Thursday, March 27, 2008

mark fennel, pounding both pavement and property taxes

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!"

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."


Anonymous said...

Last summer the Executive and Council spent $30,000 of the taxpayers' money to take a poll. They found that only 7% of Montgomery Countians supported raising taxes to improve services. The reaction of the Executive and Council? "The voters don't know what they want. We are going to exercise leadership and give them the largest property tax increase in 20 years." While we are in a recession. While Gas in headed to $4 a gallon. While our 401k's are tanking. After a 20% increase in the sales tax. After a dumb-down Maryland computer tax. After a 20% increase in the car tax. After a 18% increase in the corporate tax. After a huge income tax increase of which the 16% of Marylanders who live in Montgomery County will pay well over 50%! After the largest water bill increase in 10 years. After electricity bill increases of up to 75%. After the largest Metro fare increase in several years.

Mark Fennel is the only candidate who is committed to property tax relief and who is opposed to the largest property tax increase in a generation which the council and executive want to give us this year. Mark Fennel is the only candidate who is committed to sticking to and not exceeding the charter limit on property taxes. Mark Fennel is the only candidate who supports the November ballot question which makes it more difficult to exceed the charter limit on property taxes. Mark Fennel is the only candidate who will not vote to increase property taxes this year AND the next two years after that.

Some want to say that the issue in this special election is growth. It is not. Mark Fennel is slow growth. The issue is property tax relief. Mark Fennel is the only candidate who is committed to property tax relief. That is why you see his signs on the lawns of so many homeowners. SAVE OUR HOMES!

Anonymous said...

Mark Fennel is the only candidate in this special election who showed any interest in representing our council district before Marilyn Praisner died. He ran a friendly campaign against her in 2006 and did very well. I'm voting for Our Friend Fennel on April 15 and May 13!

Anonymous said...

Finally, somebody who is slow growth who does not have his hand in our pockets. I supported him in 2006 and will do so this year too.

Anonymous said...

JustUpthePike is doing a real community service in writing articles like this. I'm reading this before going to work. Fennel is the type of person my wife and I support.

Sligo said...

Hmmm... four anonymous comments before 6:30 AM (three within 20 minutes) all with glowing reviews of Mark Fennel? Could this be the same person?

Anonymous said...

Our family is marking for Mark. Good article!

Anonymous said...

I saw Fennel sign waving this morning on New Hampshire Ave. That guy has energy to spare.

Anonymous said...

I got to know Estela Fennel when she was working at Giant at Plaza del Mercado. She is a lovely, beautiful person. She should be a candidate for public office.

Anonymous said...

mark fennel is the bestest person ever!

Anonymous said...

Mark is smart, sincere, and energetic. As part of a new generation of public servants, it's time he is elected to office to counter the current partisan monopoly.

Anonymous said...

Sara Lee took Mark Fennel's slogan from him: Nobody doesn't like Our Friend Fennel!

Anonymous said...

I've met Fennel and his sign is in my yard. Fennel Fan.

Anonymous said...

This guy is the future of District 4. He is our last hope for bringing the county's finances into check. Stopping Ike Leggett from spending frivolously on his luxurious baths which should be called the famed "Baths of Rockville," his fleet of gas-guzzling SUV's and security entorage, and his pandering to community groups like Neighbors for a Better (Whiter) Montgomery and the employee unions who are getting 17% raises while my taxes are going up by a greater percentage. I'm voting for Mark Fennel for District 4 County Council. Who are you voting for?

Anonymous said...

Robin Ficker has placed more that 20 charter amendments on the ballot since 1974. These proposals have received over 2,000,000 votes. Many have dealt with property taxes including one on the ballot this November which will make it more difficult to exceed the charter property tax limit. He is the only person who has any credibility on the property tax issue, who hasn't flipped flopped around on it for 35 years. The county is trying to give us the biggest property tax increase in a generation this year.

Thomas Hardman said...

I humbly beg the apologies of Our Humble Blogger and of Mark Fennel as well -- not to mention the rest of the constituents in District 4 -- for having not updated by database of businesses and resources in Aspen hill, which I developed and maintain at My humble apologies.

Now, I wouldn't want to offend my fellow anti-tax Republican and so I won't criticize Mr Fennel or Mr Ficker, though Mr Ficker may perhaps be suspected of drinking a few too many espressos.

What a strange world we live in when apparently all of the Republicans are slow-growth/no-growth!

Like Mr Fennel, I support no tax increases, and in fact I personally am suffering under the new tax on computer services.

I am also not particularly thrilled with the idea of piling up huge high-density living arrangements centered around Metro. I favor walkable communities wherever possible, and to that end I propose that the County stop planning for and promoting endless population growth and "densification".

I know that there have been assorted complaints -- especially from the Schools of all people -- that the land-use policies that concentrate apartments in some areas are dragging down the school scores in some clusters, because those schools take students from "high transiency high density planning areas", according to the _Gazette_.

Clearly, densification and dedicated land-use, as core concepts, can have their drawbacks, unforseen consequences. Besides, didn't we learn our lessons about high-density living from the huge failed Welfare Projects from the Tip O'Neill Era? There's a great book called "Design of Cities" by Gunther and it has chapters full of brimstone and damnation for what it effectively the "excesses of mindless Corbsierianism". In any case, if you build immense structures, they have limited lifetimes and they really do trend towards rapid decay and concentration of poverty and consequent social upheaval or decay.

You only need to look downtown at the life-cycle of the Clifton Terrace development (now Wardman Court), which went from high-rent apartments to utter slum within about 30 years, and blighted the neighborhood for another 20 before an immense Federal bailout renovated and restored the place over another decade. Do we want that in Wheaton or Burtonsville? I think not.

We do need to really start looking at the future of mass-transit. As cars become more intelligent, and move more towards hybrid or electric power sources, the future of mass-transit may start to look a lot less like trains and buses and a lot more like semi-independent tiny cars cruising standard routes looking for passengers, or coming when called much like a taxi, or being found at specific intersections. Buses as we know them may turn out to be too inefficient in comparison, and then what would we do about the huge capital investment in bus stations and related facilities? We need to plan for the future but in the meantime we should move slowly with capital infrastructure expenditures that will fix yesterday's problems tomorrow, rather than fixing tomorrow's problems today.

Well, I should not be such a comments-hog, I don't want to seem as if I have had too much espresso.

As I mentioned, I fixed the database so that Caribou Coffee no longer shows up in Northgate Plaza. It's a darn shame that it's gone, it was a touch of class where class is desperately needed.

Anonymous said...

growth? what growth? have you read the papers lately?

Thomas Hardman said...

Of course I read the papers.

You are aware, aren't you, that things generally tend to go in cycles of what the regulator types like to call "moderated boom-and-bust"?

The implication of this is that you will eventually have a return of economic conditions which promote rapid growth.

And of course, keep in mind that when that happens, there will be the temptation to gobble up even more land, and when the next down phase of the cycle comes, that land will be generally useless except as a site for empty buildings or development.

Thus, we want to plan ahead for the temptation to leap headfirst into the next growth boom, and set things up so that it's not ridiculously profitable (if only in the short term) to overdevelop when that happens.

Anonymous said...

Mark Fennel is the only candidate who has spoken out about the Amish Market moving out of the 4th District. He will be a strong advocate for District 4. The at-large council members have District 4 as an afterthought.

Anonymous said...

t Fennel at the County Council's forum at Bel Pre Elementary. He is a breath of fresh air. All the council members sound the same. Fennel works at Citizens Against Government Waste. There is plenty of waste in Rockville. My family is going to vote for Mark Fennel. Anybody who talks with him one on one as I did would.

Anonymous said...

Mark Fennel, Republican nominee. Property taxes got you down? Help is on the way!