Friday, May 25, 2007

the final word with roger berliner

NEXT WEEK: Test-driving the new Rockville Town Square; controversy over proposed offices in Colesville. TODAY: Why does Jerry Weast support "mandatory busing" in East County schools?

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

If you want to see where Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Potomac) got his start, you'll have to begin with Jerry Springer. Not the trashy talk show host, of course - we mean the upstart Ohio politician who became a trashy talk show host. It was Jerry Springer who gave Berliner his first job as an aide to the mayor of Cincinnati. "He had a great, incredible political future that he threw away by some 'extracurricular activities,'" Berliner says, referring to Springer's fondness for prostitutes.

And after Springer tanked, Berliner bounced around, serving at "virtually every level of government," he says. He worked in the California state legislature, in both houses of Congress, and in the Carter administration - all before he was 33. When it was time to settle down, he chose to move to Potomac. (We can only assume that it was more affordable twenty years ago than it was now.) "Montgomery County was where I wanted to live," he says.

"I brought together adversaries . . . and helped them find common ground."
Berliner took a few years to raise a family, coach high school baseball, even write about pork barrel politics. But "I hadn't been intimately involved in Montgomery County politics," laments Berliner. It was time for a change. So, following in his former employer's footsteps, Berliner (at right) decided to start a talk show.

Search for Common Ground in Montgomery County ran successfully several years on Montgomery Community Television without a single chair thrown. "I brought together adversaries . . . and helped them find common ground," Berliner says. "I thought the TV show was very successful."

Roger Berliner likes being a mediator. You can't bring him to say a bad thing about his fellow councilmembers. "I guess one of the surprises [about being a councilman] is how much I enjoy my colleagues," he says. "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, if you will. Each individual councilmember has specific strengths and passion that when you add them all up works well for the County." A little more optimistic than Valerie Ervin's early frustrations with the Council, it must be noted, but that's just how Berliner operates.

AFTER THE JUMP: $300,000 houses in Bethesda? Berliner says "maybe."

"I don't think [racism]'s a driver in the conversation." - Berliner on the Purple Line
Roger Berliner likes to talk about the things you can't measure, like beauty. When asked about some Bethesda residents' opposition to the Purple Line, he rules out the usual accusation of racial bias towards more diverse communities further along the proposed route (see Langley Park day laborers, at left.) "I don't think [racism]'s a driver in the conversation," he says. "Is it possible? Sure. I think it's much more we have this resources we have grown to love and we don't want it to change." He's talking about the Capital Crescent Trail, and he knows why people might not welcome the trains.

"They love the trail as it is," Berliner says. "There aren't a lot of trails in the Downcounty. They have a hard time envisioning how their enjoyment of the trail won't be impaired."

"So, intangible things," I suggest.

"I don't think quality-of-life is intangible," Berliner says. "Beauty is not measurable, but is it not real?"

"Beauty is not measurable, but is it not real?"
Is beauty real? That's what Roger Berliner wants to find out. Last March, when we first spoke, he proposed the creation of a "McMansion task force" to see if and how Montgomery County could regulate the design of oversized new homes, the majority of which - such as this home on Randolph Road (at left) - are an abomination to good taste. He's bringing together representatives from the County government, the development community, and the neighborhoods to hash out an official policy for McMansions. "I have tentatively hired professional facilitators," he said in March, "so that people aren't at each other's throats."

Actual task force meetings will begin in June, and Berliner is excited about the potential. "I think the process of bringing people in at the beginning . . . changes the conversation," he says. Nonetheless, East County won't be seeing much representation on the task force. "75 percent of McMansionization takes place in my district," he says. "There will be a disproportionate amount" of representatives from Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Potomac. (There is one space open for an East County resident, but it has not been filled.)

Even the looming fights over development impact taxes and the Annual Growth Policy have Berliner unfazed. He claims to be "agnostic" on the proposed increase in taxes on new homes that even Ike Leggett complains might stifle growth. "Taxes should increase," he says, noting it was part of his campaign platform. "I am concerned that we do not have the revenue that is required to prevent our community from having even more congestion problems."

"Those of us who are blessed with abundance have a duty to work for the community who have less."
But what about affordable housing? Surely Roger Berliner knows how expensive it can be to live in his own district - without the added burden of impact fees. "I believe affordable housing - in terms of new construction - is already out-of-reach," he says. "Our effort needs to be preserving existing neighborhoods." Berliner cites Battery Park (at right), in the shadow of Downtown Bethesda, as an affordable neighborhood with "$300,000 homes," he claims.

"Are you sure?" I ask. "$300,000 for a house? In Bethesda?"

Berliner pauses. He taps his fingers on his chin and starts speaking, slowly, as he has for the past half-hour. "They could be apartments . . . they could be more multi-family," he says. "I could be wrong."

A search of Downtown Bethesda shows that, yes, you can find a "place to live" in Bethesda for $300,000, but if you'd like four walls and a roof, it'll set you back close to a million dollars. So much for affordable housing, Roger Berliner. Beauty may not be measureable, but affordable housing is, and there isn't nearly enough of it. Now that's something to talk about.

Photo of Jerry Springer from Photo of Roger Berliner from Berliner's website. (Note how, after two meetings, I never snapped a photo of this guy. My bad, not his.)


Sligo said...

If I were him, I'd go around saying "Ich bin ein Berliner".

Anonymous said...

Germany had a good laugh when JFK said, "Ich bin ein Berliner". A Berliner in Deutschland is a "jellyroll". Most politicians are full of something more pungent.

Sligo said...

the b,

That is actually a an urban legend.

Anonymous said...

The Germans loved JFK, but that didn't stop them from drawing a talking "jellyroll" on the political page of the newspapers the next day. I saw a reprint during my 23 years living in Kaiserslautern and Bad Aibling.

Anonymous said...

It seems a google search backs you up Sligo, but having good friends in Berlin and spending time there, I find it laughable that the wikapedia says that "Berliners" were known as Pfannkuchen. I first heard the story from a friend and Berlin resident that was a 17 year old German soldier stationed at the Eagles Nest during WWII.

Either way Roger is probably full of something other than jelly.

James Allen said...

he is just a darn good guy, that's all!

James Allen said...

I know the man.
I do not live in a big house.
He has a good heart in him, that what he has.