Voters in Montgomery County and across Maryland will cast primary ballots on Tuesday, June 26. This graphic, posted to Daily Kos by Eric Hensal, visually arranges candidates for Montgomery executive and council, along with Governor Larry Hogan, based on common donors.
You can see a clear division into approximately three bands. In the middle band are many of the urbanist, smart growth candidates that GGWash endorsed, like George Leventhal, Reggie Oldak, Nancy Navarro, Tom Hucker, Hans Riemer, and Will Jawando as well as tied-for-fourth Evan Glass, who has very deep support in our community.
At the bottom are people that are getting support from the business community. Most of the Washington Post's picks are here: David Blair, Andrew Friedson, Craig Rice, Sidney Katz, Marilyn Balcombe, Gabe Albornoz.
Finally, the top band includes Marc Elrich and most of his allies. Elrich draws most of his support from organized labor and anti-new-housing neighborhood groups. Other candidates in this area share some of this base, though not always all: Danielle Meitiv is a pro-housing progressive, for instance, but appears in the top zone as she is drawing from many similar donors as the Elrich group even if she differs on certain core policy views.
There are some side clusters, like the region showing Ben Shnider, Meredith Wellington, Bill Conway, and Shruti Bhatnaghar on the left. Those candidates are actually quite diverse ideologically but don't neatly fall into the top or bottom categories. Shnider is very progressive and pro-housing while Wellington was formerly a Republican member of the Planning Board and has made opposition to growth her core issue.
Jill Ortman-Fouse is missing from the graph, perhaps because she entered the race just before the filing deadline and has less data than others.
What the graphic does and doesn't tell us
The graphic doesn't reflect everything. It only includes donors who gave at least $100 to two or more candidates, so it tell us about the relative preferences of larger donors like business leaders or wealthier homeowners but not other county residents, who might have different priorities. Candidates don't always line up on every issue, so for instance, positions on the $15 minimum wage don't particularly appear here (because it's not a priority for $100 donors, perhaps).
With some notable exceptions (like Shnider and Meitiv) the graphic broadly divides candidates on what we could call an anti-housing versus developer axis (top to bottom) and a west to east geographic axis (left to right).
As Tracy Hadden Loh and Brent Bolin recently explained, smart growth is neither dogmatically in favor of all development nor always against it, especially in a place like Montgomery County where there's been good, walkable urban new housing near transit and including affordable housing, and then there's been bad, sprawly growth sometimes as well. That's why when candidates get divided between those against everything and those for everything, many of the urbanist and smart growth candidates end up in the middle.
Ben Ross cautioned that these aren't the only axes to consider. He said, “there are any number of other contributor correlations that exist and can sometimes be seen if you stare carefully at the lines in the image, but are buried in the center of the chart: George Leventhal's ties to immigrant communities, or Leventhal, Oldak, Berliner, and Albornoz's ties to the Democratic precinct chair network.”
First- and second-generation Asian immigrant candidates Mohammad Siddique, Ashwani Jain, and Hoan Dang, along with Bhatnagar, form another cluster on on the left side of the image. They are not ideologically the same, but draw from a common donor base centered in Potomac, Bethesda, and Rockville.
two Montgomery County political mailers, two very different portrayals of cranes used to make very different statements about growth and change. pic.twitter.com/uymDWWb2rR— dan reed (@justupthepike) June 13, 2018
You're not a a crypto-Republican if you don't hate all buildings
In his explanation of the graph, Hensal tries to instead characterize the top-to-bottom axis as left versus right on a political spectrum. He calls the bottom group “Republican/Developer cronies” says he put Hogan in the data set specifically as “a marker of Republican sympathies in a Democratic county.” (He doesn't mention Wellington, though.)
A number of anti-new-housing organizers and candidates have been trying to characterize that position as the progressive one, even though it is fundamentally defending wealthy communities' exclusionary impulses. Since Marc Elrich is farthest left on many fiscal issues and also the most opposed to new housing and jobs, it's polarizing the Montgomery County political class in this way.
Elrich allies have scapegoated developers, who are businesspeople that build homes and offices, in a way they haven't done with, say, restaurant owners even though some restaurants might have poor labor practices.
This divisive rhetoric has created some angst for voters who don't see all new buildings or business activity as inherently suspect but also want to see a strong social safety net and to reduce inequality:
Montgomery County's economic situation is creating an identity crisis for some Dems. I spoke to two Dem voters who want to see more support for small business and “smart growth” in the county, but worried they “sounded like Republicans.”— Ally Schweitzer (@allyschweitzer) June 12, 2018
This led to a fascinating discussion between GGWash contributor and Advocacy Committee member Nick Sementelli, who is a professional organizer for progressive causes, and fellow urbanist Twitter denizen “Vlad Oligarchsky”:
Yea I think its more about the “lack of.” In the absence of leadership on these issues, we cede the space to the handful of folks with passionate but problematic policy ideas— Nick Sementelli (@NSementelli) June 12, 2018
Yea, there's a “hearts and minds” ground game too. Smart growth advocates need to make and win the case among progressives that there's a better path to our shared desired outcomes.— Nick Sementelli (@NSementelli) June 12, 2018
Many members of the Greater Greater Washington community, like Sementelli, are progressives and urbanists at the same time. They want to persuade other self-described progressives that adding homes, making communities more inclusive, and trying to keep housing prices from rising too fast are progressive values, while opposing new housing is not.
What do you think? What are the tensions within regional and national politics as it comes to urbanist, smart growth issues? What would you say to the troubled Dems Ally Schweitzer talked to?