Archive for the ‘Politics’ category

11.03.17 Amee Bearne for City Council, Ward 5

November 3, 2017

Amee Bearne is the right candidate for Ward 5:

  • Bearne gets implicitly the problem faced by the overwhelming majority of ward residents, who have never even seen their council representative, don’t know anything about the services Takoma Park offers, and don’t vote or participate in the community.
    • Bearne is a renter in an apartment building – giving her personal insight into how most others in the ward live.
    • Bearne is not only enthusiastic about directly engaging with residents, but has proven her ability to do so, having organized her building’s tenants and held community events to which all are invited.
  • Bearne has the experience our ward and city desperately need, including expertise in urban planning/historic preservation, service with CHEER on housing and community development (among other things), and a stint as an intern with the City of Takoma Park.
  • Bearne is whip smart, articulate, and passionate. There is no way she will end up as a passive placeholder when she joins city council.

Bearne is not a perfect candidate. For one thing, her relative naiveté, coupled at times with too-much self-confidence, gets her in trouble. Examples include the political speech she tried to deliver at a neighborhood picnic, without asking anyone first if such speeches would be welcome (she bombed and was eventually cut off). Another instance came up at this past Monday’s candidates forum, when a question about schools came up. Rather than admit she was not informed on the issue, Bearne made the newbie mistake of trying to answer authoritatively, even though she didn’t even know we have a county (not city) school system.

My assessment is that Bearne is smart enough to learn from these kinds of mistakes. We can’t expect she will enter office knowing everything she’ll need to know, but knowledge gaps can always be filled in. Residents and city council colleagues will need to give Bearne some mentoring and remind her to seek out such guidance proactively.

As I have written*, I think relationships across the county, especially on the Maryland Municipal League (MML, which incumbent Jarrett Smith cites repetitively) may be of some value to the city, but have produced nothing for the ward. If Bearne is elected, it will be the city’s job to meet that need. I note, further, how current councilmembers who have inserted themselves into this race (Tim Male and Fred Schultz wrote recommendations for Smith) overstated Smith’s importance and utterly disregarded what is happening on the ground in Ward 5. I will suggest to Mayor Kate Stewart that councilmembers be discouraged in the future from these kinds of endorsements.

This election year (as in most years and places), Ward 5 does not have the luxury of selecting a “perfect” candidate. But we do have a real chance to replace a disengaged councilmember, with someone committed to making a daily difference in the lives of neighbors, not only the homeowners who vote, but all the renters who don’t. With the level of effort we will get from Amee Bearne, maybe more of these folks will vote the next time around.

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*An excerpt from my reply to Bill Brown on the Takoma Park listserv: “If (and there is disagreement among current and former city officials about this) participation in the MML is vital for Takoma Park, it would make sense for that to be covered by the mayor or a city staff position – an individual elected or hired to serve the whole city. Nonetheless, there [is] really [no] issue with any individual councilmember’s taking this on, as long as doing so is not used an excuse for ignoring ward residents. If Smith can chew gum and walk at the same time, that’s a good thing. If not, then the fundamental point I’m making is that his first obligation is to the residents . . . of the ward that put him in office.”

©2018 Keith Berner

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11.02.17 The complacent incumbent in Ward 5: the case against Jarrett Smith

November 1, 2017

Summary

While I was an adamant supporter of Jarrett Smith’s first campaign for Takoma Park City Council in 2012, I have become increasingly disillusioned. My concern turned to alarm in September, when I contacted him about holding a candidate forum (which ended up taking place this week – see below) and he responded by disparaging his opponent and refusing to participate.

Smith has championed some worthwhile issues during his tenure (he is responsible for the city’s plastic bag ban, among other things), but takes too much credit for things he had little to do with (like the Flower Avenue Green Street project). And now he apparently believes his incumbency to be a right (rather than privilege), while making excuses for his own failure to directly engage residents. I have sadly concluded that Smith is an out-of-touch politician unsuited to serving Ward 5’s particular needs.

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A major reason I supported Jarrett Smith in his first run came from my concern about the lack of diversity in the ward’s meager civic engagement (with consistently lower voter turnout than in any other ward). Smith seemed to represent a fresh opportunity, because he lived in the northern part of the ward (where there’s been almost no engagement with or by residents) and is African American. I thought he would have a good chance at increasing participation within his neighborhood and among other people of color in the ward.

I had also been disappointed in the lack of proactive communication by previous councilmembers and spoke with Smith about the need for more outreach to generate engagement and he seemed to agree.

After being elected, Smith held one community BBQ, which may well have been the only community event he organized (he cited no others at the candidate forum). For a while, Smith sent out a regular an email newsletter about his and city council’s work, but those ceased two or three years ago, leaving us in the dark about issues pertinent to Ward 5 and Takoma Park.

During the past two years, Smith has not responded to many emails from constituents (this has been my experience and is corroborated by others), as well as from some public officials. Even on issues directly affecting us (e.g., the removal of some stop signs and a small chemical spill at Washington Adventist Hospital [WAH]), Mayor Kate Stewart and city staff have been quicker to respond than Smith and with more useful substance.

Ultimately, Smith seems to have stopped caring about engaging with his old neighborhood (I learned recently that Smith moved out of his that neighborhood some time ago and now lives on Garland Avenue – a non-contiguous part of the ward at the other end from where he had been). Perhaps his relocation led to his lethargy? Nonetheless, there is no evidence of concerted outreach during his second and third terms.

Notwithstanding my increasing disappointment in Smith, I was prepared to vote for him again this year, even though I found his opponent Amee Bearne compelling. (I’ll write more about Bearne tomorrow.)

Then, a month ago, I contacted Smith and Bearne to organize a Ward 5 candidate forum. Bearne’s flexibility was limited because she was on duty with FEMA in Houston following hurricane Harvey, tying her up until late October. When I asked Smith about making some time available then, he responded by disparaging Bearne and declaring: “I’m not going to go out of my way to accommodate my opponent.” When I pushed back he wrote: “Thanks for the offer, but I won’t be participating in any debate.” (He later changed his mind.)

I believe that Smith’s initial refusal to cooperate is a result of incumbent complacency. He apparently believes his city council seat “belongs” to him and considers any challenge to be illegitimate.

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Monday’s Candidates Forum

The discussion that took place this week at Washington Adventist University (which was expertly moderated by Takoma Voice’s Eric Bond), showed Smith to be disengaged on the ground, as well as full of excuses and empty promises. A recurring theme was the very lack of diversity in the ward’s civic engagement that led me to support Smith originally. Smith never acknowledged any failing on his part, instead offering rationales such as [paraphrasing]: it’s just as bad in other wards or (the opposite!) those other wards have advantages we don’t.

It amazed me when Bearne drew a contrast to Ward 4, where Councilmember Terry Seamens’s consistent interaction with residents has produced a dramatic increase in voter turnout. Smith claimed that this was entirely due to Terry’s wife Joyce’s work with a charity that distributes free food. As if the husband-wife team were bribing their constituents! Smith finished up that thought by declaring: “I am against free food.”

Here are other highlights of Smith’s forum performance:

  • He claimed we can only secure a freestanding ER (after WAH departs), if the county and state cough up money. He neglected to mention that state law forbids almost all such ERs and, when challenged, referred to a “working group” (who? with what authority?) that is  supposedly about to resolve the issue in Takoma Park’s favor. Count me highly skeptical. Regardless, without a change in state law, lobbying for money is wasted effort.
  • Both at the October 23 citywide candidate forum and this week, Smith named “ending tax duplication” his top priority. He ought to know better, since the matter has been studied and discussed ad nauseum, since the early aughts. Smith offers no concrete path to a different policy outcome, nor acknowledges that – in a heavily county-centric state – counties have no formal obligations in this regard: any gift from Montgomery County would be exactly that — a gift.  In fact, the only aspect under Takoma Park’s control is whether to ditch services (like a police force and recreation department) which the county also provides. This could then result in a tax cut (which would be distributed how?). Is Smith proposing draconian cuts to city services for a tax cut? He doesn’t say. But his repetitive references to his relationships around the county aren’t going to change state law.
  • When Bearne challenged Smith on the importance of holding community events, Smith offered nothing from his past record nor any future plans. He cited only a particular neighborhood picnic that is not publicized much beyond a few blocks and which Smith has had nothing to do with organizing.
  • Smith claimed that his work at the county level is both more important than and mutually exclusive of what he called “capacity building” (He never defined that term, but I gathered from the context that it really means door-knocking and holding community events.) I have to wonder, why can’t he attend intragovernmental meetings and work on the ground in our ward?

Jarrett Smith’s lack of interest in community-building and disregard for some who would engage him directly is disappointing. The sense of entitlement underlying this behavior and his sharply negative reaction to the idea of sharing a stage with his opponent are, for me, offensive.

Takoma Park residents ought to pour love on our councilmembers, who are barely compensated for their positions. But such service is an honor: the right to serve must be earned and earned again: no member of council should ever believe their seat is sacred.

Sadly, Jarrett Smith no longer qualifies to represent our highly diverse and extremely disengaged ward. Since our poor voter turnout is a significant contributor to our relative lack of power in city council, it matters. Since we have  so many neighbors in need who have never even seen their councilmember’s face, getting someone in office who actually cares enough to introduce herself matters that much more.  If I have to choose, I’d go for fewer meetings with county bigwigs that do nothing for our residents and a lot more commitment to “capacity building” on the ground.

©2018 Keith Berner

10.07.17 TkPk Ward 5 Candidates on Junction Development: Bearne speaks out; Smith ducks question (or What about the Co-op?)

October 7, 2017

This week, I reached out to both Ward 5 candidates to get their views and to educate me on more the latest proposal from NDC (pdf).  Summary:

  • Amee Bearne provided thoughtful analysis and took a clear position;
  • Jarret Smith (notwithstanding three attempts on my part), provided no detail and took no position.

Here are excerpts from Bearne’s response:

I have been working on this project since the very beginning [when she was among city staff to review the initial proposals]. As an urban planner, I’ve seen so many good micro-developments from around the world that I have a pretty firm faith that this is going to work out. I know NDC well enough to know that they are smart, community-minded developers who want to make that space useful for the community and they are utilizing best practices from around the world to ensure its success.

I know that Takoma Junction needs increased foot traffic and vitality if the businesses located there are going to thrive and continue on for years to come; which is essential for the economic and community stability in any area. Third, I know that the Coop was given an incredible amount of opportunities to collaborate. . . .  No other business in the Junction was given even a fraction of the opportunities to collaborate or have a say in the project that the Coop was given. It was also given the opportunity to expand substantially from day one. . . .  Also, the Coop (and other businesses in the area) have received free rent/usage on that lot for decades. . . .

The Coop will survive if the following things happen: 1) the Coop adapts to its new neighbors in the development by organizing [its] deliveries and its loading and unloading hours structure; 2) if people continue to shop there, which is how we as a community can ensure its success; 3) return to the negotiation table with NDC and ask them for space for expansion (if expansion is still something that they believe to be vital to their success.)

I am a member of the Coop. I enjoy shopping there, buying interesting and hard to find items, bumping into friends and neighbors, and supporting local business. But I’m also not opposed to creating a more vital area out of an underutilized parking lot that takes away from potential taxes for the City.

Here is the email string between me and Smith (edited slightly to remove typos and irrelevant references to individuals):

On Oct 4, 2017, at 6:50 PM, Keith Berner wrote:

Jarrett–

Last I recall, you were in support of the development plans @ the Junction. Has your position changed at all with the new proposal?  If so, can you explain what is wrong with the new proposal?  I’m not trying to put you on the spot: I’m just trying to educate myself without having to locate and read the details in the proposal.

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On Oct 4, 2017, at 19:10, Jarrett Smith <jarretts@takomaparkmd.gov> wrote:

I just received the Co-Op email from earlier today. Council hasn’t responded to NDC site plan proposal nor have we accepted it. Suzie Ludlow discuses the process in her latest blog. See here: https://takomaparkmd.gov/city-blog/october-update-from-the-city-manager/. I also posted to Facebook and Twitter.

The group behind the letter will speak tonight during public comment.

Thanks,

+++

On Oct 4, 2017, at 7:26 PM, Keith Berner <keith@kberner.us> wrote:

But where do YOU stand?

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On Oct 4, 2017, at 19:31, Jarrett Smith <JarrettS@takomaparkmd.gov> wrote:

I want the CoOp to remain in its location and be successful and I want the City owned parking lot to be redeveloped.

Jarrett K. Smith

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On October 4, 2017 at 21:32, Keith Berner wrote:

I guess we all want that. Do you think the current proposal achieves that? Also, do you accept the Coops definition of “successful”? How do you intend to vote on this proposal?

Thanks.

+++

Smith declined to respond further. As I will discuss in a future post, getting no reply from Smith has been a frequent occurrence for me and others.

For more information on the Takoma Junction redevelopment project see the City of Takoma Park’s website.

©2017 Keith Berner

 

09.14.17 Quick endorsements for MD D20

September 14, 2017

I am proud to endorse for reelection (primary election June 26, 2018):

  • Senator Will Smith
  • Delegate David Moon
  • Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins

The perfect newcomer to join the most progressive delegation in Annapolis is Lorig Charkoudian.

(Voters may select one candidate for senator and three candidates for delegate.)

I will have more to say about this race moving forward, but wanted to do what I could to help, without waiting.

©2017 Keith Berner

09.04.17 I’m 98% anti antifa

September 4, 2017

I almost giggled the first few times I heard that right-wingers were using terms like “extremist left” and “alt-left.” Of course, it wasn’t just the people every progressive could identify as right wingers doing this. Rather it was the New York Times and The Washington Post showing how not in thrall to the left they were. In pursuit of mainstream credibility, they were shy about refusing a platform to the GOPs anti-science freaks and pushed a general narrative of (false) equivalence: if the right was increasingly extreme, then surely the left was equally so.

All the while, anyone who paid attention knew that the lest vestiges of a violent left disappeared from the US in early ’70s.

I have my own extremist conspiracy theories and violent fantasies. I believed in the aughts (and still suspect) that if the corporate elite suspected elections might actually reform the system, elections would be canceled and tanks would roll in the streets. Obama’s election certainly didn’t disprove this: after all, Obama proved himself to be the ultimate Wall Streeter at the same time that he was among the worst civil liberties presidents in history (particularly in his full backing for the NSA).

I do think that armed revolution is probably the only way our political and economic systems could be pried completely from the grips of the selfish wealthy and their amen corner in hard-right churches across the country. Further, I think the “low information” nature of the United States is at least partly due to purposeful conspiracy on the right: the use of consumer baubles, cultural icons, and religion to create a dumbed down education system with TV as the opiate (now add opioids to that mix).

Yeah, 2% of me wants that armed revolution and would like to see all the corporate elite begging for food, while (by-then-former) GOP officials swing from trees.

But here’s a fundamental reason why I don’t embrace violence and revolution: what comes next?

This is the same reason why I have turned against the philosophically justified “responsibility to protect,” the international doctrine under which great powers like the United States have a duty to intervene to stop moral atrocities around the world. A quick survey of US international interventions – even those with some portion of noble intent – reveals that almost every single one has left things worse than they were before we got there. It is horrific to stand back while Assad and Putin slaughter millions. But if the US were to send in the Marines, would the bloodletting cease or would who is doing the slaughtering simply change for a time, with no reduction in carnage? And if we took the place over, how long would before our main purpose there became enriching General Dynamics and Apple?

So, you say you want a revolution (the classic Beatles song is going through my head)? It would be nice to see the bad guys dead or deposed. But do you really think the poor, women, and people of color would end up better off? At a very basic level, what if all the violence shut down those nasty coporations, which – until now – have been getting food from farms to tables all over the country and kept the water running? (Look at Venezuela! Yes, some poor are better off then under the oligarchs, but now there’s starvation on every corner and the health care system has collapsed.)

Or to get even more basic: When systems of order collapse, the power of the powerful becomes absolute.  I’m not a woman, but if I were, I might rather be out and about where there are imperfect institutions of order – even ones that abuse equal rights every day – than if the local strongman got to determine by himself whether I became his sex slave or made it home.

I hate unfettered capitalism. I hate institutionalized racism. I hate the Trump Regime. But, to replace them, there has to be a plan to replace them. There needs to be very careful thinking about the proverbial “day after” and it damn well better be better than the day before. Will there be a way to measure who has benefitted from violent overthrow and how the overall balance works out (in order to calculate whether the greatest possible good has been achieved for the greatest number of people)?

It may not be satisfying, but change within our deeply flawed system is the only means to try to help those who need it most to get at least something. Destroying the entire system at once means blood in the streets. Are you positive whose blood it will be?

As I have written, I believe the only chance to stop our current slide into fascism and dysfunctionality will be by electing folks who believe in democracy and will replace those who don’t. And it won’t – in our two-party system – be the Greens who get elected. It will be Democrats. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are our only path to progress, however unsatisfying the pace may be.

In this complex world, we don’t get to choose exactly what we want. The unjust system might be overthrown and replaced by something even less just. I might elect Democrats and they might disgust me. But if the result they produce is less bad than that produced by the GOP, it is good.

And now it appears the violent left has sprung back to life. The Antifa’s black-hooded, club-wielding, anti-free-speech goons aren’t going to launch or “win” a revolution. What they are already doing is grabbing headlines from the Nazis, the KKK, and the racist GOP. Since Charlottesville, the word “antifa” is suddenly everywhere (are there now more mentions of it than there are of Confederate statues?). So far, the newspapers of record that are reporting breathlessly on the phenomenon are reminding us in some of this coverage that the crimes of the right are far worse. Who thinks that Fox and the Wall Street Journal are being so careful? And how long until the Times and the Post re-embrace false equivalence in all its glory, by sowing fear of the left to match fear of the right?

The Antifa is discrediting Bernie progressives and moderate liberals at the same time. Two-thousand-eighteen is around the corner. The forces of reaction are already making the TV ads that will capture the hearts of low-information voters everywhere.  You can bet those ads will be full of Berkeley fires and DC property damage. If the left draws a single drop of blood these coming months, it will be smeared across the living rooms of the nation. You will see the face of some moderate Democratic senator morph into that of a communist hoodlum and that Democrat could lose because if it, keeping Congress in GOP hands.

Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi proved the value and moral rightness of nonviolence. In the current US political environment, though, violence on the left is not only morally condemnable, it is just plain STUPID.

Progressives and the “liberals” they dislike so much need to stand up together NOW to denounce the Antifa. Like me, you may at times silently cheer the injuries inflicted on those who so richly deserve it. But what we must do publicly is to develop Democratic candidates and bench strength (including some Dems we don’t much love) and win some goddam elections. It may be mildly nauseating to join hands with Nancy Pelosi to condemn the (left) mob, but it’s what we have to do.

I am scared, though, that the Antifa cannot be crushed and holds too much righteous anger to collapse on its own. If that is true, woe unto us, for now we face enemies on both sides.

©2017 Keith Berner

08.20.17 Mike Miller must go (in which the Maryland senate majority leader sides with Trump and the KKK)

August 20, 2017

Thomas V. “Mike” Miller has been Maryland senate majority leader since 1987. Over 30 years, he has been proof positive that, while Maryland is deep blue, it is hardly progressive. Miller has been a consistent obstacle to progress, by (for example):

This week Miller stepped over the line from what might be called “conservative Democrat” to “right-wing activist.” Read on, Dear Marylander.

In Annapolis, a statue honoring Roger Taney had stood since 1872. As chief justice of the Supreme Court, Taney authored the infamous Dred Scott decision in 1857, barring African Americans from US citizenship. As recently as July 2015, Maryland’s GOP governor, Larry Hogan, defended the statue, calling efforts to remove it “political correctness run amok.”

On Tuesday, however, Hogan showed himself capable of learning, declaring a change of heart and supporting the statue’s removal:

While we cannot hide from our history — nor should we — the time has come to make clear the difference between properly acknowledging our past and glorifying the darkest chapters of our history.

The decision-making body responsible for such matters is the State House Trust, which is chaired by Hogan and includes Miller, Speaker of the House Michael Busch, and Charles Edson, chair of the Maryland Historical Trust. Bush indicated last Monday that he favored the statue’s removal and Edson agreed. At that time, Miller indicated only that if Hogan wanted to make the change, he would go along.

On Wednesday, the Trust voted by email (their usual procedure) 3-0 to remove the statue, with Miller abstaining. But Miller was not satisfied with simply remaining silent in the face of historic change: on Thursday, he released a letter excoriating the decision.

Miller devoted most of the letter to praising Taney, saying the justice “served with distinction” and trying to build a case that Taney was actually “reform-minded” and engaged in “anti-slavery words and action.” Of course, the evidence Miller cites is weak tea in comparison to Dred Scott, but that mattered little to him. He closed his obnoxious letter by calling the Trust’s vote by email “just plain wrong” and an insult to Maryland citizens.

With this action, Mike Miller put himself solidly to the right to Hogan and in alignment with the KKK and Trump, bringing shame to Maryland and to the state Democratic Party.

In the Seventh State Blog, Adam Pagnucco had this to say:

If [Miller’s] comments on the Taney statue had come from Hogan, Maryland Democrats would be swarming all over him.  What happens when such sentiments come from one of the most powerful Democrats in the state? . . . The rest of the Democrats now have a choice.  They can be intellectually honest and take on one of the leaders of their party.  Or they can ignore Miller and look like hypocrites.

The time is long past for Maryland Democrats to move the party to the left, including stripping a right-wing, racist-sympathizing Mike Miller of his outsized power. Please join me in writing to the Montgomery County senate delegation to demand action: senate@montgomerycountydelegation.com. Sample text:

Mike Miller has always been too right-wing for Maryland. With his opposition to the removal of the Taney statue in Annapolis, he is siding with the KKK and Trump. I urge you to oppose Miller’s continuing as senate majority leader in the 2018 legislative session.

©2018 Keith Berner

08.12.17 Will Jawando can’t even keep track of what office he’s running for!

August 12, 2017

Will Jawando, who has announced his candidacy for MoCo council at-large, is running his fourth campaign in three years (without ever having done anything for this community). No wonder he can’t keep track of what he’s running for. Thanks to Seventh State for catching this.

HIS ANNOUNCEMENT SAYS COUNCIL . . . BUT HIS WEBSITE SAYS CONGRESS