Dan Reed is one of four finalists for an open seat on the Montgomery County Planning Board. He's drawn some attacks from activists who've disagreed with him in the past; that's not much of a surprise. But sadly, those attacks have been about sarcastic things Dan wrote on his blog years ago.
Seventh State blogger and American University professor David Lublin has disagreed with Dan (and me, and many others) in the past about the Purple Line (he's against it), the trend toward more urban-style living in Montgomery County's downtowns (he's against that too), and more. But instead of explaining how their views differ, he trawled through a decade of Dan's writings to find a few statements he could take out of context in a post, "Planning Board Candidate Dan Reed Doesn't Like Bethesdans Much." He wrote:
Besides being a trained architect (B.S. from UMD), planner (Masters in City Planning from Penn), and former employee of Councilmember George Leventhal, he is also a prolific writer and very active in development and transportation issues. All of this is great. What is not great are his views towards a large bloc of people whom he’d like to govern. Specifically, he sure doesn’t think much of people who live or hang out in Bethesda.
The Exhibit A? An obviously tongue-in-cheek letter back in 2010 to students at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School who wrote some sarcastic anti-Silver Spring things in their school newspaper (not, apparently, online any more). Dan wrote stuff like:
So, while you’re still in Bethesda, why not take a walk on the wild side and make some pubescent memories this weekend in Silver Spring. You can tell your incredulous friends on Monday how you went slummin’…
Give me a break. This is trash talk. If someone who goes to a rival college writes "Terps Suck!" and then tries to get a job in Maryland, should an American University professor of government claim "this person doesn't like Maryland much"? Come ON.
The other examples are equally absurd and obviously out of context or not meant to be taken seriously in the first place. There's no reason to think Dan actually dislikes the people of Bethesda as a whole, and I doubt the County Council would seriously think so.
But there's a deeper and more important point here.
"Snarky" writings from a decade ago should not be the basis for making appointments
In the digital age, with the expansion of social media, more and more of what we say and do, including as a young person, are archived forever. A lot of sociologists believe our culture will just come to accept this kind of thing—that even somewhat serious things someone says or does in their youth won't be as disqualifying for a job because we know that everyone said or did bad stuff once.
We're not there yet, though, and a person's "digital footprint" is often fodder for opposition research. I blanch when a public figure is excoriated for writing even something I strongly disagree with, when that statement was long ago and there's little reason to believe they still hold such views.
Nothing Dan has said or done is even at all wrong or disqualifying—just occasionally "snarky." But it's certainly possible he will scare some member of the Montgomery County Council into being afraid to vote for Dan because he trash talked some B-CC kids. If so, what does it say to young people who want to pursue government service? That they should avoid speaking up at all? That participating in the civic process as a high schooler or college student is actually a bad idea unless you have a PR firm on staff to vet your every statement? That you shouldn't ever kid around, because someone will put your words in a serious frame and attack you for it?
Lublin's attacked me, too, claiming that I (and, he said, GGWash as a whole) doesn't like places like Kentlands because in the first year of the blog, I criticized a previous Planning Board appointment (apologies for the bad formatting which didn't survive two changes of blog systems). The County Council appointed Kentlands developer Joe Alfandre, and didn't pick transit activist Ben Ross. I thought it was showing they supported car-oriented areas. I'll admit: I didn't know what I was talking about in that case.
I'll freely admit that article was a bad one. But it doesn't mean GGWash is against the Kentlands. You know one way I got to better understand the growth patterns in upper Montgomery County, like Gaithersburg, Germantown, and Clarksburg? A then-staffer for Councilmember George Leventhal named Dan Reed took me on a tour and showed me a lot of places I hadn't seen. (There are still plenty of developments to critique up there, don't get me wrong, but there's a lot being done that's good, too.)
I think the County Council is wise enough to focus not on some out-of-context statements but the important issues about the future of Montgomery County. I just hope none of this dissuades the next Dan Reed, ten years younger, who would also make a great Planning Board candidate one day.