Posted tagged ‘Rebecca Smondrowski’

07.10.17 MoCo Politics: Endorsing Elrich & Grimes, plus early musings on the 30+ at-large candidates

July 10, 2017

Marc Elrich is running to be Montgomery County’s next executive to replace Ike Leggett. I have known Elrich since I moved to Maryland in 2000, as a friend, neighbor, and as a member of the Takoma Park City Council (where he served for 19 years) and then the Montgomery County Council (12 years). 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 corrupted 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.  You can count on Marc Elrich to support anti-poverty programs, affordable housing, mass transit, quality of life, and the environment. Please join me in helping make Elrich our next county executive.


County Council At-Large

Talk about crowded fields! Local activist Paul Bessel has been collecting the names of declared and interested candidates for the four Montgomery Council At-Large seats in 2018. Here is a list he posted on Facebook last week:



There are a few inaccuracies on this list*, but you get the idea: over 30 candidates plan to go for the glory, competing against only one incumbent (Hans Riemer).

In this field, Seth Grimes stands out. I have observed over the past 15 years as Grimes has evolved from a Takoma Park gadfly (when he quite rightly called out the city government for poor management) to a wise contributor on public affairs locally and beyond. As a member of the Takoma Park City Council, Grimes got to know well the people and processes of Rockville. His policy line is consistently progressive, from anti-poverty (he serves on the board of Shepherd’s Table) to the environment. He is also one of three visionary founders and leaders of the Takoma Park Mobilization, formed in mid-November to counter the Trump agenda and now including over 1,000 activists. Like Elrich, Grimes is a smart and extremely well-informed student of local politics. Running for the council is a logical step for Grimes – his level of preparation and commitment to progressive values distinguishes him among the dozens of other candidates. I am proud to endorse Seth Grimes for county council.


I don’t recognize most of the names on Bessel’s list and encourage them to introduce themselves to me via an email to

I have recently met some of the candidates in the context of progressive politics, such as the Politics 101 workshop sponsored by Our Revolution and Progressive Neighbors in May. This list includes (in alphabetical order): Julian Haffner, Danielle Meitiv, and Chris Wilhelm. I can see that these three are explicitly progressive, but I don’t know any of them well enough yet to declare early support for them.

Rebecca Smondrowski currently serves on the school board and has a good reputation among progressives. I’m also eager to learn more about her.

Diana Conway has been an influential progressive activist, which makes me wonder why her husband, Bill Conway is running, instead of her. I wouldn’t blame one spouse for the other spouse’s opinions or work, but neither will I automatically give Bill credit for Diana’s. Count this as another candidacy I’m intrigued about.

I know Cherri Branson’s name from her brief tenure on the Council in 2013-14, when she took the place of Valerie Ervin as the District 5 rep, after the latter got bored with the job and quit. Unfortunately, what most struck me at the time was Branson’s endorsement (along with Ervin) of the eminently unqualified and ethically challenged Chris Barclay to take the seat in 2014. I have heard good reviews of Branson’s work on Leggett’s staff since then and am open to learning more to overcome that first impression.

Evan Glass is a smart and nice guy. But he chose to run for D5 in 2014 as a Chamber of Commerce candidate, backed by all the big developers. There was also an arrogant tinge to his campaign that turned me off (he claimed that the transit center debacle woudn’t have happened if only he had been on the council). Since that time, Glass has led the Silver Spring youth education organization Gandhi Brigade: noble work, indeed. As with Branson, my mind is open to being reintroduced to Glass this time around.


Candidates to oppose. . .

This blog has devoted considerable attention to Hans Riemer — I encourage you, Dear Reader, to search on his name in order to relive all the highlights. For those less hardy, here’s the summary of Riemer’s service to the county

  • began running for office before the paint was dry in his first Maryland domicile (following his move here from California in late 2005)
  • has used empty rhetoric to sound progressive, without actually leading on progressive policy
  • has championed relatively lightweight issues
  • has been less than forthright about his intentions and his record.

Riemer has never added up to much substantively. Yet, in 2010, he succeeded in deceiving experienced activists and naïve voters alike, with his pretty face, California cash (caché?), and ad nauseum repetition of the word “progressive.” Now we have another chance to show Reimer the door; voters would be fools not to take it.

Will Jawando certainly loves campaigning, joining his fourth contest (the other three were losses) since 2014.** Other than being a candidate, though, Jawando seems never to have done anything much for the community or the county.  Jawando is a smart and engaging fellow. He just doesn’t get that paid public service should be less a pursuit of personal glory, than the culmination of a previous do-good record – something earned, not acquired.


Public Financing

As I learn more about county council candidates, I will look favorably on those who opt-in to public financing and unfavorably on those who self-finance (in effect, seeking to purchase their seat) or who rely on $4,000 checks from special interests (including from the development industry or public-employee unions).

I learned today on the Seventh State Blog, that Conway and Riemer have qualified for public financing.


*The three from Bessel’s list whom I know or believe are not running for At-Large are Ukaih Busch (who has said so publicly), Bill Cook (who has declared for the D1 seat), and Jill Ortman-Fouse (who seems to have opted to remain on the school board).

**Jawando has previously run for MD D20 state delegate (2014), Congress from MD D8 (against Jamie Raskin, 2016), and for appointment to the D20 house seat that opened when Will Smith was appointed to Raskin’s seat in the state senate (2016).

©2017 Keith Berner




11.07.12 Schadenfreude

November 7, 2012

Schadenfreude from the German, means literally “pain joy, ” or joy at someone else’s pain. There is indeed great joy to be found after a brutal election campaign against the Forces of Evil. While I am indeed celebrating the positive outcome for marriage equality (in four states) and the Dream Act (in Maryland) today, my feelings about Obama leave me celebrating the other side’s loss more than his win.

Here are some of my schadenfreude targets:

  • Mitt Romney, who ran one of the most disgusting campaigns in history. The NY Times and WaPo endorse Democrats for high office, so their endorsements of Obama were hardly surprising. What is remarkable is that the editorial boards of both papers wrote separately about Romney’s incessant lies and his lack of belief in anything other than his own right to be president. He is a truly despicable man and we can only hope he is crying today over the hundreds of millions of dollars put into his despicable campaign.
  • The Koch Brothers.
  • All billionaires.
  • Homophobic preachers.
  • All men who love rape. Especially all male politicians who do.
  • Grover Norquist.
  • Karl Rove, who even by mid-evening last night was still trying to peddle his view that Romney was winning and that the networks had gotten it wrong by calling Ohio too early.
  • All the right-wing pundits and politicos who have been carrying on for weeks about supposed bias in polls that showed their boy losing. Of course, this is part and parcel of the GOPs war on science and truth. If you are a Republican and the evidence doesn’t support your theology or plutocracy, what do you do? Declare it invalid, of course!
  • Newt Gingrich.

Locally, I am getting special schadenfreude from Fred Evans’s loss in the school board race. To be fair, I have heard even from folks who recommended support for Rebecca Smondrowski (the winner) that Evans is a decent guy. My beef is not with him (he is not evil), but with his staff who created an email spam campaign, second to none. When their first non-opt-in email arrived tying Evans to Prince of Darkness Doug Duncan, I rolled my eyes and decided not to vote for Evans. Then another email arrived to a different email address of mine. Then another. Then another. (I maintain a number of email addresses that I use for various purposes. I rarely use more than one in any given context, meaning that it is not easy to find my other email addresses by knowing one of them.) Before it was over, Evans’s machine operatives had uncovered seven of my email addresses and spammed me at each and every one. I wrote to the campaign manager separately and told him to wipe all remnants of my existence from his little black book. Nice.

Another note: I have been as paranoid as anyone that the GOP regularly engages in vote theft through ownership of voting machines. Certainly, there is nothing to stop them from doing this in a world with proprietary “black-box” voting machines with no paper trails. But it is clear to me now that they did not engage in vote theft in Ohio yesterday. Of course, voter suppression efforts from the fascist-friendly GOP will continue unabated unless we all fight back hard for years to come. (Suppression will be their only hope, given the huge demographic changes that bode ill for a rump white-man’s party.)

We dodged a horrendously scary bullet with Obama’s narrow win yesterday and with Democratic gains in the Senate. Now it is time to turn back to pressuring the president not to give away the store when he tries to “negotiate” with the Tea Party House in coming weeks. We cannot forget that Obama is the same guy who took 2-1/2 years to realize that the other side is not interested in negotiating.

©2012 Keith Berner

10.18.12 Biennial Election Guide for Takoma Park & Montgomery County, MD

October 18, 2012

President of the United States

Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and the entire Republican Party are evil. There. We’re done with that topic and nothing more needs to be said about it.

Some feel betrayed by Barack Obama. They wonder where the progressive they thought they had met in 2008 has gone, along with that uplifting vision of hope and change. He never was the great dreamy progressive many believed him to be. Apart from his opposition to the Iraq War, Obama is a center-right guy. Like most of the Democratic Party establishment, he is fully committed to the welfare of Wall Street. Further, he is the worst civil liberties president in American history. Sure, he banned torture. But otherwise, his policies on military tribunals and imprisonment without trial are expanded from those he inherited from W, as is his commitment to spying on Americans at work, at home, on the road, on the internet, everywhere.

He is also an utter, unmitigated failure as a political leader. It took him nearly three years in office to figure out what the rest of us knew by March 2009: that the GOP was determined to ruin the country, if that’s what it took to drive him from office and impose their plutocratic, theocratic state. He ceded to Congress complete control over his key initiative: health care. In the process, single payer was destroyed and any reform at all came perilously close to the brink. His public dithering and inability to articulate a vision led to the horrendous 2010 GOP takeover – not just of Congress, but of statehouses coast-to-coast.

Then there was that debate two weeks ago: the epitome of fecklessness. With his opponent on the ropes, Barack Obama’s lack of engagement or willingness to fight for anything allowed the GOP to spring back to life. Will Romney actually win? We don’t yet know. But we do know that a competent leader would never have given him a chance. And Obama is just not a competent leader. (Ok, the second debate was better. But still!)

Jill Stein is the Green Party’s candidate for president. I know almost nothing about her personally; though, I do know that the Green Party well represents my values. That’s beside the point, because she is not going to win significant numbers of votes and a vote for her is only about protesting. If I were in Ohio, say, or Virginia, I would bite my cheeks and vote for Obama. Because Obama is a sure landslide winner in Maryland, though, I have the luxury of casting a protest vote against his pro-corporate, anti-civil liberties policies and complete spinelessness. And that is what I shall do by voting for Jill Stein.

Having said this, I call on you lefties to be firm and vocal with your friends and family in swing states: there is a HUGE difference between a bad Democrat and any Republican, when it comes to the courts. There is no place for Naderism, when the president controls lifetime appointments, not only to the Supreme Court, but all federal courts. The extreme right wing has taken over the judiciary in much of the country. Only a Democratic president will be able to slow the bleeding. No matter how bad Obama is, anyone who is not a right-wing nut job and lives in a swing state must vote for him!

US Senator

Ben Cardin has been surprisingly progressive. One great example is his vote against a defense authorization bill that contained provisions increasing the federal assault on civil liberties. Barbara Mikulski (when will she retire?!) voted for it. I can’t think of any good reason to oppose Cardin’s reelection.

US Congress District 8

Chris Van Hollen is the only progressive in the congressional Democratic leadership. We should be proud to be represented by Van Hollen and try to get him over 80%, if we can!

Judges and Board of Education

I have no opinion of my own in these races. State Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20) tells me that all the judges are fine and had nice things to say about Rebecca Smondrowski for Board of Education, District 2. (The fact that Smondrowski’s opponent, Fred Evans, has tied himself to Doug Duncan – MoCo’s own Prince of Darkness –hardly endears him to me.)

State Question 1 – PG County Judges

Yes. I have no well formed opinion on this, but it seems reasonable that any judge in the state should be eligible to practice law in the state and be a member in good standing of the Bar. If there are good reasons to oppose this, please send them my way.

State Question 2 – Baltimore Country Judges


State Question 3 – Suspension and Removal of Elected Officials

Yes. This provision would remove elected officials from their jobs as soon as they are convicted of a serious crime. This would prevent a recurrence of the Leslie Johnson fiasco, where she was convicted of corruption, but stayed in office as a PG County Councilmember – able to vote and collect her salary – while she deliberately stalled having her conviction finalized.

State Question 4 – “The Dream Act”

Yes. This provision allows undocumented immigrants who live in Maryland to attend college at in-state tuition rates. This is a no brainer: why wouldn’t the state want all of its residents to become educated, productive members of society? The only justification for opposing this measure is sheer bigotry.

State Question 5 – “The Gerrymander”

No? (It actually hardly matters – stick with me, dear reader, to find out why.)

Repeat after me: Just because Democrats came up with it, doesn’t mean it’s a good thing! The Maryland Democratic Party machine has shamed itself and our state by creating monstrosities of our (US) congressional district maps.* The most outrageous shape is District 3, connected in several spots by little more than highways as it meanders through every part of the state except the Eastern Shore. (Poor Eastern Shore!)

What are the Democrats up to? Just the same game as the GOP plays everywhere it has control. The Dems saw a chance to knock out one of the state’s two GOP members of Congress (Roscoe Bartlett, District 6) and just couldn’t help themselves. Oh yeah, they also saw a chance to make a principled stand in favor of nepotism, by creating that awful 3rd District as a permanently safe seat for John Sarbanes, son of the former senator.

So, am I calling for Democrats to disarm when, after all, everyone else is doing it? In short, yes. Sometimes, (small-d) democracy is more important than winning. If doing the right thing means that Bartlett gets to serve another term and Sarbanes has to fight harder for his seat, so be it.

What is the right policy? Nonpartisan redistricting commissions that produce districts based on both natural and human borders, as well as history. Sadly, as long as Maryland remains a one-party state, this just won’t see the light of day. Bosses don’t like power dilution.

Martin O’Malley’s and Ike Leggett’s cheerleading for the gerrymander will make it very hard for me to support their future campaigns. (O’Malley is rumored to be considering a run for US president in 2016. I would only support Leggett if he were the only alternative to Mean Mr. Duncan.)

County councilman Phil Andrews (D-1), a former director of Maryland Common Cause, is providing great leadership on this issue, speaking out forcefully in the media against the gerrymander. Andrews plans to run for county executive in 2014. I hope he’ll prove to be a compelling alternative to politics as usual.

Now, here’s the sad news (and the crux of the story). The very Democrats who brought us this nonsense are now secretly hoping we vote against it. Why? Because all that will happen is that they’ll get a brand-new chance to gerrymander, this time with brand-new 2012 voting data! (To clarify: if the redistricting proposal loses, the 2012 election results will still stand and the job of creating new maps will go back to the same people who drew these abominations. Then, the new abominations will be used in 2014, pending an inevitable court challenge.)

Bottom line: if you vote yes, you are endorsing gerrymandering; if you vote no, you are helping the gerrymanderers.

I’ll vote no out of principle and just seethe silently about the Democratic forces of evil who run our state. I suppose there is one very tiny hope in voting no: that enough constituents will pressure enough party machine-heads to create better maps next time. Then again, pigs might sprout wings and sing arias.

*These districts are for Maryland’s members in the US Congress. Districts for all Maryland state bodies and offices are not at issue.

State Question 6 – Marriage Rights for All

Yes. You don’t need me to convince you that bigotry is always wrong.

State Question 7 – Gambling Expansion

No. Gambling is regressive taxation: state-sponsored theft from the poor in order to excuse the rich from paying their fair share. Further, gambling doesn’t produce the financial payoffs its zealots always claim. Look at what happened after Maryland voters first approved gambling. Almost nothing. No windfall for education. No budget surpluses. It was all a bunch of lies.

Further (#2), don’t believe the propaganda about gambling proceeds being dedicated to some cause (like education) you support. The fact is that the Maryland General Assembly — if given the chance to use gambling money for education — will go ahead and fund education exactly where it was before and then use the money they take out of the education budget for something you are not quite so committed to. Finally, so many social ills are caused by gambling (increased crime and destitute families, to name two) that a significant portion of whatever money does not end up lining the gambling industry’s filthy pockets will end up paying to redress them.

County Question A – Hiring Preference for People with Disabilities

Yes. Seems like the right thing to do.

County Question B – Reducing Police Union Control over Operations

Yes. Here’s one where you have to be determined not to let ingrained ideology or union propaganda confuse you. This is not about cutting back on the unions’ ability to bargain over compensation, benefits, and major issues of work safety. Rather, it’s about eliminating the unions’ power to stop every single management initiative regarding daily operations. Say the police chief thinks it’s a good idea that every police car be equipped with a snow shovel. No, says the union — not until you give us “x” (whatever “x” might turn out to be). This isn’t about collective bargaining. It’s about preventing union-powered blackmail.

You lefties and lifelong labor activists need to get off your ideological high horses and deal with reality. Just as with Democrats, just because a union says they want something does not make it ipso facto good. I believe, in fact, that overreach by public employee unions feeds directly into the agenda of the hard-right corporate elite, because it turns public opinion against all labor. If we stand up to labor when they are wrong, we will be serving not only the broader interest, but also the long-term interest of the unions themselves.

downloadable PDF of this guide

©2012 Keith Berner