I have been traveling the county and talking to residents, businesses, nonprofits, educators, and officials.
We in Montgomery County have a lot on our minds! I’ve been asked – and I’ve been told – about concerns ranging from homelessness to composting.
The top 5 county issues? I’d say they’re school quality and capacity, the county economy, affordability, transportation, and development. Underlying these issues and others is a deep concern about poverty, equity, the environment, and maintaining a community that welcomes everyone. That’s the Montgomery Way!
I have considerable experience initiating, developing, and implementing local policy and programs, with special care for consulting stakeholders and crafting sensible solutions. The following are positions on key Montgomery County concerns. I would highly value any feedback you choose to offer.
Affordability and Economic Opportunity
Montgomery County is expensive – statistics such as the self-sufficiency standard show it, and our everyday experiences confirm it.
Though we’re a rich county, we have many disadvantaged neighbors. The county’s newly enacted $15 minimum wage (which I supported) should not be seen as a “living wage.” It’s a start, but we still need a robust safety net to help our neediest neighbors. An estimated 78,000 residents are food insecure; 34.6% of students receive free and reduced-price meals (FARMS); 6.7% of residents live below the federal poverty level.
But affordability challenges go far beyond disadvantaged residents. They center on:
- Housing: Montgomery County faces demand for 4,000 additional housing units each year for the next ten; our greatest need is for more affordable housing, accessible to low- and moderate-income individuals and families including seniors. I support the county’s long-standing “inclusionary zoning” policies, which ensure inclusion of affordable units in new development. I support county partnerships with organizations such as Montgomery Housing Partnership and Victory Housing, to promote maintenance of our existing stock of quality affordable housing and the creation of new affordable housing. And I support renter protections that ensure that affordable units stay affordable, especially as neighborhoods become more desirable due to the creation of new transportation infrastructure, commercial and community amenities, and schools. I will generally follow the lead of the Montgomery County Renters Alliance and would consider renter-protection measures that include rent stabilization, an approach that limits rent increases.
- Transportation: Montgomery County residents spend far too much time in traffic or on slow transit trips. Our transportation challenges mean lower quality of life and impose a stiff economic cost. Investment in transit offers a return that benefits all residents – users or not – and businesses, by connecting people to work, schools, shopping, and entertainment.Beyond the Purple Line – and I will ensure that construction stays on track – I strongly support Bus Rapid Transit, including on the Route 29, Route 355, and Veirs Mill Road priority corridors. BRT means faster and more reliable transit for Montgomery County, and fewer drivers on the road. I will promote the Corridor Cities Transitway – BRT for upcounty – and also ensure full consideration of all-day bi-directional MARC Brunswick line service.
- Childcare and early childhood education: “Early Care and Education is a key building block for economic opportunity. A stronger, more equitable system will lay the foundation for more children to succeed in school, help reduce the achievement gap, and help build the workforce of the future.” I’m quoting Montgomery Moving Forward. MMF embodies a nonprofit–business–government collaboration that will help us expand availability of reliable, affordable, and convenient quality childcare and realize our goal of universal pre-K, steps that will help us prevent the educational achievement gap from opening in the first place. And it should be noted that expanded availability of quality childcare will allow younger women to reenter the paid workforce if they choose and will create jobs and economic opportunity in the communities being served.
- Jobs and economic development are keys to shared prosperity, and growth will generate revenues that fund county operations and capital investment in schools and infrastructure. Local employment and local amenities will also reduce traffic congestion, shortening commutes and other travel. Focus #1 has to be retention of businesses currently located in Montgomery County. I applaud efforts to this end by the county’s chambers of commerce although county government can do better. As I testified before the Montgomery County Council, on September 27, 2017, “Progressive initiatives – work on sick and safe leave is a recent bright spot – involve and therefore concern county employers. As you develop solutions, please, please consult businesses and business networks – the county chambers of commerce – early in the process.” We must also attract new businesses to the county. What do companies value? Convenient transit access, an amenity-rich location, and an educated workforce. All parties must cooperate – the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation and Maryland commerce authorities, and the county council – to ensure that land-use planning processes and outcomes are business friendly. And we must facilitate and encourage the creation of new businesses and foster their growth here. I see special promise in entrepreneurship, particularly in biotech / life sciences, in information technology, and in “green” business.
Climate change is a global threat, one that we can and should address locally, despite regressive federal non-policy. How? My priorities, based on Montgomery County community and government interactions and numerous conversations and meetings, are headed by:
- Waste reduction by promoting food recovery, and waste diversion via food-waste composting at residential, institutional, community scales and creation of a county food-waste composting program. On the commercial front, I would explore a requirement that food-service businesses move to compostable disposables, as in cities such as San Francisco.
- Support for transit including new projects (the Purple Line, bus rapid transit (BRT), the Corridor Cities Transitway, and possibly expanded MARC Brunswick line service), express buses, and higher service frequency; creation of cycling infrastructure per the county’s (draft) Bicycle Master Plan; enhanced walkability and pedestrian safety.
- Maintenance of high environmental standards (for coal ash, etc.) at the county’s coal-fired power plant and plans to close that plant and phase out the Dickerson incinerator. Divestment of county pension funds from fossil fuels.
- Protection of the Agricultural Reserve and preservation (and restoration) of local watersheds and greenspace with parks expansion.
- Enhancement of programs and expanded funding to reduce energy use and to promote renewal energy, in cooperation with community and business groups.
The bottom line: We must estimate and aim to minimize the environmental impact of Montgomery County programs, operations, capital expenditures, and procurement choices and create/extend programs that lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, and environmental pollutants, setting targets and building measurement into programs.
Equity and Opportunity
Our society is unequal, but of perhaps greater concern, it is inequitable. Synonyms for inequitable: biased, unfair, unbalanced, discriminatory. We need to redress past inequity. We need to ensure opportunity for all.
We must concern ourselves with discrimination, whether intended or not, associated with gender, race and ethnicity, geography, economic resources. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Martin Luther King, Jr., injustice to any person and not just in any place.
Let’s think in terms of redress, having two senses: correction (of the underlying inequity) and compensation, noting that in many cases, those who are advantaged in an inequitable situation and wield power in that situation are not those who created the situation. We’re nonetheless duty-bound to address it, taking our lead from affected communities.
- Let’s ensure educational programming and spending that will close the achievement gap and, even better, prevent it from opening via universal pre-K and early learning opportunities.
- Let’s address criminal-justice issues that have led to mass incarceration of African American and other minority youth and adults – end the school-to-prison pipeline – apply principles of restorative justice – boost reintegration into society.
- Let’s recognize the role African Americans and other minorities have played in building our county and historic discrimination against women and LGBTQ neighbors: We aim for inclusion and balance and equitable civic and political representation.
- Let’s help all county residents thrive, including seniors via aging-in-community initiatives and immigrants via English-language instruction and cultural sensitivity.
- Every resident deserves safe and affordable housing in an attractive neighborhood, strong schools, convenient transportation, and fair wages and the opportunity to start a business.
I applaud Montgomery County Public Schools’ Equity Initiatives Unit, aiming for awareness, knowledge, and understanding of one’s own and students’ and staff’s racial and cultural identity. Let’s extend this framework to gender and sexuality and let’s apply it broadly to county government.
The bottom line: Equity should be a primary consideration in Montgomery County revenue, spending, and programing decisions, and in county government operations. I will work to make that happen.
In response to inquiries from Montgomery County residents:
- Mental and Behavioral Health: Montgomery County has some very good services that work with persons in need of mental and behavioral health assistance, and excellent partners such as NAMI Montgomery County, EveryMind, Cornerstone Montgomery, the Collaboration Council, and Adventist Healthcare. We have youth and non-English-language partners such as Identity, and programs extend into Montgomery County Public Schools. We have a 24 Hour Crisis Center with mobile crisis outreach response. Yet there is unmet demand. We have insufficient psychiatric outpatient services and hospital beds for those with serious mental illness. This gap has overburdened our hospital emergency rooms and resulted in long ER waits for all county residents. Student mental and behavioral health are particular concerns, as is our reaction to individuals with mental health issues. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have a mental health condition, and substance abuse and addictions are rampant. We must work with state regulators and with County agencies and providers to redouble our commitment and expand the scope of County mental and behavioral health services and partnerships. I will support programs to reduce criminalization, suicide, and homelessness and promote measures to enhance recovery for all individuals with mental illness and behavioral health needs.
- Animal Protections: I will take steps to reduce the kill rate at Montgomery County’s animal shelter, with the guidance of experts and advocates, and move aggressively to a No Kill policy. Immediate steps should include extending the time animals are sheltered before they may be put down, promoting and subsidizing adoptions, and special outreach to seniors.
- Liquor Monopoly: I would end Montgomery County’s monopoly on liquor sales. We all recognize the inconvenience and costs to businesses and consumers that result from the monopoly. I’m on record. As a member of the Takoma Park City Council, I wrote language calling for an end to Montgomery County’s monopoly that was included in a January, 2015 resolution: “The Council of the City of Takoma Park supports Montgomery County action to allow business and organizations to purchase alcoholic beverages directly from distributors; breweries, distilleries, wineries, and other producers; and other sources other than Montgomery County government outlets, for on- and off-premises consumption as allowed by establishments’ alcoholic beverage licenses.” The context then was wholesaling; I would also end the county’s monopoly on retail liquor sales.
- Anti-Conversion Therapy, Pride Center: I support anti-conversion therapy legislation. We must send “a clear message to LGBTQ youth across our state that they are welcomed and respected in Maryland,” in the words of FreeState Justice Executive Director Mark Procopio. I support county funding of a Pride Center and LGBTQ-supportive education and information dissemination. These initiatives should be responsive to and led by LGBTQ individuals.
- Reproductive Rights: NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland PAC has recognized me as 100% pro-choice.