[Due to technical difficulties we have not been able to post entries for the last few days.]
Who knows you best?
We’ll give you a hint. Who has been banging on doors and talking to every kind of resident in every corner of every city ward this month past?
The mayoral candidates, that’s who! If anyone is an expert on what city residents have on their minds, it is Mayor Bruce Williams and challenger Roger Schlegel.
Williams eluded our grasp, so far, but Schlegel, who lost the election, submitted to a friendly interrogation by our rubber-hose wielding, shoulder-holstered staff. As their cigarette smoke curled through the shaft of bright light drilling into his smarting eyes, the heavily perspiring Schlegel sang like a chorus girl.
The first question we put to him was “how did you pull it off, Schlegel? How’d a mug like you get 40% of the vote, when Gilbert said you’d only get 29%? Huh?”
Schlegel tried to pass the blame onto his “amazing” campaign manager, but we weren’t buying that guff. After a few hard pokes he owned up. Of course, first he gave us a bunch of malarky about his message and vision resonating with the voters. And he said he and his volunteers had done extraordinary outreach, pressing the flesh in every ward and meeting people face-to-face. He even said he had a fair shot at winning, if things had gone his way: more media coverage, more people who supported him coming out to vote. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Finally it came out that his candidacy, despite his refusal to attack the incumbent mayor, tapped a vein of simmering discontent. Many voters are disgruntled about taxes and the city budget. In fact, Schlegel says, some people are “on fire about the taxation issue.”
The closest Schlegel came to criticizing the mayor and last term’s council were remarks about the auditorium renovations expenses, despite the fact that the funds are from grants, not taxes. He was dismayed that $80,000 is being spent for a new desk in the front lobby, that the project uses a grant from the Washington Adventist Hospital that was originally supposed to go to a gym, and that Project Open Space money is being spent on an enclosed space. He wonders if better uses might have been found for those grants.
He found many people have the impression that the council does not pay attention to what they are spending. They feel what Schlegel called a “disconnect” when they see their taxes rising in the midst of the severe recession.
He said he tried not to take advantage of this, keeping the campaign positive with his “we can do better” slogan. Disgruntled voters apparently latched onto the candidacy of this relative newcomer not only to support the idea of “doing better,” but to express their displeasure. Your Gilbert thinks that if the mayor and council don’t hear that 40% vote ringing like a car alarm, they have lost their political instincts.
“I heard tax and budget oversight concerns expressed most strongly in North Takoma, Wards 2 and 6, the southern part of Ward 3, and the owner-occupied residences of Ward 5.,” said Schlegel.
Time was a factor as well, he said. As Nov. 3 election day approached and the issues were more widely aired, he saw an increase in these concerns. He speculated that councilmembers with more credentials than he could have used these issues to win the mayor’s seat handily. He didn’t say which councilmembers he had in mind.
The Eight Minute LIne
Schlegel observed that alienation with city governance grows the farther one gets from Old Town. City loyalty starts declining “an eight minute walk from Old Town” in any direction, he says. Old Town and the city community center are amenities people feel they pay for but, if they don’t live close to them, do not benefit from. Another factor that affects residents’ city loyalty is whether their children are attending local schools. Ward 6 children currently do not.
Overall, Schlegel sensed a growing social distance in the city, due to economic, geographical, and architectural divisions.
Ward by Ward
Schlegel said that public safety was also a top concern in North Takoma, and also in “single-family residence neighborhoods of Ward 6 (especially Hillwood Manor) and to a lesser extent in Ward 2. ”
Ward 4, where he received not only a warm welcome but 47% of the vote (his highest ward percentage), he found that “residents were extremely concerned that there are a lack of recreation/job training opportunities for youth . . . ; and Ward 4 residents frequently expressed a desire for the council and mayor (other than their own councilmember) to be more attentive to Ward 4 people and concerns.” he said.
Schlegel scored 46% of the Ward 2 vote. In that ward, though taxes and budget were of high concern, he found that the SOCSA (South of Sligo Community Association ) neighborhood was a “hotbed of environmentalism,” compared to other parts of the city.
HIs lowest vote percentages were in Wards 1 and 5, which each gave him 31%. In Ward 1 Schlegel found that many residents are hot to continue the fight against the housing development planned for the Takoma (DC) Metro grounds. Ward 1 also turned out to be a nest of arts supporters, he said.
He was concerned about the low turnout in Ward 5 where an underwhelming 83 mayoral votes were cast. He said it was hard to get into the apartment buildings to campaign there. It was the same in Wards 4 and 6 rental properties. He said that among those renters he managed to reach, Ward 6 council candidate Navid Nasr’s campaign statements “seemed to resonate with the apartment dwellers I spoke with.”
Nasir campaigned to represent renters in what he called the “forgotten part of the forgotten ward.” He lost the election to Fred Schultz.
The Ward votes by number and percentage are below.
Talking the Walk
Closer to Old Town, Schlegel says, younger renters want more walkable destinations. This was one of Schlegel’s campaign issues – to create more “walkable destinations” in Old Town and other commercial parts of the city. He says this resonated with people whose doors he knocked on. “A fair number of people all over town seem interested in finding ways to stabilize and modestly grow our small commercial districts, with Old Town mentioned most often.” he says.
Surprisingly, the Washington Adventist Hospital issue (WAH leaving the city) “wasn’t on most peoples’ radar unless I brought it up.” he says. Nor was the New Hampshire Avenue/Takoma Langley Sector Plan.
Global Village – not Mayberry
He discovered that Takoma Parkians relish living at a slower pace than the rest of the DC region. He disagreed with the common perception that the city is like a small town in this respect. He sees it as more worldly, saying it is similar to the pace of life in other countries where so many of our residents are from or have spent time.
Schlegel felt the campaign was worthwhile to get his ideas into the political discussion. He said he’s been invited to discuss them with the mayor at a post-election get-together.
[At the November 16 City Council meeting – which included the swearing-in of the new council – freshly installed Mayor Williams confirmed that he and Schlegel have indeed discussed Schlegel’s ideas and the council will be, per Schlegel’s suggestion, holding specific council meetings focused on individual wards – see below]
One idea that may come up is his suggestion that the city hold off on the Public Works Department renovations until the Environmental Action Task Force makes its recommendations.
A campaign idea that Schlegel wants to see adopted is to involve broader groups of people in the city. He would like to see occasional city council meetings in locations other than the council chambers. He thinks the council should invite specific wards to come to meetings at which those ward’s concern’s are aired. This would allow the council to meet with and talk to people they might not ordinarily run into. He also doesn’t think that citizen comment periods at ordinance readings are adequate.
He feels that the city needs to respect the time, talents and gifts of citizens volunteering for advisory committees or task forces. It could do that, he says, by asking them to drop off resumes at the city hall, then calling them up when a committee is formed calling for their particular expertise.
He is worried about the Crossroads development. Montgomery County’s new CR Zone is, he feels, designed for upcounty development and will have undesirable effects here. For example, he says, the “buffer” allowed between new businesses and residential property is only a six-foot fence. He’s also concerned that the prolonged period of construction will kill many of the current small businesses in the Langley Park area.
He encourages the council not to forget the city’s strategic plan. He says that plan would be improved by setting timelines and measurable targets for the plan’s goals.
Break Out The Bamboo Splints
Schlegel’s said the city’s tenant/landlord issue is “the elephant in the room.” He proposed that the council “revisit” the affordable housing and rent stabilization issue.
Your Gilbert immediately stuck bamboo splints under this fingernails for this. Schlegel hastened to add that the city has to keep rent stabilization, “it is a social justice issue.” But, when he added that the landlords should not have to take the brunt of this “charity work,” we tapped the splints in firmer. HE wouldn’t have to sit through hours and hours of yet another overwrought rental stabilization debate that brings the city around and around to exactly the same place it is already in – WE would. Where’s that gag?
Have we seen the last of Roger Schlegel on the political scene? He is not sure. He is pleased that the mayor has asked for his input, and he hopes to contribute in other ways in the future. [Following his swearing-in Mayor Williams praised Schlegel in his inaugural remarks, encouraging him to become more involved in civic affairs.]
Schlegel: 146, 31%
Williams: 314, 67%
write-ins: 6, 01%
total Mayoral votes: 466
Schlegel: 129, 47%
Williams: 140, 51%
write-ins: 6, 02%
total Mayoral votes: 275
Schlegel: 205, 43%
Williams: 272, 57%
write-ins: 3, 01%
total Mayoral votes: 480
Schlegel: 87, 47%
Williams: 96, 52%
write-ins: 1, 01%
total Mayoral votes: 184
Schlegel: 26, 32%
Williams: 57, 68%
total Mayoral votes: 83
Schlegel: 71, 37%
Williams: 121, 63%
write-ins: 1, 01%
total Mayoral votes: 193