GRANOLAPARK: Turns ten

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.


Dear Readers,

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.

granolaparkoldblog

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.

– Gilbert

 

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About the Author

Gilbert
Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

4 Comments on "GRANOLAPARK: Turns ten"

  1. For all of their self-congratulations on being moderate and practical and knowing how to get things done, I’m not aware of the moderates accomplishing anything substantive since unification, which as I understand it was due in large part to Del Giuduce although perhaps more through his efforts on the Prince George’s County Council.

    The city is happy to spend money on services, often inefficiently, but that’s not really an accomplishment. No progress is made on tax duplication although its standard rhetoric to complain about the county. No economic development occurs. The city really does not have the population and it certainly does not have the tax base to justify the pretensions of city council and government. Reversion to town status would make sense but that would hamper the progression of wannabe politicos to higher office, which is really the only thing that’s been accomplished in Takoma Park in the last 20 years.

    • Steve played a significant role in unification, but it really took the work of dozens of people to pull it off in 1994. The Takoma Archives at http://www.historictakoma.org/voice/Unification0707.pdf has a number of articles describing the effort, including one from me about the roles that Steve, Peter Franchot, Tom Gagliardo, Bev Habada and Kathy Porter played.

      Ed Sharp

  2. Nothing worse than a Neocon than a Neolib. The first thing the new city manager recommend was to substantively raise the salaries of Takoma Park city workers–meaning her and her staff because they weren’t on par with other cities–even though they only serve a 2.5 miles big “city” with only 17,000 people. I agree, the uuber libs who get on Council really want to run for office and wasn’t I thrilled know that Heather Mizeur wasn’t going to be Maryland’s governor. I would love a Frugality Task Force. And like Brian above, I abhor the lack of action on duplicate services, that we don’t get a rebate as taxpayers when the city does and that reversion to tax status would make good sense. I live in the crappiest part of town–sandwiched between two rent control Section 8 housing complexes and I get a view of dead mattresses and shopping carts. The well-paid liberals who don’t mind the high taxes and support the feel good legislation don’t live anywhere near here, so they don’t bear the brunt of their ill-thought policies that haven’t resulted in anything but the stratification of Takoma Park .

    • The duplicate services/double-taxation issue is probably #2 on the misconception list (see Granolapark: Constituent Disservice).

      There isn’t anything else anybody can do to get the county to end it. The city has no power over the county. Even though Takoma Park residents serve on the county council.

      Most residents don’t see the ongoing efforts. It’s lobbying, going to meetings, trying to get politicians on the city’s side, working with the Maryland Municipal League, allies on the county council and state legislature.

      The mayor, council and staff are continually involved in this issue. “Continually” meaning continually waiting for the county’s next double-taxation meeting to be postponed.

      You’re probably not going to believe this, but after watching this process for ten years, it looks to us like there is no other action to take other than the frustrating one they are taking.

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