Wednesday, March 25, 2009

nancy navarro: hitting the ground running

Part FIVE in our series of interviews with candidates in the County Council special election. For more information on Nancy Navarro, check out her campaign website or our interview from last year's election.

Navarro at her campaign headquarters in Plaza del Mercado.

When Nancy Navarro decided to run a second time for the District 4 County Council seat, she knew she wanted a campaign office. But as the only Latino running in the race, it's funny that her new headquarters are in Plaza del Mercado, the Spanish-themed shopping center at Layhill and Bel Pre.

It’s a “complete coincidence that I recognize as a good sign,” says Navarro, explaining that she found a vacancy in Plaza del Mercado while picking up her daughter from driving school. “It’s Spanish Colonial,” she notes, “which happens to be my favorite architecture.”

The new headquarters is just one of the many changes Navarro’s campaign has made since last year, when she lost to Don Praisner by three hundred votes for the seat vacated by his wife Marilyn’s passing in February 2008. “Last time, we were coming together and pulling a plan out of the blue,” she says. “This time we were hitting the ground running. We started canvassing three weeks ago. There’s a different dynamic this year.”

However, the issues in East County remain the same, she says, but “with a little more urgency. 20906 has the highest rates of foreclosure in the district . . . Requests for assistance from Health and Human Services have doubled. It’s not just people who are poor, it’s people who are middle-class as well. We need to figure out how to bring jobs to the district, how do we handle redevelopment,” she continues. “I feel already the economic security of our district will be first and foremost.”

Claims that Navarro is beholden to the ‘special interests’ of the development industry have waned this year, not only because of the economic downturn, but because her main opponent, Ben Kramer, is a developer himself. “There’s no such thing as ‘evil developer’ and ‘good developer,’” says Navarro. “Every advocacy group comes to the table and you look at their agenda, you look at your proposal, and you look at what’s best for your community. I don’t have a problem saying we don’t know how we’ll fare in the long term and you have to give something up.”

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Campaign volunteers Alexis Reed, Ken Silverman, Dolly Kildee, Cornelia Parish and Russell Jackson with Navarro (center left) and campaign manager David Moon (center right).

After years of working in volunteer organizations and serving on the PTAs of her children’s schools, Navarro was appointed to fill a vacant seat on the Board of Education in 2004 before being elected for a full term two years after. The jewel of her tenure on the Board of Education is the Kennedy Cluster Project, which aims to close the achievement gap between white and minority students in the cluster with Montgomery County’s largest population of Black students. Multiple County agencies are brought together to form a “safety net” for at-risk students, “leveraging existing resources to have a better impact,” explains Navarro.

“It was incredible to see high schoolers saying ‘I wish I had a warm meal at night,’” she says, noting how a student’s life outside the classroom can hamper their academic progress. “How do we connect Health and Human Services and non-profits with the school system and begin to link everybody? I think that is the wave of the future, using our resources wisely, updating our indicators and matching it with the community.”

East County youth still suffer from a lack of things to do, says Navarro, noting that she's "constantly chauffeuring four or five of her friends as well and they lament about how there are no places to socialize after school." The fights that broke out after a “Stop the Violence” concert in Downtown Silver Spring three weeks ago speaks to that need, Navarro argues. “Where do our young people go to have fun in a constructive way?” she says. “It seems like you have to have a car, you can’t walk anywhere. I think we need to come together in a more realistic way to find opportunities for safety for our young people.”

Navarro's campaign headquarters in Plaza del Mercado.

Kennedy High School is one of eight campuses in the Northeast and Downcounty consortia, in which eighth-graders choose a school based on signature programs offered there. Last year, a report from the Office of Legislative Oversight concluded that the program hadn’t achieved its stated goal of increasing racial diversity in the schools. With a daughter attending Springbrook High School, one of three high schools in the Northeast Consortium, Navarro has a firsthand glimpse of how well that goal has been reached and calls it a “disconnect between what looks like a really good approach to socioeconomic integrity.”

“The OLO report wasn’t an indictment on the Northeast Consortium,” says Navarro. “It said the investment didn’t create a stark improvement on student achievement.”

“Why not have strong high schools in each community so they can have a sense of ownership, so students can connect in their neighborhoods?” she asks. “I love the fact that you can have signature programs, but I think it’s hard for a student in eighth grade to choose. Not everybody can make that decision.”

“I’m open for a discussion on is it necessary to have the consortium, or can we ensure that each of the high schools can be the best they can be,” she continues. “Everywhere else people identify with their high schools, Gaithersburg, Seneca Valley.”

Much as the achievement gap makes it difficult for minority students to excel, Navarro feels that minority politicians have a similar struggle, expressing a frustration with local elected officials being 'delivered' into their positions. In last year’s election, she claimed County Executive Ike Leggett – who endorsed her opponent, former Councilmember Don Praisner – urged her to drop out of the race. Meanwhile, a district with a large and growing minority population lacks a representative of color or a political base to help put them in office.

“We don’t have an infrastructure,” she says, “a network in our communities where you’re able to tap into finances, tap into volunteers. How are we cultivating the pipeline?”

Navarro testifies at a Purple Line public hearing last fall.

Nonetheless, Navarro struggles with whether race should be a factor in an election, saying that her accomplishments should speak for themselves. “I’m qualified, I’ve had years of service and by the way, I’m a Latino woman,” she says. “People need to be vetted, but it shouldn’t be this hard. Not in 2009.”

With District 4’s last two councilmembers passing away in as many years, concern remains about “consistent leadership,” says Navarro, something she promises to deliver. “I say we need to hit the ground running and see what the council already has on their plate. The budget is supposed to be worse this year than it was last year. I hope I take a little vacation in between, but that isn’t going to happen.”

One thing she hopes to bring from the school board is a sense of direction, making the government’s priorities clearer in a time when funding is short. “The School Board has a very robust strategic plan, so it’s hard to go off on tangents,” she says. “It serves as a road map so when you have economic crises, you can go in with a scalpel rather than blindly going off after things . . . We have to have a real sense of priority in the County. People can’t afford more tax increases.”

“I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to know my constituents,” Navarro says. “I hope that voters recognize that I’m back to have a long-term commitment to my district.”


Thomas Hardman said...

20853 and 20906 do indeed have some of the highest levels of foreclosures, that's a fact.

But if you go look at the Legal Notices section of the Montgomery Sentinel newspaper, and then compare those notices and the addresses to the Maryland department of assessment and taxation website, you see that a lot of these were people who bought these properties with "stated income loans" (also known as "liar loans"), merely alleging their incomes, and securing mortgages with very low initial payments that reset after a few months... unless they refinanced the whole thing at an inflated home price. So the constant refinancing helped inflate home prices around here. We're all paying for that, all across the country.

Additionally, a lot of the homes facing foreclosure were being run as flophouses for workers during the construction boom. Aspen Hill Civic Association, Inc., has for a long time pressed for enforcement of County Code to stop this practice, and nothing significant was ever done. Now, what the County Code could not do, economic calamity is doing. How very sad that the rest of us are once again victimized by the aggressive sleazing that skirts around ad the edges of the law to get what they want, while making the rest of us pay.

The people clamoring most loudly for assistance with their mortgage payments are the ones who caused the economic calamity. Don't blame Wall Street, they're not the ones who inflated house values by repeatedly refinancing usurious mortgage loans. Sure they should have actually checked to see if people had reliable sources of income, and renting out your basement to 20 people should not qualify as "reliable".

And let's not feel so sorry for the people who just lost their construction jobs, or their ill-gotten income from renting out their basements to the construction workers. Why not feel sorry for all of the local poverty-stricken citizens who could not get a job for years because the market was saturated with cut-rate workers? Why not feel sorry for the longtime local citizens who have nearly a 50-percent rate of unemployment, and who have had to live in subsidized housing for most of their lives? At least they don't have to worry about foreclosure.

And what about crime? Plaza del Mercado Shopping Center is smack in the middle of one of the highest-crime precincts in Montgomery County. I was living here when Plaza del Mercado was a cow-field and I've been working in anti-crime and neighborhood uplift issues since 2002, most of that focused right there or just down the street.

I take no pride in the fact that for the last decade or so, Aspen Hill was one of the places in Montgomery where statistically one is most likely to be murdered. Even without the Serial Sniper killings, there was the murder of the cashier at the Sunoco at the corner. Malik McCoy was beaten to death by a gang pretty much right around the corner. Gerard Lacayo got knifed to death here. In fact there's a lot of knifings going on around here. Lots of gang activity. Lots of Grafitt. We've even got lots of sleeping drunks. We've got homeless drunks painting graffiti in the middle of the woods and leaving piles of bottles in the local parks.

Now, it's clear that Ms Navarro knows about Education, but does she even know that the woods are filling up with camps of the former workers who got displaced from a lot of homes that went into foreclosure? Let's think of the children for once, okay? Let's think about our wooded parks filling up with drunk unemployed construction workers. Let's think of the owner of these little pink sneakers that I found near a homeless camp in Aspen Hill Local Park.

I can only hope that the owner of those sneakers didn't go down to the park to try to entertain herself and unfortunately run into the guy who misplaced his pants. Or maybe that's her pants.

Someone please tell me how better schools are going to do something about this.

Thomas Hardman said...

Oh, and in closing, let's keep in mind that so long as we have Development -- lost and lots of Development -- all of those unemployed construction workers can all have jobs and go back to living 20 to the basement in overpriced flophouses in converted single-family detached residential homes in neighborhoods that aren't zoned for that.

If anyone actually thinks I am seriously proposing this as a solution -- much less an acceptable solution, I have some advice for you. Go to your computer's Control Panel, and check to see if maybe you left your Sarcasm Detec tor turned off. The light should be blinking rapidly, and brightly.

I'm about ready to propose, more seriously, that it's time for us to see about getting some used FEMA Trailers just in case the homelessness problem rises to post-Katrina levels. Better get in line before everyone else thinks of this, there's only a few hundred thousand to go around.

District 4 Voter said...

Nancy Navarro voted to give school employees a 30% raise over three years in a recession sticking it to homeowners with a 13.5% property tax increase. Hold on to your homeequity if she is elected. She will put her hand in our pockets to benefit every special interest.