Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Pay to Play? What’s the Price?

Posted by bsflag2007 on Sunday, January 21, 2007

To get a “seat at the table” in local government – there are two ways to go… one is to be elected and the other is to be appointed.

I’m not really sure what it takes to be appointed – some combination of political connections, interest, experience, campaign contributions(?), who knows. For the upcoming appointment to the Board of Education, race and/or ethnicity will apparently play a significant role.

“Ethnic diversity will factor into Howard County Executive Ken Ulman’s decision to fill a vacant seat on the school board this month. Ulman said minorities make up a “majority” on his list of candidates.” (Baltimore Sun)

As far as I’m concerned, ethnicity is a fine factor to be included in the mix. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it should be an overriding factor — but for the benefit of the common good, I would be ok with a tilt in favor of a qualified candidate from an under represented community group.

I’d also say that I’d like to see more members of the various ethnic groups in our community become active leaders in the community.

PTA and school committees — the usual routes to a seat on the BOE — have not attracted participation from recent immigrants. However, more established members of the various ethnic groups within the community are better represented on local PTAs and committees than the hand-wringers would have you believe.

So why is that ethnic diversity not better represented in our elected officials?
(from the Baltimore Sun) “C. Vernon Gray, a former five-term Howard County councilman who recently returned to county government, said money and privacy have kept ethnic minorities away from public office.”

“It can be expensive,” said Gray, who recently ended his 35-year career at Morgan State to become administrator of the county Office of Human Rights. “Many people do not want to run because it is politics. They do not want to be examined by the public.”

I do not completely agree with Mr. Gray.

It can be expensive to run for political office – this is true. However, money alone does not make a winning campaign. Just looking at the most recent election – Janet Siddiqui spent a LOT of money on her campaign. Technically much of her campaign material was donated – but $20,000 or so worth of signs is nothing to sneeze at. She did not win. Why?  Apparently money lone cannot buy it.

Pat Gordon and Sandie French spent very little money — and both were elected handily.

Name recognition is the deciding factor – but money alone cannot buy the kind of name recognition it takes to win an election.

This past campaign also had distinctly ethnic names on the ballot – though ironically the names did not necessarily correlate directly to ethnicity. (and in Siddiqui’s case ethnic name plus tons of money was not a winning combo either)

Siddiqui is a middle aged white woman (so am I, that is not intended to be an insult). Aquino is not hispanic. Zou – well, he is Chinese … which did not seem to help him with the Asian vote that much. Bedolla did not get much mileage from his ethnic moniker either. Did Larry Cohen benefit from his ethnicity? Or was it his 20 years in the system?

Mr. Gray may be correct when he asserts that “many people do not want to run because it is politics. They do not want to be examined by the public.”

I don’t know if that is more true for recent immigrants than for second (or later) generation Americans.

Running for public office – when taken seriously – is a mentally and physically exhausting endeavor that is hard on the entire family. To take on that kind of challenge without a realistic chance of winning could be categorized as self-indulgent and/or stupid.

I believe that is a more significant factor in why well qualified folks choose not to “run” for office – regardless of cultural, ethnic heritage. On the local level, examination by the public is not that much of a deterent. Few of us have skeletons in our closets -( unless of course we aready had the job and blew it).

It takes a whole different skill set to win an election than it does to do the job well.

Sadly, many people who would make wonderful public servants make terrible political candidates (present company included). That is why, imho, qualified folks choose not to run.

That said, I do agree at least partially with Mr. Gray’s summary:

“Ultimately, ethnic minorities must take the plunge and run, according to Gray. You’ve got to pay to play,” Gray said. “You’ve got to play to win. Be persistent.”

I would like to see public bodies reflect the cultural and ethnic make-up of the communities they serve – but in order to get there at some point the members of these groups need to step up and take the same beating as the rest of us.

On the other hand … in our tremendously ethnically diverse community, there is a significant flaw in looking at superficially ethnic traits in an attempt to make a panel like the BOE “look” statistically ethnically diverse.

I personally know caucasions named Sasaki, Arabs named Jones, Muslims who are white, Hispanics named Vitigiliano, a black family named Blanco, — and I won’t even start with physical characteristics which do not match “traditional” labels .

Diversity is more than skin color or geographic heritage. It can be more about values, philosophies, and approaches. That’s the kind of diversity the BOE needs.

I am much more concerned about normal looking people who turn out to be Republicans…… 😉

Cindy Vaillancourt


4 Responses to “Pay to Play? What’s the Price?”

  1. hocostudent said

    i think janet siddiqui would be a good choice for the vacant position. any other suggestions?

  2. bsflag2007 said

    Since we don’t know who the other candidates under consideration are, it would be hard to offer a specific suggestion.

    I would still like to see another person with business and legal expertise (in addition to Frank Aquino) on the board to add a much needed counter to the inordinate influence of the HCPSS/BOE lawyers who have given such horrendous – and in many cases just plain wrong – advice that an inexperienced (in legal and business matters) and too trusting BOE have acted on.

    I am much more interested in seeing more “diversity” of skills than skin color.

    Cindy Vaillancourt

  3. bsflag2007 said

    I don’t know if he submitted his name – but if Roger Lerner made it to the short list, I would support him. He has all the requisite expertise, committment, and fresh perspective – a suitably full resume of visible education and community activism – and he is a genuinely honorable and thoughtful human being.

    Unfortunately, he is not a staunch democrat, and he is a middle aged white male – though depending on your perspective his Jewish heritage might make help his minority diversity quotient.

    Although on the School Board, being male has traditionally been a minority position. And he is employed outside of the education, educracy, volunteer realm. Another minority status.

    With the “majority of the canidates are minorities” comment – I wonder if the search for “ethnic diversity” will apply to this appointment only – or if ethnic diversity will be a major criteria when the 83 or 84 year old Mrs. Gordon retires.

    cindy v.

  4. Ken appointed Siddiqui said


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