05.05.18 Jarrett Smith flips on Takoma Junction development and shows his usual contempt for constituents

Posted May 5, 2018 by Keith Berner
Categories: Takoma Park, Uncategorized

Tags: , , ,

I am in favor of development at Takoma Junction. Feel free to skip the following critique of Jarrett Smith if you would rather see only my rationale in support of the project, which appears at the end of this post.

On Thursday, Takoma Park Ward 5 City Councilman Jarrett Smith sent the following email to ward resident Esther Siegel:


Subject:              Re: Takoma Junction
Date:    Thu, 3 May 2018 23:01:20 -0400
From:   Jarrett Smith
To:        Esther Siegel esiegel2@igc.org


Please share my email below:


It has taken five years for us to get to this point on the Takoma Junction development project. Over the years, the city’s development partner has shared with the community various iterations of the project. They have shown us ideas for urban farming on the new structures roof, a CoOp in a newly built store, and an improved failing intersection.

Council is tentatively scheduled on May 23rd to vote on the current NDC site plan, and it is my intention to vote against it.

I feel the current proposal doesn’t build on Takoma Park’s tradition of green space, the assurance that the CoOp’s long term home is in Takoma Park, and there is still uncertainty surrounding improving traffic conditions around the Junction location. This is unacceptable. I’ve worked for and supported small business for years, therefore, I think this is the time to once again support the backbone of American business, which is neighborhood businesses.

My colleagues and I have a tough decision before us. But, you will know my position regardless.

In your service,


Jarrett K. Smith
Takoma Park City Council. Ward 5

Yesterday, Siegel forwarded Smith’s email to two community listservs in Ward 5.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Smith has always either been in favor of Junction development (all his previous council votes on the project have been “yea”) or tried to avoid taking a position. Only this week did his position change and neither his constituents nor the rest of Takoma Park knows why.

As I documented last fall, Smith does not believe in public communication. He stopped sharing his own views with constituents after his first term ended in 2014. During the ensuing years, Smith has developed a well-earned reputation for ignoring contacts from anyone who has criticized him or whom he doesn’t like. Among those out of favor with Smith are top city officials and numerous residents and constituents around the city. You call or write to Jarrett Smith and – unless he favors you – you hear crickets.

Just the same, Smith continued reposting the city e-newsletter to the Between the Creeks (BTC) and Erie-Maple (E-M) listservs until the November 2017 election. After November, Smith ceased posting to BTC entirely. Even though he is not a resident of the Erie-Maple neighborhood, which keeps its listserv closed to outsiders, he still posted news there. (I was the one who persuaded E-M to allow the city councilman to be on its listserv in 2012.)

I can’t prove it, but can fathom only one explanation why Smith stopped posting to BTC: I manage it and am no longer his fan. (Erie-Maple is managed by someone who has never criticized Smith publicly.) Smith may be as offended by me as he chooses. But his refusal to communicate with the 68 other members of the BTC listserv constitutes shear petulance and dereliction of duty.

When I became aware that Smith was discriminating against Between the Creeks, I contacted him privately and politely twice to encourage him to resume posting there. Needless to say, I got no response. Only when I threatened to make his discrimination public did he act. Do you think he might have resumed posting to BTC? Wrong! Smith decided instead to stop posting to E-M!

So, there has been zero pubic communication from Councilman Smith to his constituents in many months. That also means he has never publicly requested input regarding Takoma Junction development (or anything else).

When Smith finally decided to show his face on Thursday, he did so to a single constituent (Esther Siegel) and asked her to carry his water by publicizing his change of heart (without acknowledging that it is a change of heart).

Siegel has a long record of community activism. While I think she is wrong about the Junction, she had every right to work Smith until the latter changed his mind.

I hereby challenge Jarrett Smith to reveal which other constituents he has discussed the Junction with since last November. If he has only sought input from one or a small number of constituents, he has failed the rest of us. I challenge him further to elaborate on the 71-word explanation (the third paragraph of his email) for his new position.*

Smith will ignore these challenges, because I am persona non-grata. The only way he will fulfill his fundamental responsibility to serve all his constituents is if enough of us stand up and tell him to. I urge everyone who reads this post to write to or call Councilman Smith and remind him that public service is about us, not him:

Jarrett Smith: (301) 960-7462 / JarrettS@takomaparkmd.gov


As for the substance of Takoma Junction development, the arguments in favor are compelling (for example, see this and this). I’m a bit biased about this source, but I’ll reprint here Marty Ittner’s response to Smith and Siegel yesterday (Ittner is my wife):

1. Why is Jarrett communicating to us through a 3rd party and not directly?

2. To me, the worst outcome would be for history to repeat itself: nothing was done in the 80’s, because neighbors couldn’t agree. So we were left with a city-owned impervious parking lot, which is no longer free.

3. A vacant paved lot at a major intersection is suitable for development, which will increase foot traffic and help the small neighborhood businesses along Carroll avenue survive and thrive, and draw more foot traffic from Old Town. The wooded lot behind will be left green. How is killing the Junction project supportive of neighborhood businesses?

4. Uncertainty and divisiveness are germane to any large and complex project. This requires strong leadership to remain steadfast to address the concerns Mr. Smith himself points out in his list. Wouldn’t it be better to commit to keeping a watchful eye on these valid points, rather than throwing in the towel after 5 years?

5. I have been extremely impressed with the Council’s exhaustive and inclusive process getting to this point. [Mayor] Kate Stewart has explicitly stated Council’s commitment to keep the Co-op in place. (look at the plans!) The new building and streetscape are harmonious with Takoma’s aesthetic. I am excited to have a new, walkable destination to shop and eat. Yes, there is uncertainty, but let’s look to our leaders to continue to do the hard work of making this happen.

The arguments against development all have a fatal flaw: they make the perfect the enemy of the good:

  • Rather than seeing a positive plan that can be tweaked further, they push for an unachievable utopia and catastrophize any deviation from it;
  • They claim starting over will be easy, forgetting the 30-year history of this conversation and the hard work and enormous progress made over the past five years;
  • They facilitate the CoOp’s ceaseless temper tantrum. From the start of the current effort, the CoOp’s position has been (more or less): change one iota of our circumstances and we will die.** They have threatened their own death over and over again, refusing to engage at all constructively in a rigorous, inclusive process. There is zero evidence that the CoOp will be harmed by the development plans at Takoma Junction. Yes, their life will change. So be it.

Smith’s couple of arguments to Siegel are utterly specious. His (and others’) carping about “green space” ignores reality entirely: an impervious parking lot and useless ugliness at the heart of our community. And the councilman’s implication that Junction development is a threat to “neighborhood businesses” is even more ridiculous: here, at last, is an opportunity for small, locally owned businesses and restaurants to make a positive difference, for their owners, the rest of us, and the existing businesses that are struggling in a wasteland.

I urge support for Takoma Junction development as the alternative to another 30 years of blight. Please write not only to Councilmember Smith, but to the entire Takoma Park City Council. (Insiders report to me that two other councilmembers are wavering on their previous support: Peter Kovar – Ward 1 and Cindy Dyballa – Ward 2, so a direct email to them is a good idea.)

* Smith’s rationale is likely 100% political. He has probably calculated that Siegel speaks for others in Erie-Maple, which is where the most consistent Ward 5 voters live. (Your blogger lives on the edge of that neighborhood). As demonstrated by the councilman’s recent decision to run for county council at-large (believe it or not!), his eyes are on greater glory than little Takoma Park. (Blogger’s prediction: Erie-Maple’s ~50 activists will find more attractive candidates among the 33 running in the June primary and Smith will finish in the bottom 10 in the race. I’d rank his chances lower than that, except that several other unknown and undeserving candidates are running.)

**The CoOp’s declaration of impending death reminds me of the tactic used by uber-developer Folger-Pratt, when they stood to profit from a huge expansion of Washington Adventist Hospital in the early aughts. F-P argued repeatedly that changing so much as a comma in their plan would render it unworkable (by which they meant that their guaranteed 11% profit might suffer marginally.) You can’t reason or do business with an entity making touch-it-and-we-die claims.

©2018 Keith Berner


03.15.18 D20 Pride (Moon, Smith, and Wilkins)

Posted March 15, 2018 by Keith Berner
Categories: Montgomery County, Takoma Park

Tags: , , , , ,

If you live in Takoma Park or Silver Spring (state legislative district 20) and read today’s Washington Post Metro section, you could not help feeling a burst of pride at being served by the most progressive and among the most effective delegations in Annapolis.

In “Maryland General Assembly advances bill that bans bump stocks on firearms,” we learn that our elected officials are taking the lead on gun control in Maryland. Del. David Moon is the lead sponsor on the bill mentioned in the headline. A few paragraphs later, Sen. Will Smith appears as the star of an effort to bar domestic abusers from owning guns.

Turning the page in the Metro section leads to an article titled “Activists urge Maryland to stop ‘Potomac Pipeline’ ahead of key deadline.” Here we learn of Del. Jheanelle Wilkins’s leadership in opposing construction of an environmentally destructive pipeline.

Of course, these are merely examples of our elected officials’ proactivity on issues we care about. A glance at Wilkins’ Facebook page shows her recent involvement in labor rights, just sentencing, maternal health, windpower, and more. Moon is even more prolific, leading or joining efforts to ban corporate contributions to political campaigns, institute same-day voter registration, make police accountable, and prevent child abuse and neglect.

If you live in D20 and are not following your elected officials on Facebook, you really should.


Speaking of local pride a recent, outstanding series about the geography of political contributions in Montgomery County shows Takoma Park (the zip code, not the city) to be far ahead of all other jurisdictions in average contributions per resident: $1.97, with Chevy Chase a distant second at $1.43. Tired of all the whining about how much an outsize role Takoma Park plays in county and state politics? Just point out to the whiners that if they had our residents, they could also be leaders.

Another interesting tidbit from the Seventh State series is that Marc Elrich beats George Leventhal 4 to 1 at Takoma Park contributions, even though they both reside in Takoma Park. Leventhal beats Elrich somewhat up county, but trails significantly in the activist, densely populated area Seventh State calls the “Democratic Crescent.”

©2018 Keith Berner

02.14.18 Rushern Baker is dead to me

Posted February 14, 2018 by Keith Berner
Categories: Maryland

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Seventh State reports today that Democratic gubernatorial candidate (and current PG County executive) Rushern Baker has endorsed high-rolling liquor salesman David Trone for Congress in CD6. This is particularly remarkable because no part of CD6 is anywhere near PG! Then again, the Trone family’s $39k gift to Baker’s campaign makes the connection crystal clear.

I have written copiously about how awful Trone is (see the notes on the bottom of my most recent post).

Prior to this endorsement, Baker  had the reputation of being a middle-of-the-road, uninspiring, machine politician. But Baker himself already has the support of big-name Democratic establishment types, like Chris Van Hollen and Ike Leggett, proving yet again that a roto-rooter needs to be taken to this state’s center-right clinging-to-power-at-all-costs Democratic “old guard.”

While David Lublin’s (Seventh State) reporting is helpful, about half his piece today is about how great Aruna Miller is doing in CD6, as if she were Trone’s only rival. (The two progressives in that race are Andrew Duck and Roger Manno, who go completely unmentioned by in the blog post). Lublin fails to state that he has any allegiance to Miller, but it’s apparent he does. This is reminiscent of a flaw from the days when the blog was called “Maryland Politics Watch”: frequent shilling for candidates by cherry-picking facts that favor them, without revealing what side you’re on. (Granted, Adam Pagnucco, Seventh State’s other writer, has been much more transparent about his loyalties, recently.)

Rushern Baker must be stopped. Anyone who would align themselves with David Trone is not only unfit to be our governor, but coupled with Baker’s complete inability to inspire enthusiasm and we might be looking at a repeat of Anthony Brown’s devastating loss to Governor Bruce Hogan four years ago.

I am still undecided in the governor’s race, but my guess as of today is that progressives will need to coalesce behind Ben Jealous in order to send Baker packing.

©2018 Keith Berner


02.09.18 Let the deluge begin (bonus: fond memories of David Trone)

Posted February 9, 2018 by Keith Berner
Categories: Maryland, Montgomery County

Tags: , , ,

If you thought Snowpocalypse and Snowmaggedon were bad, you ain’t seen nothing like the storm that began dropping its detritus this week. I’m talking about piles of political postal mail and robocalls from the ~130 candidates on the ballot in Montgomery County (at county, state, and Federal levels) – and this is only counting candidates in competitive races. (I’m assuming that those running unopposed will be minor contributors to the deluge.)

Here in Takoma Park, we received our first mail piece two days ago: a letter (in an envelope) from David Blair, a candidate for Montgomery County executive. Then, last night, we received our first robocall, from Lorna Phillips Forde, who is running for county council at-large (Forde’s message was cutoff at the beginning, making her look [sound] bad).

There are benefits to candidates who start advertising (in whatever form) early: the fact that everyone else isn’t yet in the game means your forays will stand out. Of course, not all candidates have the finances to start this stuff mid-winter (some at-large council candidates are nowhere close to being able to afford a county-wide mailing). It will get crazy in May and June, when we come home to half-a-dozen mail pieces a day.

Should we consider this to be garbage? Or is it valuable input voters’ decision-making? I lean towards the former view. Mailing pieces are almost always ugly and tell us very little that isn’t boilerplate pablum. Robocalls are one of the most obnoxious phenomena in the known universe.

But almost none of the candidates will be able to afford broadcast advertising or billboards (except for David Trone* who will  spend $25 million to purchase a seat – from the sixth district – in Congress). How else are they gonna get name recognition across their districts or the entire county? (Well, having legions of volunteers to door-knock for you and visiting a wide array of community and political events are much better ways to connnect with potential voters, but these involve hard work!) So, I try to be tolerant. In the case of robocalls, though, any campaign that hits me more than once is going to get added to my I-hate-you-forever list very quickly.

I plan to collect all the junk mail we receive, with the goal of counting it and weighing it on Primary Day (June 26, 2018). What are your hobbies, Dear Reader?

PS. Some other blogs (like Seventh State) post images of some mailings they receive. I don’t plan on doing that. In my view, either one does it comprehensively (which is most fair to the various campaigns, but would mean this blog would do nothing else) or one is cherry picking based on criteria that your readers most likely aren’t privy to.

*See my prior coverage of this liquor salesman turned buy-it-for-myself politico:

And: in a candidate’s forum, Trone recently said Israel should be our 51st state and should get everything they want.


©2018 Keith Berner



01.30.18 Sierra Club goes cynical

Posted January 30, 2018 by Keith Berner
Categories: Energy/Environment, Montgomery County

Tags: , , , , , ,

Bethesda Magazine reported yesterday Sierra Club’s endorsements of Roger Berliner for county executive, as well as of Hans Riemer and Will Jawando for County Council At-Large. I have previously written about Berliner’s poor environmental record (aw c’mon – his support for a fossil fuel divestment bill only came after he helped gut it of its substance!). I have also written numerous times about Riemer’s and Jawando’s lack of any substantial accomplishments for our county.

(Note: I may not endorse them myself, but I have no substantial objection to SC’s endorsements of Evan Glass and Danielle Meitiv for At-Large.)

What is clearly going on here is that Sierra Club has cynically calculated whose backs it needs to scratch (because they are potential winners?), rather than prioritizing the candidates who are most likely to push an environmental agenda.

This is not the first time Sierra Club has disgusted me. In 2011, I wrote about how they deluged me with postal pollution because I made the mistake of supporting them financially. Check out that post for a partial list of environmental organizations that are actually worthy of support.

We now know everything we need to know about Sierra Club. I urge all environmentalists in the county to cut ties with this cynical group.

©2018 Keith Berner




01.24.18 More resources for keeping up with local and state politics

Posted January 24, 2018 by Keith Berner
Categories: Maryland, Montgomery County, Politics

Tags: , , , ,

Thanks to readers who sent along tips!


Maryland Matters calls itself “the premier site for news about Maryland government and politics” and features posts by a variety of authors. I subscribe to emails that come in at the rate of two or three per day.

Political Maryland (Barry Rascovar) is another blog I subscribe to by email. Rascovar posts about once a week.

Other Resources

Paul Bessel’s website lists all races and candidates in Montgomery County, as well as all upcoming candidate forums and other political events.

Maryland State Board of Elections is the definitive listing of campaigns that have officially filed: Maryland and Montgomery County. The site contains contact information, but some campaigns provide inaccurate info in their filing documents.

Maryland Campaign Reporting Information System is the site for all campaigns’ financial reports.

©2018 Keith Berner


01.23.18 How to stay abreast of Montgomery County and Maryland politics

Posted January 23, 2018 by Keith Berner
Categories: Maryland, Montgomery County, Politics

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Your blogger admits with shame that his blog is not the be-all and end-all of local political coverage (though, he still insists that only his opinions are reliable!). With the Washington Post’s having long since jettisoned any pretense of giving a shit about its own region, where is a poor activist or voter to turn? Here is my list of favorite go-to sources.

Seventh State (David Lublin and Adam Pagnucco): This site provides unbeatable statistical/financial analysis, some breaking news, and analysis that is a bit too centrist for my taste, but almost always worth a read. It is heavily MoCo focused. I keep up by following Seventh State on Facebook. (I just have to swallow hard and bite my inner cheeks when Pagnucco acts as cheerleader for the likes of Roger Berliner and Hans Riemer. To be fair, Pagnucco is open about whom he supports and the overall coverage on the site is pretty fair.)

A Miner Detail (Ryan Miner) does pretty much what Seventh State does, but has a broader geographic focus. Miner also takes and posts videos of many candidate forums. I keep up by subscribing to receive new posts by email.

Bethesda Beat (daily newsletter from Bethesda Magazine) is from an actual local newspaper, with some political coverage worth reading. I keep up via an email subscription.

Our Maryland provides a weekly email newsletter that summarizes their coverage. So far (I have only subscribed for a few months), I haven’t found overwhelming value here, but it still seems good to keep tabs on it.

Washington Post Metro Section: If you subscribe to the Post anyway, it’s worth giving Metro a daily skim. Articles on local politics are slim pickings and are always biased to align with the Post’s virulently anti-labor, pro-development editorial bias.

I’m always looking for additional sources of local political news. If you have any suggestions, please send them my way: lhf@kberner.us.

If you are not seeking out and reading political coverage of our region, don’t consider yourself an informed voter.

©2018 Keith Berner