PHOTO: Resident casts a ballot in the 2014 Ward 3 special election. Now there was an exciting election! Photo by Bill Brown.
GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT
We want to tell you what an exciting Takoma Park election and city council season is coming up this fall.
But, that would be a lie!
So far, it looks like this fall will be a good time to take a nap.
Just in case, set your alarm for September 29. That’s the Nominating Caucus. For newcomers, the NC is the official election campaign start. It’s a public meeting. People nominate city council or mayoral candidates, other people second the nominations. It’s free entertainment and worth every penny.
At evening’s end we’ll all know who the candidates are and whether there will be election contests – or not, which is often the case. Occasionally candidates announce after the NC in which case their only option is to be write-in candidates. The NC rules and other election info is here.
There are three about-to-be-empty seats: the mayor’s and Ward 1 and 3 councilmembers’. For a few weeks last month it looked like an exciting election contest. Ward 3 council member Kate Stewart opened a run for mayor. Ward 1 council member Seth Grimes said he’d announce his campaign. But Grimes decided not to run, making Stewart the only candidate (so far). Since only one candidate has declared for the Ward 1 seat – it is starting to look as though the city might as well save the expense of printing ballots.
There’s a chance another mayoral candidate will be nominated, but it would be hard to win win against Stewart. She’s already harvested every ripe, juicy endorsement in the local political orchard. She’s even got the vital pie vote. She’s judging the annual farmers-market apple pie contest Sept. 13 – and identified (tacitly endorsed?) on their website as “mayoral candidate” rather than “Ward 3 council member.”
Mayoral candidate Kate Stewart’s yard-sign – repurposed from her 2014 council campaign. Photo by Bill Brown.
Every mayor following Stephen Del Giudice, who resigned in 1989, served first as a ward council member. There have been three since Del Giudice: Ed Sharp, Kathy Porter and Bruce Williams. Only two mayors since 1950 were not former council members, Del Giudice and his predecessor Sammy Abbott. Both were protest candidates with avid grassroots support. Abbott ran against what was then a conservative city council, Del Giudice ran against Abbott.
There are no similar disgruntled-citizen grassroots movements right now. So, unless a person with council experience steps up – another seated council member, for example – Stewart has it in the bag.
But why would anyone want to try? We heard from a person (who wishes to remain anonymous) who considered, then decided not, to run for mayor because the job is so grueling, yet it pays so little – around $13,200 a year.
$13,200 is peanuts. The mayor, unlike council members, is the city’s figurehead. He or she is the one who shows up to cut a ribbon every time a new business opens up. She or he is the one who shows up in Annapolis and Rockville to cool his/her heels for a few hours just for the chance to deliver a 5 minute statement to the state legislature, county-council, committee meeting or hearing. The city’s current mayor Bruce Williams serves or has served with the Maryland Municipal League, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Chesapeake Bay Executive Council, and the MD Sustainable Growth Commission. He networks and lobbies on behalf of the city at every opportunity. That’s when he’s not responding to constituent requests and complaints.
Why are we paying peanuts for this important, highly-visible civic position? It should be a well-paying, full-time position.
That Ward 1 candidate is Peter Kovar of Holly Avenue. He’s apparently retired, serves on the Takoma Foundation Board, and is vice-president of The Village of Takoma Park (an aging-in-place group). His issues, says his website, are: development, diversity, public safety and library renovations. We only know what we read on the internet and what we hear from our spies. Despite pleas to contact us his campaign never writes, it never calls.
The council’s summer recess ends the day after Labor Day. They all come creeping back to their desks Tuesday, Sept. 8.
Here’s what they’ll be dealing with once they’ve gotten over the post-vacation blues.
Tim Male, Ward 2 representative, is proposing an “advisory question” on this year’s election ballot. He wants city elections to coincide with statewide elections. Right now, city elections are stand-alone events in odd-numbered years. He’s submitted a couple of options for the council to discuss Sept. 8. There are problems to solve – the city allows non-residents and 16-17 year-olds to vote, the state doesn’t. Somehow those two systems have to be merged. Also, if the city goes to even years that means there will either be a one-year or three-year council term prior to the switch – proposed to be 2018.
The motivation is to get more people to vote in city elections. There are two schools of thought on this. One – Male’s – is that more voters turn out for statewide elections, therefore more will vote in city elections. The other school of thought is that statewide campaigns would overshadow city campaigns and many voters would treat the city races the same way they treat school board or judge races. They will skip them.
Also on the Sept. 8 city council agenda is a discussion of a site plan application for 6413 Orchard Avenue. This is in Ward 3, near the intersection of Fifth Street at the city’s southernmost tip. The block is partly residential, partly commercial. The site is tucked behind a commercial strip on Fifth Street and one on Orchard. One of those businesses – Maggio Roofing – wants to build a storage facility for solar roof panels.
Bridge closing and grants
The council will look at temporary traffic calming measures related to the Carroll Avenue bridge closure [shudder!].
First thing, the council will discuss proposed Community Development Block Grant Program projects. Oh, how exciting.
Carroll Avenue bridge. Photo by Bill Brown.
You all know that September is Emergency Preparedness Month, right? Well, it is, and appropriately the Emergency Preparedness Committee will present a report Sept. 8.
There will be talk of SNOW emergencies, you can be sure.
Left-over council issues haunting the recess field include:
• Noise complaints and the possible resurrection of the Noise Control Board. The Board was established to mediate complaints, but the board got bored because there wasn’t much to do.
• Library renovations looked hopeless until just before the recess. Council and residents were dismayed that the options meant either taking out beloved trees or moving a beloved mosaic (potentially damaging it). Not going these things meant a smaller renovation – which would give the library LESS space after it was made ADA compliant.
The architect and council resolved the dilemma by taking the renovation in a direction not previously considered – into the parking lot on building’s western side. They’d rather sacrifice parking spaces than trees. Moving the mosaic may still be called for.
The Takoma Park Maryland Library, shortly after construction in the 1950s.
• A police-community relations consultant will be discussed. Before recess the council – and the police chief – left off with everyone saying it was a great idea and the city should solicit bids, but the council started wondering if the $10,000 budget was adequate.
• A new snow-and-ice removal policy is going to be enacted. It’s a bit more draconian toward residents than the current one.
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