Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sunday Round Up...

It's raining and I'm not feeling particularly inspired. So, I'll keep this short...

In a story about the role Slow Growth played in the county executive election, we get this pearl of wisdom:

"We ran on the right issue of trying to slow the growth in Howard County, improve education and deliver government services at a lower tax rate, but it was the wrong year for Republican candidates," Merdon said. "I don't think growth was an issue in this election. I think George Bush and Iraq were the issue."
I expect to hear these things from disappointed activists, but from the candidate himself, it's unbecoming. The foundation behind the argument that it was All About Bush is that the voters didn't know what or who they were voting for. Although for some that was probably the case, it certainly wasn't universal. And lumping everyone who didn't vote for you into the "ignorant" category isn't necessarily the best way for your local party to win future elections.


Here's a good summary of the new county council, and here are good responses to the Sun's "We Want Your Opinions" feature that I took issue with last week.


Finally, I'm glad to see that Columbia Association moving forward with a plan to create a Town Center task force. Others might not be, however:

If the task force is created, [Kings Contrivance board member Phil] Marcus and other members of the board are asking that the group be made up of local experts in fields such as urban planning, sociology, architecture and urban economics.

"Columbia is blessed to have all kinds of experts here who are willing to serve on this, and it will be a great benefit," Marcus said.

I would be willing to bet something of not-insignificant monetary value that a panel of experts in these fields will come up with recommendations for Town Center that are closer to the draft master plan than what others are calling for, even if they couch their recommendations in the basic values of Columbia:
  • To build a complete city that meets all the basic needs of its people including housing, jobs, recreation, educational and cultural institutions and health care.
  • To respect the land.
  • To provide for the growth of people.
  • To make a profit.
The idea of feasibility is being applied selectively at this point, and CA's panel could add some interesting wrinkles to the discussion. My only wonder is how much weight we give to the findings of such a panel, one that would appear, at least superficially, to resemble the Working Group that "created" Columbia. Ultimately, if their work doesn't match our perceptions, do we seek to discredit them or do we reexamine our own positions? I promise the latter if you do too.


Anonymous said...

Chris in no way called voters ignorant. He may have implied that the issues that were more significant to them were the National issues- like the war in Iraq. Be fair. And most political scientists agree with that assessment. So why is it hard for you to hear it from the candidate as opposed to a supporter or a poly sci professor? (By the way... at least one activist indicated that growth was the issue for both candidates)

FreeMarket said...

I think that joining a major political party is in many ways an exercise in intellectual laziness. I find it hard to believe that 99% (or whatever the number is) of the population is fairly represented by the Republican or Democratic parties.

Anonymous said...


I can think of a lot of things in the County Executive campaign that were unbecoming and they all fell into the camp that ran a negative and nasty campaign. There are so many eye witness accounts of unbecoming behavior on the part of family members of the Democratic nominee. Kicking signs, ripping the opponents literature out of people's hands, screaming "Liar" when coming upon the opponent at the grocery store, accosting the parents of a supporter of the opponent, phone calls to CA, to employers of supporters of the opponent. The list goes on and on.

But I digress, the point is that growth is the issue, it's just that both candidates claimed the issue and so there was little difference in the voters minds.

Look at AA County - majority republican and the republican CE barely made it in.

It's about Iraq, stupid.

P.S. It's time to be gracious about anyone who lost a race this year. Thank god for their willingness to run and serve the public.

wordbones said...

I can only say that the people I spoke with (and that is more than a few) placed their vote for CE based on what they knew about the candidates and not on Iraq. In fact, I don't know anyone who confused their national politics with their local politics. They may have been guilty of not knowing the school board candidates as well as they should have but they were very well informed about the candidates and issues in the CE and council races.

CM only indicates that he still doesn't "get it" when he makes statements like that. That gives you some idea as to why he lost.

Anonymous said...

WB- Can you not see that everyone you talked to, everyone you knew lives in the same skewed universe you inhabit? Just as all the Dems I talked to live in the same pro-Chris skewed universe that I live in? You can't build theories on the entire election by gathering subjective information from a handful of voters. That's why we have poly sci experts that look at the numbers-without taint of party affiliation or candidate endorsement and puzzle out the factors of success or failure.

Someone doesn't "get it", but it isn't Chris or the experts that dissect the statistics. It's the people who can't separate themselves from their passion long enough to make rational judgements.

Hayduke said...

Anon #1:

He may have implied that the issues that were more significant to them were the National issues- like the war in Iraq. Be fair.

He was quoted as saying "I don't think growth was an issue in this election. I think George Bush and Iraq were the issue."

He's not implying anything with that statement, he is flat out asserting that people voted based on their opinions of George Bush. Now, he may not actually feel that way, but by using such absolutist language, it's impossible for us to tell otherwise.

Taken to its logical conculsion, this statement implies that voters didn’t know or care who they were voting for in local races. In short, they were ignorant of the issues and positions that defined the candidates.

And most political scientists agree with that assessment. So why is it hard for you to hear it from the candidate as opposed to a supporter or a poly sci professor?

First, if a poly sci professer has weighed in on the CE race specifically, I haven't seen it. I would love to, though.

Second, the candidate is explaining why he thinks he lost. Instead of saying that he wasn't the better candidate or that his opponent ran a better race, he still believes he did everything right and that he lost solely because of forces beyond his or our control, which belittles the outcome of the election and promotes discord by implying that this election was essentially stolen from local voters by national issues.

I guess I expected a little more grace in defeat for someone who so emphasized running such a positive campaign. And I mean that honestly, not snarkily. I'm willing to believe that he was more conciliatory in his other responses to the reporter. Though his supporters who have made on the blogs similar claims about voters deserve no benefit of the doubt.

Anon #2:

Your second point (that both candidates claimed slow growth) may be valid, but it contradicts what Merdon said. I try not to traffic in rumors of people acting “unbecoming,” but I will say that behavior in this election on all sides has not been stellar. I tried saying as much on this blog several times, but was told that nasty elections are how we work through our differences. Also with respect to the eye-witness reports of nastiness, Anon #3 has something worth repeating:

You can't build theories on the entire election by gathering subjective information from a handful of voters.

Also, I agree that it's time to be gracious towards all who ran this year, win or lose. The ugliness of the election certainly has not passed, though it's getting better. While I still believe it was "unbecoming," I may have overreacted at Merdon's statement. But I've largely let a lot of the meanness/sore loserness I've read over the last week slide by. I know what it's like to be upset after losing something, but some of what I've seen written on the local blogs is beyond the pale, yet is presumably deemed acceptable by fellow partisans.

Anon #3:

See above for my question about Howard-specific anaylses, because so far all I’ve seen are commenters and bloggers giving their own spin – hardly the “experts” anaylizing numbers “without taint of party affifilations or candidate endorsements.”

In fact, I have several questions I would like answered by an expert? If GW really played such a big role in CM’s loss, why did he receive so many fewer votes than Ehrlich, who was clearly more connected to GW than CM ever was? And why did Ulman receive more votes than O’Malley, even though fewer total people voted in the CE race?

Also, if one really believes that voters were just reflexively voting against Bush, doesn’t that render meaningless the negative and expensive campaigning many have complained about?

It's the people who can't separate themselves from their passion long enough to make rational judgements.

Like the constant refrains that all voters are stupid?

numbersgirl said...

re: "Taken to its logical conculsion, this statement implies that voters didn’t know or care who they were voting for in local races. In short, they were ignorant of the issues and positions that defined the candidates. "

I believe that yes, there was a percentage of voters to whom this statement applies. However, isn't it safe to say that this is the case in every election? The statements made by commenters on this blog and on other blogs seem to imply that this is an anomaly unique to this election cycle.

Writing off 53% of the voting public as "ignorant" on local issues speaks to the ignorance of the person making such a statement.

To add to the anecdotal "I spoke with" stories: Most people I surround myself with voted for Merdon. Some people voted for Ulman. But everyone I have spoken to voted based on issues that they found important to them. No one I have spoken to voted out of the desire to screw the Republicans.

Lastly, it is presumptive to say that local issues only consist of growth or comp lite. There are a myriad of issues that concern voters on the local level. To say that a voter who prioritized one issue over another is ignorant is foolish and shallow.

Anonymous said...

Give me a break with all the 'Don't insult the voters' comments. There are all kinds of voters that show up on election day, knowing they want to vote for Bush, or Ehrlich or Cardin but don't know squat about other races. I know many people who didn't even know the names of the candidates running for county executive, let alone county council, school board, etc. But they know it is important to vote and show up on election day.

Hayduke said...

OK, but if there are all kinds of voters, why have I heard here and elsewhere that people who voted for Democrats did so solely because they dislike George Bush? I agree that there are many who did this, but certainly not all (and certainly there were a similar number who voted for all Republicans because they like George Bush or whatever).

I voted for Ken Ulman. You can find many comments blanketly calling people who did so stupid. I'll lay off those who are insulting voters when they stop calling me stupid.

Anonymous said...

Merdon is right. The exit polls bear that out. ALL Republicans suffered (including local ones) due to the dissatisfaction with the Republican Party in general.

Although anecdotes and personal experiences are fun to share, the "electorate" consists of the masses. Like it or not, polls capture their thinking better than some stories.

Hayduke said...

Since so much hinges on the exit polls, can anyone show me where to find such data about Howard County voters? Short of the actual data, an analysis of voter attitudes from a professor or pollster would suffice.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Ian,

I'm glad that you're opening a discussion of growth in Downtown Columbia, certainly a pivotal issue for the future of Howard County. Thank you for linking to the Coalition for Columbia's Downtown. I'm pleased to say that on Nov. 3, County Executive-elect Ken Ulman released a vision for Downtown that is closely aligned with those of CCD ( Mr. Ulman, along with County Council-elects Jen Terrasa, Mary Kay Sigaty, anmd Courtney Watson, have also signed on as supporters of CCD. I'll look forward to working with these folks and others in the community as we seek to design a Downtown that reflects the values Columbians hold dear.

Rebecca Johnson
Member, Coalition for Columbia's Downtown
writing as an individual

Anonymous said...

I don't know how long Ken's campaign website will be up now that the election is over. In case it comes down, here are his Nov. 3 remarks describing his vision for Downtown Columbia:

Three years ago, I led the fight to block the Rouse Company’s request for additional density in Downtown Columbia and to Save Merriweather Post Pavilion. Now, I am asking for the opportunity to finish the job by seeing Town Center become the world’s model for green development, sustainability, and positive community planning.

We know that Jim Rouse wanted a vibrant, wonderful, town center, filled with cultural amenities and people of all backgrounds enjoying them. As County Executive, that is exactly what I will deliver. Columbia’s Town Center will truly become the “garden for growing people” that Rouse envisioned.

I was proud to initiate the charrette process, the first time the County reached out to citizens to shape the vision for the future of our community.

There were concerns coming out of the charrette that the County would rush into adopting a new master plan without adequately addressing the details. I shared those concerns and advocated to slow the process down to take the time to look at those details carefully and incorporate more community input. I called for a delay before the Department of Planning and Zoning would submit any plan to the Planning Board and asked the department to continue to work with citizens and continue the public process.

Over the past year since the end of the charrette, I have been relatively quiet about my own personal vision for downtown Columbia. Other than advocating for an open planning process, I have intentionally refrained from suggesting my own vision, because I felt strongly that the plan for downtown Columbia should reflect the people’s vision, rather than mine or any other elected official’s. The whole point of the charrette process was to create a community-driven plan; I did not want to dictate my plan, so I felt I needed to sit back and let the community drive.

The community stepped-up to that opportunity with enthusiasm and commitment, bringing thoughtful and creative suggestions to the table as well as critical insight to examine all ideas proposed.

Over the course of the past year, I believe the voice of the community has been clear; and while all residents certainly do not agree on all points, I think there has been considerable movement toward an emerging consensus on the community’s vision. Unfortunately, however, the Department of Planning and Zoning – despite hosting the forum in which the community has been voicing its vision – has not heard the message, or has simply chosen not to listen.

I am disappointed in many ways in the direction DPZ has taken this process and the resulting level of distrust among community members. We must change the direction of the process before it reverts to an adversarial process in which the community and DPZ are unable to engage productively.

As County Executive, I will put this planning process back on track as originally intended, and my administration will work with the community to shape their vision into a plan. I believe there is still much work to do before we reach a final master plan for downtown, but I believe that working together we will create a downtown that preserves Columbia’s character, honors Jim Rouse’s vision, and reflects the values on which this community was founded—values which I share and hold deeply.

While I continue to believe this process MUST be community driven, I feel it is important to answer the calls from a large section of the community to hear specific plans and visions from elected officials. I will share with you what I see as the core features of the master plan based on my own personal vision and what I have heard from the
 Downtown Columbia will be a model for green development and sustainability. Green development will be mandated—green buildings and green infrastructure, such as porous paving, rain gardens, green roofs, onsite renewable energy, energy conservation, etc.
 I will establish a Conservation Commission to review all development plans – no plan will move forward unless the environment will be better off after the project is completed.
 Columbia was created with the goal of being a diverse community, and Jim Rouse voluntarily integrated affordable housing into his plans to ensure economic diversity. We must ensure that a full range of housing options will be part of any new development, and an affordable housing requirement will be added to New Town Zoning.
 Throughout the development process we will require that amenities such as parks, plazas, public art, pathways and other improvements be delivered at the beginning of the project, rather than at the end.
 Symphony Woods will be converted to Rouse Park in Columbia, as a shining tribute to our founder, James Rouse. I envision a park with creative features such as a “Symphony Playground” where every piece of apparatus is a musical instrument and public art featuring pieces that honor the social values of Columbia and Jim Rouse.
 Public art will be prominent throughout downtown, as a certain percentage of the total budget of any new project will be invested into public art.
 Merriweather Post Pavilion should be converted to an indoor/outdoor venue, open year round and featuring diverse cultural and family programming in addition to the shows we have come to enjoy over the years.
 I believe making downtown pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly must be a top priority in our planning process, and we must decrease dependence on cars by providing convenient and reliable mass transit. The master plan must include transportation that circulates regularly throughout the downtown area as well as a site for a hub for the County’s bus system and plans for future connections to regional transit systems.
 I want to see a downtown that is cutting-edge with innovative ideas in every area from free wi-fi to a new fire station featuring workforce housing for fire fighters and others above the station.
 Downtown Columbia must be developed at a reasonable density. The number 5,500 which is so frequently — and usually inaccurately — cited was a number the County’s consultants recommended as an estimate of the maximum number of units the market could support. When I first heard that number, I thought it was ludicrous, and I still feel that way. The traffic study confirmed what so many of us believed intuitively—that the full scope of possible development suggested by our consultants during the charrette would simply be much too much for our roads to handle. I do not know what the final number of residential units will be, but it will certainly be much closer to the 1,600 units requested three years ago.
 And finally, downtown Columbia must be developed at reasonable heights. The community’s voice has been loud and clear that a 22 story building has no place in our Town Center. As County Executive, I will introduce a height limit for New Town Zoning to prohibit any building over 14 stories.

Under my administration, the Department of Planning and Zoning will be heading in a new direction. I believe our experience over the past year with the downtown planning process points clearly to the need for a different approach, but that need is not limited to Columbia. Throughout the County, communities must be able to work with DPZ rather than feel they must fight against it.

I hope you share my vision, and I look forward to working with you as your next County Executive to make that vision a reality.

Ken Ulman


posted by Rebecca Johnson

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to hear Ken Ulman echo the same
values the new group Coalition for Columbia's Downtown has publicly espoused.
Why did he wait until 3 days before the election?
And use precisely the same language?
Leaders lead, they do not follow. But, it is good to
know that he follows the CCD lead. Perhaps, we will end up with a vibrant Downtown that is not a gridlocked mess.
As far as Chris Merdon is concerned, he worked with the Democratic majority to defeat the original densitiy increase which included the enclosing of MPP and making it a smaller venue. The big box stuff was not mentioned at that time and did not enter the picture until later. (despite campaign nonsense indicating otherwise). By the time it came up, it was shot down before it reached the County for consideration. Chris Merdon and Alan Kittleman were bipartisan and cooperative.
Time will tell if the Ulman team can do the same.

Tom Berkhouse said...

Ken Ulman has a lot of nerve to try and blame the failings of his charette-inspired plan on DPZ. The direction that the Town Center Plan took was not because of any flaws in DPZ's actions. Ulman, Guzzone and Robey were the driving force behidn the plan. What a dishonest, dirty political trick for him to pull. But that's typical for Ulman.

So, he blocked that proposal from 3 years ago, but will now basically allow that same amount of development to cocur. So just what did Ulman accomplish other than putting GGP through 3 years of hell?

It's so ironic that Ulman is the political hack "fighting for an open process". For the last 8 years, he and the Democratic party held the power in Howard County, so why didn't they do something about these so-called problems, before an election year came up?

Now he comes out and says that DPZ should work better with the communities. Is he serious? DPZ has been working for several years to help various communities put together their own "master plans" for things like landscaping enhancements and so on. DPZ actually bends over backward trying to please everyone - which is a fruitless endeavor when it comes to people opposing every little development under the sun.

Ken - why don't you come clean on your involvement with Iron Bridge Wine Company, Waverly Gardens, the Crescent Sketch, and the Charette Plan instead of blaming your mistakes and shortcomings on DPZ?