Friday, March 30, 2007

duchy trachtenberg: anti-trans fats, pro-onion rings

The eighth stop on Just Up The Pike's "County Government Head-to-Head Tour."

One of the elevators in the County Council Office Building has been broken for the past few weeks, so quite a few people are have packed themselves in for the ride down. There's myself and Henry from Silver Spring Scene, three or four County officials in suits and ties, and up against the door is Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large), wearing a big fur coat in spring weather. Everyone's talking and joking, shaking hands and making plans, and it's impossible for Henry and I to get off at the lobby. We ride it all the way down, all the way up, and back down again, as I wonder if the coat was real.

"I would like to see the social ills in this County make it on the map."
I didn't have the heart to ask. President of the Maryland chapter of NOW, "grassroots activist" (according to her bio), and a person who refers to the bathroom as "the loo," Duchy Trachtenberg doesn't spit grand promises like most politicians, but it seems like she's too soft-shelled to take those kinds of risks. Or perhaps freshmen councilmembers reserve the right to be so insecure.

In fact, the first thing she did was to jump down my throat in regards to some not-that-incendiary comments I made while trying to make this appointment last January. All I said was that her staff hadn't returned the two phone messages I'd left.

"I take this seriously because I've been told by my staff that you didn't call and I'm offended that you would put that on there," Trachtenberg says. "I find it hard to believe that my staff would not return a call."

Communications Director William Klein explained to me later that unreturned phone calls were "not her policy," but Duchy Trachtenberg still let a few slip through her fingers. Mea culpa, I know.

AFTER THE JUMP: The rest of the story.

Coming from a background in public health, Trachtenberg's main interests for this term are to improve the "delivery of health services" in Montgomery County. She herself is a "parent of a consumer" of health care services, citing her schizophrenic son, currently being held at a facility in New York state. "The quality in Maryland does not compare," she says, adding, "Maryland fares rather badly" in health care delivery nationwide.

For Henry and I, it became clear this wasn't going to be a discussion about development or quality-of-life. These things do not sound like Trachtenberg territory. "Do we make the maintenance of our infrastructure a higher priority?" Trachtenberg asks. (We can only presume that congestion doesn't play a major role in the less-than-two-mile commute from her Twinbrook home to Rockville Town Center.) "I would like to see the social ills in this County make it on the map."

"One thing I think we have to keep in mind is the current Bush administration."
Combating "social ills"? It makes me think of Prohibition. (With all of our liquor stores owned by the County, could Montgomery County bring it back!?) We don't know much about what she thinks about roads or slow-growth outside of ideals expressed on her website such as "County residents wanting to lessen their dependence on foreign oil should be accommodated with safer sidewalks and bike paths."

We do know, however, that former Action Committee for Transit Vice President Richard Hoye (pictured) is on her staff, and that I remember seeing him on my way from work last summer, speeding through the streets of Bethesda on a bike with a poster on the back bearing the soon-to-be Councilwoman's face. So, while our chat with Duchy Trachtenberg was mainly limited to her pet interests, we can assume she's looking out for bus riders as well.

"Ride On service [needs] to be funded to a larger degree," she notes at the one time we did manage to talk about transit. "Routes need to be extended into other parts of the County and the buses need to run longer."

But that was it. Perhaps there just isn't enough money to inspire bigger dreams. "We don't have adequate tax base in this state," she says. "We are down the totem pole in relation to the income level in this county. We do not have a large enough tax base . . . we really need to evaluate our current tax code."

When asked about affordable housing in the County, Trachtenberg took a swipe at the President, the first we've heard during the entire "County Government Head-to-Head Tour": "One thing I think we have to keep in mind is the current Bush administration," Trachtenberg insists. "Less and less money has been designated for these federal initiatives. Housing vouchers are one of them."

"We only have so much in the way of resources," Trachtenberg laments. "More and more of the burden falls on the shoulders of local government."

After an awkward half-hour of conversation, County Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large) has to leave for a meeting with Ike Leggett, but she offers up a concession: fried food. As we waited for the elevator, she invited us to a press conference for her first major bill of the session, a proposal to ban all trans fats from Montgomery County restaurants. "Come out to that," Trachtenberg says. "There'll be good french fries. I requested onion rings."

And we don't know if there were onion rings at the event, but if there were, we commend Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg. Just Up The Pike found this encounter so frustrating that we couldn't write about it for a week and a half - but we can respect a woman (who fights for women's rights) and appreciates a good O-ring.


Anonymous said...

I guess Duchy was too much of a woman for you, eh Dan?

Anonymous said...


It's Richard Hoye, not Hoyt. Break out the fact checker.

Anonymous said...

Dan, with all respect, your postings almost always have a cycnical tone when it comes to politicians. Whether it is deserved or not, you can't expect them to roll out the red carpet for you if you constantly have a chip on your shoulder in your publicly posted comments. As the old adage goes..."you catch more flies with honey than vinegar".

Johnna Knows Good Food: Yum Yum, Gimme Some! said...

Next time you're in the District and crave a good onion ring, try Z Burger, they are amazing!