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October 30, 2009

O'Malley, Ah-nold play the White House, pump up stimulus

A pair of men in dark suits stepped up to a bank of microphones outside the West Wing this afternoon. As video cameras rolled and still photographers clicked, the guy who hadn't dyed his hair a vaguely greenish hue of brown was first to speak.

"Hello," he said. "I'm Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's warmup act." Pause. "My name is Governor Martin O'Malley from the great state of Maryland."

Give the Maryland guy credit. Unlike some people in politics, he knows his place (at least in this instance).

The two governors from opposite coasts were in town to provide a bipartisan backdrop for Joe Biden as the VP delivered another pitch for the virtues of the vast government stimulus program.

In this case, the event coincided with the release of new figures showing that the stimulus provided California with more than 100,000 jobs (created or "saved") while Maryland's tally was more modest--around 6,700 or, if you pumped it up, about 14,000, which includes indirect jobs and what O'Malley termed "induced" jobs, whatever those are.

Schwarzenegger remarked to Biden that he'd be happy for the feds to "send double" the $50 billion that the Golden State expects to receive from the stimulus program. Maryland has been promised about $4.6 billion so far.

The governors told reporters they'd be open to receiving additional federal stimulus aid, if the original $787 billion slug doesn't put the country on an upward path of sustained economic growth.

"The more the better," said Schwarzenegger.

O'Malley said Maryland's government "would welcome any additional help that the federal government can provide. What way, shape, or form that takes I'm not sure."

Washington is expected tp send more unemployment assistance to hard-core jobless Americans; however, Marylanders might not qualify, since the state is faring much better on the jobs front than the country as a whole. President Barack Obama has also talked about giving $250 checks to every Social Security recipient, to make up for the absence of an inflation increase in retirement benefits next year.

O'Malley said there could well be a need for more health care money from the federal government, if Congress and Obama expand Medicaid assistance for the poor, one of the most expensive programs for the state, as part of a health care overhaul.

Earlier, when Biden and the two governors were introduced to about 200 stimulus job recipients from federal, state and local governments, Schwarzenegger's name was the only one to draw an audible gasp from the audience.

O'Malley, whose non-political entertainment career is limited mainly to his work in a glorified bar band, said he never before shared a stage in quite this way with Schwarzenegger, whose lifetime box office gross (more than $1.6 billion) could stimulate several small states.

But the two men do have something in common, in addition to their job title: both have daughters who are freshmen at Georgetown University and live on the same dormitory floor.

"So, small world," said O'Malley, whose daughter emailed him last night before to say that Schwarzenegger would be on campus. No word if Schwarzenegger got a similar message from his daughter that O'Malley was in town.

Posted by Paul West at 4:24 PM | | Comments (1)

GOP's Vovak to Scott: W-W-Welcome to the Internet

Daniel "The Whig Man" Vovak, one of two candidates for chairman of the Maryland Republican Party mass e-mailed a public letter to his competitor, Audrey Scott, yesterday evening "thanking" her for entering the race. But he also points out that, frankly, she seems rather inexperienced with the Internet, unlike him. She only joined Facebook three weeks ago!

Perhaps Vovak hasn't seen Scott's hip YouTube video.

Here's his letter (complete with -- you guessed it -- tons of embedded links):

October 29, 2009

Dear Audrey Scott:

Firstly, I want to publicly thank you for entering the contest to elect the next Maryland Republican Chairman, since this election defines our leadership differences. Secondly, I want to welcome you to the Internet world, which you entered three weeks ago by starting a Facebook page. I have to admit that it is exceedingly difficult to find your positions on any issues, following your prior-political-retirement from politics. For instance, if someone wants to learn something about me, he or she can simply go to my Wikipedia page or view multiple sources about me from hundreds of media outlets which put my interviews on the record. (NOTE: in the last hyperlink, click the photos to read the stories.)

On your Facebook page you have declared an impressive fact: "Thank you Harford County and Queen Anne [sic] County for unanimous support." In addition, I have been told by Calvert County Chairman Frank McCabe that his county will support you unanimously. Their approaches differ drastically from Robert Hodge in Cecil County who stated that "Cecil County not sign any petitions for nominations at this time given the fact that we need information on all candidates." Obviously, some committeemen reserve their votes until issues have been articulated.

My greatest complaint of our current United States Congress is their practice of signing bills before congressmen have read them. When Republican House Leader John Boehner publically (and physically) dropped the stimulus bill on the floor of the House of Representatives, I was appalled at what Democrats had done. To my utmost dismay, some Maryland Republican Committeemen are following the ruthless example of Democrats by not knowing your positions (or possibly mine) on issues relevant to our future as a Maryland Republican Party.

In the last 40 years, the weakest States for electing state-wide Republicans are Maryland and Hawaii, making it clear to me that our State needs to abandon its status quo position for Republican leadership. Therefore, neither of us should sing kumbaya when addressing elected Republican leaders. Maryland can have a Republican Party that loses; but we will no longer be the Party of losers. Because issues and principals are critical to make our Party a competitive minority-Party in Maryland, I ask you to openly answer the following 18 questions.

Daniel "The Whig Man" Vovak
Bethesda, Maryland

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:44 AM | | Comments (3)

In The Sun Today: WDS in bronze, Jobs or snow job?

Ed Gunts writes about the installation of former Gov. William Donald Schaefer's likeness at the Inner Harbor. And Gov. Martin O'Malley jumps in front of Obama's Recovery Act jobs report, which was released this morning.

Schaefer statue larger than life
7-foot statue at Harborplace honors William Donald Schaefer's 52 years of service to Baltimore and Maryland; unveiling Monday

He flew through the air like a modern-day Mary Poppins or a balloon in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Over Harborplace, over the Baltimore Visitor Center, a 7-foot-2-inch bronze statue of William Donald Schaefer was lifted by crane and touched down on the west shore of the Inner Harbor Thursday in preparation for its official unveiling on Monday, Schaefer's 88th birthday.

Stimulus created or saved 4,460 jobs, O'Malley claims
Most federal money not yet spent, governor says

More than 4,460 jobs have been created or saved with the infusion of federal stimulus dollars into Maryland, according to an initial accounting that Gov. Martin O'Malley released Thursday showing how some of the money has been spent.

That level of job creation is far smaller than the 25,800 jobs lost in Maryland during the same time frame, but state officials caution that they have spent only 6 percent of more than $4 billion in anticipated federal funding. They also note that while the state was the first to funnel money into roads projects, many grants for health care programs and home weatherization have only recently been received.

The state report and a national one to be released Friday are expected to reignite the debate over the $787 billion in recovery dollars aimed at averting a longer and deeper recession. As unemployment continues to rise, Republicans have argued that the stimulus program failed. But Democrats are seizing on a just-released report that the economy is officially growing again.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:33 AM | | Comments (2)

October 28, 2009

In The Sun Today: No more Buddy, NAACP and Republicans

Lots of political news this morning. Here are a few of our stories:

Md. Lottery director quits to take D.C. job
Longtime Maryland Lottery Director Buddy Roogow, who has led the agency for 13 years, resigned Tuesday to take a job as executive director of the D.C. Lottery.

"An opportunity presented itself," Roogow said in an interview. "I decided it's the right thing for me. It's a new challenge."

His departure at the end of November comes as the Maryland agency is vetting bidders for licenses to operate slot-machine casinos in the state, and will eventually oversee the gambling operations when they open. He also is leaving as state agencies have seen steep budget cuts; Gov. Martin O'Malley recently reduced the lottery's advertising budget by $5.5 million as part of budget-balancing measures.

Wright's appearance sours NAACP award for Arundel man
Many won't attend honor for lifelong Republican

Perry Ealim was elated to learn he'd won a local business award from the Anne Arundel County NAACP and promptly sent a mass e-mail asking friends and associates, largely fellow Republicans, to join him at the November award ceremony.

But most aren't so eager to dine with the guest speaker for the evening, President Barack Obama's controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

"I am happy for your honor, however I cannot support an organization that would have a racist/bigot such as Mr. Wright as [its] speaker," wrote James Pelura, outgoing chairman of the Maryland Republican Party.

Also check out a short on state senators' ire over the firing of Maryland Public Defender Nancy S. Forster.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 9:04 AM | | Comments (1)

Maryland GOP prepares to elect new chairman as Cavey drops out and Scott becomes frontrunner

The race to replace outgoing Maryland GOP Chairman James Pelura narrowed Tuesday when Chris Cavey of Baltimore County, the party's first vice chairman, announced that he is withdrawing his name.

The beleaguered party plans to select a new chairman at its convention next month. With Cavey dropping out, that paves the way for Audrey Scott, a member of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich's cabinet. Scott and Cavey had been travelling around the state to talk to local GOP groups, said Mark Uncapher, who is chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party and heading the chairman nominating committee.

Cavey said in an e-mail that quickly bounced around the blogosphere that he felt party unity was paramount as Republicans see a major opportunity to make gains in next year’s election.

“Roughly fifty-three weeks from today is the 2010 General Election, we need to be unified, in full blown campaign mode and not bickering about the past,” Cavey wrote. “The current race for Chairman is very close and I fear the effects of a close race will only further serve to divide us as a party.

The GOP has been beset by infighting and financial problems that culminated with Pelura’s resignation. State lawmakers have clashed with Pelura, saying he fell short on party-building activities including voter registration and that he hurt party morale by criticizing elected Republicans. Separately, under an agreement with the State Board of Elections, the party must repay $75,000 owed to former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele's campaign account. That makes a dent in any fundraising.

Meanwhile, another candidate for party chairman, Daniel Vovak, remains in the race, though party insiders say Scott is the top choice. And Vovak, who calls himself "The Whig Man" doesn’t appear to shy away from making waves. He called Tuesday for Uncapher's resignation from the nominating committee, saying he should remain neutral but is backing Scott.

Scott has had a long political career, serving as mayor of Bowie for six years until 1982 before working at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for a decade. She then won a seat on the Prince George’s County Council where she served until 2002.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 8:00 AM | | Comments (1)

October 27, 2009

Harris one step closer to national GOP blessing

Baltimore County Republican Andy Harris has moved another step closer to gaining the full embrace of his national party's congressional campaign arm for the 2010 election.

The National Republican Campaign Committee announced that Harris had advanced to "‘contender" status, the second part of its three-stage program that culminates with the label of "young gun." The NRCC program is designed to help strengthen the organizational and fundraising operations of Republican candidates in House races for open seats or those held by Democrats.

Harris already has the tacit support of the NRCC in his bid for a rematch against Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil in Maryland's first district, which takes in the entire Eastern Shore and parts of several Western Shore counties.

Harris is giving up his state Senate seat to run again for Congress. He is the leading Republican contender in the district, although fellow state Sen. E. J. Pipkin has not ruled out another primary run.

"Andy Harris has already proven that he will be a formidable candidate by meeting the rigorous goals laid out by the Young Guns program and putting in place the pieces for a winning campaign,” said NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions, a congressman from Texas. “Dr. Harris is part of a strong and growing candidate pool that is further proof that Republicans are ready to play offense over the course of this election cycle. His campaign is one of many putting Democrats on notice that their reckless big-government policies will not go unchallenged at the polls. Andy Harris has proven once again that he is ready to hold this Democrat majority accountable for their runaway spending sprees and put our country back on the right track.”

Posted by Paul West at 2:52 PM |
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

In The Sun Today: O'Malley urging mediation before foreclosures

Program would ensure lenders renegotiate mortgages

More than a year after Maryland officials set out to quell the foreclosure crisis with some of the most aggressive prevention programs in the nation, the number of homeowners on the brink is again on the rise.

“We're not doing a heck of a lot better now than we were before,” Gov. Martin O'Malley said in a recent interview. “So we've got to try to do something different to try to get the numbers moving in a better direction.”

The O'Malley administration is working on a new tactic: using mediators to ensure lenders are making a good-faith effort to renegotiate more affordable loan terms, and to ensure homeowners understand those terms. The governor, a Democrat, plans to introduce legislation requiring mediation in foreclosure cases when the General Assembly convenes in January.

A number of states, including Nevada and Connecticut, and cities such as Philadelphia have implemented mandatory mediation programs.

O'Malley launched an all-out campaign against foreclosures last year. He pushed a reform package though the legislature and implemented state-backed loan programs. A public-service campaign urged troubled homeowners to call nonprofit housing counselors.

But those efforts had mixed results. For the full story, click here.

ALSO, Constellation Energy Group warns that if Maryland regulators place too many conditions on its $4.5 billion with a French utility, they could scuttle the entire deal and jeopardize a massive nuclear project in the state. Some conditions have been sought by O'Malley. Click here for the story.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 11:30 AM | | Comments (1)

October 26, 2009

In The Sun Today: O'Malley conditionally supports approval of Constellation's deal with French firm

Final briefs in regulatory case before the Public Service Commission were due by noon. The PSC will determine the fate of the massive deal that the companies say is needed for a new nuclear reactor to be built in the state.

O'Malley backs CEG merger

Gov. Martin O'Malley for the first time is backing regulatory approval of Constellation Energy Group's joint venture with a French utility - but only if BGE customers get one-time credits that could be worth more than $200 per household and other conditions are met.

O'Malley, a Democrat, has publicly reproached Constellation and argued that the Public Service Commission, the state's top energy regulator, should ensure that the company's proposal to sell half its nuclear business to Electricite de France for $4.5 billion is in the public's interest.

The governor's heavily qualified support for the transaction comes after he failed to wrangle concessions from Baltimore-based Constellation, which owns Baltimore Gas & Electric, during months of negotiations that took place apart from the regulatory hearings. Many of the demands O'Malley made during those talks are now the conditions he proposes to the PSC.

“The Commission should attach conditions to the approval of this transaction that will give full confidence to the credit markets, to BGE customers, and to the public as a whole,” the administration writes.

Constellation spokesman Robert L. Gould declined to comment on the administration's latest stance Sunday night.

For the full story, click here.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 12:50 PM | | Comments (0)

October 23, 2009

Broken ankle doesn't keep Mikulski from outpacing Republican rivals

More than three months after shattering her ankle on the steps of a Baltimore church, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski has finally graduated from a wheelchair to a wheeled walker. She still is hampered by an oversized soft-cast shoe that makes it difficult for her to walk unaided.

But that hasn't stopped her from piling up more money for her 2010 re-election run, now well under way. In July, August and September, a period during which she spent a large portion of her time in physical therapy and away from her office, the Democrat managed to collect almost $300,000 in new donations.

That gives her more than $1.75 million in ready money for a contest that has yet to acquire much definition, barely a year before the election. That isn't much time for a successful challenge, particularly to a popular statewide official who has been re-elected by wide margins since 1986.

Three Republicans, so far, have indicated their intention to take on Mikulski next year. None of the trio has reported raising serious campaign money, an important early indicator in politics.

Jim Rutledge, a Harford County lawyer who lives in Forest Hill and has an office in Jarrettsville, has been running since April but his campaign has only $3,000 in the bank. Counting money he's loaned the campaign, his political operation is in the red.

Eric Wargotz, an Eastern Shore pathologist, has raised $85,000 since early July and had $81,120 in available cash as of Sept. 30, according to his most recent Federal Election Commission filing. Wargotz is the most experienced politician in the Republican field, currently serving on the Queen Anne's County Board of County Commissioners.

A third candidate, who won't have to report initial fund-raising figures for three months, is John F. "Jef" Curran of Carroll County. Curran says he is a distant relative of J. Joseph Curran Jr., the former state attorney general and the father of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's wife, Katie Curran O'Malley, but the Republican hopeful says he's never met them.

Posted by Paul West at 4:32 PM |
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

October 22, 2009

O'Malley moonlighting on HBO... and donating his pay

Gov. Martin O'Malley not only got a free trip to Los Angeles and face time with various celebrities when he appeared on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" last week, he also got paid.

Well, not exactly. He was supposed to get $800 for his efforts, but he has directed HBO to donate the money to House of Ruth Maryland, a domestic violence center that helps battered women and their children. The cable show pays guests because of union rules, spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said. (He also noted that O'Malley got paid back when he was Baltimore's mayor for his 2003 cameo on Ladder 49, the flick about firefighters starring Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta, and donated that money as well.)

This latest donation is well-timed, considering O'Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown are appearing Friday at the annual meeting and awards luncheon of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence. The administration made the issue a top priority during the General Assembly session this year and worked to enact legislation giving judges broader authority to seize firearms from the subjects of domestic violence orders.

O'Malley appeared on the season finale of Maher's show with actor/comedian Garry Shandling, actor Alec Baldwin and TV host Chris Matthews. The governor also appeared in the online overtime segment, where he defended President Barack Obama's policies. For those who missed it, The Sun's Laura Vozzella reported O'Malley's appearance in her column last week. Click here to read it.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 5:41 PM | | Comments (5)

Kratovil widens money edge over Harris

Endangered Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil increased his campaign funding advantage over state Sen. Andy Harris, his potential Republican opponent, during the last three months.

Kratovil's fund-raising performance is in line with other potentially vulnerable Democratic incumbents nationwide this year, according to a new study by a non-partisan watchdog group.

The latest Federal Election Commission disclosure reports show that Kratovil, a freshman congressman who represents the Eastern Shore and part of several Western Shore counties, had $691,000 in the bank as of Sept. 30.

Harris, a Baltimore County legislator, reported $313,054 cash on hand and $12,000 in campaign debts. Harris is currently Kratovil's most likely Republican opponent in next year's midterm election, having gained the tacit support of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the party's House campaign arm.

During the July-September period, Kratovil raised just over $222,000, bringing his total for the year to slightly more than $862,000. Over the same period, Harris picked up a little more than $179,000, running his total contributions to just over $454,000.

More than half of the Democratic incumbent's donations--$119,600-- came from political action committees linked to some of the most heavily lobbied issues now before Congress. PACs representing health care companies, financial institutions, energy, defense and agriculture interests all contributed.

Challenger Harris picked up $30,123 from PACs. Individual contributions from fellow anesthesiologists around the country continued to be a major source of campaign cash for the obstetric anesthesiologist at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, who has also been working at an Eastern Shore hospital.

The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics found that 42 potentially vulnerable Democratic House incumbents nationwide have raised an average of $842,400 since January.

Those same lawmakers--drawn from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Frontline Program, designed to help incumbents who face tough re-election fights--had an average of $646,000 in cash on hand as of Sept. 30.

Nineteen of the 42 Democrats in the party's re-election protection program represent districts that voted for Republican John McCain in 2008, including Kratovil.

Among all endangered Democrats, Kratovil came closest to the national average for money raised, but he had a higher than average bankroll left to spend.

Harris, barred from raising money during the state legislative session, is still playing catch-up with Kratovil, and continues to lag when compared with other Republican challengers around the country.

In terms of fundraising, Kratovil is doing twice as well against Harris as other vulnerable Democrats are doing against their Republican rivals.

House Democrats whose fundraising was analyzed by the Center had 50 percent more money in the bank than their Republican challenger. Kratovil's campaign cash account is more than double Harris'.

Nationally, vulnerable Democratic incumbents raised 40 percent more than their Republican rivals over the first nine months of the year, according to the Center. Kratovil out-raised Harris by almost 90 percent.

Posted by Paul West at 1:49 PM |
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

October 14, 2009

Poll: Marylanders want public campaign financing, despite budget woes

A Gonzales poll released this morning by Progressive Maryland, a left-leaning advocacy group, shows that a majority of Marylanders want public campaign financing, something state lawmakers came close to passing last legislative session.

According to the survey of 833 registered voters, 77 percent believe that large political contributions have a corrupting influence on state lawmakers and worry that the money prevents them from from tackling issues such as rising energy costs and protecting the Chesapeake Bay.

Seventy percent of respondents favor using a limited amount of public money to pay for political campaigns. What's more, 63 percent of the respondents say that they would like to see public campaign financing even in the face of a state budget deficit.

The poll "reaffirms this is still an important issue," said Ryan O'Donnell of Common Cause, which, like Progressive Maryland, has pushed for campaign reform for years.

With the unexpected support last year of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Calvert County Democrat, a reform measure almost passed that chamber last year. (The House of Delegates has traditionally been more receptive to reform efforts.)

Miller signed on as a co-sponsor largely because the bill always provided for an increase in private contribution amounts. Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat, said Wednesday that Miller has not committed to co-sponsoring legislation again next year.

O'Donnell said next year's proposal would likely be similar to the one that failed this year when a "poisoned" amendment was added by Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat.

The initiative would be paid for through voluntary $5 income tax checkoff, rather than general tax dollars. Sean Dobson of Progressive Maryland said he envisions a "large pilot program" to begin in 2014 and provide about $5 million to candidates who choose to participate.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:51 AM | | Comments (6)

October 9, 2009

Steele on Obama Nobel peace prize: "Unfortunate"

Republican National Chairman Michael Steele, who criticized President Barack Obama's failed overseas sales trip on behalf of the U.S. Olympic Committee, issued a grudging statement this morning in response to the president's latest, and unexpected, global laurel: the 2009 Nobel peace prize.

“The real question Americans are asking is, ‘What has President Obama actually accomplished?’ It is unfortunate that the president’s star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working towards peace and human rights," Steele said.

"One thing is certain – President Obama won’t be receiving any awards from Americans for job creation, fiscal responsibility, or backing up rhetoric with concrete action,” added the former Maryland lieutenant governor.

Other Marylanders were more generous with their praise.

Democratic Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, in Athens, Greece, where he spoke about climate change to a meeting of European parliamentarians, said the award "represents international support for a world leader to pursue human rights concerns and advocate for peace around the globe. This award is a testament to the power of diplomacy and it serves as a reminder that the light of cooperation can be rekindled through open dialogue and a willingness to concentrate on the values shared by different peoples rather than our differences."

House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer of southern Maryland issued a congratulatory message, which noted that Obama "has committed our nation to a course of renewed diplomacy and engagement across the globe, noting that the challenges we face can only be met when the world acts together. As the president said today, this award is a ‘call to action’ to continue working with our allies to address the issues of our day. This award does not mark the end of a legacy; rather, it marks support for a new vision of American leadership.”

The Democratic Committee responded to Steele, tying the Olympics and the Peace Prize together.

Dem Party spokesman Brad Woodhouse, widely quoted online: "The Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists — the Taliban and Hamas this morning — in criticizing the President for receiving the Nobel Peace prize. Republicans cheered when America failed to land the Olympics and now they are criticizing the President of the United States for receiving the Nobel Peace prize — an award he did not seek but that is nonetheless an honor in which every American can take great pride — unless of course you are the Republican Party. The 2009 version of the Republican Party has no boundaries, has no shame and has proved that they will put politics above patriotism at every turn. It’s no wonder only 20 percent of Americans admit to being Republicans anymore – it’s an embarrassing label to claim."

Posted by Paul West at 12:31 PM | | Comments (29)
Categories: Michael Steele

Two Maryland victims of banking system meet with Obama

A Baltimore woman and a retired city police officer were among five victims of the financial system invited to meet privately with President Barack Obama at the White House today.

After the meeting, the president will deliver a speech about the need to overhaul financial regulations. Updated rules for the financial system are now being considered by Congress, and House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said earlier this week that he expects the House to vote on the legislation next month.

To underscore the need for change, Obama will be introduced by one of the five Americans who met with him.

The group is to include Andrew Giordano, 61, a retired city police officer and wounded Vietnam veteran, who was penalized by overdraft fees that his bank imposed without asking him in advance, according to the White House.

Giodano, who now lives in Locust Point and manages a fitness center for seniors, "receives a monthly government check of $123, which he keeps in a separate 'veteran’s account'—not his primary checking account. Last summer, he lost the ATM card for the veteran account and called his bank to cancel it and order a new one. To avoid mixing up his cards, he used a card with a special logo on it and he requested the same logo on his replacement card. Instead, the bank sent him a plain bank debit card, which he thought was for his primary account. For the next two weeks, he used the plain card for regular expenses and quickly overdrew the small amount that was typically in his veteran’s account," according to the White House.

"The bank had automatically enrolled Andrew in “overdraft protection” even though he had never asked for this service on the veteran account. Further, he did not learn about the overdrafts until his next statement, so the account ended up $1,400 in the red, with $814 of that due to 22 overdraft fees of $37 each. When Andrew discovered the bank’s error and explained the situation, the bank was only willing to refund two-thirds of the fees."

Maxine Given, 44, of Baltimore, another of those who will meet with Obama in the Roosevelt Room, was hurt by abusive banking practices that are designed to multiply fees, the White House said.

Given, a certified public accountant and senior director of finance for the Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine, "was charged $148 in overdraft fees in April 2008 and another $222 in May 2009. In both cases, most of the fees resulted from her bank’s reordering of her withdrawals that took place on the same day from largest to smallest (instead of chronological order). In April 2008, the overdraft was caused by a mortgage check that the bank rejected the very next day. This caused a cascade of $37 overdraft fees on three purchases from the same day, including a $37 fee based on $12.08 debit charge for lunch. Maxine even tried to transfer money from savings, but the transfer was counted too late," according to a White House statement.

In his speech today, to an audience that is to include the five people he is meeting with privately, as well as lawmakers, state attorneys general, business executives and others, the president plans to renew his push for an end to these and other practices, which the administration describes as outdated rules that unfairly punish consumers and benefit banks.

Obama is also expected to take on critics of a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which he has advocated.

In June, the president said that he wants Congress to approve "a sweeping overhaul of the financial regulatory system, a transformation on a scale not seen since the reforms that followed the Great Depression."

Prospects for the legislation remain uncertain, but lawmakers are expected to approve at least some of the changes that Obama has backed. The financial protection agency that he has proposed would be able to ban the banking practices that snagged the two Marylanders and many others, the White House said.

Posted by Paul West at 12:11 PM | | Comments (2)

October 8, 2009

Candidate Watch 2010: Jim Smith moving... to Maryland Senate?

The housing market is tough, but how's the job market? Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. is about to find out.

Sun Talker Laura Vozzella writes today that the term-limited Democratic county executive has put his Reisterstown house up for sale and is moving to an apartment in Cockeysville, in Republican state Sen Andy Harris' district.

"I am taking a serious look at the Senate seat in the 7th District," Smith tells Vozzella. Harris is expected to vacate his state seat to run for U.S. Congress against Rep. Frank Kratovil, a Democrat. Maryland law requires that a state Senate candidate live in the district at least six months prior to election, and Smith said he plans to move in November, regardless of whether he's sold his six-bedroom home (listed at $445,000).

Sure to be at Smith's apartment-warming party: Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who told me in July that he wants to see Smith in his chamber. Baltimore County insiders poo-poohed the idea at the time, saying Smith was destined for a statewide post or judgeship. Now? Maybe not so much.

Update: Editorialist (and former Baltimore County government reporter) Andy Green weighs in.

Second update: Del. J.B. Jennings, a Republican contender for the 7th District Senate seat, accuses Smith of carpetbagging. Baltimore County reporter Mary Gail Hare has the story.

CANDIDATE WATCH 2010 -- As the 2010 election season ramps up, we will be writing about candidates announcing their campaigns, or even just testing the political waters. If you have campaign news, please contact Laura Smitherman or Julie Bykowicz.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:26 PM | | Comments (2)

Kratovil to crash White House boards with Obama

Maryland congressman Frank Kratovil has played basketball since he was a boy. But he's never had a chance to play on the highest court in the land. Until today.

The Democrat from the Eastern Shore is among a bipartisan group of congressmen that has been invited to scrimmage with President Barack Obama at the White House this evening. The list of expected players makes it look like the president and members of his cabinet will be taking on the boys from the Hill. The court is outdoors, on the White House grounds, a short stroll from the Oval Office.

There isn't supposed to be any press coverage, but you can be sure that pictures and accounts of the game will be available afterward. Look for them here at Maryland Politics.

Since coming to Congress this year, Kratovil has been playing basketball in the mornings and has competed in charity tournaments against some Georgetown law professors and lobbyists. He's been a ballplayer all his life, both in amateur competition, junior olympics and as an undergrad at Western Maryland (now McDaniel) College.

The point guard from Queen Anne's County will be up against some rather tall talent on the Obama team, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who played professional basketball (overseas) after college and is said to have scrimmaged with Michael Jordan.

Here's a list of those invited, courtesy of the White House. Heath Shuler, as sports fans know, is a former pro quarterback.

Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Shaun Donovan
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar
Representative Mike Arcuri (D-NY)
Representative John Boccieri (D-OH)
Representative Brad Ellsworth (D-IN)
Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
Representative Baron Hill (D-IN)
Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA)
Representative Frank Kratovil (D-MD)
Representative Rick Larsen (D-WA)
Representative Patrick Murphy (D-PA)
Representative John Shimkus (R-IL)
Representative Heath Shuler (D-NC)

Posted by Paul West at 1:55 PM | | Comments (5)

October 7, 2009

Candidate Watch 2010: O'Donnell proves everyone could be a contender for governor ... maybe

Who isn’t considering running for governor on the GOP ticket?

Republicans are waiting to see who all emerges from their camp to challenge Gov. Martin O’Malley in the 2010 election. So far, a Towson lawyer has said he’ll run, a state delegate and a Cabinet member in former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s administration have expressed interest, and Ehrlich himself has kept open the possibility.

The latest potential entrant: state Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell, the House minority leader.

O’Donnell’s name was floated as a contender in C. Fraser Smith’s column in The Daily Record last week. Noting that the delegate said he might run, Smith surmised: "The Calvert and Charles County delegate is an effective voice-in-opposition for his party in Annapolis. But can he project the kind of leadership image a winning candidate must have?"

We caught up with O’Donnell this week. When asked about his intentions, he initially joked: "The rumor of my demise by running for governor are greatly exaggerated." He said he didn’t know where the rumor originated and that he currently doesn’t intend to launch a gubernatorial bid.

But he had one caveat: "My plans are subject to change if Gov. O’Malley scuttles a new nuclear power plant at Calvert Cliffs," he said. "That may tick me off enough for me to reconsider my plans."

O’Donnell and other Republicans are watching O’Malley’s repeated head-butting with Constellation Energy Group, and the governor’s latest effort to wrangle concessions from the Baltimore utility as it seeks regulatory approval to sell nearly half its nuclear power business to Electricite de France, a French utility.

Company officials have indicated they would abandon a proposed third reactor at Calvert Cliffs if the deal isn’t approved or if excessive conditions are imposed. O’Donnell is a former Calvert Cliffs supervisor, and the project could provide a huge economic boon for his corner of the state.

As for the other GOP contenders, Ehrlich has said he’s weighing a number of factors before deciding if he’ll run. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr., who was Ehrlich’s appointments secretary, and state Del. Patrick L. McDonough have said they're actively exploring launching campaigns but would bow out if Ehrlich jumped in. And Michael Pappas, the Towson lawyer, insists he’s in it to win it.

CANDIDATE WATCH 2010 -- As the 2010 election season ramps up, we will be writing about candidates announcing their campaigns, or even just testing the political waters. If you have campaign news, please contact Laura Smitherman or Julie Bykowicz.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 8:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

October 6, 2009

Clinton provides political heft for O'Malley fundraiser; Bill Clinton, that is

Former President Bill Clinton plans to appear at a fundraising reception this week for Gov. Martin O’Malley, providing significant star power to a race that hasn’t even geared up yet. Maryland’s incumbent governor hasn't yet drawn any high-profile opponents in the 2010 election — but he appears to be pulling out all the stops in amassing a campaign war chest.

Donors are invited to join Clinton and O’Malley at the home of investment banker James Passin and his wife, Sydney, in New York City on Wednesday. In an online RSVP form, contributors can indicate they plan to give $4,000, the maximum an individual can donate to a single campaign under law, or enter another amount.

O’Malley has long fostered ties with the Clintons. Most recently, he backed Hillary Clinton in her failed presidential bid last year even when many fellow Democrats hopped on the Obama bandwagon. But the relationship extends back more than a decade. O’Malley accompanied Bill Clinton to Ireland for peace talks in the late 1990s, and Bill Clinton appeared in an O'Malley campaign commercial and visited Prince George’s County on his behalf before the 2006 gubernatorial election.

Thomas Russell, O'Malley's campaign manager, said Clinton and O’Malley talk periodically and the former president offered to “pull something together in New York.” Russell added: “We were happy to take him up on it.”

Public campaign finance reports aren’t due until January, and Russell isn’t revealing how much the governor has raised so far. But the governor has been fairly active on the fundraising circuit, considering his biggest nemesis, former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, hasn’t decided whether he would seek a re-match. O’Malley had another fundraiser at a private home in Potomac less than two weeks ago.

Posted by Laura Smitherman at 4:44 PM | | Comments (1)

October 5, 2009

Candidate Watch 2010: Doc Cheatham to branch into state politics?

Unhappy with the three state delegates in his home district, the NAACP’s Marvin “Doc” Cheatham said Monday that he is considering jumping into the 2010 race. He said he has conferred with several political insiders who have told him he’d be well-served by his name recognition.

As president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, Cheatham has fired off scores of emails to elected officials, calling attention to what he sees as justice problems in the city. One recent missive questioned whether city officials are racially motivated in their placement of parking meters and speed cameras.

He frequently appears at anti-violence rallies, always noting the absence of elected officials, and last month assembled a panel on the juvenile justice system that included Maryland Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Donald DeVore.

Cheatham, a Democrat, said he feels compelled to run for state office because “far too many people are dissatisfied with the leadership in our district.” Although he said he has “an excellent relationship,” with all three delegates — Democrats Ruth Kirk, Melvin Stukes and Keith Haynes — he said he “can’t give any of them a passing grade.”

He wouldn’t name any of them as the person he hopes to replace.

Cheatham said West Baltimore’s 44th District, which includes Reservoir Hill and his neighborhood of Bolton Hill, consistently ranks first or second on all of the wrong lists. He said the district’s high rates of teen pregnancy and drug addiction should be a signal to elected officials that more aggressive leadership is in order.

“This district needs better servicing,” Cheatham said. “We need to see our elected officials every day.”

But he said officially declaring his candidacy would involve serious personal sacrifices.

For one, he’d have to retire from his job as an election specialist with the National Labor Relations Board, a federal position he has held for 38 years. And at age 59, Cheatham said he’d rather see a “young adult” jump into the race.

Until two weeks ago, Cheatham was rumored to be vying for the district’s Senate seat. But at an event also attended by Sen. Verna Jones, Cheatham announced he wouldn’t seek her job.

However, Keiffer Mitchell, a former Democratic candidate for Baltimore mayor, might. Also a 44th District resident, Mitchell is pondering a run for state office, though he hasn’t said whose seat he is eyeing. All 188 General Assembly seats are up for election next November.

CANDIDATE WATCH 2010 -- As the 2010 election season ramps up, we will be writing about candidates announcing their campaigns, or even just testing the political waters. If you have campaign news, please contact Laura Smitherman or Julie Bykowicz.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:25 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

October 2, 2009

Obama sacked; Steele piles on...carefully


It is a cardinal rule of politics: Never murder your opponent when he's in the process of committing suicide.

But sometimes, the opportunity is simply too good to pass up.

Is that the case with Barack Obama's failed effort to bring the 2016 summer Olympics to his hometown?

Some Republican strategists warned, in the aftermath of the International Olympic Committee's shootdown of Chicago, that it would be a mistake to pile on. But they seemed to be in the minority.

Republican National Chairman Michael Steele, who had been preparing for Obama to lose, was only too pleased to rub it in, though he did it in a careful way.

“While I am disappointed with the IOC's decision, I look forward to the president returning stateside so that he can refocus his efforts on the growing unemployment crisis that was highlighted by today’s monthly jobs report," he said in a statement. "Our country needs the president’s undivided attention on the urgent issues facing American families today: rising unemployment, soaring health care costs, winning the war in Afghanistan and dealing with Iran’s nuclear threat.”

Separately, the Republican National Committee issued a "research briefing" with headlines like "Obama Prioritizes Chicago Olympics Bid Over War In Afghanistan" and "Weighing His Priorities, Obama Chose To Spend His Time on Olympics Bid."

Also: "Obama's Time Commitment To Lead Military Commander In Afghanistan? Three Meetings In Four Months. . . . Obama's Time Commitment To Olympics? 5 Video Tapes, New White House Office, South Lawn Event, Lobbying Efforts At UN And G-20, Numerous Phone Calls, And $112,000 Flight To Copenhagen With 2 Cabinet Officials And A U.S. Senator."

Earlier this week, Steele criticized the president's overseas lobbying trip. He called it unnecessary, though he pointedly refused to call it a mistake.

The Republican chairman kept up the criticism as the IOC vote neared. Earlier today, reacting to the latest increase in U.S. unemployment figures, Steele took note of the president's Danish adventure.

"As President Obama travels to Copenhagen to bring the Summer Olympics to his hometown seven years from now, Americans back home are increasingly concerned they won't have a job seven months from now as they see more and more of their neighbors and friends lose jobs today," the former Maryland lieutenant governor said in a statement issued hours before the IOC voted Chicago out in the first round.

Once Chicago got cut, top Obama advisor David Axelrod leapt onto the cable news nets, trying to spin his boss out of the situation. The Democratic National Committee circulated a Politico item that asked whether the Republicans were rooting against America.

Everyone could probably have saved their breath. Whatever damage had occurred was already done.

Seemingly minor incidents can have outsized political impact on the reputation of a new president. Will this be one of those moments for Obama?

The last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, got stung for a long while over an expensive haircut he received aboard Air Force One on a runway at Los Angeles International Airport, several months after taking office. Media reports at the time claimed that air traffic had been delayed as a result, though, in fact, that wasn't the case.

However, the widely publicized incident helped deepen negative impressions of Clinton, who was already viewed by some of his critics as arrogant and self-indulgent.

Obama's Copenhagen debacle could also have similarly negative ramifications. Or not.

You make the call.

The reality is that the trip took him out of the country for only one work day, and Obama used that time, in part, to meet with Denmark's prime minister and confer with the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Still, he left himself wide open for opponents to turn the failed venture against him (an eventuality that the president obviously discounted in deciding to go).

As the story plays out, in the media and in conversations among everyday people, will it: (A) feed an existing line of criticism that Obama is naive about the dynamics of power relationships, whether the arena is international sports or Washington politics; (B) weaken him by demonstrating that he has a vastly exagerrated view of his own ability to persuade others with his presence and his words; (C) diminish his authority and the prestige of his office because he took on a high-profile international mission that was actually parochial in nature and hardly presidential in any case; (D) and this is the one the Republicans had already been laying the groundwork for--prove that he isn't doing the job he was elected to perform, devoting himself to a trivial pursuit while the country faces enormous problems that require his full attention; (E) all of the above; or (F) none of the above?

Your vote?


On the return flight to Washington, aboard Air Force One, the president's chief spokesman took a swing at Steele, when asked to respond to Republican criticism of Obama's trip.

Here's the exchange:

Question: Robert, some of the Republicans had argued that this trip was not wise, given everything on the President's plate. Could you respond to that argument? And also this meeting with McChrystal (the U.S. commander in Afghanistan) --

MR. GIBBS: I want to know what was Michael Steele doing about 1:50 a.m. when we landed -- 1:50 a.m. in the morning when we landed in Denmark.

Q (Inaudible.)

MR. GIBBS: I can only imagine that somebody -- they probably had a press release queued up that said, if Chicago didn't get the Olympics and the President didn't get to go. You know, there's people trying to solve problems and there's people playing games, and I think we know where a bunch of that is.

Posted by Paul West at 4:29 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Michael Steele

October 1, 2009

'Place Matters' matters to these state lawmakers

Two days after a state senator said Brenda Donald's signature child welfare program was “not working,” the Human Resources secretary received a warm reception — even applause — when she appeared before another group of lawmakers Thursday.

At a briefing for the joint committee on children, youth and families, Donald summarized why she believes “Place Matters,” which she launched two years ago, is improving outcomes for vulnerable children. Under this new approach, the department focuses on reunifying foster children with their own parents or keeping them in family settings, a shift that has reduced the state's reliance on group home beds by nearly half.

Donald said she is using evaluating the quality of group homes across Maryland and being selective about which ones will continue to receive state contracts — a radical departure from years past. The Baltimore Sun investigated the state's lax oversight of group homes in a 2005 series and numerous follow-up stories warehoused here.

“It is refreshing to us that you get it and are doing such a good job,” said Sen. Nancy J. King, a Montgomery County Democrat. King’s comment drew applause from the audience.

Donald’s last trip to Annapolis wasn’t so warm and fuzzy. Her Tuesday testimony to the Senate committee that oversees social services wasn’t a “pleasant experience,” as Sen. Joan Carter Conway noted after grilling her for more than an hour.

Conway, a Baltimore Democrat, said she doesn’t like the way group homes have been shunted under Place Matters. A room full of angry group home providers agreed.

“We don’t think the department knows what it needs,” said Jim McComb, longtime director of Maryland Association of Resources for Families and Youth, who recently stepped down.

On Thursday, Sen Bobby A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat who pushed for the kind of group home reform Donald is now undertaking, warned her she’d continue to be pummeled with complaints because providers are losing money and going out of business (38 have lost DHR contracts so far).

“You’re going to get a torrent of criticism by those who have a vested interest in what was a broken system,” Zirkin said.

Donald responded to one of the criticisms leveled Tuesday — that she had no proof that children are not bouncing around from placement to placement under the new strategy — by releasing statistics Wednesday to The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board. You can read the editorial here.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:59 PM | | Comments (1)
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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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