pages of comments on their proposed regulations on credit cards (the same issue Delegate Frick sought to address with his bill) prior to the Federal Reserve deciding to make such regulations final. The federal regulations on credit cards will be effective on July 1, 2010. Was there reasoning for such delay? Did the Federal Reserve consider all sides when deciding upon an effective date? One has to assume that the Federal Reserve saw a problem, studied it, promulgated proposed regulations, took in thousands of pages of comments, and issued final regulations because they wanted to do something to protect consumers. I am for protecting consumers. Was there some balancing of interests in having an effective date on July 1, 2010? Are there issues with timing to get national banks to comply in a shorter time period?

Finally, there were concerns about whether state law would be preempted under the notion that the state can’t impose its laws on federally chartered banks. It is my understanding that last year, Delegate Frick had an Attorney General letter that said such state law would be preempted. It is my understanding that his bill last year only focused on credit card interest rates and not broad contract law that this year’s bill was drafted to do. This year, he said he had an Attorney General letter saying that it was not preempted, perhaps because it was more broadly drafted to affect contract law in multiple other industries (not just credit cards). Nevertheless, there were still concerns by Committee members.

Delegate Frick’s legislation, even if it wasn’t so broadly drafted to affect industries he did not intend to impact, had an effective date of October 1, 2009. So Delegate Frick wanted us to pass a bill that sought to remedy problems with credit card interest rates being changed on consumers nine months earlier in Maryland. It’s not that the overwhelming majority of members of the Senate Finance Committee are anti-consumer - in fact, we crafted model mortgage lending legislation in 2008 that the federal government used for national legislation, and I could cite other multiple examples of consumer-friendly legislation worked on by the Senate Finance Committee - it was that Delegate Frick’s bill was too broad without knowing fully what the implications of it would be. Perhaps there would have been support for legislation that said “do just the federal regulations on credit card interest rates in Maryland 9 months earlier,” however, in isolation without a broader contract impact, it may have been preempted by federal law. The Committee was not willing to pass legislation that had a broader impact or unknown impact (with his amendments).


More on Credit Card Gouging

From NBC News on April 23:


Unveiled: The Senators Who Blocked the Credit Card Bill

The Congress may finally be moving to prevent deceptive credit card practices, an effort supported by President Obama. As for Maryland, the House of Delegates passed a bill to crack down on abuses by a 136-1 vote, but the bill died in the Senate Finance Committee. Here's who voted to kill it.

Senators Rob Garagiola (D-15) and Delores Kelley (D-10) made the motion for an unfavorable committee report, which in almost all instances kills a bill. Every other Senator on the committee except Nathaniel Exum (D-24) and Catherine Pugh (D-40) voted with them.

If any of the Senators who voted against the bill would like to comment on their reasons for doing so, we will run those comments on this blog.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Letter to Wayne Goldstein

From Byron Bloch, former Chair, Montgomery County Civic Federation Transportation Committee.

Dear Wayne,

Please tell me, tell us all, that you are still with us. You are still fighting the battles for a better community. You are still railing against injustices in our communities. You are still advocating for historical preservation. You are still telling your funny anecdotal stories, each with a good moral lesson embedded within. You are figuring out which hat to wear for tomorrow's hearing, and polishing your notes about the key facts and the points you need to make. You are looking over the agenda for the forthcoming Civic Fed meeting, and deciding which actions to support.... and why it makes sense. Please, Wayne, we know you're up to something so very clever.... and we know we'll see you at the next civic event. We were so proud of you for being named a recipient of the 2008 Educational Excellence Award from the Maryland Historical Trust Board of Trustees.

And we all vividly remember and applauded you being honored with The Star Cup trophy award for outstanding public service to Montgomery County, presented at the 2008 Montgomery County Civic Federation's Annual Awards Banquet. Damn, you've done so much for all the rest of us. So, you know what, let's get together next week and rant about the many issues yet to be resolved. And, dear friend, please guide us through the maze... as you've always, always done with your hard work and brilliant insights. We love you, Wayne, with that friendly twinkle in your eye, that broad smile, compassion in your voice, and a dashing rake to your cap. Here's to you, Wayne Goldstein !

From Byron and Naomi Bloch, just two of your countless friends.


Are Politicians Failing Our Lobbyists?

From Onion TV:

In The Know: Are Politicians Failing Our Lobbyists?


Funeral Arrangements for Wayne Goldstein

Following is information on events for Thursday and Friday.

Arrangements by:
Danzansky-Goldberg Memorial Chapel
(301) 340-1400

Gathering with family (visitation):
at Danzansky-Goldberg Chapel
1170 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852
Thursday, April 30
7 pm - 9 pm

Friday, May 1
1 pm
at Danzansky-Goldberg Chapel
1170 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852
Thursday, April 30

and moves to

Garden of Remembrance Memorial Park
14321 Comus Road, Clarksburg, MD 20871
(301) 428-3000


Can She Pull a Raskin?

By Marc Korman.

There are lots of rumors about races in 2010, but the first one to really get started is the State Senate race in District 17. There, former Delegate Cheryl Kagan is mounting a challenge against State Senator Jennie Forehand. The Gazette covered the story a few weeks ago.

Senator Forehand is in her fourth term in the State Senate, which was preceded by four terms in the House of Delegates. Forehand has indicated she is seeking a fresh term in 2010. She has never had a serious primary challenge for her senate seat. Her closest call came in 2002, when she won 82% of the vote.

Delegate Kagan served in the House of Delegates for two terms from 1995 to 2003. She declined to seek reelection in 2002 and Luiz Simmons took her seat. Now, Kagan is back to try and knock out the long time incumbent. She is native to the area and a political and non-profit consultant.

At the last campaign finance filing, Kagan had $44,224.76 in the bank. She raised over $19,000 during the past year. Since her campaign went public during the 90 day legislative session, she may have raised even more while Forehand was constrained by the fundraising ban. Forehand has a $71,044.34 balance, plus almost $6,000 in the D17 slate account. Forehand has not geared up for a race yet, having raised nothing in the period before the last filing.

Incumbents are generally heavily favored for reelection and as a result, there are very few primary challenges. Montgomery County’s notable exception is Jamie Raskin’s successful race against Ida Ruben in 2006. The question is whether a Kagan/Forehand race will shape up like that one on one race or be more like the District 19 senate race in 2006. In that case, long serving Senator Len Teitelbaum reversed his plans to seek reelection in the face of a spirited challenge. The race became a free for all that included two sitting delegates and a central committee member, Mike Lenett, who won the seat. If Forehand were to decline another campaign, it is unlikely Kagan would be left alone to claim the seat. Delegate Simmons is the most commonly cited potential candidate, but there could be others.

Part of Raskin’s strategy for victory was painting Ruben as out of touch, past her prime, and not in line with the district. For example, at one meeting Senator Raskin attended he contrasted his displeasure with the Iraq War with Senator Ruben’s alleged support, as demonstrated by a resolution she introduced regarding the US Armed Forces in Iraq.

It is not clear that Senator Forehand offers a similar record for Kagan to highlight or even if Kagan is interested in going that route. But without drawing some sharp contrasts, it is difficult to see how Kagan can take down a long serving incumbent who will likely be running on a slate and enjoying the support of leadership in Annapolis. But Kagan is no slouch. As a former delegate she knows the issues, understands the political process, and has a vast local network. For the first time in her career, Forehand may have a serious challenge.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

MCAD Activists Praise Wayne Goldstein

From Chris Ollo:

Wayne approached us and offered his insights and help in our efforts to make MCAD a park (at the County Council, where else!). He was a fund of knowledge and support, knew everyone, and had lots of advice. Beverly Sobel and I received a MCCF award just last month with him. He motivated us and made us activists, to not be shy about contacting our representatives and speaking at the County Council about our concerns. He did too, on our behalf. They knew him well, addressed him by name, and respected him. Yes, his legacy will last in all of us. He will be missed. Very sad.

Beverly Sobel, Wayne Goldstein and Chris Ollo.

Editor's Note: Chris Ollo is one of the McKenney Hills/Carroll Knolls/Plyers Mill neighbors who are fighting for a park at the Maryland College of Art and Design site on Georgia Avenue in Wheaton.


A Tribute to Wayne Goldstein

By Cary Lamari.

When I turned on my computer yesterday I was in shock. Wayne Goldstein, my dear friend and colleague, had passed away, suddenly and with no warning. He died en route to another round of testimony before the County’s Hearing Examiner. He was going to battle for the Huntington Terrace community, backing them in their fight to keep an important local road open to the public rather than allowing Suburban Hospital to have its way and swallow up both the road and more homes in an expansion move.

Jim Humphrey, Marc Elrich and Wayne Goldstein.

I first came to know Wayne during my time on the Mid-County Citizens Advisory Board. We remember him for his production during the 1990’s of an acerbic, superbly crafted, Michael Moore-ish video challenging the necessity of building the new jail in Clarksburg. Historic preservation became his passion and he fought against the potential loss of mature trees and open space adjacent to Montgomery College and the break up of the historic Falkland Apartments, both in Silver Spring. He proactively organized a charette to try to devise the best possible reuse of the Comsat Building designed by the famed architect, Cesar Pelli in the I-270 corridor.

Wayne recognized early on that County residents are almost always at a disadvantage when challenging well-financed development interests and their law firms in rezoning, special exception and land use cases. Years ago, he developed his own expertise at researching land use issues. His testimony in support of local communities was invariably complete, detailed, articulate and compelling. Last year there was a site plan being considered for the redevelopment of Bethesda Metro Center. The land use attorneys representing several different business interests spent some time squabbling and shouting at the Planning Board and behaving childishly. Wayne, in his own inimitable style, testified quietly giving the perspective of the Civic Federation’s Land Use Committee. The Planning Board paid him their highest tribute saying that at least Wayne and the Civic Federation always presented their testimony with dignity unlike the lawyers who had been embarrassing themselves and the legal profession all day. I spoke to Wayne later that day, and he had that wonderful, silly smile he always wore when recounting his experiences. Wayne was always good for a smile.

Wayne and I worked together on many initiatives including “Pay and Go” and the Montgomery County Civic Federation’s petition drive to put Question C on the ballot for which Wayne gathered thousands of signatures, always with a smile and a willingness to talk to people about the nature of the problem and the need for a solution.

Many might not appreciate this fact, but people like Wayne actually provided a sorely needed balance to County Government. During my time as President of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, Wayne asked me to host a forum on “Citi-stat”, the program developed and used by then-Mayor O’Malley to streamline the city government of Baltimore. The Civic Federation held the forum, and O’Malley made his presentation. We were sufficiently impressed that we pressed Ike Leggett to consider using the same approach to improve the County’s government if elected to serve as County Executive. Now that Ike Leggett is in charge, “County-stat” has been initiated and is said to have saved approximately 5 million dollars just in the last year. I hope Ike implements the remaining components of County-stat as a tribute to Wayne Goldstein.

One thing Wayne could not tolerate – hypocrisy. And he was good at uncovering hypocrisy! He proved over and over again that there is significant room for improvement in our County government. Wayne never sought election to public office, and most residents are probably unaware of how much he contributed to their quality of life. I will personally miss my friend Wayne, his infectious smile and quiet dignity, and his relentless quest for better government. Montgomery County has lost yet another major champion of the people when they lost Wayne Goldstein.

Thank You,
Cary Lamari


Ike Leggett on Wayne Goldstein

Following is the statement from the County Executive.

Statement by County Executive Isiah Leggett on the Passing of Wayne Goldstein

April 28, 2009

“I am deeply saddened by the untimely passing of Montgomery County civic activist Wayne Goldstein. Wayne was an earnest and perceptive watchdog on County government and County politics but he never let that earnestness get in the way of a delightful sense of humor and love of life. Wayne could disagree without being disagreeable. I will remember the ever-present fedora, the satiric testimony before County Council hearings, and the bundle of energy and idealism that was Wayne.

“Wayne was a strong and effective advocate on historic preservation, land use, and the environment, as well as an avid proponent of our CountyStat program to measure results and performance in County government.

“I have lost a friend. Montgomery County has lost an institution.”


Council District 4 Special Election by the Numbers

Just as we did last year, MPW presents our exclusive analysis of the precinct breakouts for the special election.

In terms of total margin, this election was closer than last year’s. In 2008, Don Praisner defeated Nancy Navarro in the precinct counts by 3,288-2,940 (44.2-39.5%). In 2009, Nancy Navarro defeated Ben Kramer in the precinct counts by 3,557-3,479 (44.5-43.6%). The 2009 total precinct margin of 78 votes, which is unlikely to be overcome by the remaining absentees, is smaller than the 2008 total precinct margin of 348 votes. But in many important ways, this election was not close at all.

Mr. Praisner’s victory was tight but broad. He carried 22 precincts to Navarro’s 21. He won Leisure World by 153 votes, but he also won the rest of District 4 by 195 votes. He won 4 of the 11 precincts that had a black population percentage of 30% or more in 2000, 8 of the 15 precincts other than Leisure World that had a white population percentage of 60% or more and carried his own precinct handily (176-62). That proves the value of the Praisner name, a name fortified by seventeen years of constituent service.

Ben Kramer outperformed Mr. Praisner on only two metrics. First, he racked up a MUCH bigger margin in Leisure World. Mr. Praisner’s 153 vote margin in Leisure World equaled a 47-32% edge over Navarro. Kramer outpolled Navarro by 798-280, a 518-vote margin and a whopping 67-24% lead. Navarro lost 43 votes compared to 2008, while Kramer won 322 votes more than Mr. Praisner received. Second, Mr. Praisner won the 15 non-Leisure World precincts with a white population percentage of 60% or more by 44-40% over Navarro. Kramer won the same precincts by 47-41%. Navarro received 8% more votes from these precincts in 2009 compared to her 2008 total, but Kramer received 14% more votes in these precincts than did Mr. Praisner.

In every other respect, Nancy Navarro defeated Ben Kramer handily. She won 33 precincts compared to Kramer’s 12. She won the home precincts of Ben Kramer, Rona Kramer and Ike Leggett. In the non-Leisure World precincts, she beat Kramer 3,277-2,681 (48-39%). Navarro held onto 18 of the 21 precincts that voted for her in 2008. Kramer only held 8 of the 22 precincts that voted for Mr. Praisner. In 2008, Navarro lost the precincts in Congressional District 4 1,238-1,078 (45-39%). In 2009, she defeated Kramer in these precincts 1,310-1,128 (48-41%). Finally, in the 22 District 19 precincts other than Leisure World, Navarro defeated Kramer 1,434-1,372 (45-43%). Other than in his performance in Leisure World, Ben Kramer’s service as a District 19 Delegate did not help him against Navarro.

Navarro won all 7 precincts with a Latino population percentage of 20% or more and 10 of the 11 precincts with a black population percentage of 30% or more. In both instances, she increased her margins in these precincts by substantial amounts in 2009. The black precinct results are particularly telling. In 2008, Mr. Praisner won 4 of these 11 precincts, received 509 votes and trailed Navarro by a 47-41% margin. In 2009, Kramer won only 1 of these precincts, received 479 votes and trailed Navarro by a 54-36% margin.

One set of precincts performed differently in the two special elections: the 10 precincts along the alignment of the Intercounty Connector (ICC). Marilyn Praisner was a longtime ICC opponent. In 2008, 7 of these precincts voted for Mr. Praisner, who won the 10 precincts by 982-810 (47-39%). In 2009, 9 of these precincts voted for Navarro, who won the 10 precincts by 1,111-740 (51-34%). Kramer de-emphasized his prior support for the ICC during the campaign, but the people who lived near it were not fooled.

Kramer’s strategy of focusing on Leisure World made sense, especially in a special election. In the 2006 District 4 Democratic primary, only 9.7% of the County Council votes came from Leisure World. In the 2008 special election, 13.6% of the Democratic primary County Council votes came from Leisure World. In the 2009 special election, 14.9% of the Democratic primary County Council votes came from Leisure World. Because turnout in Leisure World held up better than the other precincts in the special elections, its impact was amplified. But Kramer could not hold onto the rest of Mr. Praisner’s vote and that is why he lost.

This election will have significant political consequences for the County Council, for Ben Kramer and for Nancy Navarro, as well as a few other figures of note associated with their campaigns. We’ll explore those consequences in the near future. In the meantime, here’s our complete datafile for the real addicts among you.


Wanted: Darth Vader

County Executive Ike Leggett is on the verge of losing control of the volatile disability issue. But that is just one symptom of his growing problem. While Leggett is still well-liked personally, his administration is increasingly plagued by rebellious County Council Members and a Rockville political environment that is drifting away from him. Most believe that Leggett’s hire of Steve Silverman as his Director of Economic Development was a good move, but Silverman is not the employee Leggett most needs. Who he really needs is Darth Vader.

The disability issue has become a broader window into the increasing willingness of Council Members to challenge Executive prerogative. Last September, the Inspector General identified “insufficient internal controls and management oversight” of the police disability program leading to higher rates of benefit approval than other jurisdictions. The Executive then entered negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police to revise the program, but Council Members Phil Andrews and Duchy Trachtenberg introduced a bill three months later to restructure it. Andrews and Trachtenberg simply don’t believe the issue should be collectively bargained. Neither does Council Member Roger Berliner, who voted for it in committee. But that position erodes the right of the County Executive to negotiate working conditions with the county unions. The council may well vote on the bill today.

Four other Council Members (George Leventhal, Valerie Ervin, Nancy Floreen and Mike Knapp) obtained a proposal from the police for restructuring the program which we reprint below. They are adamant that they are not negotiating with the police. But Valerie Ervin said this to the Post: “We felt someone had to lead, and we decided it would be us.” Again, this is a direct challenge to the prerogatives of the Executive as well as an explicit criticism of his leadership.

The common factor uniting all of these Council Members is a frustration with the slow pace of the renegotiation and a willingness to intervene. Some are frustrated more broadly with the slow-moving tendencies of the administration, such as its failure to reach a new agreement with the Fire Fighters, its drawn-out resolution of the Live Nation issue and its (until now) neglect of economic development. This is not personal animosity directed at Ike Leggett himself, but it is a set of increasingly bold efforts by some Council Members to fill what they believe is a leadership void. They are acting in part because few, if any, are actually afraid of Leggett. That presents a growing challenge not to Leggett’s ability to win re-election (which most believe he will do) but rather to his ability to govern.

Ike Leggett is simply not built for conflict. He is warm and intelligent, has a long memory, knows how to listen (or, at least, how to appear to listen) and he leaves nearly every visitor with the impression that he is on their side. That’s a good recipe for getting elected and he has perfected that method better than anyone in this county over his 20+ year career. But a politician with that skill-set is not ideally suited to staring down enemies, making and carrying out threats and intimidating the opposition. He needs to hire someone to do that for him.

Former County Executive Doug Duncan had an operative who was cast by Hollywood for the role: his special assistant, Jerry Pasternak. Cunning, ruthless and alternately menacing and charming, Pasternak was given one instruction by the boss: if you find something that’s screwed up, go fix it. And that’s what Pasternak did. Acting as a roving investigator, hole-plugger and ball-breaker, Pasternak roamed through the government and the press clearing the way for Duncan to operate at a higher level. Duncan had no need to be plagued by petty problems when his special assistant was on the case. Pasternak was so good at this that our spies still refer to him as “Darth Vader” nearly three years after he left government.

The presence of Pasternak was far from the only difference in the governing styles of the Leggett and Duncan administrations. Duncan was a bolder leader by simple temperament. He organized a virtual County Council coup in 2002 and confronted opponents in ways that Leggett would never do. But Leggett may need a Pasternak even more than Duncan because of his low-key manner. Good-cop/bad-cop routines tend to work well if played convincingly, whether in collective bargaining, business negotiations or politics. And no one will ever accuse Leggett of being a bad cop.

Pasternak himself is now employed by Bethesda super-lawyer Jack Garson and would be an even unlikelier choice for hire by Leggett than Silverman. But Leggett desperately needs a Darth Vader of his own. Because if he does not find one, the Rebellion will rage on.


The Great Civic Grand-daddy

Yesterday, Montgomery County lost a great champion of the little guy: former Civic Federation President Wayne Goldstein. Today, I pay homage to one of my heroes.

The first time I met Wayne, he was running one of his Monday night Civic Federation meetings. There he was, wearing his trademark flat cap, a pony-tail running down his back and his amused, vaguely conspiratorial voice coming out of that super-sly smile. “What a weird guy,” I thought. But Wayne wasn’t weird. He was simply a man who derived immense joy from what he did.

And what Wayne did was cause trouble – endless trouble. Wayne was the best researcher in Montgomery County. There was nothing he couldn’t figure out. There was no information, no matter how ancient or obscure, that could elude him. If you don’t believe me, just check out the small sample of his work featured here on this blog. Wayne loved facts – especially embarrassing facts. He would use them to torment the powerful, whether in private industry or in government, and pressure them to come around to the interests of the county’s residents. He was a resource for all of us. If you couldn’t figure something out, you just called Wayne. He either knew what you needed to know or he knew someone who did. Hundreds – maybe thousands – of civic activists originally met through Wayne.

Wayne loved historic preservation. He lived for battles like Falkland Chase and Mike Knapp’s historic preservation law. He loved tutoring young activists. For a rookie like me, Wayne’s sly smile always said one of two things: “I know something juicy!” or “You look like you know something juicy, so tell me!” And Wayne really loved to hate MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast. He wrote hundreds of Civic Federation columns devoted to exposing Weast’s “ongoing subterfuge” of test data, his charging curricular fees to parents, his hiring of ethics-challenged subordinates like John Q. Porter and much, much more. Wayne had a strange symbiotic relationship with Weast. Weast’s misbehavior fed Wayne’s twin passions of research and taking down the big guys. And Wayne’s constant Machiavellian depictions of Weast fueled Weast’s image as an omnipotent overlord, something that is craved by every emperor.

The tribute to Wayne Goldstein does not end today. It goes on every time a neighborhood mobilizes against a proposed rezoning. It goes on every time an amateur historian opposes a building tear-down. It goes on every time a parent questions the school system. It goes on every time a citizen challenges bureaucracy in our eternal quest for a voice in government. Whether they know it or not, they are all Wayne’s kids.

And wherever Wayne is, he’ll be watching us and rooting for us with that super-sly smile.


Monday, April 27, 2009

On Political Pulse

Congressman Chris Van Hollen will be on "Political Pulse" on Channel 16 TV in Montgomery County on Tuesday, April 28th at 9:30 p.m. and Thursday, April 30th at 9:00 p.m.

Topics that will be discussed include whether Pakistan will be the next terrorism hotspot, the federal bailout and stimulus legislation and Congressman Van Hollen's position as (a) the Assistant to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and (b) the Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.


Kramer Picks Up 2 Votes on Provisionals

The Montgomery County Board of Elections reviewed 86 provisional ballots today. 36 Democratic votes were ruled valid. Of those votes, 16 went to Ben Kramer, 14 went to Nancy Navarro, 2 went to Cary Lamari, 2 went to Rob Goldman, 1 went to Michael Bigler and 1 went to Thomas Hardman. Navarro's lead over Kramer is now 73 votes. 108 more absentee votes - from both parties - await review on Friday. It is almost impossible for Kramer to win now.


How State Budget Cuts Hit MoCo

Here's the latest on how much Montgomery County will suffer because of state budget cuts.

Total state aid is up 3.1%. Education did well (up 9.9%) because of federal funds and repayment of aid not transmitted to the county last year, but transportation and Program Open Space were devastated.

State aid will be $42.2 million less than assumed by the county under state formulas. The biggest cutbacks will be in transportation and jail support.

On the capital budget side, Montgomery is scheduled to receive $26 million for school construction. Because not all construction money has been allocated, the county could eventually get $30 million or more. But that is far short of the $46 million goal set by Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18), the county's Senate Delegation chair.

On the bright side, Big Daddy's push to send teacher pensions down to the counties did not succeed. But there's always next year!


The Washington Post’s Boy King

Former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite was once called “the voice of God.” And for some people, that’s how the Washington Post editorial page appears. After all, there’s the elegant masthead and logo, the rich tradition of legends like Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee, all the Pulitzers (8 in 2008 alone) and the often excellent national and international reporting. So the editorials should carry some weight, right?

Not the ones about Montgomery County. Because their until-now anonymous writer is a 23-year-old intern who has never lived in Maryland and is less than a year out of college.

Steven Stein is a Los Angeles native and current Virginia resident who graduated from Emory University in 2008. His first job out of school was an internship at the Washington Post. The Post had him write a handful of blog posts last fall, but it didn’t work out. One reader complained on his last post, “I continue to be mystified at the Post’s rationale for giving Mr. Stein a platform as he never has anything remotely insightful to contribute to any public debate,” and Stein was yanked. But the Post had another job for Stein because longtime Maryland issues writer Lee Hockstader was taking a break. And so Stein was given a task that was a low priority for the Post Company, something that wouldn’t matter even if it was screwed up by an intern: editorial writer for Montgomery County.

Now the Post has always had an anti-union lean to its editorials because it is an anti-union business. But with Stein at the writer’s desk, the propaganda reached new lows: clobbering the Fire Fighters, calling collective bargaining a “ruse,” ranting about “the sway that unions exert over county politicians” and congratulating Delegate Ben Kramer (D-19) for supposedly being willing to criticize unions. The Post even ran an election-day smear alleging that the unions were “funneling contributions” to Nancy Navarro.

But Stein is no ordinary intern; he has an agenda. At the Emory Wheel (the campus newspaper), Stein wrote this about Barack Obama:

For all his talk of unity, Obama has a platform only a far-left liberal could love. He’s Edmund Muskie with sex appeal, Walter Mondale with charisma. If you’re a diehard liberal, Obama is your man. If you actually believe in unity, you might want to look elsewhere.
And on the Post’s intern profile page, Stein wrote this about his career goals:

The ultimatum came early my freshman year of college: “Get a job or forget about us paying tuition!” my mother frostily exclaimed. Having no discernible talent other than the ability to string sentences together semi-coherently, I sought refuge in the Emory Wheel, my university’s student newspaper. Three years and more than 150 articles later, I’m preparing to make journalism a career. I’ve interned as a reporter at the Garden Island (Kauai, Hawaii), where the governor of Hawaii publicly criticized one of my first articles. I’ve also interned as an editorial writer at the Austin American-Statesman, where a tongue-in-cheek blog post about San Antonio left the Alamo City up in arms. Needless to say, my goal at The Washington Post is to practice hard-hitting journalism — even if it means infuriating a high-ranking politician or the residents of a major city. Besides writing things that anger people, my interests include playing bad basketball, playing worse golf and raving to anyone who will listen about the genius of the film “Being There.”

How on Earth could the Post permit such a thing to appear on its website? Stein is in bad need of an adult in the company to approach him and say, “Look, kid. This is the Washington Post, not the Emory Wheel. The goal of our editorial page isn’t to infuriate politicians for its own sake. We have opinions, but they have to be fact-based and fair.” But no one is interested. Montgomery County just doesn’t matter to the Post leadership.

But the Post leadership does matter a lot to Montgomery County politicians, a few of whom still regard the editorial page as the Voice of God. Some in the County Council building have been working Stein for months, feeding him all the propaganda he can regurgitate. They gleefully cavort before the Boy King’s throne and Montgomery voters are none the wiser.

What does this say about the Post’s senior management? Their pick of an intern who has never lived in Maryland to write Montgomery County editorials reveals their true regard for us. Montgomery County politics is irrelevant in their world and, in any event, the editorials supply a pleasant way for a callow neophyte to hurl invective at government employees and move up in the ranks.

And what about the Post’s editorial integrity? It lies in shredded tatters, decaying at the feet of the Boy King.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Democrats to Celebrate at Spring Ball

Following is the press release from the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee.


Press Release
April 25, 2009
For Immediate Release

Contact: Milt Minneman
Communications Director
FAX: 301-299-4604
Cell: 301-910-4676

Democrats to Celebrate at Spring Ball, Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee presents Democrats: A Party for all Seasons, Sunday, May 3, 2009, from 4:30-9:30 PM at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, 5701 Marinelli Road. The event starts with a reception and silent auction at 4:30PM, dinner at 6:30PM, followed by the presentation of the Democratic Party 2009 awards and then dancing until 9:30PM.

Representatives Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards. Comptroller Peter Franchot, Attorney General Doug Gansler and County Executive Ike Leggett will individually present the following awards:
• David Hart, Helga Butler, Ronit Dancis, Maia Hunt, Donice Jeter, Jon Randall, Harriet Shugerman and Charles Washington, the Bethesda Obama Office Supervisory Team - jointly the Democrat of the Year Award,
• Sue Byrnes - the Precinct Official Award,
• W. Gregory Wims - the Community Service Award,
• Louise Armentrout - the Lifetime Service Award.
• Ralph and Betsy Stephens - jointly the Volunteer of the Year Award.
• Molly Ruhl - the Outstanding Services by a Former Elected Official Award,

Tickets are $100 each ($125 at the door) and up at sponsor levels.
Guests are asked to bring a can of food for a local food bank.

For more information, call the Committee at 301-946-1000.



McIntosh Joins TruBlu Politics

Following is the press release from TruBlu Politics.

For More Information Contact:
David Goodman

For Immediate Release
April 23, 2009

McIntosh Joins TruBlu Politics to Form Powerhouse Political Consulting Firm

Baltimore, MD—Baltimore Delegate Maggie McIntosh joins TruBlu Politics as full partner, creating a powerhouse political consulting and direct mail firm in Maryland.

McIntosh, Chair of the House of Delegates Environmental Matters Committee, has served in the House of Delegates since 1992 and began her own direct mail firm, McIntosh Files, in 2004.

“I am extremely excited to join TruBlu Politics. This partnership will allow us to provide the very best client service and quality direct mail to Democratic candidates throughout the country,” says McIntosh.

McIntosh’s list of clients includes Maryland Lt. Governor Anthony Brown and Baltimore City Council President Stephanie Rawlings Blake. In 2008, she collaborated with TruBlu Politics on direct mail for Frank Kratovil’s successful campaign for Congress.

McIntosh brings over 20 years experience in Maryland politics to the partnership. In 2001, she became the first woman to serve as House Majority Leader and has been named one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women. Prior to her election in the House of Delegates, she served as State Director and Campaign Manager for U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski.

“Michael and I worked with Maggie last year and there was just a great synergy,” says David Goodman, a founding partner of TruBlu Politics. “We are looking forward to forging a great partnership.”

Tapper, with a combined 25 years of message development and political consulting experience established TruBlu Politics in 2006 with partner and co-founder David Goodman. Winning political strategist, Goodman, has been active in Democratic politics since 1994 and has been producing direct mail for the past 8 years.

In 2008, TruBlu managed successful direct mail campaigns on behalf of Rep. Donna Edwards (District 4) and Rep. Frank Kratovil (District 1). Previous successes include wins for Progressive Majority Colorado and numerous legislative campaigns in Maryland.

Tapper has received recognition by the American Association of Political Consultants and the NAACP for his message and design for the controversial NAACP National Voter Fund campaign that mobilized a million new African American voters in the 2000 election. Tapper and Goodman have collaborated on other notable campaigns including D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams’ historic write-in campaign in 2002 and Mayor Douglas Palmer’s victory in Trenton, NJ in 2006.

TruBlu Politics is a national direct mail and political consulting firm based in Ellicott City, Maryland.



Saturday, April 25, 2009

Read the Book on Chris Van Hollen

Come join Representative Chris Van Hollen, former White House press secretary Mike McCurry and author Sanford "Sandy" Gottlieb for a book signing and discussion of "Red to Blue: Congressman Chris Van Hollen and Grassroots Politics". Wednesday, April 29, 7:30 pm, Barnes & Noble-Rockville (Rockvillle Pike and Montrose Road)

This new book describes the emergence of the Democratic majority through the prism of Congressman Van Hollen's career.

(Hat tip to Sen. Rich Madaleno.)


County Report: April 17


Friday, April 24, 2009

District 4 Precinct Tidbits

The individual precinct totals are up. Next week, we’ll have a full analysis. But here’s a couple tidbits to hold you over.

Leisure World

In the two Leisure World precincts, turnout was 23.6% (much higher than the 10.45% turnout rate in the precinct total count). Kramer blew out Navarro in these two precincts by 798-280, a 67-24% advantage. Navarro lost Leisure World to Don Praisner last time by 153 votes (47-32%).


Precinct 8-04 is Ben Kramer’s home precinct. He lost to Navarro there by a 25-22 vote. Precinct 8-06 is Rona Kramer’s home precinct. Ben Kramer lost it to Navarro by a 114-71 vote. Precinct 5-18 is Ike Leggett’s home precinct. Kramer lost it to Navarro by a 45-33 vote. Precinct 5-12 is the Praisners’ home precinct. Kramer outpolled Navarro there, but only by 89-90. Navarro won her home precinct (5-05) by 142-138.

Other Precincts

Precinct 13-33 is the site of Kemp Mill Elementary School and has a substantially Jewish population. Kramer defeated Navarro there by 147-73. Precinct 5-21 (Eastern County Regional Center) had the highest African-American percentage in the district in 2000 (57%). Navarro defeated Kramer there by 54-19. Precinct 13-28 (Wheaton High School) had the highest Latino percentage in the district in 2000 (31%). Navarro beat Kramer there by 59-8. Precinct 13-02 was, along with 13-28, the closest precinct to Wheaton Library. Navarro led Kramer there 128-99.


Everybody Loves Main Street, Part Three

By Emily Adelman.

PART 3: Growing Pains

Now, as far as our policymakers are concerned, the local shift is going to be more substantial, and it might hurt a little. All across our fine nation, the paradigm for economic development for a long time has been based on a certain type of law of attraction. The assumption is that there are big job-creating, revenue-generating businesses out there to be seduced into settling down in our state, our county, or our city by tempting them with tax incentives, public investments, and other kinds of shiny things.

The problem is that the public investment (sacrifice?) is huge and the payoff is not always consistent. Economist Michael Shuman, author of The Small Mart Revolution and a Montgomery County resident, is a great resource who’s got his finger on the pulse of the plethora of studies that show that cultivating local businesses is a far more effective use of resources than the seduction method. Shuman has created a handy checklist for consumers, investors, entrepreneurs, policymakers, and community builders to foster a strong local economy.

In December of last year, the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development invited Shuman to present at a roundtable on local economies. This gives me hope.

At the same time, there’s much to be done while our local government is still just getting its toes wet. I believe that now is as good a time as ever to move beyond nostalgia for Main Street. We need to start putting our money where our mouth is. I’m not saying that we all have to go as far as one loyal customer went to save his local video store in Missoula, Montana (as heard on NPR), but we can start by thinking. Think about what you need to buy and where you’re going to get it. First, think about your local options. Second, think about everywhere else. All this thinking should take place, of course, before the actual buying.

If we all start thinking local first (get it?), the effects would be tremendous.


If you need some help finding locally-owned businesses near you, these websites may help:

Emily Adelman is currently working with Local First Wheaton, an alliance of independent businesses, to produce the Wheaton Shop Local Guide that will debut in May 2009 at The Taste of Wheaton. She also is working on the Buy Local Silver Spring campaign and helped produce a guide to over 200 locally-owned establishments in downtown Silver Spring.


BOP Update

By Holly Olson.

*** WARNING: This post contains no political content whatsoever. Read on at your own risk. ***

I admit that when I found out I was pregnant with Baby Olson-Pagnucco (BOP), I became quite curious as to whether people would start to treat me differently. Would people hold the door open for me? Would they give up their seat on the metro for me? Would drivers at the Intersection of Death (IOD) let me cross the intersection without nudging their cars up my butt?

As I suspected, the answer came back a resounding NO. No passes for the pregnant lady, thank you very much. This is DC after all, where everyone has places to go, people to see, and little time to show any extra courtesy to a pregnant lady. I recently heard about a new show called ‘In the Motherhood’ on ABC, and in the premiere, the story line included a woman who faked a pregnancy to receive preferential treatment. Obviously, this story was written by a Man, because I don’t believe that this happens in real life - at least not where we live.

Even in my own home, I don’t get much of a break. The vision of me lounging around on the sofa while my husband fans me and feeds me grapes is only that - a vision in some alternate reality. Instead, I find myself still doing my usual chores, cooking dinner, and yelling at Adam to stop blogging as midnight rolls around. And those pesky D4 debates did not help my cause. [Note to the politicians: Could you please not hold any more special elections? I am tired of seeing my husband disappear three nights in a row during the work week because you all need to have campaign debates.]

And so rather than the universe stopping to revolve around me, I find that it continues on, just as it always did. Instead, what I find is that my life is now filled with A LOTS. I have to go the bathroom, A LOT. I eat, A LOT. I am tired, A LOT. My belly has grown, A LOT. You get the picture...

As the big day approaches, we are trying to get ready as countless parents have done before us. We ordered the crib, set up the baby registries, and are scheduled for lots of baby classes at Holy Cross Hospital. There is the ‘How the hell do I make it through labor class’, the ‘What do I do now that he is out class’, and the ‘How do I prevent him from electrocuting himself class’ (i.e. baby safety). Somehow I couldn’t convince Adam to attend the breast feeding class with me - he wanted to go to a D4 debate instead. Go figure. [Note to assorted politicians: Adam WILL be attending baby classes throughout April and May. Tuesday nights will no longer be free. Please adjust your schedules accordingly.]

There are also the usual worries: will there be any complications during delivery, will he have any health problems, will he terrorize us both with endless crying. Adam is particularly concerned about all the diapers that he will have to change. I am concerned about whether he will try to blog while changing the diapers. But such is life.

All in all, things are going pretty well (knock on wood). BOP continues to grow, and as far as we know, he is healthy. He moves around a lot, and I am sure that if he could take a mini-laptop into the womb with him, he would be typing out his daily updates on Facebook. So keep us in your thoughts. Only 2 more months, and out he comes - get ready world!


Spies React to Duchy Walkout

Just when you might think there’s nothing more to say about yesterday’s post, our spies stepped up. Here’s what they had to say about the incident and the County Council in general. Hide the children.

Spy #1:

Duchy is the perfect foil for George...he provokes her and gets an immediate, irrational response. Unfortunately, as entertaining as this might seem, it doesn’t improve the working environment at the Council and is particularly unhelpful while we’re trying to handle the budget.

Spy #2:

Trachtenberg’s behavior may be questionable when viewed in the larger context. However, on another level, I sympathize with her walking out. I could easily see myself having a tough morning, and then walking into the lion’s den only to be needled by one of the council’s most acerbic members. Everyone knows that the group dynamic on the council is horrible. Individually, I think most members are fairly sane and rationale - but once they enter a group setting, all bets are off. The council could use a facilitator but I for one would not want the job. I think I would end up throwing my hands in the air after 30 minutes and saying, “I give up – you’re all f*****d.”

Spy #3:

It is all about the “Malcontents” and the “Grown-ups.”

There are four members of this Council who are nothing but malcontents and political opportunists. They do nothing but play to the grandstands for their own benefit on issues that are politically safe (and play well to a very liberal Democratic primary voting universe). They don’t bother to solicit thoughts or ideas from anyone outside of the narrow little slice of constituencies they consider their base because, let’s face it, they know so much more than everyone else (just ask them). They rarely even talk with any of the other four members who are not perceived as “on their team,” and they spend way too much time talking with one another so they can wield their influence by voting as a bloc (open meeting laws notwithstanding). I wouldn’t mind this behavior as much if these four had the County’s best interests at heart, but they don’t. It’s all about them and their immediate, short-term, self-perceived, political self-interest. I don’t want to name names, but these four are Duchy Trachtenberg, Marc Elrich, Phil Andrews and Roger Berliner.

The other four members of the Council, whom I will call the “grown-ups” for this discussion (although all things are relative here), are the ones I see repeatedly coming in prepared for meetings, having done their homework, knowing what they are talking about most of the time, reaching out to various people for their opinions (whether they were with them in the last campaign or not), and doing the job they were elected to do (in some cultures, it is referred to as “leadership,” which I am told used to be practiced occasionally here as well). Unfortunately, these four (whose identities you may be able to deduce by now) had two distinct disadvantages: (1) there were only four of them, which meant they were often outvoted; and (2) they were reluctant to believe that the Council was split down the middle in this fashion, and stubbornly kept trying to work with some of the four in the other bloc, without much success. The fact that not all of the “grown-ups” get along all the time personally, and they don’t agree among themselves on everything, no doubt contributed to this as well.

The really dysfunctional thing here is how these two blocs interact with the Executive. The grown-ups are much more aligned with County Executive Leggett on all his major initiatives, but they are not his political allies. The malcontents are his allies and he repeatedly tries to rely on them to move his policies forward, despite the obvious fact (obvious to everyone except Ike I guess) that they despise virtually everything he is trying to do and have no intention of supporting any of it, ever. The fact that this obvious dynamic has not dawned on the Leggett team before now is one of life’s great mysteries.

Two things have now fundamentally changed (regardless of the final outcome in the primary, actually): (1) the “grown ups” will now have 5 votes on the Council and the “malcontents” will have 4 on most issues. (2) the “grown-ups” have put their differences behind them and are starting to realize that they can get us moving in the right direction again if they work together as a team. The question now is, will the Executive start working with them and tell the malcontents to take a hike?

What a concept! This special election is a huge step in the right direction.

Spy #4:

Believe it or not, Council Members really do look first to the County Executive for leadership. Whether they agree with the CE or not, a strong CE helps keep the Council from getting fractured and dysfunctional. A strong CE enables the Council to get things done because a majority will try to work with the CE and, if they can’t agree, they will find alternatives. What we have today, however, is a very weak Executive who leaves a leadership vacuum. No Council Member has been able to fill that void, either because they lack the skills or the personal relationships on which a leadership foundation is built. Let’s face it, these Council Members don’t just disagree philosophically, they also don’t like or trust each other.

Budget time is crazy time, when Council Members and the Executive typically get into some arguments. What we saw yesterday, however, is beyond the norm. The Council is like a volcano, showing periodic signs of unrest and periodically emitting hot air. Yesterday, it erupted. And while it’s hard to predict volcanic activity, it’s a safe bet that we will see more activity as we get deeper into the budget season. And we haven’t yet hit election season!

Spy #5:

It’s normal in a legislative, political environment for tensions to run high. However, this Council has taken dysfunction to a new low. Personal comportment, dignity, respect and honesty seem to be out the window with many on the Council. Combined together, the members of this Council seem to bring out the worst in each other. It’s very sad to see. Montgomery County prides itself on good government. That’s something we’re not seeing these days.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Kramer Picks up Three Votes in First Canvass (Updated)

Delegate Ben Kramer (D-19) picked up a net total of 3 votes in today's first canvass. There are very few votes left to be counted. That means Nancy Navarro has likely won the District 4 race.

The first canvass counted 597 Democratic ballots. 272 went to Kramer, 269 went to Navarro, 35 went to Cary Lamari, 12 went to Rob Goldman, 5 went to Thomas Hardman and 4 went to Michael Bigler. That means Navarro's lead has decreased from 78 votes to 75 votes.

On Monday, 86 provisional ballots will be examined. Many will be thrown out because of undervotes or non-residency. So far, 45 overseas ballots have come in and will be counted at the second canvass on May 1. More could come in later. In last year's special election, only 11 absentee ballots were counted at the second canvass.

Unless hundreds of new votes come in from overseas and tilt overwhelmingly to Kramer, it is now almost mathematically impossible for him to win.

Update: Here are the polling place results from election night, the first canvass of absentee results and the total so far.


Everybody Loves Main Street, Part Two

By Emily Adelman.

PART 2: The Multiplier Effect

Maybe you’re thinking, “How is buying the same roll of dental floss at an independent pharmacy instead of a big-box chain store going to save the world?”

Well, I’m not promising it’s going to save the world, but the economic relevance of locally-owned businesses should not be underestimated. The Small Business Administration consistently reports, most recently in September 2008, that small businesses:

• Represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms.
• Employ about half of all private sector employees.
• Pay nearly 45 percent of total U.S. private payroll.
• Have generated 60 to 80 percent of net new jobs annually over the last decade.
• Create more than half of nonfarm private gross domestic product (GDP).

It gets better. Let’s say that it’s lunchtime and you have ten dollars in your wallet. If you spend those $10 at a locally-owned, independent establishment, $6.80 of your ten bucks will stay in your community. The owner of the cafĂ© where you just ate lunch will pay those dollars forward by, let’s say, using a local print shop to print the menus, purchasing local produce and ingredients, donating food for the local elementary school’s fundraiser, and paying local property and state income taxes. This is called the “multiplier effect”. Each dollar you spend at a local, independent business will circulate several times within the local economy, and over 2/3 of it stays in the community. (See the Andersonville Study of Retail Economics, 2004.)

That’s not all. Of all the businesses located in a determined geographic area, those owned by local residents and operated independently of a non-local corporation are also the most likely (and sometimes by default) stewards of the local environment. Studies show that local businesses use other local firms as suppliers and vendors, reducing the environmental impact of long-distance transportation. We have some local business leaders in Montgomery County who are setting the example in many ways:

• Local businesses by their very nature have the autonomy to choose their own suppliers and are more likely to carry locally-produced agricultural and manufactured products. (For example: Jackie’s Restaurant; My Organic Market)
• Local businesses are making efforts to further green their enterprises by converting to renewable energy sources and eliminating “dirty” processes. (The Gazette recently published an article on Wheaton businesses taking advantage of wind power.)

It makes sense to support these home-grown companies that have a triple bottom line business model (people, planet and profit). When they do well, their profits stay contained within the local economy and achieve a ripple effect.

Is it sounding good yet?

...Stay tuned for Part 3: Growing Pains...

Emily Adelman is currently working with Local First Wheaton, an alliance of independent businesses, to produce the Wheaton Shop Local Guide that will debut in May 2009 at The Taste of Wheaton. She also is working on the Buy Local Silver Spring campaign and helped produce a guide to over 200 locally-owned establishments in downtown Silver Spring.


Credit Card Bill Fails; Banks Run Amok

Folks, you just can't make this up. Delegate Bill Frick's bill limiting credit card abuses dies in the Senate Finance Committee after passing the House 136-1 and now the banks are jacking up rates:

The next time your credit card statement shows a higher rate, ask these Senators how they voted on Frick's bill.


Duchy Trachtenberg Walks Out

In the most extreme symptom of a general unrest that has been permeating the County Council for months, Council Member Duchy Trachtenberg became so aggravated with a colleague that she did the unthinkable: walk out on a vote.

The event occurred on April 21, which perhaps not coincidentally was the District 4 special election primary day. During the morning session, the council was considering Bill 4-09, a component of the County Executive’s stimulus package that would delay impact taxes paid for development projects. Council staff expressed concerns that the bill would cause problems in financing the county’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

The bill fell under the jurisdiction of the council’s Management and Fiscal Policy (MFP) Committee, of which Trachtenberg is Chair. At 2:26:38 of the morning session video, Trachtenberg says, “The issue that’s been raised by some on the committee, although I haven’t polled the entire committee, is that this would have an impact on the CIP.” That raises a process question: the MFP Committee had not considered the staff’s newest memo in a work session. Furthermore, Maryland’s open meeting law requires committees with quorums to meet in public. Since the Montgomery County Council’s committees all have three members, two constitute a quorum and should therefore discuss committee matters in public. What exactly did Trachtenberg mean when she said she had not “polled the entire committee?”

Council Member George Leventhal pursues the issue at 2:42:17 of the video. Here is the exchange:

Leventhal: I also wanted to understand, of course it’s the Council President’s prerogative to take something off the agenda at any time and I appreciate that but earlier the Chair of the MFP Committee had said that she had polled the committee and that... but, she hadn’t polled the committee? I just wasn’t clear. Had the committee been contacted, or... ?

Trachtenberg: I said that I had not been able to poll the entire committee. I have not spoken, obviously, directly to Councilmember Ervin [a member of the committee]. I’ll be very specific.

Leventhal: Uh-huh. You polled some of a three-member committee.

Trachtenberg: No, I didn’t poll them actually. I had colleagues come to me about the item and obviously one of them was the Council President. [Phil Andrews is a member of the MFP Committee.]

Leventhal: Poll was the Chair’s word.

Trachtenberg (clicks tongue disapprovingly): George, I actually think that your comments are not being made in the spirit of collaboration.

Leventhal: So, just for the record, the chair spoke with one member of a three-member committee.

Trachtenberg (clicks tongue disapprovingly): When I walked in this morning, I had several e-mails and voice mails from colleagues. I don’t need to name names. And obviously I walked up here to this dais with my pocketbook and my bundles, OK? I didn’t have a lengthy period of time in my office to go contact Councilmember Ervin. No one is looking to isolate a colleague from discussion. And I did not want to represent what I was saying as a committee recommendation because I did not have the opportunity, the benefit, of having a direct conversation with Councilmember Ervin. I think that should clarify what went on. Again, I do not appreciate the spirit in which your remarks are being made.
The council chose to defer Bill 4-09. Six minutes after her exchange with Leventhal, Trachtenberg gathered up her papers and walked out of the room. She missed a vote taken on Bill 5-09 at 2:50:24 of the video. She missed the public hearings scheduled for later that day and was a half-hour late for the afternoon’s MFP meeting, for which she was the Chair.

This was the second bout of erratic behavior from Trachtenberg in less than a week. On Thursday April 16, Trachtenberg attended a meeting of the Leisure World Democratic Club. She had been invited as a guest months earlier to discuss the budget. Instead, she talked for 45 minutes about herself, her family and her background in the women’s movement before complaining of “dissension” on the council and then plugging Ben Kramer’s District 4 candidacy. The meeting’s organizers stood by helpless to stop her. Multiple attendees who supported other candidates left the room and others were simply appalled.

The County Council building has been an increasingly tense place in the last few months with the awful budget situation, the special election and thoughts of 2010 mixing into a foul and bubbling stew. But this is the first time during this term that a Council Member has actually missed a vote due to aggravation with a colleague.

What’s next?


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Everybody Loves Main Street, Part One

By Emily Adelman.

PART 1: There’s No Place Like Home

For those of you who have lived near downtown Wheaton for a long time, you probably associate this eclectic little district with some place that you’ve gone to for years – such as Marchones, Wheaton Studio of Dance, or Showcase Aquarium. There’s likely several other businesses that are no longer here but remain as placeholders for some of your personal memories, such as The Anchor Inn.

The chances are very slim that you take a walk down memory lane when you gaze upon what I like to call the Ghosts of Retail Past: the former locations of Circuit City and Office Depot.

There’s something intuitively attractive and nostalgic for most people about Main Street and the unique small businesses that inhabit it. Even before President Obama started to use “Main Street” as a personified character cast in contrast to “Wall Street”, we have long celebrated the iconic local business as an ideal in our culture. It’s where everybody knows your name. It’s the diner you go to with your buddies at least four times a week. It’s the barber shop where you only get your hair cut once a month but where you stop in once a day.

Now, not every local business is as cheery as a Boston pub and not every local business lends itself to being what Ray Oldenburg coined the “third place” – the living room away from your living room, if you will. However, locally-owned and independent businesses typically can offer many advantages that may not give you a warm and fuzzy feeling but are still reason enough to stay local. Apart from not having to travel far to get what you need, high on the list of advantages are that the staff is frequently knowledgeable and the customer service is intentional. Some good examples of this are your local hardware store (Strosniders) and the independent pharmacy in your neighborhood (Upscale Care Pharmacy in Silver Spring; Kensington Pharmacy).

There’s also one particular myth that needs to be dispelled, such as the one that assumes that prices are necessarily higher at local businesses than at chain stores. They’re not. Do the experiment yourself. I’ve done several price comparisons in my day and I can offer you the results of one having to do with dental floss. I checked out Kensington Pharmacy and the CVS located in the same shopping strip on University Boulevard. My dental floss of choice (and I’m very particular about my floss) was indeed available at the independent drugstore, and it cost ten cents less than the same product at the chain store.

Okay, great. Everybody loves Main Street. So, you ask, why is this relevant?

When I listen to news about the state of the economy, it seems like we’re facing a monster that is too complicated to deal with: it’s global, it’s sliced up into pieces and insured and sold, and it involves ethereal things called (somewhat ironically) “futures” and “securities”. The good news is that the bread and butter of it all starts at home and there are things that we, and our local policymakers, can do to help re-establish stability in the local economy.

For the consumers — that’s us — it means shifting some of our purchases to local, independent sources.

...Stay tuned for Part 2: The Multiplier Effect...

Emily Adelman is currently working with Local First Wheaton, an alliance of independent businesses, to produce the Wheaton Shop Local Guide that will debut in May 2009 at The Taste of Wheaton. She also is working on the Buy Local Silver Spring campaign and helped produce a guide to over 200 locally-owned establishments in downtown Silver Spring.


How the Absentee Ballot Process Will Work

We asked the Montgomery County Board of Elections how tomorrow’s absentee ballot count will work. Here’s what they said.

The board issued 1,195 absentee ballots in this special election. So far, 773 of them have been returned. The board will continue to receive more absentee ballots provided that they are postmarked by election day (April 21) and come in by 10 AM on May 1, the day of the second canvass.

The board’s staff is preparing for the first canvass today. They are sorting out the returned absentee ballots by precinct. Tomorrow, the first canvass will begin at 12:30 PM. A series of tables will be set up in a conference room, each having sets of manila envelopes containing the ballots from each precinct. A Democrat and a Republican volunteer, both of whom have been trained for ballot review, will examine each ballot at each table.

The first step in the ballot examination involves examining each envelope prior to its being opened. The volunteers will check on whether each envelope is (a) postmarked by April 21, and (b) has a signed oath on the exterior. If any unopened ballot fails either test, it will be put into a “reject” pile.” The second step is to open any ballots that pass the first test. The volunteers will check to see that each ballot has one filled-in oval that can be read by the board’s optical scanner. If the ballot has a rip, tear or illegal marks (like check marks), the volunteers will prepare a duplicate scan-able ballot that reflects the intent of the voter.

Once these steps are completed, the three sets of ballots face different fates. All of the ones that make it past the volunteers and are properly completed will be tabulated by the optical scanner. The ones that required duplicate ballots will be examined by the Board of Elections itself, who will look at both the original and the duplicate to make sure that the duplicate truly does reflect the will of the voter. Those duplicates that do will be fed into the optical scanner. (The originals will not.) The reject pile must be considered by the Board of Elections on advice of its legal counsel. It is probably unlikely that the board will vote to accept any unopened ballots that lack either a timely postmark or a signed oath.

The campaigns have little role in this stage of the process. They can observe but they cannot approach the tables where the ballots are examined. They cannot challenge or handle the ballots themselves.

The first canvass should be completed by the close of business tomorrow. There are also 86 provisional ballots that will be processed on Monday. The second canvass will take place on May 1. Election-day vote counts by precinct may be available by Friday. The County Board of Elections will certify the results on May 1 and the State Board of Elections will certify them on May 4.

In last year’s special election, 7,434 Democratic primary votes were cast at the precincts, 183 absentee ballots were received by the first canvass, 30 provisional votes were recorded and 11 absentee ballots were received by the second canvass. This year, 7,987 Democratic primary votes were cast at the precincts, so the number of absentee ballots has gone way up relative to election night. That is probably because both the Kramer and Navarro campaigns distributed pre-printed absentee ballot applications.

So we may know the winner by tomorrow afternoon. Unless we don’t.


Washington Post Gets Out the Vote for Kramer (Updated)

Lost in the aftermath of yesterday's intense finish was an amazing event: the Washington Post actually re-endorsed Ben Kramer on the day of the election.

Here's the money statement from an editorial that reads almost like a public service announcement in other paragraphs:

Ms. Navarro has been effective on the school board, but on tough fiscal calls she might offer little resistance to the labor leaders who have funneled contributions to her campaign. Mr. Kramer, whom we have endorsed, displayed an independent streak in Annapolis that would infuse the County Council with needed pragmatism.
"Funneled contributions?" Labor unions legally contributed to Navarro's campaign just as millionaire developer Josh Rales legally contributed to Kramer. When the Post uses a term like "funneled contributions," they are implying that labor is somehow behaving unethically, or even breaking the law, merely by contributing to a candidate.

We have examined the Post's anti-union editorials before. But the real truth behind their editorials will shock all of you regardless of whom you supported in the special election. And we will be exposing it soon enough.

Update: In last year's special election, the Post endorsed Navarro on Friday, April 11. The language of that endorsement contained no disparagement of Don Praisner and there was no "re-endorsement" prior to the April 15 election. This year, the Post endorsed Ben Kramer on Sunday, April 12, its biggest circulation day of the week and repeated it the day of the April 21 election. Both of the pro-Kramer editorials criticized Navarro and her labor support. Why did the Post treat Kramer and Navarro so differently between the two cycles?

Update 2: In 2006, the Post endorsed Ike Leggett for County Executive on 8/13/06. It never "re-endorsed" him. But on election day, 9/12/06, the Post issued a simple list of its endorsed candidates with no elaboration and no disparagement of opponents. Given that fact, the Post's re-endorsement of Kramer is not totally unprecedented. But that does not explain its disparate treatment of Kramer and Navarro in the 2008 and 2009 special elections.