Friday, April 11, 2014

The Forum (Part III) – And the First shall be last.

Dawn.  Kowloon.  The Walled City.  The first rays of sunlight meandered between the tenement houses and gently alit upon a window looking out upon a caged balcony.  That window…and the figure talking into a telephone behind it…were visible from the rooftop of the apartment across the alleyway.  The sole human presence on that rooftop was a sniper, who was too pre-occupied focusing the sights on his Vapensmia NM149 to notice…

…Is how this post would begin if it were a Robert Ludlum novel.  Alas, it is instead about the League of Women Voters of Howard County Candidate Forum, specifically the panel discussion among the six candidates for Howard County Council (District One).

Perhaps it would be better crafted as a Ludlum work.  It could be titled The Elkridge Gambit.   But such thoughts had not yet entered my mind as I was scribbling away in that dark auditorium, watching four Democratic and two Republican candidates sitting onstage behind a rectangular table.  Each had the opportunity to deliver very brief opening and closing statements…and field questions from the Moderator.

Before I launch into a brief analysis of the candidate performances that specific evening, it should be noted that I, and some friends of mine, support one of them: Jon Weinstein (D).  I have other friends who support another, Wendy Royalty (D).  Regarding the other two Democratic candidates, I don’t believe I have ever met Dave Grabowski and my contact with Lisa Markovitz was limited to a brief exchange after the Forum.  I have not made the acquaintance of the two Republican candidates: Kevin Forrest Schmidt and David Blake Melton.    

My interest thus declared, here we go:

I believe Weinstein had the best night.  An experienced campaigner, he seemed comfortable with the format. He delivered answers that provided the audience members with insights into his perspective on governing: which includes a recognition of the interdependent nature of multiple issues (education, economic growth, transportation, etc…) and the importance of working collaboratively to find “balanced,” thoughtful solutions to the challenges facing Howard County.

Weinstein is a small businessman who has experience working with government agencies to promote “efficiency, accountability and transparency.”  He ran a good race in a tough seat (House District 9A) four year ago and enjoys some residual Name ID from that effort. I think his small business background, his service in the U.S. Army Reserves, and his community activism make him an excellent candidate for the General Election.  The First is a swing district, the only one of the five, and I believe that Weinstein can hold the Democratic base while pulling in a good number of Independent voters and perhaps a decent percentage of progressive-minded Republicans.  In my opinion, he is Democratic Party’s best bet to hold the seat and allow Democrats to maintain their 4 to 1 advantage on the County Council.

Royalty turned in the second best performance of the evening.  Having served as a pollster to dozens of national, state and local campaigns over the past 24 years, it is relatively easy to identify those who are new to the campaign trail as a candidate.  Royalty sounded like a candidate who is still working to find her voice.  Her late entry is not helping her (she filed in February and it appears as though she didn’t begin exploring the possibility of running for that Council seat until January…according to this article).

Make no mistake; Royalty is qualified to hold the office.  One of my higher compliments about someone is that they are serious, and she is serious.

She had a solid response to the question about support for the non-profit arts community when she remarked how “non-profits save millions of taxpayer dollars.”  This reinforces her platform calling for fiscal soundness.   She provided thoughtful insights on education and teacher morale (note: the Howard County Education Association endorsed Weinstein).  She offered up a vision of greater walkability around, on a better mix of businesses along, Route 40 (I believe it behooves candidates to spend more time talking about the future than the past, so this was a plus).

I really wish she chose to run for a different office.  She is the kind of candidate I like to support. She would make a great candidate for the state legislature (frankly her public policy background seems better suited for Annapolis) or a fine countywide candidate for the Board of Education, given her experience with various education-related organizations.  If Weinstein weren’t running, I would be advocating for her nomination in June and election in November. But that’s the problem, he is. I think he brings a unique skill-set and perspective to the Council. Moreover, I believe Weinstein, not Royalty, is the candidate best positioned to hold the Council seat in what could be a tough election cycle for the Democratic Party nationally.

Markovitz offers a different vision of Howard County.  Frankly, I had a tough time hearing her.  Perhaps it was the acoustics of the auditorium or the placement of the microphone but I missed out on approximately 20% of what she said, so I had to visit her website to fill in some blanks. I am not a particular fan of the organizations with which she is affiliated.  She has a Weltanschauung regarding land use planning, but one that seems out of step with most of the other Council members.  Is she qualified? Probably.  But she seems like the kind of candidate who, if elected, might adopt obstructionist tactics.  Ultimately, I don't think such a worldview or approach is beneficial for District One or the County as a whole.

One of Grabowski’s rationales for running seems to be that this represents the next logical step in his community involvement.  That is a terrible reason to seek public office. It sounds more than a little self-involved.  As a message, it doesn’t say anything about what he would do, if elected, for the citizenry of the First.  Over the course of the forum, he proceeded to sketch out something resembling a nascent platform, which is not encouraging since he has been in the race since June 2013, so he has had plenty of time to develop a more compelling and coherent rationale for his candidacy.  Is he qualified?  On paper, most likely.  In reality? He seems more public access than prime time.

In the interest of wrapping this long post up, I am not going to spend much time talking about the two Republican candidates: Schmidt and Melton.  Of the two, the former is stronger than the latter and will probably emerge as the Republican nominee.   Could either win?  It would take a certain confluence of events (heavy GOP turnout combined with light Democratic turnout in the First and/or the nomination of a weak Democratic candidate).  That said, demographics and party affiliation numbers give the Republican a fair shot at a pick-up. 

Next up…a return to Kowloon?  

Stay tuned, as more will follow.   


  1. If by party affiliation you mean voter registration, I would very much disagree that such numbers might be helpful to Republicans in seeking to win the First Council district seat. Of the 28 precincts in this Council district, only two had more registered Republicans than Democrats as of Apr. 9 and those are the two least populated precincts in the Council district. Indeed, there are three precincts where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by ratios of nearly three to one. That neither of the Republican candidates is well known would make their path to victory somewhat tougher. Some of the precincts with more Democrats than Republicans have not voted their party in past elections, but the addition of all of reliably-Democratic Dorsey's Search should favor whoever is the Democratic candidate in November.

  2. Ken,

    Thanks for your thoughts & solid analysis. Just to clarify, I don't believe the GOP nominee has a great chance of flipping this seat, nor a good chance...just a fair chance. How could this happen? Heavy Republican turnout, combined with holding 90%+ of the GOP vote, winning Independents by a larger-than-usual margin (Independents tend to favor Republican candidates by anywhere from a 6:5 to an 8:5 ratio) and pulling up to 15% of the Democratic vote (which would be more likely to happen if the Democratic primary took a nasty turn and/or if the Democrats put up a weak nominee)...and/or very low Democratic turnout.

    I still expect the Democratic nominee to win, but i believe the path to retaining the seat would be more challenging if Markovitz or Grabowski were the standard-bearer.