Tuesday, December 10, 2013

valerie ervin steps down from council; what kind of person should represent district 5 next?

This morning, District 5 County Councilmember Valerie Ervin announced that she's leaving to head the Center for Working Families, a non-profit organization that advocates for social justice issues as they affect families.
2012-11-17 Thanksgiving Parade Silver Spring - Councilmember Valerie Ervin
Ervin in the 2012 Silver Spring Thanksgiving Parade. Photo by Edward Kimmel on Flickr.

"After careful reflection and deliberation with my family, friends and supporters, I believe that leading this organization will enable me to have a greater impact on the issues I care about most," Ervin wrote in an email to supporters today. She'll commute from Montgomery County to the center, which is based in New York.

Ervin, who represents Silver Spring, Takoma Park, White Oak, and Burtonsville, took office in 2006. Previously, she served one term on the Board of Education and worked as an aide to at-large Councilmember George Leventhal. She was one year away from the end of her second term.

It wasn't clear before whether Ervin would run for reelection or challenge Ike Leggett for county executive. But now, the race for District 5 is wide open. The Council will appoint a successor in January, who will serve until her term ends in December 2014, and it's likely they'll pick someone who won't run.

This announcement also means that part of East County will have had five councilmembers in six years. Previously, all of District 5 north of Cherry Hill Road was in District 4, represented by Marilyn Praisner until she passed away in 2008. Her husband Don, who won a special election to replace her, passed away the following year.

Nancy Navarro won a special election to replace him in 2009 and was reelected to her first full term in 2010, but the boundaries were later redrawn, moving White Oak, Calverton, and Burtonsville into Ervin's district.

I first met Valerie Ervin in 2007. I've appreciated her advocacy for transit projects like the Purple Line, along with her interest in school equity issues, commissioning a study on whether Montgomery County's high school consortia were working and a second one, due to come out this winter, on whether the school system is doing enough to close the achievement gap.

An infographic of Ervin's accomplishments. We need elected officials who can think like designers, not only for things like this, but in practice as well.

And as a designer, I'll miss her visual branding. Most elected officials at any level will make a logo for themselves, but Valerie Ervin took it a step further with documents like this infographic of her accomplishments. It grabs constituents and voters in a way that position papers and legislative jargon can't, and acknowledges that design can be an effective communication tool.

That makes me think about what characteristics I'd like to see in whoever succeeds Ervin. Many of the issues Montgomery County faces, whether it's pedestrian safety, improving our transit network, or even the de facto segregation of our schools, arose from choices about the way our communities are designed and built. Having the eye to create a strong visual identity is important, but we need elected officials who can also think like a designer in practice.

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