Parents’ Coalition activist trying to get on Council District 4 ballot as independent

Paula Bienenfeld, an archaeologist and longtime political observer, has announced she is seeking to run for County Council District 4.

Bienenfeld, who lives in North Bethesda, could not immediately be reached for comment this week. But she has been active on social media, posting about her efforts to collect signatures to get on the ballot, and about local transportation issues countywide. 

She also is a member of the Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County, a group that focuses on issues related to Montgomery County Public Schools.

In order to get on the general election ballot in November, Bienenfeld must first declare her intent to run as an independent and file the appropriate paperwork by the first Monday of July, per state law.

Next, she needs to collect 10,000 signatures from registered voters or  signatures from 1% of eligible voters in County Council District 4, whichever is less. Bienenfeld has until the first Monday in August to file the signatures and other paperwork, along with the same filing fee as Democrats and Republicans, which is $25.

County Council District 4 stretches from North Bethesda through Kensington, Silver Spring and Takoma Park. The Democrats running for the seat in the July 19 primary are: Al Carr, Amy Ginsburg, Troy Murtha, Kate Stewart and John Zittrauer. Cheryl Riley is running unopposed in the Republican primary.

Former redistricting commissioner forms group to urge people to register as Democrats in primary

A former member of the County Council redistricting commission has formed an organization urging county residents to register as Democrats to vote in the upcoming primary election.

Jason Makstein, a registered independent from North Potomac, is one of the co-founders of Left to Vote. He said in an interview earlier this year that the idea started when he began researching voter registration numbers and realized how many independent voters existed in Montgomery County, despite Democrats holding all elected offices at the county and state level.

Makstein said many decisions made by local elected officials are not explicitly partisan. Those include funding decisions and legislation pertaining to parks, schools, housing and other matters, he added. But he acknowledged that Democrats have more registered voters in Montgomery County, so the Democratic primary is an important part of the local electoral process.

The organization is meant to mainly serve independents and unaffiliated voters in the county, Makstein said. According to the most recent state election data, there are 159,116 unaffiliated voters in Montgomery County. Unaffiliated voters is the state’s term for independents.

“One of the other things, besides just switching independents, is I also want to have an impact on people who aren’t involved in local politics to come and vote in the primary,” Makstein said.

The deadline for switching voter registration for the primary is June 28. Early voting begins July 7, and the primary is July 19.

Elrich addresses comments on Old Georgetown Road bicyclist death

County Executive Marc Elrich got some attention earlier this month for his comments at a county executive debate hosted by WJLA.

Elrich and the candidates were asked about an incident on Old Georgetown Road in Bethesda, where 18-year-old Enzo Alvarenga was killed while riding his bicycle earlier this month. They also were asked whether Vision Zero, the county’s initiative to reduce traffic deaths in the county, was worth the tens of millions of dollars invested into it.

“When you talk about the cyclist on Old Georgetown Road, he did go off the sidewalk into traffic, and that’s not likely to end well. We don’t know what happened, and we don’t know why, but it’s certainly something that we ought to know, as to what occurred there,” Elrich said.

Some opponents of Elrich immediately criticized him on social media, saying his comments were insensitive to the Alvarenga family. But in an interview, Elrich said he didn’t mean to insult the family.

The county executive said that he was more so commenting on the fact that there needed to be better safety precautions along that stretch of road, which could include extending existing bike lanes farther south along Old Georgetown Road north, and also adding flexposts to separate the bike lanes from general vehicle lanes.

Elrich said there have been reports that Alvarenga may have swerved off the sidewalk and into the road because of an obstruction on the sidewalk.

“I worry about the fact that some people try to use it as a badly designed road or sidewalk … if it’s a fact that somebody put something on there and didn’t remove it and that led to a person losing control of his bike, that’s a flaw in how things are enforced,” Elrich said.

He added that his administration is working on legislation to improve situations like that. 

Currently, if there are shrubs or other things blocking sidewalks, county inspectors or code enforcement officials would need to go out and issue a citation to the owner that included a period of time to rectify the issue, Elrich said.

“What we’re looking at is going out, actually identifying something, going out and fixing it, and billing the owner for fixing it and skipping the citation period,” he said.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com

Steve Bohnel

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com