Getting Political with Kristin Mink '03
Former MCPS student and teacher Kristin Mink was elected last November to represent District 5 on the Montgomery County Council. She spoke with Silver Chips about her new role and priorities for her term. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Why did you decide to run for County Council?
During my time as a teacher, I was also an activist and an organizer on the side, and then I moved into full-time work during the Trump administration. Spending all of your time trying to get elected officials to care more about what the community needs than about how much money the lobbyist who’s coming in the door after me—that certainly will get the wheels turning about how much stronger our legislation would be if we had more people sitting in those elected offices who just genuinely cared about passing good policy on behalf of the community. So, in Montgomery County, when I saw that we suddenly had numerous vacancies . . . I knew that it meant that it was an opportunity to potentially not get one new person, but possibly a bunch of folks who would be politically courageous and community-minded.
What are your main policy goals for your term?
One is tenant rights. We are working on a rent stabilization bill which would limit the percentage that a landlord is allowed to increase rent by. Schools are hugely important to me. We’re seeing shortages that are extremely problematic. It impacts teachers’ ability to plan, to grade, to teach, [and] to build relationships with their students. If we don’t offer teachers competitive pay, they are going to go elsewhere. We also need to address housing so that folks who work here are able to live here. Also, we have been having a lot of conversations about fentanyl. We need to be… getting more folks trained [in administering Narcan], and just getting more Narcan in the schools. Climate is another big issue for me. Montgomery County has a pretty aggressive climate action plan, but we are not currently taking the steps we need to meet the numbers that have been set.
What are the types of budget decisions that would help improve Montgomery County’s approach to climate change?
Ensuring that our developments are not contributing to urban sprawl [and] that we are finding ways to ensure that we are building housing in places that are close to transit and to walkable, bikeable pathways. [Also,] maintaining and expanding our tree canopy [and] addressing heat islands.
How would you plan to address rising crime in Montgomery County?
Police are one piece of the public safety landscape but they are far from the only piece… Their primary job is not a preventative one. There are a lot of other preventative measures that need to be in place. Funding after school programs is an example of a measure that people might not think of as a public safety measure, but when you have really well-funded after school and before school programs that can accommodate a lot of students, that dramatically impacts [crime]. One of the things that we want to do is to free up police time so that they are focused on things that are most appropriate for police to be responding to: violent crimes. We do have crisis response teams. However, there are so few of them that police respond, still, to almost all of the mental health calls, including the ones that are nonviolent and could be handled by a civilian team. We need to staff [the crisis response teams] up so that they are able to be as responsive across the entire county as quickly as police officers are when there are mental health calls.
What do you think the County Council should do to protect and advance LGBTQ rights?
I think that the public messaging just needs to be a lot clearer and stronger in support of the LGBTQIA+ community and especially the trans and nonbinary community. I have spoken with leadership at MCPS about that because I don’t think that their messages of support—though well intended—have been clear and strong enough. Also, looking for ways to make our spaces and our infrastructure more inclusive. There was a bill that was passed by the previous council, Bill 422, that requires there to be a gender-inclusive or gender-neutral bathroom in [newly built public] spaces. However, we don’t really have a great roll-out plan for that now. Just passing the bill sends a positive statement, but the change is not actually going to happen if we don’t follow through.
Now that you’re a council member, do you ever find it difficult to balance your activism with the need for compromise or the practical realities of being a politician?
The messaging I would use as an activist is different from the messaging that I would use as a council member, and it’s not because my values have changed, and I’m not aiming for a different goal, but the audience is different, and so it changes the strategy. Sometimes on the activism side... you need to use more over-the-top language, because otherwise, nobody will listen at all. As an elected [official], once we’re talking about it, we already have the platform, [and] the conversation’s already in the public sphere. The goal is to explain what this looks like in a policy sense and explain how that would benefit the community.