The hot summer weather brings out the mosquitoes, ticks, and politicians. The latter were biting fiercely at the Takoma Park Independence Day Parade, and the Old Town Farmers’ Market two days prior (and since). Swarms of color-coded campaign volunteers buzzed around the voters, handing out literature, fans, and balloons.
Such a large crowd of voters this close to the September primary would normally attract campaigners, but since the parade includes incumbent politicians in the line of march, yet bans challengers from taking part, the sidewalk action along the parade route is particularly frantic.
It was good too see our local pols and those who aspire to be pols in the parade or along the route, but it was a bit galling to be handed literature promoting such persons as Nancy Floreen, who ran successfully last election for county council on the developer-financed, pro-Inter County Connector (ICC) “End Gridlock” slate. Her campaigners had a lot of nerve showing their faces in such strong anti-ICC territory as Takoma Park.
One might say the same about George Leventhal, but George, besides being one of the evil End-Gridlockers, gets a lot of credit for promoting other environmental programs, notably getting Montgomery County to obtain a percentage of its energy from renewable resources such as wind-power. George proves it is possible to walk the right path even with one’s head up one’s . . . um, in the dark.
George, being an incumbent, was allotted a place in one of the parade’s vintage cars, but he chose to walk behind it so he could squeeze as much voting flesh as he could. When ribbed about needing to run to catch up with his car, he responded by saying no, he was running for office, thereby winning Gilbert’s grudging respect on the basis of his QQ (Quip Quotient). A politician who demonstrates creativity and quick thinking with a good quip deserves at least respect, if not your vote.
Also walking instead of riding was city council member Colleen Clay, decked out in her American-flag theme shirt and looking more like a politician aspiring for higher office than most of the ones who actually were. Some didn’t even show up. For instance, Peter Franchot, District 20 State Senator running for State Comptroller was represented by a small, fluffy, white dog. Presumably Franchot, figuring he’s got a lock on the local electorate, was campaigning in a less locked locality instead.
Local candidate, and former city councilmember Heather Mizeur was also not spotted (by your Gilbert, anyway) at the parade – possibly for similar reasons. Her campaign volunteers were plentiful, however.
Ida Ruben, incumbent candidate for District 20 State Senator, stayed in her convertible, waving and smiling. Her supporters bobbed their yellow balloons at her (most of them in this case being too young to vote, but old enough to reach out for a free balloon). Some cheered her, including an old friend of Gilbert’s, a resident of District 20 but not of Takoma Park, who is less than impressed with Ruben’s challenger, Takoma Park’s own Jamie Raskin. He grumbled that Raskin seemed to be campaigning against George Bush, not Ida Ruben. He found this to be presumptuous and inappropriate. He also felt that Raskin’s campaign kickoff fundraiser was outrageously expensive ($50). So, there’s one vote against Raskin. Astute political junkies have pointed out that, despite your Gilbert’s observation that Takoma Park’s population is not the majority in District 20, it nevertheless turns out in greater numbers than the rest of the district for elections. So, Gilbert admits that Raskin may very well carry the primary with ease. Being a realist (some would say a curmudgeon), however, he holds out for the worst-case-scenario, especially when progressives convince themselves they are about to win something. Gilbert says watch out for a backlash or a more-than-expected number of votes from women and moderate Democrats. And there’s always the possibility that Raskin may stumble or that Ruben (or surrogate) could smear him. One look (OK, TWO looks, you can’t see both in one look) at their respective websites shows clearly the Ms
Ruben is outclassed – unless her strategy is to look so pathetic that she gets the sympathy vote.
The man who covets her seat, Jamie Raskin, prowled the sidelines of the parade route, looking very much the earnest-man-of-the-people in his shiny white shirt and tie (no coat, and shirtsleeves rolled up, of course). Dozens of blue-t-shirted campaign volunteers went the rounds with him, or in other groups. His signs were more numerous than mushrooms after a heavy rain. The smell of inevitable victory drifted through the air like the sweet, appetite-rousing scent of a neighbor’s barbecue.
Meanwhile, city councilmember Joy Austin-Lane has dropped out of the county council race, and Marc Elrich is still running, but, this week anyway, for an at-large seat, not for county district 5. His fans were everywhere – both the human and cooling sort. His effort is not as giddy as Raskin’s, though he is also a favorite son.
Both Austin-Lane and Elrich jumped off the track the moment Valerie Ervin, aka “Astroturf Val,” declared her District 5 candidacy. Astroturf Val is on the county Board of Education (though she has served a mere 19 months of her term). Until recently she was chief of staff to county councilmember George Leventhal, and as such already has a close working relationship with the existing council, all of whom, she says, endorse her. The head of CASA endorses her (signaling that she will carry the torch of Tom Perez, the departing District 5 representative who has strongly represented Latino interests). Joy Austin-Lane has endorsed her and even joined her campaign rather than run against her. Clearly, Astroturf Val is the Anointed One.
Why then, is Gilbert filled with foreboding? Despite her reputation as a progressive and her endorsements from All The Right People, Gilbert is troubled by a number of things. Not least of these is the feeling that the advantage she enjoys in the race as a councilmember’s staff-person is not only unfair but disturbingly close to incestuous. Gilbert wonders if she would act more as a representative of the council than the citizens. More disturbing is that her rhetoric is full of phrases that sound good but don’t amount to much. On transportation issues, for example, her opponent (more on him below) clearly states a plan for promoting light rail and limiting development, whereas Astroturf Val calls for “a transportation plan that makes sense.” Makes sense to who? She calls for “clean air and water and green spaces,” yet she advocates replacing the county schools’ grass playing fields with artificial turf. [Homework assignment for Ms Ervin: a one page essay on how “Urban Heat Island Effect” from artificial turf will impact on the health and safety of young players on the field and contribute to the Metro region’s artificially-high temperatures and air pollution.]
Her stump speech, as presented at the Takoma Voice candidate forum June 24, was a string of Hallmark Card platitudes, such as “The journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step,” interspersed with the standard list of voter issues – safety, education, affordable housing, clean air, civility, transparency and so forth, with no actual positions stated on any of them. Then she rounded it out with a Martin Luther King quote: “”There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.” Odd, since she had just said nothing remotely unsafe, impolitic, or unpopular. She finished up with the rousing yet circular and meaningless statement, “I am running . . . because it is the right thing to do.”
If this is “progressive,” I’ll eat a plate of artificial turf.
Before Astroturf Val hopped into the car for the parade Gilbert hopes she boned up on local issues. At the candidate’s forum she professed she’d never heard of the Residents Committee Tax and Service Duplication Issues (TASDI) Report documenting the inadequate rebate we get from the county. This was just after she reassured the assembled citizens that she would represent Takoma Park well because she’d lived for the last two decades just a few blocks away. The TASDI Report has only been one of the Top Five political issues in Takoma Park for about two years.
Her opponent Hans Riemer was also present at the parade, but campaigning on the sidelines since he is not an elected official. Riemer looks very young, but he says he is a highly accomplished activist of national stature having served as a director of the Rock the Vote voter registration group, and as a lobbyist working to defeat Bush’s Social Security reforms. These and other experiences show he is able to accomplish big things, he says to counter Ervin’s advantage as a council insider.
Your Gilbert does get a whiff of Great Ambition from Reimer due to his national experience and the fact that he’s only been registered to vote in Montgomery County since 2004, and he wonders if the county council is just Reimer’s quick stop on the way to higher office. Still, Gilbert prefers a “progressive” candidate who backs up the claim with substantial proposals – or at least more substantial proposals than his opponent. Reimer is a staunch supporter of the Purple Line and has definite ideas about how it should be built (ground-level in Bethesda, tunneled in Silver Spring). Ervin supports the Purple Line as well, but notes the “concerns” about the routing of it in the Sligo community.
Reimer says that the Purple Line is just a start, he envisions a countywide light-rail system. He wants to further the use of mass transit by encouraging the establishment of town centers that are transportation hubs. This would mean, of course, curtailing development in areas that would subvert this plan – especially in the northern part of the county, and along the route of the ICC, if it is actually built.
Another earnest young fellow running for office is Aaron Klein, candidate for District 20 state delegate. Mr. Klein, every inch the former magnet-program student from Montgomery Blair High School, is yet another insider (congressional aid) running for office, as are most of the other new District 20 state delegate candidates (does this happen in other parts of the county, or is it a Washington, DC area phenomenon?).
Aaron is another champion of the Purple Line (so far, no Purple Line opponents have surfaced). Your Gilbert has had the pleasure of chatting with him and thinks he has the Right Stuff. Your Gilbert hastens to add that he has not chatted with many of the other candidates, yet. Fortunately, this is one of those “vote for 3” elections, so it will be more of a case of who one chooses NOT to vote for. Who will YOU not vote for, Dear Reader, and why?