Wednesday, July 18, 2007

after the controversy, drew powell searches for redemption

Part ONE of a series chronicling interviews with activist Drew Powell and Silver Spring marketing director Susan Hoffmann, who are both running for mayor of Rockville.



I shake hands with Drew Powell, slow-growth activist and Rockville mayoral candidate, in the Rockville Town Square.



The
Post covers the Town Square's grand opening earlier this week.



Drew Powell - soon-to-be-former Neighbor for a Better Montgomery - cuts an imposing figure across the low-rise Rockville landscape. It's not just the fact he's pretty tall (as tall as I am) or has become an outspoken critic of the Way Things Are Done in Montgomery County - it's the fact he and I went searching the bowels of Rockville Town Square last Friday to make an apology.

The jewel box-like Town Square is where Powell's fledgling mayoral campaign took a turn for the worst two months ago. A week before announcing his candidacy, a security guard threatened to have Powell arrested for taking a photo of his nine-year-old son in the square.

At the time he was worried, he says, that "people are gonna think 'he's gonna make hay of it, he's gonna do it for political gain'," so he kept his mouth shut, even after photographer Chip Py led a protest through Downtown Silver Spring for the very same reason. When he finally told his story - to Drew Pierson, a Montgomery Sentinel reporter trying to see if another Chip Py would surface in Rockville - the current Mayor of Rockville accused him of lying.

lots more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

"If I'm not mistaken, the "rumor" is the result of the Sentinel reporter trying to make a story out of nothing," wrote Mayor Larry Giammo in an e-mail to various city officials. Giammo suggests that Powell was trying to photograph a store display, but the proof is in the picture: just a cute kid and the pavement of the plaza.

And Giammo ate his words when the City spoke to the guard and found that Powell was, in fact, telling the truth - but that wasn't enough. "I believe that moving forward - in Town Center, in Silver Spring, all over the County - there are First Amendment rights that need to be made clear for citizens," Powell says. "I have the feeling this will be decided in the Supreme Court."

***

We're on Maryland Avenue, lined by posh restaurants with outdoor seating. The beer garden at Gordon Biersch is full; TVs facing the street are blasting ESPN. "I shouldn't have to be afraid to come forward on this," Powell laments. "These are First Amendment rights, and I still happen to believe in the First Amendment."

He starts searching the brick-paved sidewalks, and it takes a second before I realize that he's walking up to a security guard, decked in blue. "Do you know Leo?" he asks.

"Leo? Curly hair? He was transferred to D.C.," the security guard says. "Eight months ago."

Powell's face turns white. "But . . . I saw him, like, two weeks ago." There's a brief silence: was it all an illusion? Can't be. "Wait," Powell says, "do you mean" - and he says Leo's last name. The guard's expression changes. "Leo!" he says. "He's probably out back. Lemme take you to him."

We're led across the street, past the beer garden, and through the posh lobby of a still-unsold condominium. A metal door, hard to hide but easy to find, takes us into an alley, where the illusion abruptly stops and Rockville Pike comes into view. We've gone from turrets and lattes to parking lots and office blocks. A Red Line train screeches by a few blocks away.

"A side of Rockville Town Square you've never seen before," Powell jokes.

"I've seen this before," I say. "I've taken out the trash."

***

"I think Town Center is fabulous," Powell says earlier that afternoon, while munching on a chicken salad sandwich at Potbelly. "But there are things I don't think most citizens are cognizant of."

Three-fourths of the condos in Town Square have yet to be sold. In the sales office, three floors above Maryland Ave, office workers outnumber actual customers. And, then there's the parking garages: "Every taxpaying citizen of Rockville pays a large portion of their taxes - about ten percent - just to pay for the [parking] garages" in the Town Square, says Powell, explaining that the bonds taken about by the City to pay for the garages' construction and maintenance cost $1.5 million a year to service. "Public-private partnerships need to be gone into with open eyes."

The Public-Private Partnership - best described as a "deal with the devil" between local governments and Big Developers - goes a long way back in Rockville. Just ask any Rockville resident over the age of thirty about the Rockville Mall, the failed behemoth (paid for by Federal Urban Renewal grants) that was bulldozed to make way for the Town Square.

"Architecture classes used to take their students in there and say 'this is exactly what you're not supposed to do'," Powell says, completely straight-faced. As a result, Powell remains more than skeptical about the city's latest attempt at town-building.

"The City needs to be careful as it moves ahead - so we're not spending more money to subsidize Town Center I, Town Center II, Town Center III," insists Powell. "These projects have to pay for themselves."

***

We're back in the alley. The stench of trash is unbearable. Behind each gray door is a different surprise - a peek inside the Papery, a stairwell, a dank hallway. Powell starts peppering the guard - who's introduced himself as Eddie Warren - with questions about the Town Square's photo policy.

"You can take pictures, okay," he says, "but other sites I work at they have signs posted."

"It should've been posted," Powell repeats.

"Reston Town Center where I've worked, they had signs posted around," Warren continues. "You wanted to take a picture, you had to go to the main office . . .that came about five years ago, during the 7-11 [sic]."

"He was just doing his job," Powell says, shaking his head.

One door reads "Engineering Office." He'll be in here, the guard says, reaching for the handle. He pulls: it's locked, and he doesn't have the key. Powell sighs. No luck today.

***

Disappointed, Drew Powell and I walk back out to the street, where shiny SUVs slowly tread over the cobblestones and diners and pedestrians exchange awkward stares. We discuss taking a picture in the Square, in the exact same spot as his son. "Okay, but only if we get someone to take a picture of the both of us," Powell insists.

Then a voice calls out: just a sound, no real words. Once again, I'm lost for a second before realizing Powell's running down Maryland Avenue, towards the Fractured Prune. Eddie Warren is waiting, with a much shorter, stockier guard in a white shirt. His nametag reads Leo: this is the guy.

Powell looks flustered. "I know you were doing what you were supposed to do," he says. "I know they put you through a lot of shit." He tries to crack a friendly smile - hey, we're all in this together - but Leo isn't taking it. His face is completely blank.

"I didn't spoke to nobody about it," he says, almost too quietly to hear.

"Scott Ullery [Rockville city manager] said he spoke to you." Powell's voice is trailing off.

Leo shakes his head. I introduce myself and offer a card. "I don't want a card," he says, "and I don't got nothing to say."

11 comments:

Sligo said...

LOL 7-11. Any more ignorant and he'd be qualified to work for the TSA.

Anonymous said...

Wow - I can't believe that you would go on an oddessy with him just to find that guard. I understand that he feels that his First Amendment rights were subjugated, but come on...the city and FIRT did the right thing and apologized and made the correction to their staff. End of story in Rockville. That he would drag you around TC to apologize to that guard is nothing more than a stunt to garner attention for what is now a non-issue. And of course the guard wasn't going to say anything. Can you imagine how you would react if the entire county government, city government and media decended on you, and then, as a bonus, you had to explain what happened to your boss as well? That would suck. So to seek him out to apologize with media in tow - that's sad.

Anonymous said...

Dan, I'm impressed that you would meet with Drew Powell. I'm also impressed that Powell would actively seek out the security guard, who infringed on his First Amendment rights. If Powell had anything to hide, the last thing he would want to do is introduce you, Dan, to that guard. As far as it being the "end of story in Rockville;" the anonymous poster (7/19/2007 10:18 AM) couldn't be farther from the truth. I watched Powell's courageous testimony about the incident on cable Monday night and now understand that there are many outdoor areas in Rockville Town Center (sidewalks, etc.) that ARE private property. These areas are places that Federal Realty Investment Trust (that’s FRIT not FIRT) can, at any time, exercise its domain and restrict First Amendment rights. Other than an apology, nothing has been resolved. How is it FRIT's responsibility to give me permission to exercise MY First Amendment rights? And Dan, did Mr. Powell "drag you around" or did you walk with him because you wanted to? I find it hard to imagine that anyone could drag you, Dan of Just Up the Pike, around. What's sad are anonymous poster’s that try to change even the facts as Just Up the Pike has presented. Lastly, I lived in Rockville for more than two decades and am tired of politics as usual here. This November, Powell's got my vote for Mayor of Rockville.

informed voter said...

Powell is a true American hero to bring up this discussion. We must show support for candidates that will defend the public space and not the old-line (like Hoffman) who has sold out Rockville and America to private developers.

Montgomery Slacker said...

A true American hero? Gag me. Powell's "supporters" are staring to sound alot like Robin Ficker's sock puppets.

Rockville Voter said...

The only one who even remotely resembles Ficker is Hoffmann.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Dan, I'm impressed that you would meet with Drew Powell. I'm also impressed that Powell would actively seek out the security guard, who infringed on his First Amendment rights. If Powell had anything to hide, the last thing he would want to do is introduce you, Dan, to that guard. As far as it being the "end of story in Rockville;" the anonymous poster (7/19/2007 10:18 AM) couldn't be farther from the truth. I watched Powell's courageous testimony about the incident on cable Monday night and now understand that there are many outdoor areas in Rockville Town Center (sidewalks, etc.) that ARE private property. These areas are places that Federal Realty Investment Trust (that’s FRIT not FIRT) can, at any time, exercise its domain and restrict First Amendment rights. Other than an apology, nothing has been resolved. How is it FRIT's responsibility to give me permission to exercise MY First Amendment rights? And Dan, did Mr. Powell "drag you around" or did you walk with him because you wanted to? I find it hard to imagine that anyone could drag you, Dan of Just Up the Pike, around. What's sad are anonymous poster’s that try to change even the facts as Just Up the Pike has presented. Lastly, I lived in Rockville for more than two decades and am tired of politics as usual here. This November, Powell's got my vote for Mayor of Rockville.

7/19/2007 1:45 PM

RE: And you too Exposing your True Montgomery County Hatred with supporting Communist anti-Progressive Left Wing Maryland Hating Extremists..........

Anonymous said...

informed voter said...

Powell is a true American hero to bring up this discussion. We must show support for candidates that will defend the public space and not the old-line (like Hoffman) who has sold out Rockville and America to private developers.

7/19/2007 3:21 PM

RE: Yep another Maryland Hater possibly from the Business Rich Northern Virginia endorsing anti-Maryland Left Wing Extremist Politricks to further SABATOGE ALL FORMS OF Business, Economic, and Revenue Growth for Maryland........

voteforchange said...

Also Hoffman Ullery and Giamo are directly linked to the paver scandal that cost city taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless more in lost revenue while the streets were closed. We need a candidate like Powell who will come in and shake things up in City Hall and make Rockville the greatest city in America. Its shameful for the politically independent city manager to get involved with city politics. Powell has my vote and I will encourgae friends, neighbors and family to vote Powell for Rockville Mayor.

Anonymous said...

Link to Drew Powell's official campaign web site: http://www.VotePowell.org

Beltway Progressive said...

I didn't realize that stomping on Constitutional rights was okay as long as you apologize afterward. I guess it's time to get out the Crane stationary and start writing to all those people who have been released from Guantanamo and say, "sorry for those lost four years..."

As to whether shopping plazas are privately owned property or not, that's a different question from whether it's public space. Privately owned property, funded with upgrades from tax breaks and direct grants of public monies, covered by restrictions and zoning agreed to on receipt of that money, and open to the public on a non-discrimnatory basis, has a status much different from your living room. It is public space. There's no reason photography should be prohibited.