Part FIVE 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 Pat Ryan at the Parkway Deli in Silver Spring. (Picture forthcoming!) For more information about his platform and biography, check out Ryan's campaign website.
Pat Ryan's just received an endorsement from the Gazette, but you wouldn't know it from the way he talks. On the day the paper came out last week, we met at the Parkway Deli on Grubb Road, and he sort of brushed off his campaign for County Council when talking to an
acquaintance we met.
"I'm not the favorite," he says. "Don Praisner is running. The widower."
The widower. Those two words have cast a cloud over the District 4 special election, being held to find a replacement for Councilmember Marilyn Praisner, who passed away in February. And while her husband Don is running to "carry on her legacy" in the council, it's Ryan that former JUTP guest blogger Adam Pagnucco says "may be the true heir to Marilyn Praisner from a policy perspective."
Pragmatic but deeply concerned about the glacial pace of progress in East County, the Fairland resident and local activist has thrown his hat into the ring to see that old promises are not broken. "I'd been interested in running for local office for a long time," says Ryan. "I thought it was really important for someone with a lot of local connections and really understood the district [to run]."
It doesn't help, though, that no one outside of the immediate area seems to know where he lives. "Yeah, I get a lot of blank stares . . . I say 'it's on the way to Columbia'."
so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .
A Pat Ryan campaign sign vies for visibility along Randolph Road in Colesville.
Since moving to the area in 1984, Ryan became intimately involved in the community. A firm believer in public education, he sent his three children to Montgomery County schools through eighth grade, when they transferred to a private school at the request of his wife. During and after his kids attended County schools, he played a role in the creation of the Northeast Consortium, which for the past ten years has given East County eighth-graders the opportunity to pick from three local high schools based on their individual "signature programs."
"We were in this multicluster PTA meeting and I said 'Why don't we let parents and students choose which high school they want to attend,' and they said 'No, we don't do that in Montgomery County'," says Ryan. "One thing I saw that we don't talk about is white parents' fear of black students going to school with their kids . . . . Sherwood parents afraid of their kids going to Springbrook.
"I talked to a lot of parents ten years ago who said they moved Olney because it's a predominantly-white area and they wanted their kids to go to school with white kids," he adds.
"In a way, proposing the [Choice Program] was a way to avoid dealing with that conflict" faced by parents anxious about the presence of minorities in East County high schools, Ryan suggests. However, he stressed the significance of exposing students to a range of different cultures and experiences while in school. "What's the value here?" he asks. "Is it more important to give everybody their first choice or to give everyone a racially and economically diverse student body?"
"In a county that's increasingly diverse," he adds, "you have to make sure you're not tolerating a silent racism."
Through working with Action In Montgomery, a County-based "multi-racial, multi-faith, strictly non-partisan" group devoted to encouraging civic involvement, Ryan has become very passionate about the issue of affordable housing, making it a central part of his campaign. "I just thought it was important that the kind of issues we've been working on were heard in this race," he says.
Affordable housing isn't just about giving people a roof over their heads, explains Ryan. "I think locating housing closer to where people work deals with a lot of issues," he says. "There seems to be a lack of active visioning about how to solve this problem because people are commuting from Howard County and Frederick County to here, we have more traffic, more greenhouse gases."
As a result, Ryan has put together a five-point plan for dealing with affordable housing, which he explains in detail on his campaign website. One of the most dramatic improvements he proposes is that the County create a Non-Profit Corporation to build low-income housing using private funds.
Montgomery County lacks the necessary impetus to improve their affordable housing stock, especially when compared to the effort it puts into more lucrative ventures, he explains. "The reason Downtown Silver Spring got developed the way it did was because somebody was pushing for it in the County Executive's office, and we need someone to do that for affordable housing," he says.
Ryan's involvement in planning and land issues began in 1997, when he served as a member of the Fairland Master Plan Advisory Committee, which guided the creation of the Planning Department's master plan for the Route 29 corridor north of White Oak.
On the committee, he says, "You sort of see how a community gets shaped, how important values get protected . . . who shapes the future." However, in the eleven years since its adoption, the master plan has not been fully realized. "There's a lot that hasn't happened," says Ryan. "The Burtonsville Town Center concept is still in planning. For God's sakes, it's ten years since the plan was adopted."
With Howard and Prince George's counties bordering the planning area on two sides and a major highway bisecting it, developing a cohesive community has proved difficult. Forty years ago, Montgomery and Prince George's collaborated on the bi-county Fairland-Beltsville Plan, but it was replaced by master plans covering each side of the county line later on. "I think development which crosses the [county] line doesn't have a good track record," Ryan says. There doesn't seem to be a shared vision between them."
One example of how the two counties haven't been communicating with each other is Cherry Hill Road, which has been five lanes on the Montgomery side for nearly ten years but is only now being widened from two lanes on the Prince George's side. "If you drive down that way at any time of day traffic is just dangerous," laments Ryan. "The history of Montgomery County and Prince George's in terms of planning road capacity is not encouraging."
"I think there is this sort of sense that Prince George's County figures whenever they work with Montgomery County they'll get the short end of the stick," Ryan says, stressing why inter-county cooperation is so important. "The future of our area is intertwined with theirs . . . Don Praisner lives in Calverton, and Calverton is half in P.G., but the issues are the same. You look at traffic, you look at crime, you look at amenities, all of the issues that affect a community, and they all overlap."
"You don't solve traffic as Montgomery County. You're putting Band-Aids on a local problem," he continues. "Traffic is regional. It involves Frederick County and Prince George's County and even Northern Virginia . . . we need to get together and do more active planning . . . if we're gonna do something, we've gotta start now."
In the future, Ryan says, he'd like East County residents to consider "how we can share development space in a way that will lessen dependence on the car," he says. "Everyone in the Fairland area has a car. I know you don't."
"I do," I reply. "I drove here."
"But you look at some areas like the new Rockville Town Square where housing and shopping are in spaces where people can walk to them, that's the kind of development I'd like to see," he continues. "White Oak Shopping Center, that's probably going to be redeveloped. What do people want to see there? What's gonna happen?"