Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

07.09.18 An open letter to my Democratic elected officials: Stop Floreen now!

July 9, 2018

In addition to publishing this blog post, I will also email it to all the officials listed below. I encourage all readers to send something similar to their elected representatives.

To:
US Sen. Ben Cardin
US Sen. Chris Van Hollen
US Rep. Jamie Raskin
Sen. Will Smith
Del. David Moon
Del. Jheanelle Wilkins
Del.-Elect Lorig Charkoudian
County Executive Ike Leggett
County Councilman Tom Hucker
County Councilman George Leventhal
County Councilman Hans Riemer
County Councilman-Elect Gabe Albornoz
County Councilman-Elect Evan Glass
County Councilman-Elect Will Jawando

With today’s news that the Maryland Board of Elections will allow Nancy Floreen’s independent run for county executive to proceed this fall, I call on you to waste no time in standing up to this nefarious attempt to undermine our party’s nominee. The time to stop Floreen’s bid is now, before the Washington Post and its pals in the development industry start funding a smear campaign that will drown us in propaganda and weaken our nominee and our party.

I urge you not only to speak out, but also to ban Floreen from all party gatherings and activities henceforth.

While you might be forgiven for not endorsing our nominee, if you fail to denounce Floreen’s campaign, you will have taken sides against the Democratic Party, which I and others will not forget.

©2018 Keith Berner

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07.04.18 Official campaign lit report

July 4, 2018

At our home, we received 3.84 pounds of campaign literature during the Maryland/Montgomery county primary election campaign, beginning with a piece from county executive candidate David Blair in early February. Overall, we received 105 pieces of campaign mail. The biggest polluter of all was (big surprise, eh?) the aforementioned Blair, MoCo Pharma Bro and General Plutocrat, who drowned us in 14 pieces. This doesn’t include three more pieces sent by the developer’s group, Empower Montgomery (which Blair helped found), from whom we got three particularly ugly pieces in the final two weeks.

What amazed me as a political analyst is that Blair had the mailing campaign almost completely to himself until mid-May for the June 26 primary. I asked one candidate who I know had enough money to mail why he waited so long to do so. His reply was that his political consultants told him no one would be paying attention until the end.

Common sense tells me that when as many as a dozen pieces are arriving daily in mailboxes by early June, no one is going to pay attention to your piece then, either. So much for the great wisdom of consultants who only know one way of doing things: the way they did them four years ago.

Because I follow local politics so closely, none of the deluge made a whit of difference to me. I read almost none of it; though, I occasionally marveled at something that was particularly well (or poorly) designed. I get that this stuff is meant for low-information voters, some significant percentage of whom are actually swayed by  it (though, the Washington Post’s horrific endorsements certainly counted for more).

Of course, very few mailers contained any actual information about what the candidate intended to do or why they deserved a chance to try and do it. Perusing such vapid campaign communication is the equivalent of following the email-only campaign of my Takoma Park City Councilman Jarrett Smith who threw his hat in the ring for County Council at-large just before the deadline. (He managed to spend a few thousand on graphic design, but had no money to mail — the two or three signs he managed to put up were gorgeous). Smith’s justification for running was laid out so carefully in this email he sent to the main Takoma community listserv on June 26:

Neighbors,

I ask for your vote on this Election Day. There are big issues before our county. It is the time to vote for experience and proven leadership.

In your service,

Jarrett K. Smith

I suppose Smith should be congratulated: he got his substance-less message out for tens of thousands less than other candidates who spent all that money to tell us nothing.

PS. Smith came in 29th place out of 33 candidates for MoCo at-large, so maybe his strategy was a little wanting, after all.

©2018 Keith Berner

06.21.18 Unger campaign manager caught on video stealing and discarding rivals’ campaign materials

June 21, 2018

Update, 6/22, 12:30pm: See my latest post on Unger’s false claims of endorsements.

I didn’t write the headline on today’s post – it comes from the blog A Miner Detail. Here are headlines and links to:

Bethesda Beat’s article is he most detailed and hard-hitting of the three.

See the video of the deed itself (total length 3:27; the thief first enters @ 1:33).

Yes, D20 delegate candidate Darian Unger has fired campaign manager John Rodriguez. Three hours ago, Unger posted this statement on his Facebook page:

I learned today that one of my campaign workers trashed the campaign literature of some of the other candidates. I fired him immediately. I consider such behavior to be completely unacceptable.

I reached out to the affected candidates to apologize for his actions, which run counter to my values, and the values of the other candidates, whose efforts I respect tremendously. I also offered to compensate their campaigns for the cost of their materials.

We do not stand for that kind of behavior. Takoma Park and Silver Spring are wonderful places, which we can improve by working together with respect. [emphasis added]

 

No one so far has suggested that Unger ordered Rodriquez to commit this act of sabotage. So, does the firing and apology mean that Unger should be off the hook? I think not and here’s why:

  • The candidate is responsible for his campaign and certainly for hiring a campaign manager. An inability (or unwillingness) to assure good ethics in one’s staff is an indication of how that candidate can be expected to behave in office. An I-didn’t-directly-order-the-misdeed excuse is weak.
    • Rodriguez has a shady past, as documented in this City Paper article. Unger is either incompetent or malfeasant in not having considered this history disqualifying. According to Bethesda Beat: “This hasn’t been my first run-in with the Unger campaign manager,” D20 Senator Will Smith said. “Not only did John Rodriguez destroy our campaign materials, he’s made numerous veiled threats and insinuations.”
    • A staff member at a prominent labor union posted this comment on Del. David Moon’s Facebook feed: “I can also tell you Rodriguez was overbearing and rude when he called our office repeatedly. He acted like we owed his candidate an endorsement. I speak with a ton of candidates and staff, but none who behaved that way.”
    • As Unger dealt with the fallout today, he referred to Rodriguez once as a “campaign consultant” and – in statement above – as a “campaign worker.” This man was the campaign manager whom Unger hand-picked. Attempting to downgrade Rodriguez’s importance is just plain sleazy. (Consider Trump’s habit of pretending aides caught in wrongdoing had no significant role.)
  • Unger is an exceptionally eager candidate. Eagerness can be a good thing. It can also lead to an end-justifies-the-means ethos. Just as the candidate is responsible for senior campaign staff, they also set the tone for their entire campaign. If the candidate chooses, they can certainly establish ethics as a fundamental principle.
  • What the union staffer attributes to Rodriguez, I have observed directly in Unger’s own behavior:
    • I was on the Progressive Neighbors Steering Committee (PN, PNSC) and directed the candidate endorsement process this year. Unger had served as co-chair for the organization until he stepped down last December to run for office. Until the bylaws were changed to require this, Unger had previously misused his position to secure PN’s endorsement at the same time as he campaigned for office. (The bylaws were changed, in large measure, due to this.)

The PN endorsement process this year was exhaustive, including outreach to about 130 candidates, with nearly a hundred returning our questionnaires. We invited our large mailing list to provide input on candidates and on our tentative recommendations.

Out of all those candidates:

Only one called PNSC members to persuade us to endorse him (90% of other candidates wouldn’t have had our phone numbers).

Only one wrote to PN’s main email address to advocate for himself (no one else did it at all – this person did it at least twice).

Only one distributed PN’s email address to people who were not on PN’s mailing list and had nothing to do with the organization, so that they could send endorsements back to the Steering Committee. As a result, we received a deluge of endorsements (far more than for any other candidate at any level) – most without any substance – for that person.

Guess who that was? Darian Unger, who misused his inside information about PN to try and give himself a leg up.

Sadly, his tactics worked: I ended up quitting the PNSC in protest when the organization was unable to step beyond its history of interest conflict involving Unger and gave him a co-endorsement (alongside Jheanelle Wilkins.)

    • At a meet-n-greet for a different candidate (not an opponent) earlier this spring, Unger planted himself a the front door and collared every attendee on their way in or out, to pitch his own candidacy and distribute his lit. I have never seen another candidate do this.
    • A credible source in another campaign has pointed out that Unger has falsely claimed to have received endorsements from Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and from NARAL.

Darian Unger has a record of stretching limits. Even if the examples I have provided are hardly against the law (prior to today: Rodriguez’s actions were clearly illegal), they are beyond norms that other Montgomery County Candidates follow by instinct. In this context, it is reasonable to assume that campaign staff felt empowered to do whatever they thought necessary to win. Beyond doubt is Unger’s incompetence or bad judgment in hiring as campaign manager known for dirty tricks. And Unger’s attempts today to claim that Rodriguez was anything other than his right-hand man are nauseating.

I call on Darian Unger to resign this campaign and I call on Progressive Neighbors to withdraw their endorsement. I don’t expect either of these things to happen, so I call on you, Dear Reader, to vote only for candidates of unimpeachable ethics, especially in the D20 delegate race.

©2018 Keith Berner

06.05.18 Keith Berner’s biennial voter guide: for the June 26 Maryland Democratic primary

June 5, 2018

Note: I am not endorsing in races outside my district (Maryland D20 & Montgomery County D5), except when I have particular knowledge of the candidates.

Governor: Rich Madaleno
US Senate: anyone but Ben Cardin
US Congress CD6: Roger Manno
US Congress CD8: Jamie Raskin (unopposed)
Montgomery County Executive: Marc Elrich
Montgomery County At-Large:
Definite (in alpha order): Brandy Brooks, Jill Ortman-Fouse, Chris Wilhelm
Pick one of two: Bill Conway or Seth Grimes
MoCo D1: Meredith Wellington
MoCo D3: Ben Shnider
MoCo D5: Tom Hucker
MD Senate D18: Dana Beyer
MD Senate D20: Will Smith (unopposed)
MD Delegates D20 (in alpha order): Lorig Charkoudian, David Moon, Jheanelle Wilkins

Maryland Governor

Rich Madeleno is the most qualified and capable person running for governor — by far. He is also a passionate progressive who will work every day for economic and social justice, environmental protection, and immigrants’ rights. Madaleno’s long service in Annapolis has been remarkable, earning him wide respect for his fiscal expertise. He knows better than anyone else in the field, the people and processes of Maryland government.

In case you’re still wavering, consider Congressman Jamie Raskin’s and District 20 Delegate David Moon’s enthusiastic endorsements. Finally, I watched Madeleno in two Progressive Neighbors (PN) candidate forums and both times he made the strongest, most compelling arguments against Governor Larry Hogan. Remember: that’s who we have to beat in November!

Ben Jealous, former director of the NAACP and proud supporter (and endorsee) of Bernie Sanders, merits consideration in this race. We know that Jealous will be on the right side of issues. But, Jealous has no experience in elected office and one has to wonder if his rhetoric would be matched by results. There is one reason I can think of to choose Jealous over Madaleno three weeks from now: if it appears that he is in a better position than Madaleno to beat Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker.

Why does Baker, who has been endorsed by nearly the entire Maryland Democratic establishment, need to be stopped? Consider, first, that this is a center-right bunch (sorry, not even Chris Van Hollen is much of a progressive any more). Consider, further, their record of backing failures, like Anthony Brown in 2014 and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in 2002 — it’s not a gang that exactly has its finger on the pulse of Maryland voters. If Baker gets the nomination, look to him to run a lackluster campaign, much like Brown’s, and to get destroyed by Hogan. Finally, consider Baker’s endorsement of liquor salesman David Trone for Congress (District 6) in exchange for $39,000 in campaign contributions.

This rest of the gubernatorial field is so weak and inexperienced that only one candidate bears mentioning at all. Krishanti Vignarajah’s campaign is an insult to all Marylanders. She voted in DC until very recently and never provided service of any kind to our state. Her only “qualification” is having served as an aide to the previous first lady, hardly a policy heavy position. If, by some miracle, she were to pull out a primary victory, the GOP would get her knocked off the ballot in no time, because she has not resided the required five years in Maryland.

US Senate

My only recommendation here is not to vote for Ben Cardin. His domestic policy record isn’t bad, but his foreign priority is to enable the Israeli right. Cardin’s opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran and his attempt to pass legislation curtailing the free-speech rights of Americans who don’t support Israel are utterly disqualifying. It doesn’t matter whether you vote for carpetbagging Chelsea Manning or one of the other token challengers to Cardin, since none of them has the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell. All that matters is your not helping to drive up the senator’s vote total.

US Congress – District 6

Roger Manno’s record in the Maryland legislature can be compared to Jamie Raskin’s. Manno is a principled progressive and labor supporter who provides the leadership needed to turn good ideas into law.

One or two others in the race are not bad ideologically, but Manno is the only one who can beat liquor salesman and GOP-loving gazillionaire David Trone, who is the most pernicious influence in area politics since Doug Duncan’s End-Gridlock slate. Stopping Trone is of equal importance to stopping David Blair’s county exec run (see next section).

Montgomery County Executive

For progressives, this choice is even clearer than the one in the governor’s race (where there is somewhat of a dilemma between Madaleno and Jealous): Marc Elrich is the only candidate you can trust as county exec. Quoting from my endorsement last July:

Elrich is the least ego-driven politician I have ever met. He is not enamored of seeing his name or face in lights or of power for its own sake, but rather gets out of bed every day in order to make a better world, especially for the underdogs. Elrich is also the least corrupt politician in Montgomery County, having consistently refused to take contributions from the politically dominant development industry. While he is able to meet respectfully with all players in county affairs, Elrich is the only member of the council who has consistently prioritized community needs over industry interests.

Further, Elrich is one of the most intelligent and informed public leaders we have. His encyclopedic knowledge of zoning, public education (he was a MCPS teacher for 17 years), and other arcana means he is as prepared to govern as anyone.

Is Elrich perfect? Nope. For one thing he has a tendency stick his foot in his mouth with rash rhetoric, making him seem more extreme than he is. And he is a mite too rigid in opposition to growth and development for yours truly. (I worry about shutting the doors of our wealthy county on the poor who would benefit by coming here.)

But I would far rather err “to the left” on this — electing someone who will never simply do the bidding of the Chamber of Commerce, the development industry, or (deity forbid) the Washington Post — than to take a risk with any of the other, compromised candidates in this race. There is — sadly — little doubt that we will end up with a pro-Chamber county council next year and we need an executive who will check it, not enable it.

George Leventhal is the only other candidate not wholly in the pocket of the county’s bad guys. But I worry about putting anyone in an executive role who has Leventhal’s anger issues and tendency to bully. I do believe that Leventhal has good intentions, much of the time, and there has been no one better than him at constituent responsiveness. On the flip side, Leventhal’s eagerness to tout a substantively empty “compact” between MoCo and PG on preserving affordable housing along the Purple Line betrays a disturbing willingness to claim credit where none is due. Finally, Leventhal recently called for reducing MoCo’s energy tax, which is environmentally and fiscally irresponsible.

Speaking of the Post, this supposed quality newspaper embarrassed itself when it recently endorsed David Blair for county exec. Blair, who has no record of public service, has been drowning the county in mailers since February, as he attempts to purchase the election. The Post loves the millions Blair made in the pharmaceutical business. He is currently being ridiculed as #MoCoPharmaBro on Facebook and is perceived as such a danger to our county that opponent Roger Berliner (who otherwise deserves no respect or support) and Progressive Maryland are going after him with gusto (Berliner’s add compares Blair to Trone, another wealthy amateur). Blair doesn’t even vote consistently, which would eliminate him for me, even without his other flaws.

Montgomery County At-Large (four seats)

There are 33 Democrats running. Just wrap your mind around this for a moment. The most well intentioned political observers cannot possibly have gotten to know all of them. The best we can do is help each other fill in gaps and look at the past records of those candidates who have them.

I am somewhat better informed about the field than most, because I read the questionnaire responses of all 23 candidates who sought Progressive Neighbors’ (PN) endorsement, weeding out any who rejected public campaign financing. Following are my conclusions.

Brandy Brooks and Chris Wilhelm are running together as #TeamProgressive. The two of them are powerful voices for redressing capitalist excesses, improving our flawed democracy, and protecting the environment. Wilhelm, a MoCo public school teacher, has door-knocking and fundraising for a year, with impressive results. He is in sixth place among all the candidates in remaining cash on hand, as of May 15, and has a large ground operation. This puts him among the two progressive candidates with the best chance of knocking off chamber-of-commerce candidates in the primary.

There is some concern about Brooks’s short residence in Maryland (two years). On the other hand, hers was among the most compelling of the PN candidate responses I read, showing not only her philosophy, but also considerable knowledge of policy details. Brooks is not as strong financially as Wilhelm, meaning she is more likely of the two to be helped by the team they have formed.

Jill Ortman-Fouse is the other progressive with a strong chance of success on June 26. Her service as an at-large member of the Board of Education gives her name recognition across the county. Even better, she’s good at making friends: I have yet to hear any criticism of Ortman-Fouse’s character or performance. There is no doubt that our county will benefit from having education experts like her and Wilhelm on County Council. Ortman-Fouse also has worked on behalf of affordable housing, the environment, and other issues.

Pick one: Bill Conway or Seth Grimes

Both Conway and Grimes are the types who wow you immediately with their intelligence and in-depth understanding of policy.

I have witnessed over a decade Grimes’s public service as an activist and city council member in Takoma Park. His service on the board of Shepherd’s Table demonstrates his deep commitment to economic justice. His work on the Safe-Grow initiative, first at the city and then at the county level, makes him one of the strongest environmental candidates in the race.

Conway may be the most moderate candidate I am considering — and I don’t see this as a bad thing. After engaging with him directly and watching him interact with others, Conway has struck me as a no-bullshit realist. He seems to get the real constraints the county’s economic circumstances have on policy better than some of the progressives I’m supporting and he doesn’t pander. Also, it isn’t like Conway is “dangerously” moderate: he supports a minimum-wage increase and his wife, Diana Conway, is one of the county’s most prominent environmental leaders. (I don’t expect her to make policy for him. I do expect her views to be persuasive across the kitchen table.) Finally, Conway’s fundraising totals put him at the top, alongside chamber-of-commerce types like Charles Barkley, Evan Glass, and Hans Riemer. His victory could help send one of them to defeat.

Evan Glass is a nice and smart guy. But, if his hand-in-glove relationship with developers in the 2014 campaign were not enough to scare of you off, this year’s Washington Post endorsement should put the nail in the coffin. The Post’s record of support for big business and pave-it-all development is worse this year than ever. There is no chance they would have endorsed Glass if they weren’t convinced he’d be doing the Chamber’s bidding once in office.

Will Jawando has made strides over the course of his four campaigns for office in the past four years. His grasp of issues and his progressive stances on them are increasingly impressive. On a personal level, he is warm and gracious. But for me, his political ambition is off-putting, at best. I want to vote for people who want to be on County Council, rather than considering it a way station on their path to greater glory. I suspect MoCo will not be getting Jawando’s full attention after a relatively short period in office. In a weaker field, I might take this risk, but I see no reason to do so this time.

Hans Riemer, the sole incumbent running for reelection this year, was never worthy of the votes he has received and nothing has changed this go-‘round. The shame is that he is nearly certain to win.

Danielle Meitiv has managed to garner the love of nearly every progressive organization in the county without ever having done anything substantive to earn it. Before deciding to run for office, the only public thing Meitiv has accomplished was to get arrested for letting her kids walk alone on country streets (for which, she earned the rubrik “Free-Range Mom”). Meitiv is running on that fame and her status as a a climate scientist. This sounds great, but we don’t need a climate scientist in office at the county level — what we need are smart policy makers who know how to reduce county energy consumption on the ground. Meitiv is a nice person and a solid progressive. She just hasn’t earned the attention the progressive community is paying her and there are better candidates on the ballot.

Montgomery County Council – District 1

Progressives’ sentimental favorites in this race are Ana Sol Gutierrez and Bill Cook. Neither has any chance of winning, so a vote for either is as good as throwing your vote away. Gutierrez is relatively well known, but the district she served as state delegate (D18) overlaps only slightly with the county district she is running in.

Among the well-funded candidates with a good chance of winning, Meredith Wellington stands out. When she served on the Planning Board (1999-2007), she was the most consistent skeptic of the development industry. In the current campaign, she vows not to take money from those big-business interests and instead to favor community and the environment. While not all endorsements matter, Marc Elrich’s support for Wellington is telling: he believes she will be his partner on County Council, making sure that our government serves the people, rather than the Chamber. Progressive Neighbors also endorsed Wellington (along with Gutierrez).

Montgomery County Council – District 3

Ben Shnider has run an upstart campaign against Nancy Floreen’s ideological best friend on the current council, Sidney Katz. A Shnider victory over Katz would change the nature of the council profoundly for the better.

Montgomery County Council – District 5

I have been sharply critical of Tom Hucker in the past, mostly for being a bully. This remains a concern for me — as does the fact that he has been unreliable as an ally to Elrich on council. But Hucker does a lot of good work supporting workers, the environment, and economic justice. A very strong case would have to be made for not returning Hucker to council and his opponent this year, Kevin Harris, isn’t making one. Harris is taking a NIMBY position on bus-rapid transit (BRT) along Route 29 and is pandering to development opponents in Takoma Park on a local issue he should have stayed away from.

This is not a bad moment for me to digress to the issues of development and growth, in general. While I am ardently opposed to the political dominance of the development industry in our politics, I don’t believe that nothing should be built anywhere. There is a strong not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) element in the county’s slow-growth progressive community. When NIMBYs refuse to compromise for the greater good, they are no better than Republicans who oppose sharing the wealth. BRT on Rt. 29, for example, may inconvenience those who live in the immediate vicinity. But the benefits for less-wealthy commuters and for the environment outweigh those narrow concerns. 

Maryland Senate – District 18

Dana Beyer is the fearless firebrand we need in the legislature, not only to push progressive policy, but also to take on the Old Guard run by regressives like Sen. Mike Miller. Beyer is also whip smart — she has been a political activist for years and is as good an analyst of public policy, along a wide variety of topics, as you could ever hope to meet.

Beyer looks even better in comparison to her opponent Jeff Waldstreicher, whose voting record is fine, but whose repertoire includes dirty tricks. Seventh State reported today on Waldstreicher’s latest shenanigans: Waldstreicher Fibs His Way Out of Facing His Constituents.

Maryland Delegates – District 20 (three seats)

David Moon and Jheanelle Wilkins are a progressive’s dream come true. Moon’s record of accomplishment in four years as delegate is stunning across a whole range of policies (did you know he got an animal-rights bill passed last session?). Even when Moon loses (his attempt to end the tax exemption for golf courses), he changes the world by raising the issue (and he will win on this next session, mark my words).

Wilkins got a later start than in Annapolis than Moon did, having been appointed to her delegate seat seat two weeks into the 2017 session. (The vacancy was caused by Jamie Raskin’s election to Congress; Will Smith was appointed to that seat, and then Wilkins was appointed to Smith’s.) It has been a joy to watch her grow from being an I’m-on-board progressive to being a leader with substantive legislative accomplishments in the most recent term, on issues nearly as broad as those tackled by Moon.

Lorig Charkoudian is a newcomer only in the sense that she doesn’t have Moon’s and Wilkins’s incumbency. A PhD economist, she is well known locally as an expert on criminal justice reform, food “deserts” (lack of healthy, quality food in poor neighborhoods), and other economic justice issues. Charkoudian’s record of political engagement is such that she will hardly go to Annapolis unprepared: she is experienced in drafting legislation and knows how to get around the halls of the legislature.

Darian Unger is a good man who might stand out in a weaker field. In this one, he lacks the political talent, experience, and effectiveness of the other candidates. Unger has done a lot of public good outside of elective office. I wish he would find fulfillment doing just that — it’s where he shines.

©2018 Keith Berner

05.30.14 (and 06.02.18) How your blogger chooses candidates to love (and hate)

June 2, 2018

reposting this “greatest hit” from four years ago – some of the individuals I called out then are no longer relevant and my view of others (Hucker and Jawando) has evolved (more on that, soon), but I still think this piece is a good basis for evaluating candidates

Dear Readers, you may just be wondering what happens in the mind of your blogger, as he writes about candidates for public office. Some of you might be surprised that much is going in there at all. Anyway, I do indeed have some criteria for selecting good guys and bad guys in politics.

  1. Ideology and values. If you’re not a progressive, at least in a substantial part of your agenda, you cannot win my love. (I’m not going to define “progressive” here — most of you know pretty much what I mean.) On the county level, I go for environmentalists over developers. Thus do Doug Duncan, Nancy Floreen and 99.9% of Republicans lose my consideration. Oh yeah, those who run on tax-cuts for the wealthy (that’s you, Doug Gansler) also get no love from me. Chris Van Hollen — NSA lover — also no longer gets my vote.
  2. Relevant knowledge and competence. Does the candidate know anything about the issues at play, the other players, and the process? I’m sorry, you can’t just show up suddenly in Rockville or Annapolis and be a hero, without knowing anything. By the same token, you can’t declare yourself ready to run a state, when the largest previous operation you have ever run is a political campaign: sorry Heather Mizeur.
  3. Previous service to the community. Don’t show up here suddenly demanding glory if you haven’t paid some dues. I want to see a resume of engagement — a record of caring about this place and its people. This is where Hans Riemer (the Liar) lost me at the start of his quest for glory — he hadn’t even lived here long enough to know anyone’s name when he declared his first run for office. This remains a valid criticism of Will Jawando, who certainly has experience, but not serving our area.
  4. Diversity. I don’t think diverse communities should be served by a non-diverse set of elected officials.
  5. Tempered ambition. I get that nearly all politicians are ambitious. Heck, your blogger is ambitious in his day job. But I want to vote for people who intend to do the job they’re running for, rather than plotting their next advancement from Day 1 in office. Empty ambition, thy name is Heather Mizeur.
  6. Putting power in perspective. Power is necessary for the accomplishment of anything. Power ought never be the end in itself. Beware these cynics for whom power is the only thing. If your fundamental political views are malleable and subservient to your pursuit of power, you won’t get my support — sorry, Duchy Trachtenberg (more on this soon!). And Valerie Ervin is the poster child of a power-hungry pol.
  7. Ability to work with other elected officials. If you and those you’ll be serving with can’t get along, this is a black mark against you.
  8. Stopping the worst of two evils. Sometimes, I do the pragmatic thing and vote primarily out of disgust with the other guy (rather than love for mine). When I vote for Democrats at the federal level in general elections, this is usually what I’m up to. That’s what I’ve decided not to do in MoCo D5 this year (Hucker vs. Barclay).
  9. Character. If you behave with impunity (Doug Gansler), steal from the public (Chris Barclay), or treat people badly  (Tom Hucker), you have a hill to climb with me.
  10. Personal. If I know you personally and like you, it certainly helps drive my support for you. Great examples include Sheila Hixson, Jamie Raskin, Marc Elrich, and Terrill North. But they are not the only ones — in a year of depressing politics, I have met some really nice people who are running for office.

So, am I 100% consistent in applying these criteria? Yeah, right. As you have previously accustomed yourself to, Dear Reader, your blogger is flawed. But he takes comfort knowing that those who criticize inconsistency are hoboglined by little minds, or some such.

©2014/2018 Keith Berner

05.30.18 A flip for a flop

May 30, 2018

Jarrett Smith’s precipitous reversal on Junction development betrays cynicism on behalf of a hopeless cause (his quest for higher office).

Timeline

  • February 23: Takoma Park Ward 5 City Councilman Jarrett Smith, who was reelected less than three months earlier, files to run for County Council, just four days before the 2/27 deadline. He is to face 32 opponents in the June 26 primary.
  • April 20: Smith, who has supported plans to develop Takoma Junction for years, defends the project’s size in an email (implying his continued support).
  • April 22: The City holds a “pop-up” event on the site of the proposed Junction development, encouraging visits by officials and residents.
  • April 23: Smith authors an email asking for details on how to kill the project, which is the first indication of his flip.
  • April 28: Smith explains his change of heart to City Manager Suzanne Ludlow, due to a couple of hostile voters he met at the pop-up, whom he “normally . . . wouldn’t care” about, but can’t ignore “right now.”
  • May 4: At Smith’s request, a resident posts to two ward listservs Smith’s declaration of opposition to Junction development. (The councilman hadn’t posted any communication to these listservs for months.)
  • May 11: Smith breaks his long boycott of the listservs with his campaign announcement for County Council. He announces no policy positions, providing only Takoma Park pride and ethnicity as campaign rationales.
  • As of his mid-May campaign finance report, Smith has almost no support (he ranks 21st of 24 candidates who filed), not even within his ward. His campaign is invisible, he is nearly unknown outside of Takoma Park, and he has no money for campaign publicity.
  • Conclusions
    • “Right now” in Smith’s 4/28 email is all about his new status as a candidate for higher office.
    • If Smith thinks he has any shot of finishing in the top 15 on June 26, I want some of what he’s smoking.
    • It is unethical to kill good policy in service to one’s political career (common though it is). It is a shear mystery why one would do so when there’s no possible payback for the dirty deed, not even electoral victory.

The Flip: Takoma Junction development

On May 5 (before I knew the inside details), I wrote about Takoma Park City Councilman Jarrett Smith’s sudden reversal on Takoma Junction development after years of consistent support for the project. I portrayed his refusal to communicate his own views to Ward 5 residents (or solicit theirs), instead tasking a resident to post for him to the community listservs he had been boycotting for months.

Last week, an inside source provided your blogger with emails retrieved through a public-records request that detail how quickly and thoughtlessly Smith switched sides. As recently as April 20, Smith wrote to unnamed recipients in support of the project, defending the developer’s need for profit to make the plan viable:

Subject: Re: Getting more public space at the Junction
From: Jarrett Smith <jarretts@takomaparkmd.gov>
To: Jarrett Smith <jarretts@takomaparkmd.gov>
Date Sent: Friday, April 20, 2018 10:15:23 AM GMT-04:00
Date Received: Wednesday, May 16, 2018 3:20:28 PM GMT-04:00
I don’t understand how all of these financial assumptions can be made. NDC will have a construction and long term financing on this project. We also don’t know what their IRR is for their investors. Maybe that 8% is to cover brokerage commissions? I know that a project of this size, every dollar is important. A modest reduction in profits could ruin this entire project.
Jarrett
Jarrett K. Smith
Takoma Park City Council. Ward 5

[emphasis added]

Only three days later, Smith had switched sides, demanding information on how to kill the deal:

Subject: Junction Development
From: Jarrett Smith <jarretts@takomaparkmd.gov>
To: Council@takomaparkmd.gov
Bcc: esiegel2@igc.org
Date Sent: Monday, April 23, 2018 10:44:43 AM GMT-04:00
Date Received: Wednesday, May 16, 2018 3:18:17 PM GMT-04:00
All,
The vote on NDC’s site plan proposal is coming before us in the next few weeks. I think we need to review the DA that unwinds the deal. We need to know the penalties so we can share with residents before May 9th. I ask staff to share the details with us as soon as possible.
Jarrett
Jarrett K. Smith
Takoma Park City Council. Ward 5
[emphasis added]

It took Smith five more days to declare his implacable opposition to Junction development, when he refused to take part in the survey of councilmembers regarding areas of agreement and disagreement:

Subject: Re: Important Update on Council schedule re Budget and Junction
From: Jarrett Smith <jarretts@takomaparkmd.gov>
To: Suzanne Ludlow <suzannel@takomaparkmd.gov>
Cc: City Council <Council@takomaparkmd.gov>, “Damweber, Jason”
<jasond@takomaparkmd.gov>, Jessie Carpenter <jessiec@takomaparkmd.gov>, Sara Daines
<sarad@takomaparkmd.gov>, Rosalind Grigsby <rosalindg@takomaparkmd.gov>, “Cheung,
Susan” <susanc@takomaparkmd.gov>
Date Sent: Saturday, April 28, 2018 11:20:26 AM GMT-04:00
Date Received: Saturday, April 28, 2018 11:20:28 AM GMT-04:00
Thanks, Kacy for taking the lead on compiling Junction survey and drafting the resolution. I won’t be filling the survey because I’m a no vote on moving the [sic] forward. I wanted you to know why there are only six survey responses.
Jarrett
Jarrett K. Smith
Takoma Park City Council. Ward 5
[emphasis added]

Later that day, Smith responded to City Manager Suzanne Ludlow’s inquiry about his sudden opposition to the plan:

Subject: Re: Important Update on Council schedule re Budget and Junction
From: Jarrett Smith <jarretts@takomaparkmd.gov>
To: Jarrett Smith <jarretts@takomaparkmd.gov>
Bcc: CindyD@takomaparkmd.gov
Date Sent: Saturday, April 28, 2018 1:38:53 PM GMT-04:00
Date Received: Wednesday, May 16, 2018 2:55:22 PM GMT-04:00
Suzie,
I can’t afford fighting with anymore of my super voters. I was told at the pop up if I support this project there will be war. In normal circumstances I wouldn’t care, but not now.
Jarrett
Jarrett K. Smith
Takoma Park City Council. Ward 5
[Empasis added. The “pop up” referred to was a site visit for residents organized by
the city on April 22.]

“Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t care,” writes Jarrett Smith, “but not now.”

What does “not now” mean? Well, the one thing that has changed just recently in Smith’s calculations is his last-minute decision to go for a political promotion to the Montgomery County Council: in this email he is declaring a swap of policy for votes.

Clearly what happened is that a couple of residents collared Smith at the April 22 “pop up” and declared potential war on him if he wouldn’t help kill the Junction project. His sudden fear of a minuscule number of lost county-council votes was enough for him to sell out the city and the rest of his constituents. Just. Like. That.

It is one thing for an elected official (or anyone else) to change their view after considerable study over a period of time. The suddenness of Smith’s switch (not to mention his disinterest in resident input prior to that day) betrays its cynicism.

The Flop: A hopeless campaign for County Council

Smith campaign status:

  • He is one of 32 Democratic at-large candidates on June 26.
  • Many candidates started campaigning almost a year ago. Smith launched his campaign on February 23, four days before the filing deadline.
  • Smith rejected public financing of his campaign, anathema to campaign-finance-reform fans.
  • He hasn’t exactly been raking in the bucks through private fundraising, though: his total raised of $5,610 and his cash balance of $2,427 put him in 21st place of 24 campaigns that filed reports due by May 15.
  • Only four of Smith’s 32 contributions come from Ward 5 residents (by comparison, 250 contributions are necessary to qualify for public financing).
  • Nearly half the dollars Smith has raised comes from out of state (three from possible relatives, with the surname “Smith”).
  • The two-thousand and change Smith has on hand won’t pay for s single mailer, which Seventh State Blog estimates would start at $35,000.*
  • Smith has almost no name recognition among voters outside of one part of Takoma Park.

In sum

Jarrett Smith’s political ambition is shear fantasy. It wouldn’t be worth a second glance, if he weren’t selling us out on its behalf.

Jarrett Smith’s flip is clear: a sudden and complete reversal on a project vital to Takoma Park. His flop is just as apparent: a campaign having no apparent public purpose** or prospect of success.

I’m baffled. What Smith has done here just doesn’t make any sense, not even for his own self-interest (his campaign is an embarrassment that won’t help him at all in should he go for the glory again in 2022).

I wrote last fall about Smith’s sense of entitlement to public office and disregard for constituents. We can now add delusions of grandeur to the bill of particulars on this unfit politician.  Residents need to hold Jarrett Smith’s feet to the fire if they are to have any hope he will remember his serious obligations to engage them and to further public policy without self-interest.


*Statistics are from Seventh State Blog and the Maryland Board of Elections.

**Smith broke his long boycott of community listservs on May 11, when he posted a campaign announcement with these vapid rationales:

  • Montgomery County is now majority ethnic;
  • Since Ike Leggett’s election approximately 30 years ago as the first African American At-Large County Councilmember, every ethnic member of the county council has held another previous elected office. In my case, I am in my 4th term representing Takoma Park’s City Council; and lastly,
  • this year’s election will be the very last time a Takoma Park Councilmember can maintain his or her seat and run for another office, therefore, in the spirit of solidarity and Takoma Park tradition, I need you.

[excerpted verbatim from Smith’s 5/11 email]

©2018 Keith Berner

 

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

May 5, 2018

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
jarretts@takomaparkmd.gov
To:        Esther Siegel esiegel2@igc.org

Esther,

Please share my email below:

Neighbors,

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

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