The Dernogalizer

November 3, 2009

Column on the College Park City Council Elections

I have an Op-Ed out today in the Diamondback about the City Council elections, what UMD for Clean Energy is doing, and how we need to move beyond the traditional “students versus the residents” mindset towards progress.

City council: More than who you side with

By Matt Dernoga

The College Park city council elections are today, and I’ve been actively involved in them. The student group I’m part of, UMD for Clean Energy, has interviewed every candidate for the city council — if you count a 30-minute phone conversation with Jack Perry declaring he would not meet with our ilk.

At both polling locations and at a rally to promote a greener College Park taking place today at 5 p.m. at the sundial on McKeldin Mall (that I am shamelessly plugging right now), we’ll be providing information about the candidates along with our endorsements. This information will include the candidates’ positions on the environment, transportation, development, green businesses and energy conservation endeavors. We’ll also be marching to City Hall during the rally.
I know, it’s hard to see why you should care. I’ve been there, too. Back in 2007, I attended a student-sponsored debate for one of the city council races and almost fell asleep.

I didn’t understand why anyone was wasting their time with College Park politics when it wasn’t remotely interesting. It turns out College Park wasn’t the problem. It was instead the issues students were trying to get me to care about: the same pro-student versus anti-student “issues” that are brought up every election. Usually when I ask someone what pro-student even means, that person is dumbfounded.

UMD for Clean Energy has done our best to change that and to bridge the divide between students and residents by crafting a platform that isn’t pro-student but pro-College Park. We think there should be financing mechanisms to make homes in College Park more energy efficient, a solution that would save everyone money. We think development needs to be smart, responsible and in cohesion with sustainable transportation policies that take cars off of Route 1 so students can get to class and everyone can get where they need to go. We even think there should actually be businesses besides Chipotle that recycle so you don’t have to carry your bottle a half mile to a bin or face throwing it in the trash. There’s plenty more, and it’s been well received by students, residents and candidates.

Ironically, what’s anti-student is the insistence of some that members of the city council solely fall into a category of being for or against students. These categorizations are based on issues such as how much noise council members think I can make at midnight or how tall I can grow the grass in my yard. The only aspect to housing seems to be whether or not it’s there — never mind the quality or the placement. The only expense anyone thinks of is rent, not the energy bill they’re paying in a 50-year-old house.

Pitting students against residents over uninteresting issues is a key reason students basically never vote, and it ensures there is never a student on the city council. If you want to disenfranchise students, make a category for them as a constituency with universal needs that allegedly contrast with the rest of the city. If you want to empower them, give them some credit and a little bit of substance.

There are already enough petty differences that divide us. We don’t need to invent another one.  Be done with it.

Oh, and vote.

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com

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