Posted tagged ‘George Leventhal’

08.09.17 Roger Berliner is no environmental hero (plus: the shame of Mike Tidwell)

August 9, 2017

On July 25, an email arrived in my inbox with the subject line: “Roger Berliner, the environmental leader you can trust.” It was signed “Mike Tidwell, Environmental Leader,” but was sent from the Berliner campaign, not from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network – CCAN, which Tidwell directs. This was an opening salvo from County Councilman Berliner in his endeavor to become MoCo’s next executive. He has joined the 2018 race against two other current councilmembers: Marc Elrich and George Leventhal.

Writing as Berliner’s mouthpiece, Tidwell goes over the top in declaring the candidate to be “the acknowledged county environmental leader” [emphasis added]. Hmmm: acknowledged by whom?

Well, let’s specify who has not shared in the accolades. For example:

  • Those who have sought to get plastic bags out of our streams and oceans. While Berliner did support the original bag tax that took effect in 2012, it seems the chemical industry got to him a year later and he championed a (losing) effort to remove the tax from most retail establishments. He was joined by Leventhal in that noble cause.
  • Those who don’t believe pretty lawns justify use of chemicals poisonous to children and pets. Safe Grow Montgomery (which is now under threat as a result of a recent court opinion) passed 6-3 in 2015 over Roger Berliner’s opposition (credit Leventhal for being a champion on this one).
  • Those who oppose unfettered development in the county, at least in part due to concerns about environmental impacts. Berliner has consistently sided with big developers’ attempts to pave everything outside the Agricultural Reserve.

Berliner was indeed the lead sponsor of a recent bill calling for MoCo to divest from fossil fuels. On closer inspection though, how heroic was this? Well, inside sources tell me that it was Marc Elrich who originally came up with the idea. It turns out that Berliner basically jumped the queue to introduce it before Elrich could and he got only two co-sponsors: Elrich and Nancy Navarro. Leventhal, Tom Hucker, Hans Riemer and the rest opposed the bill until it was watered down to be a non-binding resolution, at which point they jumped on the bandwagon. For a change, Berliner was on the right side of an environmental issue, but it didn’t end up amounting to much.

I wrote back to Tidwell on August 3, recounting the councilman’s poor environmental record and concluding:

I agree with you that climate change is the most important issue humanity faces, but an environmentalist should care about and support environmentalism across the board. . . .Unless you can document how Berliner is better than Elrich, Leventhal, or anyone else, you have no credibility with this endorsement. (If you can document this, please respond directly — I am receptive to new information that could change my view. I plan to blog on this topic shortly, so time is of the essence for your reply.)

I got this reply that day:

Thanks for your note. I support Roger personally because he has done more on the issue of climate change than any other leader in the county over the past 10 years – in my view. Climate change is my biggest concern as a voter. Mike

That is: It doesn’t matter if Berliner is wrong about everything else. For Tidwell, climate change is all that matters and it gives license to rank Berliner above all others, including others who have at least identical records on climate change. This doesn’t fly in my book: by definition, you cannot be an environmental leader if you have a record of opposing environmental legislation.

Just how credible is Mike Tidwell, anyway? Well, he has certainly has done a lot of work on climate change and deserves respect for that. But his decision to shill for Berliner is not the only time he has gone off the rails.

In 2011, Tidwell penned an op-ed for the Washington Post, titled “A climate-change activist prepares for the worst.” Here is the choice quote:

How will we feed ourselves adequately if our breadbasket is a desert? Answer: We won’t, and there will be social unrest as a result. . . . So I even took my first-ever lesson in firearms use last December, an introduction to skeet shooting. I told myself it was in part for sport, but I did it mostly to test various types of shotguns for eventual purchase.

Here was Mike Tidwell telling us: “Arm yourselves, the end is near!” That was when I stopped writing checks to CCAN. Just as I don’t believe climate-change activism necessitates abandoning the rest of the environment, I am horrified that any progressive-change activist would join the NRA in promoting guns or engage in fear-mongering about imminent societal collapse.

Back to the county executive race. It would be one thing if you were a single-issue climate-change voter and it were Berliner vs. Nancy Floreen or Craig Rice (whose records are terrible). But the fact is that Marc Elrich has been walking and chewing gum at the same time for decades, building a record against climate change and for the environment more broadly.

 Marc Elrich is the only member of County Council with a consistent record on the environment. While most of county council has been in the pocket of developers since the early aughts; while Berliner has a negative record on pesticides and plastic bags; while Leventhal did as much as anyone to water down the fossil-fuel divestment bill and tried with Berliner to gut the bag tax; Marc Elrich has been a friend of the environment every single time.

I believe Mike Tidwell harmed his own cause when he associated it with gun-toting survivalism. He certainly isn’t helping it now by hitching his wagon to Berliner, an outright threat to the environment.

Dear voter: Don’t let Berliner and Tidwell sell you a batch of snake oil. For county executive in 2018, choose the one councilmember whom you can trust on the environment all the time: Marc Elrich.

©2018 Keith Berner

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02.06.17 Montgomery County must divest from fossil fuels (support Bill 44-16)

February 6, 2017

Bill 44-16 before the Montgomery County (MD) Council would require the country to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Credit goes to Roger Berliner (he’s not ALL bad), Marc Elrich, and Nancy Navarro for co-sponsoring this important legislation. I have already written to all my councilmembers about this. George Leventhal continued his record of being the only councilmember who responds to (my) constituent inquiries, but he is wishy-washy on this issue, writing to me, “This is not an easy call. I understand its symbolic value but I am concerned about anything that may put at risk the county’s ability to keep its promise to retirees.”

I have heard nothing from Nancy Floreen, Hans Riemer, or Tom Hucker, my other reps.

Supporting divestment should be a no-brainer. According to the Washington Post, fossil-fuel investments constitute $65 million, out of a $4-billion MoCo portfolio, or 1.65%.  So if we assume that moving those investments elsewhere would produce a rate of return 0.5% lower than leaving them where they are (this is a pessimistic assumption, since there are plenty of well-performing investments outside this industry), the overall impact would come to a 0.008% reduction in the portfolio’s rate of return. Bottom line: even under a pessimistic assumption, the impact would be negligible.

Those arguing against divestment either haven’t done the math, are climate-change deniers, or have a personal stake in the fossil fuel-industry.
Please contact your members (district, plus four at-large):
Councilmember.Berliner@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Elrich@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Floreen@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Hucker@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Katz@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Leventhal@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Navarro@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Rice@montgomerycountymd.gov
Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov
Probably a bit less effective, but still worthwhile would be to use either use 350moco.org’s petition or to write to all councilmembers at once using the Council website.
©2017 Keith Berner

01.15.17 David Trone: He’s baaaaack (and will be uglier than ever)

January 15, 2017

As you may recall, liquor salesman David Trone burst on the local political scene a year ago (after never having done a thing for the people and communities of the region) by spending $13-million to purchase a seat in Congress (MD-8). This came after years of  contributions to right-wingers around the country in order to increase his personal profits from hooch sales in their jurisdictions. Trone might have won, had another glory-seeking, right-wing contributing pro-business candidate — Kathleen Matthews — not split the anti-progressive vote with him. Fortunately, Jamie Raskin benefited from the contest between Matthews and Trone.

Will we be so lucky when Trone jumps into the 2018 race for Montgomery County executive (primary date: June 2018)?

In fact, the chances are that it will be progressssive candidates who will split the vote when Trone dumps $20-30 million into an attempt to purchase the entire county. (Think it’s too early to conjecture about the reign of havoc Trone intends for us? See Seventh State blog.)

Get scared now, MoCo progressives. 

June 2018 seems a long ways away. But if we are going to beat Trone, we have to start thinking right now about how. A number of regressive candidates, besides Trone, have already indicated an interest in running, including Roger Berliner (against a livable wage, against a plastic bag ban), Nancy Floreen (the Queen of Concrete), and Craig Rice (ditto the critiques of Floreen and Berliner).

There are only two likely candidates worthy of serious consideration by progressives: Marc Elrich and George Leventhal.

My working hypothesis is that Berliner, Floreen, and Rice can’t win against Trone, because he will spend them into oblivion and their Big Developer pals will desert them for the guy with the Real Big Money.

What scares me is that Elrich and Leventhal will both be strong, their supporters and campaigns will be bitter enemies, and the injuries they inflict on each other will end up enabling Trone to walk into office. 

My assessment of Elrich and Leventhal will start out with the usual set of criteria: ideology (particularly: will Leventhal choose to step away from his longstanding ties with the development industry) and competence (who is more likely to be able to run an effective county government). With Trone’s specter looming over the proceedings, though, a vital third criterion will come into play: which is able to run the perfect campaign to beat Trone.

So, my dear progressive readers, we may experience déja vu all over again: just as many Bernie supporters had to swallow hard and back Hillary to stop Trump*, either Elrich or Leventhal supporters will have to drop some pride and some ideology to back the candidate who can win. We all better start contemplating this prospect now. We will  need a pre-primary, where a comparison of campaign messaging, organization, and money raising acts as our guide for whom to ultimately back in June. I expect we will be able to make that assessment by a year or so from now.

*Yeah, I know the bet on Hillary didn’t work out. But, the Bernie supporters who claim with certainty now that he would have run better against Trump are taking hindsight conjecture and trying to turn it into predictive fact. And, the continued bitter sniping between “Berners” (I love that designation!) and Clinton fans is a demonstration of why forces of evil beat the left (center left and more left) so often.

See my previous posts about suburban Maryland’s own Trump equivalent:

©2017 Keith Berner

12.07.16 County Council disses Marc Elrich, as usual

December 7, 2016

At the bottom, you’ll see Nancy Floreen’s celebration of the council’s great new leadership: Roger Berliner and Hans Riemer. Above it you’ll see my letter to the councilmembers. Please remember this when all of them run for county executive (against Marc) in 2018.

Subject: MoCoCo new leadership announcement
Date: December 6, 2016 at 21:00:41 EST

This new leadership is another deliberate exclusion of the most popular and nearly longest serving councilmember: Marc Elrich.Marc beat you other at-large members twice in a row and has now served 10 years on the Council. I’m sure Marc is a big boy and can withstand the evident enmity from his council colleagues, but *I* am insulted. All of you who have conspired to keep Marc out of leadership have betrayed me and thousands of other Moco voters who support him more than they do you. I and others will have a long memory.

©2016 Keith Berner
nancy_floreen_s_montgomery_in_focus__december_2016_-_inbox

07.02.16 County Council repeals employee benefits for domestic partners

July 2, 2016

An open letter to regressive Montgomery County Council members. . .

To: George Leventhal, Nancy Floreen & Hans Riemer:

I am extremely disappointed that you voted (and George led the effort) to strip county employees’ domestic partner benefits. In order to save about $1.98, you have placed MoCo firmly on the side of regressive social policy. Sure, domestic-partner benefits were often created to get around discrimination against same-sex couples. But these benefits also took government out of any role in judging the shapes of love and families. As for some of the where-do-you-draw-the-line/where-does-does-it-ever-stop complains I’ve seen on Facebook, this is not rocket science. My nonprofit employers allows staff to designate one domestic partner, without any demand to see a marriage certificate. The fact that Marty Ittner and I live at the same address is good enough for them — why shouldn’t it be good enough for the county?

I congratulate Marc Elrich, Tom Hucker, and Craig Rice for being on the correct side of this issue. But I’m also disappointed that they didn’t warn their constituents in advance of this misguided action so that public pressure could have been brought to bear. (And I congratulate MD Delegate David Moon for alerting me and many others to the issue on Facebook.)

—Keith

©2016 Keith Berner

 

03.27.16 Washington Adventist Hospital and defamation in Takoma Park

March 27, 2016

There has been recent controversy in Takoma Park, MD (TkPk) about development around our co-op. Somehow, posts on the main TkPk listserv have reached into the past seeking to connect Washington Adventist Hospital’s (WAH) decision to move to White Oak to a supposed danger that the city and community are going to force the Co-op to close or move. There’s zero connection between the issues, but that doesn’t matter to the resident revisionist historians who need scapegoats for the hospital’s move.

Here are some of the recent claims on the listserv, all of which come from people who were not involved in any way in the issues at the time.

From Vanessa Dixon:

I remain concerned that a small group of residents will achieve their goal of no-growth which it’s my understanding occurred re the hospital and now seems to threaten the co-op. I understand that those who live closest to a possible business expansion have reason to be most concerned.  However, there has got to be a balance between the needs of the few vs. the needs of the many … the vocal minority of neighbors … played a significant role in motivating the hospital to relocate … Based on eye witness accounts reported on this list and others, it’s clear it is NOT a myth that some contingent of TP residents wanted the hospital to go, acted accordingly and this conceivably (if not probably) played some part in the hospital deciding to leave (among other factors) … despite the effort of other TP residents to negotiate for the hospital to stay.

From Jim DiLuigi:

I believe there are parallels to be drawn relative to the Junction [Co-op] site. The City has create [sic] a convoluted process without consideration for resolving, or better preventing, a loggerhead conflict between the selected developer and the CoOp … What kind of City leadership does that represent?

From Catherine Tunis:

I heard on other lists of individuals who live close to the hospital that they wanted it to go.  They said they were annoyed by the traffic, especially from ambulances and helicopters.  I did not know who these people personally, but surmised they must have never had a health issue or imagine they might ever have one.

It is important to note that all of these posts rely on hearsay (no source is ever cited). They also come after several posts on the listserv from people who were involved categorically refuting the claims.

Also, when the ahistorical defamers aren’t blaming fellow residents, they are blaming the city, as if TkPk is supposed to blindly support all development, regardless of impact. They purposely ignore the context: the fact that there was no opposition to the hospital per se, but only to a massive expansion plan that would have overwhelmed the surrounding infrastructure. By willfully ignoring context, this cabal makes it look like the city and community willfully kicked the hospital out for convenience. This is an outright lie.

Here’s the truth.

Fact: Not a single person involved in discussions with the hospital or opposition to the hospital’s massive and unsustainable expansion plans wanted the hospital to leave. Not. One. Person. 

Here’s a bullet-point history of what happened:

  • Prior to 2000, WAH had a long history of ignoring community input and breaking negotiated agreements (e.g., to limit the number of helicopter flights); that is, there was already bad blood when… 
  • Around 2000, WAH and its commercial development partner Folger-Pratt unveiled a plan for a 7-story commercial building on campus (which would have been the largest building in TkPk) and a 1100-spot parking garage.
  • Because a special zoning exception would have been required, the county got involved, and convened “negotiation” sessions between TkPk residents and the hospital. I put “negotiation” in quotes because the hospital and Folger-Pratt refused to budge on anything: F-P was guaranteed an 11% return on investment and every element of their plan was deemed essential and non-negotiable. The entire time (two or three years) F-P and their land-use attorneys treated TkPk representatives with hostility and arrogance.
  • An informal group called Sensible Hospital Growth formed to combat not all expansion at the hospital but this particular plan. A major reason was our belief that he two-lane roads that lead to the hospital would be completely overwhelmed by the ensuing traffic. Our data analysis (we did not make this up in our heads) showed that ambulances would not be able to reach the hospital quickly in the traffic and quality of care would decline. 
  • After having reached a standstill, higher authorities at Adventist Health care stepped in. In the mid-00s, they apologized to the community for having created bad blood, fired the then president of the hospital, and announced their willingness to negotiate in good faith.
  • An agreement was reached for a smaller hospital expansion on-site, plus development on other parcels of land in the area.
  • Without telling the city or community, WAH went back and did some strategic planning on their own (which they had not done up to this point). They discovered that their future needs could not be met within land available in TkPk and surrounding Silver Spring.
  • Meanwhile, a development office of the county had been quietly (secretly?) encouraging WAH to move to White Oak.
  • WAH surprised everyone with a sudden announcement that they were ditching the compromise and taking the county’s offer to move.
  • County Councilman George Leventhal, who had publicly blamed the city and community for the move (just like Vanessa, Jim, and Catherine are doing) eventually apologized, once he realized that WAH had engaged in very late strategic planning and had been encouraged by the county to move.

I don’t see where any of this has relevance to the Co-op, but more important: even if it did, it is unforgivable for those who don’t know what they are talking about to continue bashing a group of elected officials and community members who put hundreds of hours into finding win-win solutions for the hospital and the city. 

©2016 Keith Berner

08.02.15 Against the local Tea Party (for a plastic bag ban)

August 2, 2015

Recently, my city councilman, Jarrett Smith, introduced a bill to ban plastic bag distribution by businesses in our fair little city. I hardly need to mention the environmental benefits of such a ban and the inevitable opposition by big business (the chemical industry).

What alarms me is that progressive Takoma Park is home to its own little Tea Party: “freedom-loving” libertarians who wish we were more like Alabama. This local Tea Party vigorously opposed a ban passed last year on use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes (which, with leadership from County Councilman George Leventhal [At Large] will soon become law in Montgomery County.) They’re back now to oppose plastic bans in the name of freedom.

Here is an exchange between me and one of the Tea Partiers on the Takoma Park’s main discussion listserv:

From: “James DiLuigi jdiluigi@aacinc.net [TakomaPark]” <TakomaPark@yahoogroups.com>

Subject: Re: [TakomaPark] Bans as Takoma Park City Policy

Date: August 2, 2015 at 12:36:37 EDT

To: “TakomaPark@yahoogroups.com” <TakomaPark@yahoogroups.com>

Catherine [Tunis] makes a point that has concerned me for some time now.

Takoma Park is a community of citizens who accept and care for one another without being foxed to do so by laws.

Most of us have come here by choice and relish the small town and inclusive society we have fostered.

I have become concerned regarding the legislative approach, rather than a voluntary/educational approach, that has been taken on various matters recently.

Let’s stop this management by fiat before it begins to threaten the welcoming society we have worked so hard to create.

James A. DiLuigi, AIA, CSI

Access-Ability Consultants, Inc

++++++++++

From: Keith Berner <tkpk@kberner.us>

Subject: Re: [TakomaPark] Bans as Takoma Park City Policy

Date: August 2, 2015 at 13:22:03 EDT

To: Takoma Park list <TakomaPark@yahoogroups.com>

Yes, many Takoma Parkers care about each other without being forced to by law. But can Takoma Parker’s properly care for the environment without laws that restrict environmentally damaging business practices? Let’s go back to the origin of this debate: Councilmember Jarrett Smith’s progressive legislation to ban plastic bag distribution by TkPk businesses. This is hardly an encroachment on residents’ ability to care for each other.

The “nanny state” that dictates and controls all we do is a classic bogeyman of the right. But they’re not all wrong. There are certainly places we don’t want the state to tread (the bedroom, for example, or free speech). But environmental and health protections rarely cross that line. In fact, they are essential for curbing business practices that do not capture “externalities” in market-driven transactions. Your “right” not to wear a seatbelt has an external cost that I pay in the form of higher insurance premiums and health care costs. A “free” plastic bag at checkout has the external cost of polluted waterways, parks, roads, etc. Your right to pack heat threatens my right to be safe from violence.

Further, many or most areas of the country fall too far to the laissez-faire side of the line. Takoma Park and Montgomery County provide much-needed alternatives to the libertarian and pro-big-business ethos  that pervades the American body politic. That is, those of you who see our progressive oasis as too infringing on your right to pollute can move almost anywhere and enjoy more of this (in my view) destructive “freedom.” 

We don’t need Tea Party-like libertarianism in our community (though, of course, those with these views have every right to express them and to try to elect politicians who share such views). I say: two thumbs up for progressive communitarianism, where society and the planet are sometimes given precedence over individual self-interest.

—Keith Berner

++++++++++

By the way, Mr. Luigi most recently made waves on the listserv by calling for city legislation to be reviewed by a committee of homeowners who have been residents for more than 10 years. The GOP couldn’t come up with a better plan to disenfranchise people of color, immigrants, and those of moderate means.

@2015 Keith Berner