For additional coverage of the Town Hall Meeting, check out the Silver Spring Penguin and Maryland Politics Watch, along with the Baltimore Sun and the Post's Get There blog.
The parking lot at Einstein High was packed forty-five minutes before last night's Town Hall Meeting with Governor-elect Martin O'Malley, Lieutenant Governor-elect Anthony Brown, and new Secretary of Transportation John Porcari (oh, and Ike Leggett hosted, apparently), reflecting the normal Montgomery County seriousness about local politics. A standing-room-only crowd of nearly a thousand filled the auditorium, eager to see our new governor kick off his week-long "One Maryland" tour, culminating with his inauguration next Wednesday.
A dozen state, county and local officials showed up, but the first two rows of the auditorium remained conspicuously empty, reflecting a smaller-than-expected turnout. Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, whose district includes Einstein High, was notably very absent, as was Nancy Floreen, who lives in neighboring Garrett Park. (Her secretary said she is biking in Vietnam this week.) In their place, non-elected officials worked the crowd - Hans Riemer, who lost to Ervin in the Democratic primaries; Dr. Dana Beyer, a fixture at these events; and a surprise showing from former state Senator Ida Ruben.
Martin O'Malley's opening comments were a throwback to the speeches of John F. Kennedy - "I promise that if we join together, put one foot in front of the other, we will make progress" - but the statements that followed weren't nearly as idealistic or even understandable, in a few cases. The parade of disgruntled citizens speaking their piece to our elected officials was compared to "a comedy" by the woman sitting next to me.
When Ike Leggett opened the floor to questions, people filled the aisles. Perhaps seventy people were in line to ask a question, but after ninety minutes of back-and-forth between the panel and the people, Leggett pulled the plug (though not without letting several people ask the "last question"), leaving quite a few people frustrated after waiting so long.
The mood of frustration was fueled by some speakers who didn't seem to understand time limits. The spokeswoman for the Vietnamese Community of D.C., Maryland and Virginia, spent two minutes regurgitating the national anthem in broken English only to ask Martin O'Malley if her group could be invited to his inaugural parade, eliciting moans and a few laughs from the audience.
Most of the questions fielded to the panel concerned transportation, or more specifically the InterCounty Connector. One Longmead Crossing resident who launched into a tirade about the highway. "You can't do anything about [traffic], you can't even address it, and it all comes back to that six-lane highway," he snarled, eliciting a swell of applause and cheers from the audience. Rich Parsons, former president of the Chamber of Commerce and "speaking as a private citizen for the first time," was the lone supporter and got quite a few boos, which eventually turned to cheers when he brought up the Purple Line.
However, the most boos were reserved for one gentleman from Wheaton, who riffed on the money wasted by our "250,000 uninvited guests," by which he meant illegal immigrants. Even Ike didn't sound too enthusiastic telling the audience to let him speak. The gentleman, a "dorky white guy" of the dorkiest sort, told O'Malley he could find a solution: "You're a smart guy, smarter than I am-" but he was cut off: "No, if I were smart, I wouldn't have run for public office," and the man was quieted.
Despite the feeling that entire civic associations were bused in to promote their pet projects, the event was very successful. Many people have accused O'Malley of lacking substance, and his flowery, feel-good language wouldn't have done much to change their opinions, but it does inspire. He dominated the event, leaving the straight-talking Porcari, reticent Brown and a subdued Leggett to sit and stare. Afterwards, Hans Riemer suggested that Leggett "could have led the event more," a given since the sign in front of Einstein pegged him as The Host. Perhaps it's just that hard to eclipse the lead singer of a Celtic rock band.
On to Part Two . . .