Tuesday, April 7, 2009

thomas hardman: out from behind the screen

Part SEVEN in our series of interviews with candidates in the County Council special election. For more information on Thomas Hardman, check out his blog or our interview with him from last year.

Thomas Hardman and his car outside the Aspen Hill Dunkin' Donuts.

Last year, Thomas Hardman ran a campaign for County Council with just a hundred dollars and a blog and, surprisingly, managed to scrape together a few votes. Rather than give up, he responded by throwing his hat back in the race – and changing his party affiliation in the hopes that he can turn an election dominated by whichever candidate has the biggest wallet back into a war of words.

“I was the most unpopular Republican in Montgomery County and I took that as a clue,” says Hardman, an information technology consultant living in Aspen Hill. “If you want a shot at the seat, you have to run as a Democrat.” He says that voters were “disappointed” by last year’s slate of candidates running for the District 4 seat vacated by Marilyn Praisner’s passing. “They picked up [Don Praisner] because his policies were ‘good enough’ but no one really caught fire,” says Hardman.

Aside from several candidate forums, his campaign has largely played out online. Hardman’s made a name for himself by frequently commenting on local blogs – so frequently, in fact, that he was banned from Maryland Politics Watch earlier this year for antagonizing the site’s other commenters.

“I know I can be a little trollish,” says Hardman. “I don't want to come off as annoying as Robin Ficker, but I think that would take a God-given gift I don't possess. I try to be thoroughly knowledgable and a little annoying. If I were young it would come off as 'edgy,' but at my age, I guess it seems curmudgeonly.”

The internet as a tool of self-expression isn’t a new idea for Hardman, who says he’s been online for twelve years and for years before that on the BBS, an early precursor to message boards. “I love to write, especially in the context of known debates. The rhetoric is what I like,” he says. When asked how he’d deal with his potential constituents in person at town hall meetings, he replies with one word: “PowerPoint.”

“Everybody uses it,” says Hardman. “Getting your staff to come up because they're doing the work most of the time. That delegation gives them a chance to shine. Whenever I get the specialist talking, that's fine if it's what the people want. I may as well face up to it.”

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Hardman holds up developments like Clarksburg Town Center as examples of well-planned growth.

One area of expertise he does have is in computers. With the ongoing budget crisis forcing Montgomery County to curtail everything from pay raises to bus routes, Hardman has a proposal that might save the school system a lot of money. By switching all of its computers’ operating systems from Windows to Linux, MCPS could save millions of dollars a year, he says.

“For each computer you put OpenOffice [the Linux version of Microsoft Office] on, you save $300,” says Hardman. “If you expand that to the operating system, you save $100 per machine” by replacing Windows XP with the free Linux software.

Hardman pushes the CD towards me with a label reading Slackware Linux. “It’s basically Linux,” he says, and if I put it in my computer, I’ll be able to run a new operating system. The disc, which he programmed, contains “2,000 applications that all do one thing about as well as they can do it,” he explains.

“If you were in the Windows world, it would cost thousands,” says Hardman. “It cost me time . . . thirty cents to press it out. Given a stack of computers that all had DVD burners, I could use economics of scale.” If the total savings per computer was $500, he estimates, and MCPS has 10,000 computers, the school system would instantly save fifty million dollars.

Like many of his opponents, Hardman feels the biggest issue in District 4 is a lack of representation, crippling its ability to respond to the area’s needs. “When Mrs. Praisner passed on, we had a lot of big issues going on,” he says. “We have a lot of big issues now but no representation when they come up. That's two years without accountability.”

And he has the same concerns many East County residents have about traffic, but insists that the solution doesn’t lie in halting development. “What sort of future do you want?” asks Hardman, who cites planned communities like Clarksburg Town Center and the Villages of Urbana in Frederick County as “good models” of growth. “People have to go somewhere if we're not having sprawl. We have to have mixed use, we have to have walkable density. It may not be your personal choice, but it’s the only one we have left.”

Likewise, those high-density communities have to be balanced out by preservation. “If I’m going to do any planning, the environment would be a major concern,” says Hardman. “District 4 has some of the remaining rural areas in the county. When you take 97 past Brookeville, you're in the Ag Reserve, but when you come into Howard County, it's McMansions. We're doing a good job, but the rest of the state isn't.”

On his blog, MoCo MoJo, Hardman writes extensively about the struggles of living in Aspen Hill in the house he grew up in. It’s a community that went from “nothing here to deep city” over the past five decades, he says from the parking lot of Dunkin’ Donuts, pointing out how the current mess of strip malls, tract houses and highways evolved since he was a kid. Inside, I ask him about the fights that broke out after a “Stop the Violence” concert in Downtown Silver Spring, and what it means for East County as a whole.

Hardman uses the novel On the Road by Jack Kerouac – which he describes as “two bloggers taking a road trip to Miami” – as an example of how people grow over time. The kind of people who’d go to make trouble at a youth event haven’t grown up, he says. “This is the eternal problem of teenagers and acculturation and what it means to be an adult,” says Hardman. “It's not just about your place in the world, it's about boundaries, and some people never learn that.”

If you give a teenager a psychological test, he explains, they’ll test as a sociopath just because their reasoning skills aren’t fully developed, but if someone still tests as a teenager at age twenty-five, they’re legitimately a sociopath. The people who started the fights “never grew up from wanting to be teenagers and came down to see if there was anyone else like them, and the teenagers weren’t buying it,” says Hardman. “They wanted to be peaceful. What do you do in the future? More bouncers.”

Few politicos in Montgomery County would name-drop Kerouac on the campaign trail, but that seems to be Thomas Hardman’s prerogative. His “regular concern in running for County Council is giving an alternative that might not otherwise exist,” he says. “On social issues I’m uber-liberal compared to most Democrats. On economic issues, I’m uber-conservative . . . It doesn't matter what party you run under as long as it's good government, which at this level means constituent service, infrastructure, etc.”

And if Hardman’s fellow bloggers, candidates or anyone else doesn’t understand why a candidate for elected office would spew lengthy rants on East County blogs, he’s got an easy answer for them. “Sloppy thinking annoys me, and whenever I see it I have to at least ask for clarification.”


retgroclk said...

Thomas Hardman-- Montgomery County politics is politics of the same.

Over the years one sees the same names cropping up, and if the names are not the same their is a relationship to the name either through marriage or some other connection.

There are a few exceptions-- but overall check out the connections and you will see a certain sameness.

If you are too radical or too conservative you won't have much a chance.

However sometimes the stars line up and surprises happen.
Check out the Gubernatorial race in 2002- The Republican primary had about 6 candidates, theDemocrat primary had two candidates-- Kathleen Townsend and Robert Fustero.

Every major Democrat who could have ran- stood back because they thought they could not raise the funds to compete against Townsend.

However Fustro, seeing a sene of dissatisfaction with the Democratic choice took a chance and won 20% of the vote.

He only spent $600 dollars.

If you have a good platform and run against the grain you can win some votes and upset the media and other pundits.

Running as a Republican on a less than Republican platfotm could easily give you a win in the primary- do not be surprised if you do better than expected.

Bob Fustero

Thomas Hardman said...

Thanks so much, Dan! All in all, pretty even handed and good coverage considering all of the work you must be doing in your final weeks before graduation.

Only one clarification that I'd like to make, which might seem like quibbling but I think it needs to be said.

Slackware Linux, like any "flavor" of Linux or the very closely related BSD deriviatives (or UNIX itself), has thousands of authors and maintainers of the software. The kernel of the operating system is the invention of Linux Torvalds, a Finnish software engineer. Comparably, each of the operating elements were developed by various contributors, usually associated with the Free Software Foundation. However, a lot of the modern application base has come out of code contributed by Sun Microsystems, and the Mozilla projects.

Slackware Linux, like almost any Linux, supports an immense base of publicly available Open Source (but not necessarily Free) software, including a vast panoply of software developed on the taxpayer's dime. NASA (and their contractors, such as Donald Becker) has been an immense contributor over the years. An example of this would be the Beowolf Cluster of so-called "supercheap supercomputers".

What I did was to reconfigure and recompile the kernel to be able to support operations booting and running from read-only media, and write some scripts that facilitate this, and packaged up a demo disk to pass out as samples. I also added a few applications that I thought were essential as a demo of an office workstation operating system that should easily replace Microsoft Windows(tm) from the user viewpoint.

Very comparable work has previously been done, for example in Knoppix. Knoppix, however, is designed to run as a "one size fits all" system that boots without inherent individuality, identity, or much security.

My patented method can take a disk such as the Knoppix (or my own demo disk), and use that as a template for mass production of a series of such disks, which come preconfigured with individuality, identity, static-IP addresses (either directly, or in VPN behind IPSEC under DHCP).
Plus I can add all sorts of levels of additional authentication and security.

And finally, there's no need for a DVD burner, just a reader, which should be standard equipment on any computer shipped after 2005 or so. And the whole thing runs from DVD, so there's no need to install to the hard-drive, or even to have a harddrive.

Well, enough of the hardcore IT geekery. Not a bad display of geekery in my humble opinion, from a guy that the County can't (nor "refuses", but "can't") hire because he hasn't got a college degree. Well, I don't have a degree but I do have a patent, and If Elected I will try to revise the County's hiring protocols to take into account more than diploma, and to require the hiring process to consider things like years of qualification, reputation and standing in the field, and, yes, patents,

Sadly, if elected, I think that ethical considerations would prevent me from using my particular patented process, but it wouldn't prevent me from recommending ubiquitous replacement of Windows(tm) as an overpriced security risk that ships broken.

Thomas Hardman said...

Sorry to follow myself, but please see more remarks on the interview

This should clear up a few things about my positions on Sprawl and Development and Urban Planning.

Terry in Silver Spring said...

I should post something thoughtful about the content of this interview, but....

Mr Hardeman, bless your heart. Your car makes my 95 Cavalier look good. If we ever meet, I'll buy you a drink of your choice and we can toast to cars that are paid for.

Thomas Hardman said...

Oh, it's paid for... and paid for.., and paid for some more. And more. Actually it's not all that much of a wreck because of all of the work I've had done on it. New timing chain and the whole ignition/timing trains (yike$), needed lots of front-end stuff to pass inspection when I got it, new exhaust shortly thereafter, etc. And oh the sun damage. But I digress.

Terry, I once had a friend who drove a 86 Cavalier, or maybe the Pontiac equivalent. Four-speed or maybe 5-speed. Went like a bat out of hell. Went through clutches at about the same rate.

Note to self: howling at the full moon is probably not appropriate at Candidate Forums. (props to Adam Pagnucco.)

Nor, it would seem, is speaking in my pronounced East Rockville accent.

Terry in Silver Spring said...

Oh, before I bought the 94 Cav, I had an 84 Cav. They used to be much roomier in the 80's. Neither was fancy, but they have both been reliable.