The Town of Chevy Chase will continue paying a group of lobbyists to fight the Purple Line for at least four more months.
The Town Council on Wednesday voted 4-1 to continue a $29,000-per-month contract with the K Street lobbying firm of Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, which as part of the deal has hired a subcontractor to lobby against the project on the state level in Annapolis.
“The next few months are critical and I believe strongly that we should continue this engagement and we can reevaluate what may needed to be changed this spring,” said Town Mayor Kathy Strom.
Gov. Larry Hogan has expressed doubt about moving forward with the estimated $2.45 billion light rail that would run from Bethesda to New Carrollton and directly behind homes in the Town. His new transportation secretary has told state legislators the project is still under evaluation and that he hopes to share a decision by the end of the current legislative session.
A resident who spoke in favor of continuing the contract compared the situation to the end of the Super Bowl, when the Seattle Seahawks passed the ball instead of running on the edge of the end zone and a likely victory.
“But we want to make the right call,” she said.
“We don’t want to be the Seattle team,” said Councilmember Al Lang.
Still, Lang and others expressed skepticism about the progress the lobbyists have made so far. Last February, the Town Council voted for the initial $29,000-a-month contract to last a year for a maximum total of $350,000.
The $116,000 in additional funds would take the contract through June 30, the end of the Town’s fiscal year.
One resident said he found the Town’s efforts to fight the Purple Line “counterproductive” and said he was “appalled that we’ve spent $400,000 and we really haven’t delivered a sentence about what [the lobbyists] are doing.”
Vice Mayor Pat Burda, who pushed for the Town to go the lobbyist route, said Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney have been successful because the Purple Line hasn’t independently been allocated any federal funding, despite $100 million in construction costs promised through December’s omnibus spending bill.
“That’s money set aside for New Starts. The Purple Line has not been named and I think that’s because of the work that’s been done by our vendors,” Burda said. “This is a critical moment, the Surface Transportation Act, the appropriations bill, the new governor. This is an incredibly important moment. I would say right now is the time to do a full-court press on both the federal and state sides.”
Lang and Councilmember John Bickerman moved to table the contract.
“We haven’t gotten what I think is fair value for the money we spent,” Bickerman said.
Burda said Lang’s and Bickerman’s opposition was “political within the Town.”
That led to an argument among council members. While the Town has been tight-lipped about what exactly its lobbyists are doing to fight the project, Burda did say Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney had hired a public relations firm.
“They have hired the PR firm separately in response to some of the press that we ourselves generate by having discussions like this,” Burda said.
A group of Purple Line supporters and longtime adversaries sued the Town earlier this month, claiming the Town government violated the state’s Public Information Act by not providing details of the lobbying campaign.
Bickerman eventually voted in favor of continuing the contract for another four months, though not before saying he’d like to “save our Town some money that I think has not been efficiently spent.”
Lang was the lone vote against continuing the lobbying effort.
Photo via Maryland Transit Administration