Monday, April 14, 2008

don praisner, picking up where marilyn left off

Part EIGHT 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.

Don Praisner at the IHOP in Calverton. For more information about his platform and biography, check out his campaign website.

In a special election born out of tragic circumstances but recast as a means for change in East County, there is one candidate who wishes to preserve the status quo. It has been over two months since Councilmember Marilyn Praisner passed away after forty years together, but Don Praisner is more determined than ever to ensure that her job is completed.

"I don't think anybody could hit the books as hard as Marilyn did," says Don over coffee at the new IHOP in Calverton, on Tech Road. "I'll try to work as hard as possible, but I don't think anyone could carry the workload she did."

In February, Marilyn passed away from complications due to heart surgery after a car accident last fall left her with a collapsed lung. Ten weeks later, Don remains surprised by her death. "Longevity was one of the characteristics of Marilyn's family," says Don. "I thought she would be around long after I was gone."

His candidacy to replace her was quickly endorsed by a slew of local elected officials, including County Executive Ike Leggett and four council members who voted for a slower pace of development for last year's Annual Growth Policy. With the loss of Marilyn, the coalition - made up of councilmembers Elrich, Trachtenberg, Andrews and Berliner - is anxious for a fifth vote to make it a majority. "Marilyn . . . she was for managed growth, not a moratorium," says Don. "My philosophies are the same."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

For forty years, Don and Marilyn lived in Calverton, a planned community straddling the Montgomery/Prince George's county line.

Known as an obsessive fact-checker, Marilyn would work long hours at the Council Office Building in Rockville, including Sunday afternoons. "She wanted to read everything she could . . . to be satisfied she knew of the issues," Don says.

He sometimes worried if his wife's hard work was worth the time and energy spent. "I've been surprised by all of the people I've met who made favorable comments about her," says Don. "I always said 'Why are you spending so much time on the job?' because it's never appreciated."

Over the past few months, he has ripped into Navarro and other candidates who try to compare themselves to his spouse. At a candidate forum in Cloverly two weeks ago, he told Navarro that "[Marilyn] was disappointed with you because you were not an independent voice," while claiming that she would "undo some of the work my wife did."

Don was unfazed by the Post's endorsement of School Board president Nancy Navarro for the Democratic nomination. "When they supported Marilyn, they always made some kind of backhanded compliment," says Don. "They pointed out some of Nancy's weaknesses, like leadership and independence. I think independence is important," he adds, pointing out that sixty percent of Navarro's funds come from unions.

Nonetheless, Don says he would put all bitterness aside if he lost the primary. "I'm a good Democrat," he states. If the voters reject his bid for office, he would like to play golf with his daughter, currently stationed with the government in Hawaii. "Of course, I'd also hope to be taking office for County Council," he says, smiling.

A Praisner campaign sign on Galway Drive in Calverton.

When I ask, as I have of all the other candidates, what the biggest problems facing East County are, Don echoes statements made by his wife when I spoke to her last year. "The same problems facing the County as a whole," he says. "A decline in revenues and an increase in services . . . one thing that distinguishes District 4 from the rest of the County is a need for jobs." The budget deficit is also a major concern. Don is cold to the idea of increasing property taxes to reduce it, as Leggett proposes. "I'd have to look at the services that will be cut if we don't," he laments. "Ike has a very difficult decision to make."

For the past forty years the Praisners have lived in Calverton, a 1960's-era planned community of fifteen hundred homes straddling the Montgomery/Prince George's line. During that time, the neighborhood has changed "some ways for the better and some ways for the worse," Don says. "We've become a cut-through between I-95 and Cherry Hill."

Dealing with two different counties reveals each jurisdiction's strengths and weaknesses, Don explains. "There are some places where P.G. does a better job . . . police response is better than Montgomery County," he says, though MoCo is "more sensitive to the social problems we have."

Disagreements between the two counties, however, have stymied attempts at coordinated planning and even threatened to tear the neighborhood apart. Fifteen years ago, the community rejected A-287, a proposed road that would have extended Clover Patch Drive across what is currently Riderwood Village, connecting Cherry Hill and Powder Mill roads and offering an alternative to congested Calverton Boulevard. Montgomery residents approved of it, says Don, "but Prince George's just didn't want the traffic in their backyard. It was a problem that was splitting our community, and we were very concerned about the consequences of that issue."

Even earlier attempts at regional planning were less than successful. "When Marilyn first got on the council, she recognized that what happens in your county affects us here," Don says. In 1990, Marilyn arranged the signing of a tri-county planning agreement between Montgomery, Prince George's and Howard counties, though it has since been ignored by all three.

"I'm not sure whether it's feasible or not" to pursue regional planning again, says Don. "I think it would take State intervention, someone with a club saying 'Hey! Get in shape!' And even then it'll be difficult."

A new restaurant under construction in WesTech Village Corner, one of several new developments in Calverton.

As former Vice President of the Calverton Civic Association, which represents the neighborhood, Don has been "in dialogue" with a number of developers seeking to build in Calverton and throughout East County, he says, though "it's not always a harmonious one."

One of the biggest proposals currently on the boards is for LifeSci Village, a 185-acre mixed-use community planned on the current site of the Percontee concrete recycling plant on Cherry Hill Road. In a November newsletter, Marilyn expressed concerns about the project, which Don shares. "It's an attractive plan, but I don't think it's ideal for East County," he says. Mixed-use is popular now, but "a developer isn't going to build an office building if he can't fill it. You can't ignore the marketplace."

Developers have made promises in the past that were not fulfilled, he warns, holding up the Orchard Center shopping center at Cherry Hill and Broadbirch as an example. "When the developers first brought this to us, a lot of promises about white tablecloth restaurants were made," says Don. Instead, a McDonald's and a Starbucks were built. "We're not totally happy with it, but we're glad it's here."

"They do good business here," Don says, motioning to the restaurant we're in. "Place is packed on Sunday mornings."

Burtonsville residents should be especially careful as its village center is redeveloped, considering all of the growth in Howard County and at the massive Konterra "mini-city" outside Laurel, he notes. "What is the marketplace willing to put into the village?" asks Don. "I guess they'll have to find their own personal niche. They can't compete with the Konterras of the world . . . but you have to fight to get as close to what you want as possible."

More than anything, patience is important. As a teenager, Don lived in Wheaton, where "the sign for Wheaton Plaza was there for eight to ten years before they actually built the plaza," he jokes.


Anonymous said...

Don Praisner is triple-witching. That is where one tells a special interest that he will give them everything they ask for--in the case of the special interest MCEA union--30% raises over 3 years. Then you tell the voters you are concerned about their pocketbooks. Finally, when in office, you vote to exceed the charter property tax limit, as Don has said he will do.

Kevin Gillogly said...


You are full of crap. If it was true you would sign your name to it.

You are a professional s--- stirrer. Stop that.

If you have something of importance to add then do it. Otherwise, please go away.

Anonymous said...

Print Praisner's MCEA written answers to questions 1 and 3 right here. He told the union that he would fully fund their 30% raises and would increase taxes to do so. And he told the Montgomery County Federation of Teachers, whose endorsement he twice touts in his campaign brochure the same thing. Put your money where you mouth is Praisner team. You've been caught triple witching and the best you can do is try and deny. PRINT THE ANSWERS.

Anonymous said...

Kevin, both Don Praisner and Nancy Navarro seem like nice people to me. Why are you intense about this campaign?

Anonymous said...

Wow - Gillogly is showing that once again he gets too wrapped up in a campaign. He acted this way when he was supporting Marc Elrich and then got especially hyper with Drew Powell's failed Rockville Mayoral bid. Chill out, dude.