Does our region come together to fund and fix Metro and expand light rail, bus transit, and bike lanes in a big way, or do we keep failing to make progress? Does our region add enough housing, including affordable housing, for everyone? Or does it fall prey to NIMBY impulses and see rents skyrocket?
The future of our region depends on our elected officials. This year, voters will make decisions that have profound effects in DC, Virginia, and especially Maryland.
Where the action is
The Maryland primary on June 26 will choose a Democratic challenger to governor Larry Hogan. There's also an open seat race in Maryland's sixth congressional district and a number of likely barn burners for Maryland state senate and delegate in our region.
Voters will nominate candidates in county executive open seats in both Montgomery and Prince George's, four at-large council seats (three open) in Montgomery, two new at-large seats in Prince George's, and council district seats in both counties. There are 40 people running just for Montgomery County Council at large!
The Democratic winners in the county-level races are virtually certain to prevail in their overwhelmingly Democratic counties in November, which makes the primary essential. But Democrats are far from all the same, especially on urbanist issues, where some are far more supportive or skeptical of transit, walking and bicycling infrastructure, and new housing than others.
DC (primary June 19) has important races as well, though they're shaping up to have fewer fireworks than four years ago. Mayor Muriel Bowser may run virtually unopposed (or a serious challenger may emerge before the March petition filing deadline). Chairman Phil Mendelson has a challenger, in DC Fiscal Policy Institute head Ed Lazere. There are also challengers thus far to council incumbents Anita Bonds (at large), Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), and Charles Allen (ward 6), and others may yet emerge in wards 3 and 5, which are also up this year.
In the fall, DC voters will choose to re-elect, or replace, at-large councilmember Elissa Silverman and 399 Advisory Neighborhood Commission seats, which have real impacts on issues we care about at Greater Greater Washington.
In Virginia, Arlington Democrats will pick a challenger to incumbent County Board member John Vihstadt (I). Alexandria vice-mayor Justin Wilson hopes to unseat mayor Alison Silberberg, and the rest of the council will be up for re-election. And Democrats are also hoping in November to take out Barbara Comstock (R-VA-10), one of the US House's most vulnerable incumbents in a district which went for Hillary Clinton by 10 points. The Virginia primary is June 12.
What we're looking for
Democratic candidates in a lot of these races want to talk about how they'll stand up to Donald Trump, even if they're running for local office. Or they want to talk about their views on immigration, Net Neutrality, or other issues which are indeed important but primarily set on the federal level. Many voters are paying more attention to federal policy than local, especially since we're the national capital region, but that's not how they'll affect our lives most on a day to day level.
That's why we want to help urbanists determine the best candidates and the ones likely to win, especially in these multi-way races. In 2016, we (along with groups like Sierra Club) helped urbanists choose between two potential challengers to at-large councilmember Vincent Orange. Our choice, Robert White, was victorious in the primary, and he's been good on many of our issues since then. There will likely be many races with similar opportunities.
We want to understand which candidates will help fund Metro, other rail, and better bus service. We want to know who will push for dedicated transit lanes or protected bikeways even if that means trading off some parking or travel lanes. We want to know who won't throw good money after bad on sprawl-inducing highway projects.
Do they support adding more housing near transit and jobs, including denser development than what may be in an area? Will they support efforts in the budget and zoning to increase affordable housing and protect against displacement? Will they further environmental sustainability such as green building, better stormwater practices, clean energy, and trash reduction?
How will they tackle the varied education challenges in their jurisdictions (to the extent they have the power to, versus a school board)? Schools are one of the biggest reasons people choose to live or stay in an area, and so those choices have major impacts on neighborhoods. Jurisdictions deal with question of where to locate schools, how big they should be, how to draw the boundaries, and how to get children safely to and from their schools.
We'll ask if candidates will listen most of all to the loudest voices, especially homeowners in wealthy areas who want to keep others out of their communities, or strive to also hear the voices of younger people, people with lower incomes, people of color, and people who want to live in an area but can't yet. We want to know who can work constructively with colleagues, and who has a good shot at winning.
What we're going to do
To do this, we've set up a committee of 20 volunteers and staff from DC, Maryland, and Virginia to sort through these races for you. They are empowered to decide on Greater Greater Washington's election coverage and endorsements.
Over the next few weeks, we'll be posting introductory articles about each part of the region, with more detail about the key issues and races. We'll be sending a questionnaire to candidates in all of the races we're looking at for the June primaries:
- In Maryland: governor, state legislature, and the 6th congressional district
- In Montgomery County: county executive, county council at large, and council districts
- In Prince George's County: county executive, county council at large, and council districts
- In the District of Columbia: mayor, council chairman, council at large, and ward council seats
- In Virginia: Arlington county board, Alexandria mayor and council, and the 10th congressional district
After we get our questionnaire responses back, we'll do another set of posts to tell you what we think. Maybe we'll make some endorsements, or maybe we'll take more time to speak with candidates directly and then make our endorsements.
Along the way, we'll be doing a weekly Breakfast Links-style roundup of campaign news and sending out a weekly newsletter with it, other election coverage on GGWash, and some special content. Why don't you sign up for it now?
Twenty people seems like a lot, but we have many, many races to cover. There'll be a lot more to write about on the blog, so if you want to help with some election articles, let us know.
Tell us what you think in the comments. We're looking forward to sorting through the candidates with you!