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Thank You: We Are Just Getting Started

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Thank You: We Are Just Getting Started

Hiruy Hadgu

I want to congratulate my fellow candidates in District 3 for making it through the primary election campaign and to Christiana Rigby for advancing to the general election.

The past year has been the most challenging and taxing year of my life and I would not trade it for anything. I made so many friends and learned so much.

Running an issue-based campaign while working a full time job is a very taxing endeavor and leads to chronic sleep-deprivation. Too often, campaigns become superficial and succumb to special interest influence.

I ran for county council because I think voters are sick of politics as usual, where transactional politics to advance one’s political career takes precedent over solving problems.

American democracy is in trouble. From the local to the national level, special interest influence has paralyzed our ability to solve simple problems.

This paralysis was on display when County leaders struggled to find funding to address threats of school shootings earlier this year. Apparently the state legislature had decided not to pass legislation to raise school impact fees to charge developers because it is an “election year”, while county leaders stayed mum about the availability of this option.

A candidate can rely on the support of establishment politicians and entrenched interests or the actual stakeholders who care about their community and roll-up their sleeves to fix what’s broken. I chose the later over the former.

I met many of these stakeholders at the various grassroots organizations with whom I engaged. From my launching pad in Indivisible Howard County, Our Revolution Howard County, Sierra Club, The People’s Voice, Progressive Howard County and many PTA parents who roll up their sleeves when they see something wrong in their community.

This week, I am thinking about the 1,338 (as of June 30, 2018) individuals who voted for me. Without a single doubt I can say these people believed in my campaign platform and knew exactly for what and for whom they voted.

Because of the hyper-local, issues-based campaign we ran, many voters told me they changed their political affiliation to vote in the Democratic primary and support my candidacy.

I am also thinking about the volunteers who spent countless hours of their valuable time to knock on doors and cover the polling station.

I am thinking about those who held house parties for me and generously contributed to my campaign.

Finally, I am thinking about my campaign committee that included my mom who organized the most amazing fundraiser, the organizations who believed in me and endorsed my campaign, the many community activists and leaders who took time and spent countless hours to educate me on issues.

We did not get the results that we wanted on June 26th. This election was not about who had the most money or the most organized because we had more votes than those with more money and better organization. We were facing insurmountable establishment influence as well as entrenched interests.

Politics in Howard County is transactional. The support a candidate receives relies on a circle of influence made up of the media, the business community, developers, elected officials and the nonprofit community. In many cases these groups exist mainly through enacting and promoting meaningless initiatives and working hard to spin through positive PR.

Numerous examples can be cited here. Two examples that come to mind relate to the recent APFO legislation where so-called “affordable housing” organizations were trotted out to the county council to create a wedge issue between growth management and affordable housing. Another relates to the Columbia TIF where the so-called “arts community” was trotted out to create a wedge issue between arts and the county’s credit rating.

Nevertheless, this is only the beginning. This fight is not about a single political office. My campaign focused on how developer influence directs the county’s zoning laws and growth management policies and ultimately hurts students, home owners, the elderly, those who rely on affordable housing, and many more.

When it comes to developer influence, both political parties are complicit. While many gave lip-service to equity, they approved crazy densities in communities that would be adversely affected by school overcrowding.

While they gave lip-service to opportunity, they passed extremely flawed and transparently weak affordable housing legislation that actually made living in Howard County more expensive.

The masses are given the crumbs while the special interests receive the whole loaf.

We barely kept class-sizes the same level as the previous year because of $5.2 million while $90 million was given to a developer in an egregious giveaway of taxpayer dollars.

We have a skewed value-system. While the proportion of residents who rely on organizations such as Community Action Council of Howard County are increasing at an alarming rate, county leaders are advancing half-baked ideas that serve only to siphon tax-dollars to developers.

We are just getting started. As long as I have a platform and your continued support, I will speak out for fairness. I plan to remain engaged in county issues and combat special interest influence.

In the coming years, multiple opportunities will arise where the taxpayer could lose, while special interests gain billions:

  • School impact fees- over the last 15 years, the county has foregone at least $500 million in school impact fees that could have been used to build new schools.
  • The Downtown Columbia TIF- the second half of the tax increment financing (TIF)
  • The Laurel Park Station development and TIF- another developer is expecting TIF dollars to subsidize its profits.
  • Public Private Partnerships (P3s)- The proposed courthouse will utilize this creative scheme to siphon county dollars.
  • Comprehensive zoning rewrite- this could be another opportunity for developers to extract billions of dollars from public land.
  • The Savage Parkland Swap- this is another example of developer giveaway.
  • The Erickson Development- a developer is proposing the expansion of the planned service area (PSA), for water and sewer, using a so-called community enhancement floating (CEF) zone under the guise of solving a county problem.

We need to be vigilant and scrutinize every proposal to ensure the taxpayer does not lose.

Thank you for all the encouraging emails, phone calls, and texts. Running for county council has been an amazing experience and I am so grateful to everyone who supported me from the beginning.