Nagender Madavaram is the editor of the BetterMoCo.com portal. He talked with Brandy Brooks, candidate for Montgomery County Council At-Large, about her agenda and issues facing the County. The portal plans to interview all the candidates running for County Council and County Executive over the coming months.
Nagender Madavaram: Good evening Brandy. Congratulations again on running for County Council At-Large. In 2018 you got 26,214 votes in a crowded primary field of over 30 candidates. This year, you already qualified for public financing and received your first distribution of public funds. How is your campaign going?
Brandy Brooks: Thank you! We are feeling very excited about the campaign and getting to build off what we were able to do in 2018. What we’ve experienced in the last three years in the world and in our country only emphasized the need for a lot of the things that we were talking about last election and that we’re continuing to talk about this election in terms of supporting our community. Itt really feels like the right time to be having these conversations. We received a lot of progressive endorsements in 2018 and felt very proud of that – 21 local, state, and national organizations endorsed the campaign and saw that the vision we were promoting was exciting and something that they wanted to be part of. So we’re really excited.
Nagender Madavaram: Do you expect endorsements this time from progressive organizations?
Brandy Brooks: We can never predict how endorsements are going to come out. But I think one of the things that we hope is that groups that really felt excited about the vision last time are going to see that we’re running again and see that we’re building even more strength. We hope they see that our platform is still strong and that we have strong community support behind us, and that they are going to want to be a part of that again. We also hope that other groups that didn’t join our movement in 2018 are going to see the strength of it and be excited about that and want to support the campaign. We believe that the message of what we’re doing will continue to resonate with a lot of people, including a lot of these progressive organizations and labor organizations that stand for working people, stand for environmental sustainability and justice, for housing, for all of the different things that we need to really build sustainable communities.
Nagender Madavaram: You mentioned housing, I’m very concerned about housing in Montgomery County. The percentage of renters is increasing in the county: in 2009, it was 31 percent and it increased to 35 percent in 2019. Do you have a long term solution for increasing homeownership in the county?
Brandy Brooks:Renters are absolutely increasing. Somewhere between 35% and 40% of people in Montgomery County are renting their homes and we’re continuing to see that percentage increase. One important reason is because we’re continuing to see people want to come and live in Montgomery County, so our population is growing; and then one of the things that we know about housing in Montgomery County is that it’s not easy to purchase a home here, it can be very expensive. So for a lot of people coming into the county, renting is the option that they can afford. Also, for some folks, renting is the option that makes sense for them; there’s a lot that comes with owning a home and not everybody wants to do that, but they do want to be able to enter into a good housing partnership with people who own the property that they live in. So we’re seeing those dynamics play out, and the percentage of renters in Montgomery County is increasing and becoming a more and more a significant portion of our population. So, when we think about housing policy in Montgomery County, we can’t solely think of it from the homeownership perspective; we have to respect that more than a third of our residents live in rental units. So the way that we deal with rental housing and with tenant rights is just as important as the way that we deal with home ownership and the rights of property owners.
Nagender Madavaram: Current policies of Montgomery County are not helping to reduce these numbers. Most of the employees in essential sectors like police, teachers, firefighters and health workers, even though they want to live here, they cannot rent in Montgomery County. They cannot afford to buy a home. They are living in other counties. Some of them are living in West Virginia. What is the best solution?
Brandy Brooks: As you said, you pointed out that even government employees — government employees covered under collective bargaining agreements that actually protect and support living wages in a way that’s not true for many workers in Montgomery County — even for those folks, they’re still finding that the best options for them for housing affordability are outside of Montgomery County. I think there are a number of strategies, and we have to make sure we look at all our available options. One of the biggest ones is making sure that we are focusing on policies that directly support affordability in the way that we think about how we want to build housing. So, it’s not just about producing more housing — which we do need and want to do as Montgomery County’s population grows — but it’s also about making sure that we’re partnering, for instance, with developers who want to ensure that housing stays affordable over the long term. We should also support things we see happening in other places around the country, like community development corporations and community land trusts, where community members get together and collectively are able to have control over land in a certain area, develop housing, and sometimes even develop commercial and properties — because businesses also face this affordability struggle. These kinds of entities develop that housing in a way that is designed to keep it affordable, because you actually control the cost of the land underneath the housing and that changes the market dynamics of how the housing goes up in value. You’re not seeing these dramatic rises in property values, and you’re able to keep that under control because there is more community investment and community control over how that housing is developed. I think making sure that as a county we say — whether it’s community developed housing, whether it’s housing developed by nonprofits that are focused on affordability, whether it’s investigating things like social housing (what we call the United States public housing, but that has a long tradition of being a way that governments in different countries develop housing that stays affordable over the long term) — that we will make sure that everyone who needs a home is actually able to access housing. These policies aren’t new in the sense that they’ve never been done before; there are examples of these kinds of policies all over the United States and in other places around the world. What I want to see us do is bring those kinds of policies to Montgomery County, so that we can use the solutions that are already out there and that have been demonstrated to have really positive effects around housing supply and housing affordability and implement those here in our county, where the housing crisis is only growing each and every day.
Nagender Madavaram: Community development is a very important concept that some countries are already implementing. The government allocates land, banks give mortgage loans, and a developer builds the houses for government employees such as police, firefighters, teachers and health workers. How do you implement in our county?
Brandy Brooks: I think that we want all of those folks — our government employees, but also residents in our community who are small business owners, folks who are working in the service industry — all of these different folks to be able to take advantage of developing housing in the way that you’re describing. This way of developing housing makes it more accessible and keeps it under public control, so again, that we’re controlling the rising costs of land and the rising costs of housing. We also have to recognize that housing isn’t just a commodity like a toothbrush, or a piece of clothing, or a computer, it is a necessity. It’s a basic human right, and so we have to treat it differently than just letting it go into the market and saying, “All right, what’s the market going to set for the price of housing today?” We need to deal with housing differently because of the fundamental importance of housing to our communities. I mean, that’s basically what defines who is in our communities: your ability to live here. So, if we’re continually having folks who aren’t able to keep living here, what we’re ultimately saying is that we’re OK with having folks not be able to be part of our residential communities. I don’t think that’s what we want for the future of
Nagender Madavaram: What you’re saying is possible, but political leadership is required to implement.
Brandy Brooks:Yes, absolutely. This is the thing that I like to focus on. There are a lot of folks who like to talk about an ideology about housing market supply. I don’t want to talk about ideology so much as how we practically get these things done; that’s what interests me as someone who has worked in policy advocacy and organizing for a long time. As someone who is running to become a policymaker, I want to talk about how we get these things done. I want to look at all of the models that are available to us to get these things done and then select the ones that work for us here in Montgomery County. We should be able to test out different options and even develop new ones for ourselves here in our county; but we have to make sure that whatever we do is actually helping making it easier for everyone who wants to live in Montgomery County to have safe, healthy, affordable housing, to have housing stability, and to be able to enjoy the amazingness of getting to live here in our county — because it’s a great county. I think for folks who want to come here put down roots and invest and build their families here, we need to make sure that it’s possible for them to do so.
Nagender Madavaram: You have good understanding about the problem and solutions. I hope your proposals will be implemented.
Brandy Brooks: One of the things that drives my passion for this is that for me, housing insecurity or the question of tenants’ rights, that’s not theoretical — that’s the question of whether or not I can live here. It’s the question of whether or not my family can live here. And I think it’s really important to have folks making policy decisions for whom these questions aren’t theory, but where they are our actual lived reality. So, for me, it’s very urgent to be looking at and developing good housing solutions, because that’s the difference between me and my family being able to stay in Montgomery County or not.
Nagender Madavaram: You want to focus on bringing every member of the county, especially those traditionally excluded from our institutions of power, into the governing process. Earlier Karen Britto, Nancy Navarro, and Valerie Ervin formed a group and organized events to encourage ethnic groups to participate in government processes, and I worked with them. They got resistance from the establishment. You are part of racial justice groups such as 350 Montgomery County. What activities are you doing for racial justice?
Brandy Brooks:Absolutely! There are a couple of layers to the work I’ve done. One layer that I’m very proud of is that back in 2019, as the county was going through the process of developing its racial equity and social justice legislation, I worked with a number of other community members and with Impact Silver Spring as our host organization to form the Montgomery County Racial Equity Network, or the MORE Network. This is a group of community members who really want to focus on how we are making sure that racial equity is incorporated into all of the different policies and policy making that we do here in Montgomery County. This was an effort that we started really centering the voices of people of color in our community; the core group that helped start this effort was like Montgomery County in that it was majority people of color and it included folks from our Black, Latino, Asian, and Muslim communities as well as white folks. And so it was that coming together of all those visions, but also recognizing that the voices of people of color have often been ignored or not really listened to effectively in Montgomery County. We wanted to surface those visions — not only the needs and concerns, but also the aspirations and the dreams of communities of color — and really use that as the center for how we would continue to organize in Montgomery County. We had an opportunity to influence the parameters of the Racial Equity and Social Justice Act, and now this group is continuing to be active around housing, economic justice, policing (which is a major racial justice issue in our county), and continuing to do the work of looking at all of the different ways that we need to be working on racial equity and social justice in the county.
One of the other key ways that I do this work is by making sure that I as an individual and the folks that I know in organizing are building relationships with folks in these different communities. This is the key thing that I talk about as an organizer. It’s all about relationships. If we don’t have real authentic relationships with folks in other communities, then we’re not going to understand each other. We’re not going to understand who the other people are as people; we’re not going to understand the places where we share a lot of the same concerns and hopes; we’re not going to understand the unique experiences that different individuals and different groups have. So what is it uniquely like and what are the challenges that you face as a Black person, as a Latino person, as an Asian person. What are the challenges that you face if you are an immigrant coming from one of so many countries around the world where people come into Montgomery County to live? If we are not in relationship with one another, then we’re not going to understand each other as humans. And what that ultimately means is that we won’t have the same level of caring for one another and caring for what happens to other people in our communities. We have to understand Montgomery County not just as a bunch of individuals, but as a group of people who share the same jurisdiction; and in order for Montgomery County to be healthy, all of us need to be healthy and well and thriving as well. That’s what makes our economy healthy. That’s what makes our schools good. That’s what makes all these things work together. But in order to do that, we have to be reaching out to each other across barriers that have been created throughout the history of the United States.
Examining our history and being willing to confront it, it takes talking about those attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that we’ve been trained in and how to deal with each other. When you talk about, for instance, Black and Asian communities, there are so many ways that these communities have been pitted against each other and taught to believe that they are enemies, as opposed to folks with shared goals, shared desires for the health and wellbeing of their families, a lot of shared history, and a lot of shared opportunities to cooperate together. But a lot of times, we’re placed in opposition to one another and I don’t think that’s necessary. I think in fact, for us to achieve the things that we want for both Black and Asian communities, we have to be breaking down those kinds of barriers. So that’s the work that I do as an organizer, and that’s the work I do as a consultant. That’s the work that I do in training, because I really believe in it: that there is an opportunity not just to make better policy, but to create a better world where we all can live, a world that respects each one of us and where none of us have to worry about being targeted by hate or being targeted by discrimination or being targeted by policy disparities. I simply don’t think that those things should be, and so I fight as much as I can to make sure that we eliminate them.
Nagender Madavaram: MoCo is minority-majority county. It is enriched with a diversified population. There are a considerable number of new immigrants who do not know the role of the county in their lives. They don’t participate in voting. How do you encourage them to participate in the political process?
Brandy Brooks:I think that especially for those of us who have been born here in the United States, we haven’t had the incredibly challenging experience of moving to an entirely new country, often with a new language, and learning a new political system. So sometimes what we see is that politicians who were born here in the States or have grown up a long time here in the States make assumptions that if people aren’t participating, it’s because they don’t want to participate. They don’t take into account the fact that there are a lot of barriers when you are coming into a new country — your language, a new political and cultural situation — and that we have to support people to connect to this new system that they’re a part of. It includes some very basic things like language justice. This is something that we talk about in my campaign a lot and where we are working to build out our capacity. First and foremost, since we have a number of people in Montgomery County who speak languages other than English as their first language, how are we making sure that information is available in the languages that people are most comfortable with? This is a way that we can start to lower those barriers. How are we building relationships with trusted people in immigrant communities? As someone who’s trying to connect to this system, if you know someone else in your community who’s more connected to the system, it’s a lot easier for you to go to them and say, “What’s going on here? How do I navigate this system? Who should I trust?” And so, we want to be building those relationships.
When we do these things, we can begin to have conversations with folks who are new and getting acclimated to the American political system, as well as a whole host of other things that you deal with as an immigrant. We also have to make sure that we’re talking specifically about some of the barriers that immigrants face, in the way that they get treated in a lot of our systems and institutions as not quite members of our communities — even though in Montgomery County, I think it’s about 30% of our county is folks who were born in places outside of the United States. That is a huge amount of our population. These are folks who are our neighbors, our business owners; there are amazing, thriving small business communities within our immigrant groups here in Montgomery County. These are folks who go to school with us, who go to work with us, who ride public transit with us, so they’re absolutely 100% part of our communities. We have to fight back against narratives where people want us to try and think that folks who come from other countries aren’t just as much a part of Montgomery County and don’t just as much deserve to be here and thrive here as folks who were born in the United States. I think we have to have these conversations up front and outright to make sure that we are taking down those barriers and changing the culture of politics in Montgomery County, so again it respects, welcomes and supports people to participate and doesn’t make assumptions about people and keep them out of participation.
Nagender Madavaram: You are passionate about fighting for environmental justice, especially addressing the disproportionate impact of environmental degradation on communities of color. Can you enlighten us on how environmental degradation mostly affects communities of color?
Brandy Brooks: There was a really interesting article in the Washington Post earlier this summer that noted that race is the primary factor in determining your level of exposure to toxic hazards in the air and the water, to air pollution. That might seem like an odd thing: why would race be the determining factor and whether or not you have to deal with a lot of environmental hazards? It’s because of the way that policy over our history has placed toxic waste facilities in communities of color instead of in white communities, has run highways through communities of color instead of white communities; this has been a pattern that we’ve seen repeated over and over again around our region and across the United States. So, what that means is that when we are building and expanding highways, as our state is considering right now with I-270 and I-495, the impacts of that in terms of environmental pollution from more and more cars are much more heavily going to fall on communities of color in Montgomery County than they are going to fall on white communities in Montgomery County.
It also touches on who has more access to good transportation, which is an environmental justice issue, or who has access to more parks and recreational facilities. These are all environmental justice issues. There was another very interesting article that came out just a few weeks ago that was talking about how Montgomery County recreation centers have been closed for a long time due to the pandemic, and that two of them in Silver Spring and East County were being used as shelters for folks who are homeless. Now, of course it is absolutely essential to make sure that folks in our county who do not have homes have safe places to sleep and shower, to do the things that they need to do. But what’s interesting is where it was decided that we needed to have these facilities, specifically in East County and in downtown Silver Spring. When the county reopened its recreation facilities, these two communities, which have a very high proportion of people of color, didn’t have access to recreational facilities, even though they have high populations of families and, like all the rest of us, hadn’t had access to recreation facilities for over a year.
Now go ahead and look at Chevy Chase, where there are two recreation centers within the same ZIP code, but neither of them was selected as a place to help provide housing for our homeless population. In this case, both of those recreation centers in Bethesda and Chevy Chase are open. So, on the one hand, you have a wealthier community, that also has more white folks, that has access to two different recreation centers close by; and then on the east side of the county you have communities of color that have historically been disadvantaged and access to recreation facilities that are asked to bear the burden of housing folks who are homeless in our county. Again, it’s not that folks who are homeless in our county shouldn’t be housed; it’s that this is an issue we have to deal with collectively in Montgomery County. It’s not something where only one community should be asked to help make sure that we have adequate services for our homeless population, and it’s especially important that we think about equity. We shouldn’t be making decisions in such a way where some communities have an excess of resources and other communities don’t have resources. That’s not the way to balance this. And both of those community recreation centers in Bethesda and Chevy Chase, by the way, are directly next to public transit, so it’s not a question of access either. They are easily accessible, they’re both around public transit hubs, and so it wasn’t a question of whether homeless members of our communities could get to those centers; the answer is absolutely yes, and from many different places in Montgomery County. So we have to ask: why weren’t those considered as options in making sure that we are taking care of homeless members of our community?
Nagender Madavaram: You received endorsement from the teachers union in 2018. Students from new immigrant families are facing problems in the schools. High schools have two systems: honor programs are meant for top students, and general programs are designed for average students. School administration pays more attention to honor program students and ignores average students. Most of Hispanics and Black students end up in general programs. There should be a bridge program to bring average students into classrooms of honor programs. Can you put some effort into improving standards for average students?
Brandy Brooks:This is a huge issue — what you’re talking about is what we call educational equity, and those disparities that are faced by different communities in education. I will start by telling the story that I heard from some students in the Minority Scholars Program a few years ago. These are students of color who have been selected in this program because they excel in their academics and in service. They want to be supported in leadership, and they talked about their experience as students in the Minority Scholars Program at Gaithersburg High School. They talked about how Gaithersburg High School was structured in terms of its classrooms: on the ground floor, that was where all of the honors classes, whereas in the middle floor, that was where the general classes were held. On the top floor, that was where your special education, including English as a second language, classes were held — and it was also where the School Resource Officer (SRO) offices were located. The students talked about the fact that basically, even though all of them were going through the same high school, Gaithersburg High School, the way that this school had been laid out in terms of classrooms actually kept students segregated throughout the day from one another. And in particular, it placed students who speak English as a second or other language and students with special needs — which is also another place where black and brown students get tracked — placed them right next to the police, which absolutely told those students something about how they were viewed in the school population. These kinds of patterns, whether they’re laid out that way physically or done in other ways just with tracking students, this happens all the time. We see more tracking of students of color into disciplinary procedures, into suspensions, into expulsions; especially really high numbers of African American students and Latino or Hispanic students. We have to start shifting our perspective when it comes to education, to say that we want to support every single student to thrive. Just because one student happens to excel in academics doesn’t mean that they are more valuable or deserve more resources than other students. As human beings we have a lot of skills. Some of them are academic, some of them are skills with crafts and things that we create. Some of them are skills with caring for other people. All of these things are essential for our society and our economy; but we only prioritize students who excel in one area, and we don’t look at the other ways that students bring their gifts and their talents to school. We don’t support those gifts.
What I want to see to happen in education — and I will recognize that I’m running for County Council, not the Board of Education, and that County Council members don’t specifically set education policy, because that’s the role of the Board of Education — but as a County Council member, one of the things that I would get to do is to help set the budget for Montgomery County Public Schools. Another is to build relationships with members of the Board of Education, and with parents and students and teachers in our communities, to advocate for the kind of changes in Montgomery County policy and programming that would support all of our students to learn. This includes making sure that we’re investing in students who come into our school systems not speaking English as their primary language, that we are making sure that they are getting the resources and support to succeed in our schools. It also includes students who may have special needs, whether it’s learning disabilities or other kinds of disabilities, or who have other needs, that they are getting the resources and support they need to thrive and do well in our schools — to grow in their gifts, whatever those gifts are.
Nagender Madavaram: What is your view about the defunding of the police? Do you have plans to integrate mental health personnel into the police department?
Brandy Brooks: I think there are a lot of folks who like to use “defund the police” as a kind of a buzzword to scare people: “Oh, they’re going to defund the police; that is going to mean that our communities are less safe.” But what folks from the defund the police movement are actually looking for and are actually saying is that there are a lot of things that happen in our communities where police should be the last resort, not the first resort. Particularly around mental health, we have seen over and over again the dangerous and deadly consequences to members of our community in Montgomery County when folks with mental health issues — especially if they are people of color — find that they are the subjects of mistreatment, brutality, or in some cases being killed in interactions with police. There are families who may need to call 911 in order to help support a family member with mental health issues; and then what they have to worry about is having multiple police cars and armed police officers coming to respond to a family member who is already in distress, who may already be scared. You may already be struggling and that’s the folks that we are sending to help those people. It’s simply not the best way to provide support to members in our community.
When people talk about defunding the police, what they’re really talking about is being able to shift resources that right now are directed towards police response into places where other responses are simply going to be more effective. Again, whether it’s around mental health, whether it’s even around things like dealing with traffic stops, minor traffic stops; that doesn’t have to be a police interaction in the way it is now. It doesn’t have to come with an armed patrol. It can actually be a much simpler, more administrative interaction that doesn’t necessarily place either the police or the people of our community in harm’s way. Because I live in Wheaton, so I’ve seen this. You’ll have a traffic stop, and then you’ll have four police cars and several armed police officers responding to it; and that doesn’t create a situation that’s positive for anyone. That creates a situation where you are escalating the tension, where you are escalating the chances for something to go wrong. There are some very specific places where we can be shifting resources from policing as a first response to other kinds of response, responses that will be much more effective at dealing with the needs in our community.
This includes in schools. There have been a group of students who have been actively organizing to not have SROs placed either in or immediately outside of their school. The reason is that a lot of the things that students get policed around — and again, this tends to fall much more heavily on students of color than it does on white students — the issues that may be rooted in the need for social service help, for behavioral health counseling. We’re having students criminalized for having social, economic, or behavioral health challenges because the primary tool that we’re using to deal with those challenges is a police officer. But then you also have those same students in schools having to share a single counselor for hundreds or thousands of students across multiple schools. This doesn’t make any sense. It’s not supporting the health and wellbeing of our young people, and a lot of our children and youth are standing up and organizing, saying, “We want the things that will help keep us safe and help us heal.” And especially in the wake of the year that our students just had with COVID-19, we need to be focusing on the things that will help with the emotional and social and mental healing and wellbeing that all of us, and especially our children and youth, need during this time.
Nagender Madavaram: You are running for a Council Member At-Large seat. Upcounty is facing severe traffic problems. I-270 and Route 355 are not meeting the growing needs of the Upcounty. A majority of Upcounty residents want expansion of I-270 to make their travel comfortable, but the region of Silver Spring is opposing expansion of I-270. What is your stand on it?
Brandy Brooks: I want to say two things, one that I talked about earlier and another that I want to bring up. I talked about environmental impacts and environmental justice concerns. So, as I mentioned, the communities that tend to experience the most harm when we expand highways and increase the number of cars on our roadways are communities of color. They are the most exposed to the environmental hazards that come with the increased number of cars on the road, and this is a question that folks have been raising for a long time about highway expansion in the Upcounty. The other thing that I want to highlight is the report that was released at the beginning of last week from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It is the sixth report that they’ve released since 1988, and basically this report said two things. First, that climate change is definitely being driven by man-made factors, including things like transportation emissions, but also energy production emissions and emissions from livestock. There are a number of different sources, but the physical science makes it incredibly clear that this is being driven by man-made factors. The second thing the report said is that this is the last report the IPCC is going to release before it will be too late to keep the average temperatures around our globe from rising 2 degrees Celsius or more. They were very clear: this is our last chance to address this issue before the changes that we will see in our climate will radically alter the way that humans can live on this planet. The third thing I want to say is that the transportation issues that folks are experiencing in the Upcounty are very, very real. I have driven that stretch of 355 that goes up to Damascus and Clarksburg, where it’s a two lane road trying to handle the increasing traffic coming down from those communities. It is not sufficient infrastructure to serve those communities, and we can’t pretend that it is. What we need to do in light of all of this is make immediate and heavy investments in strong, robust, effective public transit systems that will get folks in the Upcounty to the places that they need to go: for work, for school, for play, for errands, all the rest of their life. We have to provide the transportation infrastructure that is needed to support Upcounty communities without harming the ability of our children and grandchildren to live thriving lives on a healthy planet. That’s the choice that we’re facing, it is an immediate choice, and because folks in the Upcounty have children and grandchildren as well, no one wants to do this in a way that is ultimately going to cause more devastating storms and wildfires and all sorts of ecological disasters in our world. But what that means is that we have to immediately shift our resources from things like expanding highways to making sure that we are investing in some of the transit projects we’ve had on the books for a longtime, and into even more transit projects. We have to identify where there are opportunities to shift how people are getting around to make effective transit corridors where people can get from place A to B in a timely fashion. I don’t believe that it is just about saying “take a bus”; if it’s going to take me three hours to get from one place to another, that’s not a solution. How do we invest in the right kinds of transit? Again, there are examples of this all across the country and all across the world that we need to be drawing from, so we can do this in the way that is healthy and sustainable over the long term for our communities. That’s why I don’t support this highway expansion, because it takes resources away from those sustainable solutions that we all need and puts them on something that we know is going to do harm to our communities. It’s also an investment where we will only get a temporary short-term benefit, because one of the things we know about highway expansion is that the traffic always catches up, and in a few years the traffic will be just as bad, and then we’ll be talking about another highway expansion, and we still won’t have solved the fundamental problem for communities in the Upcounty. What we will have done is leverage our children’s future in order to get that short term benefit for just a few years. We can’t do that. I have a 7-year-old niece. I can’t do that.
Infrastructure in Upcounty
Nagender Madavaram: There is general feeling among Upcounty residents that the county administration does not allocate sufficient resources to the region. A library building was promised in the master plan, but it was not constructed yet in Clarksburg.
Brandy Brooks: I want to recognize that what Upcounty residents are saying is true and valid. The Upcounty has not gotten enough attention. It has not gotten the resources that it needs. It does not have the infrastructure that it needs, and that frustration is very real and I understand why people are frustrated. I know that as someone who lives in Midcounty, down county, someone who lives in Kensington, it could be easy to say, “I don’t know if she’s going to be a person who cares about the Upcounty.” One of the key reasons that I am running for At-Large is because I am excited about the whole of Montgomery County. We have four of the top 10 most diverse jurisdictions in the entire county, located here in Montgomery County, and I believe three of those four are located in the Upcounty. So this is a place where we have a diverse and growing population. It’s also the area that holds our agricultural reserve, which is one of our most amazing environmental and recreational resources. We have to make sure that we are investing in our Upcounty communities with the resources that they need. It goes back to something that I was saying earlier about building relationships. If all of my relationships and all of the people I talk to about what’s going on in Montgomery County are only in the down county, then I’m not going to be accurately understanding what the things are that we need to do to support our Upcounty communities. I have to be present and talk with folks in the Upcounty. I have to make sure that folks in the Upcounty are part of my volunteers and that they are part of my campaign structures. That is why I am connecting with people to make sure that I am hearing the voices of Upcounty residents regularly. I have to make sure that I am going around to different places in the Upcounty, so that I’m not just hearing about our county communities from other people, but that I actually get to be present and to talk with people and also to enjoy the amazingness that goes on in the Upcounty. Right now, the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair is going on through Saturday. This is a tremendous celebration of things that happen in our county, and a festival that people come to from all over the DC metro region. I love being able to be engaged with people at events like this, to visit Sandy Spring, to see all of these wonders. We’ve got a beautiful recreational mountain in Sugarloaf. We’ve got gorgeous landscapes out in Darnestown and Poolesville. One of the things that I love about running At-Large is that it gives me the opportunity to go around to all of these places and really see the breadth and width and diversity of our county and its people and its communities. I believe that diversity is one of the key things and that makes us a great place to live, so it has to be protected and supported.
Nagender Madavaram: The Council and County Executive are differing on many issues. Recently, the County Executive’s veto of Bill 3-21, Special Taxing Area Laws – Silver Spring Business Improvement District is attracting the attention of county residents. The Council and the County Executive had different opinions on the bill. What is your opinion?
Brandy Brooks: I’m aware of Bill 3-21 but I haven’t looked at the details in a while, so I’m not going to speak directly to that bill. But I want to talk a little bit more about the relationship between the Council and the County Executive, because this is something important for voters to consider. The County Executive is the administrative branch of our government, and the County Council is the legislative branch of our government. Ideally, we want these things working in partnership. So as voters, we need to look not just at how we elect any single individual; but how will we elect a group of people who will support the kind of vision that we have for our communities? Because then you can get good alignment between what happens administratively in the county government and what happens from the side of legislation.
I also think that there’s a need for a shift in culture and the way that politics works in Montgomery County. Right now, you can see a lot of folks jockeying for position. You can see a lot of folks having personal beefs that they play out on the political stage, and that impact whether we can get things done for our communities. I’m not going to agree with every fellow member of the County Council and I’m not going to always agree with our County Executive. But my question is, how do we reorient the way that we have these conversations? Not based on our interpersonal stuff, but how do we reorient it on getting the best things for our communities? How do we have an effective public conversation about the options facing our communities, about who’s impacted, and what the solutions are that we need? Because a lot of times what feels really disappointing and turns people off from politics is that it feels like there’s a lot of back and forth and sniping, and not a lot of conversation about the issues that we as community members face every day. That’s what people want to see out of their legislators and their executives. They want to see folks who are focusing on making sure that they are in relationship with community members and that they are figuring out how to address the most pressing problems that community members face, and that they are doing a good job. That’s all that people want to see from their politicians. They don’t want to see this other stuff, they don’t want to see folks engaged in all of these battles back and forth. They want to see people who are focusing on how we serve our community today. That’s my goal. I want to have conversations about the most effective policies. I want to have real conversations about numbers, about impacts. I don’t want to have ideological conversations about who’s a progressive or liberal or conservative. I want to have a conversation about the issues in our communities and whether or not we are effectively resolving them. That’s what people would be electing me to do.
Nagender Madavaram: Currently, Nancy Navarro is only female member in the council. What suggestions you can give women and minorities who are running for public office?
Brandy Brooks: One of the things that makes me very excited, and the Washington Post did an article about this back in spring, is that we see large numbers of women and people of color running for office. The number one thing is that the more of us run, the more opportunities we have to win and to serve in office. So, I’m incredibly excited to see more women and more people of color running for office across Montgomery County. Additionally, I think as voters we need to take a look at how we create a county that truly represents the interests of the people in our county. There are some folks who want to dismiss this as identity politics. But people’s identities and their lived experiences matter. We talked about this a little bit earlier: that if you’re someone who has to deal with housing insecurity, you think about housing policy very differently than someone for whom housing insecurity is theoretical. If you’re someone, like many women, who has had the burden of bearing or raising and caring for children or other members of your family, then you will think about childcare and family policies differently. If you are a person of color who has experienced discrimination and marginalization then you will think about racial equity in a very different way. If you are someone who has come from a background where you had to work a minimum wage job and where your family had struggles putting food on the table, then you think about economic policy in a very different way. So, this isn’t just about looking at someone’s skin color or their gender.to This is about asking the questions about how their lived experience helps us to shape better policy. That is why I believe we need more equitable representation on our Council, of both women and people of color, because the lived experiences and the knowledge that folks can bring from having different kinds of lives helps us understand much more effectively what is actually going on in our county. This is also true for folks coming from different geographic areas, wanting to make sure that we have strong representation from all of the different areas of our county; because, again, if folks don’t know and aren’t in relationship with people in different areas of our county, it’s really hard to represent them effectively. So, these are the things that we need to look at as voters, and really make sure that we build a County Council that truly represents our community and the needs and aspirations of our community members.
Nagender Madavaram: Congratulations, you are the only person who has met the threshold of public financing so far.
Brandy Brooks: Thank you for highlighting this! I’m using public financing. I’m very proud that this is my second run for office and my second time getting to use Montgomery County’s public financing system. I think this is a huge game changer for candidates of color and for women candidates. It’s also a game changer for our communities, because it means that instead of candidates having to be beholden to wealthy interests, wealthy corporations, wealthy donors, I get to raise my money from the same people that I want to talk to as voters. And the public financing system multiplies the power of regular individuals in elections, so that we can shift that dynamic away from elections where corporate interests have more sway and much more to grassroots people-powered elections. I love it. It’s wonderful for me as a candidate. It matches my values. But it also means that I don’t have to fundraise over here and then do voter outreach over here. They’re one and the same, and that makes me very happy. I believe I’m the only person so far who has met that threshold and received a distribution from the county, and we were very excited. We did a lot of strong early fundraising. We had a very strong base of people from 2018, and also a lot of new donors. The majority of our donors this year are actually new donors; we are building a strong grassroots movement, and folks are excited. They’re excited to come and be a part of the work that we’re doing, so it’s really great.
Nagender Madavaram: Good luck in your endeavor to enter into the Council and serve county residents.
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