Last Night’s Forum
Posted by David Keelan on Thursday, October 12, 2006
This is the first General Election forum I got to attend. Good thing too because there may not be many more. Of all the forums I could have attended I am happy I attended this one. It was a GOP night.
The LWV kept things moving along. Everyone had 1 minute to respond. One would think that not a lot can be said in 1 minute, but you would be surprised.
Anyway, County Executive race. Steve Wallis, comes off as a distinguished looking man, but I think he is in over his head. On every question he kept saying he would study it, build on his partnerships, review the budget. He never provided any real concrete ideas on the issues. I honestly expected him to come out realy well on education – his strong spot. Even then I was disappointed.
I think that Mr. Wallis will end up being the spoiler and not the decider in this election.
Merdon has said he was going to create the position of Director of Education. I think Mr. Wallis would do well in that position. He should consider approaching the Merdon campaign. Look at it this way. Merdon has made a lot of commitments to education. Who better to hold his feet to the fire than Mr. Wallis.
Merdon was right on message. Despite what was thrown at him he didn’t take the bait. When asked why people should vote for him he differentiated himself from Ulman and Wallis by telling people why they should vote for him. Unlike Mr. Ulman and Mr. Wallis who gave a mixed answer “I am better and the other guys are evil”. I was also pleased that Merdon didn’t come dressed for a GQ convention. He dresses very well, but I think it is a distraction sometimes. I know this isn’t a fashion blog, but at this point appearances make a difference.
Mr. Ulman needs to remember that over 50% of the people that live in Howard County were not born in Howard County. He keeps reminding people that he was born and raised here. That is great, but it does not matter to 50.1% of the voters. He also kept saying he has a record he is proud of. Fine. He didn’t define it. He kept trying to define Merdon and absolutely ignored Wallis.
Merdon = A
Ulman = C+
Wallis = B-
This was fun. I did feel bad for the candidates because they were crammed at one long table. They could have extended the table a bit for them.
I think the award for best in show goes to Tom D’Asto. He was awesome. Right on the money. When asked what would be the first thing he would do he said “Support Chris Merdon in putting a moratorium on the Charette process”. Mary Kay Sigitay said she wanted height restrictions. Tom said I agree, but it is only part of the issue. “Twenty 10-story buildings are as bad as ten 20-story buildings.” He said that 5,500 additional residential units needs to be carefully planned and that the process was being rushed.
What I thought was notable was that every single republican candidate mentioned how they were aligned with Chris Merdon on one issue or another. Like D’Asto above. Thewes on not making Route 1 a dumping ground for affordable housing and that affordable housing should be thoughtful and not rushed either. If Route 1 is the right place for it then great – but don’t assume that it is.
One democratic candidate mentioned Ken Ulman’s name and only mentioned it once, Calvin Ball. Not one other candidate mentioned their party affiliation except Jen Terrasa who said she was the Democratic Candidate. She said it proudly. Good for her. No one else did. If you are proud of your party affiliation then say so. In fact Courtney Watson said she was aligned with Chris Merdon on growth and development so many times that I thought she and Tony Salazar were running in the GOP primary. Too bad for Courtney that Chris Merdon supports Tony Salazar. Tony made a good point about comprehensive review of the zoning issues in context of a new Howard County plan. We should not make the mistake of planning for Laurel separately from Columbia and separately from Ellicott City or Elkridge. It needs to be done in context of the Master Plan. Each area is unique and has it’s own issues, but if we don’t consider these in context of a Master Plan the unintended consequences are likely to make things worse.
Now we only had one applause line last night. It came from Calvin Ball (btw: after 6 months on the council he is the only experienced candidate running for office). Shortly after calling Chris Merdon a partisan and a bad candidate he railed against Gina Ellrich saying “She is the handpicked candidate of Chris Merdon, Bob Ehrlich, and George Bush”. Ok. Well a group of us were kind of stunned “George Bush? Wow! We had no idea the President of the United States was so interested in the County Council race”. We could not help ourselves and broke out in spontaneous applause. Then Courtney Watson shot a look at us that came right out of Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events”. Seriously, if looks could kill. (click on the picture above). In the confusion some people thought we were applauding Calivn, then it became apparent we were applauding Gina for doing so well in garnishing so many endorsements. Is that Calvin’s strategy? Anyway, Gina hit Calvin really hard on his proposed legislation CB75-2006 (my previous post on the topic). Calvin has claimed that he proposed the legislation on behalf of someone else (my lord). Regardless, Gina said that Calvin can’t be a champion of an open zoning process and then propose legislation that completely shuts out citizens from the zoning process and increases density at the same time. Calvin didn’t reply. For the only “experienced” candidate out there that was a big error on his part. He didn’t think that through and I am surprised that Ulman and Guzzone were not looking over his shoulder (maybe they were).
Don Dunn seems like a very nice man with a great deal of experience. However, I don’t think he is running a serious campaign. He is funny and charming, has a good grasp of the issues, but comes across as not very serious. I don’t know if it is because he figures he doesn’t have a chance in district 5. Unlike Jim Adams, who is working for Don now, I think Greg did well given the format. He clarified a mis-statement by Don Dunn regarding a referendum item on binding arbitration. He spoke knowledgeably about green building technology (his business).
All in all (given my biais) the Republicans looked united, spoke from the same page, were supportive of their County Executive Candidate, played off one another well. The Democrats looked like 5 individuals. The only one who seemed to support his party’s candidate for County Executive is Calvin Ball.
One big dissappointment. When asked if anyone would vote to raise taxes only Don Dunn answered the question. Nine others chickened out. Maybe it was the TV cameras.