Part TWO of our "District 4 Head-to-Head Tour," which seeks to interview all eight candidates running in a special election to replace Councilmember Marilyn Praisner, who passed away in February. A primary will be held April 15, followed by a general election May 13.
County Council candidate Mark D. Fennel at the McDonald's in Colesville. Fennel does not have an active website, but you can check out this Gazette profile of him from the 2006 election.
Last Monday, if you'd asked me whether there was still a Caribou Coffee in Aspen Hill, I'd say there was. If you asked Mark Fennel, Aspen Hill resident and Republican candidate for District 4 County Council, he would've said yes as well. And we were both surprised to discover that the place we'd agreed to meet at had mysteriously closed. Instead, we moved to the new Colesville McDonald's. With soft lights, nice music and big, cushy booths, the new McDonald's is a fine coffeehouse substitute. And for Fennel, it's become a campaign headquarters of sorts.
"It's right in the middle of the district," he says. For the past several weeks, Fennel and MoCo political gadfly Robin Ficker have been meeting at McDonald's when going out to canvass East County neighborhoods. Since working together on one of Ficker's many property tax propositions four years ago, the two have become good friends.
"It's fun!" says Fennel of pounding the pavement, clearly excited. "It's a really good way to meet people and knock on doors and say 'I'm working to keep down property taxes! Property taxes are too high! Can we put this sign down?" And, seemingly overnight, the streets and highways of District 4 are now lined with pairs of signs - one for him and one for Ficker. One says "Mark Fennel for District 4." The other says "Property Tax Relief! RobinRealty.org."
With just a few weeks to win over East County Republicans before the primary April 15, Fennel is trying to win voters by going for their wallets. Mention the budget deficit and his head perks up. But as an employee of Citizens Against Government Waste, a watchdog group monitoring pork barrel spending in the federal government, he's naturally concerned about our County's finances.
so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .
Former County Executive candidate Robin Ficker, shown with Robert Fustero in 2006, has joined Mark Fennel's campaign for County Council.
And that's not even the worst problem we face, he explains. "58,000 people have left, median income has gone down, foreclosures have doubled, seniors are losing their homes, and it hits minorities really hard," says Fennel, an Aspen Hill resident. "I asked Ike Leggett [at the Town Hall Meeting last week] 'when is the insanity gonna end?' and he said, 'it's in the Council's hands now.'"
Like many of the candidates running to replace Marilyn Praisner as District 4 councilmember, Mark Fennel sees the need for a change. "I thought it would be a good opportunity for Republicans to break the monopoly that Democrats have in Montgomery County," he says. In 2006, the last Republicans holding public office in the County - State Delegate Jean Cryor and Councilmember Howard Denis, both representing the Potomac-Bethesda area - were voted out.
If the only way a Republican could win in MoCo was by running in a super-wealthy community, could one do the same in the decidedly less swanky East County? Mark Fennel doesn't see why not. "It's a special election. It's not gonna be a draw to bring people out," he says. "It'll all really come out to turnout."
And Fennel has been working hard to turn out the Republican base, calling up every voter in the district registered with his party. "We're working from hard Republicans all the way down," he explains. "It's really very motivational when you talk to somebody on the phone. It's not a recording. It's a personal appeal . . . people ask 'how do I spell your name?' I want to vote for you.'"
"I'm a District 4-first person. Let the At-Large candidates worry about the issues that affect the County as a whole," he says. "If I'm not gonna stand up and fight for the interests of District 4, who will?"
While the stereotype would hold that a Republican would be out of touch with East County's diverse population, Fennel feels very comfortable with different kinds of people. His wife Estela moved here from Honduras five years ago; together, they have a six-month-old son, Caleb. Once a week, Fennel goes to church with his wife at a Spanish-speaking congregation in Damascus. "Just from living with her and talking with her and knowing her family, her congregation, it would enable me to better understand the needs of the immigrant community in District 4," says Fennel.
"Honduras is absolutely stunning," says Fennel of his wife's homeland, which he's visited a number of times. "There's wildlife, there's spider monkeys, there's deer . . . I was surprised by how mountainous it is, how green."
Mark Fennel supports additional mass transit in East County, but remains skeptical about its effectiveness.
The preservation of green space in East County is a major motivator for Fennel. "I'd like to see the State of Maryland buy undeveloped land around the ICC" to prevent it from getting developed, he says.
In the last Council election two years ago, he the only Republican opposed to the InterCounty Connector. For him, the highway treads over a place he cherishes. "In the '70's I used to play football for the Wheaton Boys and Girls Club and we'd practice on Bonifant Field. They made that field part of the staging area for the ICC as part of the 'land swap,'" he explains. "There's some nostalgia. You feel attached to an area, you want to do what's best for that area."
Fennel rattles off a list of traffic fixes smaller than the ICC he supports: the Brookeville Bypass, which would re-route Georgia Avenue around the small town north of Olney; a rapid busway between Burtonsville and the Silver Spring Metro; the White Oak Transit Center, currently in planning; and a proposed Purple Line spur from White Oak to Langley Park.
While he's a supporter of mass transit, he remains wary of its ability to take cars off the road. "You hope that if you have mixed-use and Smart Growth developments around Metro centers, that's the theory, that people are gonna use Metro," he says when asked about a proposed development at the Glenmont Metro. "But you look at the 2000 census, you see people near Metro centers really aren't."
In the end, it's about finding not just the most economic solution but the one best suited for the kind of community Fennel would like to see. "I thought the ICC was . . . too expensive of a project. For the price tag I saw there are a lot of smaller transportation projects that could've been done," he says. "I see the reasoning in trying to connect to the airport, creating a Technology Sector around 270."
Fennel shrugs. "We can leave that to Virginia."