WHAT'S UP THE PIKE [COMING UP SOON]: County Council special primary this Tuesday; long-awaited Praisner and McKinnis interviews coming up over the weekend; "green" buildings planned for Burtonsville Town Center.
Burtonsville residents wait for a candidate forum at Paint Branch High School to begin last Wednesday evening.
Property taxes and the revitalization of Burtonsville took center stage Wednesday night during a candidate forum at Paint Branch High School sponsored by Citizens Involved, an East County civic group. Nearly two hundred people came out to hear hopefuls for the open County Council seat - for which a special election will be held on Tuesday - and for the Congressional elections in November.
Current school board president Nancy Navarro (at right), who won the Washington Post's endorsement today, said she was frustrated by an "amazing disconnect between what I hear are very important issues - land use and development - and no discussion about poverty or education," she lamented, saying it was necessary to "listen to everybody to prioritize our needs."
Consultant Pat Ryan, who volunteers for the non-profit group Action In Montgomery, bristled at Navarro's suggestion that she was the only one to mention low-income people. "I've been talking about affordable housing at every forum," Ryan said. In addition, he promised to talk to the State Highway Administration, who have continually rejected a request by local business owners for a sign on Route 29 announcing the Burtonsville Crossing shopping center. "I've dealt with pigheaded bureaucrats for the past thirty years," he said. "I know how to deal with them."
Steve Kanstoroom, an Ashton resident who's made headlines for representing disenfranchised Sandy Spring landowners, stressed his history of advocacy. "I've been advocating for people full time, double time, paid staff since 2003," he says. "I'm bringing to you all the services other parts of the County get." He was unfazed by the Gazette's recent endorsement of Pat Ryan for the Democratic nomination. "The Gazette recently endorsed Al Wynn," scoffed Kanstoroom. "The Gazette endorses people who don't win."
so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .
From left to right, Democratic candidates Pat Ryan, Don Praisner, Nancy Navarro and Steve Kanstoroom listen to Daniel Straub from Citizens Involved speak before the forum began.
Don Praisner, widower of former Councilmember Marilyn Praisner, stressed the need for optimism about the Council's ability to handle the budget crisis. "You have to have some trust in government," he said, but noted that they have a difficult decision to make. "We've put ourselves in a position that either we have to break the charter [limit on property taxes] or cut services."
The crowd thinned out considerably after the Democratic candidates spoke, and as a result, the Republican candidates who followed were more light-hearted. "If County statistics are accurate, there are probably three Republicans in the room, and I'd appreciate your vote," said Spencerville resident Robert Patton.
As his campaign manager, perennial candidate and MoCo gadfly Robin Ficker (at right) was bullish on Mark Fennel's chances of winning the Republican nomination of Tuesday. "No one was talking about fiscal policy before, but we made property taxes the issue," says Ficker as he flagged down cars on Old Columbia Pike, campaign signs in hand. During the debate, he planted a question about his latest referendum - which would require all nine Councilmembers to vote for raising the limit on property taxes in order to lift the current cap - earning him the ire of most Democrats and Republican John McKinnis, who didn't agree with his proposal.
"No offense, Robin," said McKinnis, addressing him in the audience, "but there are other was we can do it and we can do it right."
Aspen Hill resident Thomas Hardman (at left), who for $100 self-financed his campaign, promise to deal with code enforcement, citing the problems he's seen in his own community. "Neighbors do not have the right to ruin people's lives by having truck tire fires in their yards because they like to see things burn," he deadpanned. However, he disappointed members of the Paint Branch PTSA who asked candidates to pledge their support for funding the high school's modernization. "I've found that sometimes you make commitments and you have commitments that prevent you from keeping them," he said.
Congressional candidates Peter James (R) and Donna Edwards (D) were both invited to the event, but only James showed up, making up for his opponent's absence by holding up a sheet of notebook paper with a drawing of Edwards' face on it. James promised a "money-back guarantee" if elected, offering to put his salary in a trust fund and return it to voters if he didn't hold to his promises. "If you don't see any action, you can vote for Donna Edwards and she can be in for another sixteen years," he snapped.
Jonny Akchin, Edwards' field organizer for Montgomery County, spoke in her place, but many residents were not satisfied, approaching him after the event to ask where she was. "It's a very large district. She can't talk to everybody," Akchin lamented. He claimed that the campaign had not received word of the event until earlier that day, and Edwards had already made plans.
After the forum, Council candidates expressed frustration with the format, in which each speaker took turns answering a series of questions handed in by audience members. While responses were limited to forty-five seconds, the event dragged on for nearly three hours, delaying another debate immediately following in Four Corners. "I tried to make it as fun as possible, but I was tired," says McKinnis, who was the second-to-last to speak. "I was falling asleep through some of my answers."
As a result, many candidates did not go to the second meeting, according to Adam Pagnucco at Maryland Politics Watch. They included Praisner, who didn't want to travel there at ten o'clock. The Burtonsville forum "wasn't handled right, to have a candidate stand up and answer twelve consecutive questions," he says. "It's just not fair to the candidates."