Our endorsements for Montgomery County Council At-Large

In the end, we can only vote for four. But with so many promising candidates running in the race for Montgomery County Council At-Large, making the choice of which four to endorse in the June 26 primary has been excruciating. We looked closely at what everyone was saying, both to us and to other groups and in public forums. We considered track records, but we also wanted see the passion to lead on our issues.

We are happy to endorse the following three candidates for nomination in the Democratic primary: Hans Riemer, Danielle Meitiv, and Will Jawando.

Our committee was divided on a fourth endorsement and couldn't reach a supermajority consensus we required for an endorsement. We found Evan Glass and Jill Ortman-Fouse to be the strongest additional contenders. Which one we, and you, might choose for your fourth vote depends on how you prioritize differnet issues such as housing or education. We encourage you to read the strong cases we make for both, below, and make up your own mind.

Glass and Ortman-Fouse. Image from the canddiates' Twitter profiles.

Thanks to everyone who made the time to fill out our questionnaire (see all responses here) and meet with us. There were far more than five excellent candidates and we could easily have endorsed multiple others against a different field.

As we only received a single set of questionnaire responses from Republican and Green Party candidates and they weren't as strong as our Democratic finalists, we won’t be endorsing in those primaries.

Hans Riemer

Council President Hans Riemer is the sole incumbent running for at-large this year. He was elected originally in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. If re-elected in 2018, Riemer would not be eligible to run again in 2022 due to the ballot initiative that passed last election limiting council members to three consecutive terms.

Before entering politics, Riemer was an organizer for youth get out the vote efforts, both in 2004 and 2008, and an advocate for senior citizens, including for protecting Social Security under the George W Bush administration.

We wholeheartedly support Hans Riemer’s bid for re-election. Riemer currently serves on the Committee for Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED). As part of PHED, Riemer has been key in the creation of bold new master plans in Bethesda, Grosvenor, Lyttonsville, and White Flint that would greatly increase the amount of housing near transit nodes. He also pushed for MPDU requirements at 15% in the new plans in Westbard, Bethesda, Grosvenor, Rock Spring, and White Flint 2.

He’s been a champion for protected bicycle lane networks in downtown Bethesda, downtown Silver Spring, and in White Flint, some of which are currently under construction. He’s currently working on a new road code that would promote narrower, slower road configurations in our urbanizing areas.

In a wide-ranging in-person conversation about expanding housing opportunities, Riemer signaled an openness to allowing duplexes to be built on lots zoned for single family homes and for people to subdivide their homes (though he appreciates that would be controversial in many neighborhoods). When asked about the impact of increasing housing on school capacity, he declared that the county has a capital budget to build more schools, and should do so.

Riemer is intrigued by national efforts to upzone areas near transit, like the recently failed California bill SB-827. He believes that Montgomery County is already largely leading the country on this issue, in that the walkshed of most Metro Red Line stations, most recently Grovesnor, has been upzoned and should start seeing more redevelopment. He would wait until BRT was up and running successfully before incentivizing increased multifamily construction near these stops.

Riemer acknowledged that the Purple Line would inevitably bring changes, and would therefore want to manage redevelopment near these stops in stages in order to minimize displacement of current residents. He would also retain the existing light industrial zones near Purple Line stations.

Riemer does see a need to solve what he terms "human misery” on the American Legion Bridge, and told us that some widening may be necessary, especially if Amazon HQ2 comes to our area. However, he favors transit components to any changes to I-495 and I-270. In his next term, he would like to move forward in implementing the Corridor Cities Transitway through a combination of state and local funding streams. He writes on his campaign site, “…we need to reduce the growth in auto traffic by creating alternatives to driving.”

Hans Riemer’s re-election would provide continuity to the county council, which will turn over at least 4 of its 9 seats this year. Riemer has been a reliable friend and ally to the Greater Greater Washington community, and he absolutely deserves your vote.

Danielle Meitiv

Danielle Meitiv is an outsider to politics, but has been in the public eye for several years. In 2015, she became notorious as the “Free Range Mom” who fought the county when child protective services threatened to take her children, who were observed walking home from a park without supervision. She’s used this title as a tag line for her campaign, which is a strategy that comes with risks, one of which is that some voters indicated to us that they view her candidacy as merely a publicity stunt.

This is unfortunate, because there’s so much more to Meitiv. She holds a Master’s degree in Oceanography and has worked as a science writer and climate policy analyst. She’s a fierce environmentalist whose in-person interview and questionnaire revealed a strong drive to shake up our usual way of building and living.

Meitiv’s answers to our questionnaire were well-researched, highly detailed, and thoughtful, revealing an enthusiasm and aptitude for learning about housing policy and solutions. Having grown up in New York City, Meitiv does not fear building more housing and does not idealize single family zoning. In fact, in our interview, she described her frustrations with creating an accessory dwelling for her elderly parent, and would love to subdivide her own home.

As we wrote previously, Meitiv supports re-zoning areas served by mass transit and writes of creating affordable housing: “It is a matter of economic and social justice. It is also crucial to the functioning of an efficient market for housing … [and] a critical ingredient for economic growth, as we must have adequate housing to meet the needs of current and future workers and entrepreneurs.”

Danielle Meitiv is a passionate supporter of mass transit for both environmental and economic reasons. She wrote on our questionnaire, “As a climate scientist, I will always prioritize transportation projects that allow us to move the greatest number of people efficiently and with low or no greenhouse gas emissions. One of my top priorities is building a comprehensive transit network, including MARC expansion, fully-funded Metro, and BRT, to connect all parts of the County to each other and to neighboring cities and counties… Every dynamic city and economy on the planet depends on transit.”

Both in person and in her writings Meitiv frames her urbanism in ethical terms. She writes on our questionnaire that “we have a moral obligation to build a future that works for all of our residents and reflects the changing needs of our population. “ In her interview she told us, “Climate denial is not just saying that climate change isn’t real … if you really are honestly committed to a sustainable future, not just green bumper stickers and putting recycled paper in our printers, it requires — I don’t want to say sacrifice because we know walkable dense communities are so much healthier.”

We acknowledge that Danielle Meitiv does not have extensive experience with local land use politics, and therefore would come to the council largely untested. However, we trust that her passion for finding solutions to global climate change will land her on the right side of all our issues, whether it is increasing density in our built areas to prevent sprawl or cutting down on single occupancy vehicles and new road building. We look forward to seeing what she will initiate in office, and encourage our readers to give her your vote.

Will Jawando

Will Jawando was born in east Montgomery County to a Nigerian immigrant father and a white American mother from Kansas. His parents separated when he was young, and he was raised by his mother in Long Branch. He became a civil rights attorney and has served on the staff of several US senators, including then-senator Barack Obama. He was Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement during the Obama presidential administration.

Here in Montgomery County, Jawando started multiple organizations to promote voter engagement in underserved, minority, and African immigrant communities. Jawando himself was recently profiled in the New York Times as a data point in a study about the success of African-American men raised in different socioeconomic environments (Silver Spring boasts one of the few zip codes in the country with equal outcomes for white and black boys).

During our interview, it was abundantly clear that Jawando’s support of urbanist solutions comes from his commitment to pursuing equity and justice for all communities in our county. This is corroborated by his questionnaire responses: “Land-use issues are fast becoming social justice issues in Montgomery County, in light of the growing economic inequality in the county, and the lack of affordable housing.”

As we wrote previously, Jawando supports changing zoning to promote socioeconomic integration. “Being poor shouldn't mandate your home be adjacent to the “chain link fence” industries that bring noise, crime, traffic, and pollution. But our zoning, land-use and transportation decisions in this county are making that happen – and it is wrong.”

He wrote to Progressive Neighbors:“We must focus zoning and land use decisions on ways to leverage market forces to draw construction — whether new, infill, or re-development of aging neighborhoods — toward mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods centered on mass transit.”

When asked in an in-person interview about the controversy over the Westbard sector plan (off River Road), he told us, “We have to stop saying affordable housing can only be in certain parts of the county. We need to open it up everywhere if we want to not be as segregated as we are and provide more economic opportunities — we need to look at transit hubs and that’s all transit hubs.”

Jawando writes consistently in support of prioritizing transit over highway lanes, both to us and in questionnaires to other groups: “We have a historic imbalance in Montgomery County between investment in roads, and investment in mass transit. I believe we need to rebalance our investment, with a far greater focus on mass transit.” He opposes building M-83 and would like to see implementation of BRT and a reorganization and expansion of Ride-On services. Jawando currently lives off of New Hampshire Boulevard in Colesville, and told us he would love to see BRT on New Hampshire and in dedicated lanes in the median strip on Randolph Road, connecting East County to jobs and government services in Rockville.

Jawando has previously run for office in the Democratic primaries for state delegate in District 20 in 2014 and for the Maryland 8th congressional district in 2016. Both of these districts lie entirely or largely in Montgomery County, and encompass the neighborhoods where Jawando has lived all his life.

Will Jawando isn’t a natural urbanist, but comes to these positions through his progressive politics. We’re excited to see what he would accomplish, and endorse him for your vote.

We can’t decide on a fourth

Our elections committee couldn’t come to a consensus on a fourth candidate. We’d be thrilled to see either Jill Ortman-Fouse or Evan Glass elected in the upcoming primary.

Evan Glass

Evan Glass lives his values, walking the walk, and even riding the bus whenever possible. He claims to be the only candidate who knows the buslines throughout the county. In fact, his household only bought a second car when he decided to run for office last year.

Glass got his start in community organizing by founding a civic association in South Silver Spring in order to advocate for sidewalks and crosswalks on East-West Highway. He brought together residents of various backgrounds to participate in the Silver Spring advisory board, including renters, MPDU beneficiaries, and people of color. These were populations that were often left out of dialogues that were historically dominated by single family homeowners. In 2014, he ran for the district 5 seat on the county council, which he lost narrowly to Tom Hucker (who we also endorse for re-election).

When his neighbors fought to block a moderately priced apartment complex in Silver Spring, Glass worked with them to get them on board with growing housing for those making under 50% AMI. He argued successfully that this population included new college graduates, single parents, teachers, retirees, and dared current residents to oppose the inclusion of these individuals. This experience led Glass to get involved with Montgomery Housing Partnership, one of the main providers of affordable housing in the county, and he is now its vice-chair.

Glass is a former journalist for CNN and currently the executive director of Gandhi Brigade Youth Media, an organization that provides media and filmmaking experience to middle and high school students. Students under his mentorship have recently created short documentaries on immigration, juvenile justice, and police accountability. He told Progressive Neighbors that community safety and relations with the police are important issues for him.

When asked in our in-person interview about providing more housing near existing or planned public transit nodes, Glass said, “As we continue growing as a county, we have to figure out how to accomodate it, and I have a long track record of supporting transit-oriented development, and whatever that means, that’s what we have to do… we just have to figure out how to make these things possible… we have to be creative.”

Evan Glass puts a premium with working effectively with everyone, going into communities to garner support for new initiatives. Referring to his experience advocating for marriage equality, he told us that he firmly believes that building coalitions to effect positive change means that “you can’t demonize people, you can’t tell them you must hate poor people because you don’t want affordable housing; that’s not how you do coalitions.”

Glass is also a strong proponent of increased economic development. He wrote to the Chamber of Commerce, “The measure of my success as a Montgomery County Councilmember will be defined by the size of the economic growth I have helped spur and the new opportunities that are created as a result.” He told us in interview, “Our biggest problem is complacency” and indicated that we needed to diversify our workforce away from the federal government and would bring in people from think tanks in DC, such as the Urban Land Institute.

Though Glass has a record of advocacy around our issues, he’s played it safe this election cycle and has avoided making the strong declarative pro-urbanist statements of others we’ve endorsed. Our committee found some of his questionnaire responses to be vague, and we were also disappointed that some of his answers in our in-person interview, particularly around growing affordable housing, were similarly non-specific. This has been disappointing and frustrating, and has prevented us from being as confident or enthusiastic about his campaign as we might have been. His past record, however, suggests he’ll likely be a good choice for your vote.

Jill Ortman-Fouse

Jill Ortman-Fouse just declared late in February, hours before the filing deadline — and only a couple days before the deadline for our questionnaire. We recognized the name; she’d been serving on the Montgomery County Board of Education since 2014, where she sought to include all voices and families and to provide positive outcomes for all children, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds.

While on the Board of Education, Ortman-Fouse successfully managed a multibillion-dollar budget, while pushing for expanding career pathways, dual-language immersion programs, mental health support, and socio-emotional learning. Through it all, Ortman-Fouse has advocated for equity, including in how to budget when constructing new facilities. She told us that she wants to“see every single policy through an equity lens.”

Ortman-Fouse unexpectedly chose to not run for re-election to the school board because she heard that another candidate, John Robertson, had put himself forward for her seat. In a lengthy Facebook post, Ortman-Fouse explained that she was stepping aside to provide a chance for a highly qualified black man. Black men are underrepresented as educators, and as the study referenced above found, black male role models are paramount in whether black boys succeed in life. Ortman-Fouse decided she could do more to fight for socioeconomic integration through the county council, where she could broaden from an education focus to address transportation and housing as well.

This anecdote is emblematic of two things we’ve learned about Jill Ortman-Fouse in the short time since we’ve gotten to know her: she is fully committed to equity and justice, and she is fully transparent about her views. In fact, when we wrote about our qualms regarding what she wrote on questionnaires about needing to consult with neighborhood civic associations, she took to Facebook to address these concerns directly.

In the process of conversations with urbanist activists on social media, Jill showed an admirable ability to listen to opposing views and modify her stances upon learning new information. She clarified that statements that at first appeared to be empowering neighbors were actually concerned with making sure all decisions were taken inclusive of all affected communities.

In our in-person interview, Jill Ortman-Fouse was similarly forthcoming and open. She spoke passionately and at length about affordable housing and effective transportation as critical to providing stability for the families she’s seen in her work in education. She told us that a quarter of children in some high poverty areas change schools every year, often because of housing instability in their families. She said, "What I knew from research was that when you have stable, affordable safe housing all of your outcomes are better … and we know we don’t have enough affordable housing here in Montgomery County.”

Ortman-Fouse told the Chamber of Commerce that she would measure success in her job by the rates by which poverty has gone down and the effectiveness and usage of public transit has gone up. She has been outraged at the inadequacies of public transit access from some of our neighborhoods, and indicated that she sees growing affordable housing near reliable transit infrastructure as imperative. She wrote in our questionnaire, “I support zoning changes… and increasing envelope size for buildings near transit.” She also wants to see expanded transit, particularly expanded buses and bus stops, especially at higher poverty locations.

Jill Ortman-Fouse’s enthusiasm and passion are undeniable. We respect the institutional knowledge she would bring to this role. However, we were concerned that she doesn’t have a strong background in land use, and some of her answers to Progressive Neighbors made us worry that she may end up catering to established civic organizations and longtime neighbors. If elected, we’ll be pushing her to continue to speak truth to privilege. We believe her campaign deserves your consideration.

Your vote is pivotal

Finally, let us be blunt. There are 33 people running in the Democratic primary, and under a first past the post system, this race could go, if not to just anyone, than to a pool of ten or more candidates. Many will vote for friends of friends or people who live near them. In 2014, only about 20% of eligible voters turned out for the primary election, and it’s not clear that this year will be that much better.

Historically, the majority of those active and engaged voters live in a crescent of affluent close-in areas stretching across Takoma Park, Silver Spring, Kensington, Bethesda and Chevy Chase. Many of these voters are resistant to new residential or commercial development or other changes.

We liked a lot of candidates personally, well beyond these five, and agreed with many things they had to tell us. We also had reservations about some of the same people. The field is overflowing with people who agree with the ideas of strengthening mass transit and adding housing and jobs. At the same time, some candidates would continue to pour money into road projects, further starving our public transportation budget. Others did not demonstrate a clear grasp of the types of informed, yet creative and bold solutions that will be required to solve our housing problems.

The margin of victory in this race will be close. This means that the community we represent at Greater Greater Washington can also turn this election. Our community believes in sustainable land use and transportation policies, and is welcoming to all — including those who might not look like who our neighbors used to be and those who can’t afford to live here yet.

This is an important time for our country, our region, and our county. We are in the middle of a housing shortage that results in an affordability crisis, creating a virtual wall to keep newcomers out of desirable areas, and threatening the ability of people who grew up here to stay. We on are on the precipice of an environmental tipping point driven in part by residential sprawl and single occupancy vehicles.

The candidates we’ve recommended here bring different strengths, experiences, and perspectives. But we believe they all have the values and drive to help shape how we come through these challenges for a better future for everyone in Montgomery County. We urge our readers to consider them at the ballot box in the June 26th Democratic primary.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. All endorsements are decided by our volunteer Elections Committee with input from our board and other volunteer committees. Want to keep up on other endorsement posts? Check out our 2018 primary summary page and sign up for our weekly elections newsletter.

Top image: Our endorsees, Hans Riemer, Danielle Meitiv, and Will Jawando. All images from the candidates' websites unless otherwise noted.

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