1) Tell us about yourself.
I love living in Takoma Park (where I moved from east Silver Spring) with my wife Angela and our two young boys, the older of whom just finished his first year at Takoma Park Elementary. As parents to two young boys, Angela and I appreciate everything this area has to offer: beautiful neighborhoods, great schools, terrific parks, a diverse community, and so much more.
Before joining the County Council, I was a leader in national Democratic politics. I helped stop the Republicans from privatizing Social Security, I served as the political director of Rock the Vote, and I was the National Youth Vote Director for Barack Obama’s historic 2008 presidential campaign. I believe in our Democratic values and I work hard to embody them in my decisions at the County Council.
My passion for change comes from my roots in Oakland, California, a city of tremendous disparities, and the commitment to social justice that I learned from family. I’ve dedicated my career to my dream of creating opportunity for all people to achieve their potential.
2) What do you hope to accomplish in office?
I would like to ensure that MCPS and Montgomery College have the resources they need to meet the challenges of an increasingly diverse student population, and I would like to make significant strides on child care and pre-k, where I think the county has fallen significantly behind. I would like to strengthen the county’s tax base through aggressive and targeted economic development initiatives (including my Night-Time Economy Initiative). And I would like to ensure that the county is an attractive, welcoming and viable place to live for all of our residents, including vulnerable people earning low incomes.
3) What would you say your biggest accomplishment has been so far. What does that say about your priorities as council member?
My work on the county’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) may be my biggest accomplishment so far. By raising the after-tax income of low wage workers, the EITC rewards work and lifts people out of poverty — more than 35,000 county residents. It is one of the nation’s most effective anti-poverty programs. It is also proven to improve educational outcomes for children.
Montgomery County is one of the few local jurisdictions in the U.S. that has an EITC. Established in 2000, the county’s EITC was set to match the state’s EITC dollar-for-dollar. In 2010, the council changed the law to allow the county EITC to vary with budget decisions. The council promptly cut the EITC by a third in the middle of a recession.
When I came to the council, I was determined to restore the EITC. In 2012, I worked with my colleagues to win funding to push it up to a level of 75% of the state EITC. But that was still a big reduction from 100%. In 2013, the council jointly undertook a “SNAP challenge” during which each member would live on five dollars a day for five days. This event enhanced awareness of poverty, which is a significant problem in our county. In its aftermath, I introduced Bill 8-13, which fully restored the county’s EITC in law. I had two (later three) co-sponsors for the bill. It attracted significant opposition from other members of the council. Some told me to give up. They said the bill could not pass.
Instead, I organized a large coalition including Progressive Maryland, MCGEO, SEIU, Casa, the Community Action Board, non-profits and faith-based groups to support it. Of their own volition, they ran a petition drive, canvassed neighborhoods, wrote an op-ed and aggressively lobbied the council. After many months of work, the bill passed 9-0.
I am proud to have worked in partnership with so many progressive groups to help working people with the EITC. If I am re-elected, I hope to work on more proposals to remedy income inequality like this one.
4) What distinguishes you from the other candidates?
As parents to young boys, I am in tune with the changing needs of our families, from child care to education to libraries and parks. My background in seniors issues, including my work as a senior advisor for AARP, means that I also understand the importance of issues such as transportation and affordability. My commitment to protecting the environment, a value system that I learned during countless hours in the outdoors, is demonstrated by the leadership role I have played on numerous environmental issues, for example Ten Mile Creek. My interest in planning and urbanism puts me in close touch with the changes that are shaping our region, and inspires me to push hard for needed improvements in our zoning and land use policies so that we can continue to offer the highest quality of life for our residents. My realism about what it takes to pay for great schools and services informs my dedication to supporting local economic development, and because our families need high-paying jobs to thrive. I have a record of working on all these priorities and I hope the voters allow me to continue making progress on them.
5) What is the top issue (or one of the top issues) facing the county and how do you propose to deal with it?
The top issue in our county is making sure that all of our children, regardless of their demographic background or where they live, are provided a high-quality education. Test score disparities are an issue throughout the nation. Research shows that they are often associated with socio-economic factors such as poverty, lack of health care, nutrition and how much time parents can spend with their kids to promote an education-friendly environment at home. These factors exist outside of public schools but do affect what goes on inside the classroom.
Our need for ESOL programming is growing rapidly, and MCPS must make the investment in expanding those services. And we need to find ways to keep teachers in our most challenged schools, where they often face greater workloads and more stress. Incentives for teachers who are willing to take on greater challenges is a key step.
Another important solution is to promote economic development in parts of the county where there is higher poverty. For example, the White Oak area. We have a strong job base with the FDA and we need to expand upon that and attract more highly educated families into the school district population.
I passed a bill that will reduce the disparities in achievement by tackling some of the socio-economic factors that contribute to the problem. Last year, I introduced Bill 8-13 which raised Montgomery County’s supplement to the EITC so that it will fully match the state’s EITC. It passed unanimously. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities cites that the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) improves educational outcomes for children and that a credit of $3,000 is equivalent to two months of extra schooling. According to Brookings, more than 49,000 children in Montgomery County live in households that are eligible for the EITC, but 20% of eligible households do not claim this. I am working to expand awareness of the EITC and to expand free tax preparation low income families to enable them to claim this educationally beneficial tax credit. We can go further by working with MCPS to promote this tax credit to parents through the schools.
Finally, the county must do more to fight poverty. I believe that a broad based anti-poverty agenda for a local government would include these factors:
1. Strong commitment to public education and successful administration of K-12 programs as well as community college
2. Broad access to public transportation
3. Affordable health care options (we provide low cost health care through community clinics)
4. Progressive taxation (we have that and bills like my EITC bill make our system more progressive)
5. Supportive labor market regulations (minimum wage)
6. Early childhood programs that help working families meet the challenge of providing child care and help ensure that children come into school prepared to succeed
Of these factors, I think we are strong on most of them, but we have work to do on early childhood.
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?
I have worked hard on municipal tax issues during my term in office and I am committed to ensuring that no residents are double-taxed.
In FY11 (the year before I was elected), the Executive proposed a 20% cut to the reimbursement. The council approved a 15% cut. In FY12, my first year on the council, the Executive proposed another 5% cut. There was no discussion about whether this reflected any changes in service levels or costs faced by municipalities.
I found this to be fundamentally unfair. I took action along two lines. First, I worked hard to find five votes to restore the entire municipal reimbursement cut in FY12. The following year, I worked to add $653,020 for Takoma Park’s Police Department. No one has proposed cuts to the municipalities since.
Second, I asked the council’s Office of Legislative Oversight to study the issue of municipal taxation and recommend reforms. The OLO report of June 2013 found that current reimbursement formulas are outdated, lack uniformity and are ignored. They should be revised to reflect real measures of the actual reimbursable services now offered by municipalities. The Government Operations Committee directed council staff to work with the Executive Branch and the municipalities to update the formulas accordingly. This is a work in progress and I am very interested in bringing it to a successful conclusion. We are close now.
No resident should be taxed twice for services they receive once. No municipal government should count on a budgeted reimbursement from the county only to have it taken away without reason at the last minute. And we should get back to a real partnership between the county and its cities and towns because that is in everyone’s interest.
7) What are other important local issues in Takoma Park, Silver Spring, Four Corners and Wheaton, and how will you address them?
In addition to education, a top challenge for Downcounty jurisdictions is how to accommodate growth in an environmentally sustainable way without causing additional gridlock in our transportation structure. We must address this in two ways. First, we must build additional transit projects like the Purple Line and dedicated bus lanes on major arteries. I also created a new item in this year’s capital budget that would fund bicycle and pedestrian improvements in our urban areas to encourage walking and biking. Second, we must concentrate new development – including affordable housing – near transit stations. I voted for multiple master plans that channeled new development towards Metro, MARC and Purple Line stations while also preserving existing single-family neighborhoods.
8) Please list endorsements:
The Washington Post
Montgomery County Education Association
Montgomery County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association
Service Employees International Union Local 500 and Local 32BJ
Casa in Action
African American Democratic Club of Montgomery County
Hispanic Democratic Club of Montgomery County
Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors
Coalition of Asian Pacific American Democrats of Maryland
UFCW Local 400
9) Please supply links, and contact info.