District 4 (blue) will nominate candidates in a special primary April 21.

It’s gotten little attention in the traditional press, but eastern Montgomery County voters will make a big decision on April 21 that will greatly influence the direction of the county. In January, District 4 Councilmember Don Praisner died, less than a year after winning the seat in another special election to complete his late wife’s term. The winner of the Democratic primary will emerge as the strong favorite to win the seat, but the Democrats vying for the seat differ greatly on their approach to the county’s future.

As Cavan wrote in “Montgomery County: America in microcosm,” the county is struggling with the same debates over the future of our communities as in many other parts of the nation. Does it want to strengthen and increase its walkable neighborhoods and transit options? Or should it restrict all growth inside the Beltway to keep existing suburban communities just as they are? On Greater Greater Washington, we have our opinions. East County voters have to make their decision, and that seat on the Council could tip an important balance for the entire county.

Update: This post isn’t intended to endorse anyone. I hope to hear more from the candidates and from residents of District 4 about whom they think would be best for the district, the county and the region.

Here are the Democratic candidates and what we know so far of their positions on land use and transportation issues:

Nancy Navarro placed second in the 2008 special election Democratic primary. Her Web site gives the most attention of any of the candidates to Smart Growth and sustainable transportation, as those are the top two bullet points on her “shared vision for our future.” She also talks about green jobs and affordable housing for working families and seniors. Navarro expanded upon her thoughts about transit and the ICC in this interview.

Ben Kramer, currently a Maryland State Delegate, avoids discussing land use on his site, but tops his list with a “Traffic” platform that emphasizes transit (which he calls “Smart Options”) including Metro, the Purple Line, and the “Bethesda to Silver Spring Trolley.” Isn’t that the Purple Line? The Purple Line is generally popular in eastern Montgomery County, by the way.

Cary Lamari comes to politics from a citizens’ association background, having headed his local Norbeck Citizens’ Assosication and served a term as president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation. As a result, he talks primarily about preservation and protection, putting policies that prevent change to established neighborhoods above those that could evolve the built environment toward more walkable and livable communities.

Lamari also places widening of roads first among his transportation priorities, though he does support the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway. On his 2006 Gazette voter guide page, Lamari talked about the “Adequate Public Facilities” ordinance, which requires developers to widen roads for new development. Such ordinances typically put the needs of cars ahead of pedestrians, bicycles and other road users, legally requiring that projects make their surroundings more auto-dependent.

Rob Goldman has relatively little information online so far. He talks about the Purple Line, “to avoid further congestion caused by an increase in private vehicles on the road and to enable residents to work closer to home.” His policy emphasis centers on home foreclosures and emergency response services. I wonder what he thinks about cul-de-sacs and their effect on emergency response?

Thomas Hardman has commented here on Greater Greater Washington, particularly about the ICC Junior, Montrose Parkway. Hardman recommends using open source software for county functions (a good idea), but it’s not really clear where he stands on the key issues that matter to readers of Greater Greater Washington. Hardman does get props for linking to this excellent comic about a young guy in Kansas who ran against his State Representative by appealing to techies across the nation. (He narrowly lost.)

Republicans will also select a nominee in April. There are two candidates running:

Robin Ficker, a frequent candidate for office, is all about reducing taxes. He successfully passed a ballot initiative in 2008 that makes it more difficult for Montgomery County to raise taxes. He’s running to reduce taxes.

Lou August has something to say about a few more issues. He’s interested in more public-private partnerships to make key government functions more efficient, fiscal responsibility, “zero-tolerance” approaches to crime, and enforcing good behavior in schools. August also talks about the importance of affordable housing.

There’s a lot to candidates beyond their biographies and their lists of issues. What do you think of these candidates? What else should voters in District 4 know?

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.