Seth Grimes plans to make equity central to the agenda of Montgomery County Council

by Kim Szarmach

Former Takoma Park City Council member, Seth Grimes, kicked off his campaign for Montgomery County Council Sunday, running on a platform of equity for all the county’s residents.

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Seth Grimes addressing his supporters

“I’m particularly concerned about our neediest neighbors, people who are economically disadvantaged,” Grimes told his audience of about 50 Takoma Park neighbors and friends. “We have a great system in Montgomery County but we still have a great deal of problems here.”

Some of the problems to which Grimes referred are significant rates of homelessness and food insecurity through out the county. According to Grimes, nearly 80,000 out of Montgomery County’s population of one million experience hunger or lack of access to nutritional foods and Maryland’s Interagency Council on Homelessness reported a count of 980 unsheltered homeless individuals in the county last year.

To combat these issues, Grimes said he plans on going out into the larger Montgomery County community, hearing citizens’ concerns, and working with community partners and activists to find solutions.

“We have to go beyond listening—which implies that you are waiting for people to come to you about their needs,” Grimes said. “We need to go out and solicit opinions from people from around the county who are not like us, people who are disadvantaged in one way or another and don’t have time for activism like we have.”

Grimes said he is a firm believer that effective service programs already exist in Montgomery County. To solve problems of homelessness and food insecurity, he said, the local government should reach out to community organizations that have the best understanding of the issues that affect the people they serve and provide these organizations with funding and support.

“You have to actually go out and work with people in affected communities to provide the resources that they need,” Grimes said. “You need to follow the lead to the affected people.”

This idea of finding solutions to problems by working with the people who are actually affected by them is one that Grimes said is not put into practice often enough by the current County Council.

Part of the reason the council members are not fully attuned to the issues in their larger Montgomery County community is because they lack diversity, according to Grimes. Out of nine County Council members, only one is a person of color. This demographic is drastically different from the county over all. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2015, 19% of the counties population was African American and 19% was Hispanic.

Grimes said he believes the council should be more diverse; however, he doesn’t think that a lack of diversity should prevent the members from effectively serving people who are not like them.

“There’s no reason that anyone with a particular economic or social or racial background can’t be empathetic or help others and that’s certainly what I aspire to do,” he said.

Empathy is just one of many traits that has inspired many residents of Takoma park to support Grimes’ candidacy early on. Grimes has been active in community organizing for years, even before he got involved in local politics. He has served as a volunteer at multiple organizations serving the homeless, and is Vice Chair of the board of Shepherd’s Table, a soup kitchen in Silver Spring.

“Here in Takoma Park, we’re all activists but really none are greater than Seth,” said Howard Kohn, a supporter of Grimes. “We’ve known each other a long time. It’s not just what he stands for, its who he is as a person. He’s trustworthy, his word is good, he doesn’t B.S., and he’s extremely knowledgable. Anytime we have a conversation, he always knows more than I do.”

While Grimes has a strong foundation of supporters in Takoma Park, he has a lot of outreach to do in the greater Montgomery County area before the primaries in June. His campaign message—that equity must be part of the county’s agenda—is simple, but it could be powerful enough to rally support across the county.

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