Takoma Park’s County Council “Troika” Strikes Again, Bans Pesticides the EPA Considers Safe
Although Takoma Park makes up less than 2% of Montgomery County’s population, its three residents serving as at large members on the nine-member County Council have an outsized role in setting the county’s political agenda.
Earlier this month the County Council by a vote of 6 to 3 banned the use of cosmetic pesticides on private lawns. Included under the prohibition are products deemed safe by the EPA when used appropriately.
Three out of the six votes for the bill came from the at-large council members living in the “People’s Republic of Takoma Park” – Hans Riemer, Marc Elrich and Nathan Leventhal. The Takoma Park troika was joined by the council’s fourth at-large member, Nancy Floreen, the onetime mayor of the “nuclear free zone” of Garrett Park.
A majority of the council members representing the five local council districts voted against the ban, council members Berliner, Katz and Rice. To his credit, District 1 council member Roger Berliner led the charge against it, pointing out the likelihood that many sections of county law will be struck down by the courts.
Even County Executive Ike Leggett expressed reservations about the county government’s role in regulating pesticides. He noted that they already scrutinized and regulated at the federal and state level. He also questioned whether the prohibition was enforceable. Yet instead of vetoing the legislation, he simply allowed it to become law without his signature.
Writing the council, Leggett said: “An outright ban on the use of certain pesticides will be confusing to residents and businesses in the county, and will make enforcement of the law challenging, particularly given that these pesticides have been approved for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Maryland.”
Leggett also raised the prospect that because Montgomery Parks will be prevented from using pesticides on all of its playing fields by 2020, more player injuries may result from uneven surfaces. Even more confusing, not only are golf courses and the use of pesticides to control noxious weeds and invasive species exempt, but local stores are not prohibited from selling them.
Marc Elrich is typical of the Takoma Park’s at-large county council members. Elrich is a one-time Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) radical who spent nearly 20 years on the Takoma Park City Council. Louis Peck in Bethesda Magazine once quoted a source as saying: “I believe Marc is the most dangerous politician in Montgomery County. The first reason is that he is basically anti-capitalist. The second is that he is the most skillful politician in Montgomery County—the best at having an instinct for every constituency’s hot button and how to appeal to it.”
How has Takoma Park developed so much clout over county government? The Democratic primary holds the key. Over the years a smaller and smaller proportion of Democrats have participated in their party’s primary. In fact, between 1990 and 2014 the county’s Democratic primary turnout dropped from 86,167 (out of 195,523 Democrats or 44%) to 84,622 (out of 354,078 Democrats or 24%).
With fewer than one in four Democrats voting to choose their party’s candidates, leftists and other party activists have gained a lopsided influence in picking more extreme candidates. Gone is the Democratic electorate that selected centrist Democrats, such as Doug Duncan and Donald Schaefer. Once selected, in a county of over a million, with a slate of four at-large candidates, few voters know anything more about the candidates than their party affiliation. In the general election, whether a Republican opponent is endorsed by The Washington Post or spends less than a thousand dollars, the results closely follows party line voting.
What can be done? One idea would be to strengthen local representation by abolishing the four at-large seats. In the place of the current five council districts, nine individual county council districts would be created.