County Council at Large
<ro>Blair G. Ewing
Family: Married to Martha Brockway. I have two sons, both graduates of Montgomery County Public Schools, Blair Jr. and Chatham
Office held: Incumbent, County Council At Large, 1998-2002, Board of Education, 1976-1998.
Occupation: County Council Member
Education: Nevada High School, Nevada, Mo., 1951; University of Missouri, BA in political science and German, 1954; University of Chicago, MA in political science, 1960; year of graduate study, history and philosophy, University of Bonn, Germany. 1957-1958.
Community ties: Family ties in Montgomery County since 1700. Former President of Sligo Park Hills Ciciv Association, Former President of East Silver Spring Elementary School PTA, former board member, Allied Civic Group. Member of many civic and advocacy groups.
Endorsements: Neighbors for a Better Montgomery PAC, Sierra Club, Action Committee for Transit, Metropolitan Washington AFL-CIO, Montgomery County Education Association, Montgomery County Council of Supporting Service Employees, The Glenmont Group, Fraternal Order of Police, Montgomery County Government Employees Organization, Montgomery County Career Firefighters Association, American Federation of Teachers, Amalgamated Transit Union, Progressive Maryland, Coalition of Asian Pacific American Democrats, Montgomery County Retired Teachers Association, Ike Leggett, Terry Lierman, Alan Cheung
* Why are you running for this position?
I am running because I want to bring to bear my experience, knowledge, understanding of the issues and leadership skills on the many issues facing us in the next four years.
* What is your top public-service accomplishment?
I believe my top public service accomplishment during the last four years is to raise public awareness of the mental health crisis and to obtain some additional funding to keep the outpatient mental health clinic system from collapsing. Over all my years of service, I believe that my advocacy for more than two decades for early childhood education, with special emphasis on expanded Head Start and all-day kindergarten, has resulted in wide community acceptance and support for these programs.
* What are the top five problems facing your constituents and what approaches will you use to solve them?
* a) achieving and maintaining high levels of quality instruction and learning; I would ensure that there are adequate funds for the school budget, especially for attracting and retaining excellent staff.
b) ensuring that there is a comprehensive plan and needed programs for those with mental illness; I would continue to put pressure on the executive branch to produce acceptable levels of programs and resources and a comprehensive plan for them.
c) achieving excellent services for seniors, especially escorted transportation; services for seniors need to be funded at higher levels, and mandates placed on contractors to improve services.
d) expanding transportation services for all; the Council voted for a $5.6 billion package of transportation initiatives, and that will require that we work to obtain state funds, as well as to programs local funds for the purposes indicated. I would places highest emphasis on initiatives for more buses and light rail.
e) achieving major increases in affordable housing, especially for the very poor. I would double the funding for the Housing Initiative Fund to $30 million, and place great emphasis on keeping rent increases low. I would focus on housing the very poor, those with mental illness and with disabilities.
* Qualities, qualifications and characteristics:
* I have served nearly 26 years in elected public office, as a Council member and a school board member. I have twice been president of the school board, and have been president of the Council. I have served as chair of all the committees of the board of education, and of the Health and Human Services Committee of the Council. I have also served on the Transportation and Environment Committee of the council. I have been on the COG Board of Directors, and on its Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Committee. I bring deep knowledge of the issues facing the Council, experience, leadership experience and skills, and a determination to pursue results in public programs, and to persevere in achieving needed program improvements. I am a good negotiator, a hard worker, and I often raise significant issues that no one else wants to discuss, but which are critically important.
* How to distinguish between me and my opponents.
* I believe my experience, my depth of understanding and my record of achievement what distinguish me from my opponents. I am a leader on the Council on issues of mental health, primary care, transportation, education, and the environment.
* What is one thing you promise not to do if elected?
* I promise not to mislead the public about either my positions or those of my opponents and critics.
* What do you predict for the short-term (two-year) outlook of the Montgomery County budget and what adjustments will you propose to prepare for your prediction? Where can the county afford to trim the budget?
* I predict that our resources from taxes will not be adequate to fund everything the Council (and I) would like to do. I would set priorities. I believe our first obligations are to provide excellent public school education, and first-rate police and fire services. Our obligations also extend to providing programs for those with the fewest resources of their own. I believe we must provide good transportation programs. We will have to take our top priorities and work down the list from the top. We can also introduce, and I will propose this fall formally, a serious and comprehensive productivity and management improvement program, aimed at finding savings in existing agencies, without harming services. Finally, if revenues still fall short, we ought to return the local income tax to its rates of 1999. This is what I did for 12 years at the Defense Department and we found 2 to 3 percent in savings every year I ran this program. A 2 per cent savings in a $3 billion budget is $60 million. A target of $50 million in savings is possible, in the first year at least. Finally, if revenues are still short, we ought to return the local income tax to its level of 1999.
* Do you support the recently reviewed Potomac Master Plan? Specific elements that might need revision?
* I support the Potomac Master Plan, as adopted. The major element that still needs attention is finding appropriate locations for more affordable housing in Potomac.
* Position on transportation issues.
* I believe smart growth is veryi8mprotant, by which I mean that we ought to locate new growth in urban centers around transit stops, both housing and commercial. This will curb sprawl, save green space and the environment, and increase transit usage. I favor the Inner Purple Line, because it is cheaper, because we already have the right of way, and because it is urgently necessary for east-west transportation relief in the county. I do not support the ICC. It is enormously expensive for what it gets us, and it does irreparable harm to the environment. Further there are better options, in the form of the four-lane parkway which will open in the near future between Rockville and I-95 on Norbeck Road extended, or Route 28-198. I am opposed to a Regional Transportation Authority that would have any taxing authority or which could override local decisions. I voted for the Council's package of projects, although I thought it should have included priorities among projects, a strategy, and, biggest issue of all, a strategy for far more control and far better management of growth. I believe we suffer from excessive development, and that is clearly responsible for congested roads and overcrowded schools. We must gain control of growth, placing it where it ought to be and keeping it from occurring where it should not be. I think the gas tax should be raised to pay for transit and roads, and am willing to lobby legislators and the governor for such an increase. Other means of paying for roads and transit include an increase in the automobile registration fee, and the local income tax. All ought to be given fair consideration.
* What is your position on a Techway and new bridge across the Potomac River in Montgomery County? Do you favor a new study?
* I am opposed to a Techway and a new bridge across the Potomac into Montgomery County. A new bridge at Route 15 would be acceptable. I do not favor anew study, except about how to put the bridge across at route 15.
* How would you characterize and prioritize the preservation of open space in Montgomery County? What actions would you take?
* The preservation of open space is a very high priority for me. The County needs to be aggressive in seeking State aid as well as private gifts and foundation support for open space acquisition and for easements. The County needs to continue to appropriate local money for this program in keeping with the plan for Legacy Open Space. We need to preserve closed school sites downcounty for open space protection, and we need to protect the Agricultural Reserve,
* Is the current rate and mix of county fees and taxes appropriate and equitable? What would you do differently?
* With regard to taxes and fees, I believe there needs to be a local study like that the State is undertaking to analyze whether the present mix of taxes and fees is equitable, will grow revenue adequate to meet needs, and to studying particular the burden of taxes on all income levels. we need to make our tax burden more equitable. I believe the burden is too heavy on homeowners as compared with commercial sectors, and too heavy for low-income residents, as compared with high-income residents. I will propose such a study.
* The issue of overcrowded schools:
* The State has a major role in this, in that it needs to provide us with much more in the way in modernization and construction funds. We have a backlog, according to the school board, of some $800 million in projects. The State should be contributing at least $50 million a year. the county needs to find the resources to contribute another $75 million a year. At present the recordation tax, which the Council just passed, and for which I voted, will provide an estimated $16 million a year, and the county budget contributes a sizable amount. But we are not spending $75 million on school construction and modernization in county funds. At $125 million a year, we can begin to catch up with our needs, and reduce the terrible overcrowding and the numbers of portables, now reaching nearly 700, in use to meet needs. The importance of control of growth is a major factor here. Unless we introduce serious "time-out" measures to reduce overcrowding in the schools, we will never catch up. I would balance the need for transportation projects and school construction by increasing local appropriations, pressing the State for more money, and by instituting serious controls over additional residential development around schools that are already overcrowded. That would require a change in county laws and policies and I support those changes.
* Does the special exception process in the county work as it should? Changes you would propose?
* The special exception process does not work well. It is slow, it does not distinguish uses that serve the whole community, such as a hospital or a medical clinic from uses that are clearly problematic, such as a gasoline service station, or a dump. There ought to be a "community serving uses" category in the zoning code that would permit a different process for those uses, permitting them under certain conditions to build carefully controlled facilities. and the process needs to be streamlined. Finally, once a special exception has been granted, there must be rigorous and at least annual inspection of the site of the special exception to ensure compliance with the terms and conditions of the grant of a special exception.