Monday, March 23, 2009

robin ficker: accessibility at all costs

Part FOUR in our series of interviews with candidates in the County Council special election. For more information on Robin Ficker, check out his website.

Robin Ficker at the McDonald's in Colesville.

"Step into my office," Robin Ficker says, motioning me to an upholstered booth.

We're at the McDonald’s in Colesville, where senior citizens from the retirement community across the street have gathered for an early lunch. Ficker’s set up a large, hand-written poster in the window, and as soon as I sit down, he starts gesturing to the poster and rattling off all of the different tax increases imposed on Montgomery County homeowners: income taxes, sales taxes, and a ‘speed camera tax’ – which, as a recipient of multiple speed camera citations, I can appreciate.

"When you have 10,000 tickets in one location, does that mean there are 10,000 bad people in one place?” Ficker spurts. “No! It means the system is improper."

"My goal in this campaign, and until December of 2010, is to be the homeowner's champion," says Ficker. "The Council has been using them as an ATM. Homes are assessed for fifteen percent more than houses on the same street are selling for. This is the county's economic stimulus plan."

"If Obama had run on this plan," he jokes, "he wouldn't have won his own precinct."

Brash and startlingly enthusiastic, Robin Ficker has been crusading for tax relief for over three decades, becoming a fixture in local politics while earning the ire of many established politicos. After putting forth dozens of referenda on reducing property taxes, Question B – or the Ficker Amendment, as it’s commonly known – finally passed last November, forcing the County Council to vote unanimously for any property tax increases.

Now, more than ever, Robin Ficker is unstoppable. The phone rings several times as we talk, and each time, he picks it up to take a call from a potential client or inquiry for a job opening. “When I'm on the council, people aren't going to have to go through some call screening,” says Ficker. “I answer my phone, all day into the evening. When I'm watching American Idol, I answer the phone. I'll be very accessible.”

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

An older woman in green hesitantly approaches us, waiting for a pause in conversation before she steps up, but jumps back nervously. "I just wanted to see who you are," she says. "You go right ahead, young lady," Ficker replies. "You're being used as an ATM," he continues. "Did you know that?"

"How'd you make that poster?" she asks warily, pointing at it. "I made it up," he says. "I'm Robin Ficker."

"I know you!" she says. "I thought I recognized you."

"I'll take you to lunch," he offers, to which she replies, "You gonna take me to McDonald's or somewhere else?"

"Well, you can get an inexpensive meal here," Ficker says. "People are cutting back, but they still want to eat out."

"Senior citizens come in here all day," the woman says. Ficker asks her "what she did" before retiring, and she explains that she worked at NIH. "You know, I heard that women who worked at NIH were very smart," he notes.

It’s easy to be skeptical of Ficker’s candidacy when the Gazette reports that he moved to East County just to run, but he insists that he’s lived in the district “off and on” since 1943, growing up on Flower Avenue (which today is in District 5) and graduating from Blair High School (across the street from the district line). “I remember when my parents were thinking about buying a house at Powder Mill (and New Hampshire),” Ficker says, “but didn't because it was too far out." (The intersection of Powder Mill and New Hampshire is also in District 5.)

I struggle to find out what, if any, issues Ficker would like to tackle that are specific to District 4. “You want to talk about transportation?” he says, a little irritated. “Let’s talk about transportation. I think I'd like to see the Purple Line built, I'd like to see a monorail run up the median of Route 29.”

The biggest issue on the east side, he says, is a lack of representation. “I think the fourth district needs leadership which it hasn't had lately, and it's not their fault. The council didn't have to decide on the budget before the special election. They could've held [the election] earlier. The fourth district representation couldn't participate. I think there were some selfish reasons . . . the smaller a piece of the pie for district 4, the larger pieces for districts 1, 2, 3 and 5."

Ficker also laments that there hasn’t been enough action from the County in luring business to District 4, noting the recent move of Hilton Hotels to Northern Virginia. They “could've located along Route 29 with easy access to Thurgood Marshall Airport. I would’ve been on the first plane to talk to Mr. Hilton,” he says. “Instead, what we have at the council is a lot of hand-wringing when there should've been hand-shaking. We let that go, three hundred and fifty good jobs, and there could've been multiplier effects as well."

When asked about the fights that broke out after a concert in Downtown Silver Spring, Ficker says that local kids aren’t getting enough exercise. “Students have all this energy and no wholesome activity to let it out,” says Ficker. “Kids need to have some good physical activity every day. This is woefully underemphasized by Montgomery County education. These children aren't evil, they're frustrated.”

“I believe in working hard and playing hard, and some of these kids instead of just hanging out could be playing soccer or running track or wrestling,” Ficker says. It’s something he’s practiced with his own family. His daughter is a triathlete, and his son a wrestler. There used to be a photograph on his campaign website showing him with Muhammad Ali. I’d heard that Ficker runs up and down the stairs of Cole Field House at the University of Maryland, and he says it’s true. “I go up there every day, Monday through Friday, when it's open,” Ficker explains. “It's very good cardiovascular, it helps you keep your weight down. If you know you have to run up and down stairs, you don't eat too much."

“I think I can get along with all the other councilmembers,” says Ficker of his potential new job. “I can provide a robust debate on all the other issues I think are lacking now. I'd advocate for the fourth district, which I think has been a stepchild and I'll work with Ike Leggett, a fellow resident, to make it the shining star of Montgomery County.”

Ficker’s been called an “anti-tax advocate,” but says that “name-calling” is a bigger indictment on the people who push tax increases, not him. “I'm simply opposed to large tax increases, which we've been getting a steady diet of. When you look at all these people who opposed Question B, it shows they're out of touch,” says Ficker, holding up a slick anti-B mailing sent out last fall. It lists a raft of state delegates, Board of Education members, and the “Entire County Council” as opponents of the amendment. “The view of the homeowners [isn’t] being represented at all."

"I wasn't surprised” that Question B passed, Ficker says. "You realize for the last year and a half I've called every person who has a foreclosure action filed. There are well over one hundred filed each week, several in District 4. I have motives here; if they want to sell their house, I'd like to help them . . . but they -" he points west, to Rockville - "have caused these foreclosures."

"The reason I got in this race is I think homeowners couldn't wait until 2010," he says. "One vote can make a difference now on the Council. I'm gonna be the difference.”


retgroclk said...

Perhaps one of the reasons kids tonot get enough exercise is Smart Growth.

There are fewer homes built with big yards- too many apartments and condos being built-.

I recall playing football and softball in our backyards, or even on side streets and at the park .

Sligo use to be a safe place for kids to play without parents having to watch out for gangs or predators.

We use to play capture the flag in the woods. football and softball in the open spaces, catch minnows and walk for long distances in the park.

You still see the occasional jogger but they are usually adults- younger children and teens are very seldom seen.

Thomas Hardman said...

Whee! Look at Mr Ficker with his hand-lettered sign!

If he can do that, I can do that too!

No, wait, I can't... my handwriting is even worse. ;)

Thomas Hardman said...

Retgroclk: For one thing, there's the Lyme Disease scare. For another thing, the media have gone far out of their way to characterize parks -- especially woodland areas -- as terrifying lairs of psychotic serial killers with hockey masks and chainsaws. It you saw trees as nothing but hiding places for either disease or monsters, you probably wouldn't want to go hang out there either.

Parks, of course, are worse: anytime you see movies about kidnappers or child molesters, parks are where they capture their victims.

No wonder kids spend all of their time blowing up monsters on their PlayStation.

Unknown said...

Smart Growth is not the culprit. And I'm not sure that paranoia over open spaces is the culprit, either. Consider that only a generation or two ago, kids had a whopping 7 channels of TV to choose from, with maybe a fuzzy UHF thrown in. There was no internet. Video games were great in the parlors, and so-so with primitive Atari. I'm talking about the 1970's, and certainly through the 1980's for the Internet.

The change from those prehistoric days to our virtual technotopia is the main culprit for why kids don't run around outside, in my opinion.

Unknown said...

P.S. Hard to believe, but regarding those 7 TV channels and one fuzzy UHF: you had to stand up and walk over to the TV to change the channel. You actually had to move.

chippy said...

In many ways I miss Captain Twenty!

Thomas Hardman said...

Count Gore de Vol!

You know, that poor man was Gore de Vol, Cap'n 20, and the local incarnation of Ronald McDonald, if memory serves.

Wow, this totally gives me flashbacks to 3rd grade when the only interesting thing on TV was either a really bad animation of Marvel Comics, or "Tobor, the 8th Man" which in retrospect wasn't all that bad.

Wowsers. I just remembered that I have a three-episode VHS tape of some 1960s "AstroBoy".

Thomas Hardman said...

Oooh, much better!

1960s Astroboy!

Probably the most original anime, earliest for sure.

Ooops, now kids will be glued to the YouTube instead of terrorizing deer in the local parks.

Terry in Silver Spring said...

Robin has always been eccentric, but has is getting a bit wackier lately. The kernals of truth or good information he's trying to get across are increasing lost in the clouds.

District 4 Voter said...

We already have 8 council members who have raised our taxes. Robin Ficker's property tax question passed despite the opposition of the council and Mr. Kramer and Ms. Navarro. He will be the one vote against property tax increases. But under the charter as amended by the Ficker Amended last November, only one vote is needed---Ficker's vote. He is man homeowners need.

Thomas Hardman said...

Well, actually, the so-called "Ficker Amendment" only prevents the Council from exceeding the charter limit of tax increases, which means that even with a bare majority, they could still increase taxes at the rate of inflation, 3-percent or so for the last year.

As an aside, one has to wonder if they can decrease taxes pegged to Deflation, or if perhaps that ought to be automatic.

As for me, I'm not at all interested in increasing taxes the least little bit.

History tells us that one of the worst effects of the Great Depression was that many local governments actually tried to raise taxes to try to maintain spending. All that did was drive millions out of their houses and homes. Some places never recovered.