Kristi Simon and the Government Affairs committee at the Howard County Chamber of Commerce should be proud. Although clearly biased by my participation, I think everyone who attended this morning's event will say that it was informative, smooth, and professional. (Those three words are rarely used in conjunction to describe anything on this blog.)
Some General Thoughts:
1) Although I spend most of my time criticizing the candidates, I think it is important to step back and realize what an amazing set of people we have running for office in this County. Regardless of party affiliation, we have THREE state-wide department heads running for local office. Two doctors! Four lawyers! Even those without any formal title have tremendous experience and knowledge about this County and the needs of its constituents. If you look at some of the other counties, you will quickly notice that we have the cream of the crop.
2) After being approached by a number of candidates before and after the forum, I need to clarify something: I never suggested that any of the candidates were stupid. I think there are incredibly intelligent people that can be confused about the division of labor between the State, County Council, County Executive, and Board of Education. It is the responsibility of your party to educate you on those divisions, and if they have not done so, you will be criticized.
Thoughts on specific races:
1) County Executive: Haymaker of the morning goes to Ken Ulman. Trent had just laid down some significant digs about what she characterized as needless spending, including flat screen TV's for government buildings and...you guessed it...police drivers, when Ken came back to point out "the most hypocritical statement you will hear in this election." Evidently Ken's folks had done some FOIA research into Trent's time at the Maryland Transit Authority, and found that she had used police drivers on more than one occasion. Ken went on to note that police drivers had also been engaged to escort celebrities from BWI. Trent responded that she had been instructed to use the police drivers on a select few occasions due to threats to her safety, presumably the same excuse Ken is using for his own police drivers (although the Exec has yet to confirm that a threat was ever made).
You had to figure that Ken was not going to allow Trent to beat him over the head with the Executive Protection Unit. No one was expecting that he had this information in his back pocket.
2) Council District 1: Bob called Courtney Watson a "potted plant" and suggested that she votes however she is instructed in order to stay in the "Democratic club." I like Bob, but this was way way off. Anyone paying attention to the Council votes knows that this isn't true, and he wasn't exactly talking to an uneducated audience. Besides that, Bob seemed to use every question as an opportunity to "zing" Courtney and call her a Democrat (which she is). I was a little disappointed by this, since I found his most interesting statements to be those that had nothing to do with his opponent. Bob knows transportation. Route 40 revitalization has transportation issues. He briefly mentioned that the Council needs to be careful not to build up infrastructure without the supporting density, and that "walkable communities" require residential density to work. He doesn't see that on Route 40, and says we need to be careful not to rely too much on "getting people out of their cars." I found it to be very informative, and a nice break from the Courtney-bashing.
Courtney knows her issues and knew the audience. She repeatedly noted her small business bona fides and worked commercial interests into every answer. I was impressed.
3) Council District 2: After digesting two public appearances, I can tell you this: Reg Avery is running on a public safety platform. He worked police and safety into both of his answers, and included it in his closing. I'm glad we have that worked out. Besides that, Reg is a great speaker and can really connect with an audience. The Republican party would do itself a favor by keeping Reg around, building up some community experience, and putting him back in the ring at a later time (should he be unsuccessful).
4) Council District 3: I had the opportunity to chat with Jen Terrasa after the forum, and you all are right, she is a really "cool" person. I've been hard on Jen in my little corner of cyberspace, but she didn't express any animosity towards me and just suggested that we sit down to chat "after the election." I admittedly did not pay too much attention to the answers in this part of the debate, since it was my first set of candidates and I was still trying to figure out the format, timing, etc. I think Dennis, out of all the challengers, has the best handle on the issues and can speak confidently about complex County business. I think Jen is one of the most deliberative council-members, and was spot on with her answers this morning (which is notable when you appreciate that most candidates know what they're going to say before they hear what the question is).
5) Council District 4: There is something about Mary Kay Sigaty that cause her opponents to have "conflicting business obligations" whenever a debate is scheduled. Unfortunately, Tom D'Asto could not make it to the event due to a work conflict. Mary Kay was a good sport, and used some of her time to answer questions that were asked of other candidates. After all of the other Council members watched May Kay sweat out the primary, I think she enjoys some "time off." That isn't to suggest that Tom isn't on her radar, but at the very least, he wasn't today.
6) Council District 5: Healthy Howard was tee'ed up for this race, which is perfect since Dr. Beams is a strong supporter and Greg...well you know. When asked whether she would support additional funding for HHAP, Dr. Beams said that she doesn't think that will be necessary since the program will be made obsolete by the Health Care Access Plan that was passed by the feds. That doesn't much answer the question of what will become of Healthy Howard in the interim, before HCAP starts, now that it will no longer have the financial support of the Horizon Foundation.
Dr. Beams criticized Greg Fox for approving wind turbines in Western Howard County. Greg responded that he doesn't think Dr. Beams understands the wind turbine legislation, and that wind turbines have always been permitted county wide, with the new legislation limiting their height. Dr. Beams says that she is "not just a pretty face" and that she knows how the brain works and can dissect a heart. She is tired of people suggesting that she doesn't understand things. However, due to time constraints, she did not respond to whether or not her wind tower criticisms were accurate.
I'll be heading to Lee Lynn's tonight around 6:30 or so for a few drinks. It would be great to meet up with some of you to chat over the debate. Til then: BACK TO WORK.