Archive for the ‘Maryland’ category

01.13.18 Running for office? Communications tips.

January 13, 2018

Here are a few basic tips before you put yourself in front of the public:

  1. Register your own domain. Those with @aol.com email and website addresses look like neanderthals.
  2. Don’t use a stupid domain like @goodforfamiles.com or @justiceforall.com. Use some form of your name (e.g., @keithberner.com or @keithforcouncil.com). This looks professional and allows you to tell your story in the content of your communications. When you try to squeeze your philosophy into your email address, you end up being a one-note candidate or (worse) appearing to be nothing more than a slogan. (And, unless you are a professional copywriter, your slogan is almost guaranteed to be corny or vapid.)
  3. Put up a website. If you are running for any office higher than small-town city council, put yourself where most people will look for you.
  4. Make sure your website is findable through popular search engines. Like a tree falling in a forest, a site that can’t be found makes no noise.
  5. Put your contact information, especially your email address on your website. Don’t make me have to choose between donate-now and volunteer buttons as the only way to send you an inquiry.
  6. Don’t ignore inquiries. If you can’t be bothered to respond to interested parties now, we know how bad your eventual constituent service will be.
  7. If you can afford it, hire professionals to create your brand, both visual and written. If you can’t afford it, use the best quality images and writing you can find.

What prompts this outburst from yours truly? Well, I am currently trying to gather contact information for ~130 candidates in Montgomery County so that endorsement questionnaires can be sent to them. It amazes me how many of them have no website or have sites that provide no means to reach them without giving them money or volunteer time. I also am aghast at the ~40% who have simply ignored my inquiries.

Get with it, people. Or get out of the race.

©2018 Keith Berner

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12.22.17 Thirty-plus at-large candidates in MoCo? How to choose?!

December 22, 2017

Bethesda Magazine reports today that a 30th candidate has filed to run for one of four at-large seats on the Montgomery County Council in next June’s Democratic primary election (which, given the overwhelming Democratic majority in the county, is the only election that matters). How is any moderately informed voter to sort out this crowd?

(Political activist Paul Bessel maintains a constantly updated list of candidates here. His list, which includes some who are only rumored to be in the running, currently totals 40 for the at-large race.) 

It will be impossible for any of us to get to know all the candidates, so some shortcuts for winnowing down down the large list could be helpful. Here are my criteria:

1. Has the candidate filed for public financing? Under Montgomery County’s new campaign-finance law, candidates qualify for public matching funds by raising a sufficient quantity of small (up to $150 each) contributions from county residents to reach a sufficient quantity of total dollars raised. In my view, any county candidate not accepting public financing is ipso facto endorsing corrupt pay-to-play politics where wealthy interests purchase the county council they want. In MoCo, the development industry has been throwing around $4,000 contributions for years, which has resulted in our pave-it-all politics.

2. Is the campaign viable? To qualify for matching funds in the at-large race (there are different thresholds for county exec and district races), candidates must receive 250 individual contributions totaling at least $25,000. So far, only five of the 30 candidates have actually qualified (out of 22 who have indicated intent to qualify). I suggest that candidates who have not qualified for public financing by January 17 (when campaign finance reports are due) might not have the public support to merit serious consideration. (If that date strikes you as too early, set your own!) Of course, there could be some campaigns that fall a bit short, but seem to have momentum.

3. If the candidate is currently in public office, how have they done? Hans Riemer is the only incumbent in the at-large race. His tenure has been marked by exaggeration, obfuscation, footsie with the developers, and a lack of issue gravitas.* Don’t support him.

4. Where does the candidate fall in the county’s great divide: developers vs. everyone else? I’m not anti-development, but I am firmly opposed to the industry’s outsized, overwhelming dominance of our politics. The current council already includes a majority that is wholly in developers’ pockets and we don’t need any more of these. Besides Riemer, the most viable candidate who may fit into this category is Evan Glass. I like Glass enormously, but his last campaign was developer-aligned and I see no indication that he regrets that choice.

5. Has the candidate ever offered public or community service in the county? I don’t know everyone’s records, but one “bad guy” stands out: Will Jawando is running his fourth race in four years, but seems never to have done anything for county residents other than litter our yards and mailboxes with his publicity.

6. Diversity, diversity, diversity. In this #metoo and #blacklivesmatter era, there is no excuse for putting four white men in at-large seats in liberal MoCo. Even if it’s these guys who are catching your attention, you owe it to everyone to look harder for candidates who don’t look and sound the same as the current power structure. Reducing the power of white men is a long-term project that requires our attention at the local level.

I have already made one endorsement in the race: Seth Grimes (a white guy), because I know his record so well from his years of public and community service in Takoma Park. I am intrigued by several other candidates, but – as you might expect – I know only a small percentage of those running. I’ll be watching and listening closely in coming weeks and months. I hope you do, too.

*Please enjoy my previous comments about Riemer  just type his name into the search box on this site. Or, go directly to one of my favorites.

©2017 Keith Berner

 

12.17.17 Just when you thought it was safe to walk the streets. . .

December 17, 2017

Ryan Miner reports today that  gubernatorial candidate (and current PG County exec) Rushern Baker is vetting Nancy Floreen (outgoing Montgomery County Council at-large member) to be on his ticket as lieutenant governor next year. Floreen is the last surviving completely unrepentant* member of Doug Duncan’s and Steve Silverman’s infamous “End Gridlock” slate of the early aughts. For those with short memories, this is the team that engaged in character assassination of all those opposed to full development-industry ownership of the county. Floreen has spent her entire 16 years in office trying to pave everything in sight, while opposing almost all economic justice and environmental legislation. I was among those looking forward to never hearing from her again, as she is forced out of office after next year, due to term limits.

As for Baker, I found him unexciting at Progressive Neighbors’ Gubernatorial Forum in October, but also unobjectionable. And, with his massive support from PG and increasing number of bigwig endorsements, I’ve been looking increasingly favorably towards his campaign to beat sitting governor Larry Hogan.

But principles are principles and if Baker picks Floreen, he will be dead to me.

*George Leventhal was also on that disgusting slate, but has not exactly been wearing it as a badge of honor, since.

©2017 Keith Berner

 

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.

+++++

*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

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.

+++++

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.

+++++

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.

+++

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?

+++

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

+++

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