Montgomery's Vacant Seat

Sunday, April 12, 2009

THERE'S BEEN a noticeable divide on the Montgomery County Council since the death of Donald Praisner in January. On key issues, including the county budget, the council has cleaved into halves, and no one seems interested in bridging the gap. Against that backdrop of impasse, primaries on April 21 for a special election May 19 take on added importance. The election will be more than a race to fill the District 4 seat left vacant by Mr. Praisner's passing; it's a tie-breaking vote.

Ten candidates are vying to represent District 4, a majority-minority district of about 200,000 residents that spans the Route 29 corridor from White Oak to Burtonsville and includes Aspen Hill, Wheaton and Olney. But there are two clear Democratic front-runners. Nancy Navarro, a member and former president of the Board of Education, would bring welcome diversity to the council. Benjamin F. Kramer, a Maryland delegate and son of former county executive Sidney Kramer, would bring an independent streak that's lacking. Ms. Navarro is a good choice; Mr. Kramer is the better one.

In recent years the council has shed many of its moderate members. Pragmatists such as Steven A. Silverman, Howard A. Denis and Marilyn J. Praisner, the longtime District 4 representative who died last year, have been replaced by members less eager to find the middle ground. Mr. Kramer could fill that void. Elected to the General Assembly in 2006, Mr. Kramer hasn't toed the party line. His business ties make some slow-growth advocates uncomfortable, but in a faltering economy his background in development would help spur responsible, transit-oriented development. His support for the intercounty connector, a needed roadway that anti-growth zealots are still trying to stop, shows that he's willing to pick sides on controversial matters.

We supported Ms. Navarro in last year's special election, impressed with her ability to avoid petty politics to produce results on the school board. Ms. Navarro has continued to be an effective board member, taking a leading role in persuading school unions to forfeit some of their pay increases. Yet Ms. Navarro has been less willing than Mr. Kramer to criticize labor, and it's hard to imagine her standing up to the union leaders who hold excessive sway over the council. Mr. Kramer has been endorsed by the firefighters union, but that has to do with his support for public safety.

Other Democratic candidates include: funeral home director Michael L. Bigler, attorney Robert Goldman; information technology developer Thomas Hardman and Cary Lamari, a former president of the Montgomery County Civic Association. Mr. Lamari would be a compelling candidate if he were not so opposed to development.

Candidates in the Republican primary are: nonprofit executive Louis August, anti-tax fanatic Robin Ficker, and musician and activist Andrew Padula. We've made our criticism of Mr. Ficker clear in the past. Both Mr. August and Mr. Padula seem like sincere candidates, but neither has much experience in county government, and we've chosen not to endorse.

George Gluck, a consultant, is the Green Party candidate.

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