by Greg Kohn
The Montgomery County Council voted 6-3 on Dec. 6 to table a proposal that sought to institute a curfew on county youths. The vote put an end to a controversial debate, at least for the foreseeable future.
The vote was a setback for County Executive Ike Leggett who in July asked the Council to ban everyone under age 18 from all public places, with few exceptions, on weekends and weekdays, starting at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and at 11 p.m. the rest of the week. Leggett’s proposal was in response to a brawl involving two youth gangs earlier this year in downtownSilver Spring.
“The curfew sent the wrong message,” said George Leventhal, an at-large councilmember from Takoma Park who voted to table Leggett’s bill. “It implied that Silver Spring and the rest of the county is a dangerous place. I just don’t think it is.”
Leventhal, who said he had planned to vote against the curfew, called the option to suspend discussion the safest choice. “We weren’t sure there were enough votes to beat it,” Leventhal said. “Now, unless something compelling happens, I doubt we will discuss it again.”
Councilmember Marc Elrich, another at-large representative from Takoma, also voted to table the proposal, but said he would support a more specific curfew that required renewing every 120 days.
“I thought the original bill was overly broad,” Elrich said. “But if the max age dropped to 16 – the same age the state deems you responsible enough to drive – it might make more sense. If we did try it, though, it would require reevaluation on a scale of every few months, not years.”
Regardless, he emphasized the curfew should not convey a message that the county is unsafe. “Like George, I feel safe pretty much anywhere in our communities.”
While Elrich said he did not have the support for this version of the proposal to pass now, his decision to be one of the votes that placed the curfew on the shelf gives him the power to bring it back into discussion later.
Leggett, who saw his five-month push on behalf of the curfew effectively negated with the vote, expressed disappointment.
“The county council’s refusal to even take a yes or no vote on the proposed youth curfew is a failure of leadership,” Leggett said in a statement. “Leadership means stepping up to the plate and deciding – yes or no – on critical issues that face our county.”