Montgomery County builders are stepping up efforts to defeat a proposal to restrict the heights of some new houses to 30 feet.
Over the weekend, thousands of county residents received a flashy red-and-white mailer with a dire sounding message.
"!WARNING! MONTGOMERY HOMEOWNERS," the front half of the mailer read.
"This is taking your property rights away," it continued, adding that the proposal will lead to "drastic reductions on improvements" that will curtail a home's "improvement potential."
Unlike traditional campaign literature, the mailer gave no indication of who was sending it. But, the postal service permit number indicated that the mailing originated from the Atlantic Marketing Group.
The owner of the firm referred calls to Larry Cafritz, a partner in the Bethesda-based Laurence Cafritz Builders.
Cafritz said the mailer, which he estimates was sent to 40,000 households, is the start of a sustained effort to "educate" the public about the County Council bill.
Cafritz, who specializes in building on lots in older neighborhoods close to the District, declined to say how much was spent on the mailing.
"It's really a grass-roots effort by a group of builders who run their businesses in this community," said Cafritz, who estimates that a dozen builders pitched in to finance the campaign.
The bill -- sponsored by council members Howard A. Denis (R-Potomac-Bethesda) and Michael L. Subin (D-At Large) -- would reduce the 35-foot height limit that is in effect in most residential zones.
The bill, designed to curb "mansionization," also would clarify how a house should be measured. The council is expected to vote on the issue in October.
But Cafritz said many residents who dream of one day renovating or expanding their homes will pay a steep price if the legislation is enacted.
"People who have a potential to build on their homes or renovate their homes, like they originally intended to do when they bought the property, won't be able to do what they thought they could do," Cafritz said. "Because of taking away that potential, my inclination is their value will be affected."
Denis responds that his proposal is a "very, very modest" attempt to control building heights and clarify often vague zoning laws.
As for the mailing, Denis called it a "totally bogus scare tactic" that was sent out in a "very cowardly and gutless way."
Denis said he plans to call for an investigation into whether the builders violated lobbyist disclosure laws.
But veterans in the fight over mansionization say the building industry used similar tactics in 1998, when it killed another council bill that was intended to limit the building of large homes next to smaller ones.
"That is the same line they used to defeat us," said David W. Brown, a land-use and zoning attorney involved the effort. "There are obviously a lot of people who see it as a profit for them to tear down old houses and rebuild again."
The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee could elect the state's first openly transgender legislator when it votes on a successor to District 18 Del. John A. Hurson (D) on Oct. 11.
Dana Beyer, 53, decided two weeks ago to seek the seat that will be vacated by Hurson on Saturday. Beyer, of Chevy Chase, was a man until 2003, when she underwent sexual reassignment surgery.
Beyer is a retired eye surgeon active in Teachthefacts.org, an organization dedicated to promoting a progressive sex education curriculum in Montgomery County schools, including discussion of homosexuality and proper condom use.
While she doesn't want to be known as the transgender candidate in the race, Beyer said she will bring a new perspective to Annapolis. If elected, Beyer said she will promote issues "grounded in science" as well as push for more access to health care and civil rights.
Unlike many candidates in the race, Beyer hasn't been very active in the Democratic Party. But Beyer said she was inspired this summer by Paul Hackett, an Iraq war veteran who ran as the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House in Ohio's 2nd District.
Despite being in a solidly Republican district, Hackett campaigned against the war and Bush administration policies. The Democrat came within 4,000 votes of upsetting the Republican candidate.
"He is very articulate . . . and I figured that is what I am to do," Beyer said. "I would like to think I have enough spine to stick up for people."
District 18 -- which includes parts of Chevy Chase, Kensington and Silver Spring -- is considered one of the most progressive in the state. In 2002, District 18 voters elected Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D), who is one of three openly gay legislators in the General Assembly.
Beyer said that if the 23 voting members of the Democratic Central Committee pass her over in filling Hurson's seat for the next 14 months, she may run for delegate in next year's election. She is also considering running for the school board.
"I would expect if a trans person can win anywhere, it's here," she said.
Ali Targets Stern
Saqib Ali, a software engineer from North Potomac, is running for the House of Delegates in District 39.
But while there are three delegates in that district, it's becoming increasingly clear that Ali has his eye on incumbent Del. Joan F. Stern in next year's Democratic primary.
"I look forward to working with Del. Charles Barkley and Del. Nancy King," Ali said, referring to the other two delegates, both Democrats, who represent District 39. "I have nothing really to say about Joan Stern."
Ali, 30, is a Democratic activist who says he was one of the leaders of the fight to prevent the widening of Longdraft Road. If elected, he plans to oppose slot machine gambling and push for voter-verified paper ballot receipts in elections.
On Sunday, Ali raised $10,000 at a fundraiser in Potomac. Council member Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large) endorsed Ali at the event.
Stern, who some Democrats say has been ineffective, said she's ready for the challenge. She has joined forces with Barkley, King and District 39 Sen. P.J. Hogan to run as a team.
"You can target one person, but we are running as a slate, so essentially all challengers would be running against the slate," Stern said.
A Prescription for Debate
A discussion over giving county public school employees access to drugs from Canada turned testy at Monday night's Board of Education meeting.
Council President Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring) and Denis appeared at the meeting in hopes of convincing school officials that they should start a voluntary program that would allow school employees and retirees to get prescription drugs from Canada.
But school board member Stephen N. Abrams (Rockville-Potomac) was far from moved. He accused Perez, who last year persuaded the council to give county employees access to lower-cost Canadian drugs, and Denis of avoiding direct questions and of pushing the board to break the law.
Perez chided Abrams for interrupting his attempts to offer answers. The voices became louder, prompting school board President Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase) to call for more civility. Board members were split on how to proceed.
In the end, board member Charles Haughey (At Large) stepped in with a compromise.
Under Haughey's plan, board members decided to urge the county to seek a waiver from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow them to move forward without fear of breaking the law. The board agreed to reconsider its stance if the County Council enacts the program for county employees without a waiver.