Friday, June 10, 2016

The Erwin Mack Attack

On the occasion of Erwin Mack being awarded the William Donald Schaefer Award for Helping People by Maryland Comptroller and Takoma Park resident Peter Franchot -

"The award was presented in Langley Park, where most of Mack’s activism has centered for the past three decades. While Mack is known for the Takoma Langley Crossroads Development Authority, a business association, which he founded and chaired for more than 20 years, he is equally well known for working with community members from both Prince George’s and Montgomery counties to make Langley Park, the area straddling both counties, safer for pedestrians. Before Mack’s taskforce got involved, the New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard intersection was the third most dangerous in the state. The group lobbied for realignment of signals, bus stops, pedestrian crossings and put up fencing in the area to discourage the mostly new immigrant residents from dashing across the street to catch buses.

“You were so influential in that you did so much for public safety, for pedestrian safety and I don’t believe the Purple line [above ground light rail] would be on the burner right now if the task force didn’t lead the charge,” Franchot said while presenting the award. He also noted that because of the good that came from Mack’s taskforce, they planned to reinstate the group.

In addition to the award, Mack received a proclamation from the state of Maryland and a newly issued comptroller’s medal. In accepting the award, Mack shared how honored he was for the recognition and his motivation for getting involved. “I’m a first-generation American,” he said. “My parents were immigrants and I didn’t learn to speak English until I was six years old. Folks who come to me from other cultures think I don’t understand, but my response is ‘I went through what you went through before your parents were born.’ I know what it is like to live with parents who could not speak English ... So my heart went out to the people here who were being hurt by poor pedestrian habits.” 

At 82 Mack is still a community activist as he chairs the Montgomery County Pedestrian Traffic Safety Committee. “I’m not supposed to sit in a rocking chair,” he asserts. “There are things to be done because people my age have the experience do it!”"

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Superman and Robin

Robin Ficker is insane, or as described in a Maureen Dowd piece from 1980 from the old Star, "crazy," "embarrassing," "unscrupulous," and ""ineffectual," but he was friends and training buddies with Muhammad Ali at the peak of the champion's fame.

He also has a long history of fighting for the interests of Takoma Park and Silver Spring residents.
"The next year, Ficker, who ran a law practice when not running for office or just plain running, sued Montgomery County in federal court to prevent the closing of Silver Spring Intermediate. The school had one of the higher minority populations in the district; Ficker's suit pointed out that the same school board that had recently voted to spend $1.5 million to renovate nearby Chevy Chase Elementary, described in news reports as "nearly all-white," had rejected a request for $30,000 to patch holes in roof of Silver Spring Intermediate's roof so it could remain viable. Alas, a judge discounted Ficker's discrimination allegations and upheld the closing.
Ficker also fought righteously for Deborah Drudge, a 31-year-old lawyer from Takoma Park, Md. She had only recently passed the bar exam, and had applied for a job with the Montgomery County Attorney's office, but felt her application wasn't taken seriously. Ficker filed a federal gender discrimination lawsuit against the county, alleging that her job interviewers were more interested "in her marital status and baby sitting arrangements" for her 6-year-old son than in her intellect or professional competence. According to newspaper reports about the case, the county had hired only white males for every non-clerical job in the county attorney's office since it opened in 1938.
"How can we expect enforcement of county laws against sex discrimination if the people charged with enforcement are discriminating?" Ficker told the Washington Star after filing the suit, which demanded the county diversify the attorney's office.
The county wasn't going to go down easy. ("I'm not going to be bulldozed into hiring women or blacks just on that basis unless the county hiring regulations are changed," railed County Attorney Richard S. McKernon.) But during discovery, Ficker says, his side uncovered that several county departments, including the county attorney's office, routinely rated female applicants "as to their physique and facial features."
Drudge "found out she was rated in the third quarter in both, or below average," he says. "I'd rate her in the top 1 percent in intelligence, though.
A Washington Star report on the suit indicated that the judge approved a settlement calling for the county to stop asking job applicants any questions concerning marital status or child care arrangements, and to revise the post-interview appraisal form "to eliminate ratings as to physique and facial features … for these ratings have sexual overtones that might be degrading to women."
Drudge was, by then, head of the legal committee of the county's chapter of the National Organization of Women. The six-year-old kid whose daycare arrangements inspired the suit? He grew up to be Matt Drudge. "He was a naughty boy," Ficker says."
Who knows, maybe Ficker is right about term limits for Montgomery County Council members, too?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Urban and Edgy

Taco Bell has announced four new design concepts.  We should get "Urban Edge" because we're urban and edgy, but who knows what they will stick us with.  The "Heritage" design below would kind of remind me of a refectory in a Spanish mission if it weren't serving "Mexican-inspired food with a twist."  Meanwhile, my old home Berkeley will be getting a new Cantina Taco Bell.  Perhaps it will go better than the attempt to locate one in the City.  In other news, the old Taco Bell around the corner from where I lived and where I never contemplated visiting is now a real Mexican place with 800 reviews on Yelp.

Shoot me now.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Hyattsville Values

Hyattsville and Prince George's County have a spiffy new Safeway as part of their transit-oriented development centered around Prince George's Plaza and its adjacent Metro stop.  So did Safeway locate a new store there when it's closing stores in Montgomery County simply because of demographics and economic demand in that area?  Not exactly.  The city and county aggressively courted Safeway as an anchor of the mixed-used, transit-oriented University Town Center and even provided $3.5 million in tax credits and other incentives.

So how did Hyattsville, a close-in suburb of 17,000 with a progressive heritage but issues with crime and urban blight, manage to accomplish this feat when its more prosperous counterpart Takoma Park has never even attempted to remedy the loss of its only Safeway, which left the city in 2009 after a half-century in that location?  That's easy to answer - city and county officials put their money where their mouths are and invested in a business that will help that community.  “It is the type of retail that will help this area grow and enhance the quality of life in this very walkable community,” County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said.  Of course, Takoma Park itself could have made that kind of investment, but its leaders prefer to devote resources to things such as a boutique municipal library that should have been phased out or incorporated into a county system years ago, like every other municipal library in the state, and that now costs the city taxpayers over $1 million a year because the state reasonably won't support it.

Then again, the city of Hyattsville, unlike Takoma Park, actually works with developers such as EYA instead of fighting with them when they reasonably try to bring higher-density development to areas that are appropriate for transit-oriented development.  That's how the city and business leaders have been able to essentially invent a new Arts District that has revitalized their Route 1 corridor.  As a result, Hyattsville now has desirable businesses such as Spice 6, Yes! Organic Market, and Vigilante Coffee as well as lots of modern apartments and condos in an area once dominated by car dealerships.  Oh well, I'm sure that Takoma Park officials will come up with more ways to waste taxpayer money on windowdressing and gateway projects without any substantive development to show for it.