Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A council election that matters

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Eight candidates — four Democrats and four Republicans — are in the running to fill the Fourth District seat on the nine-member Montgomery County Council left vacant by the passing of Marilyn J. Praisner.

As one of the longest-serving members of the council, a former school board member and someone who plunged with vigor into roles with many civic and professional organizations, Mrs. Praisner was a principled, one-of-a-kind public servant whose penchant for policy and attention to detail were legendary.

The district she served for 18 years in eastern and central Montgomery — including Aspen Hill, Burtonsville, Calverton, Cloverly, Colesville, Derwood, Fairland, Olney, Sandy Spring, parts of Silver Spring, Spencerville, Wheaton and White Oak — is one of our most demographically, economically and geographically diverse.

In the April 15th primary special election, voters in this overwhelmingly Democratic district have an important duty to advance candidates who are responsive both to the specific needs of the district’s neighborhoods and the broader issues facing a splintered County Council that needs a fresh, reasoned voice.

The challenges before the council are many — containing taxes and budget growth in a turbulent economy, sustaining quality schools, alleviating traffic problems and providing reasonable social and public-safety services, all of which speak to the quality of life in any community.

We are persuaded that the strongest candidate for Fourth District seat is Patrick E. Ryan, a lawyer and consultant from the Fairland area who has served on a planning advisory group and has been active in a number of causes.

Ryan, a Democrat, is a soft-spoken, articulate, concise thinker whose views on most topics are clear. In areas in which he’s still formulating an opinion, he has the ability to ask appropriate questions and examine all sides. He is not overtly ensnared in political allegiances or ideology and could bring a new dynamic to a fractious council.

On tax and spending matters, Ryan has pledged to be ‘‘a voice for more fiscal realism” at a time when that approach is long overdue. On the pace of growth in the county, he leans toward the slow side, a position that needs to evolve so the county doesn’t freeze growth. Ryan also has more than a surface understanding of the need for regional answers to address growth and transportation problems. Ryan has one of the most comprehensive proposals to improve the stock of workforce and affordable housing.

There are three other Democratic candidates. Don Praisner, the husband of Marilyn Praisner, arguably has the political advantage in this primary, given his many years immersed in Democratic politics and sheer name recognition. He seeks to finish the remaining years of his wife’s term and not stand for re-election. This district, and county, will be better served by a candidate in it for the longer run.

Two other Democrats — Nancy Navarro, the school board president, and Steven Kanstoroom, a self-described ‘‘advocate for persons and groups caught in red tape” — have more narrowly focused agendas.

On the Republican ticket, John McKinnis, a perennial candidate, is the strongest choice in an inexperienced field, although a relative newcomer, a moderate Robert Patton, is worth watching.

This election — and the May 13 special general election — has ramifications beyond the district. The importance for voters to do their homework, to listen to and fairly evaluate the candidates, can’t be understated: this election matters.