Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A return to the old stomping grounds. Westland MS, where I was not a student but did take karate lessons held there by my gym teacher, Mr. Looney, in first grade. For the record, I have a blue belt in karate. Did you know that 99% of chopping a board in half with your bare hand is mental? And I used to play soccer on the Westland field during summer camp at Little Flower School, which is right next door. Westland was called Western back then, as George Leventhal can tell you. Yes, he just mentioned tonight that he lived in this area until 1976, and attended Western.

Well, I still live in the neighborhood, so it was a short trip to Westland, which was the location of a County Council Candidates' Forum hosted by a coalition of civic associations. The topic was the Westbard Sector plan, and having lived a few blocks from Westbard all my life (on one side or the other), the future plans for this area are obviously of great concern to me.

I got there just before 8:00 and encountered Roger Berliner in front of the school. Mr. Berliner was cordial as usual and this was a big night for him and Howard Denis who both want to be our next Councilman in District 1.

Inside the All-Purpose room, I ran into two of my Democratic opponents. It was interesting to me, and should be interesting to anyone who lives in the neighborhoods surrounding Westbard, that our current Delegates left before the end of the meeting. Unlike my opponents, I stayed until the end. Remember who is serious about the Westbard Sector plan on Election Day. I've lived in the area my whole life, and I'm not about to let some outside developers come in and destroy the neighborhood. I think it's imperative that we elect a candidate from the neighborhood to represent us at the local and State level during this redevelopment, and I'm the only Delegate candidate from the neighborhood.

Much like last week's low-income housing debate, the evening was mostly a superficial affair. It's not the Council candidates' fault; they don't live here and don't even know what the "Westbard Sector" is. Except for Mr. Leventhal, and Bill Jacobs, who scored mega points for mentioning Farrell's Restaurant. Banana split. Arcade machines. Player piano. Farrell's, not Westland. So how can they really tell us what they're going to do when they have no idea what they are discussing? The result was generalized talk about zoning-text amendments, development, etc. The candidates didn't address the results of the neighborhood survey, in terms of what specific development we do or do not want.

There was a great turnout, and it's good to know that so many people are also concerned about this. In talking to many of my neighbors at the meeting, I think they are in agreement that we want redevelopment that will preserve, and better serve, our neighborhood. I also met Andy Russo, President of our Springfield Civic Association. He's not only working on this, but also the planned expansion by the Fourth Presbyterian Church.

So what should be done in the Westbard Sector? Nobody told us tonight, but here are a few items from my own Westbard plan. The Westwood Shopping Center should be redone and include at least one family restaurant, like we used to have when Farrell's was open. Strike Bethesda is not a family restaurant. Second, we need a full-service, 2006-era grocery store. Whether that is a new type of Super Giant, or Wegman's or Harris-Teeter, isn't something I can answer. People want large product selection, in-store restaurants and more carry-out options. Rite-Aid should stay, although a 24-hour drugstore would be nice. Personally, I want to keep the large, open surface parking. I've heard some rumors about underground parking, which is unsafe and undesirable.

In terms of housing, single-family homes and some townhouses would be acceptable for Westbard, if they retain green space and what tree canopy there is down there. But over my dead body are there going be high-rise commercial and residential buildings on Westbard. Just the fact that it's been proposed is, frankly, outrageous. Are you as concerned about this as I am? Keep in mind on Election Day that our current Delegates get large checks from a Who's Who of developers and developers' attorneys. In the future, I will write in more detail my proposal for Westbard and River Road, which will promote our goal of preserving and better serving our neighborhood.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

My top education priority is eliminating portable classrooms from our public schools. In addition, we need to address the achievement gap in Montgomery County. Here is just one statistic for starters.

30% of Latino students in Montgomery County do not have Internet access. Why can't Verizon, in between writing those fat checks to our current Democratic Delegates' campaigns, donate some of those fancy new phones that can use the Internet to those students? Why can't supplemental, in-class help be available in real-time via such technology to students for whom English is a second language?

I see some parallels to the way politicians approach the poverty issue. Why do we isolate these students, and constantly reinforce in their minds that they are "catching-up" and behind their classmates. By giving them some positive recognition, such as the use of the aforementioned devices, let's communicate that they are equally important and that we are expecting a lot from them.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The subject was low-income housing at a County Executive candidates' forum on Wednesday. As affordable homeownership is one of my top priorities, I attended this forum. Our current Delegates did not attend, and that is expected given their inaction on housing issues. Unfortunately, there was no opportunity for audience members to participate or ask questions. My concern was that the discussion tended to be rather superficial, and that poverty and homelessness were described as if they were terminal illnesses as opposed to temporary states from which one can recover or escape.

Everyone promises to build low-income housing. But they don't say what they're going to do to help these people with the other problems that keep them in that housing. First of all, there are many public and private programs that help with housing, employment, health care, education. Our elected officials have done a miserable job of outreach to the poor and non-English speaking communities to make them aware of this assistance.

But we need to do more. I've proposed a variety of initiatives which you can read about on my website. These include short-term, emergency aid for the most needy. I would add $5 million to the State's rental assistance program, far more then my Democratic opponents have offered. That is just one example.

For the long term, we need to better utilize current services that help people find employment and education assistance. Furthermore, my mass transit rail projects will create many well-paying skilled and unskilled jobs across the State. I also want to bring more large employers to Maryland and have some ideas for how to do that. Our current Delegates have tried to chase large employers out of the State -such as Wal-Mart- and they lost our GM plant in Baltimore. They are silent on job creation.

What my opponents have said, is that they will raise taxes on the poor for a health plan that doesn't cover everyone. Furthermore, as our Delegates have done in the past, one has said she will form another commission on health care. Meanwhile, I have a health care plan.

My health plan provides healthcare for every person in the State of Maryland without raising taxes.

Finally, my housing plan treats Marylanders of every age, race, and income level as equal human beings. The goal of my plan is to offer each person the American dream of owning their own home. Whether people are from Maryland, Minnesota, or El Salvador, I would argue that the majority of them want to raise their family in a house. Not a cramped apartment over a Metro stop.

I hope we can start having a real discussion on poverty, make real progress, and lift people up instead of treating them as if they somehow are unqualified to participate in the opportunities America has to offer.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Saturday, I finally made it to the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair. I've never been to the fair so it was interesting to find out what it's like. There was a carnival with rides inside the entrance. Then the grandstands, which had a Demolition Derby Saturday night. Next you pass through an area with a lot of booths with those games that seem easy but take your money. And a lot of food that smells good. Before you reach the animal area, which smells bad. If you've been on a farm or at the zoo, you have an idea what it's like. Long walk. Finally, I reached the next vendor area where I eventually saw Ehrlich and Steele signs on a tent in the distance.

The Republican Party tent was very well organized, and all of the various literature, stickers, etc. were available on the different tables. When I got there, Jim Shalleck (running for State's Attorney in Montgomery County) and Gus Alzona (running for Congress here in District 8) were already hard at work campaigning. So was a volunteer for Michael Steele, who had been handing out Steele stickers since 2:00 on what was a blistering hot day until it started to cloud up at 7:00. Steele was very popular among the crowds at the fair, even moreso than Bob Ehrlich, which is more reason to believe he is going to do very well and be our next Senator. I think any party in any state wishes they had a candidate of the caliber of Michael Steele.

There was an endless stream of people coming past, but it wasn't so great for me. In almost 3 hours, I never encountered even one person from District 16. Needless to say, it was very disappointing in that respect. We just have a lack of events for candidates in District 16, and that prevents voters from getting to know the Republican challengers. But if you're running At-Large or in the upcounty area, you can get a huge number of voters to at least know who you are. Did I mention we have a lack of events in Bethesda? Yes, I'm really frustrated about that.

So while I didn't pick up any votes at the fair, I tried to at least help other candidates. I got about 9 or 10 potential votes for Scott. One man wanted to know who he could vote for in District 14 for Delegate, and I went to the back of the tent and got him the John Austin literature. And when he asked about the school board, I was able to hand him an Arquilla Ridgell bag (those bags were very popular, by the way). So there are two votes. And I think I got three votes for Amber Gnemi, and one or two for Shelly Skolnick, who are both running At-Large for County Council. Eventually, Bill Wittham (Delegate candidate) and his family were out front handing out his stickers. And I helped a mounted police officer get through the parking lot tape before I left. One other great thing about the location of the Republican tent, was that the railroad tracks are a short distance away so you can see trains going by.

I tried to take some pictures around the fair but managed to push the wrong button on some of the photos, meaning they were lost. The others didn't come out too well because I don't have a flash on my phone, and it was getting dark. The fair is probably a lot more fun if you're not there by yourself, and if you are a candidate running County- or Statewide, or in the upcounty area. Just unlimited potential voters. But if you're from District 16... So far, District 16 candidates have been marginalized in the campaign season. Really no events except Taste of Bethesda and Potomac Day, which are trivial compared to the Fair. I can't understand why Bethesda, and the downcounty in general, has so few big events. Besides all the big ones upcounty, Rockville has Hometown Holidays, Silver Spring and Takoma Park have some large events; it's really embarrassing for Bethesda. The Bethesda Urban Partnership Events calendar, the newspaper events calendars, etc., are good for a laugh. We don't even have July 4th anymore. Absolutely ridiculous. Just these dumb little arts and crafts events, where I guess you're supposed to work the crowd like an uninvited door-to-door salesman and feel like a complete moron. It's no wonder Republicans don't get elected here, when the public can't even have a chance to meet the candidates at events! I think that's another reason, besides the larger number of Republicans upcounty, that we've done better in that area: they have so many large events throughout the year up there. Otherwise, people only hear about the incumbents in the media and the spam they mail us at taxpayer expense from Washington, Annapolis, and Rockville.

And my opponents are too chicken to debate. With good reason! And zero candidate forums. Basically, the media, and the Democrats just want to run out the clock on the election. They won't be able to this time.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A recent decrease in Virginia Railway Express ridership has some questioning the future of commuter rail. I had to offer my two cents on the issue at the transportation blog on

In addition to my comments there, the importance of building projects that meet demand and are convenient to use cannot be overstated. Metro is popular. Metrobus is not. But the free Bethesda 8 bus is a great success. Transit needs to take people where they want to go. It needs to get them there quickly and on schedule. The onboard conditions must be pleasant, comfortable, safe, and clean. In some cases, it should be free of charge. And it needs to come to the citizen. If people have to walk far or take more than one bus to access the system, they're not going to use it.

I have higher ridership standards than other mass transit proponents, because I acknowledge that the car is the American form of transportation. We'll never stop driving, no matter how expensive gas is or how long it takes to get there. After 9/11 and the age of terror threat levels, cars have never been more important as a personal transit system. But well thought out projects that meet the above qualifications will get significant numbers of people to utilize them. You might call it MPR, Maximum Possible Ridership. It's the realistic number, and while it's lower than the idealists' number, we have yet to reach it. Not even close. But with my transportation plan, we can.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Robert Dyer in action. Yes, that's me at the Board of Elections office in Twinbrook. And I've got a ways to go because the District 16 ballot isn't on that wall. It's on the other wall. Behind a bush. While trying to confirm my name on the ballot display, I found myself wondering what year it was. 2006 or 1906? There have been many changes to voter registration and voting recently, and it seems that some parts of the process are still in need of an update.

This setup is unnecessarily inconvenient for candidates and voters who want to preview and proofread the ballot before it is finalized. If you live in Bethesda or Clarksburg, it's really out of your way to go to Rockville in a 3 day challenge period. And the letter I received gave the impression that the method in the above photo was the only manner in which one could examine the ballot. Wouldn't it make sense in 2006 for the ballots to be on the internet?

Not only were the ballots not in order, and accessible only by the lawn in front of them, but I was also being accosted by swarms of insects the entire time. And there's a manhole someone could trip over. Now, being 34, and assuming I don't contract West Nile from the bug bites, I managed to survive. But this would be quite a hazard for senior citizens and the disabled. If there was another way for those individuals to check the ballot, it was not advertised in the letter. Which is like having a teletype number for deaf people and not printing it.

So I filed a complaint with the Board and the Montgomery County Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance Officer. Two days later, I received a response from the County's Election Director, Margaret Jurgensen. She agreed that the ballots should be on the internet and that the Board will try to make that possible in the future. Also, she said that there were office hours on Saturday, July 29, during which the ballot was available on the counter inside the board office. Of course, those hours, as well as an apparent viewing opportunity during the Friday, July 28, office hours, were not advertised in the letter. Ms. Jurgensen says that she is directing the staff to update the letter to include this information.

I thank the board for clarifying this. And in the future, when you can examine the ballot online without driving to Twinbrook, remember to thank me.