WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Congressional candidate Donna Edwards moving into National Harbor in Oxon Hill; Post examines rift created by District 4 opening.
Part SEVEN 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.
John McKinnis at the Calverton Starbucks. For more information about his platform and biography, check out his campaign website.
At first glance, you can't tell that John McKinnis is a father of four, a successful business owner, or a Republican candidate for County Council. The news that he's thirty-two seems startling. He doesn't look as old as he is, and his actual age betrays his accomplishments. McKinnis is late for our meeting at the Calverton Starbucks, a few blocks from his home, but it's forgivable: he most likely put those ten minutes to good use.
McKinnis was one of a handful of candidates who drove to Four Corners last week for a late-night debate hosted by the Northwood-Four Corners Civic Association and unfortunately scheduled for the same time as one in Burtonsville. The event didn't let out until 11:30, he says, but as a former resident of Northwood he identified with the neighborhood's current struggle to stop the installation of soccer fields on a meadow in North Four Corners Park.
"I'm very concerned about that park and that rec center," says McKinnis. "My wife's Sweet Sixteen was in that rec center . . . we used to walk to that park."
so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .
A native of Michigan, McKinnis has lived in East County for several years, moving from Four Corners to a newly-built home off of Cherry Hill Road in Calverton in 2001. While he is "not directly involved" with the politically influential Calverton Civic Association, he has been a coach in the Calverton Recreation League. Now that he's put roots down, McKinnis is impatient for results from a government he doesn't see as functional. "As an investor in our community, you have to demand a rate of return," he says.
"I think there needs to be some kind of sanity on this council right now . . . they're not focused on anything," says McKinnis, who last ran for District 14 delegate two years ago. The current emphasis on so-called "quality-of-life" issues, which often refers to land use and development, is no longer relevant when "people are just trying to survive," he laments.
As a Republican on an entirely Democratic council, McKinnis says he could offer a different perspective, enabling him to act independently. "Because I'm not in the trench of one direction, I can stand up and say 'we don't need to fall in line with this'," he says.
County residents are used to a high level of government services, making any program cuts very unpopular. McKinnis claims that he's willing to take the blame for those decisions. "Let me be that fall guy on the council," he says. "This isn't about party lines, it's about leadership . . . and this fiscal crisis requires direct leadership."
Montgomery County is facing a $300 million deficit, and McKinnis blames the school system's increasing demands for funding. "I think if you look primarily at our fiscal situation right now . . . a lot of people should be held responsible, but it starts with her," he says, referring to current school board president - and Democratic District 4 candidate - Nancy Navarro. "I guess this is the inconvenient truth of where our County is."
As a father of four, he expresses dismay towards many MCPS policies, including its recent decision to give students on free and reduced lunch higher priority in being assigned to Blake High School during the choice process for Northeast Consortium eighth-graders, which ended last year. "I have four incredible children, they're so talented, and you're gonna do everything you can to give them their dreams," says McKinnis. One daughter is an aspiring gymnast; his seven-year-old son is playing piano; his eldest son, age twelve, does music and theatre. He recently started working with the same manager as teen idols the Jonas Brothers.
In a few years, he'll have to be thinking about the Consortium, McKinnis says. "You look at Blair, the technology achievements being made there . . . there are certain schools that kids are going to gravitate to because of those achievements," he states. "I want to see [my son] going to a school not because of his color but because of what interests him."
McKinnis's four children are split between the public schools and Forcey Christian School on East Randolph Road, which has "a huge diversity of families," he says. His wife is a teacher at Burtonsville Elementary, and through her, he's learned a lot about the difficulties educators are facing in the school system. Increased attention to gifted-and-talented programs and special education has shortchanged students "in the middle," he laments. Meanwhile, problematic students are being swept under the rug by administrators unwilling to admit that they hamper the educational experience for other students.
"You are in denial of what your employees put up with," says McKinnis of the school system's administration. "I've known teachers who've been written up because their kids aren't above grade level. There's so much pressure on them . . . they're the sacrifice in this line of fire and the kids are suffering."
Nonetheless, problems in the school system and the county budget have been perennially pushed aside in favor of a bigger issue. "We talk about development," McKinnis laments. "None of this matters if our house isn't in order."