Greater Greater Washington

Chevy Chase hires a powerful Congressional chairman's brother to lobby against the Purple Line

In addition to some recent high-profile spins through the revolving door, we now have a new example of ethically questionable influence peddling in Washington: A powerful Congressman's brother working to bring down a transit line in Maryland.


Robert Shuster. Photo from Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) wields the gavel of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committeea post his father held, with great success, before him. Now Shuster's brother, Robert, has been hired by the town of Chevy Chase, Maryland, to help them oppose the construction of a light-rail line.

The Purple Line concept has been under development since 1989, with the state beginning work in earnest in early 2008. The principal opponent to the line, the Columbia Country Club, has dropped its opposition and promised not to bring any lawsuits as a result of a deal to adjust the route.

The Purple Line has faced countless obstacles and defeated them all. Rep. Shuster's brother now has $20,000 a month of Chevy Chase's taxpayer dollars to try to come up one the transit line can't overcome.

According to the Washington Post, Chevy Chase hired Robert Shuster's law firm last month, so far paying a total of $40,000 for two months. The town council is now deciding whether to move from a month-to-month arrangement to an 18-month contract, still for $20,000 a month.

The Post notes that the firm, Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, lists Robert Shuster first as one of four lawyers on the project.

No worries, though: Shuster won't be lobbying. The Post quotes Mayor Pat Burda as saying she didn't even know about the Shuster connection when she first contacted the law firm, and that the town is focused on the Federal Transit Administration, not Congress. She said it in no uncertain terms: "We're not lobbying Congress."

But the pro-Purple Line Action Committee for Transit has found a Congressional lobbying disclosure form from Shuster's firm that "states explicitly that Shuster and his partners are lobbying the House of Representatives and Senate for the Town of Chevy Chase." The form says Shuster and two others will be lobbying on urban development, transportation, and "government issues."

"I do not and will not lobby my brother," Robert Shuster pledged in a statement to the Post. But whether or not Shuster lobbies his brother may be beside the point. A Shuster calling up a member of Congress is going to get his phone call answered, and "in Washington, that's your first goal," said Purple Line advocate Tracey Johnstone.

But what does Chevy Chase seek to get out of Congress anyway? Maryland is in the market for $900 million in federal aid to round out funding for the Purple Line, but they're looking to get it from a New Starts full-funding grant agreement from the FTA, not Congress.

Undoubtedly the town of Chevy Chase, ably represented by the good people at Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, will petition the FTA to reject the MTA's request for a New Starts grant. Purple Line opponents always find some legit-sounding reason to block it: endangered amphipods (except, oops, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it's no problem), impact on a nearby trail, the view from a tony golf course clubhouse. They'll certainly come up with a good story to tell the FTA.

But the lobbying disclosure form makes clear that they'll be taking that message to Congress, too. After all, FTA only makes recommendations for New Starts grants. House and Senate appropriations committees make the final decision.

Sure, that's a different committee from the one the other Shuster heads, but "if you think the appropriations committee isn't checking with the chair of T&I about what they're putting in a New Starts grant, you don't know how Congress works," said Joshua Schank of the Eno Center for Transportation.

Earmarks were eliminated in MAP-21, and if that ban continues, there would be no place for an explicit Purple Line funding authorization in the next bill. But there are some possibilities for the next bill to have an impact.

First, Congress could go back to earmarks, though it's unlikely. Second, Congress could make it clear, outside of bill language, that the region is expected to use its urbanized area formula grant money on the Purple Linethough that's a tough demand to make without offering new money. Third, Congress could underfund New Starts altogether, which is entirely possible and even likely, which could hobble the agency's ability to fund the Purple Line. Or, fourth, Congress could slip an amendment into the bill that targets the Purple Linerequiring more studies on endangered amphipods, for example.

Either way, it never hurts to have friends in high places in Washington.

Cross-posted from Streetsblog DC.

Tanya Snyder is editor of Streetsblog Capitol Hill, which covers issues of national transportation policy. She previously covered Congress for Pacifica and public radio. She lives car-free in a transit-oriented and bike-friendly neighborhood of Washington, DC. 

Comments

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Toupee alert!

by Frank IBC on Jan 28, 2014 12:37 pm • linkreport

NIMBY to the max!!!!

by DaveG on Jan 28, 2014 12:37 pm • linkreport

That is the most obviously airbrushed photo that I've ever seen. He looks like a plastic action figure.

by Kevin on Jan 28, 2014 12:38 pm • linkreport

Does anyone who studies these things know if there has been published research into what percentage of total US political lobbying money goes to blocking things vs. supporting things? Is it 10-1?

by StatusQuoFeelsSafer on Jan 28, 2014 1:03 pm • linkreport

Hah the airbrushing was the first thing I noticed. Someone needs to dial it back from 11.

by BTA on Jan 28, 2014 1:15 pm • linkreport

The skin is so smooth.

by aaa on Jan 28, 2014 1:51 pm • linkreport

Why is the town of Chevy Chase fighting the Purple Line? What are the specific issues, or is it the tired old nimby cry of "lower property values?"

by Districter on Jan 28, 2014 2:00 pm • linkreport

@Districter: They actually don't seem to be making much noise about property values.

They appear to be focusing on how this will carry out long-planned changes to the Capital Crescent Trail. Minimizing how it will complete the trail through to Silver Spring (which I guess they don't see as much of a benefit to themselves), they complain about how trees will be lost along the trail. Of course they also ignore that it's been known for decades that the plan was to put in transit on that ROW, next to the trail.

They are also annoyed about how it will pass next to part of their town, generating noise which they believe can't be mitigated with walls or sound barriers. And finally, it affects one crossing, and they don't like the proposed solution for unclear reasons.

by Gray on Jan 28, 2014 2:09 pm • linkreport

Districter, this link will have all the history you're looking for:

http://www.actfortransit.org/purple_ChevyChase.html

by Cavan on Jan 28, 2014 2:10 pm • linkreport

It looks like Chevy Chase continues to stumble in its efforts. Lying is not a good way to build allies, but this also should be a time when Purple Line supporters make sure they have strong legal representation as well.

by Rich on Jan 28, 2014 2:13 pm • linkreport

At this point their goal posts are moving so fast its hard to keep up. They'll always find some reason even as we ("we" as in, state government, county government, federal government, major landowners, major environmental groups, etc.) knock the others down.

Remember these are the same people who think that extending a trail is the same as destroying it.

by drumz on Jan 28, 2014 2:13 pm • linkreport

It's not really NIMBY, more snobby (from the linked web page):

"This record shows that the Town's arguments about the trail, cost-effectiveness, and development cannot be taken at face value. What, then, motivates Town residents? A rare moment of candor occurred at a June 6, 2007 public meeting on the Purple Line. The following comments by one citizen (see page 74 of the transcript) were met with applause from an audience of Town residents, suggesting that some of them, at least, have other concerns:

'...it has occurred to me throughout this whole discussion of the Purple Line that nobody has ever answered the question what's the problem that we're trying to solve.

And it seems to me when I look at the problem we're trying to solve it's we're trying to solve the problem of the people out in Silver Spring and P.G. County and so on and so forth, and that's as a person who tries to avoid political correctness whenever possible. I find that a rather spurious sort of reason for having the Purple Line.

And we live here. We have to live with this thing if you, in fact, are going to do it, and I see it simply as a nuisance, more than a nuisance. I see it as a very negative thing for our town; that there are far better ways of solving the problem of how to get people from here to there, and that you have rejected them out of hand.'"

by Cavan on Jan 28, 2014 2:14 pm • linkreport

There's more:

"The Town's fight against the Purple Line is financed by income tax money rebated from the county. Because the rebate, although intended to compensate for the cost of services, is calculated from the amount of income tax paid by town residents rather than from the cost of the services provided, this wealthy town finds itself with more money than it knows what to do with — $8.2 million in the bank. Effectively, the future Purple Line riders this privileged enclave wants to keep out — less affluent taxpayers who live in the rest of the county — will pay the fees of the hired guns who work to exclude them."

by Cavan on Jan 28, 2014 2:17 pm • linkreport

@Cavan: Wow, it's pretty astonishing that someone actually said this, let alone that it received applause.
And it seems to me when I look at the problem we're trying to solve it's we're trying to solve the problem of the people out in Silver Spring and P.G. County and so on and so forth, and that's as a person who tries to avoid political correctness whenever possible.
But I guess they could clarify this a bit. Is "the problem" the poors, or people of color? It's not completely clear whether their obnoxiousness is most motivated by classism or racism.

If they really can't see why people would want better transit, I don't even know how to have a discussion with them. I mean, if they really see the "problem" as other people, not the desire for better transit for other people, then how will they ever be okay with an actual solution to the problem of inferior transit?

by Gray on Jan 28, 2014 2:24 pm • linkreport

Why is the town of Chevy Chase fighting the Purple Line? What are the specific issues, or is it the tired old nimby cry of "lower property values?"

There are the trees, the less affluent riders, the non white riders, the supposed noise, the supposedly ugly rail cars and what not but really the issue is change.

The residents of Chevy Chase have a nice town, they are at the top of the income spectrum and have a somewhat nice neighborhood. They are afraid of any change to that, and they have a lot of money to fight change, any change.

by Richard on Jan 28, 2014 2:25 pm • linkreport

Eh I'm not from Chevy Chase but I grew up around similar people. They probably don't use transit so don't imagine they can derive any benefit personally. They probably believe that people who do are probably poor (and therefore up to no good). They make enough money that they have strong opinions about how their tax dollars are spent. They are members of that pseudo-environmental school of thought which says anything literally green (like a tree) is greener than say a train even though the larger implications of such philosophies are clearly debatable. They aren't used to being questioned or having other peoples needs weighed against theres in any substantial manner.

by BTA on Jan 28, 2014 2:26 pm • linkreport

I think they really don't want a train running through their back yard as opposed to worrying about poor people and such, at leat most of the opposition. Since a trolley line has been planned for this route since the county bought the right of way, any attempt to stop it should be bound to fail. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out, when they fail, will they be responsible for all the costs incured by this boondoggle? I should think so.

by Thayer-D on Jan 28, 2014 3:50 pm • linkreport

Re: Chevy Chase opposition - Maybe I'm misremembering, but I thought a big part of the concern was over development associated with the Purple Line? Chevy Chase Lake is getting some upzoning/theoretically taller buildings, etc. I thought I heard people claim that they didn't want to become a crowded, busy urban area?

Now, that might go hand in hand with fear of the other, etc - but I thought there was an explicit fear of development?

by Matt on Jan 28, 2014 10:15 pm • linkreport

We had this same kind of nonsense in Los Angeles with the Expo line (LA-Santa Monica)...guess what, it's being built now through the neighborhoods with the most opposition: http://la.curbed.com/archives/2013/08/cheviot_hills_nimbys_lose_state_supreme_court_battle_against_the_expo_line_extension.php

Same with South Pasadena, Hollywood Hills--there was vocal and well-financed opposition to the rail lines, but the transit agency (LA Metro in this case) was able to overcome it.

by cph on Jan 29, 2014 1:39 am • linkreport

When I was a kid, the college next door wanted to cut down a bunch of trees on their property in order to build dorms. Homeowners in my rich subdivision objected loudly. Part of the reason was the possibility of flooding from runoff water (that was addressed by building a small dam), but I think the main reason was that we (=most homeowners on the street) thought it would decrease our property values to lose the forest view from our windows. In other words, we had been deriving benefit from someone else's property, and though we were entitled to take that benefit forever regardless of the wishes of the property owner. I don't suppose the motivation for Purple Line opposition is any better.

by Eric on Jan 29, 2014 4:05 am • linkreport

I think you're right Eric. Oddly enough, for most of the residents of Chevy Chase and Bethesda, I think it will raise their property values, just like the metro has. After all, some of their kids will be taking the train to their back-up school in College Park.

by Thayer-D on Jan 29, 2014 6:31 am • linkreport

@Thayer-D: The same applies to people living near the new Dale Drive station (which apparently is back in the plan for the first phase). Their property values will almost certainly go up, but they're still completely afraid of change.

by Gray on Jan 29, 2014 8:56 am • linkreport

Gray,
Kids being able to take transit to school, learning to be independent, and freeing their parents and the roads from one more car pool. What a horrible idea! My guess is many of those against it are secretly licking thier lips about the profit while 'keeping it real' by bashing developers.

by Thayer-D on Jan 29, 2014 9:25 am • linkreport

Gray, Afraid of change would be the hell that was raised by outsiders to get I-270 canceled that was planned to go through Silver Spring and Bethesda and the second Potomac River bridge crossing via Techway.

by tom on Jan 29, 2014 2:42 pm • linkreport

tom, re: the "hell and havoc" raided by outsiders over the Techway, I lived in Reston at the time and witnessed Rep. Frank Wolf's wife accosted at the Giant by people claiming to be from the Sierra Club and The Coalition for Smarter Growth. Mr. Wolfe and his wife were also waylaid at church and at home by Techway opponents.

But these tactics are OK when fighting a proposed road.

by ceefer66 on Jan 29, 2014 3:48 pm • linkreport

Why the hell are these people so opposed to the purple line? I mean for crying out loud, all it will do is bring people to your crappy little town to spend money and get jobs--how can you lose with that?! If Chevy Chase is going to be such an obstacle maybe we should just move the purple line to bypass them entirely. Screw all these NIMBY anti-transit nut jobs! They don't know what it's like to have to get around in the suburbs without a car.

by Matt S on Jan 29, 2014 4:14 pm • linkreport

If Chevy Chase is going to be such an obstacle maybe we should just move the purple line to bypass them entirely.
There's already a dedicated right of way there. The county should have just left the tracks in place instead of creating the interim trail...

by Bob See on Jan 29, 2014 5:30 pm • linkreport

Well you would think that the affluent in Chevy Chase would want the "hired help" to be able to come and work for them. Did it ever occur to them that, without the Purple Line, their housekeepers and nannies will have harder commutes? Did it ever occur to them that they might have greater difficulty finding domestic help?

by Rain17 on Jan 29, 2014 8:23 pm • linkreport

"Same with South Pasadena, Hollywood Hills--there was vocal and well-financed opposition to the rail lines, but the transit agency (LA Metro in this case) was able to overcome it."

And here is the irony. I bet that many of those opponents will then becomes its biggest customers.

by Rain17 on Jan 29, 2014 8:25 pm • linkreport

Well you would think that the affluent in Chevy Chase would want the "hired help" to be able to come and work for them.
-----

How does "the help" get to work in Chevy Chase today?

by ceefer66 on Jan 29, 2014 8:32 pm • linkreport

I guess that they take the J2 Metrobus or the Ride-on buses 1 and 11. All day long, though, when it comes, the J2 is extremely crowded.

by Rain17 on Jan 29, 2014 8:36 pm • linkreport

How about a Tyson sized “over” versus “under” struggle. How would that story turn out in CC?

by AndrewJ on Jan 30, 2014 5:57 am • linkreport

The ROW is established, has existed for decades, and was railbanked years ago - they're not going to build under it just to appease people with completely unfounded objections to the project.

by MLD on Jan 30, 2014 9:07 am • linkreport

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