Now that most of the dust has settled on the June 26th primaries, it is a good time to look for patterns and to make some observations. Here is my take away. The results of the Howard County Primary Election highlight the growing discontent of citizens concerned with the results of over development and the influence of campaign contributions.
- In a surprise upset, incumbent District One Council Member Weinstein has been defeated by two votes after the counting of provisional and absentee ballots! His opponent, political newcomer Liz Walsh, joined the race late with a campaign heavily devoted to over development as a causal factor in both the repeated flooding of Ellicott City and the overcrowding of schools. Ms. Walsh had only 1/30 of the funding of Mr. Weinstein’s campaign war chest, proving that it IS possible to run a successful campaign on a budget.
- The words ‘Slow Growth Dunbar’ appear to have resonated with over 5000 voters in the Democrat County Executive vote. While this posed no threat to Councilman Ball with 5 times that amount of votes, it nevertheless makes a statement on how folks are feeling. Granted Republican voter turnout was low due to almost no contested races, but Mr. Dunbar garnered more than half as many votes as incumbent County Exec. Kittleman. [Almost 24% of the County’s registered voters are not members of either the D’s or the R’s and were thus unable to participate in the Primary Election except for Board of Education. They will clearly be the swing vote in November.]
- Council Chair Sigaty, high density advocate and champion of ‘urbanizing’ all parts of Howard County, was soundly defeated in her bid for the State Senate. Her amendments to the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, increased housing allocations for Downtown Columbia and stance on adding industrial mulching and composting in the West raised the ire of voters countywide. No amount of campaign contributions or endorsements could wipe clean her voting record.
- Unopposed District 5 Democrat candidate, newcomer China Williams, campaigned vigorously to protect the West from encroaching development, the extension of the Public Service Area and the proliferation of solar ‘farms’. This newcomer received more votes than the two Republican candidates combined! Is this the year GOP tradition is broken in the West?
What has brought on the shifting of political winds? How and where did the storm clouds gather? Look back over the past four years for a number of reasons.
- Citizen efforts to overturn a select group of Comprehensive Zoning cases was squashed by the previous administration. Sadly the new administration did nothing to prevent any of the citizens’ fears from being realized by permitting the dense developments as proposed.
- New staffing at the DPZ made only a modicum of difference in the rubber stamping of developer plans, assuring greater and greater increased density under the name of “property rights.”
- Then, even the most tuned out citizenry was abruptly awakened by the threat of massive redistricting of schools due to severe overcrowding. Suddenly children would not be attending the school they thought their neighborhood selection guaranteed.
- The protracted process of a contractual assessment of development regulations brought to light many, many issues regarding our cumbersome process. It also brought about an awareness that there are NO real regulations in place to assure open space and preservation of environmentally and historically sensitive lands. The “pausing of the process during the election season” only extends the opportunity for more poor development decisions to be made, destroying the last vestiges of green space.
- An incredibly protracted review of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance has left the public severely disappointed by both the lack of any improvements on the horizon and a realization that developers have been getting ‘a free ride’ compared to what surrounding districts charge to assure adequate schools, roads, etc.
- And then came the second of two floods in two years in Ellicott City with the loss of yet another life……
These all combine to give citizens a great deal to think about in an election year—all while stuck in relentless traffic.
The County Executive and Council candidates should heed the warning signs and clearly define their plans for balancing growth with the provision of adequate facilities and services. Our quality of life– and their political future depend on it.
Prepare to be an educated voter in November—and meet me on the high road,
Like many, I get suspicious of radio ads where the “qualifiers” are all jammed in at the end at an accelerated rate. You know, the kind where in under 4 seconds you are informed that the offer is only good to the first 20 customers arriving before dawn on the third Thursdays and who have not participated previously and can present their loyalty card. One per customer? To avoid that phenomenon, I’m going to present all of my ‘qualifiers” up front and offer the results of the Comprehensive Council Candidates Comparison (hereafter referred to as CCCCs) up front–even if it doesn’t make for exciting reading. The comparison charts will be at the end.
In my blog of June 8 http://howcome.md/council-candidates-guide-to-getting-my-vote/ I established what is and is not important to me in selecting our all-important Council representatives. I then challenged readers to do their homework, gather and share information on Council candidates in three categories: Campaign Financing, Active Participation and Transparency. Citizen researchers were directed to campaign finance pages, and to the Council’s Watch Me and Written testimony pages on key legislation, in addition to candidates’ web sites.
Hats off to those voters who took up my challenge and submitted information to help compile CCCCs for Democrat Primaries in Districts 3 and 4 and the Republican Primary in D5. D2 Council candidates face no primary opposition. The D1 Democrat primary differs somewhat in being the only Council district with an incumbent.
Note: Analysis of Active Participation and Transparency in D1 could be regarded as slanted, given that the incumbent has necessarily attended all Council meetings and has a voting record on each piece of legislation considered. I would therefore still welcome input from D1 residents on how to best present that data, or if you just want the campaign finance figures already submitted. If you hurry with your response, there will still be time to publish a balanced report before June 26.
Regarding campaign financing: As confirmed in numerous locations on Facebook and in a 6/17/18 Baltimore Sun article “Here’s the prime issue in primary,” development/ overdevelopment has emerged as the major issue of this election cycle in Howard County. Beginning with the threat of massive school redistricting and progressing to another life-ending flood, Howard residents have a heightened sense of urgency to better control or slow growth. Consequently, voters appear very interested in possible links between development and campaign contributions from those who benefit from increased development. These include commercial and residential developers, land acquisition firms, contractors, realtors, land use attorneys, mortgage brokers, etc. While I am not implying a direct link between votes and major contributors, the County Council’s dual roles as both legislators and as the Zoning Board places them in a position where there will always be speculation of such. It is, after all, the Council members who are responsible for:
- the up-zoning of properties during Comprehensive rezoning,
- raising the housing allocations by adjusting Plan 2030,
- expanding the public service area, opening the West to development,
- approval of TIFs to accelerate growth,
- introduction of and approval of Zoning Regulation Amendments (ZRAs) often written by developers’ attorneys,
- amendment and passage of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO),
- approval of school capacity charts permitting development to proceed
- approving individual zoning cases
In addition to these items, our newly elected Council will have responsibility for the massive undertaking of establishing our REVISED development regulations as recommended by the Clarion study. This adds to voters’ interest in knowing more about who could be influenced by campaign contributions.
The Active Participation category deals with attendance at various County meetings/ providing written or oral testimony, and attending local community meetings. The Transparency category explores whether the candidate has openly stated their positions on issues and their specific ideas for solving problems.
Because there was insufficient time for me to personally verify each bit of information submitted, I let candidates preview their own listings before publishing to better assure accuracy. Unfortunately, some responded that they would respond to my inquiry AFTER the primary. I understand that the early voting days have been tense and exhausting, but I question the usefulness of a candidate comparison delayed beyond the primary. Does that response indicate battle fatigue, a lack of understanding, a supreme confidence in winning the primary, or just avoidance?
So at this time I will present the data collected. While my initial plan was to present the data in a color-coded fashion according to what appeared critical to my personal evaluation (green for positive, yellow for somewhat concerning, and red for more concerning), I ultimately decided to let voters reach their own conclusions based on their own evaluation criteria.
Please note that in a few instances (particularly where an “individual contributor” is a principal in the firm) I chose to list the employer. While this is different from a direct contribution by a company, it provides valuable insight into clusters of developers, realtors, land use law firms, etc. Note: This is NOT a complete list of campaign contributors, rather a posting of what could be considered significant, either due to the amount or due to the sector which frequently lobbies the Council. It was not comforting to hear from several candidates that “these people are my friends.” Human nature being what it is, although it could be unfounded, voters again question the possibility of favoritism in decision making.
Very Important! Campaign contributions, active participation, and transparency are NOT the only qualifications one should consider in this election. The charts are intended to supplement with information not always readily at hand. But be sure to take a look at the positions the candidates in your district are taking on the issues important to you.
Consider the data and make your vote count—and meet me on the high road,
Click on a chart listed below and magnify to see the details. Note that revised editions of the D3 and D4 charts were published Saturday afternoon, 6/24 to correct errors or provide additional information to the listings for Christiana Rigby and Deb Jung.
The sheriff’s race is waaay down ballot, just after Register of Wills and before Central Committee. Yet the Sheriff’s race holds the potential for being one of the more interesting races because of everything which has led up to up it since the 2014 election cycle……
If this were a TV guide listing for The Sheriff Drama it would go something like this: Suburban sheriff re-elected despite not meeting residency requirement and refusing to take oath of office. MANY knew but looked the other way. County auditor exposed Sheriff paid deputies from Sheriff Office’s budget to assist with his re-election campaign. Later Sheriff is run out of town (but retained great benefits) for racist, anti-Semitic, and sexist comments and bullying of employees (revealed to the runner up.) Runner-up was overlooked for the vacant position, while a person –with same last name– was appointed Sheriff by Governor. Will runner up’s court case bring justice by exposing complicity? Will he ever get to be the sheriff and “clean up this town?”
Insomniacs may want to read my four blogs on the topic written between April and October of 2016 to jog your memory OR visit the back story for the first time.
There are two individuals in the Democrat primary race. (The incumbent has no primary opposition.) John Francis McMahon is again running for Sheriff in 2018 because in his words, “It’s the right thing to do.” According to his comments in the Business Monthly “I went to court to stop the cover up. Now we need to vote out the special interests. Now we need to take back the office for the citizens.”
Looking back, he states to the Business Monthly ‘The Howard County auditor found funds were used against me in the last election. Deputies were forced to campaign against me. When this information became available it was my duty to bring this out to a court case.”
Looking forward, he remarks to BizMo “The most important priority is to protect the civil and constitutional rights of the people.” To Vote 411 Voter Guide he shared his priorities “Transparency of the department. (My) Priority is to protect the legal rights of the people, especially civil rights, but also freedom of information rights and the enforcement of open meeting laws.” He continues, “Community cooperation is essential to law enforcement. I would welcome a non-partisan citizen review committee, open the sheriff’s office to the citizens’ complaints…. most importantly we must encourage citizens to bring in all their civil rights complaints.”
Some question his qualifications to be Sheriff since he has never served as a law enforcement officer. Yet interestingly, the only listed requirements to be a Sheriff in Maryland is to be a resident citizen in your jurisdiction and to take the oath of office. ‘The Sheriff performs police or corrections functions in jurisdictions where there are no County police or correction departments.’ Howard County has both. So, does the Howard County Sheriff really need to be an experienced ‘law man’ or do the day-to-day duties of the position look more like that of an administrator. With 40 years as president of a construction company following work in the comptroller’s office of Ford Motor Company, I suspect John McMahon has that skill set. His degrees in economics may position him well for better controlling the budget and the funds the Office collects.
The Sheriff’s duties list includes ‘carries out court orders, delivers summonses, and executes bench warrants.’ I suspect the sheriff doesn’t actually do much/any of that himself. That is what he has deputies for. But he does provide leadership to and sets the tone of the Office. Perhaps it is time to modernize our view of “Sheriff-ing”. Does it need to provide a double or triple dipping opportunity for former policemen? Does it need a heavy influence from the Union? Or is it time to regard the Office as one which works transparently to assure the common citizens—all the common citizens—have a place to turn with questions or complaints to assure their rights are being protected.
I don’t know how Mr. McMahon’s opponent feels on these issues. He doesn’t seem to have responded to survey questions from various groups for comparison. He (like the current Sheriff) has also refused to debate John McMahon. Yet Marcus Harris has the endorsement of his party. One can’t resist asking, HOW COME?
Whether or not you were one of the 42,692 who voted for John McMahon in 2014, I hope you will consider him anew—and meet me on the high road,
Alternate title: The thinking voter’s guide to selecting their next Council Member (or Executive?)
Different ‘pitches’ appeal to different voters—but here is what does and does not appeal to me personally. Perhaps my sharing will help candidates adjust their message in the closing days before the primary. Perhaps it will also help voters better evaluate their candidates.
Absolute requirement: Keep it local, local, local and in the Here and Now. You are not running for US Congress or Governor NOW, even if that is your ambition or ultimate goal. Running for office is equivalent to interviewing for a job. Match your pitch to the job for which you are applying NOW not the one you hope for 8 or 12 years from now.
Skip the National Party Platform Platitudes. Discard the national talking points which don’t relate to your powers in the office you are seeking. Educated voters are well aware that a County Council member has no more jurisdiction over funding of women’s healthcare decisions than they do over national defense spending! And please, can we just leave hate out of this?
I have no doubt you all support world peace, the end of world hunger and homelessness– but what specific ideas do you have to assure quality schools without bankrupting us, adequate public facilities before more growth, and leaving some open space in Howard County? And lest we forget—generally protecting the health and safety of residents?
I apologize for providing some advice that sounds like a cliché, yet some old adages are very appropriate:
*Talk is cheap. (especially if you are parroting, rather than choosing you own words based on experience and interactions with the electorate)
*Actions speak louder than words. As a candidate what efforts have you already made to date as a citizen to further those causes you espouse? Did you submit letters or testimony? Participate in a community or cause-based group?
*Half the battle is just showing up (but only half!) I’ve been scanning the Council Chambers since January for which candidates are present—and engaged. If I’ve never or rarely seen you testify at Council meetings or the Planning Board or the Zoning Board or attend a work session, I’m not going to have a lot of faith in your ability to formulate and evaluate legislation, communicate specific arguments and ideas, listen and judge opposing arguments.
*Where have you been all my life? Why have I never heard of you or seen you participating prior to this campaign cycle?
Don’t go overboard telling me about your endorsements. Frankly I get suspicious if the bulk of your endorsements are simply different local branches of your own political party group or the support of your Central Committee. I’m voting for individual people, not the party line. I distrust “the machine.”
I’m also suspicious of union endorsements. As a public school educator for 18 years I learned not to just accept the endorsements of my teacher’s union after realizing candidates were always picked from a single political party and reflected the opinions of “the union leadership,” not the rank and file educator who may strongly disagree and resent their dues being spent on political campaigns rather than improving working conditions. I have no reason to believe this is any different among the unions for the police, fire department, etc.
I also don’t blindly vote from other organizations’ list of endorsed candidates. For all the public knows, their selected candidate could be only from responses received by a certain deadline, rather than from the entire field.
A quick list of additional things which don’t impress or sway me:
- having animated, glitzy features on your website
- the number of ‘friends,’ ‘likes,’ or ‘followers’ on your Facebook page
- populating your website, Facebook page, or mailers with pictures of your new baby, children, or pets.
- filling your website or Facebook page with inspirational quotes, etc. rather than specifics on your positions and IDEAS
- how long you’ve lived in Howard County
- which HCPSS schools you or your children attended
- whether you’re a new parent or a single parent (Caution: this could prompt one to ponder whether you’ll be abandoning that child, or your elected duties when trying to juggle both)
- previous commissions, boards, or task forces you’ve served on (unless you’re able to define exactly what the positive outcome of that service was. If your appointment resulted in a report placed on a shelf never to be read again, it’s not that impressive.)
Let me be clear, I want you working for ME-– not the party, not the union, not a special interest group (whether it’s gender or racially based, or artists, cyclists, or developers). How can you convince me of that in words and deeds?
Voters may ask, “Where can a citizen find meaningful, unbiased information on candidates?” Obviously one can’t stop with just the candidate’s on-line or print presence. Look in the following places and report back:
Campaign Finance reports. Who are they accepting donations from? Does it include Developers? Are there a lot of out-of-county donors? Who’s donating the maximum allowed? Are they totally self-financing? Does their rate of spending show a lack of fiscal responsibility?
- Reviewing videos of Council meetings at https://cc.howardcountymd.gov/Online-Tools/Watch-Us or testimony submissions at https://apps.howardcountymd.gov/olis/ will clarify/quantify Current Participation in County Processes. Are they frequently seen at Council hearings? work sessions? planning board sessions? local community meetings? DPZ/Clarion Development Regulation Assessment meetings? Have they ever testified on any of my top issues or what is most relevant in your district, like: adequate public facilities (APFO), the budget, Industrial mulching, the downtown TIF, route one revitalization, affordable housing, special taxing district for 1000-unit development at North Laurel Station, others.
Whether or not they have testified publicly, have they published their opinions on these hard-fought issues in blogs or position papers? Can one readily tell where they stand? Do they demonstrate an ability to analyze complex and financial information to support a decision? Do they demonstrate the ability to analyze budgetary concerns? Or is ‘the Party’ running their campaign and advising them to just remain silent on issues since the Party will tell them how to vote once elected?
This is clearly more work than most individuals would consider. But let’s share the load. I’d love to see folks in each of our five districts share factual “Comprehensive Candidate Comparisons” to aid fellow citizens in making intelligent, thoughtful choices based on what is most important to them. I’m attaching a sample blank spreadsheet to assist with some uniformity—and invite your submissions for publication here at How Come? For now, let’s limit our efforts to primary races where there are multiple candidates within a Party.
So that you don’t miss any updates as data comes in, please subscribe to this blog as well as subscribe to receive notice of comments. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Being an INFORMED voter is far more important than being an EARLY voter—take time to know as much as you can about each candidate—and meet me on the high road,
There is not much new to be said about the tragic flooding in Ellicott City just 666 days after the previous devastation. So I am reposting a trio of blogs published about the 2016 flood which have implications for development in all of Howard County. Sadly residents and business owners will be doing a lot of Washing, Rinsing, and Repeating as they labor to remove the mud and sediment from their homes and shops.
Read again or read anew—and meet me on the high road,