Guest Blog: Matt Losak, Renter’s Alliance

Over 35% of all residents in Montgomery County are renters. in Silver Spring, it’s over 50%. Our laws, both state and federal, are woefully inadequate to protect populations of often elderly and immigrant populations. The Renter’s Alliance exists to advocate for the rights of tenants, and Matt Losak is the heart and soul of the organization. Please come to this event if you can. Tenant advocacy is one of the most important issues facing Montgomery County and Maryland right now.

Time to Stand with Renters, and Party with Them Too!
Building Community Celebration, Thursday, December 3, 7:30 p.m.

 In just a few decades, County residents living in rental housing has grown to 36%- up from 25% in 2008-and the trend is continuing at a hurried pace. One need only search for an empty lot or an acre or two of green in downtown Silver Spring that does not have apartment construction underway. The fact is, the DC area is a job hub and housing demand is among the highest in the nation. Vacancy rates in Montgomery County are below 5%, and with no cap on rent increases, older rental housing properties, like the Blairs complex near the Silver Spring metro, are seeing massive reinvestment tearing down the once considered “affordable apartments” in favor of what will soon be known as luxury living—for those who can afford it.

Montgomery County is no longer a house and garden county with a few folks living in rental housing. It’s now a collection of cities with rental apartment living growing by leaps and bounds. And for a growing number, renting is no longer a station on the way to owning, it is a permanent way of life.

But each year a growing number of renters face losing their homes to excessive rent increases, retaliatory evictions, unscrupulous landlords neglecting maintenance, harassing and intimidating renters who complain or attempt to organize other tenants, and an alarming increase in abuse of renters, especially vulnerable populations including the elderly (in one instance property management threatened the elderly residents with eviction if found snoozing in common area chairs), immigrants, those with physical and mental disabilities, working families with children and everyone living on tight economic circumstances whose lives face personal and financial disaster if forced to move.

The impact of unstable rental communities goes well beyond anecdotal horror stories. In testimony before the County Council last June, Montgomery County School Board Member Jill Ortman-Fouse described schools with as much as a 33% mobility rate among students—imagine, one out of three children moving schools in the same year, affecting academic performance and family health.

In the past two months alone, the Renters Alliance has worked with five tenants –all seniors—who were being evicted by their landlords because they sought required or promised services. The Hampshire Towers boondoggle, where scores of families face losing their homes to rent increases originally as high as 25-72% (recently negotiated to a slightly less outrageous 15%), is but one example, not an exception to the rule).

Since our founding in 2010, the Renters Alliance has worked with hundreds of renters who cannot get their building management to attend to basic maintenance issues and renters across the County are being priced out of their homes as rent rise out of reach of long-term tenants. We work with County government as tenant advocates to mediate disputes, balancing the table across from landlords, their lawyers and property staff. We support policies and legislation that further renter protections and we have, with our allies and friends, made safe, affordable, quality and stable rental housing an issue familiar to every elected official in the County and much of the state.

Renter issues are real and for many severe. But we should take stock in our work directly saving hundreds from abuse, neglect and being forced out and protecting thousands more through our work. That’s why on Thursday, December 3, at 7:30 p.m. we are hosting our first annual “Building Community Celebration” at the Fillmore, 8656 Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring. The event will feature West African music and dance by Grammy-award nominated Cheick Hamala Diabate. Tickets range from $25-$125 for general admission, but no one will be turned away. We have free tickets for anyone who cannot afford to pay. So why not join us for a party to celebrate and support our work? Our neighborhoods may depend on it.

-Matt Losak
Executive Director
The Montgomery County Renters Alliance, Inc.


Visit the Renters Alliance website at

Guest Blog: Dave Asche - All Elections Matter

Dave Asche currently works for Councilmember Tom Hucker. Dave is also on the board of the Montgomery County Young Democrats, serving as secretary. He has worked on countless campaigns over the several years I’ve known him, including Hucker’s 2014 Council campaign, the 2014 Brown campaign, and just this month, Kate Stewart’s campaign for mayor in Takoma Park. You want him on your side in your next campaign - he’s smart, he’s funny and he works his ass off for his candidates. To his detriment, he’s a Boston Red Sox and Oakland Raiders fan, although I try not to hold that against him too much. He’s one of the many YDs and other campaign junkies that give me more hope for the future than the media stories about politically disaffected young people would have us believe. The views expressed here are Dave’s alone, although I agree with most of them.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Another off year election has yielded bad results for Democrats. We lost big in Kentucky, failed to retake the Virginia State Senate, and saw an LGBT protection law in Houston go down in a landslide. 

But hey, at least we won the Takoma Park mayor’s race, right? 

How bad is it for Democrats these days? Since 2009, Republicans have picked up more than 900 state legislature seats. They now have unified control in 25 states to the Democrats’ seven. Republicans control 32 governorships, hold 54 seats in the U.S. Senate, and have their largest House majority since the 1920s.  

Not bad for a party supposedly too old, too white, and too extreme to win elections.  

Whatever it is Republicans are doing to get their voters out in off year elections, Democrats need to emulate it. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have any strategy for winning down ballot races and based on turnout numbers, Democratic voters don’t seem to care about these races either. 

Quite frankly, many Democratic voters are naive. Collectively, we seem to believe if we just put a Democrat in the White House, everything will be fine and dandy. Then, when the president doesn’t fix everything in 10 days, we get angry and refuse to vote in the next election. Then, the very same people who refused to vote in midterm election turn around and complain when Republicans sweep into power and block policies they want Democrats to implement.  

Do we not realize a Democratic president needs a Democratic Congress to get things done? Do we not understand that having Democrats in control of state and local governments is important too? Apparently the answer is no. 

I am not sure which is more frustrating. Naive voters who don’t vote but still complain, or the people who think we are going to magically win every election?  

You don’t have to look hard to find liberal media figures and pundits who think GOP extremism will carry Democrats to victory on Election Day. Remember when the Tea Party-led government shutdown in 2013 was going to show voters how incapable of governing Republicans were? Remember how 2014 was going to be a great year for Democrats? Democrats couldn’t even win statewide races in deep blue states like Maryland and Massachusetts 

Heck, Democrats are cocky even after their candidate(s) loses. After 2010, Democrats were convinced blue state Govs. Rick Scott (FL), Scott Walker (WI), and Paul LePage (ME) would easily lose their reelection campaigns. All three won in 2014. 

Just this year, many on the left thought there was no way a fringe right winger like Matt Bevan was going to be elected Governor. Not even in bright red Kentucky. He won by eight points. 

Many Democrats mock Republican candidates for having off the wall points of view. But there are a lot of people out there who actually believe what they say. They do not represent the majority of Americans, but when they are the majority of the people actually voting, they win and that’s what matters.

And things could get even worse. Republicans are likely to pick up two more governorships in West Virginia and Missouri next year. The House will be in GOP hands until at least 2022 due to GOP state legislatures redrawing Congressional Districts. The 2016 Senate map is not as friendly to Democrats as many seem to think; and the Senate map in 2018 looks even worse for Democrats than the 2014 map.  

Plus, there is no guarantee Democrats will even keep the White House in 2016. There is zero evidence the coalition that turned out in 2008 and 2012 will vote when Obama is not on the ballot. Add in the fact Hillary Clinton is a very flawed candidate, and it is a 50-50 shot. 

Despite all of that, many Democrats are still convinced 2016 is a lock. I hear some version of “we got this in the bag” too often. There are even articles out there that suggest the White House has already been handed to Hillary Clinton due to the circus surrounding the GOP while they were trying to find a new House Speaker. Seriously? Some people are just incapable of learning from the past. 

It is not the GOP that is careening towards years out of power. Democrats are the ones who are in trouble. If we don’t quickly figure out a way to turn our voters out in every election, for every office on the ballot, the country will back to the disastrous days of unified GOP rule. And we Democrats will have nobody to blame but ourselves. 

Guest Blog - Terrill North: Vote Yes On TP Question 1

The issue is whether to align Takoma Park elections with state and federal elections in even years, which would enhance turnout and participation. Terrill North says vote yes, and I concur. More people voting is always a good thing. Here’s Terrill.

Terrill North is the Board Chair of Making a New United People (MANUP), a Takoma Park-based mentoring program serving nearly 500 disconnected youth in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. He will be taking MANUP students aged 16 & up to vote on Tuesday.

YES on Question One

Takoma Park is thought of by many as a hippie commune. In reality, the community is home to the highest concentration of poverty in Montgomery County. Like the county, the city has no ethnic majority with many blocks where jollof rice or pupusas are more popular than the crunchiest granola.
That diversity, however, does not extend to local elections. Turnout in 2013 was an anemic 10.1% (5.9% and 7.5% in predominantly black Wards 5 and 6 respectively). This is a fall from 25% in 2005 and 32% in 1995. At the same time, the city boasted a 76% turnout in the 2012 national election (78% in Ward 6 where I live). 
This is why I am supporting a ‘YES’ vote on Question One on the ballot this Tuesday, which would allow the city to synch local elections with state and federal elections in even years. The city would have 2-3 years to develop plans to continue local voting among special populations like 16 and 17 year olds, parolees, and resident aliens, who are only allowed to vote in the city.
Turnout in Richmond, VA grew from 17% to 42% after synching election dates. Ocean City, MD’s turnout doubled to 48% after synching. This is why communities like Baltimore, Cumberland, Sharpsburg, and Chesapeake Beach, MD have recently realigned their local elections with state/federal elections. We don’t check off boxes by race when we vote, but I believe increasing turnout from 7.5% to 78% in a community like Ward 6 that is 82% people of color would likely increase the vote among residents of color.
Takoma Park is not alone in dealing with this challenge. The Gazette published an interesting piece on minority participation in Takoma Park, Gaithersburg, and Rockville government back in 2012. Our communities will not be the inclusive places we want unless we start thinking seriously about ways to get everyone involved. 

I believe the shenanigans with Hampshire Tower’s 40-70% rent increases would have gone differently if city officials thought those 200+ households voted. If the 78% that voted for Obama in 2012 had voted in the city elections over the past few cycles instead of 7.5%, I believe those residents would have had stronger representatives every step of the process, including the sales of the building in 2006 and 2015, proposed 40-70% increases this summer, and the 15% “compromise” negotiated this month.
Changing an election date is only a partial solution, but I believe building a larger, more inclusive electorate is an important step to creating a smaller, more inclusive city.

Gillogly On Wellstone/NOI

Kevin Gillogly has some thoughts on the Wellstone/NOI consolidation.

To our readership here at Maryland Scramble you might have skimmed past this article in the Huffington Post yesterday: Two progressive organizations merging. Yawn. Next story. But THIS IS A BIG DEAL FOR DEMOCRATIC activists everywhere.

I’m guessing most of you know of Wellstone Action. They provide training for Progressive Activists across the country. Created as a living legacy to Paul and Shelia Wellstone who died tragically in a plane crash just days before the 2002 General Election. Wellstone Action, headquartered in St. Paul, MN, has now trained 75,000 progressives in the mechanics of running campaigns and ballot initiatives. If you want to know how to run a shoe string campaign and give your soul to the large monied interests of the country then you go to a Wellstone Training.

Not as many of you know about New Organizing Institute (NOI). Started in 2005, originally started by some of the more activist unions, MoveOn and Emily’s List , it has been located in downtown DC for its entire life. The new digital metrics of campaigns – both in field and social media – can point to NOI trainings as the basis education for fighting for the left. Many of the successes of the Obama Administration can be traced back to the founders of NOI and their devotees. NOI did not create our President but the folks that drove ran his two national elections, the online petitions on his behalf, the low budget social media campaigns all have one thing in common: they were trained by or their supervisor was trained by NOI.

For a more in-depth look at how campaigns and communications are run in the 21st Century I would highly recommend Sasha Issenberg’s 2013 book “The Victory Lab”.

So today’s story is a BIG STORY. The merging of the two most progressive organizing groups of the modern era are now one. I have gone through trainings of both groups and loved them. I am both happy and sad. Happy that two groups I cherish are getting together and sad that NOI does not exist as a separate entity.

Guest Blog: Kevin Gillogly Looks More Closely At The Goucher Poll

Kevin Gillogly is one of Montgomery County’s premier number crunchers and voter universe analysts. He’s one of the very few people who knows more about voter data than I do - mostly. He’s been working on campaigns here for a long time. He takes a closer look at the Goucher Poll numbers and comes away even more concerned than I expressed earlier.

This poll is a good one. And I concur with its insight and Jonathan’s comments. But I like to look under the hood. That is where the interesting stuff is. I just don’t read the top line questions but prefer to look deeper, especially the historic trend of pocketbook questions. But first I digress. To my fellow activists that read this blog. We are insiders – the 3/3s of politics. My point? Beware of the MD Political Cone of Silence.


We think that everyone is with us on how bad the Governor is doing on Mass Transit and Education cuts. We also believe that the majority of Marylanders agree with us on the Freddie Gray case and Confederate memorials. This poll is a clear “not really” to those views. So our messaging on these issues has to be more than preaching to the choir or we will lose in 2018.

To the main (and second) point is look at pages 16 and 17 of the Goucher Press Release. These are the economic questions. There are three questions of note: 1) Right Direction / Wrong Track; 2) How Your Personal Financial Situation is compared to a year ago; and 3) Same as #2 but looking ahead. These questions have all moved to a more favorable result, especially Right Direction / Wrong Track. They have all tracked very well for an incumbent officeholder.

I believe it is the generally improving economy – in the eyes of Marylanders – that is driving the favorable numbers for Hogan and the status quo, even if you personally believe that there needs to be change.

And if there is a take away from looking under the hood? That Anthony Brown was facing three main tides against his being elected as Governor last year: Obama Fatigue, O’Malley Fatigue and The Negative View of The Economy. And these economic poll questions confirm the economic portion of that triangle.


Guest Post: We Need More Debates

This is a guest post by Geneva Kropper, a Government & Politics and History double major at the University of Maryland College Park. In addition to working for my campaign in 2014, she worked for Battleground Texas and the Wendy Davis for Governor campaign. She’s also been an intern with the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. All of that in less than a year. Since the outset of this blog she has been a combination of webmaster, designer, tech support, editor, sounding board and interesting article finder. These are her opinions, although I agree with the vast majority of it.

Over the course of the summer, the Republican party has done a marvelous job turning the primary season into a farce. With the debate schedule announced for the fall, Democrats risk doing the same. There are four debates before Iowa caucuses this year; less than a quarter of the number in 2008. The motivation behind the limited debate schedule is clear. Hillary Clinton has already won the “invisible primary” - the race for endorsements and donors that can determine the outcome of the primaries months before they happen. Hoping to shelter Clinton from any more attacks on her already-battered reputation, the party wants to sweep her to the nominating convention as quietly as possible. Even for Clinton’s most die-hard supporters however, holding so few debates is a bad idea.
Increasing the number of pre-caucus debates is critical to re-energize the Democratic base, to find the best nominee, and to define the Democratic party in the face of Republican attacks. In 2008, Obama’s margin of victory was secured because of his ability to reach out to the electorate. First-time voters went to the polls in droves, thrilled to be voting for the promise of hope and change. In 2016, Democrats have been able to summon none of that enthusiasm. According to a national poll by James Carville’s Democracy Corps, only 52% of Democratic voters rank their level of interest in the 2016 election as a ten, compared to 67% of Republican voters. Black voter enthusiasm, which was key to Obama’s initial victory, now lags behind white enthusiasm by 5%. To bring voters back to the polls, the candidates must form a personal connection with their voters - the kind that can be made when they are seen live on a television screen, responding directly to the questions that the American people care about.

The DNC has already decided that Hillary Clinton is the candidate it wants, but for voters the choice is much less clear. Bernie Sanders’ meteoric rise into the national spotlight demonstrates a hunger for another option, but with only four debates, there’s little room to compare candidates. Giving voters multiple opportunities to evaluate the candidates will bring the best one to the forefront. The top candidate to emerge from the debates could be Clinton, but could also be a dark horse like Martin O’Malley - whose fiery speech about the number of debates has attracted national attention.

 In each GOP debate, the candidates have tried to define the Democratic party as anti-American, anti-worker, and anti-capitalism. With only four debates of our own, Democrats have little opportunity to re-define the party and articulate innovative policy ideas. If the DNC increases the number of pre-caucus debates, the candidates can showcase their plans for America - and draw more undecided voters to the Democratic Party. With just a handful of additional debates, the Democrats can improve their chances in November before the first caucuses open in Iowa.

Wanna Be A Blogger? 

Yesterday’s piece by Bernice North was by far the most popular post of the day. Good. Now let’s figure how our to get more guest bloggers. 

Got something you wanna say? Gotta beef with what I’ve said? Let me know. Submissions welcome. The more voices we speak with, the wider the range of information we convey. Bring it on.