Opinion: Montgomery Needs to Keep Changing
There is a saying I love, “A good house is never done.” The phrase reminds me to embrace change, because a home can always be improved, and I should not expect to “finish” it. I love working on my family’s home, keeping what is best and bringing in what is new.
The same can be said for a good place to live. My appreciation for what we have in Montgomery County motivates my passion for figuring out where it needs to change.
Rather than trying to preserve a late-20th century bedroom community, I work toward my vision of Montgomery County as a dynamic metropolitan region at the cutting edge of education, transportation and the knowledge economy, offering contemporary urban lifestyles and inclusive suburbs, with the foresight to create opportunity for those not born with life’s advantages.
I was first elected to the council in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. Prior to serving on the council, I was Barack Obama’s national youth vote director, and I ran programs for Rock the Vote. Before that I was a national leader in the Democratic fight to protect Social Security from privatization. These roles gave me a better understanding of how technology drives change, the power of grass-roots organizing, progressive economic policy, youth and seniors issues.
I have brought all this experience to the council, where my accomplishments include:
Strengthening education and pre-K:
● Prioritizing funds to reduce MCPS class size and boost school construction to meet surging enrollment, including charging developers fully for school impacts
● Securing funding to boost pre-K and afterschool programs, including making Head Start a full day program for 4-year-olds from low income families
● Leading the county’s “Maker Movement” with support for coding and STEM programs for young people
Changing how we live and grow:
● Crafting visionary smart growth, pro-environment master plans for communities including downtown Bethesda, Lyttonsville, Westbard, Clarksburg/Ten Mile Creek, and many others
● Championing the county’s need to attract younger workers and keep our empty nesters; Created a nightlife initiative leading to substantial reforms in liquor laws and facilitating a new craft beer industry
● Modernizing the county government’s approach to technology with open data legislation, opening access to crucial information and making government work better
● Passed laws raising our local EITC by 25%, doubling property tax credit for low-income seniors
Changing directions on transportation and the environment:
● Leading the push for new thinking to get people out of cars and reduce growth in traffic and carbon emissions
● Prioritizing the Purple Line to secure state and federal funding, and county funding to build a new trail
● Championing bikeshare and safer bike infrastructure, including “protected bike lane” networks for Rockville, Bethesda, Silver Spring; and inclusion of high quality bike and pedestrian infrastructure when new development or roads are built
● Increasing investments in rapid bus service on Routes 355 and 29
A lot has changed for the better since I joined the council. After years of antagonistic infighting, the council showcases spirited but respectful debate. We have shifted the transportation paradigm from auto-dependency to support for all modes. Planning has centered on a more judicious, smart-growth framework, with improved community support and a sense of momentum for our job centers. The county’s economic development and workforce development programs, long neglected, are now run by nonprofits bringing together professionals and leaders in the business community. County spending growth has been modest rather than unrestrained.
Yet we have a full agenda for the years ahead, including a pressing need to plan better urban districts where creative companies and knowledge workers thrive, build new transportation infrastructure, safe bike routes, and quality pedestrian environments, and invest in early education/pre-K so that all children start school ready to learn.
We cannot achieve these goals without buy-in from an informed and engaged political community. That is why I am participating in the county’s new public finance program, which only allows small donations from real people, no political action committees. The challenge of raising small donations is significant, but every new supporter represents a chance to strengthen our county politics.
The next election will bring many new councilmembers and a new county executive. As the council vice president and the only at-large council member eligible to run for reelection, I look forward to providing experienced leadership in a new political era.
Hans Riemer, a Democrat, is serving his second term on the Montgomery County Council. His campaign website is hansriemer.com.