Thursday, February 21, 2008

County Council District 4 Special Election Preview, Part Two

As noted in Part One, Mrs. Praisner’s premature departure has left a large vacuum in Council District 4’s political world. But there are potential aspirants for her seat. The actual and possible candidates in the all-important Democratic primary include:

Board of Education President Nancy Navarro

Navarro, a co-founder of immigrant services non-profit Centro Familia, was originally appointed to the school board in 2004. She quickly formed an alliance with fellow board member (and future County Council Member) Valerie Ervin. When Navarro ran for election in 2006, she appeared on the Apple Ballot and leapfrogged Sharon Cox to become President shortly afterwards. Navarro declared for office on Tuesday and was promptly endorsed by progressive hero Donna Edwards.

Navarro is the early favorite for three reasons. First, her position on the school board gives her substantial district-wide name recognition. Second, she would be a logical choice to once again appear on the Apple Ballot. (Note: MCEA has not disclosed its plans.) Third, there is growing concern among politically-active MoCo women about a recent trend of filling vacancies formerly held by women with men. (The state legislative appointments in Districts 16, 18 and 47 come to mind.) If Navarro is the only female candidate in the field, she will benefit.

Current State Legislators

Of the eight current state legislators in Districts 14 and 19, all but one (District 14 Delegate Karen Montgomery) live in Council District 4. Two of them have run unsuccessfully for County Council before. District 19 Delegate Ben Kramer was the Democratic nominee in District 2 in 1994 and ran at-large in 1998. District 14 Delegate Herman Taylor was the Democratic nominee in District 2 in 1998. (Ironically, both Taylor and Kramer were defeated by Republican Nancy Dacek.) Any of the current state legislators would be plausible contenders for Mrs. Praisner’s seat.

However, not many of them will actually run. First, three of them (District 14 Senator Rona Kramer and Delegates Herman Taylor and Anne Kaiser) are in their second term and District 19 Delegate Henry Heller is in his sixth term. These legislators have or are gaining seniority in the General Assembly, probably making it less tempting to leave. Second, because their state legislative incomes ($43,000 and up) supplement their salaries from regular employment, they would have to make significant financial sacrifices to accept a sole County Council member salary of $89,721. Third, each of them would have to work hard to raise money quickly and make contacts in the portion of Council District 4 that they do not currently represent.

The most likely exception to the above rules is Ben Kramer. Kramer, the son of former County Executive Sidney Kramer and brother of current District 14 Senator Rona Kramer, is a self-employed businessmen who has loaned his delegate campaign $124,450. If he is still interested in following his father into County government, he is more than capable of waging a well-financed campaign aided by name recognition.

Former State Legislators

Former District 19 Delegates Adrienne Mandel and Carol Petzold unsuccessfully ran for Senate in 2006 against Mike Lenett. Either of them may be interested in a council run. But they would face the same problems the current state legislators have: the need to raise money quickly and campaign in the parts of Council District 4 that they did not represent in the statehouse.

Civic Activists

MoCo has hundreds of civic activists who volunteer substantial amounts of time on various causes. When many of these activists broaden their agendas beyond their neighborhood-specific issues, they often focus on limiting development, pursuing accountability in government and restraining government taxes and spending. These sorts of issues interest participants in organizations like the Montgomery County Civic Federation, the Montgomery County Taxpayers League and Neighborspac.

Two District 4 activists have already declared their candidacy.

Steve Kanstoroom, an activist from Ashton, looks a bit like an older Dirk Benedict without the cigar. Among the issues he has worked on in recent years are illegal deforestation, abuses in FEMA’s flood insurance program and the Planning Department’s denial of street addresses to some residents of Sandy Spring. Kanstoroom even exposed an individual who had appeared as an expert witness at Board of Appeals hearings as never having possessed a professional engineer license. The Montgomery County Civic Federation gave him its “Community Hero” award in 2006. But not everyone is a fan of Kanstoroom’s. Council Member George Leventhal was incensed after Kanstoroom picketed his house over the Sandy Spring issue.

Patrick E. Ryan is a management consultant with the Washington Federal Practice of PriceWaterhouseCoopers. He is a co-chair of Action in Montgomery, a multi-purpose activist group affiliated with the Saul Alinsky-founded Industrial Areas Foundation. He is also active in the Church of Resurrection Catholic Parish, the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans and the Fairland Master Plan Civic Advisory Committee. Ryan lives in northeastern Silver Spring near Burtonsville.

Civic activists were a natural part of Mrs. Praisner’s base. But a pure civic candidate faces problems of name recognition, raising money and securing endorsements – all of which are exacerbated in a short campaign. The 2006 race in Council District 2 provides an example. Longtime activist and Neighborspac endorsee Sharon Dooley ran against well-funded, endorsement-rich, MCEA-backed incumbent Mike Knapp. Dooley lost the race by 64-36%.

Perhaps the biggest problem Kanstoroom and Ryan have is each other. In a one-seat race, they threaten to split much of Mrs. Praisner’s coalition, thereby allowing another candidate to win. And there may yet be other civic candidates.

Finally, Free State Politics blogger Eric Luedtke lives in Council District 4. Luedtke is an MCEA member and is one of the most-learned, best-researched bloggers in the state. Are we going to see any announcements on FSP, Eric?

Our readers should watch three things going forward. First, who is getting endorsements from organizations with money (like the Chamber of Commerce) and ground operations (like MCEA)? Second, who is raising money? Campaign finance reports are due to the State Board of Elections on March 18, April 4, May 2 and June 3. Third, who is the County Executive, a Burtsonsville resident, going to support? A literature mailout with the Executive’s picture on it will be valuable in a short campaign with low turnout.

Stay tuned for more on this race.

Update: You can read the Post's coverage here. The Post floats one additional name: Cary Lamari, former president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation. Lamari finished 11th out of 13 candidates in the 2006 council at-large race.

Update 2: The Gazette's coverage is here and here.

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