Tuesday, March 17, 2009

chris paladino: "i'll talk to anybody"

Part TWO in our series of interviews with candidates in the County Council special election. Two weeks ago, Chris Paladino dropped out of the race citing his mother-in-law's ailing health and endorsed his former opponent, Delegate Ben Kramer. For more information, check out Paladino's campaign website.

Chris Paladino at Panera Bread on Tech Road.

When Chris Paladino made up his mind to run for County Council, he knew people weren’t going to know his name – but he didn’t think they’d have already made up their minds about him.

"One of the most painful things said about me in these past three weeks is that I'm 'just a white man' and I couldn't possibly understand the Latino community, the Black community, the people from Mars community," says Paladino, who spent twelve years working with the Red Cross throughout the country. "But look at the people who came to the Red Cross for help. It's not the people living in the mansions. It's people in the lowest socioeconomic bracket, and they came in all forms."

"I'm afraid that with the strengths of our community, our diversity will become a divisive factor in this race," he continues. "I say God bless us. That's great. But you should pick the person on the council because of their ideas, not where they came from."

During his time with the Red Cross, Paladino moved from state to state as the organization used him to repair and jumpstart ailing chapters. His first stop was in Newark, New Jersey, less than an hour from his childhood home in New York City, but where he nearly gave his life to set things right. "It was in dire straits. A million dollars in debt." Paladino says of the Newark chapter. "I worked seventy hours a week, got shot at, spent six hours in surgery to repair my face." He adds, smiling, "This isn't the pretty face I was born with."

Nonetheless, the job provided a sense of satisfaction that was hard to beat. "I really fell in love with the mission . . . reaching out to the community to make it a safer place," he says.

When he was transferred to the organization's office in Washington, D.C., Paladino and his family looked across the region for a place to live, settling in Hillandale before moving to his current home in Layhill. "My wife and I did a little research, we drove around the area, but we fell in love with Montgomery County and Silver Spring," says Paladino.

Paladino is quick to draw connections between his time at the charity and a term on the council. "I've got a record of fiscal responsibility," he says. "I ran a charity for twelve years. I had to convince people to buy our products and services. Our donors are our customers. I constantly had to do more with less, to make things more efficient."

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Creating and keeping jobs in East County makes the community more vibrant, Paladino says. Above: an abandoned office building on Industrial Parkway.

"The thing that excites me most about a district seat is that it's about constituent service," he says. "My entire career focused on outcomes: how many calls did we answer, how many potholes did we fill . . . what I'm concerned about is what difference that makes. Do these measurements actually indicate any result, any outcome?"

Making decisions, he says, is all about having the right information. "My father would tell me, 'Statistics are so fascinating because you can make them say anything you want,'" says Paladino. "We've got to be very careful not to make decisions in a vacuum."

And he's not afraid to seek out the experts. "I know what I know but, more importantly, I know what I don't. I know how to ask for help," says Paladino. "Something I felt genuinely lacked in politics is the ability to say 'Hey, I was wrong.' We had eight years of an administration that never said that."

"I'll talk to anybody," he continues. "Why in the world would I shy away from a conversation? I grew up in a large Italian family where everyone came to dinner and yelled and cursed at each other."

Dinner talk may be one thing, but overheated debate has stymied progress in Montgomery County, Paladino laments. "It seems the most vociferous people have the strongest point of view," he says. "The worst thing we can do is take these extreme positions and say 'Well, we're doing nothing.' We're talking about large issues that affect lots of lives . . . many of the things we talk about doing take years. The longer we wait, the harder it becomes."

LifeSci Village is a proposed mixed-use development on Cherry Hill Road.

The anti-growth sentiment has sent many County residents packing, Paladino says, especially its youngest and oldest. His ninety-one-year-old grandmother lives in his house. "What a tremendous loss of resources" caused by the loss of older citizens, Paladino laments. "Do you know how blessed I am having my grandmother living with us? The things my ten-year-old son has learned? We're driving many of the people who lived in this county for twenty, thirty, forty years because they can't afford to live here any more. Who are we going to be left with?"

Growth is inevitable, he says, and the challenge is how to deal with it. "This county is going to grow," he says. "If we could stop anyone from moving here, the birth rate's still bigger than the death rate. The population's still gonna grow."

"It's very easy for people, businesses to say 'we're gonna go over there.' The anti-business, anti-growth contingent is loud," he says. "But if you can't find a place to live, a place of employment, you're gonna move. It's a vicious cycle and it just exacerbates the problem."

One source of growth could be LifeSci Village, the proposed mixed-use development at the current Percontee gravel mine on Cherry Hill Road. Developments like this are necessary, he says, to capitalize on the Food and Drug Administration's ongoing move to White Oak. Curious about the project, Paladino met with representatives from Percontee to discuss the specifics.

"I would venture to say that we're not going to agree on everything, but say this is worth exploring," he says. "Everybody's not going to get everything they asked for. But we get great jobs, we get great new walkable housing, we get an area that has 24-7 vibrancy instead of just office space, nine-to-five. I think this is a great concept."

A lack of transparency makes it difficult to generate results, Paladino says. "I hear from all sides that there isn't a clear process. You can spend years and not coming out with an idea of what they can do," he says. "The problem is the process, not the infrastructure. 'Tell me what the rules are,' developers say."

In these trying times, the time for deliberation is over, Paladino says. "I worked for twelve years on a charity. I ran a business. I don't believe 'business' is a four-letter word. Just get some decisions to be made."

He may not have name recognition, but Paladino feels that his lack of connections could be an asset. "I don't have any loyalties, I don't have any disloyalties. I do the best I can and admit I made a mistake," he says. "You've got a split council, you want someone with an open mind . . . You may not agree with what I have to say, but you'll say 'He's a good guy. I could work with him.'"

1 comment:

Thomas Hardman said...

Chris Paladino struck me as being "good people" and I wish him the best in his efforts with his family.

If circumstances permit, I'd love to see him in the next Council race, the regularly-scheduled one.