PHOTO: Feb. 6, 2006 Takoma Park city council meeting (oldest available meeting video on the city website). Around the table, left to right, are Colleen Clay (Ward 2), Terry Seamens (Ward 4), Marc Elrich (Ward 5), Bruce Williams (Ward 3), Mayor Kathy Porter, City Manager Barbara Mathews, Joy Austin-Lane (Ward 1) and Doug Barry (Ward 6). The Granolapark column reporting on this meeting was Crisis for Rent.
GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT
This is the first of two columns this week marking Granolapark’s tenth anniversary. The second is here.
Ten years and counting with no chance of parole.
Granolapark has been reporting and commenting on the Takoma Park city council since October 24, 2005. Break out the drinks! Oh, we already have.
We were too busy covering the 2015 election to mention the anniversary in October. It was our fifth election, and you know how Yours Truly likes fifths.
We think of Granolapark as a cross between Garrison Keiller’s small-town Lake Wobegon tales, and the late Hunter Thompson’s “gonzo” political journalism. Call it “Woebegonzo Journalism.”
Granolapark started as an independent blog. Five months later, February 8, 2006, we were invited to become a Takoma Voice column.
We’ve covered five elections, three mayors, 15 elected council members and two appointed council members. We’ve covered three city managers and two acting city managers, three of which were Suzanne Ludlow.
We don’t want to count the number of meetings watched or the hours they consumed. We might do self-harm.
Let’s just say we’ve covered lots. Lots and lots of lots.
The first Granolapark.
We’ve seen trends and changes. We’ve seen issues come up over and over, we’ve seen dumb ideas and good ideas. We’ve seen very few brilliant ideas.
We’ve seen people working hard and way too much for their own good – but for city residents’ good. We’ve seen people on both sides of the dais flexing their power and manipulating the system.
We’ve seen way too many fools on the residents’ side of the dais. That’s discouraging, since Granolapark exists to inform citizens about city council issues. If more people followed the column they wouldn’t arrive at the podium with heads full of partial information, faulty conclusions and misplaced fury. We take it as a personal failure whenever they do.
We’ve seen people fooling others and themselves with revised history and fairytales.
The recent death of former mayor Stephen Del Giudice reminded us of an important political dividing line in Takoma Park history. That’s the one between the Sammie Abbott period and the Moderate period that followed – to this day.
It is ironic that the city claims Sammie Abbott and his politics as the foundation stone of modern Takoma Park. Ironic because the city has been distancing itself from him since the 1985 election that threw Abbott out of the mayorship and elected the more moderate Del Giudice who ran against Abbott’s radicalism.
We don’t want to take anything away from Sam Abbott. He deserves credit (as do others) for saving the city. But let’s not turn him into a teddy-bear mascot. The people who now invoke his legacy would be the first ones he’d sink his teeth into if he were still around. His confrontational tactics would not be to most Takoma Parkian’s taste. Nor would his leanings toward class warfare. He was excellent at confronting authority, but once he became the authority, he kept on confronting. He alienated a lot of allies and turned them into opponents.
From Granolapark, October 25:
Takoma Park politics seem bizarre to outsiders … . But, no, our politics are just like everyone else’s in the sense that there are camps, factions, those in power and those who aren’t, and they all act pretty much the same as they do anywhere else.
Here we’ve had one particular camp that’s been in power since Stephen J Del Giudice was elected back in 1985 … I call that camp the Moderates. They unseated the Revolutionaries … . This is the group of radical activists, led by the late mayor Sammie Abbott and a slate of radical city council candidates who swept into power in the early 80s. It really was a revolution, they seized control of the city from the conservative(s) … who had been running it for at least a couple of generations … .
The Revolutionaries promptly started factionalizing and in-fighting as soon as they gained office. They managed to lose the mayoral office because Sammie Abbott did things that some say were justified in the cause of his radical agenda, others say were abuses of power. The Revolutionaries have never quite gotten over the fact that they lost the city to the Moderates over this. On occasion they have tried to get it back, but each election shows how, even though this is the group that gave Takoma Park its reputation, their brand of politics is increasingly unpopular. The Moderates have won each mayoral election for the past 10 terms, starting with Stephen Del Giudice, then Ed Sharp, now Kathy.
The majority just doesn’t want a Sammie Abbott-type rabble-rouser leading the city, even though Sammie was more responsible than just about anyone else for shaping the city’s current image as a progressive, activist enclave … .
Now, in 2016, Takoma Park’s Revolutionaries have died off or given up. Which is convenient to the Moderates who can now claim the colorful Sam Abbott as their founding father – when really it is Stephen Del Giudice.
It was Del Giudice and his successors: Ed Sharp, Kathy Porter and Bruce Williams who got things accomplished.
The Revolutionaries fought for a decade to shape the city into a radical enclave, only to see the Moderates horn in and with no more effort than buying homes, moving in and voting, turn the city into an enclave for liberal homeowners with “peace” bumper-stickers on their gas-guzzling SUV’s, the sort of people who say they “love Tree City” but get incensed when they discover the tree ordinance applies to them, too.
These are people who are pleased to live in a city with a liberal cache, but are ambivalent about the city’s past radical postures. They just want a City that provides services and a family-friendly small-town atmosphere – and that’s what the Moderate Ed Sharp and Kathy Porter provided. If the services caused taxes to go up a bit, well, that’s fine, they wanted those services and that’s what taxes are for. If there were no radical programs coming out of the Mayor’s office, that’s fine too, as long as residents can get new curbs and plenty of speed-bumps on their streets, the Moderate camp doesn’t care. The big issues were unifying the city into one county and saving the fire house, and had been since the Abbott days, but the Moderates went about it quietly, building relationships with the politicians who could make those things happen. No big Abbott-style confrontations, mass demonstrations, and public denouncements of other politicians.
And that describes 2015 Takoma Park with a few name changes and higher priced homes, doesn’t it? Nothing changes but trends continue.
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