Monday, March 30, 2009

andrew padula: finding the "fourth level of thinking" (updated)

Part SIX in our series of interviews with candidates in the County Council special election. For more information on Andrew Padula, check out his campaign website or blog.

Andrew Padula at Ratsie's in College Park.

“First thing I’d do on the council is legislate that every place that sells pizza sells it by the slice,” jokes Andrew Padula. The County Council candidate running for the Republican nomination doesn’t mind cracking a joke or two when we meet for lunch at Ratsie’s, the timeworn pizza parlor in College Park. It was there that he graduated from the University of Maryland in 1987 in the midst of a national recession with a film degree but no real job prospects.

While a successful jazz career put Padula on the same stage as Bobby Parker and Bo Diddley, he’s more interested now in taking on a government he feels has destroyed the community he was born and raised in. East County residents have been forced to subsidize the rest of Montgomery’s prosperity at our expense, he says. “How did it end up that we have the highest disparity between jobs and housing in the county?” he says. “Have you been up to Rio in Gaithersburg? Why don’t we have communities like that here? Or Downtown Bethesda?”

He criticizes the “Rockville-centric policies” of the county government, whose leaders live in a “glory world while the rest of the county are ghettoes,” he laments. While he voted for Councilmember Marilyn Praisner’s first term in 1990, she became “outnumbered” by the establishment, he laments, further shortchanging the east side. “We have the highest percentage of minorities, highest crime, forty percent of the MPDUs. Can’t you have poor people in Bethesda? Can’t you have poor people in Potomac?”

The core of the problem, he says, are elected officials who make politics a career, instead of a contribution to society. “When I saw what they make on the Council, I was like ‘Oh, my God, you gotta be kidding me,’” says Padula. “You serve the public. You take your skills and you apply them to the community and do public service and then you go back to your career. Not ‘oh, it’s five o’clock, let’s jump in Buffy’s BMW and get cocktails and tapas!’”

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

An abandoned office building in the Montgomery Industrial Park on Route 29.

A graduate of Kennedy High, Padula grew up in Stonegate with his mother and sister – “on family land,” he insists, noting they knew nothing of the neighborhood’s reputed affluence. When I explain I graduated from nearby Blake High School, he replies, “I used to ride my motorcycle around there,” along with on the former Parker Farm at Bel Pre and Layhill. “I wish I could’ve apologized to Mrs. Parker for cow-tipping there as a youth.” He rattles off everything there used to be in the area growing up – a livery stable, a general store – and laments how much the district has changed since.

“We have the most diverse district,” he says. “We go from farms up by Brighton Dam to almost city . . . when you talk about crime, about traffic, it was tabula rasa,” or clearing everything out to build over it. “It comes down to policy, planning, zoning. This crime, it was all planned.”

After graduating from Maryland, Padula bounced around different jobs, choosing to pursue a career playing jazz guitar. At the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, he “did funk workshops with the guy who used to tour with Prince,” says Padula. “You take seminars with everyone.” He returned home with “hair down to my shoulders” and an “assload of gigs,” along with one piece of advice. “You gotta have an angle,” he recalls a teacher telling him. “Some way that people recognize you.”

So I ask: what would your angle be on the County Council? Padula names Thomas Sowell, an economist who wrote the text Applied Economics. “He writes about a first, second, third, fourth level of thinking. A lot of politicians will do the first level of thinking – whatever they need to get themselves ahead. But for that, what will that cause, and for that, what will that cause? I’ll give them that third and fourth level of thinking.”

He uses the “Go-Zone,” an area of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama where the federal government is offering economic incentives to attract development in communities ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as an example of what the “fourth level of thinking” would mean for East County.

Padula laments a lack of developments in East County like the Washingtonian Center/Rio complex, located in Gaithersburg.

“How many streetlights are there in Montgomery County?” he asks. “If we take a technology like LED lights, they take like fifteen percent of the energy of fluorescent lights. You create a Go-Zone. You put out a contract to say ‘We will give this land. We’ll forgo the taxes for anyone who can manufacture LED streetlights and we’ll put a charge against future budgets for the money against the savings for the streetlights. You’ll never have to replace them. You’ve just attracted a business. You’ve attracted jobs. You’ve been ‘green.’ You have something you can plan a community around.”

“We’re in a whole new world reality right now . . . we need to scrap everything and start over,” says Padula. “While everyone else is looking for ways to spend money, I’m looking for ways to make it.”

After years of touring the world and playing “all the big festivals” from Montreal, Canada to Switzerland, Padula decided to settle down. He still plays four or five shows a month, he says, but his day job is giving lessons at a Music and Arts Center in Burke, Virginia. Music is “not a profession for the meek or the weak,” he says. “We’d have a gig in Kansas City and we’d time our drive so we check into the hotels . . . we’d drive to Kansas City, check into the hotel, play the show, get two or three hours of sleep and drive to St. Louis. That’s why I came off it. It beats you up.”

Padula laughs at my comparing him to Governor Martin O’Malley, who fronted a Celtic rock band called O’Malley’s March before taking office. “Here’s the difference between me and Martin,” he says. “He’s a wannabe. I’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt. He’s just trying to stroke his ego. I’ve been there, and I’m glad to be taking a break, my friend.”

He’s been active in local and national politics, notably in energy policy. He writes a column called “The Topsoil” for All About Race, a blog about issues of race, and campaigned for Steve Hudson, the Republican candidate for the Eighth Congressional District last fall. “I spent a lot of time with the campaign going from neighborhood to neighborhood, and I see what’s going on here and what’s going on in the rest of the county,” says Padula. “And when I compare them . . . it makes me mad. I’ve had my house robbed six times, my gear stolen twice.”

“I don’t have to go to Detroit to know crime,” he says, referring to one of his opponents who grew up there. “Don’t cut the police. My neighborhood pays more taxes probably than the state of Idaho.”

Padula knows that, as a Republican, many voters are likely to draw their own conclusions before getting to know him. “A lot of people in Montgomery County have this same nit about the word ‘Republican.’ Look, Bush was an idiot, but this is a County Council seat,” he says. “Ideas are ideas. The ‘R’ or ‘D’ shouldn’t make a difference. Either you’re right or they’re wrong. I look at half the Democrats on the ticket – they’re Republicans,” he continues. “They just don’t want you to use the word.”

There are “just a couple of churches on New Hampshire,” Padula says sarcastically. “It surprises me that more of these people aren’t Republicans.”


fcg#p said...

Thanks for the interview and I apologize for talking so fast that note taking was a nightmare.
One or two corrections; Livery stables were in Olney, and I graduated from Kennedy. Other than that, I firmly stand by my assertion that all pizza parlors should sell by the slice ... (lol)

Thomas Hardman said...

Mr Padula is astute as well as accomplished.

He's right about the "zoning in crime" concept. Dan, you and I have been over this as regards the complaints we hear from the Schools about their difficulties with transient students coming out of the apartments around Briggs-Chaney, and it's pretty clear that anyone should have predicted the "unintended consequences" of concentrating low-rent units in the "triangle" of Aspen Hill. Even back when I was a teenager we all had the idea that if you populated a thousand units with people on Welfare, it was likely that there would be some increase in crime. We just never thought that they'd let Aspen Hill turn into the place in Montgomery County that you statistically were most likely to be murdered in a public place.

And as for sliced pizza: he's right. Half of the times I go downtown it's os I can get a Jumbo Slice.