Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

If you’re running for office, you’d like to get votes from everyone, and avoid angering people. A lot of candidates try to do this by expressing “support” for big projects which have a lot of proponents, while also voicing “concerns” to those against the project.

Muriel Bowser was an avid practitioner of this strategy during the DC mayoral primary, favoring things like development at Takoma Metro or DC’s zoning update while simultaneously sharing opponents’ views. In Montogmery County, at-large council candidate Beth Daly is trying it with the Purple Line, and crying foul when the Action Committee for Transit didn’t fall for it.

Bill Turque talked about the controversy in the Washington Post. Daly wrote on the ACT questionnaire that she supports “the east-west connectivity of the Purple Line,” but with a long litany of caveats.

She is “still not certain” of what the county will pay, because she “suspect[s]” that the money the state has promised won’t go far enough. She wants more effort to “reduce environmental and economic impacts” on the surrounding communities, like noise, trees, and effect on businesses.

The Purple Line has endured decades of debate and political battles. County and state leaders have made a decision about what route to build, and made tradeoffs about all of these issues. The federal government is on board. But it’s pretty clear from reading Daly’s answer that she doesn’t agree with that decision and isn’t willing to endorse the specific project that’s on the table.

Why is Daly surprised ACT rated her as a Purple Line skeptic?

It’s her right to take this view, but she shouldn’t be surprised when ACT, an organization for which the Purple Line (as currently proposed, specifically) is perhaps its top issue, doesn’t rate her highly.

What’s odd about the controversy Turque describes is not that ACT likes the specific Purple Line proposal or Daly doesn’t; it’s that Daly is angry with ACT when her answer was pretty clear. According to Turque, Daly’s husband said he wanted to “grab [ACT President Nick Brand] by the neck” for the scorecard.

Daly tells Turque that the rating was unfair because other people who expressed “concerns” in the past got plus marks. That particularly refers to Marc Elrich, who also holds an at large seat and is ideologically aligned with Daly. He’s been a Purple Line skeptic in the past, but when ACT specifically asked on its questionnaire whether candidates would endorse the current Purple Line project “without qualification,” Elrich simply wrote “YES.”

That means either Elrich has moved past any former concerns and now supports the project as it’s being proposed, or he was not being truthful on the questionnaire. He argued to Turque that Daly’s answers were not negative. Sorry, that doesn’t fly. The question was pretty clear.

Turque also talks about a lot of inside baseball controversy about whether ACT leaders were trying to help incumbent at-large member George Leventhal. An ACT board member who’s close to Leventhal apparently wanted questions about the Purple Line at a recent candidate forum to not focus on affordable housing around Purple Line stations. The Coalition for Smarter Growth’s Kelly Blynn, who in her professional role for a nonprofit is not trying to help a particular candidate or another, refused and left the question in.

More information can help voters decide

The Purple Line is very much worth building as proposed, but that doesn’t mean candidates don’t deserve credit or scorn for their stances on other matters. Affordable housing along the Purple Line is important, and hopefully Montgomery County will take many steps to ensure that the communities around its stations remain mixed-income.

Daly pushed to reduce the amount of development in Clarksburg, which is far from transit, at the edge of the region’s core, and not the best place for a lot of new housing. (Leventhal also voted to reduce development in Clarksburg.) The ACT scorecard doesn’t cover every single factor voters might use to weigh the candidates.

However, politicians have a lot of incentive to dodge questions and blur their positions. Good reporting (often absent in political campaigns) cuts through the fog and helps voters know who actually shares their values. So do advocacy scorecards.

Muriel Bowser successfully kept the focus off her actual views in the DC campaign. ACT is trying not to make the Montgomery races work this way. Other organizations can do the same for other issues besides the ones ACT focuses on. Any candidate who wants to play both sides of an issue shouldn’t be surprised if he or she gets called out for it.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Surface Transit. 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 here are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.