Endorsements for Cohen...What Do They Mean? ~ Annapolis Capital Punishment

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Endorsements for Cohen...What Do They Mean?

The steamroller rolls on. The Capital, Progressive Maryland and now The Anne Arundel chapter of The Sierra Club, a major national environmental organization have endorsed Josh Cohen. The Capital endorsement was, well....lukewarm? I mean, endorsements don't go negative but it glossed over every tough question and concern about Cohen, briefly mentioned McFall and Pierre and then, well, what does all this mean anyhow? Seven candidates and the best it could do was say how Cohen gets along with people and, as one commenter noted, he made a bank look pretty. Oh well, I've never thought much of endorsements, and my column in yesterday's Capital advises readers to ignore all of them. At least the Sierra Club told us more about how their process works--and it is a serious process. The candidates and the club leadership are to be commended for the time and energy it took.

As for Progressive Maryland??? Old-pal relationships, unions, and lots more unions and the unseen hand of Sheila Finlayson, I would imagine. Did they interview the other candidates? No. Does the endorsement mean a thing?  Not unless you think that it shows a machine at work--for it shows nothing else, just like previous union endorsements for Cohen because there was no vetting process which would give it legitimacy.

In endorsing Cohen, the club cited his “proven, rock-steady record of leadership on environmental issues confronting the people of Annapolis.”  In a move remarkably similar to The Capital's endorsement, The Club also singled out Trudy McFall and Zina Pierre calling them "thoughtful and concerned persons with obvious love for the city and good ideas to offer."  I think they are both trying to hedge their bets. What is interesting is how Alderman Sam Shropshire, long regarded as the most environmentally conscious on city council, was not mentioned.

While the club claims 1,400 members in Anne Arundel County, chapter president David Prosten believes there are perhaps a hundred members in Annapolis. On a national level, the club has a long history of being among one of the most effective and in my opinion, one of the most seriously and truly Green of the major national groups. Their membership may not determine the election, but their endorsement holds some weight, and one of Cohen's strong-points has always been his environmental record.

The club sent out a questionnaire and then it held interviews with the candidates. The survey included 18 questions, many of which require more than a modest amount of thought and perhaps even research to answer. Some are pretty straightforward such as "List environmental organizations to which you belong" or "What are the three most important environmental issues facing the City over the next four years and, briefly, what would be your proposed solutions?" Yet others require a great deal more thought, writing, time and perhaps even research. For example, "What type of development, if any, would be appropriate on the recently annexed 150+ acre Masque-Crystal Spring Farm Property?" or "Would you be willing to reduce the fees for allowing County residents on septic, but close to a city sewer connection, to hook into the city sewer lines (currently County residents have to pay twice the city rate)?"

Prosten says that normally about half of the chapter's ten-member executive committee participate in the process. They do not poll the chapter members. "We have been elected, as in most membership organizations...to make some decisions" said Prosten. In this case, that included Prosten, Earl Bradley, Sue Youngs and Liz VandenHeuvel.  The executive committee was unanimous in the recommendation (although two folks were vacationing and couldn't be reached). Prosten said the 15-member executive committee of the State Chapter of the Sierra Club ratified the endorsement.

Prosten added that, "We review the answers and look for those that are positive enough for what we want to accomplish. When we see someone who looks promising, we call them and usually spend a half hour talking with each candidate....We endorse people who we think are going to be good for the environment."

That has included Democrats as well as Republicans such as Annapolis Alderman Dave Cordle, County Councilwoman Cathy Vitale and former Congressman Wayne Gilchrest. In previous city races it has endorsed Josh Cohen, Wayne Taylor and Sam Shropshire, all of whom are vying for the spot on September 15th.

It should also be mentioned that Prosten, a writer and publisher of books for union members and organizers, is married to the District 30 Democratic Club Chair, Sarah Flynn. Each year the couple hosts a party at their home for that club which attracts many Democratic activists, leaders and elected officials.

My experience with this process came in 2007 when I ran in the special election for alderman in Ward Eight. With serious, lifelong environmental credentials, I was excited about and pleased to respond to what was even for that brief special election, a very complex survey that took a lot of time and thought to answer. The club chose not to make any endorsements.
The below information about past endorsements was provide by Prosten:

In the 2005 city elections, the Club played an active role in the Nov. 8 Annapolis election, endorsing candidates in five races and helping voters and candidates alike focus on the growing environmental impact of overheated development and increasing traffic in and around the city. Ultimately, four of the club’s five endorsed candidates won election, including incumbent Mayor Ellen Moyer, who defeated independent Gilbert Renaut and Republican George O. Kelly, Sr.

Council winners who had run with the Sierra Club’s endorsement were Democrat Wayne Taylor in Ward 4, who defeated Republican Tyrone Furman; incumbent Republican David Cordle in Ward 5, who defeated Democrat James Turner; and incumbent Democrat Josh Cohen in Ward 8, who beat Republican Regina Linton. Endorsed candidate Debbie Rosen McKerrow, a Democrat in Ward 2, lost to Republican Michael Christman by a 44 vote margin out of 1,348 cast.

Election – 2006 – County and federal
Majority of Club Endorsees Win Election Nov. 7
Nine of the 14 Anne Arundel County Sierra Club’s endorsed candidates for county council and the state legislature won their races Nov. 7. Every candidate for statewide and federal office endorsed by the Maryland chapter, including Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, won as well.

The election was close in many races, and some endorsed candidates who didn’t make it lost by a relative handful of votes, while others won by narrow margins.
The club’s endorsed candidate for County Executive, George Johnson, lost to John Leopold by about 4,000 votes out of some 183,000 cast: the initial returns made it impossible to declare a winner until absentee ballots had been counted. All four candidates we endorsed for county council won, however: Daryl Jones (D) in District 1; Jamie Benoit (D) in District 4; Cathy Vitale (R) in District 5, and Josh Cohen (D) in District 6.

Many endorsees for state delegate won as well: Mike Busch – the Speaker of the House -- and Virginia Clagett in Legislative District 30, and Pam Beidle, Mary Ann Love and Ted Sophoccleus in District 32.
Endorsed candidate Barbara Samorajczyk, lost by just 11 votes in District 30, while endorsed incumbent Joan Cadden was edged out by 66. A few provisional ballots remained to be counted at newsletter press time but there was little potential for different outcomes in these races. Other endorsed candidates who didn’t make it were Craig Reynolds in District 31, Mike Shay in Dist. 33B, and Scott Hymes, running for the state senate in District 33.
VISIT HERE TO LEARN MORE:  www.maryland.sierraclub.org/annearundel/

(CP notes: What is perhaps most relevant to 2009 from the above information is that the club endorsed Ellen Moyer over Gil Renaut in 2005. The club also endorsed Wayne Taylor and Dave Cordle when they ran for city council. And, the club endorsed Josh Cohen when he ran for city council and county council. I wish to especially thank Sierra Club President David Prosten for his assistance in preparing this article)

Join us on Thursday morning, Sept 10 from 8-9 am for our Sip N' Blog at Zu Coffee, 934 Bay Ridge Road, Annapolis, Maryland, in the Giant Shopping Center. Stop by on your way to work for your morning latte and meet other local activists. Zu Coffee now has a drive-thru window! 


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