|Lets Set the Record Straight
By Michael Shay and Amanda Spake
Since the proposed Deale Safeway strip mall has been in the news, many groups have rightly debated its impact on our community. But misconceptions and tactics promoted by some pro-strip mall advocates have begun to cloud the issues, confuse citizens and cheapen public dialogue. Let's set the record straight.
Safeway proponents say they have 2,000 Deale-area residents who have signed a petition supporting Safeway. Analysis of the "petition" reveals that most names are not signatures but attached mailing labels of unknown origin. A founder of the Alliance for Rural Business, who has led opposition to the mall, is among the labels counted as a Safeway supporter. Several members of South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development, SACReD and donors who oppose Safeway are also on the labels.
In fact, fewer than 500 from Anne Arundel, Calvert, Montgomery, Prince George's counties and from Virginia have signed the pro-Safeway petitions. Yet, these "2,000 Safeway supporters" have been referred to repeatedly in news accounts and by county officials as evidence that a majority of Bay area residents want Safeway's mall built.
The only independent poll was by the Annapolis Capital. While not a random sample of public opinion, the trend is clear: Only 26% of respondents supported the proposed Safeway store. Out of nearly a dozen public forums and meetings, Safeway proponents have never turned out more than a handful of supporters.
Second, pro-Safeway advocates say they are underfunded and unorganized, whereas the opposition - led by SACReD, the Alliance for Rural Business and other groups - has unmatched money and organizing skills. The facts are that the pro-Safeway campaign is backed by a global, multi-billion-dollar corporation, Safeway, Inc. Locally, at least two Safeway supporters are excellent organizers: One runs a successful business and has started a civic organization; the other recently ran for political office.
Safeway opponents are well-organized, diverse and effective, but speaking for SACReD, the group is hardly well-funded. It operates with no paid staff, no office, on a shoestring from citizen donations and memberships and now faces a sizable legal debt.
Perhaps the most disturbing falsehood repeated by the pro-Safeway group is that it has been unable to show its alleged "silent majority" of people intimidated from entering the public debate. No one has cited one instance of intimidation, and the citizens who want Safeway have spoken up often at public meetings on the topic.
Sadly, it appears that some Safeway supporters seek to compensate for their lack of community support by resorting to unsavory, misleading, even intimidating, tactics themselves. Mail sent last winter to households in Deale and Churchton made false statements about Safeway opponents and was signed only by "Common Sense." Signs advocating violation of the federal Threatened and Endangered Species Act - "Burn the Nest" - are displayed at the corner of Routes 468 and 256. Though SACReD's policy is to leave others' signs alone, our signs are now regularly defaced with threats.
Recently, Dennis Callahan, Anne Arundel County director of Parks and Recreation, pretended to be a pro-Safeway citizen ("Bobby from Edgewater"). He praised County Executive Janet Owens on the radio for her support of the Deale Safeway and blasted Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller for sponsoring a bill to limit its size. Soon after, Owens herself demanded Safeway shrink its plan and ended up supporting Miller's SB 880 (now law).
Successful advocates state their positions persuasively, but reasonably, without name-calling, threats, intimidation or lies. Only in such a climate will all members of the community feel free to discuss the issues facing our future.
pAmanda Spake is president of SACReD, and Michael Shay is a vice-president.