Monday, April 29, 2013

Village Elections 2013 Fin

The votes from the Long Reach Village Election are in:

Russ Swatek - 270
Ed Coleman - 157

It is very unfortunate to see Ed go.  He was a great Board member and took the job seriously.  He was great at pushing the Board towards more long term planning and less short term micro-management.  Shortly into his second year, he had become a trusted voice who would steer discussions towards compromise, something we will need now more than ever.

It is impossible to disagree with numbers, but I'm going to find a way.  This just doesn't reflect a fair review of Ed's term.  It reflects a tortured misrepresentation of Ed's term and the CA Board.  I won't go into all of the pamphlet material here, but unfortunately the truth didn't win out.  Residents were scared into voting.  That's not to say the outcome would have changed if conducted differently, but I can't let these results go without comment.  They are at least partly premised on blatant and intentional lies.

How does that affect things?  Not very much.  Without presuming how new members will vote, there is a 6-4 majority of the Columbia Council that supports the Inner Arbor Plan and Trust.  In instances where Gregg Schwind will decide to recuse himself due to a conflict of interest, that majority shifts to 5-4.  In that context, this was a majority shifting election and (from my perspective) the good guys took some licks but won the day.

Things certainly became more difficult on Saturday, but if you're in politics without the expectation of adversity, you may want to find something else to do with your time.  Deliberative bodies make mistakes when things are easy.  I would like to think that the strengthened opposition will make our debates more substantive, while still allowing a final outcome to be achieved.  So long as the vote of February 14 stands, and there is no reason to believe it is in danger, that final outcome has been determined.

The bigger picture is more daunting.  Why did forward-thinking candidates lose?  What can we do to improve?  The first take-away has to be that in Long Reach and Oakland Mills there are certain voting interests that are well-entrenched and should be presumed to vote for "the other guy".  These voters names are on mailing lists and e-mail listservs, which are a stamp away from lining up in support of whomever the favored candidate may be.  If the next generation of Columbians are going to be successful in the future, that basic infrastructure will need to be matched, and I think Ian Kennedy and others have taken the first steps towards doing as much.

The second take-away is "persistent presence".  Russ Swatek never left the CA Board.  Sure, he no longer had to sit through an entire meeting, and maybe missed the less exciting ones along the way, but he was always around.  Those who wish to take on the (admittedly thankless) role of sitting on the Columbia Council will need to find ways to match that persistent presence, even if it is only online or for high profile issues.  I have a t-shirt that says "Champions are made in the Off-Season."  We're going into the Off-Season with elections just 12 months away.

Finally, we need to acknowledge and confront the cynicism that pervades and rots away at "our" base.  It doesn't help that many business and community leaders who would otherwise be supportive of a reliable partner on the CA Board have spent the months leading up to this election scoffing at CA's importance and saying things like "glorified home-owners association."  It also doesn't help that immediately after facing some adversity, after a long string of wins on the CA Board, former allies are throwing up their hands and suggesting that all is lost, despite maintaining a majority of Board support.  Snap the hell out of it.  The Columbia Association very well may be a glorified HOA, but it is also one of Downtown's largest land-owners, one of Howard County's top employers, holds over $100 million in assets, and maintains a $63 million operating budget.  Stop being stupid just because it is fun to be dismissive of something you can't figure out.  Don't wait for the bad decisions to be made before you acknowledge "You know, we probably should have paid more attention."  The other side isn't being dismissive.  They take this very seriously and have the wins to show for it.

I'm not pessimistic.  I'm not depressed.  I'm barely disappointed.  This is the new playing field.  I am frustrated with those who are ambivalent, those who are cynical, and those who want to give up on having CA as a trusted partner in the development of Downtown.  The good thing is I know this is temporary.  We're going to have to prove, once again, that this Board is a good Board.  We're going to have to prove, once again, that things are different.  We're going to have to do this while a good segment of this community looks down their nose at us, but it will happen all the same.

What kills me most is that there was so much to be proud of during the past month.  We all should be grateful for those who gave up their weeknights and weekends to knock on doors, prepare mailers, put up signs, and just continue the conversation of what we want Columbia to be.  Election results tend to overshadow these things, but if past experience is any predictor, the work in between is what we'll remember most.  Next step is just figuring out how to win.  Easy, right?

Have a great Monday doing what you love!