December 15, 2011

Maryland Politics is moving

Starting today, the Maryland Politics blog has a new home on The Sun’s website. Please direct your web browsers to for the latest political news from Baltimore, Annapolis and Washington.

The redesigned blog has several new features. Your reaction to items on the site should now post more quickly. Also, items written on the new blog will now be searchable on <em>The Sun’s</em> website.

Please note, we will no longer approve readers’ comments on the old blog site.

We appreciate your readership and your contributions to Maryland Politics and hope that you enjoy the new format. As before, our e-mail addresses are included in our bios. Feel free to drop us a line. Thanks,

- Annie, John, Julie and Mike

Posted by John Fritze at 9:00 AM | | Comments (0)

December 14, 2011

Assembly moves toward more 'transparency'

An effort to open Maryland state government to greater scrutiny, while making the General Assembly more "transparent," got off the ground Wednesday as a panel set up for that purpose convened for the first time.

The Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government, created by the legislature during its session last year, got off to a late start because of delays in naming its members. But during yesterday's organizational meeting, the committee discussed some wide-ranging initiatives to make it easier for citizens to keep up with what state government is doing.

Del. Kumar Barve, the House co-chair, said the panel is unlikely to propose legislation for the 2012 session but could come in with a package of bills in 2013. He said that for now the committee would focus on improvements that can be achieved through administrative changes.

Barve, a Montgomery County Democrat who is his party's floor leader, asked members to bring their ideas for five or six priorities to the next meeting -- expected early in the session that starts Jan. 11.

The legislation that created the panel was sponsored by Del. Heather Mizeur, a Montgomery County Democrat, and Sen. William Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat. Ferguson is the Senate co-chair of the joint committee while Mizeur is a member.

Mizeur briefed members on a menu of possible initiatives including elimination of charges for access to public records, improvements to the General Assembly web site, better use of technology and increased use of social media to communicate with citizens.

Known as the House's "Ms. Transparency" since she had adopted the cause as one of her key issues, Mizeur told members the Assembly web site is less user-friendly than those of many other states -- "an eight track tape player in an IPhone universe," she called it. She urged the panel to set a goal of upgrading it before the 2013 session.

Among the ideas discussed at the meeting: allowing witnesses to sign up to testify at legislative hearings online and providing email updates on the progress of individual bills.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:34 PM | | Comments (1)

Cardin cites '06 race in support of voter fraud bill

Sen. Ben Cardin argued Wednesday that the nation’s election laws should be more uniform so prosecutors across the country could pursue political operatives who take part in election shenanigans such as Maryland’s recent robo-call case.

“What we’re trying to do is make this a national policy,” said Cardin, who unveiled a new iteration of his voter fraud bill Wednesday. “We want to see this uniform around the nation.”

The bill would subject those found guilty of using deceptive practices to suppress voter turnout to a fine or a possible five-year prison sentence.

The effort comes days after Paul Schurick, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s campaign manager, was found guilty of election fraud for attempting to suppress turnout with a last-minute robo-call. The proposal was not drafted in response to that case.

In a news conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Cardin noted his own run-in with a last-minute electoral sneak attack: A 2006 flier distributed in black neighborhoods incorrectly suggesting that several prominent African-American leaders had endorsed his Republican opponent. 

Continue reading "Cardin cites '06 race in support of voter fraud bill " »

Posted by John Fritze at 1:23 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

O'Donnell to take on Hoyer

** Updated with MD Democratic Party response

Maryland's House Minority Leader Anthony O'Donnell made it official: He's definitely taking on U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer in the 2012 election.

"Frankly, I'm sickened by and exhausted from the attitude of so many politicians that our families can and should be the ones to sacrifice," says O'Donnell on an online video declaring his candidacy. "They don't seem to understand how hard it is to make ends meet these days. It is time for the government to make some sacrifices and pay attention to the people."

In the video, he rails against the stimulus plan and associates Hoyer with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, saying that their voting records are nearly identical. (The two Democratic politicians are in fact longtime rivals within the party.) 

Continue reading "O'Donnell to take on Hoyer" »

Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:00 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: 2012

Charles County moves closer to D.C. orbit

Charles County, long thought of as a rural, tobacco-growing jurisdiction in Southern Maryland, is taking one more step toward becoming a full-fledged part of the Washington region.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, a regional planning body, announced Wednesday that Charles will become its 22nd member government. The group, which includes the District of Columbia as well as counties and municipalities in Maryland and Virginia, includes groups that deal with transportation and air quality issues that transcend jurisdictional lines.

Charles' move closer into the Washington region tracks its political transformation over the last two decades. With an increasing African-American population that includes many who have migrated from Prince George's County, Charles has moved from being a reliably Republican outpost to a Democratic stronghold. Over the years, as tobacco farming has dwindled, the county has become much more of a bedroom community for commuters to Washington.

Candice Quinn Kelly, president of the Charles County Board of Commissioners, issued a statement that didn't seem at all nostalgic for the county's past.

“Charles County is pleased to become a full member of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Our decision to move forward with COG membership is based on the understanding that commuting, employment, and the economic direction of Charles County are fully part of the larger Washington-area region. We're not solely a rural, agricultural-based county anymore,” she said. “This is an important day for our community. It's time to move into this new realm, and we are joining a strong, regional network that will help us to move our county forward.”

Can St. Mary's and Calvert be far behind?

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:11 AM | | Comments (0)

December 13, 2011

Bereano settles ethics charges for $2,750

Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano will go into the 2012 legislative session next month with ethics charges safely behind him.

Bereano settled a case with the State Ethics Commission earlier this year by agreeing to pay a $2,750 penalty for failing to make required disclosures of meals and other gifts to state officials.

Bereano, a convicted felon who settled a more serious ethics cases in 2009 with a $29,070 payment, came to a new agreement with the ethics panel in May under which he agreed to a fine and submitted amended disclosure forms that added detail about which state officials were the beneficiaries of his generosity.

Over the years, Bereano appears to be the lobbyist most frequently cited by the panel for violations large and small. He now has seven ethics cases on file with the commission.

The most recent settlement was found in an examination of the commission’s records. The panel does not normally send out public notices of violations – helping to account for why the infraction was not reported for months.

The agreement stipulated that Bereano did not properly disclose his spending on meals and beverages he bought for Richard B. Rosenblatt, then an assistant secretary in the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, each year between 2005-2008. Meanwhile, Rosenblatt was making the required disclosures each year – though he took a short cut by overestimating Bereano’s spending on him as coming to $500 a year for those four years.

Rosenblatt was violating no law, according to the ethics commission, because state law allows executive branch officials to be wined and dined in the presence of the person footing the bill as long as the identity and amount are disclosed. But when ethics officials cross-checked Bereano’s disclosures against Rosenblatt's, they found that the lobbyist hadn’t been quite as diligent.

Records show Bereano filed amended disclosures for 2006-2008 showing spending between $148 and $300 on wining and dining Rosenblatt for those three years while representing Correctional Medical Services.

In the same settlement, Bereano also admitted to a failure to disclose a series of gifts to a Senate staff member between 2001 and 2005. The lobbyist explained that the gifts, including sports tickets, were personal in nature and weren’t paid for by one of his employers. The ethics panel found that such gifts to employees of the legislature are not permitted.

The recipient was a former member of the staff of state Sen. John Hafer, a Western Maryland Republican. Bereano’s amended disclosure shows that the gifts followed a running theme involving the Dallas Cowboys, including tickets to the teams games against the Washington Redskins. The agreement noted that the staff member eventually reimbursed Bereano for the gifts.

Rosenblatt, who now works in the prison health industry, said he regrets having been imprecise in his disclosures, but not having dined with Bereano. He said his outside-the-office communications with the lobbyist helped improve communications between his department and a company that already held a contract.

“He helped improve the service received from the client,” Rosenblatt said. Bereano did not return a call seeking his comment.

The infractions were far less serious than the previous case in which Bereano was cited. That involved signing an illegal contingency contract that would have rewarded him for a successful outcome. But the $2,750 settlement is considerably more than the typical fine paid in a case against a lobbyist – which typically involve $250 fines for late filing of a disclosure.

Bereano is currently seeking to have his 1994 federal mail fraud conviction invalidated because of subsequent appellate rulings that call into question the prosecution's legal groundwork for the case.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:27 PM | | Comments (0)

Brinkley brings Shank aboard for 6th District

David Brinkley, a Republican state lawmaker considering a run for Congress in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, said Tuesday that a key Senate colleague, Chris Shank, would serve as a county campaign chair if he decides to formally enter the race.

Shank had been considered a potential candidate for the district himself. In siding with Brinkley, Shank could give a boost to a campaign that is competing in a crowded GOP field to replace incumbent Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett. Shank would serve as Brinkley’s Washington County chairman.

“A victory in this election will be determined by who wins Washington County,” Brinkley said in a statement. “Senator Shank’s effort on our behalf will play a major role in this campaign.”

The state’s primary is April 3. In addition to Brinkley and Bartlett, who says he will seek reelection, Maryland’s GOP chairman, Alex Mooney, has said he is exploring a run. Other candidates include businessman Brandon Rippeon, Robert Coblentz and Montgomery County attorney Robin Ficker.

Posted by John Fritze at 3:54 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

Cardin to introduce voter fraud bill

Sen. Ben Cardin said he will unveil legislation Wednesday to impose criminal and civil penalties for those who distribute false voting information before an election.

The effort, which Cardin is making along with New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, comes days after Paul Schurick, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s campaign manager, was found guilty of election fraud for attempting to suppress turnout with a last-minute robo-call.

The call, directed at black neighborhoods in Baltimore and Prince George’s County, told voters to “relax,” and stated before polls had closed that Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley’s reelection was assured. Schurick’s attorney, arguing that the call was protected under the First Amendment, has vowed to appeal the ruling.

The Sun's coverage of the robo-call case is available here. 

Cardin's legislation would apply to communications that occur in the last 90 of an election with federal candidates on the ballot. Literature listing the wrong date or time for an election, giving inaccurate information about voter eligibility, or promoting false endorsements of candidates would be covered under the bill, for instance.

Though the legislation would have applied to the Schurick case, it was not drafted in response to it, a Cardin aide said. The senator has been working on the issue for several years and has introduced different iterations of the bill in the past.

Maryland has a long history of last-minute election sneak attacks, including erroneous sample ballots, literature insinuating endorsements that were never made and misleading robo-calls.

Updated:Those who use deceptive practices would be subject to a fine or a five-year prison sentence under the proposal. The bill would also authorize the U.S. Attorney General to communicate directly with voters to correct false information if state and local officials did not do so.

Posted by John Fritze at 12:35 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington

In Penn State's wake, Mikulski explores child abuse law

As the Penn State child sex abuse scandal began to wind its way through court on Monday, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski held a hearing on an underlying issue raised in the case: Whether federal child abuse laws are adequately protecting children from abuse.

“There have been too many examples in our recent history where children have been subjected to double abuse,” the Maryland Democrat said at a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families, which she chairs.

“They are victimized by the initial abuse and then are victimized a second time when the abuse is overlooked, ignored or covered up in order to protect institutions that many consider beyond reproach or ‘too big to fail.’”

The hearing came on the same day that former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was expected to face several of his accusers in court. At the last minute, however, he waived his right to the preliminary hearing. Sandusky, who has denied wrongdoing, faces multiple charges of child sex abuse in a scandal that has forced the university’s president and longtime coach, Joe Paterno, to resign.

Continue reading "In Penn State's wake, Mikulski explores child abuse law" »

Posted by John Fritze at 12:14 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Washington

December 12, 2011

O'Malleys invite Lady Gaga to dinner

Maryland's first couple extended an informal dinner invitation to Lady Gaga via twitter this afternoon.

Gov. Martin O'Malley and Lady Gaga share an interest in music, but the topic of conversation would be anti-bullying efforts. The governor and his wife, Katie O'Malley, launched an anti-bullying campaign a few months ago, and O'Malley recently asked other governors to join him in that effort.

The governor (or his tweeting staff) wrote: "@LadyGaga thanks for your advocacy against bullying. Katie & I would like to invite you to dinner to discuss eliminating bullying in MD."

Gaga recently visited the White House to discuss the same issue, which prompted the invite, according to O'Malley spokeswoman Takirra Winfield. "We thought that we would reach out to her," Winfield said.

The governor has no plans make a more traditional overture to the superstar singer.

Gaga isn't the only famous name O'M has dropped recently on his twitter feed. While in California for an annual Democratic Governors Association meeting and fundraiser, the governor made a trip to Palo Alto where he had his photo snapped with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. (Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin is also in the picture.)

Plus -- and this did not come up at this morning's briefing on India -- O'Malley ran into Tom Cruise at the Taj Mahal. Here's a photo from the governor's Facebook page.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:10 PM | | Comments (1)

O’Malley planning more foreign travel

Gov. Martin O’Malley hope to fill up his passport over the next few years with stamps from Brazil and some African nations. The governor mentioned his future plans Monday morning at a media briefing on the India trip he wrapped up last week.

The governor noted that Brazil, with its booming economy would help round out his tour through emerging nations frequently referred to as the “BRIC” countries. (Should his Brazil trip go forward, O’Malley would only be missing Russia.) O’Malley said he’d like to go to Brazil next year.

The governor also said he’d like to visit Africa, noting the number of international relief agencies based in Maryland that do work there. “Not to mention the contributions from that continent,” O’Malley said.

The cost to taxpayers for the six day India trip was roughly $140,000, said Department of Business and Economic Development Secretary Christian Johansson. O’Malley led a delegation of 100 on the trip, which he said helped seal business deals worth $60 million.

Continue reading "O’Malley planning more foreign travel" »

Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:06 PM | | Comments (0)

Cummings launches probe into for-profit schools

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said Monday he will launch an investigation into executive compensation at for-profit colleges.

Cummings sent letters to 13 colleges Monday, including DeVry Inc. and Kaplan Inc., requesting they turnover compensation agreements for senior executives “as part of an effort to determine whether [their] salary, bonuses, and other compensation are appropriately tied to the performance of the students [they] educate, the vast majority of which pay for their education with federal tax dollars.”

Many students at the schools pay tuition with taxpayer-funded student loan programs, Cummings said. None of the schools are based in Maryland.

The Baltimore lawmaker has made executive compensation a top issue, including efforts to limit salaries and bonuses for executives at companies that benefited from federal bailouts.

Continue reading "Cummings launches probe into for-profit schools" »

Posted by John Fritze at 10:08 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Washington

December 9, 2011

Revenues panel writes down MD budget estimates

After a series of cheerful announcements of better-than-expected state tax revenues, Maryland's Board of Revenue Estimates Friday reversed that trend and announced a $120 million write down mostly on weaker than expected sales taxes.

"It means [the General Assembly] needs to be very careful about their spending and borrowing," said Comptroller Peter Franchot, who chairs the revenue panel. "I've been very consistent to say we are in a very fragile, feeble recovery. We owe it to be very honest about jobs and the housing market and not be constantly cheer leading."

The panel now estimates that the tax revenues for the current fiscal year will be $50 million lower than expected. For next year (FY2013) revenues are now expected to be $71 million lower than predicted in September. The FY2013 budget will still grow by 3.3 percent over the current year's.

Continue reading "Revenues panel writes down MD budget estimates" »

Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:28 PM | | Comments (0)

Pipkin calls for transportation chief to step down

Senate Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin called Friday for Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley to step down in light of this month's highly critical audit of the State Highway Administration.

Pipkin, an Upper Shore Republican, charged that the audit of SHA -- an arm of the Transportation Department -- showed that Swaim-Staley has done "an unacceptable job" and bears responsibility for the contracting abuses identified by legislative auditors.

"Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley has presided over a mess," Pipkin's statement said. "She has stated that she has been working hard to change the SHA culture to one that closely manages all aspects of the contract process. Frankly that response is not good enough. Let’s face it, Secretary Swaim-Staley did not know much of what was going on in the agency she heads."

The most recent audit released showed that SHA had in many cases extended contracts -- or moved money from contract to contract -- without the required approval of the state Board of Public Works. A previous audit, released July 1, found ethical violations in the agency's construction and procurement areas and focused on a "revolving door" culture involving the SHA and its contractors.

Pipkin said the recent audit showed "an agency run wild without adequate oversight, coordination and review."

In June, with the release of the first audit imminent, state Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen abruptly stepped down. Last month Swaim-Staley announced that Melinda Peters, who headed construction of the Intercounty Connector, would become the new administrator in a promotion that bypassed Pedersen's former deputies.

Raquel Guillory, press secretary for Gov. Martin O'Malley, rejected the call for Swaim-Staley's replacement.

"We continue to have confidence in the secretary," Guillory said. "She acted aggressively to make changes at SHA, including a new head of that agency. We're confident that all of the steps that have been taken address many of the issues in the audit."

There is a little history between Pipkin and Swaim-Staley. Pipkin was the legislature's most vocal critic of the Maryland Transportation Authority's recent toll increase, while Swaim-Staley, as chairwoman of the authority board, led the process that led to setting the new toll rates.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:51 PM | | Comments (0)

Benoit challenges legal opinion on Jones' seat

Anne Arundel County Councilman Jamie Benoit is challenging a legal opinion issued by the county attorney on the political future of fellow Councilman Daryl D. Jones, who is headed to federal prison next month.

In a five-page memo to the county’s Office of Law, Benoit, a Democrat, questioned County Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson’s Dec. 1 legal opinion. Hodgson stated that the council can replace Jones when he begins serving a five-month federal prison sentence on Jan. 23, on a single count of failing to file a tax return, because he will be living outside of his councilmanic district during his prison stint.

The county charter does not require a council member convicted of a crime or sentenced to prison. But Hodgson said once Jones, a second-term Democrat from Severn, is incarcerated, the council can declare his seat vacated by passing a resolution, then begin the process of choosing a successor. The council has 30 days from the date of the vacancy to choose a replacement, who must live in the district and be of the same party.

“By my read, if Mr. Jones does not resign and intends to live in the councilmanic district upon his return in a few months, his seat has not been vacated when he reports to prison,” Benoit wrote. The Crownsville Democrat and attorney asked the county law office to provide a more substantive legal opinion. Benoit has said he has no opinion on whether Jones should resign.

Continue reading "Benoit challenges legal opinion on Jones' seat" »

Posted by Nicole Fuller at 11:51 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Anne Arundel County

December 8, 2011

Federal worker pay targeted again on Capitol Hill

Maryland Democrats and federal employee unions attacked a new proposal floated on Capitol Hill Thursday that would pay for continuing a payroll tax cut by extending a freeze on federal workers.

Sen. Ben Cardin sent a letter to Democratic Senate leaders this week asking them to reject any proposal that would shrink federal worker compensation. In the letter – also signed by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and six other Democrats – the lawmakers note that employees are already operating under a two-year pay freeze that began this year.

“Federal employees are facing the same challenges as other middle-class families during this difficult economic time,” the letter reads. “Yet, this sub-group of middle class workers is in danger of being singled out to offset a tax cut for all middle class Americans.”

Cardin’s push comes as House Republicans prepared to formally unveil a bill that would extend the expiring payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits in part by continuing the pay freeze on federal workers. A similar proposal failed in the Senate Thursday, with 76 senators – including 25 Republicans – opposed.

Maryland is home to 286,810 federal workers, according to the census, and 131,350 federal employees work in the state.

Continue reading "Federal worker pay targeted again on Capitol Hill " »

Posted by John Fritze at 4:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

CASA drops portion of suit against MD Dream Act

Attorneys backed by CASA de Maryland who are trying to block a 2012 referendum on the Maryland Dream Act have modified their lawsuit against the state, and now concede that opponents of the controversial law did gather enough valid signatures.

The CASA attorneys still contend that the referendum should not go forward because they say the law, which grants in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, is technically an appropriations measure and therefore not allowed to be petitioned. Oral arguments in the case are set for late January.

"We feel very strongly ... that this is the kind of law that the the Maryland Constitution prevents from going to referendum," said Joseph Sandler, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

The development means that a Maryland court will not have a chance to rule on a new internet tool that was used this year to gather signatures for the repeal effort. Maryland Republicans hope to use the tool more frequently, and have toyed with employing it to protest Gov. Martin O'Malley's congressional redistricting map.

The initial lawsuit had claimed that the signatures generated from online petitions did not pass legal muster.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:52 PM | | Comments (0)

Obama, Biden to attend Army-Navy game

They’ll be led by their coaches, but when Army and Navy meet at FedEx Field on Saturday they’ll also have to contend with a commander in chief in the stands.

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden will attend the game, the White House announced Thursday. Later in the week, Obama will travel to North Carolina to speak with troops at Ft. Bragg.

Presidents frequently attend Army-Navy games, though not always. Obama did not attend in 2009 and faced criticism for it. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter didn’t attend any of the games during their presidencies.

Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m.

Posted by John Fritze at 11:36 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Washington

December 7, 2011

Doctor latest Democrat to enter 6th District race

Milad Pooran, a 34-year-old doctor and Air National Guard reservist, on Wednesday became the latest candidate to enter the burgeoning race for Maryland’s 6th Congressional District.

Pooran, a Democrat, is a critical care physician and served as a combat medic in Iraq, according to an announcement from his campaign. He previously ran for school board in Beltsville, Md., but was deployed during the campaign, an aide said. He is a lieutenant colonel.

“The 6th District has been under-represented for two decades,” Pooran said, referencing the incumbent, Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett.

The other Democratic candidates in the race so far include state Sen. Robert Garagiola and former Montgomery County Council member Duchy Trachtenberg. The primary takes place April 3.

Pooran immigrated to the U.S. with his parents at the age of six from Iran. He grew up in Beltsville, attended the University of Maryland, College Park, and the UM School of Medicine in Baltimore. As an undergraduate, he was a sports broadcaster for a student radio station and provided color commentary for Terrapin home games. 

Continue reading "Doctor latest Democrat to enter 6th District race" »

Posted by John Fritze at 4:17 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

Gansler, other AGs push for Cordray confirmation

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler joined colleagues from three states at a White House news conference Wednesday to urge Senate confirmation of the Obama administration’s pick for a new consumer watchdog.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, included in last year’s sweeping and controversial Dodd-Frank Wall Street overhaul, has been operating for months without a director. The administration’s nominee, Rich Cordray, could face a Senate vote on Thursday.

Cordray, a Democrat, served as Ohio’s attorney general until early this year.

Senate Republicans say they are less concerned with Cordray as they are with new agency itself. Critics say the bureau should not be run by an individual but rather a board, like the Securities and Exchange Commission. GOP lawmakers also want greater oversight, including in how the new agency is funded.

In a news conference, Gansler speculated that blocking the agency’s work by holding up its director is the kind of political gamesmanship that has led to low congressional approval ratings.

“This is the type of thing that breeds cynicism in the general public,” he said.

Continue reading "Gansler, other AGs push for Cordray confirmation" »

Posted by John Fritze at 3:11 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

Not everyone in old Ehrlich gang is distraught over Schurick verdict

For some who used to work for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the conviction of onetime campaign manager and gubernatorial aide Paul Schurick on election fraud charges Tuesday is a travesty of justice.

But the feeling isn't unanimous.

Joe Steffen, Ehrlich's longtime political enforcer who became known as the "Prince of Darkness," published a response on his blog entitled "Justice Comes A' (Robo) Calling" that takes a harsh view of Schurick's use of election night calls to influence African-Americans on whether to vote.

Steffen, who was run out of the Ehrlich administration after he was linked with an attempt to spread rumors about then-Mayor Martin O'Malley, has since become openly disenchanted with Ehrlich and many of the former governor's closest aides. The former "Prince" has become a prolific blogger on political topics, and his former boss is a favorite target.

In his post, Steffen describes the tactic the jury decided was a fraudulent attempt to suppress the black vote as the "infamous, racist Schurick Doctrine," which he contended will be a millstone around the necks of Maryland Republicans for many years in their attempts to appeal to African-Americans. But he isn't much kinder to the ex-governor.

"I really hope that Schurick’s employer at the time, Bobby Ehrlich, is not allowed to forever float above this entire mess," Steffen writes. "Take it from someone who knows, someone who’s also been under the spotlight (though never convicted) for political dirty tricks done while in Mr. Ehrlich’s employ, Bobby Ehrlich – the failed author whose ego knows no bounds – will attempt to do just that."

Richard J. Cross III, a former Ehrlich speechwriter, wasn't terribly sympathetic to Schurick either on his Cross Purposes blog. He expressed the view that the parade of politically powerful character witnesses on Schurick's behalf may have backfired.

"When Schurick’s friends spoke to the jury, they portrayed him as a model of truth, forbearance, and integrity – Maryland’s own Honest Abe. When I first read that, I nearly lost a mouthful of Diet Pepsi," Cross writes. "Anyone who knows Schurick can tell you he has always been a bit of a rascal – a quality I came to both admire and dislike about him at different times."

Cross suggests that Schurick owes apologies to a raft of people for his actions, including the Republican Party, the former Ehrlich campaign aides who were dragged into the investigation and the former governor himself for tainting Ehrlich's legacy.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:35 PM | | Comments (1)

SRB cuts latest video for same-sex marriage campaign

A day after celebrating the inauguration for her first full term as mayor, Baltimore's Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is being featured in a new video supporting same-sex marriage. We got a sneak peak at it.

In the 51 second video, Baltimore's mayor says "Just as a straight couples' commitment to family is legally recognized, so too should a gay couples' commitment be recognized by our state government."

Baltimore's mayor appeared at a City Hall news conference over the summer where a group of progressive activists announced their new coalition to lobby for a change in the state's law. The advocates are trying to target black lawmakers in Baltimore and Prince George's County, some of whom have said they are uneasy with the idea of gay nuptials.

The measure passed in the state senate last spring, but fell short in the house of delegates.

The video will appear on the Marylanders' for Marriage Equality website.

Continue reading "SRB cuts latest video for same-sex marriage campaign" »

Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:10 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Same-Sex Marriage

December 6, 2011

Johnson losing freedom but still has friends

Former Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson will lose his freedom next Feb. 3 when the date for him to report to federal prison to serve a 7-year, 3-month sentence comes up. but he hasn't lost his friends despite the wide-ranging corruption charges to which he pleaded guilty.

When Johnson was sentenced Tuesday morning at the U.S. District Courthouse in Greenbelt, the courtroom didn't have a seat to spare. Most of those who attended appeared to be supporters such as Pastor Douglas E. Edwards of the Mission of Love Outreach Ministries in Capitol Heights.

Edwards was hoping against hope that the judge would let Johnson atone for his crimes, including bribery and extortion, by performing community service.

"Any time I've called him he's been there. So I'd like to see him serving the poor people," Edwards said.

The pastor wasn't excusing Johnson, saying he was "deeply hurt" to learn about his conduct. But he said that Johnson is "so remorseful" and that his family has suffered enough.

"It would serve no purpose to further humiliate him," Edwards said.

Raymond Watts of Forestville sat in the front row hoping the judge would go "a little light" on Johnson, 62. He said the former county executive still has a lot of supporters in the county.

"He was one of the people that every Sunday he would visit a different church," Watts said. He called Johnson "a very religious person who just made a mistake."

The Rev. Anthony Evans, associate pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, said Johnson is "beloved in the black community."

Evans said he came to court to stand by his friend. That's what the church does, he said.

"We stand with you when you bless your babies and we stand with when you do wrong," Evans said.

After Judge Peter Messitte passed sentence and ended the hearing, Johnson received hugs and best wishes from supporters before his defense lawyers whisked him away in a black Chevrolet Suburban SUV.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:39 PM | | Comments (0)

December 5, 2011

Benoit not running in Maryland's District 4

Anne Arundel County Councilman Jamie Benoit, who has said he was considering running to represent Maryland's newly drawn 4th Congressional district, said Monday night he will forego a campaign and serve out his term on the council.

“Given the uncertainty and turmoil that currently exists in the county, I know I can best serve Anne Arundel County by remaining on the council," Benoit, a Democrat and Army veteran, said in a statement. "Now more than ever, our community needs stability and experienced leadership. So I am staying put."

Benoit said in late October that he was exploring running for the seat held by U.S. Rep. Donna F. Edwards, a Prince George's Democrat, after the district was redistricted to include portions of Anne Arundel County.

Posted by Nicole Fuller at 8:54 PM | | Comments (0)

Arundel Council blocks public comments on Jones

Daryl D. Jones, the Anne Arundel County Councilman who begins serving a five-month stint in federal prison next month, made no announcement on his political future at Monday night’s council meeting.

But some county residents wanted to talk about it.

Karen Delimater, a Pasadena resident and frequent attendee of council meetings, attempted to speak about the Severn Democrat’s impending incarceration during a portion of the meeting that was open to wide-ranging public comment, but was prevented from speaking on the matter.

“It’s the elephant in the room,” said Delimater. “Or perhaps, we should call it the Democrat in the room.”

And with that, newly appointed Council Chairman Derek Fink, a Pasadena Republican, banged his gavel.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry,” said Fink. “This is not the right place for this.”

Delimater attempted to continue her remarks, but Fink again pounded his gavel.

“Well, there’s your government,” said Delimater, as she walked back to her seat.

Jones was sentenced in November to five months in prison on a single charge of failing to file a tax return. Jones, a two-term councilman, was first elected to the council in 2006.

Because the county charter is silent on the issue, the council has no power to remove Jones and the decision on whether to resign or stay on the council is entirely up to Jones. Monday’s council meeting was the first since Jones was sentenced.

Later in the meeting, when another resident addressed the council and criticized Fink, Councilman Jamie Benoit, a Crownsville Democrat, rebuffed the speaker.

Councilman John J. Grasso, a Glen Burnie Republican, who is one of two Republican councilmen that has called for Jones to resign, defended the residents.

“It’s called freedom of speech,” said Grasso. “You’re welcome to say anything you want to say. My feeling is, if you’re not man enough to take it, it’s time to resign."

Posted by Nicole Fuller at 8:45 PM | | Comments (2)
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Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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