Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Term limits win big in MoCo as voters throw the bums out

Montgomery County voters delivered a powerful repudiation of the County Council at the ballot box yesterday, with a whopping 69% voting YES on Question B, in favor of term limits. At least four councilmembers, Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich, Nancy Floreen, and George Leventhal, will be barred from running again for their seats in 2018. Councilmembers Nancy Navarro, Hans Riemer, and Craig Rice will be able to run for a final term in 2018, but cannot run again in 2022. Navarro received a save from voters yesterday, who voted by 79% on Question C to allow her partial term in 2009 to not count as a full term.

The vote was a major victory for neighborhoods across Montgomery County, whom the Council had thumbed their nose at violently in the last year. In Damascus, where councilmembers supported an urban-style low-income apartment building in a part of the small town that already has a disproportionate amount of low-income housing and a high crime rate, term limits won 88% of the vote in early voting.

Councilmembers had also unanimously approved construction of bus depots at the Carver Education Center and WINX property on Westmore Avenue in Rockville, only to be hit by a tidal wave of blowback from residents who found out they'd be awakened by 400 blaring truck horns as early as 4:00 AM each morning.

Lyttonsville residents and business owners found themselves being pushed out by potential urban-style high-density development. And, perhaps most controversial of all, the Westbard sector plan found the Council voting unanimously in favor of urban-style growth in a Bethesda neighborhood nearly two miles from the closest Metro station - despite vehement opposition by over 90% of their Westbard-area constituents.

Most ironically, the Floreen-led Council boldly voted unanimously again yesterday to approve the Westbard sectional map amendment, that will make their high-density Westbard plan formally the new zoning across 44 acres of currently low-rise suburbia, just feet from single-family homes. At the same time, voters were ending the careers of four of them at voting booths around the county. How sweet it is.

A 69% vote against the County political machine was a rare primal scream from the normally staid, obedient and docile MoCo electorate. How did it happen?

Give civic activist Robin Ficker his due. The attorney worked tirelessly to collect far more than the number of required signatures, and debated opponents in numerous forums to promote Question B. For all of the criticism directed at Ficker, he has now scored some of the largest political victories in County history with the property tax cap and term limits. 

One may have led to the other. The 9% tax increase, which supposedly raised $90 million for public schools without a radically-new strategy to justify it, ended up being 10% or larger for many homeowners. At the same time, the Council voted themselves a massive raise while claiming we were cash poor, personally enriching themselves at taxpayer expense. Politicians in Bell, California went to jail for the same circumstances.

Aggrieved communities coming together was the other factor. Neighborhoods targeted at the same time by the Council for the bus depot ended up supporting each other, instead of trying to push the depot to the other's neck of the woods. Lyttonsville supported Westbard in testimony and numerous events.

And yesterday, the citizen group Keep Damascus Rural endorsed term limits. In its announcement, its leader, Seth Gottesman, wrote:

Why should we in the up county care? Because our leaders count on specific communities not being able to significantly impact an election result. If other communities stand by or are uninformed while this sort of leadership occurs to another because it doesn't impact them directly, it will come to us as well and the culture of rejecting the desires of the community will continue and that affects everyone. When our leaders are held accountable, the culture can start to change and that takes all of us from all communities. We have to support each other.

Powerful stuff. Ironically, it was through a Council agent's compulsive trolling on my blog that it accidentally became public that the Council was indeed calculating the number of votes they would lose if they supported the Westbard plan. And that they had concluded those votes alone were not enough to cost them the 2018 election.

How wrong they were.

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