GET YOURSELF INVOLVED: Citizens Involved, the "East County umbrella group," meets WEDNESDAY at Paint Branch High School.
Congressman Al Wynn (right) walks through the Silver Spring Metro with MoCo field director Ira Kowler. To see more pictures of Wynn's campaign kickoff, check out Just Up The Pike's "Purple Line" slideshow, featuring this and other explorations of the proposed transitway with local politicians and concerned residents.
Additional coverage at the Silver Spring Penguin.
Barely nine months after a bitter campaign that nearly led to his defeat, Congressman Albert Wynn (D-Dist. 4) is back for what could be the fight of his life. With the 2008 presidential primary moved up to next February, Wynn has put his campaign engine into full force, and he's out to prove a clean fight can be had. Yesterday, he rode the Metro and a bus between rallies in Shady Grove and Silver Spring to show his support for mass transit and energy independence.
"We're not going to run a negative campaign. We're going to have a clean fight, and we're going to talk about the issues," the eight-term Congressman said at both rallies. "We're gonna focus on transportation, we're gonna focus on climate change, we're gonna focus on ending this war."
AFTER THE JUMP: Wynn talks about the last time he rode a bus.
A cadre of local politicos have quickly thrown their support behind him, including State Delegates Roger Manno (D-Dist. 19) and Heather Mizeur (D-Dist. 20). In Shady Grove, County Executive Ike Leggett urged voters to "recognize what this man has done for Montgomery County," while in Silver Spring, State Comptroller Peter Franchot listed Wynn's influence "from bringing the FDA to White Oak . . . to funding the revitalization of Silver Spring."
And in transit between rallies, the Congressman is just as quick to point out his accomplishments. "I got funding for the first Blue Line extension out to Largo," he notes. Wynn lives in Mitchellville, a few miles from Largo, meaning that he could even take the Metro to work on Capitol Hill if he wanted.
The last time Wynn rode mass transit was "probably several months ago, I think," he says. "I can't even remember what it was for." But his work doesn't involve the usual nine-to-five commute, making Metro use an infrequent occurrence. "When I get off work, my day just begins," Wynn laments. "And unfortunately, mass transit doesn't work in all the communities I visit."
In Wynn's sprawling, gerrymandered Fourth District - which includes such far-flung communities as Germantown and Oxon Hill but also most of East County - he's been working to secure funding for three rail projects: Purple Line, the Corridor Cities Transitway, and rail across the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge. 'That bridge is rail-ready," he says. And Congress is quickly beginning to recognize their importance. "We're in the age of Metro now," he says. "I think people get it . . . you don't really have to sell people on the Metro. You have to find the funding."
On the J2 Metrobus from Bethesda to Silver Spring, Wynn and I discuss the current state of the bus system. "We gotta find ways to make [mass transit] work with people's lifestyles," Wynn says, and rail isn't the only answer.
"One thing people don't talk about enough is buses." He uses the example of a parent who has to pick up a child from soccer practice after work. "If the mass transit doesn't get you to soccer practice, you won't ride the bus . . . if we're gonna make it work, we gotta have more buses."
"But to have buses running more frequently," I ask, "we'd have to have higher density in order to create the ridership, and a lot of people don't want density in their communities."
"We already have the density," Wynn replies, "and with gas prices rising, we'll have the people." The Congressman goes on to explain a number of things that could be used to increase ridership. "If you have designated lanes at rush hour," he says, "and you have a lot of buses, you'd attract people . . . I don't think we need more density. We need an education campaign, and more convenience."
"If you think about rush hour and everyone's standing hip-to-hip, and there's a pickpocket, all you think about are the negatives," Wynn explains. "We have to make the bus physically attractive."
As he says this, well-dressed passengers are quietly admiring the scenery of Rock Creek Park visible through the bus's large windows. A few rows behind us, a little girl and her dad are playing on a Game Boy together. The whole scene looks decidedly normal and - dare I say it - a good advertisement for the bus. But when Wynn stops speaking, I can't help but notice that a few people are giving him very strange looks.
Nonetheless, when Congressman Wynn gets off at Silver Spring, he stops to thank the bus driver - who, like his fellow passengers, didn't seem to know who he was - before striding across the bus turnaround to a small crowd gathered in front of the Metro entrance. At the second rally of the morning, Wynn stresses his faith in public transit.
"There's a reason I'm riding the train and the bus," Wynn proclaimed. "Mass transit is something we have to have in the energy independence equation and something we have to have in the global warming equation."
"And I'm excited to be a part of the solution."