Greater Greater Washington

For Montgomery County Council

I've found the Montgomery County Council frustrating. On important issues around growth, development and transportation, many councilmembers don't take much of a stand and vote in unanimous or near-unanimous numbers even on controversial and vital issues.

Many seem to prefer finding a consensus where they can vote unanimously or nearly-unanimously, regardless of the merits of that consensus. The I-270 battle was a good case in point, where advocates' opposition to SHA's plan got the Council to postpone a vote, then meet for a work session to agree on a compromise, which passed unanimously. As a result, most members avoided ever having to really stick up for or against something.

The County Council needs a strong advocate for Smart Growth and sustainable transportation issues. That would likely be Hans Riemer, if he is successful in his bid for one of the four at-large seats. Hans is a longtime Smart Growth proponent and an active member of ACT. He set out clear and excellent positions in his interview with Cavan.

The four incumbents are all definitely superior to the rest of the challengers besides Riemer. Those incumbents each have their pros and cons.

Marc Elrich has been a strong proponent of a Bus Rapid Transit network, pushing the idea tirelessly and making it a signature issue. However, he's also the strongest defender of traffic-based tests that in effect hinder walkable development.

Nancy Floreen pushed through the White Flint plan, one of Montgomery's biggest opportunities for meaningful transit-oriented development, and opposes the traffic-based tests that Elrich likes. On the other hand, she also opposes most rules that would limit development in rural areas far from transit. She generally advocates building in the county and is less discerning about what or where.

George Leventhal has been a leader in the fight for the Purple Line, and for transit in general in the county. Yet he also strongly supported widening I-270, and basically favors any transportation project of any kind in any location. Duchy Trachtenberg has been good on the environment and transit issues as well and not a road booster, but hasn't shown as much leadership on growth and transportation issues generally.

I'd recommend Montgomery residents (like my in-laws) vote for Mr. Riemer and decide among the other candidates based on the other issues, like schools, budgets, labor relations and many more. If you're not sure of some of the candidates, it's also fine to vote for only two or three. Leaving a blank or two on the ballot makes the votes you do cast count even more, as the top four total vote-getters win the seats.

Two district seats are also contested, which happen to be the two that had Montgomery's greatest development debates in the last few years. District 1 includes Chevy Chase, Bethesda and Potomac, and has significant numbers of residents who oppose the Purple Line and/or White Flint. Roger Berliner, the incumbent, has championed both projects a good future for his area despite the short-term political risk. Meanwhile, his challenger, Ilaya Hopkins, has chosen to throw her lot in with the antis. Mr. Berliner should be reelected to prove that anti sentiment doesn't drive Montgomery politics.

In District 2, the suburban and rural northern part of the County, former Planning Board Chair Royce Hanson is the best choice for the open seat. He's been a strong proponent of Smart Growth on the Planning Board, and was largely responsible for the Agricultural Reserve, the large belt of (mostly) protected land at the County's edge, much of which is in that district. His support for the sprawl development at Gaithersburg West was more of a disappointment, but his multi-decade track record warrants your vote.

The other district members, Phil Andrews, Nancy Navarro, and Valerie Ervin, do not have primary challengers.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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All of the candidates have been dissapointing with regards to an economic development agenda. Montgomery County posesses a vast wealth of amenities that is unmatched by its competitors to attract new jobs but NIMBY groups such as ACT and the Civic Federation have worked to promote the perception of an unfriendly business climate. A comprehensive economic development agenda is needed that would utilize our existing and planned transportation systems and federal and private assets to drive economic development with the creation of two Science Cities on either ends of the new ICC and vast urban redevelopment along Rockville Pike. The new council must put in place this framework to guide the vast economic development opportunities that will arrive with the completion of the ICC in less than 2 years. Councilmember Elrich while he advocates smart growth and the countywide BRT, actively opposed efforts to lure NPR to downtown Silver Spring and the council in general has not been a strong counterforce to Ike Leggett's weak economic development efforts which have lead to the loss of the Hilton International headquarters to Northern Virginia. The next Council will set the tone for the next quarter century of economic development in Montgomery County and we cannot allow NIMBY interests to control our future wellbeing.

by Cyrus on Aug 31, 2010 12:37 pm • linkreport

As a Silver Spring resident I resent our affairs being governed by a County Council. Silver Spring needs to incorporate as a city and run itself.

Montgomery County is too large to adequately address local issues. 18 hair salons in a three block radius is a failure of zoning and neglect by the Council. It undermines Silver Spring's livability.

by Redline SOS on Aug 31, 2010 12:41 pm • linkreport

Didn't he run for political office here within a year or two of moving in, and now he's running again? I mean I understand a bit of ego/pomp are inherent to politics, but this guys is just a status hound looking for a public office. He projects this youthful/grassroots image that is completely fabricated. Hans Reimer is literally a sociopath and I have no idea how everyone isn't seeing that.

by anonymous on Aug 31, 2010 12:58 pm • linkreport

Marc Elrich has been a strong proponent of a Bus Rapid Transit network, pushing the idea tirelessly and making it a signature issue. However, he's also the strongest defender of traffic-based tests that in effect hinder walkable development.

The 'However' does not make sense. Bus Rapid Transit is designed to destroy public transit -- it makes perfect sense that anyone who wants to destroy public transit would also want to hinder walkable/bikable development, as walking/biking/transit can provide alternatives to cars.

by Peter Smith on Aug 31, 2010 1:06 pm • linkreport

@Cyrus: ACT and the Civic Federation could not be farther apart on land use, transportation, and development issues. ACT is in not in favor of all development or every transportation project (they are for more density with mixed land uses oriented around transit), and to suggest that their opposition to the ICC makes them NIMBYs reflects a basic misunderstanding not just of ACT but of urbanist ideas in general. The Civic Federation is generaly anti/slow growth, but to be fair, they represent the old school view that the Montgomery County they love is suburban, with suburban assumptions about land use and transportation policy, and they would prefer to keep it that way. I think they are misguided, but I'm sure they would tell you that they are in favor of growth as long as we have plenty of infrastructure (by which they mainly mean roads) to accommodate the driving they assume must come with it. In any event, you will not find ACT and the Civic Federation on the same side of many development or transportation infrastructure issues.

by Casey Anderson on Aug 31, 2010 2:44 pm • linkreport

I've been interested in Hans Riemer's candidacy. He seems to be serious and he says a lot of the right things. I was a bit underwhelmed when I saw him at the debate sponsored by Progressive Neighbors... though it was a bit odd to see the incumbents acting as best friends and all attacking him.

My main concern is that I still have no clue regarding is background. He spent a brief amount of time working for the Obama campaign and it sounds like his time at AARP was after the Obama campaign. His website doesn't list a single other job or professional experience. Perhaps I wouldn't notice an older candidate with an over 10 year gap in work history, but it seems a bit strange for someone who is 37.

Anyone know what he did between graduating UCSC in 1995 and working for Obama?

Granted this is a high standard compared to other candidates, but what's his background with data analysis? Is he someone that's going to run away from numbers in a budget or project proposal or someone who can understand the mathematical details? Having the right ideas goes a long way, but it's also necessary to be able to plan how to get there.

by Dan on Aug 31, 2010 3:03 pm • linkreport

@Dan: Hans Riemer has spent most of his career working on field organizing and issue advocacy campaigns. He was heavily involved in efforts supported by labor and other lefty groups to oppose privatization of Social Security, was the political director for Rock the Vote, etc., before running unsuccessfully for Montgomery County Council in 2006. Valerie Ervin, who won that race, has endorsed him in this one.

And yes, he is the real thing as far as urbanism is concerned.

by Casey Anderson on Aug 31, 2010 3:36 pm • linkreport

@anonymous: The incumbents and their sock puppets are attacking Hans because they correctly perceive that he has a great shot at taking one of them out.

When he ran in 2006, some people said Hans had not lived in Montgomery County long enough to show he really cared about the place and was serious about sticking around. So now it's 2010 and he's still around (he went on the road for Obama for about a year, but his wife stayed here to hold the fort). Let me ask you this: How long does someone have to live in a place before you think it is OK for them to run for office there?

by Casey Anderson on Aug 31, 2010 3:43 pm • linkreport

@Casey,
The Social Security privatization debate was in 2005. Was he at AARP then? We ran for council in 2006 and worked for Obama in 2007/8. I sound sounds like he's with AARP now or has he been a full-time campaigner for the past year?
How about 1995-2005? If someone has done work in field organizing and issue advocacy, I assume there's a list of organizations he's worked for and other issued he's advocated for. I assume there are no skeletons in his work history or one of the other candidates would be publicizing them, but it would be nice to get a better picture of the person I'm considering voting for.

The summary at http://www.hansriemer.com/about/ is ok:
Most of Hans' career has focused on issues rather than politics. An experienced advocate on fiscal policy and retirement security, Hans is widely recognized for his lead role in the campaign to protect Social Security from President Bush's proposals for privatization. Hans has also achieved victories on issues such as health care, voting reform, and higher education.

Still, bytes on a website are cheap. Couldn't there be a few more details somewhere?

by Dan on Aug 31, 2010 4:37 pm • linkreport

The Post endorsement talked briefly about his background, and a Gazette article also talked about the background. They say he worked at AARP for 2 years until this year, when he left to campaign. So that would mean it was 2008-2010, i.e. probably between the Obama election and this year.

by David Alpert on Aug 31, 2010 4:42 pm • linkreport

Thanks David. From those links, he also worked for Rock the Vote and the Institute for America's Future. Wikipedia also notes he founded the 2030 Center in 1996, which had a focus on social security and now seems defunct (perhaps it led to his job managing social security policy at IAF). It is worth noting that, according to wikipedia, he worked at IAF from 2001-3 while the serious attempt at social security privatization was 2005. It would be nice to better understand his role beyond a sound-bite.

by Dan on Aug 31, 2010 4:57 pm • linkreport

Mr. Riemer clearly has very little connection to Montgomery County. His work with liberal groups brings absolutely no advantage to the County and he will be likely predisposed to being a slave of Montgomery County's notorious labor union agenda-driven politics. His mailers are very unspecific about what he intends to do in office and his background with the now-sputtering Obama Change movement is not a bonus for most Montgomery County voters. However through his liberal activism he has made many influential friends and is likely a favorite to win one of the at large seats. His website presents an articulate view of what needs to be done in Montgomery County but with little connection to the community, he is a risky choice to take. He is a far better choice than Ms. Tractenberg who has accomplished very little in her term and whom I have little confidence can grasp the complex growth and mobility issues that the next County Council will face.

by Cyrus on Aug 31, 2010 5:48 pm • linkreport


Having seen the at-large candidates debate last night at the Aspen Hill Library, my initial sensation of Mr Riemer was one of, well, not exactly dislike, nor exactly of distrust, but of being curious -- in a somewhat deprecating way -- of his qualifications for the position... at least as would regard Aspen Hill.

That being said, as regards being pretty much a champion chanter of the mantra "all growth is good and we should have more of it, so long as it is SmartGrowth(tm)".

All., or almost all, of the candidates that expressed any opinion on the matter seemed to have roughly the same opinion, with some being more vociferously supportive of growth growth growth, (Mr Leventhal, Please!) mostly for the sake of growth as best I can tell.

Standouts: Republican Mark Fennel, who made it clear that he was for not just slow growth, but for very slow growth. He took a position that I also have taken, that infrastructure must come first and it must be the developers who pay, rather than the taxpayers. Also, I think it was Donald Coffey who came out as being very cautious about growth in general and in particular about growth in the near future.

That being said, at this point I am supporting both Nancy Floreen and Marc Elrich, and I do as as a "couplet" of complimentary characteristics. Nancy Floreen, as observed elsewhere, pretty much just wants to build, and isn't particularly concerned with what or with where, or even much about at what time, other than "yesterday if we could afford it today" (not an actual quote). Mr Elrich, on the other hand, seems to be perfectly aware that before we go elaborating the volume of a structure (so to speak) it's better than not to make certain that you first have established sufficient framework. Shoring up the interior, in other words, repairing known inadequacies in extant systems prior to expanding the scope and scale of the system as a whole, Mr Elrich seems to keep that feeling close to heart, again so to speak. While she hasn't exactly come right out and said it, Nancy Floreen would probably be quite happy to build Manhattan Version2.0 and the (dare ont whisper the name) Upper Rock Creek Parkway west of Olney and Brookeville, without any other concerns, so long as something was built. Mr Elrich might someday be convinced to allow such a thing, but not until and unless the area is already provisioned with Bus Rapid Transit and even then, only after the long-overdue rebuilding of the MD-28/MD-97 (Georgia and Norbeck) intersection into something that can handle traffic loads until long after the world runs out of petroleum.

Thus, Mr Elrich will press for the building of only sensible and needed things, and Ms Floreen will back him up because at least it's something getting built.

And assuming that Hans Riemer does get elected, Mr Elrich should be able to give him some Reality Cheques to spend freely re-rationalizing his rationale.

Hans somewhat left me with the impression of the nice lady who once headed up the interview I had with the Bethesda Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, who wanted to bring something of the scale of the Discovery complex in DTSS to their own bailiwick. I asked "but do you have the commuter rail and connecting bus capacity to bring in all those many workers. The lady responded with the indignation reserved for questions by idiots, "but we have 5 rail stations here". I was so flustered by the indignation which nearly reached the level of righteous wrath, that I didn't think of a suitable response until was headed out of the door after the interview. "What matter the number of stations, if the rail is at 110 percent of saturation even in non-peak hours?" How much worse will that be once White Flint is completed? Hans Riemer -- nor anyone else -- made any statements insightful of this conundrum. I forsee a great need for Bus Rapid Transit, and probably more of it than even Mr Elrich forsees.

Other candidates, mostly the Republicans, were generally critical of the Science City project being given a go-ahead when not a cent has been appropriated for the Corridor Cities Transitway, much less have we a groundbreaking or a system completion.

Yet our focus at the Aspen Hill Library was mostly about Home Overcrowding, Code Violation, etc., and everyone was pretty much all over the map. District 4 Councilmember Nancy Navarro was there in her distict and chimed in that she would in fact like to see more moneys dedicated to much-needed infrastructure maintenance (much less improvement) in the area, and of course the development of "job centers". I'm not entirely sure if she meant places to go to get jobs, as in placement services, actual places that employed lots of people, or both. Either or both would be good in poor old District 4, the "red headed stepchild of Montgomery County" (my quotes, not hers). Yet she barely touched on the issue of home overcrowding, the associated excess wear-and-tear on 60-year-old suburban streets, the increasing parking problems and people paving their front yards and parking their work fleets on the paved yards to deal with the lack of on-street parking. Where one of the other candidates -- I think it may have been Mr Leventhal -- suggested outreach programs to inform newcomers of code and conduct expectations here (the audience muttered almost as one "they darn well know the code and flaunt it", Ms Navarro did point out that she'd certainly heard plenty of complaints from both the english-speaking and spanish-speaking communities and that the situation had degenerated to "one step away from open war", and that is a direct quote. Case in point, you don't see any of them here, there's no communication nor cooperation, (I paraphrase). I almost kept my tongue but when I hissed "that's because they disrespect and hate us" slipped out anyway. Thereafter I bit my tongue and hope that didn't make it into the media record.

I do wish I could remember exactly who it was who said "if you think that every developer driving past Aspen Hill Shopping Center doesn't drool with eager greed, you're nuts", but then some things are better left unattributed as no good deed or honest observation goes unpunished around here. Yet somehow the incumbents all presented a unified front to give mea culpa to the effect of "sorry we couldn't update the County Code until after the elections", presumably because they would be polarizing voters no matter what they did. G_d help us if they turn out to be replaced and instantly vote a Lame Duck session to monkeywrench the County Code out of spite. I should also note in passing that the Aspen Hill Shopping Center is owned by Tower Companies, which are in the business of tall towers and "green" office buildings, and right across the street, the Lee Development Group owns pretty much every dang thing for as far as you could fly a model airplane, with the exception of about 20 acres owned by Faller Management.

So, incredibly little commentary on the future of poor old Aspen Hill, lots of intentions expressed on how to turn the rest of the county -- whether near extant transit or not -- into a giant beehive of humanity. Still no mention of where they're going to get the water or electricity to run all of that come the year 2035, nor have they explained how exactly they're going to get 75,000 scientists and their growing families to live in tiny apartments and condo units a block from their labs or offices.

by Thomas Hardman on Aug 31, 2010 6:02 pm • linkreport

@Dan: Hans went to AARP after he left the Obama campaign because his wife was about to have a baby. I don't think he was doing much on social security reform while he was at AARP -- he was working on other issues/programs.

His highest profile role working on social security was at the Campaign For America's future during first Bush 43 administration, but he has worked on this issue in several different capacities.

His resume is on his Facebook page, for anyone who is interested:

http://www.facebook.com/hans.riemer#!/hans.riemer?v=info

by Casey Anderson on Aug 31, 2010 9:25 pm • linkreport

@Thomas Hardman: You are correct that Hans is not an anti-growth candidate -- he is an urbanist, which is why it makes perfect sense for this blog to endorse him (and also why Cyrus is mistaken about the relationship between ACT and the Civic Federation).

@Cyrus: As for his connection to the community, I can tell you this much: Hans has been heavily involved in advocacy for transit, biking, and walking in Montgomery County -- I know because I've testified at the Planning Board with him, knocked on doors with him, and spent many hours riding bikes with him all over the county.

Every time I see him, we wind up talking about the latest land use and transportation projects under consideration by the County Council or Planning Board. The guy is as immersed in local policy wonkery as anyone I have met in Montgomery County.

by Casey Anderson on Aug 31, 2010 9:40 pm • linkreport


@Casey Anderson: I am not anti-growth... I am for all good things in all good place and time. Nothing is good in and of itself. That's a lesson wasted on most of the young. We're shifting from the economy of the colonialist expansion and even from the infill expansion. We're entering the steady-state economy most typified by the Middle Ages. Does Mr Riemer know that the force to fight right now is incipient Feudalism and Serfdom? Because after all one of the most signal characteristics of the post-western-empire post-Roman era was people being required to live within walking distance of their workplaces, and then becoming forbidden to relocate within 50 years of that. See also Gibbons and later Peter Heather.

I'm not condemning Mr Riemer... just curious if he's aware of this, and willing to directly address the issue of the new transnational corporate Feudalism.

Remember, back in that day, all doctors had their hamstrings cut to keep them from leaving their community. Their excellent educations and superlative skills only got them crippled and bound to the land like houseplants in a pot. is the "New Urbanism" vision for MoCo leading to more of the same? Good luck trying that on a doctor in the modern day. And good luck getting useful treatment if you succeed.

by Thomas Hardman on Aug 31, 2010 11:39 pm • linkreport

David, why don't you cover/endorse the Republican candidates?

by anon on Sep 1, 2010 4:51 am • linkreport

David,
I think your assessment of Ilaya Hopkins is quite unfair. I'm not sure which 'antis' you think she's aligned with - presumably the anti Purple Line crowd.

In truth, Ilaya's gotten a lot of pressure from the Save the Trail group in Chevy Chase, and while it would have been expedient to tell them what they wanted to hear, her message has been consistent - she supports the locally preferred alternative, will work to make it move forward, and is open to alternatives if funding does not come through (as indeed MTA was in their alternatives analysis, see page 6-10 of the AA/DEIS).

There's also more to consider than just the Purple Line. Ilaya supports improving Metro and Ride-On, supports the CCT, and wants to see much greater use of transit oriented development across the county. She's won praise from local bicycle activists for her work on the BRAC move at Bethesda Naval because of her strong push to make bike and pedestrian improvements and integral part of the plan.

Information on all of this and more can be found at www.ilayahopkins.com. She'd be happy to have a conversation with you similar to those GGW has had with other candidates for the Council.

-Chris
Full disclosure: I'm Ilaya Hopkins' campaign manager, although I've been a loyal GGW reader for longer!

by Chris on Sep 3, 2010 9:13 am • linkreport

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