Danielle Meitiv, the Silver Spring “free-range” mother and climate scientist who became widely known for a pair of run-ins with local authorities wants to be the next Montgomery County councilwoman.
And it was those encounters with police and Child Protective Services two years ago that is motivating her to seek public office.
Meitiv launched her campaign on June 30 to replace any of the three at-large council members who are barred by term limits from seeking another term in 2018: Marc Elrich, George Leventhal and Nancy Floreen.
In December 2014 and April 2015, Meitiv’s children, Rafi and Dvora, were picked up by police while playing unsupervised in a Silver Spring park a mile from their home. In the second incident, the children, then ages 10 and 6, were detained for several hours by police and CPS.
Meitiv, 48, said the experience made her feel powerless at the time. But she came to view it to be a “wake-up call” because it illuminated the degree to which political decisions made at the local level have an impact. The light-bulb moment for her occurred when a police officer and CPS representative showed up at her door.
“They said, ‘The police officer can stay outside but the other guy [CPS] can come in,’ and I said, ‘Do you have a warrant?’ And the other guy said, ‘Oh, I don’t need a warrant,’” she said.
Another epiphany came later that night in a conversation with her husband, Alexander.
The police “snatched my kids off the street to take them somewhere,” she said. “And I’m driving there in tears saying, ‘I can’t believe they’re doing this to us.’ And my husband, who grew up in the Soviet Union, said, ‘That’s because you’re naïve about how cruel bureaucracies can be.’”
Accused of child neglect, the Meitivs hired an attorney and were cleared of any wrongdoing. The case led to an immediate change in policy in how the county police department handles cases of unaccompanied minors. Police are no longer required to notify CPS in such cases; rather, they are to use discretion to determine whether the children are in danger.
“I think we can all agree that that’s not a place for the police and CPS to intervene,” she said. “As long as there’s no harm and no true neglect, we can have different opinions and raise our kids different and still be good parents.”
Meitiv said this is a classic case of citizens bringing greater accountability and transparency to their government — something she hopes to continue to improve if elected. She said too many decisions are made in closed sessions out of public view. As examples, she pointed to tax breaks the council has granted to corporations such as Lockheed Martin and Marriott.
“That to me is not acceptable,” she said. “And for all we know those were good decisions — but we’ll never know. And that’s the kind of thing that makes people feel so cynical about government today.”
Meitiv has lived on and off in the Washington area for 20 years. She said she worries about the lingering effects of the 2008 economic recession and said that county residents she has spoken with have complained of stagnant salaries and rising property taxes. Those tax increases and County Executive Isiah Leggett’s veto of a $15 minimum wage bill this year are evidence that “the folks in Rockville are out of touch.”
In addition to Meitiv, other Democrats seeking an at large seat are Ron Colbert, Hoan Dang and Richard Gottfried.Tim Willard filed as a Green Party candidate. No Republicans have filed candidacy paperwork.
Meitiv’s other goals are to expand the county’s free public education system to include community college and vocational training, implement a 100-percent renewable energy policy and increase the amount of citizen input in county planning.
As Meitiv walked through her neighborhood on the fringe of downtown Silver Spring, she was greeted by a neighbor who went back into his house to retrieve a book called “Dog Talk,” which he gave her because the Meitivs have a new dog.
“My dad’s going to love this,” she said, thanking him.
Meitiv’s 80-year-old father lives with her family, which also houses foreign students in their upstairs guest rooms.
“We like to say it’s the Meitiv kibbutz,” she said.
The Meitivs attend both Tifereth Israel Congregation down the road and Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda, where Rafi will celebrate his bar mitzvah in December.
Meitiv said she has made a point of exposing her children to many cultures, taking multiple overseas family vacations and sending the children to a French immersion camp in Montreal for the past two summers.
She insists that she is not running on a “how to parent platform,” but, as she has begun her campaign, said at least four people a day bring up the events of two years ago. Nevertheless, the reactions, she said, are often positive and include, “You’re my hero” and “Thank you for standing up.”
“As soon as I say who I am they go, ‘Oh my God, you’re that mom.’ I got that this morning.”