WHAT'S UP THE PIKE? Searching for truth in the bowels of Rockville; JUTP hits the issues with Drew Powell and Susan Hoffmann LATER THIS WEEK.
Ike Leggett, patiently listening to your concerns.
NEXT WEEK: We'll hear more from some of the residents who appear below.
Wheaton resident Beverly Sobel grabs the mic at last night's Town Hall Meeting, held at Woodside United Methodist Church in Silver Spring. Representing the group Green Space on Georgia, Sobel's asking the County Exec to stop plans to build townhouses on the former site of the Montgomery College School of Art and Design on Georgia Avenue, which she calls a de facto neighborhood park.
"Which would you prefer - a townhouse development or the preservation of parkland?" she demands.
"Clearly, the right answer is a park," responds Leggett, to thunderous applause. If there's one thing I can appreciate about County Executive Ike Leggett, it's that he knows what the people want to hear.
And Leggett tried hard to make the people who swept him into office happy at last night's Town Hall, which brought over two hundred people into a sweaty church basement to raise their hand and be heard on issues from illegal immigration to crossing the street alive.
more AFTER THE JUMP . . .
DOING A GOOD DEED: Boy Scouts were called in to direct traffic at Ike Leggett's Town Hall Meeting last night.
Leggett attempted to set the evening's agenda by mentioning the State's budget deficit. "I always say that 'if Annapolis sneezes, Montgomery County catches a cold'," said Leggett, using one of his trademark sayings. "We want to make sure that they do not sneeze too much on our backs."
But in the wake of the El Pollo Rico raid last week, many spoke out on both sides of the illegal immigration issue. A fellow known only to Just Up The Pike as "Dorky White Guy" handed out anti-illegal flyers in the lobby.
"It is right for the police to detain and question anyone suspected of being illegal," said one Germantown resident, complaining about the proposed day laborer center in Derwood. "The raid last week at El Pollo Rico shows that illegal immigration brings criminal activity. People who are here illegally do not belong."
"My support of the day laborer center is not one I'm going to take back," said Leggett to thundering applause.
The County Executive seemed increasingly frustrated by calls to deport illegal immigrants, saying it wasn't his jurisdiction nor his interest. He sharply told one resident that kept interrupting him to "shut up and listen," to which the resident responded "no, you shut up" much more quietly.
The debate came to a head when a representative from the Gandhi Brigade, a youth video group, complained that the raid was straining relations between the immigrant community and the police. "I would say a fear [of the police] is unrealistic," sighed Leggett, clearly frustrated.
"But there is a fear!" the representative insisted, stirring up the audience.
The Germantown resident stood up. "This is a major issue -"
"Sit down," Leggett shot back. "You asked your question."
One Wheaton resident's rant about Smart Growth led to what might be the Quote of the Evening. "I don't believe it is Smart Growth," he says. "I urge you to go up to the east side of Georgia [Avenue], by the [Wheaton] Metro. You don't see housing for people - you see housing for automobiles."
"When you have Smart Growth executed by Dumb People, you have bad ideas," quips Leggett. The wave of applause that resulted could have carried him and everyone else out into the parking lot. "I believe in Montgomery County we have too much growth in all the wrong places."
Several residents, however, didn't get to hear Leggett make a funny. One Silver Spring woman felt betrayed by Leggett's position on rent controls, claiming to have supported him for nearly two decades. "It's unfair that we paid the way for Silver Spring . . . and we're being forced out," said the woman, who lives in a Downtown apartment building. "Since you're not supportive of rent control - and I've been supportive of you - tell me where I need to go."
Rent controls already exist in Takoma Park and in College Park, where they've been the source of some controversy there as well. Throughout the meeting, Leggett repeated that he felt that they were not the right solution to the issue of rising rents.
Downtown residents Michael and Wendy Linde, who spoke out on the issue of pedestrian safety, asking why the County hasn't done more to make major roads safer. An article in this month's New Urban News (not available online) touting the revitalization of Silver Spring lamented that "pedestrians still must cope with broad, busy downtown roads." and the Lindes attested to it.
"There are aggressive drivers out there - and we walk," says Michael Linde. "We've nearly been killed seven times . . . there have been drivers who gave us the bird [when we try to cross]." He went on to ask why everyone from the police to the Department of Public Works and Transportation hasn't responded to his concerns, but Leggett chose to follow suit and moved onto the next question.
"I never got an answer to my question," wrote Linde in an e-mail. "I was not about to bully him because he did not answer my question."