Candidates Warren Holmes and Elizabeth Wallace. Photo by Bill Brown.
GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT
They got what they wished for.
The Takoma Park city council has been agonizing over low citizen involvement and lack of diversity in elections. They’ve been tinkering with and revising voter registration laws.
The night before Tuesday’s Nominating Caucus, the council chatted at its weekly meeting about more ways to open up the process and encourage a different demographic to vote and run for office.
Less than 24 hours later, they got what they say they want! They got two last-minute, seat-of-the-pants candidates who do not fit the usual council/mayoral candidate profile.
Elizabeth Wallace, running for Ward 1 council seat against two other candidates, turned her home into a boarding house so she could afford to live in Takoma Park.
Warren Holmes, candidate for mayor, is a landlord whose “life work,” he says, is maintaining his apartment building. Due to rent control, he says, he can’t afford to hire anyone else to do it. He says high city taxes are a burden as well.
So, there you go, Takoma Park and city council – you got a diversity of candidates.
Of course, neither of them has a chance in hell against their better-connected, better-funded opponents who fit the usual profile: professional people with a good salary and the flexibility to work a part-time job for next-to-nothing.
Warren Holmes and Elizabeth Wallace chat after the Nominating Caucus. Photo by Bill Brown.
At least we’ll be spared the usual “conflict” between two or three candidates with identical campaign platforms.
At the weekly meeting the council and members of the Council Compensation Committee discussed significant council pay raises and other benefits as a way to encourage more people to run for office.
Jarrett Smith said “I know it’s a factor in my ward.” Smith represents Ward 5 which has a big population of minority-group renters – and one of the lowest city election turnouts.
No weekend hideaway
Everyone seemed to agree with council member Fred Schultz’s assessment that the council job has expanded since it was described in city code as a “part-time” job. That was, he said, in the days before cell phones and email, when a council member “could hide on weekends.”
“Were I not retired, I could not do the job I do.” he said.
The nearly full-time effort required now gives potential candidates pause, especially considering it pays only about $10,000 a year, $13,000 for mayor.
If the positions paid more, people who currently can’t afford to serve as a city council member, might give it more consideration.
Councilmember Seth Grimes suggested a way to take pressure and work off the council’s shoulders. In New York City, he said, they have a public advocate, an elected official who responds to constituent requests. Public advocates have no vote.
The council also discussed the ballot question, which is part of the effort to get more people voting in city elections.
The ballot question is “advisory,” which means the vote is basically an opinion poll. The question is – should city voting day be moved to the same day as state/national elections?
The ballot question’s sponsor, Tim Male says statistics show that combining local and state election days always results in a higher turnout.
Others on the council are not in favor of changing voting days. There are complications because the city’s voting laws are different than county or state laws. The city uniquely allows 16 – 17 year olds to vote, has Instant-Runoff Voting, allows felons and non-citizens to vote and uses paper ballots. Takoma Park would have to give up all of those, and it’s city hall polling place – unless it held separate elections on the same day – which means citizens would have to vote twice, possibly in two different locations.
Councilmember Jarrett Smith, who is concerned with making the council more diverse, said “I don’t know how just changing the date will make any changes on the dias. I don’t’see how this proposal will make any difference.”
The vote to put the advisory question on the ballot passed 4 – 3. Councilmembers Smith and Schultz, and Mayor Bruce Williams voted against. Councilmembers Male, Grimes, Kate Stewart and Terry Seamens voted in favor.
ONCE AGAIN, Your Gilbert points out that as the council keeps speculating why renters and minorities don’t participate more and making changes that they speculate will fix those speculations – in other words, throwing darts in the dark – NOBODY HAS ASKED THOSE PEOPLE “Hey, why don’t you participate more?”
There have been no surveys or polls. Just throwing darts in the dark.
Here are the results of the Nominating Caucus. Unless someone drops out this is what will be on the ballot, along with that question.
• Ward 1:
• Ward 2:
Tim Male, incumbent
• Ward 3:
• Ward 4:
Terry Seamens, incumbent
• Ward 5:
Jarrett Smith, incumbent
• Ward 6:
Fred Schultz, incumbent
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