Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Candidate Forum Impressions

Last night's candidate forum, sponsored by Equality Montgomery County, the Interfaith Fairness Coalition, and Teach the Facts, was just what we needed. The Kensington town hall has a nice, old, wood-floored auditorium -- this is where I saw the Rocky Horror Show with my family a couple of years ago. We set up about a hundred sixty chairs, some guys brought in a really neat little Fender PA system -- I want one of those, it snaps together, 125 watts per channel stereo into 8-ohm speakers -- they set up tables near the front doors for politicians to put their signs and pamphlets (and there were plenty of these on the seats by the time we started). Somebody set up a nice table with fruit and water and juice.

We were supposed to start at 6:30, and actually came close to hitting that mark. The County Executive session went first. All of the candidates for this important office showed up -- Robin Ficker, Chuck Floyd, Robert Fustero, Ike Leggett, and Steve Silverman. Each candidate offered his views, and it was very interesting to see where they differed and where they didn't. Everybody knows that Montgomery County is getting too crowded -- ah, but what do you do about it? I think that the Washington Post was right about this one, that no matter which of the favored candidates wins, we'll have done pretty well. There were some very qualified guys up there.

The audience submitted questions, and they were good ones. I had expected a lot of questions about GLBT issues, and there were a few, but basically it turns out that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people don't like getting stuck in traffic because of bad planning and bad management of the county's resources. On the GLBT issues, there were a couple of outstanding candidates who have been involved in promoting fairness for years, both inside the system and as community activists. Again, we're in a good shape there.

I have to say, the moderator, Jennifer Chrisler, did an amazing job. She is the Executive Director of the Family Pride Coalition, and actually we just lined her up at the last minute -- Scott Davenport of Equality Montgomery County arranged it. I can't say enough about how professional Ms. Chrisler was. For some parts of the forum, politicians were given 30 or 45 seconds to speak. OK, do you think these are people who like to stop after thirty seconds? She stopped 'em, cheerfully, kept things moving. Her presence was authoritative, attentive, energetic, and she set a perfect tone for the debates.

The crowd thinned out a little after the County Executive session.

The school board went next. We had nine candidates show up for these positions: Shirley Brandman, Dana Gassaway, and Tommy Le are running at-large, Judy Docca and Michael Ibañez appeared for District 1, Pat O'Neill for District 3, and Phillip Kauffman, Nancy Navarro, and Susie Scofield for District 5. The only candidates who didn't show up were John Latham and Arquilla Ridgell, who are running for the at-large position. Some candidates came and spoke even though they aren't running in the primaries, which I took to be a positive sign.

It seemed to me that some of the candidates really knew what they stood for, and ... some were fumbling. In response to a question about comprehensive sex-ed, one candidate said something like "Do you want your daughter performing oral sex?" Well, y'know, the answer there is "No." This candidate thought abstinence should be taught, it turned out, and I guess they thought there would be a connection between that and what your daughter does. OK, if you see a connection there, if you think comprehensive sex-ed will result in your daughter getting into oral sex, then you'll want to check the box next to that person's name.

Another person's answer was vague to the point that you couldn't tell what they were really saying. But generally the Teach the Facts position, that we need solid, fact-based, inclusive and comprehensive sex education, is the mainstream position in this county, and most of the candidates, maybe all but two, were adamantly in line with that.

As far as some other questions, you didn't see anybody who thought sexual orientation was a choice or thought it was something you'd shy away from in a sex-ed class. Some candidates went out of their way to express a commitment to promoting tolerance and acceptance, some were more moderate about it, but everybody was on the same side of the aisle on this topic. Same with bullying; you heard a range of insights and solutions, with everyone agreeing that it is necessary for the schools to do something to see that bullying is curtailed -- especially bullying of students who are perceived to be members of sexual minorities.

As you can see, I'm not giving you any information about any candidate. Not my place, not my desire -- if you wanted to know, you would've been there. I was very impressed with some of these people, and heard lots of comments in the audience, too -- there were some surprises of the positive sort, where you found out that somebody really knows their stuff and really believes in the right things. I am feeling quite positive about next year's school board.

By the way, you might have noticed in our comments section this morning, that Theresa from CRC says she sent out 600 emails to their group, telling them about the forum and, I guess, inviting them to attend. (If you are new to our situation, the CRC formed to oppose the previous sex-ed curriculum, mainly because it treated homosexuality as something normal; Teach the Facts formed to support it.) I saw four people from their group, including her, there last night. Well, if they actually wanted to know where the candidates stand, this was their chance. I was glad to see those four, I think they learned something.

Finally, a whole bunch of candidates showed up for the County Council debate, more than we'd expected. Tufail Ahmad, Hugh Bailey, Marc Elrich, Reggie Felton, Nancy Floreen, Bill Jacobs, Cary Lamari, George Leventhal, Bette Petrides, Michael Subin, and Duchy Trachtenberg were all up there on the crowded stage. Two Democratic candidates, Robert Newsome and Donell Peterman, didn't come, and none of the Republican candidates -- Amber Gnemi, Adol Owen-Williams, Tom Reinheimer, and Shelly Scolnick -- came.

These, again were fascinating. You had the gamut. The one that got me was the question about gay marriage. Now, you know, there's not much you can do about gay marriage at the county level. Also, if you remember the Bush-Kerry debates, this is a political hot-potato. But interestingly, we had an entire panel of eleven people, nearly every Democratic candidate, saying, one after the other and each in his or her own way, that they supported the right of people to marry whoever they choose. The comments ran from those who have obviously invested some thought in the issue to people who just thought it made sense to encourage people -- gay, straight, or whatever -- to form committed partnerships and families. Yeah, you can say they're playing the room, but the truth is anything they say can get quoted in a newspaper -- look what happened with George Allen's "macaca" faux pas, just an off-handed comment at one of these things that possibly turned the entire election against him. So politicians can't really play every crowd differently, they have to live and die by what they say in public.

I want to thank Scott Davenport for doing all the organizing stuff that actually required energy. Everything worked, the moderator was fantastic, and a lot of people got to find out where the candidates stand on issues that are important to them.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

To see the candidates' responses to Equality Montgomery's questionnaire, go to:


Please note that BOE Question No. 2, asking whether the candidate agreed that "conversion" or "reparative" therapies should not be part of the health curriculum, was a little confusing, leading Pat O'Neill and Susie Scofield to answer No, when they meant Yes. At the forum, both made it clear that they opposed including conversion or reparative therapy in the health curriculum.

All the District 5 candidates (incumbent Nancy Navarro, Phil Kauffman, and Susie Scofield) stated their unequivocal support for the kinds of health education curriculum revisions strongly supported by Teachthefacts.org, as did District 1 candidate Judy Docca, District 3 incumbent/candidate Pat O'Neill (Pat is running unopposed), and At-Large Candidate Shirley Brandman.

The two major contenders for the Democratic nomination for County Executive both demonstrated their history of commitment to LGBT equality. Ike Leggett successfully fought for gay rights all the way back in the 1980s when he was chair of the County Human Relations Committee and he presently serves on the Board of Directors of Metro DC PFLAG. Steve Silverman noted his support for the domestic partner benefit legislation for County employees. Both stated their support for marriage equality, as did all but one of the others.

August 29, 2006 9:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Sounds like you're endorsing a few individuals. Is there anybody you definitely think supporters of gay advocacy organizations should not vote for?

August 30, 2006 3:43 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

I think candidate forums are great. The Gazette had an article saying people feel like they don't know about the candidates and others don't care-. The amount of information available seems enormous to me- and of course, I do care. I think the opportunity to ask questions directly to the candidates is wonderful- although I have had many opportunities in less formal settings already(metro, picnics,parades, around silver spring - some candidate always seems to be around these days)

August 30, 2006 4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forum reported in the Gazette


Stakes rise in race for county executive
Affordable housing, equal rights and campaign polling are on stage
Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2006
by Margie Hyslop
Staff Writer

The men who hope to be Montgomery’s next county executive are making promises and trading barbs as the days left for garnering votes dwindle ahead of the Sept. 12 Democratic primary.

Councilman Steven A. Silverman has pledged to end homelessness in the county in four years, two years before the 2012 target set by the county, if elected.

‘‘We need to have a housing-first policy, because ... we can talk all we want about mental health services ... substance abuse programs, and we need them, but if we don’t have a place for people who are now working and who are relieved of [their] afflictions ... to live in this county then they are going to remain on the streets,” Silverman (D-At large) of Silver Spring said at a housing forum Wednesday night in Bethesda.

Former county councilman Isiah Leggett said the county is ‘‘too restrictive” in where it allows housing.

‘‘We need to ... remind the community that this is not just simply a legal problem ... this is a moral and ethical problem, this is a moral and ethical challenge for us,” said Leggett of Burtonsville, who was elected to four terms on the County Council before serving two years as state Democratic Party chairman.

The county also should quadruple its fund for subsidizing construction and renovation of affordable units and should work more with private and nonprofit groups to build 50- to 60-unit affordable developments on county land, Leggett said.

The county’s Housing Initiative Fund holds almost $20 million and most of the housing it subsidizes is for households with incomes below 60 percent of the area median.

Silverman said he also supports putting more housing on county-owned land.

Silverman said that although the county can increase its rental assistance fund, offering tax credits may be more productive.

Rent controls could cause more landlords to convert their property to condominiums, Leggett said.

Instead, Leggett said he favors putting more public pressure on landlords to comply with rent guidelines, which now call for increases of no more than 4.4 percent per year and including the guidelines in rent increase notices to tenants.

‘‘We may have to amend regulatory procedures to create greater public notice” and discussion of practices, Leggett said.

At a forum Monday night sponsored by Equality Montgomery County — which works to expand legal rights and access for homosexual, bisexual and transgender people — Leggett reminded the audience that he co-authored a county law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Leggett, Silverman and Robert Raymond Fustero of Silver Spring, a retired grocery clerk also running in the Democratic primary for county executive, and Robin Ficker, an activist for lower taxes running as an independent, all support requiring companies that have contracts with the county to offer the same employee benefits to same-sex domestic partners as they offer to spouses.

They also support adding a prohibition against discrimination based on gender identity to county law.

Charles R. ‘‘Chuck” Floyd, who is running unopposed in the Republican primary, said the county does not need new anti-discrimination measures, but should enforce equally and fairly the laws it has.

On Equality Montgomery County’s candidate questionnaires, Leggett, Silverman and Ficker agreed to support establishing a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) affairs office in the executive branch and a LGBT liaison unit in the county police administration.

Fustero supports the police liaison but not the executive branch office, according to a summary distributed by the group at the forum.

While Ficker and Floyd said they would make lowering taxes a priority, the Democrats warned that important needs must be addressed first.

Silverman said he would like to rely less on the property tax and more on the local energy tax, most of which is paid by businesses and the federal government, to fund the county budget.

Although Silverman and Leggett remained cordial toward each other, even occasionally exchanging smiles and nods on stage, the mood was not so friendly between their campaign workers and supporters and in telephone interviews.

Silverman campaign political director Chuck Westover said he believes there is ‘‘an organized effort” to vandalize and spray paint Silverman’s large campaign signs around the county, adding that he doesn’t know who did it, but can ‘‘guess about who they are supporting.”

Westover said the campaign reported the damage to police and had hoped they could use traffic monitoring cameras at nearby intersections to find the vandals.

Late last week Leggett supporters accused Silverman’s campaign of running a ‘‘push poll” using misleading information under the guise of a survey, to push voters away from supporting Leggett and toward Silverman.

Silverman said the telephone questionnaire was administered to about 400 or 500 voters and was not a push poll aimed at swaying large numbers but at using Leggett’s voting record to find out ‘‘voters’ perceptions.”

Leggett said Silverman has mischaracterized both their records by presenting information out of context.

August 31, 2006 9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's obviously time to elect a Republican for County Executive. The tax issue is enough as if the pandering to gays wasn't. Property values have more than doubled but the flood of revenue just causes more wasteful spending by the county.

August 31, 2006 11:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right. We know that Republicans are opposed to wasteful spending.

August 31, 2006 1:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Justice Oliver Wendel Holmes, Jr., wrote that "Taxes are the price we pay for civilization." As a property owner and tax payer in Montgomery County, I don't think we are paying too much for the civilization we have in our community.

August 31, 2006 3:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Justice Oliver Wendel Holmes, Jr., wrote that "Taxes are the price we pay for civilization." As a property owner and tax payer in Montgomery County, I don't think we are paying too much for the civilization we have in our community."

Karl Marx said "property is theft".

We had a fine civilization before property values more than doubled. We can still have a fine one for the same price.

September 01, 2006 10:29 AM  

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