Montgomery County Council, District 5 – Tom Hucker

Tom Hucker

Tom Hucker.

1) Tell us about yourself.

I have been working to protect the environment and improve the lives of working families in Takoma Park and Silver Spring for 25 years. I started as an environmental campaign director with the Sierra Club and U.S. PIRG, then as the founding Executive Director of Progressive Maryland – a statewide alliance of progressive voters, community and labor groups that builds power for working families – and for the last eight years as an elected representative of Takoma Park and Silver Spring in the Maryland House of Delegates, working closely with my District 20 colleagues Sen. Jamie Raskin and Dels. Heather Mizeur and Sheila Hixson. I also work on a food safety campaign for the Natural Resources Defense Council, after stints at the Center for American Progress and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

I live one house off Flower Avenue with my wife Amy, a clinical social worker, and my sons Sam and Will.

2) What do you hope to accomplish in office?

1) Constituent Service: I plan to continue to provide strong constituent services, and to have an enhanced ability to do so on the Council. As a State Delegate, I frequently advocate on behalf of constituents to State and County agencies and to Pepco, WSSC, and Washington Gas, I help constituents connect to appropriate Congressional offices on federal issues, and I attend numerous meetings on neighborhood concerns. I will be able to greatly increase my ability to solve constituent problems year-round if I’m elected to the County Council.

2) Fight for and win the resources District 5 needs from the County budget:  Our district has the highest poverty and the most profound and complicated social service needs of any in the County yet we are continually shortchanged. We cannot go backward; we need to elect the candidate with the most demonstrated legislative skill in order to ensure that our vulnerable populations get the support they need from the County government.

Specifically, I will  put special emphasis on restoring and increasing services to low-to-moderate income families, especially those with young children. Our recreation and afterschool programming reaches 30-40% fewer children than it did before the recession, so we should restore those cuts. Afterschool programs are particularly lacking in our area, which has the plurality of county youth who deserve and stand to benefit from them. More than any other district, our middle- and high-school youth come home to overcrowded apartments and empty homes because their parents are working two or three jobs, often at night. Our libraries are also not fully restored yet, and neither are other social programs.

3) Establish preschool for all 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in Montgomery County. I have spoken many times with DC Mayor Vince Gray and Deputy Mayor B.B. Otero, the former Executive Director of CentroNia in Langley Park and DC, about their nation-leading successful work to expand high-quality preschool in DC. There, educators pay is aligned with their K-12 peers, and they are extending preschool to 92% of DC 4-year-olds and a nation-leading 69% of DC 3-year-olds. There is no reason that DC should be surpassing Montgomery County in this area, and no reason that DC parents taunt Montgomery County parents about our level of early education support.

As a Councilmember, I will work with my friend and District 5 resident Sara Watson, Executive VP for the America’s Promise Alliance and Director of ReadyNation, to build excitement and investment from the business community for vastly expanded early education in Montgomery County. She is eager to work with me to make Montgomery County the national model it should be. In her previous job, Sara spent $90 million on 20 national organizations that successfully advocated to double early education investments in over half the states. We will also benefit from the assistance of Dr. Libby Doggett, Deputy Secretary for Policy and Early Learning at the U.S. Department of Education, the architect of the Obama Administration’s early learning agenda.

In addition to County and State resources for this project, we will seek millions from partners in the business and private education community. PNC bank, Johns Hopkins University, the Baltimore Community Foundation and others are investing millions in early education in Baltimore, and are even building a new public school with an early learning center. There is no reason — except a lack of local leadership — that they should not be considering a similar project as part of JHU’s major expansions in Montgomery County.

4) Increase Child Care Subsidies:  I’d like to dramatically increase funding for our child care subsidy programs, both of the County and State level. Programs such as these not only have profound ability to improve the lives of working families, but their costs are partially offset. When we allow parents to return to work, we generate more State and County tax revenue from those workers, we generate more family income that gets spent in the local economy, and we create a local multiplier effect as that income recirculates in the local economy.

We need to dramatically increase the County’s investment in the Working Parents Assistance Program. Second, we need to advocate to the next Governor and the Assembly’s fiscal leaders for an increase in the State Child Care Subsidy Program. We should make this a top priority of the Montgomery House and Senate Delegation.

5) Let no student go hungry. I’d like to organize County leaders to work with our State Delegation, the next Governor, and State fiscal leaders to expand the Maryland Meals for Achievement Program to make sure no children are going to school hungry. If we’re serious about raising test scores and closing the achievement gap, one of the most cost-efficient ways to do that is to make sure no children are distracted by hunger as they’re trying to learn. And I’ve been a very vocal proponent of healthier meals in county schools. (As the only candidate in this race who has been endorsed by Speaker Mike Busch and the House leadership, I’ll be the only candidate who will be able to go to Annapolis and get the meetings we need to carry this out.)

6) Enforce the new minimum wage law. I’m the only candidate in this race who worked closely with Marc Elrich to pass the new Montgomery County minimum wage, which will rise to $11.50 by 2017. And I’m the only one who fought to raise the Maryland minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. (I have been one of the leading proponents of this bill for years. I led efforts to defeat weakening amendments including a two-tier wage scale in the Economic Matters Commitee, and I and was proud to cast the deciding 13th Yes vote in the Economic Matters Committee and vote for it again on the floor.)

But the new minimum wage laws are useless if they are not enforced. We had to fight hard to pass through my committee legislation to make the state Department of Labor enforce the new Montgomery County minimum wage. But DLLR’s resources are very scarce; they only have six inspectors for thousands of worksites in the state. We should consider what we can do in Montgomery County to enforce the new law — including distributing free and downloadable worksite posters in all appropriate languages and mailing them to employers; and using the County cable shows, website, and texting network to inform workers and employers about the new County wage law. Finally, we should hire a programmer to design a cellphone app that workers can use to report wage violations.

7) Increase affordable housing: I want to restore the focus on this topic that Tom Perez brought to his representation of District 5. We need tax credits and policies that encourage teachers and other workers to locate and remain in Montgomery County.

We require developers to provide workforce housing and give them bonuses for doing so, but the bonuses do not provide enough fiscal incentive. I support efforts by Marc Elrich and George Leventhal to increase those bonuses and to reassess the value of other bonuses for behavior that developers in many cases might be doing anyway, like locating near Metros. We also need to put more resources into the Housing Initiative Fund and to identify and reassess regulations that make affordable housing unprofitable to build.

No matter how much we focus on building new workforce housing, we will continue to fall behind unless we redouble our efforts and strengthen the tools we have to preserve existing affordable housing. We need to increase our work with County nonprofits like the Montgomery Housing Partnership to maintain the housing stock we have. We lose many more units annually that were affordable than we are ever likely to build, and we lose them by the dozens or hundreds every time we lose an affordable building.

8) Vigorously protect our environment. Due to my twenty-year focus on environmental policy, I’m the endorsed candidate for the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, and the Green Democrats. I’ll work with the Takoma Park Committee for the Environment, Safe Grow Montgomery, the Sierra Club and other local groups to end the cosmetic use of pesticides, protect Sligo Creek from polluted runoff, protect the Agricultural Reserve, block unwise development, get developers to pay their fair share toward infrastructure, and promote the use of healthier foods in our schools and county facilities.

3) What would you say your biggest accomplishment has been so far. What does that say about your priorities as council member?

In a state legislature, some of my colleagues never get a significant bill passed. I am the chief sponsor of more than 45 pieces of legislation that have been enacted into law.  My bills include:

1) four laws to expand pre-kindergarten in Maryland, one of which resulted in a $50 million federal grant to expand pre-k to tens of thousands of new children

2) the living wage law, lifting thousands of families out of poverty by requiring their employers to pay them enough to feed their families without food stamps (the first such law in the nation)

3) legislation to protect the food supply and the environment by ending the practice of adding arsenic to chicken feed;

4) protect the environment by requiring the removal of mercury from ignition switches in junked cars;

5) legislation to protect the health of our children by requiring all newborns to be tested for congenital heart diseas

6) legislation to protect children by requiring all public pools to have an automated external defibrillator (AED)

7) protect working families by providing for workplace accommodations for pregnant women and to prohibit retaliation against employees who claim violations of wage and hour laws;

8)  protect civil rights by creating a state court cause of action for workplace discrimination and to restore tax equity for employees who are compensated after being discriminated against.

9) I worked closely with Sen. Brian Feldman to pass the legislation creating reliability standards for Pepco and steep fines if they fail to meet them. Three years after the bill’s passage, Pepco is much more reliable than it was in 2011.

Additionally, I am the only candidate who put campaigning aside and testified against the proposed Pepco rate increase, and the only one to testify along with Marc Elrich and Jamie Raskin to express concerns about the proposed EYA devlopment near the Takoma Metro.

4) What distinguishes you from the other candidates?

All of the candidates are competent and committed. But the job description for this legislative role on the County Council is to represent our district and get bills passed. I am the only candidate who has served in a legislative body and who has worked to successfully enact laws that benefit consumers,  women, children, workers and the environment. That’s why Gov. O’Malley has endorsed me, saying I’m “highly qualified and will be ready on day one to grow the middle class and protect the most vulnerable individuals in Montgomery County.”

5) What is the top issue (or one of the top issues) facing the District and how do you propose to deal with it?

One of the main issues on the minds of District 5 residents is our growing income inequality, an issue on which I have focused and generated results for over fifteen years. I wrote and ran the campaign to pass the Montgomery County and Maryland state living wage laws, among other efforts. Here are a few things we need to do:

1) Raise Wages: I’m the only candidate in this race who worked with Marc Elrich to pass the new County minimum wage law. And I cast the deciding vote to send the new state minimum wage increase to its certain passage on the House floor. Those are landmark victories that will bring long-overdue raises to over 400,000 Marylanders. To realize their benefits, we have to ensure their implementation through the two steps below.

2) Enforce the new wage laws: However, they will mean nothing if the new laws are not vigorously enforced. We have to partner with the State Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation to inform employees about their new minimum wages, including printing posters and other educational materials in all appropriate languages, and using private media and the County’s extensive cable, texting, and social media networks to inform workers and employers about the new laws. We also have to fine employers who deliberately skirt the law, and we should design a confidential 1-800 number and cellphone app to encourage whistleblowers to come forward if they are not paid their full wages.

3) Fight wage theft: similarly, we have many employers in Montgomery County who routinely do not pay their workers or shortshrift them on their wages or hours — especially our recent immigrant workers. Wage theft is widespread statewide; I sponsored two laws to give workers more rights under the law. But the State only has a handful of inspectors for thousands of worksites. We could do a much better job of using County resources to identify violations and to educate and empower exploited workers to come forward without fear of retribution.

4) Pave the road to better employment. For our adult workers, we need more ESOL classes, more adult education, more workforce development to connect our victims of downsizing, our career changers, and our non-college-educated young people to the skills they need to access and succeed in the living wage jobs of the current market.

5) Create family-wage options for non-college educated high school graduates: We do a pretty good job of taking care of our high school students who are headed to college, but we too often ignore the needs of our non-college bound high schoolers. We need to increase our vocational education. We need to partner with union and other apprenticeship programs that provide very low-cost training for well-paid reliable local jobs.

6) Improve and expand our community colleges: And we need to do a better job of working with our private sector, especially in fast-changing science, technology, and engineering fields, to map the skills and qualifications needed for the jobs of tomorrow and match our community college curricula to those skills – rather than to the skills needed for jobs in industries that are diminishing.

7) Close the achievement gap. The recent report from the County Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight paints a very damaging picture of increasing segregation of our high schools along racial and economic lines. We need more counselors and social workers for our at-risk students. We need to restore programs that have been cut for our students with special needs. And we need to redraw neighborhood boundaries to drive more integration of our public schools. And we need to end the unnecessary illusion of choice created by our Northeast and Downcounty Consortia, in which we offer most Takoma Park and Silver Spring parents their “choice” of four high-poverty, low-performing high schools. If we are going to call ours the Downcounty Consortium, we should open it to include high-performing schools in the Downcounty, including Walter Johnson, Walt Whitman, and Bethesda-Chevy Chase. Why should Takoma Park parents and students not have their choice of those high schools as well?

6) Will you pledge to end the double-taxation of Takoma Park so that the county fairly reimburses the city for duplicate services? If so, what do you see as the solution?

Yes. The cities and towns of Montgomery County provide important services that complement or take the place of ones the County could provide, but that are better tailored to local needs.  Municipal police, planning recreation programs, and public works departments improve the quality of life in many of our major population centers.

According to a report prepared by Montgomery County, Takoma Park did not receive the amount due under a negotiated formula in five of seven years between FY07 and FY13.  The shortages ranged from $50,000 (FY07) to $14,889,000 (FY12). Over all, nearly $23 million due under the formula was not budgeted and paid to the City.  The solution is to legally require payments using an agreed upon formula.

I support providing rebates or lower municipal tax rates to Montgomery County’s municipal residents in ways that fairly compensate our cities for the full costs the county would otherwise bear if it had to provide the services and to do so in ways that provide cities with multi-year predictability in their budgets.  Takoma Park is the only incorporated municipality in District 5 and I certainly believe past rebates have not been fair – I will champion efforts to eliminate this double taxation in the next budget and as important, to create a process that endures beyond one year.

7) What are the top local issues in these other District 5 communities: Silver Spring, Four Corners, White Oak, Fairland, Cloverly, and Burtonsville?

Throughout District 5, residents are very concerned about income inequality, job creation, modernizing our transportation system, and maintaining the quality of our public schools while closing the achievement gap and reducing the overcrowding in our schools, among other issues.

In Silver Spring, many residents are also focused on the County’s efforts to get the Silver Spring Transit Center open and to open the new library. They want to build the Purple Line on-time and realize its transformational benefits while minimizing neighborhood impacts and protecting the interests of our incumbent small businesses. In Four Corners, many residents are following efforts to build the Bus Rapid Transit system in a way that improves transit options while limiting its neighborhood impact. Further upcounty, residents are focused on the consolidation of FDA at White Oak and the construction of the White Oak Science Gateway, which promises to bring new jobs and housing but potentially more traffic. Residents of Cloverly, Fairland, and Burtonsville are following the developments in White Oak as well as the potential redevelopment of Burtonsville, where residents want a walkable town center, a complete streets approach to road-building that allows safe transportation for pedestrians and cyclists, and more amenities.

8) Please list endorsements:

I am honored to be the consensus choice of over 30 grassroots organizations including:

• Environmental groups like the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, and Green Democrats,

• Educators like the Montgomery County Federation of Teachers, Montgomery County Public Schools Retirees Association, and SEIU Local 500

• Immigrant groups, including CASA de Maryland, the Hispanic Democratic Club, the Ethiopian American Council, and the Coalition of Asian Pacific American Democrats

• Womens groups, including Montgomery County NOW and NARAL

• Montgomery County Professional and Volunteer Firefighters, Takoma Park Police, and the Montgomery County Police

• Progressive Neighbors, Progressive Maryland, and the Progressive Democrats of America

• Maryland Nurses Association and the Maryland chapter of the National Association of Social Workers

• the Metro Washington AFL-CIO and unions representing workers at Montgomery County government, Giant, Safeway and CVS; the Washington Metro system; and many other employers.

I have also been endorsed by:

• Governor Martin O’Malley

• Comptroller Peter Franchot

• Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich

• Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal

• former Chair of Congressional Black Caucus Kweisi Mfume

• Takoma Park leaders, including Councilmember Tim Male

• our former County Councilmember Rose Crenca

• dozens of local community leaders

9) Please supply links, and contact info.

Tom Hucker
10 Stockton Road
Silver Spring, Maryland 20901
240 481 4825


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