Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Ward 2 Candidates Forum

Scores of people sheltered their necks in scarves and braved the blustery, lip-chapping Monday night weather to attend the Ward 2 candidates forum sponsored by Paul Foer.

I thought the event went well, and the candidates did well to establish the themes of their candidacies:

Debbie McKerrow--Experience Counts.

Soundbite: In the last 12 years that I have lived in Admiral Heights, there has not been a Ward 2 related issue that I have not been involved in.

Mrs. McKerrow's mailers have emphasized here experience, and she wanted to hit that point at this forum. Debbie cataloged example after example of how she was active on issues from development of high-rises to construction of the stadium. This is all fine--good, even.* The general feeling is that there is no reason to dislike Debbie McKerrow.

(*Attention all "fair and balanced" people who have been mislead into believing that I should criticize or praise Republicans and Democrats equally: this one's for you.)

There is reason, however, to know she is not the right candidate. At one point in the evening, the candidates were asked how they felt about the Homestead Tax Credit. This is about property taxes, and goes something like this. If governments assessed property taxes based on appraised value, it would be highly detrimental to taxpayers, and highly difficult to plan budgets because tax revenue would vary widely with housing markets. The Homestead Tax Credit limits the growth of taxable property value at 10% each year. (I don't know why they call it a "credit"--I imagine it's because "credit" sounds better than "limit" and would get the creator re-elected). So, if you buy a house for $100,000, then you spend another $100,000 improving your house, for tax purposes it would be worth only $110,000.

So, local jurisdictions can lower this rate if they want. Anne Arundel County has generously cut this rate to 2%. Annapolis, naturally, allows the full 10% annual increase in taxable property value, which is poppycock. People's incomes don't increase by 10% each year, but the city seems to think that its income should increase by at least that much. The idea that a government earns income in the first place is equally poppycock-ish.

Anyway, like I was saying, the candidates were asked how they felt about this. Fred said he's open to discussions (although I know from speaking with him that he doesn't like it), and Karen said something of the like. But here is what Debbie said:

We each have our bills. Food expenses go up. Electricity
expenses go up. Health insurance costs go up. The city has to pay a
fair salary to its employees--all of these things cost money.

I am concerned about cutting revenue to the city, and I am not in favor of
cutting back.

The problem with this line of thinking was eloquently articulated to me by a friend of mine, and I'll try to do the same here. Debbie enjoys fixing problems in her neighborhood. She is running for office because she thinks that government can do more good than harm--because she thinks that being an Alderman will give her a larger platform to solve problems. Sadly, such a view is fatally flawed.

Government does not spend its own money, and therefore must be held to a higher standard
in terms of efficiency. A major facet of conservatism is that in almost every circumstance, government is an inferior caretaker of money and producer of goods/services relative to private industry. This is not to even mention the equity issue--government takes money from everyone, and spends it on things that sometimes benefit everyone, but other times benefit only certain people. It is not the role of government to redistribute wealth, and Debbie's philosophy of government cannot ensure such restraint in the function of government.

Karen Jennings--The Environmental Candidate, An Independent Voice.

Soundbite: We need a candidate to think out of the box.

Ms. Jennings is an environmental consultant, and bills herself as the environmental candidate. She also made a point to mention that she is from a third party; that she would be an independent voice; and that she would be uninterested in earning political points.

Outside of that, I struggle to understand the reason she is running. If I had to characterize the other 2 candidates: Debbie is running to further and heighten her ability to help in the ward, and Fred is running to restore common sense, focus, and tackle crime. In Karen's remarks, she stressed the importance of a long-term, comprehensive perspective when considering issues, which I believe is part of the Green Party's general platform, but I would hesitate to attribute that as her motivation.

Fred Paone!

Soundbite: We need to focus on real guns, not toy guns.

The theme of Fred's campaign is 'Stop the Bullshit'. After this theme is filtered through the censors and approved by the bigwigs, we end up with "Common Sense Leadership".

An advantage for Mr. Paone is that he has 30 years of first hand experience with the issue that most Annapolitans list as most important: crime. He did a good job of exploiting this difference, at one point calling the crime suggestions of McKerrow and Jennings "balderdash", which the loyal readers of this blog will know is just a polite way to say bullshit. Mr. Paone emphasized the need to fill the vacancies in the police department, and cautioned that the unintended consequences of "revitalization" (as opposed to punishment, I think) are million dollar condos that force the former residents to the outskirts of town.

Fred is a lawyer, and his comfort with public speaking was apparent. Fred stood up and engaged the audience with every response, a technique that the other candidates mimicked to some extent as the forum went on.

"While the city council focused on plastic bags, toy guns, and the United States Navy's discipline of a former star quarterback, 8 young men were murdered on our streets, Fred pointed out. He promised to restore focus to the council and provide some much needed "adult supervision".

Questions asked by actual Ward 2 residents addressed crime, frustration with the justice system's failure to 'put away' suspected criminals, and the traffic congestion that overflows into ward 2 from both highway travelers and downtown patrons.

The next forum is on Monday, at 7 pm at West Annapolis Elementary.


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