Vote. Just Vote.

Small Potatoes Blog is largely about issues and politics, so I feel like I would disappoint you if I didn’t write the predictable “please vote…your vote counts…exercise your rights…make your opinion count” Election Day-eve kind of post.

So, as not to disappoint, I’m pleading with you to exercise your right to vote tomorrow.

On top of that, I’m also going to give you my opinions, because I like to opine – at least on the races I see as really important. If you don’t want them, read no further.  I won’t be offended, but you might be missing that little something to help you frame an informed opinion.  Warning – I am not a straight-ticket democrat, particularly on the Ballot questions (against the union, against my party’s map, for gambling).  My ballot is kind of all over the place, and in one particular case (senate), I still haven’t made a happy decision.

President – I’m voting for Barack Obama.  I think Romney is fine, but he won;t talk about his budget plan to make me feel comfortable that he can fix this mess better than Obama.  Obama’s economy is trending upward a little, and I don’t want to spend the next year risking that trend in limbo until Romney would get his sea legs.  On top of that, I’m a woman and I have a daughter.  That Romney wouldn’t even indicate if he would/would not sign the Fair Pay Act, and that he would take away the provisions in Obamacare that prevent my gender from simply being a pre-existing condition are enormous red flags for me.

Senate – This is where I’m undecided.  I have carefully examined all three candidates – Bongino (R), Sobhani (I), and Cardin (D).  I will likely vote for Cardin, but I’m not happy about it. Cardin is visible to his constituents 2 months before any election, and we don’t see him much otherwise.  He’s done some good advocacy work for the Chesapeake Bay, and I appreciate that.  I really WANTED to like Bongino, just because I felt like a change might be warranted, and I was hoping for a moderate republican to support.  Bongino is not moderate.  He is hard-core republican, and I can’t support his blind support of the Republican platform.  Sobhani seems more moderate, but won’t answer the questions about women’s health and women’s rights that I asked him. I don’t believe he necessarily holds the opposite opinions of me in that regard, but I think he just doesn’t care.  He is solely focused on the economy and jobs.  That’s not a bad thing…I guess everyone needs to know their limits, but I’d like to know where my Senator is coming down on critical votes.  So, I’m probably a reluctant vote for Cardin, but could switch to Sobhani if I can get better info at the polls.

Congressman – I’m voting Delaney.  I like him.  I really like him.  He’s a business guy, and when I spoke with him, he was very down to earth.  He’s not an establishment kind of guy, and in fact was not really supported by the party in his primary.  I voted for him then, and I’ll proudly cast my vote for him tomorrow.

School Board – Smondrowski vs. Evans:  Smondrowski has my vote.  She has a depth of recent experience in the school system that I can appreciate.  Evans is a really great guy, too, but more removed from the current state of affairs.

Question 4:  YES.  If a child graduates from a MD High School, is academically prepared and accepted into a MD State University, has a family who has paid MD taxes, and wants to learn and grow into a productive adult, it’s only fair that we let them.  I don’t care about your stance on illegal immigration – these are just kids who didn’t choose to grow up in a place they weren’t born, and they deserve a shot at a productive career.  To be completely cliche, it’s the American Way.  If I was blamed for the ills of my parents as I tried to transition into adulthood, I’d be nowhere right now.

Question 5: NO.  The congressional redistricting map is a disgrace to the democratic party.  O’Malley and our party leaders should be ashamed.  I wrote a longer post about it awhile back.  ‘Nuff said.

Question 6: YES.  I’m embarrassed that I have to vote to give my friends the same rights that I take for granted.  I think my grandkids and great-grandkids might look back on this period the same way we study the sufferage movement.  See a longer post on this one, too.

Question 7:  YES.  Bring on the gambling, and all the jobs and economic investment that will come with it.  Click for my diatribe!

Question B:  I’m voting YES, against the union.  Our MoCo police chief shouldn’t have to argue with the union about small management decisions.  To me, that negatively impacts safety and creates unnecessary costs.

 

So, there are my opinions on the big issues.  My only hope is that this election isn’t riddled with fraud like our own City elections were last year.  Although, I don’t hold out hope for a fraud-free day, considering the State BOE “inadvertently” left off the 2nd page of thousands of absentee ballots, and then sent over 5,000 voters TWO absentee ballots, even after some (2-page ballots, not even the ones with missing pages!) were already completed and sent back.  Ugh.

Sweet dreams!  Can’t wait for tomorrow – I’ll be volunteering at the Lakelands Park poll in the early evening.  Come visit!

 

We should all be Embarrassed Voting on Question 6, but Vote Yes

I’m completely embarrassed that I have to cast a vote to give fellow human beings – my friends, colleagues, and neighbors – the same civil rights that I take for granted.  It’s ludicrous that such a vote should have to take place at all.  We should all be embarrassed, so much that we go scream from the mountaintops to support yes votes on Question 6.

Newark, NJ Mayor Cory Booker hit the nail on the head when he said, “Equal protection under the law – for race, religion, gender or sexual orientation – should not be subject to the most popular sentiments of the day, marriage equality is not a choice. It is a legal right.” I like Cory Booker.   (Full article and a video of Cory Booker speaking on the issue, much more eloquent than I ever will be, can be found here.)

If that isn’t enough persuasion for you, check out this article in the Baltimore Sun – marriage equality will be great for attracting highly-qualified and creative talent to the state from states who are not yet considering marriage equality as a legal right.

How do your local officials react to this ballot question?  A certain Councilman in Gaithersburg, the one that I respect most, is sadly off the mark on this issue, and is allowing his conservative version of humanity to cloud his vision of human rights.  Another certain Honorable Small Potato, one of those I respect least, is on the leading edge of this debate, having testified in Annapolis in support of marriage equality.  I think that particular small potato was really just trying to kiss the governor’s tushie and earn himself some state house credit, but I commend him none-the-less.   The other 4 haven’t really said much about it.  Unfortunate.

This shouldn’t be a partisan issue.  It’s about human rights – not a liberal or conservative platform.  My friends and neighbors shouldn’t have to fight for a vote to say that they’re in love and married.

This debate also should not be about the bible.  I’m a born and bred Christian, attend a wonderful church, and believe in the holy trinity, but I do not believe the bible is an effective tool for governing public policy or human rights.  John Shore said it best here:

“Employing the Bible in an argument about the legality of gay marriage,” I said, “is like employing pliers to saw through wood. It’s the wrong tool for the job.Illegal is not a religious term.”

“The fight against gay marriage is about fear. It’s about anger. It’s about unadulterated bigotry. It’s about stupid, ignorant, stubborn, blind, gut-level hatred. It’s got as much to do with anything Jesus taught as checker pieces have to do with playing chess.”

But, if you are among those fear mongers who must employ the bible to prevent my friends from getting married, then maybe you should also make certain that men can carry a food buffet around in their ever-growing, never-shaven beards, we should all go to he11 for our awful potty mouths and for watching the Redskins on the Sabbath, we should publicly stone to death any suspected adulterers (and in my pleasantville neighborhood, there is more suspicion than you’d think!), all women should go into isolation during their periods, lest they sit in your chair and make it “impure,” we should offer up sacrificial animals, we should never eat Maryland crabcakes, or wear cotton-poly blend shirts.  Oh, the horror!

Please vote yes on Question 6 and end my humiliation at having to even consider this issue as one fit for the polls.

The Mass Exodus on Main Street begins…

C’mon, Small Potatoes, when will you wake up and understand that Main Street needs more than your sloppy surveys and self-righteous facebook posts that you are eating at Vasilis (although I’m glad you do come here occasionally, I don’t need to see the pictures of your half-nibbled plate that might make people think you support Main Street).

Look what happened this week alone:

While I really hate to see any business leave Main Street, I can’t blame these two.  Chloe’s in particular, will be a real loss.  They’ve been here awhile, really tried to hit a stride, and for better or worse, according to Tom Lonergan’s infamous survey, people in the neighborhood really do want an independent coffee shop.  I guess they don’t want it enough…or wait, that survey doesn’t mean much because maybe there aren’t enough customers in the neighborhood to support them, and Main Street needs to figure out how to draw customers from outside of Pleasantville.  (Sorry if I sound like a broken record…)

I care about the viability of Main Street as much as just about anyone.  I may no longer have a storefront on Main Street, but I did, and I founded the KDP, and I chose to live here, raise my kids here, and we still operate our business here from home.  I just care.  So, I had a chance to sit down with Tom Lonergan and talk about Main Street, the next steps for his survey, and how he feels about the pending game of Monkey in the Middle I described in an earlier post.  

If you checked out my last blog post on Patch, you know that I set out to ask him some pretty tough questions.  As usual and expected, my meeting with Tom was informative, interesting and the time passed quickly!  Also as expected, his “official” responses were drier than his quippy conversation.  But, I’ll take what I can get and see how you respond:

As for the website, promised since he started, he promises that he’ll have something to show people soon.  He says that much of the back-end work is complete, will include a bucket for each of the City’s commercial centers, an events calendar, sections to highlight the City’s incentive programs, search engines for available properties, information on demographics, major employers, housing, schools, transportation links, and a bucket dedicated to the Biotech industry.

When asked about Kentlands Downtown being squashed by Crown and Watkins Mill, and if it worries him, he says that he’s “thrilled by the new commercial development at both Crown and Watkins Mill, not to mention the fresh life that will be breathes into Lakeforest Mall by its new owners.”  Huh?  Well, i guess he HAS to say that.  He went on to say that the new investment means new revenue, shopping and jobs for Gaithersburg residents.

I get that, but what about property values here in Kentlands/Lakelands, Tom?  What will happen when all of these Main Street shops leave?  He commented, “I believe that a neighborhood as beloved, as charming, and as successful as the Kentlands will always have a style and allure of its own.”  Tom!  Clearly that allure isn’t working!!!  He said he is working on some ways to enhance the aesthetic of Main Street.

Does it bother Tom that Crown and others are wooing our favorite businesses away?  Not really.  He says it hardly surprises him.  It doesn’t surprise me, either.  Tom says, “Great businesses are always being courted by other centers and other towns.  It’s always nice to see businesses that start within, and almost always become synonymous with, a particular neighborhood, to stay where they are and thrive, but I also recognize the realities of commerce and competition.”

He also mentioned that he is planning to open up a Main Street survey to others in the near future, but wasn’t able to give a firm date.  I think this is critical to get feedback from people who don’t live here.  What would bring them here?  A new independent coffeeshop…oh, wait…

Who at the City is Sleeping with Sherri the Pennsylvania Crabcake Lady?

It’s no secret that I am critical of the City’s organization of major community festivals. I organize these types of events for clients often, and to great success. I have been trying to create change for years through testimony to City Council, letters to the editor as a former President and founder of the Kentlands Downtown Partnership, and sitting on City committees. None of that worked, and so now I write a blog and can point out criticism and opportunities for change here. Maybe something will eventually click! Oktoberfest was this past weekend, and I attended with my famiily. My kids had fun getting their faces painted, riding the ponies and dancing on the dance floor. I enjoyed the music and seeing many of my neighbors out on a beautiful, sunny day. There were lots of people there, and I’m glad people were having fun in our neighborhood. I’m just convinced that the City leaders and Parks department will never learn from their mistakes with regard to supporting local business. They lose so many opportunities to misplaced priorities at these events.

There were fewer businesses there than in prior years. My guess why? The City doesn’t understand that local businesses use these events as marketing opportunities, and fewer businesses are willing to return, or may just lower their monetary participation level, after being disheartened. I’ve been citing certain examples for years including Sherri’s Crabcakes from Pennsylvania (wait a second, isn’t Maryland famous for crabcakes?) being brought in to vend at this event. The owner of O’Donnells, who is a fabulous and consistent supporter of local events and a four-year Platinum sponsor of Kentlands Day, where he sells lots of the best crabcakes ever each year, has told yours truly in the past that he would never come out to City events like Oktoberfest again after being placed near Sherri’s at Oktoberfest years ago. The owner of Potomac Pizza, also a wonderful supporter of the community, was once a high-donor sponsor of Oktoberfest, but doesn’t appreciate the competition with the out-of-state food trucks. He comes to sell his awesome pizza pie, but not as a sponsor any longer. Unfortunately, this message to cater to local business and to make these events beneficial for them has fallen on deaf ears for years. Here’s just one instance of several when I’ve testified to the small potatoes about this concern with regard to City-organized events.

This year, I saw so many wasted opportunities to highlight local businesses and make sure that each of them had a great experience and want to come back. My Gym and Romp-n-Roll, direct competitors, were placed on the lawn right next to each other. Neither of them could have been happy with that, and only one is even a G’burg biz. A row of businesses including a couple from the neighborhood, were placed right in front of noisy generators from the concession stands (at least they ultimately moved those business tents across the street instead of being right up against the noise and fumes, but who wants to be near that noise all day?). Ever heard of a silent generator, City of Gaithersburg? They exist and could have powered that entire row of concessions. Better yet, you can rent one right in Olde Towne at Gaithersburg Rental, and their experts will even help you run the spider box wires to each vendor. And while some may have appreciated that the City shoved all the politicos off to the side street, the one real business – a window company if I recall – couldn’t have appreciated that you placed them at the very end of politico row at the bottom of a blocked hill, virtually ensuring very little traffic to their tent. You weren’t that crowded on the other streets that you couldn’t have fit them in somewhere else.

Oktoberfest pulls business away from Main Street on what could typically be a very busy weekend retail/restaurant sales day. The least the organizers can do is find good ways to highlight our local businesses and not make them compete with out-of-state concessions.

 

But, again, others and I have been saying these things for years to no avail. So, which potato is sleeping with Sherri and allowing her to sell out-of-state crabcakes (really – Pennsylvania crab cakes? I don’t see the Phillies hiring a MD company to sell cheesesteaks..!) each year? Sigh.

Should I go on. I can, and I will. But I’m just exasperated and will be heading to Miami for some Rice-A-Roni and I’ll stay away from Idaho because I have enough potatoes here in G’burg.

Buried Potatoes Have no Eyes – a guest post by Tom Rowse

I have been seeing a problem that is having a direct and negative impact on our city—it is crime.  We have had an epidemic of crime in my Deer Park neighborhood for over 12 years because our indecisive little elected potatoes have chosen to bury their heads in the dirt when it comes to addressing this problem, so now the problem is beginning to grip the entire city.  Oh, they will always say that they want crime rates to drop and constantly quote numbers about lower crime rates that mean absolutely nothing when it comes to truly combating this type of disturbing behavior.  When it comes to action, they bury their respective (or as they say about themselves “honorable”) heads in the sand and repeat their mantra to themselves over and over again: “There is no crime in Gaithersburg.” Huh?

One small potato who likes books and his quaint little festival said that he doesn’t have anything to lose sleep over at night in this City.  But then again, he doesn’t have the police on his block five times in a month, or the swat team multiple times over the years to address violence, and he doesn’t confront a group of 9 men in front of his house during the middle of the day getting drunk and leaving piles and piles of empty beer cans and liquor bottles behind, and he doesn’t have to see the seniors fearful of walking into town (even during the day) because they fear for their safety.  He doesn’t care that multiple houses and cars are broken into at all times of the day and night, and he hasn’t awoke to a stolen car ditched in his cul de sac and police searching through his yard, and he hasn’t witnessed a gang “beat in” in front of his home, like I have.  Did I mention I live right by City Hall?  The only time he or his colleagues set foot in this side of the city is on Monday nights when they have their weekly meeting or for his festival and then they go promptly home to sleep.  My guess is that his ignorance is his bliss and being a blind, know nothing, follower is better than finding solutions for these escalating problems.

I’ve been watching the potatoes’ weekly meetings on TV and even attended one the other night for the first time in nearly a year, but after listening for 45 minutes to what they ate for dinner over the past few weeks and what they have done socially since the last meeting, I realize they continue to stroke their own egos while showing a lack of any ideas or actions for making this city a safer place to live.  By missing out on many opportunities to move forward with the revitalization of the Olde Towne area, they have allowed and even enabled the pockets of poverty to grow.  The crime associated with those pockets, rampant in our neighborhood for years, is quickly beginning to trickle into other neighborhoods.

When potatoes stay buried in the ground, they rot.

(Tom Rowse is a local businessman, lifelong Gaithersburg resident of Olde Towne, former City Council Candidate, former Olde Towne Advisory Committee chairperson and member of the Economic Development Committee.)

Main Street – a couple businesses are winning

There are a couple of new(er) businesses on Main Street in Kentlands Downtown that I visit frequently, with my two kids in tow, and adore.  These businesses appear to be thriving, and it’s not just because they are owned/operated by the best-of-the-best kind of people, or because they are family-friendly, or because they have great products.  All of these things are absolute musts for success on Main Street, but these businesses are more successful and gain more exposure because they forge great community partnerships.

The businesses I’m writing about – Green Jeans Boutique and SpagNvola – are indeed everywhere.  I attended an event called “Rachel Carson Day” this past weekend at Green Jeans.  A percentage of sales went back to our local school’s PTA, they had lots of kids involved (this proud mama’s daughter’s daisy troop artwork was on the wall) with their artwork and baked goods , the local principal was slated to make an appearance, and not only were they highlighting their own business, but they also let others get in on the action to make it a more interesting event that might raise a few more pennies for the PTA.  A friend who has created and manufactured a unique lip gloss jewelry line for girls called Glosslets was there selling her fun necklaces, and Stella & Dot was there, too.  A student created some fun duct tape keychains and backpack rings to be sold there, and another student made blue ribbon cupcakes.  Was Green Jeans worried that having others involved might distract from their sales?  Clearly not.  They made it a terrific community event that would draw a crowd, enhance their sales, the sales of other vendors they brought in for the day, and entice more Main Street traffic.  Win and Win and Win.  (and I got a couple consignment sweaters for my kids!  Double win for me!)

Look at SpagNVola – awesome product and people.  Single source cocao beans, organically farmed in the Dominican Republic, manufactured right here on Main Street into the most delicious chocolate products you’ve ever tasted.  (OMG – tried their pumpkin chai-something truffles – heaven!)  Did you ever think we’d have our own chocolate factory in Kentlands?  They are awesome people, too – they take care of their farmers by encouraging them to underplant vegetables for their own consumption or to sell at the market on their own.  They host local charity events and private parties at their charming store.  They do outreach at farmers markets, and they partner with local wine stores and gift stores – like Pinky and Pepe’s and Kentlands Flowers & Bows.  They do this to draw more people to their store and enhance their sales, but these efforts draw a lot more people to Main Street, which will cyclically bring even more people.  Win for them.  Win for their farmers.  Win for Main Street.  BIG WIN for this chocolate lover!

I was watching CNN tonight (as I often do because I’m a totally proud political geek), and one of the correspondents, referring to a current political poll, brought up the old adage that in order to do well in politics, people must “know you, like you, and trust you.”  I think the same is true of small business.  The event business my husband and I started in better economic times has hung on in this dire economy, and through a major scale-back, because our clients know us for being involved in the community, like us personally, and trust us to do a great job at their events.  These two newer businesses I write about today are becoming well known, are very well-liked, and I already trust them.  I know others feel the same.

My hope is that these businesses can survive on their islands.  They will become destinations and hopefully support the revitalization of Main Street.  Maybe they will get enough crowds to survive without an interesting and useful mix of other businesses along their otherwise boring-enough blocks, even though they can’t be found once you get into the neighborhood, let alone from the highway.  My hunch, though, is that they will need some help because of all the reasons I’ve written about before in this post and this post.   The potatoes in City Hall, and our Economic Development Director Tom Lonergan, better get on board and form a plan, like yesterday, because I need great, inexpensive kids clothes and awesome organic chocolate in my life.

(Until then, I beg you readers, please go to these stores, help keep them in business.  There are at least a couple hundred of you who read this blog!  Tell a friend and ask them to tell a friend…you won’t be sorry after you have the pumpkin chai truffle.  pinky promise.)