The Rouse Project (an entity that is weighing in on the upcoming Columbia Council races or better known as a position on the Columbia Association Board of Directors) sent out the following email yesterday:
It’s time for a bit of truth-telling in Columbia.
If you follow social media or local blogs, you know that the Rouse Project is creating quite a stir. Organized to promote engagement in CA Board elections, the effort has been reduced by some as a group of “rich, old, white men” making a “land grab for open space in downtown Columbia.” There. We said it.
Unfortunately, personal attacks and misinformation are not a new phenomenon for challengers in CA Board elections. Historically, these tactics are as much a part of the election “process” as low turnout. With so little public attention paid to CA’s governance, campaigns are rarely about issues or principles. Instead, they become hotbeds of whispers, hearsay and innuendo. As a result, many incumbent CA Board Members have served for nearly a decade without opposition.
This pervasive culture and power structure that promotes incumbent protection at the expense of growth, progress and fresh perspectives – that perpetuates issue avoidance and personal attacks over thoughtful dialogue and debate – that perceives differences of opinion on issues as threats to personal power – is exactly why we need organizations like the Rouse Project.
We are extremely proud of the diverse group of brave leaders who have come together through the Rouse Project, each prepared to stand up against the status quo, despite the consequences of doing so. Each is a respected leader for progress and inclusion, which begs the question: Who is it really that hates the Rouse Project, and should you trust these voices?
So without further ado – who hates The Rouse Project?
Reopen Howard County
Reopen Howard County was formed with the ostensible purpose of reversing quarantine orders entered in response to COVID. Over time, this organization has become the most prominent voice for Trumpism, nativism and anti-redistricting sentiments. They came onto the scene with a racist and vulgar t-shirt targeting Calvin Ball. Everything the Rouse Project supports, Reopen is against.
Hadgu was unsuccessful in his race for County Council in 2018. Since that time, he has been the most vocal NIMBY in Howard County, opposing affordable housing projects while supporting regulations that make Howard County more exclusive. He might have been Jim Rouse’s biggest critic in the 1960s and 70s.
Protectors of the Status Quo
A friend and respected former leader in Columbia, Liz Bobo, recently emailed her vast network to announce that the Rouse Project is nothing more than a play by developers to build on remaining open space in Downtown Columbia. However, Bobo was part of planning processes over the last decade that protected this open space from development in perpetuity. As such, she knows better than most that developers can’t build anything on this protected space. Perhaps she also knows that this rhetoric will scare those in her network into supporting the incumbent, who also happens to be a close ally.
In Clarksville, the incumbent CA Board Member has systematically censored a village blog, removing all posts that mention her challenger, while keeping posts that malign him. No matter who you support, this behavior serves only to disenfranchise residents of River Hill and maintain historically low engagement in CA elections. At the same time, her friend and fellow administrator on this Clarksville blog posts daily, slanderous attacks against individuals who support the Rouse Project on social media.
With friends like these, who needs enemies?
Columbia deserves better. We hope you will help counter these voices in support of a fair and constructive dialogue about Columbia’s future. We hope you will encourage positive debate and engagement in CA Board elections. We hope you will support the candidate of your choice in a way that promotes our collective progress and goodwill.
- Visit the Rouse Project’s Facebook and Twitter accounts and speak truth.
- Pledge to Vote in the upcoming CA Board elections on April 24th (and as early as April 1st by absentee ballot in some villages).
- Join us today and every day in fighting for progress, civility and inclusivity in Columbia.
Here are responses I have seen as of this morning from those mentioned in the email:
Hiruy Hadgu: My Reaction to The Rouse Project’s Email Newsletter (Read here). Here is a short excerpt from his blog post:
First, it is an honor to be named alongside former County Executive and Delegate Liz Bobo, a trailblazer in Howard County and a symbol of community stewardship, who continues to inform people through engaging reflections about her community and family.
Second, if you are a person of color running for office in Howard County or were “unsuccessful”in your run, beware. The Rouse Project, a dark-money group, with a stated objective of “increasing diversity”, will employ cheap ad-hominem attacks using your “unsuccessful” run to distract from its steering committee’s lack of transparency on past and future dealings.
Read the full blog post here which contains a number of links to previous blog posts about The Rouse Project: https://www.hiruyhadgu.com/news/2021/3/22/beware-the-rouse-project-part-5
Reopen Howard County: Here is their response post on Facebook:
Public Response to the Rouse Project
Yesterday our page and group Reopen Howard County was subject to a nasty attack in which several false and purposely misleading statements were made about our group. We often note that when politically motivated organizations cannot form a coherent response to community concerns they tend to lash out and spread lies.
Nowhere in the Rouse Projects attack did they address the concerns many have. We all need to be seriously concerned about the Rouse Project. They have two goals:
1) To line the pockets of already wealthy developers and those who have ancillary businesses associated with development. They will accomplish this by adding dense housing to every possible square inch of Columbia. In doing so the profits will be huge.
2) To further create one party political rule in Howard County so that the establishment members of that party can hold power for as long as possible further enriching themselves and their friends.
The Rouse Project is promoting radical extremists like Tina Horn for Village Board seats who have no interest in serving the people but instead a political agenda. Ms. Horn is a known social media agitator who has stirred up a lot of problems in the community in an all out effort to push a very extreme agenda. The Rouse Project is supporting these radical extremists up against long time community activists who actually care about the nuts and bolts issues of Columbia, not a political agenda.
Why should you be worried about the Rouse Project?
They do not care about overcrowding schools and hospitals. They do not care about increasing traffic. They not only want to build on every square inch of Columbia, but they want to next put their eye on the rural west and build on every possible square inch there as well. For those of us concerns about overcrowding schools we must stand against this radical political group and stop them in their tracks.
Now lets address their lies about Reopen Howard County. This is somewhat embarrassing for the author of the Rouse Project hate piece whom we will address in a second.
Lie #1: They said our group is a prominent voice for Trumpism and nativism
Fact: This group has never posted about president Trump nor posts about national politics. We only post on local issues. The goal of the Rouse Project by bringing this up was to score cheap points with their base, but if you read our posts you would know we don’t engage in national issues. We also are very accepting of legal immigrants and have focused on supporting the Asian community in particular who have been subject to hateful rhetoric that has been stoked by many progressive activists in this county.
Lie #2: T-shirt gate. This has been addressed before. Those t-shirts were brought to an event by a third party. One of our group leaders told the individual to remove the shirts and leave. This page disavowed the shirts. None of this context matters the Rouse Project because they are more interested in stoking anger so we do not focus on what they are actually trying to do.
Lie #3: If the Rouse Project is trying to play poker here this is where they just gave us their tell. They said we are a voice for “anti-districting” sentiment. But this page didn’t exist during the redistricting debate. So why did they lie about this? Here is the tell:
The redistricting debacle is something that is firmly entrenched in the mind of former Board of Education member Sabina Taj who led the charge on this redistricting plan. The plan forced kids to be bussed across the county and tore communities apart. This occurred a year and a half ago and has never been a focus point of our page. By bringing up something like that it points to who was likely the author of yesterdays attack piece: former board member and current Rouse Project steering team member Sabina Taj. Ms. Taj appears to be the most active member of the Rouse Project steering team. So the fact that the “redistricting plan” was mentioned is very suspect.
Ms. Taj may well be the leader of this “Rouse Project”. Lets look at her track record. While on the BOE, she committed an Open Meetings Act violation when she was involved in stopping a meeting, pulling multiple officials out of a public forum and then returned with a backroom deal that disenfranchised many community members. From the day she was elected to the BOE she pushed an extremist progressive agenda and was known for shouting at fellow board members who disagreed with her behind the scenes. Ms. Taj was so unpopular that 2 years in to her term she decided not to run against the very popular Christina Delmont-Small. Local political experts thought if Taj ran she was have lost by a wide margin perhaps even 80% to 20%.
The Rouse Project should concern all of us. The lies in yesterdays e-mail are uncalled for. They failed to mention that a well known political moderate Allan Kittleman resigned from this committee over concerns of political extremism. We expect more resignations to follow.
Shame on the Rouse Project for their non-transparent political agenda!
I have not seen anything from Liz Bobo as of this post. That does not mean she has not responded…so if you are aware of a statement – send that along and I will update this article.
I have to say that the comments against previous County Executive Liz Bobo (Bobo served one term as Howard County Executive from 1986 to 1990. She was Howard County’s first and only female executive) is probably the most surprising from The Rouse Project (at least to me).
One thing seems obvious to me…the elections in the various villages around Columbia will be talked about, probably heated and maybe even difficult to watch if this back and forth continues between people and entities here in Howard County.
I have begun writing up information articles on the various village elections and hope to provide more articles on additional villages by the end of this week:
- 2021 Wilde Lake Village Elections in Columbia
- 2021 Oakland Mills Village Elections in Columbia
- 2021 Hickory Ridge Village Elections in Columbia
Other Village Elections on my list include:
- Dorsey’s Search
- Kings Contrivance
- Long Reach
- River Hill
Once I have completed all of the Village Election articles I will put together a full candidate listing article of those running to be part of the Columbia Association Board of Directors. I might even conduct a few interviews with candidates (those that are interested) in order to provide the community with additional information.
Have thoughts on what is happening in Columbia with these elections? Let me know in the comments.