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July 31, 2010

Ehrlich criticizes jail project that began on his watch

At a campaign appearance this week to talk up services to at-risk youth, Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich criticized the $100 million jail for juveniles to be built in Baltimore as a "warehouse."

It was "certainly not our model," Ehrlich said of the facility designed to house as many as 230 young offenders awaiting trial as adults

"It's the antithesis of what we like to do. Large institutions typically do not work."

In fact, Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Bykowicz reports in Sunday's newspaper, the project got its start under Ehrlich. In 2005, Ehrlich approved planning money for the facility and his administration conducted the first population projection survey. The survey arrived at an estimate similar to the one produced two years later under Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Stephen T. Moyer, deputy secretary for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services under Ehrlich and his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening, said the need for a juvenile detention center in Baltimore dates to an October 2000 Justice Department report.

"Governor Ehrlich began planning this because that's what the Justice Department told us to do," Moyer said.

State officials have agreed to review the planned capacity for the facility — a concession to groups who say the project is too big.

Teens awaiting trial as adults are now held in a wing at the Baltimore City Detention Center, an arrangement the Justice Department said lacks adequate separation from hardened adults.

But advocacy groups that include Baltimore's Safe and Sound Campaign, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Public Justice Center say the state should spend on intervention programs instead of huge jails. At a loud protest last month, they asked the governor to put the brakes on the project.

Construction of the juvenile detention center is scheduled to begin in the fall. The state has spent $12 million for planning, demolition and site preparation near other prison facilities in East Baltimore.

This week, the National Council on Crime and Delinquency questioned the number of juveniles that the state expects will face adult charges in the coming years, the projections on which officials based the maximum capacity of the detention center. The Oakland, Calif.-based organization says the projections are flawed because they are three years old and were compiled by the prison system.

A spokesman for O'Malley said prison and juvenile officials have been meeting with jail opponents and are open to ideas. Safe and Sound director Hathaway Ferebee said another meeting is scheduled for next week.

But state officials said it is unlikely that the project would be derailed even if the projection is revised downward. They said the capacity could be reduced, with some of the space now planned for beds redirected to other purposes.

Read more about the $100 million detention center for juveniles at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:00 PM | | Comments (6)
        

July 30, 2010

Maryland L.G. to govern lieutenant governors

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown has been elected leader of the National Lieutenant Governors Association.

A Prince George's County Democrat and the nation’s highest-ranking elected official to have served a tour of duty in Iraq, Brown takes the reins Virginia Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, a Republican. Brown has been lieutenant governor for four years under Gov. Martin O'Malley and is his running mate again this year.

Brown said in a statement that he is looking forward to "working more closely with my colleagues from across the nation to share ideas and best practices that will help Governor O’Malley and me fight for Maryland’s families and small businesses.”

The National Lieutenant Governors Association organized in 1962. Brown was elected today at its annual meeting, held this year in Biloxi, Miss. He had been its vice-chairman.

The lieutenant governor assumes leadership of the state if the governor becomes incapacitated. O'Malley-Brown have changed what was "once largely a ceremonial, ticket-balancing office into a position of influence and substance," according to a statement from Brown's office.

No lieutenant governor in Maryland has gone on to be elected governor. Brown's predecessor, Michael Steele who was Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s partner, unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate seat held by Ben Cardin. Steele is now chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 6:00 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Administration
        

Rawlings-Blake recalls night violence came calling

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake rarely speaks of the night the city's dangers arrived at her front door. But in the days after the stabbing death of a young Johns Hopkins researcher in Charles Village, she has been thinking about the moment that she says helped shape the way she views violent crime.

"There is no acceptable amount of death. There is no acceptable level of violence," Rawlings-Blake tells Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper. "This is more than a public safety issue. This is a moral issue. All the communities affected by violence need to be as outraged and as determined to pursue justice."

Rawlings-Blake told Scharper she was in her bedroom in her Coldsping condominium that chilly November night in 2002 when the front door banged open and she heard her brother scream: "Call the police!"

Rawlings-Blake hurried to the landing of her split-level home that chilly November evening eight years ago. She found her younger brother hunched in the entryway, blood streaming from his neck and back.

"I didn't know what happened," Rawlings-Blake said. "I didn't know the circumstances. I picked up the phone and I yanked it so hard I pulled the cord out of the wall."

Rawlings-Blake, who was vice president of the City Council at the time, said it furthered her resolve to push for stricter penalties for violent criminals.

"We have to be vigilant to make sure that people who should not be walking among us are off the street," she said.

John Alexander Wagner, 34, and Lavelva Merritt, 24, are charged with first-degree murder in the death Sunday of 23-year-old Stephen Pitcairn. The pair, who have a long history of drug abuse and violent offenses, are being held without bail.

Rawlings-Blake said Pitcairn's death "hit close to home because there are so many people who are afraid."

She said that many assumed fear would prompt her to abandon her Coldspring neighborhood after her brother was attacked.

"But I wasn't going to turn my neighborhood over to a couple of kids who came out to do harm," she said. "Just like in Charles Village, there are too many people who have invested too much in the community to give up."

Read more about the 2002 stabbing attack on Wendell Rawlings at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (0)
        

July 29, 2010

Md. Dems get $100K from national party

The Democratic National Committee wired $100,000 to the Maryland Democratic Party Wednesday, a cash infusion the party says will help statewide campaign efforts for the fall.

“We have a variety of things we are going to be doing,” a Maryland Democratic spokesman said. Spokesman Isaac Salazar listed efforts to take advantage of new early-voting rules and a get-out-the-vote drive on election day.

“We are going to have a lot of folks we need to hire across the state,” he said. “It will support a lot of ongoing efforts we have in place.”

The cash transfer appears to be part of a national Democratic effort to funnel $50 million into states with competitive races. The party also moved money Wednesday to Florida and Pennsylvania, according to a Democratic source.

A pair of Maryland rematches are attracting national attention this cycle: the race between Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley; and the contest between freshman Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil and Republican state Sen. Andrew Harris in the 1st Congressional District.

O’Malley had $4.8 million in his campaign war chest in January, has access to other funds, and is widely expected to outraise Ehrlich, who has not had to report any campaign finance figures. Kratovil has $1.3 million for his re-election effort, compared to Harris’s $890,000 as of June 30.

The Maryland GOP apparently has not seen the same kind of support from the Republican National Committee, which is chaired by former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.

An RNC spokesman said the DNC transfer “is a clear sign of just how vulnerable Governor O’Malley has become.” Spokesman Parish Braden said the RNC is making “an unprecedented investment this cycle to support the Maryland Republican Party and Republican campaign efforts across the state."

Braden said the RNC would help Maryland Republicans open seven staffed regional field offices to assist in get-out-the-vote efforts. He said RNC investment would help the state party hire staff dedicated to turning out early and absentee voters.

Maryland GOP chairwoman Audrey Scott said the Democrats were “extremely fortunate.”

Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:30 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Ehrlich's Republican opponent says he'll buy TV ads

The dark horse candidate for the Republican nomination, Brian Murphy, put out a fundraising plea on Facebook earlier today requesting cash to fund a paid advertising campaign.

“Next week we are launching radio and TV ads, but airtime costs money...” he wrote. Murphy hasn’t put in any orders at Baltimore’s two biggest stations. A call to the campaign revealed that they are spending the day with a camera crews.

"I've been crazy busy getting all the costs from the stations and find our slots," said Karla Graham, a Murphy campaign spokeswoman. Graham said in an e-mail the ads will likely go up in the next 10 to 15 days.

The campaign also expects to attract a national figure to stump for Murphy: They've planned a Sunday fundraiser where they expect anti-tax guru Grover Norquist to make an appearance.

Murphy has positioned himself as a more conservative alternative to Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. -- but so far he hasn’t captured much attention. A recent Gonzales poll shows that the state's Republicans are behind Ehrlich Jr.

If Murphy does go up on TV, Ehrlich, who has not spent a dime on TV, will face pressure from both sides. Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, has been airing TV ads continuously since July 12 – spending about $160,000 a week in the Baltimore market. They’ve also done three different radio ads.





Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:53 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Political ads
        

O'Malley praises Jessamy, no endorsement

During an appearance in West Baltimore Thursday to announce $7 million in public safety funding grants, Gov. Martin O'Malley was asked whether he would be endorsing anyone in the city's upcoming state's attorney's race.

O'Malley stopped short of endorsing incumbent Patricia Jessamy, Baltimore Sun colleague Justin Fenton reports, but offered what sounded like high praise for her, saying their "partnership has never been stronger," that they talk every day, and that her "leadership and performance" has been a big part of crime declines in Baltimore. Specifically pressed if he would endorse her, he replied: "I anticipate - yeah, stayed tuned." Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown also appeared at her birthday fundraiser over the weekend, according to reports.

That's particular notable, as friction between O'Malley and Jessamy is well-documented, and in one his last acts as mayor he increased her salary dramatically -- 60 percent, or $83,000, to $225,000 -- in what many believed was an attempt to make the position more attractive to potential challengers. When defense attorney Gregg Bernstein announced he would challenge Jessamy in the Democratic primary, Jessamy even accused of O'Malley of putting Bernstein up to it.

Following is a transcript of O'Malley's remarks, which came right after he agreed that Judge John Addison Howard had "dropped the ball" in his handling of suspect John Alexander Wagner:

The Sun: Will you be endorsing anyone in the city state's attorney's race?

O'Malley: We've done a lot of positive things together. I know you all focus on the one case where we disagreed 10 or 11 years ago. but the fact of the matter is, the partnerships between the state and the state’s attorneys office have never been stronger. I have endorsed every Democrat in our state who has endorsed me. That's been our policy, and there’s been a lot of progress made in the city of Baltimore in the last 10 years. Notwithstanding some occasional disagreements, the fact of the matter is Baltimore has achieved the third largest reduction of violent crime of any major city in America. That headline has never made a headline, but its a fact. And the partnerships with the state’s attorney, the higher level of functioning especially with the war room, and the cooperation and collaboration with the Violence Prevention Initiative, you know, underscores all of those things.

We continue to talk, and I believe the state's attorney's office led by Mrs. Jessamy has had a significant part in saving lives over these past years. It would fly in the face of the facts to say it hasn't.

The Sun: So are you endorsing Jessamy?

O'Malley: I anticipate -- yeah, stay tuned. I mean, we talk every day. Partnerships between the state and the state's attorney's office have never been stronger, positive things on the war room, violence prevention initiative. This isn’t a campaign announcement today, but i believe her leadership and the performance of that office has been a part of why Baltimore has been able to achieve historic reductions in violent crime these last three years. We need to strengthen those partnerships, we need to strengthen the connection between the information we have and the information we're able to provide police to solve crimes. It all comes down to improving clearance rates and doing a much better job every day protecting the public. That's the mission we've all been engaged in, including Mrs. Jessamy over these last few years.
Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:30 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Governor returns to Baltimore, 'Capital for a Day'

Gov. Martin O'Malley's "Capital for a Day" program, which transplants top-level government officials from Annapolis to far-flung areas of the state, rarely garners much major media attention.

But today the capital is Baltimore, meaning state officials will descend on a city reeling from a high-profile crime that has left residents questioning their safety.

Stephen Pitcairn, a 23-year-old Johns Hopkins researcher, was stabbed to death while walking from Penn Station to his home in the Charles Village area. A man and woman with long criminal histories have been charged.

City officials, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld and council members, visited the grieving community yesterday, where they encountered furious, frustrated and fed-up residents. Later, a man was found shot to death in Station North, as if to emphasize safety issues in the Penn Station corridor.

As a former Baltimore mayor, O'Malley, a Democrat, is no stranger to soothing a city in suffering, and it will be interesting to see whether he slips into that role again today.

He has just one public safety item on his packed agenda -- a quick announcement of new crime-fighting grants. He briefly addressed the Charles Village killing yesterday, saying it's critical for judges to protect society by giving the most dangerous criminals lengthy prison terms.

O'Malley's experience as a crime-fighting mayor has had an impact on how he governs. He frequently heralds statewide crime reductions that he says have occured at least partly because of public safety programs and policing tools he put in place.

He touted his administration's acheivements in a press office e-mail this morning. "We have driven violent crime down statewide to the lowest rate since 1975 and over the past decade here in Baltimore we've achieved the greatest overall crime reduction of America's most populous cities."

But according to his schedule, most of O'Malley's time in Baltimore today will be devoted to other matters. He will visit a Habitat for Humanity project on Fulton Street, tour a charter school he helped launch as mayor and a University of Maryland BioPark tour to highlight job creation.

(The visit to New Song Academy comes as Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. -- O'Malley's likely challenger in the fall election -- tries to identify himself as the pro-charter school candidate.)

Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore will help serve city juvenile warrants, and Maryland State Police Col. Terrence Sheridan will assist with adult warrants -- just a few of the governor's cabinet member activities. 

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 8:28 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        

Open mic day at Board of Public Works

Wedged between approvals to purchase land for Program Open Space, a complex lease deal for a new development in Baltimore and a state bond sale, David Schwartz of Americans for Prosperity appeared before Gov. Martin O’Malley Wednesday at BPW to rankle him about budget decisions.

Schwartz, who used to raise money for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, told O’Malley that members of his Tea Party organization “were pretty unhappy” that this year’s $32 billion state budget relies on $389 million in promised federal funding. Congress is now wavering on that commitment and may not deliver the help.

“We are running a deficit right now,” Schwartz said. “When is that getting taken care of and how is getting taken care of?”

O’Malley explained that the budget contains a contingency plan for this exact possibility: Borrow another $200 million from the income tax reserve fund and use the cash balance to cover the rest.

Schwartz disliked the answer: “So we are raiding the local income tax [fund] again?” he asked. The income tax reserve fund has become the new go to account to fill budget holes. O’Malley used it last year and this year.

The governor appeared uncomfortable with the line of questioning: “No. I wouldn’t. No. That’s not. …”

Treasurer Nancy Kopp piped in with the news that state revenues are higher than expected, inflating the cash balance and making it less likely that the state would need to borrow from the income tax fund.


O’Malley reminded Schwartz that the state still has its coveted AAA bond rating, calling it a “seal of fiscal responsibility.” Kopp concurred noting that the state had, only moments earlier, sold about $500 million in bonds at very low interest rates: Evidence that Wall Street has faith in the credit rating agencies' assessment and views Maryland as a safe place to park cash.

Ehrlich, who is running to get his old job back, used many of the same maneuvers that O’Malley has employed to keep the state’s budget balanced. However, dipping into the income tax reserve fund appears to be a relatively new idea – one that was initially suggested by Comptroller Peter Franchot who oversees the fund.

The credit rating agencies have not expressed any concern over the practice, other than noting that using the fund is a one time revenue source that does not solve an ongoing budget problem.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 8:27 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Tax & Spend
        

July 28, 2010

Franchot, O'Malley weigh in on Charles Village killing

State Comptroller Peter Franchot this morning that he’s been haunted by news accounts of the weekend murder of a Johns Hopkins research assistant in Charles Village. Speaking before this morning's Board of Public Works meeting, Franchot said he’d like to talk with the suspects in the case.

“I just wish I could sometimes sit down with this person and say: What was it? Why did you murder him?” Franchot said.

Police arrested two suspects in the stabbing death of Stephen B. Pitcairn, who was killed Sunday after being robbed.

Franchot also said he wants a briefing on the O'Malley Administration’s work to help law enforcement target parolees suspected of continued violent criminal activity, a tactic police find useful because it is generally easier to have a suspect re-committed to prison via a simple violation of parole or probation hearing than by building a fresh criminal case.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has worked hard to increase communication between parole and probation agents and local police and prosecutors, said that the state is “doing much better” sharing information and pointed to the judicial system. He stressed that judges must play their role.

John Wagner, one of the two suspects in the killing, was charged six times with violating the terms of his probation, but in each instance a judge let him go.  "In this case the person was violated," O'Malley said. "This person was brought before a judge."

He added: “I don’t think I do a single interview with candidates for judges where I don’t emphasize the importance of protecting the rest of us from that small tiny group of people who harm others, who kill. That is the most important thing that a judge does is protect the public.”
Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:07 PM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Administration
        

Ehrlich trumpets Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. made a campaign stop on the shores of Back River in Essex today to champion his administration's Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act -- and to criticize Gov. Martin O'Malley for using money from the act's bay fund to help balance the state budget.

It marked the first time the two candidates have sparred over the environment, a diversion from a gubernatorial race that has largely been focused on the economy, jobs and how government taxes and spends.

But the "tax and spend" issue loomed over the event because the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act is more commonly known as the "flush tax." Ever since Ehrlich, a Republican, signed the act into law in 2004, homeowners have paid a $30 annual fee into a fund used for sewage treatment upgrades that reduce bay nitrogen levels.

The campaign event, Ehrlich said, was not tied to any specific time element. Rather, he said, it was "to remind everybody of this historic achievement."

He noted that once all of the bay restoration act's sewage treatment plant upgrades have been made, they are expected to reduce pollution in waterways by 7.5 million pounds per year.   

Ehrlich, who is seeking to oust the Democratic governor, said that because of his bay restoration work "these waters will be cleaner for the future of our kids." He said the governor should not have raided such an important fund.

O'Malley used $200 million that was earmarked for bay cleanup to shore up the state's general operating expenses. He then backfilled the bay fund with $125 million from the capital budget -- which is mostly funded by borrowing. His aides said the bay fund will be fully restored next fiscal year, though it is unclear if the money will come from the flush tax or from more state-issued debt.

Such fund transfers have long been common -- both O'Malley and Ehrlich have used them in tough times. 

The O'Malley campaign issued a statement calling Ehrlich "out of touch" and moving into another environmental topic: Program Open Space.

"It was actually Bob Ehrlich who diverted $420 million in Program Open Space funds and tried to sell off publicly-owned lands to the lowest bidder after imposing his flush tax on every Maryland family," the O'Malley campaign said in a statement.

Ehrlich accused the governor of "whining" and "making stuff up." He did not say what O’Malley was making up.

"We're not going to get into the 'he said, she said,'" Ehrlich said. He said his administration "restructured" Program Open to focus on strategic land purchases that help the bay.

"Just buying land for the sake of buying land doesn't make sense," Ehrlich said.

Asked which governor has the better record on the environment, Ehrlich replied, "I would put our environmental record against anyone's, anytime."

The Maryland League of Conservation Voters issued a statement saying that O'Malley "has done a better job of addressing environmental needs during his four years as governor."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:30 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Pain in the neck: Ehrlich had minor surgery

Ehrlich aide Greg Massoni has a new duty: Intercept admirers who want to give his boss a pat on the back. At a campaign event today in Essex, Massoni literally had to pluck people off the sensitive gubernatorial candidate.

That's because former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. had surgery Friday to address back and neck pain. "Revenge of college football," Ehrlich said, explaining the source of the injury. He played ball at Princeton University in the 1970s.

Spokesman Andy Barth had few details about the surgery, saying only that it was "minor" and put Ehrlich out of commission for just a few days. The Republican candidate for governor did not appear to be wearing a brace today in Essex -- his first public appearance of the week.

Ehrlich had complained of back pain several times earlier on the campaign trail, including in April when he first announced his rematch with Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley. Ehrlich said then that he had aggravated old injuries while working out.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:00 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Kamenetz gets southwest Dem club endorsement

Baltimore County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz has been endorsed by the Democratic club in a politically conservative part of the county where his chief opponent, Joseph Bartenfelder, is expected to make a strong showing.

The Southwest Baltimore County Democratic Club backed Kamenetz Monday night by a vote of 22-14 after hearing a brief statement from Kamenetz during a meeting at the Bloomsbury Community Center in Catonsville. Bartenfelder, who has served alongside Kamenetz on the council since 1994, did not attend the session.

Club president Margaret Henn said she was "a little bit surprised" by the outcome, but "I wouldn't say I was knocked over ... I thought Joe might have done a little better."

Vice president Julia Graham cautioned against reading too much into the very small sample.

"Members of the club are strong Democrats," said Graham. "They're less conservative than the district as a whole."

She said she did not believe that Bartenfelder's absence influenced the outcome either way.
Kamenetz, the council member from District 2, has also been endorsed by the Northwest-Catonsville Democratic Club and the Tenth District Democratic Club headed by State Sen. Delores Kelley.

Bartenfelder, who represents District 6, has been endorsed by the Battle Grove Democratic Club in his home base on the east side, where Kamenetz has received endorsements from three east-side politicians: council members John Olszewski and Vincent Gardina, and former state Sen. Michael J. Collins.

The Southwest Baltimore County Democratic Club is one of 16 Democratic clubs in the county, and one of the more politically active. The organizations can serve as social clubs, but also play a variety of roles in political races, holding candidate forums and providing volunteers to take posts at polling places on election day

A late entry to the race on the Democratic side, former county employee Ron Harvey, has received no endorsements so far.

The Southwest club also endorsed Brian S. Bailey in the four-way contest for the Democratic nomination for the open District 1 council seat. Bailey, of Lansdowne, who chairs both the Baltimore County Democratic Party and a school board advisory panel, received 20 votes to 10 for Tom Quirk, a financial planner from Catonsville. The other two candidates, Rebecca Dongarra and Gregory J. Morgan, both of Catonsville, split the rest of the votes.


-Arthur Hirsch

Posted by Andy Rosen at 11:26 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: In The Counties
        

Politically charged juvenile facility killing in court

Five months ago, a co-worker found the beaten body of teacher Hannah Wheeling outside a locked state-run juvenile facility in Prince George's County -- a death that raised questions about the Department of Juvenile Services among lawmakers and could pose political problems in an election year.

Today, a 14-year-old boy whom Wheeling, 65, had taught was arraigned as a juvenile in Prince George's County Court, The Sun's Andrea Siegel reports. The boy, who was 13 at the time of the killing, faces charges of murder and rape, and prosecutors will seek next month to try him as an adult, an unusual step given the boy's young age.

The court process that will play could shed light on a killing that has largely remained mysterious during the Maryland State Police investigation -- something that state officials and law enforcement said was necessary to preserve the integrity of the case.

But now that a public court case is underway, we might learn more about not only the killing itself but also what happened afterward at the facility. How did Cheltenham employees respond? Were DJS policies followed? Did the killing result in specific policy changes?

Lawmakers first asked such questions in February. Several, including Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, a Calvert County Republican, and Sen. C. Anthony Muse, a Prince George's County Democrat, called a legislative hearing with DJS Secretary Donald W. DeVore. No one, including Muse and DeVore, attended

O'Donnell has issued press releases about the killing, demanding the resignation of DeVore and seeking answers in the Wheeling case. Last week, he wrote to Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, demanding answers. DeVore quickly issued a response, seeking to assure the lawmaker that staff safety is paramount to the department.

In May, The Sun examined the role Wheeling's death, and DJS in general, might play in the fall gubernatorial election. Both O'Malley and his likely Republican challnger, former Gov. Robert L. EHrlich Jr., have struggled to reform the agency.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:50 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        

July 27, 2010

O'Malley touts progress on State Center project

Gov. Martin O’Malley heralded progress in the mammoth State Center project, saying construction crews will break ground at the long delayed office complex by the fall, Baltimore Sun colleague Annie Linskey reports.

In Baltimore Tuesday afternoon, the governor called the giant collection of parking lots and office buildings on the western edge of Mount Vernon a “concrete wasteland” that will be soon revamped with retail shopping area and housing anchored by a new grocery store.

“Neighborhoods have been separated by a giant dead zone,” said O’Malley. Hewing to a theme of his reelection campaign, O’Malley stressed that the project will create work: He promised 2,000 construction jobs and 1,500 “ongoing permanent jobs.”

The State Center project, which was first conceived in 2004, when Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was governor, is intended to revitalize a 26-acre area of the city that goes dark after 5 p.m. and on weekends, when state employees who work there leave for the day.

The project has been stalled in part because of its complexity — on Wednesday, the Board of Public Works will vote on only the first of five phases — but also because lead developer Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse dropped out as the economy soured.

The board is expected to approve a complex land deal Wednesday that will extend a 75-year lease for two parcels of land to the private development team State Center LLC. In return, the state will receive a 7 percent share of profits in addition to the lease payments, said Christopher Patusky, director of the Maryland Department of Transporation Office of Real Estate.

Tthe state is also expected to formalize an agreement Wednesday to lease some office space from State Center LLC. Starting in 2014, the state would rent 500,000 square feet for $25.85 a square foot, state officials said.

Plans call for two clumps of office and retail space and an underground parking garage. The offices are slated for workers at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Maryland Transit Administration and the Maryland Department of Planning.

Some of those workers are currently in other offices in Baltimore. Michael A. Gaines, the assistant secretary of general services for real estate, said the state will “backfill” those offices, so the state will not merely be shuffling state workers around to different locations in Baltimore.

The grocery store has not been announced.

Planners say the location, near the Light Rail and the Metro and within walking distance of Penn Station, should attract retail and foot traffic. “Developers look for projects with good bones,” said Caroline Moore, a developer with Ekistics Capital Partners, one of the firms working on the project.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 6:50 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Howard GOP falling short in tax referendum drive

Republicans in Howard County are having trouble attracting enough support for a referendum that would make it more difficult to increase local taxes, Larry Carson writes this week in his county political notebook.

While most readers are probably familiar with the referendum that will decide the fate of slots in Anne Arundel County, Howard Republicans have been working on their own local ballot question. They're trying to improve their prospects with a last-minute mailing campaign

Click below for more from Larry Carson.

"With two weeks until the Aug. 9 deadline for collecting 10,000 valid signatures to place a charter amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot, petition drive chairman Ken Aldrich said he has fewer than 3,000 signatures. He needs about 15,000 overall to end up with enough valid signatures for the Taxpayer Protection Initiative. Republicans want the charter to require a four-vote County Council majority to authorize any general tax increases, instead of a simple majority of three votes," he writes.

You can find more of Carson's columns in our Howard County edition and on the Howard page on baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Andy Rosen at 6:42 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: In The Counties
        

Race for education $$$ follows political turbulence

Maryland is among 19 finalists in a U.S. Department of Education competition for hundreds of millions of dollars -- welcome news to the state officials who once disagreed about when even to enter the "Race to the Top."

The Sun's Liz Bowie reports that Education Secretary Arne Duncan is likely to pick about a dozen states as winners by early September; Maryland stands to win $250 million.

"I can barely contain myself," said Nancy S. Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools. "We are so excited because there was tremendous work that went into this and it has such potential for our schools."

Gov. Martin O'Malley said in a statement that he is "honored" to be among the finalists. "To Maryland, this process has always been about more than simply a race for education dollars," he said.

Grasmick and O'Malley are expected to head to Washington to personally make their case for a slice of the $3.4 billion pie, Bowie reports.

But eight months ago, in the early days of the education contest, Grasmick and O'Malley differed on whether the state should enter the first round in January. Maryland was one of just 10 states that did not try for the money at that time. (Delaware and Tennessee won, sharing $600 million.)

O'Malley said Maryland, which routinely is at the head of the education class, nationally, should have applied. But Grasmick successfully argued that the state needed to make several legislative changes before it was able to submit a strong application.

This spring, the Maryland General Assembly passed several laws aimed at making the state more competitive for Race to the Top, including calling for student performance to be part of how teachers are evaluated.

Legislation to make it easier to launch charter schools -- another consideration in Race to the Top -- never really got off the ground. Forthcoming details about the Round 2 finalists could provide insight on how Maryland performed in each category, perhaps even forecasting Maryland's chances of winning.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:25 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Families, General Assembly 2010
        

Gov. notes strides on anniversary of disabilities act

Gov. Martin O'Malley celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act yesterday by highlighting his administration's strides in that arena and presenting citations to advocates of the issue.

O'Malley told hundreds of disabled people and their families and caregivers, who'd gathered at Camden Yards, that "there's no such thing as a spare individual" and "God loves even partial victories."

The Democratic governor, who is seeking reelection this fall, echoed themes of his stump speeches, saying jobs are key to protecting Maryland families and even leading the group on a "we move forward, not back," chant.

His administration, he said, has overseen a 200 percent increase in enrollment in the state's Employed Individuals with Disabilities Program.

He said he has also increased by more than 50 percent investments "to create employment and higher education opportunities for young people with disabilities," beefed up a program for infants and toddlers and helped integrate former Rosewood residents into the community.

In 2008, O'Malley shuttered the Rosewood Center in Baltimore County, which had been the controversial home to as many as 3,000 patients at its peak, many of them disabled. The aging property had largely fallen into disrepair.

But one sticky issue for O'Malley has been his unwillingness to back an increase in alcohol taxes as a way to provide more funding to disability programs. The Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, which has been pushing the "dime a drink" plan for years, recently vowed to revive the issue next year and is asking legislative candidates to pledge their support.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 8:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Administration, People
        

Gonzales poll shows statistical tie in governor's race

* updated with campaign responses 

A new Gonzales poll shows a dead heat between Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in the fall governor's race.

O'Malley would capture 45 percent of the vote, and Ehrlich 42 percent, with a 3.5 percentage-point margin of error, the poll shows.

In a summer of robo-polls, the Annapolis-based Gonzales Marketing and Research Strategies conducted live telephone interviews from July 13-21 of 807 registered voters "who are likely to vote." It is the firm's second governor's race poll this year. One conducted in January showed O'Malley with a larger advantage in a then-theoretical matchup with Ehrlich -- 48 percent to 39 percent.  

"The race for governor as of late July is really close," pollster Patrick Gonzales writes in a release about today's survey.  "Incumbent Governor O'Malley has a slight lead in our poll, but it's clear that either candidate could win in November."

The Gonzales poll is the first interview survey to come out this summer. Both O'Malley and Ehrlich have acknowledged that the race is close. 

"This poll confirms that Bob Ehrlich is stuck in the low-40s because people remember his record as the biggest spender in Maryland history and that Marylanders approve of the job Governor O’Malley is doing to move Maryland forward despite the national recession,” said O'Malley campaign spokesman Rick Abbruzzese.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said the poll shows that "Marylanders are embracing Bob Ehrlich’s positive message of more jobs, lower taxes, and less spending."

"It also shows that Governor O’Malley’s negative campaigning has proven to be a major tactical mistake," he said. "We expect this race to remain very close.  Bob Ehrlich will remain focused on reaching out to everyday Marylanders to discuss his plan to lead an economic resurgence in Maryland.”

Ehrlich's campaign was so pleased with the poll that it swiftly put out its results an e-mail to supporters, asking for donations. 

Among Independents, the candidates are tied at 39 percent. Overall, 8 percent of those polled said they are undecided, down from 13 percent in January.

In addition to the horserace, the Gonzales poll probed voters' views about issues this fall -- no surprise, the economy tops that list -- and how they think O'Malley, President Barack Obama and Sen. Barbara Mikulski are doing in their jobs. O'Malley's job approval, at 48 percent, was about the same as it was in January. 

Obama's approval rating among Marylanders has continued to fall, from about 80 percent when he took office in January 2009 to 51 percent this month. Mikulski's approval rating has fallen from 67 percent in September 2009 to 59 percent in July.

“Even the popular Mikulski is feeling the effects of the anti-incumbent mood of the electorate," Gonzales writes. Mikulski's approval rating this month matches her 59 percent rating in October 2004, a month before she won election to her current term.

Until now, the only interview poll we've seen recently was the The Washington Post's May survey. It showed O'Malley leading Ehrlich among registered voters but tied among those who say they are "certain" to vote this fall, a reflection of what political analysts have called a nationwide trend against incumbents.

Some political analysts say they prefer live-interview surveys to "robo-polls," where a respondent simply presses buttons to indicate answers. Some also question the authenticity of such automated polls, which are inexpensive and often conducted by firms with partisan roots.

There have been at least four automated polls this summer, with most showing just what the Gonzales poll shows: a virtual tie.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 7:00 AM | | Comments (37)
Categories: Horserace
        

July 26, 2010

Official: No legal action against profane rapper

The city will not pursue legal action against Wale, the Washington, D.C.-based hip hop artist who reportedly used profanity and a racial slur while performing at Artscape, the director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts said Monday.

Organizers were shocked when Wale used offensive language during his performance, BOPA executive director Bill Gilmore told Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper.

“He is not known to do that kind of performance,” said Gilmore. “We were pretty much caught off guard.”

Artscape musicians are cautioned that their acts must be suitable for family audiences, said Gilmore. “This is the first time this had ever happened” at Artscape, he said.

Performers are paid in advance and it is not possible to reduce or revoke the payment, he said. The city does not intend to pursue any type of legal action, he said.

“It was unfortunate,” said Gilmore, noting that the office has discussed preventing similar incidents in the future. “It was a tough lesson and we need to move on.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:40 PM | | Comments (4)
        

O'Malley picks up guitar, hopes to pick up cash

Call it "play to pay."

Gov. Martin O'Malley will strum tomorrow night at an Irish bar in Washington to raise money for his re-election bid.

The campaign event, billed as "O'Malley Live!" will include a few, but not all, members of the governor's longtime Celtic rock band, O'Malley's March. Ticket prices range from $40 to $500.

O'Malley's musical tendencies have long generated controversy -- with detractors saying he should have quit the band to focus on executive duties and supporters saying it provides a great way to connect with Marylanders.

O'Malley's March largely disbanded around the time its frontman transitioned from Baltimore mayor to Maryland governor. But they reunite for special events and put out an album last year.

(Vintage Baltimore Sun photo, circa 2001.)

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:00 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Arundel slots debate could go statewide

The two top gubernatorial candidates have staked out different positions on a seemingly hyper-local issue of whether a casino should be built in the Arundel Mills shopping center, a development likely to inject slots into another Maryland political campaign season.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, made a series of calls to reporters last week to stress his support for a county-wide referendum. Meanwhile Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich was paid to help a Baltimore developer bring the casino to the mall and thinks the venue is an “appropriate” place for a mall, according to a spokesman.

O’Malley’s campaign shop hopes Ehrlich’s client history will anger some of the Northern Anne Arundel Republicans who don't want it to be built near their homes. Ehrlich’s camp says the referendum will remind voters that the O’Malley slots program has still not gotten off the ground.

Meanwhile, surrounding states are doing slots version 2.0, adding table games to draw more visitors to their casinos. Maryland's law does not allow Vegas-style gambling like roulette and blackjack.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:42 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Slots
        

July 23, 2010

O'Malley administration responds on Cheltenham

The head of Juvenile Services is seeking to assure a leading Republican lawmaker that his agency has responded appropriately to the February death of a teacher on the grounds of one of its facilities.

"Members of the public, State employees, and members of the legislature should have confidence that the State is fully committed to ensuring that all of our facilities are as safe as they can possibly be for our staff and youth -- and that the State is taking every action possible to keep our facilities safe and secure," Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore wrote Wednesday.

DeVore's letter comes after a letter Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell wrote Tuesday to Gov. Martin O'Malley. O'Donnell, the House of Delegates minority leader, demanded an update in the Hannah Wheeling case. Coworkers found the teacher's beaten body outside a locked building at Cheltenham Youth Facility, and a 13-year-old suspect was quickly identified and moved elsewhere.

But five months later, no charges have been filed. O'Donnell said he believes the governor, a Democrat seeking reelection this fall, is responsible for providing the public with an explanation of what's going on and has raised the possibility of political motivations for "the ongoing silence."

Many of O'Donnell's questions cannot be answered because of the active criminal investigation.

However, DeVore's letter focused on the steps DJS has taken to make its staff feel safe after Wheeling's killing. O'Donnell asked, "What has been done to give confidence to state employees, members of the legislature, and the general public that such a tragic murder of a state employee in the Department of Juvenile Services will not recur?"

DeVore wrote about his agency's direct responses to Wheeling's death: notifying the community, providing grief counselors, cooperating with investigators and disciplining four employees (including firing two). And he wrote about broader changes that have taken place, such as enhancing "oversight of state-run facilities by increasing the number of unannounced inspections of its facilities."

DeVore wrote that O'Malley asked him to respond to O'Donnell. And DeVore directed O'Donnell to the Prince George's County State's Attorney's Office for updates on the status of the criminal cases. Sources close to the investigation have said charges are "imminent."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 9:40 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        

July 22, 2010

City living wage bill dies in committee

After hearing more than four hours of testimony by business and religious leaders Thursday, a Baltimore City Council committee rejected a bill that would have required major retailers to pay workers the city’s living wage, Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper reports.

Councilman Warren Branch, chair of the three-member labor subcommittee, voted against the bill. Councilwoman Belinda Conaway voted in its favor; Councilman Nicholas D’Adamo was absent due to his parents’ poor health.

After the vote, the measure’s sponsor said she was hopeful it could be resurrected.

“This is too important to just let it die in committee,” Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said. “It could have made a huge difference for thousands of families who live in Baltimore City. It could have lifted them out of poverty or at least taken them to the poverty line.”

The bill could have another chance if Branch asks for it to be reconsidered, or if eight of the 15 council members petition for it to come to the full body for a vote. Seven members have pledged their support.

In 1994, Baltimore became the first city in the nation to pass a living wage law for city contractors. Clarke, who spearheaded that legislation, said the process took 18 months.

The tie vote came after heated testimony in which union leaders said the measure would revitalize the city’s economy by putting more cash in workers’ pockets while business advocates said the higher wages could cause stores to pull out of the city.

Jeff Zellmer, legislative director of the Maryland Retailers Association, called the proposed legislation a “jobs lost bill” and said it would be “a Holocaust for the retail industry” – a remark that drew gasps in council chambers.

Bishop Douglas Miles, leader of the BUILD interfaith coalition, said that the 1994 living wage law, which requires city contractors to pay workers an hourly rate set by the Board of Estimates, had raised similar fears. He said the problems predicted by opponents never materialized.

“We did not believe then and do not believe now that if companies pay workers a living wage it would bring Baltimore to a screeching halt,” Miles said.

The bill would have required stores that gross more than $10 million annually, or are part of a chain that does, to pay workers the living wage, which is currently set at $10.59. Retailers that provided workers health care or other benefits could have reduced the wage by as much as $2.

Many expressed doubts that stores would be able to pay higher wages. Phil Holmes, an executive with Goodwill Industries, said that the disabled workers trained by his organization would be unlikely to find jobs that pay so high above minimum wage – currently $7.25 in Maryland.

Others decried a lack of shops in the city and said it was already difficult to find a retail job. Megan Moore, 16, said she had applied to several stores and was unable to find one that would hire her.

“Please vote ‘no’… so I can get my first job,” Moore told subcommittee members.

But progressive activists, labor leaders and representatives from the NAACP argued that low wages made it nearly impossible to support a family with a retail job.

“I know what it is like to work three jobs and just eat eggs three times a day,” said Luis Larin, a member of the United Workers union.

Thomas Cafcas, a research analyst with the liberal advocacy group “Good Jobs First,” said studies show that each additional dollar in hourly pay earned by workers translates to an additional $3,500 in local spending. He countered those who criticized boosting wages during an economic downturn by pointing out that the first national minimum wage law was passed during the Great Depression.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 9:02 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: City Hall, Money and Business
        

Maryland scoops up $26 million in waste, fraud

Touting a favorite program, Lt. Governor Anthony Brown said Thursday the state’s health department has found $26 million in fraud and waste in the state Medicaid program.

The extra cash will not close the roughly $1.5 billion deficit that awaits the winner of November's gubernatorial election, but Brown argued the extra money will help.

Brown also used the occasion to remind folks that he lobbied to strengthen the state’s Medicaid False Claims Act during the legislative session (he’s photographed here testifying on that bill). The new bill created a civil penalty for Medicaid fraud, which lets the state collect damages and allows Maryland to piggyback on the larger and lucrative federal investigations.

Remarkably, state health and budget analysts believe that anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of the billions spent annually on Medicaid is lost to waste, fraud and abuse. Schemes include doctors billing the state for phantom patients and pharmaceutical companies wildly overbilling for drugs or devices.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 6:32 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Administration
        

City council considering living wage rules

The Baltimore City Council will hear testimony Thursday on a controversial proposal to require large retailers in the city to pay employees a "living wage" — currently, $10.59 per hour.

Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper reports that the reactions have fallen along the familiar business-labor divide. Supporters say it would help workers who do not earn enough money to support their families; opponents say it would discourage retailers from moving into the city.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke tells Scharper she was inspired to introduce the bill after listening to presentations about a planned Walmart store in Remington.

"The goal is that people who work hard can support their families without turning to charity or the government for help," said Clarke, who was council president when the city passed the nation's first living-wage law in 1994.

But Greater Baltimore Committee Chairman Donald C. Fry says the measure could force retailers to lay off employees or cut hours to cover the increased payroll, while leading stores to set up business in the surrounding counties rather than the city.

"We're having trouble attracting businesses in the first place," said Fry. "This is not the type of legislation that's helpful in growing the city's tax base."

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 6:30 AM | | Comments (0)
        

Gansler wins reelection, by default

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler is Maryland's first winner of the 2010 elections.

The first-term Democrat won four more years in office Wednesday when the the deadline for parties to name challengers passed without Republicans finding an opponent to take him on.

"I'm flattered that people in the state of Maryland think we're doing a good job," Gansler told Baltimore Sun colleague Annie Linskey.

The failure of the GOP to field a candidate was striking, given Gansler's vocal support for gay marriage, a position which has put him to the left of many Maryland Democrats.

Maryland Republican Party Chairwoman Audrey Scott told Linskey Gansler is "one lucky guy." Scott said she'd hoped to put up a challenger. One candidate changed his mind, she said. Another appeared at the last minute, but party paperwork prevented her from being able to put his name forward, she said.

She would not give names. "We ran out of time," she said. She predicted that there would be more interest in four years.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010, Law and Courts, People
        

July 21, 2010

Bartlett joins congressional Tea Party caucus

While there appears to have been some confusion about who is and who is not a member of the new House Tea Party Caucus, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett is making his position clear: The Western Maryland Republican announced Wednesday that he has joined the group.

“I have been cheered at every Tea Party event that I’ve attended because I’m one of only 18 members in Congress who has voted against every bailout bill,” Bartlett said in a statement.

Rep. Michele Bachmann introduced the new caucus Wednesday in Washington with a list of 28 members, including Rep. Joe Wilson, the South Carolina Republican who shouted “You lie!” as President Barack Obama gave a speech before a joint session of Congress, and Rep. Joe Barton, the Texas Republican who apologized last month to BP for its treatment by the Obama administration following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Later Wednesday, the Furm Forum reported that two of the House members on the list had not yet agreed to join the caucus, and spokesmen for others said they did not know that their members had joined or were unaware that the list was to be made public.

Bartlett, the only Republican in Maryland’s congressional delegation, confirmed his membership.

The veteran lawmaker described the caucus as “one of the new tools, such as American Speaking Out and YouCut, that House Republicans have introduced to help Americans regain the control over their lives and their pocketbooks that’s been taken away from them by the jobs-killing, out of control regulation and spending agenda of President Obama and Congressional Democrats.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 6:35 PM | | Comments (12)
        

Marylander joins Obama at finance bill signing

Not long ago, Andrew Giordano was dealing with hundreds of dollars in bank fees for service he never requested. On Tuesday, the Locust Point man stood onstage at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington as President Barack Obama told his story.

“If you’ve ever applied for a credit card, a student loan, or a mortgage, you know the feeling of signing your name to pages of barely understandable fine print,” Obama said. “What often happens as a result is that many Americans are caught by hidden fees and penalties, or saddled with loans they can’t afford. …

“ That’s what happened to Andrew Giordano, who discovered hundreds of dollars in overdraft fees on his bank statement – fees he had no idea he might face. … Well, with this law … we’ll ensure that people like Andrew aren’t unwittingly caught by overdraft fees when they sign up for a checking account.”

Giordano was one of two citizens who joined Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and congressional leaders onstage as Obama signed a sweeping overhaul of financial regulationts into law.

We’ve tried without success to reach Giordano at home. According to the White House, he is a retired Vietnam veteran who was assessed hundreds of dollars in overdraft fees on his veteran’s account because his bank had automatically enrolled him in “overdraft” protection that he never asked for. The White House says Giordano met Obama last year at a roundtable discussion on financial regulations.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 6:01 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Catonsville Dems back Kamenetz

The Northwest-Catonsville Democratic Club, whose president is Del. Emmett Burns, has endorsed Kevin Kamenetz for Baltimore County Executive. Kamenentz won the club’s endorsement with over 87% of the ballots that members cast Monday, Burns said.

“I am pleased to have earned the support of Delegate Burns’ Democratic Club,” said Kamenetz, a 16-year veteran of the County Council, in a press release. “The Club shares in my vision of strong schools, safe neighborhoods, and a revitalized commercial corridor for the District. I am committed to achieving these results as county executive.”

Kamenetz has also earned endorsements from the Tenth District Democratic Club, headed by state Sen. Delores Kelley.

-Mary Gail Hare

Posted by Andy Rosen at 4:48 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Attempt to block Comfort move advances in House

Language introduced by Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger to require the Navy to conduct a cost-benefit analysis before moving the hospital ship U.S.N.S. Comfort out of Baltimore has moved out of committee.

The requirement, which came in the form of an amendment to miltary construction legislation, was accepted late Tuesday by the House appropriations committee and will now be considered by the full House.

A Navy spokesman confirmed this week that the Navy is considering moving the Comfort from Baltimore to Norfolk, Va., after the current berthing agreement expires in 2013. Ruppersberger, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and others are trying to block the move.

“I am not convinced that moving the Comfort from Baltimore, her home for the past 23 years, is a good idea,” Ruppersberger said Wednesday in a statement. “We must make sure this move won’t hurt the Comfort’s ability to quickly respond to urgent military and humanitarian missions and unnecessarily waste taxpayer dollars. Clearing committee is an important step and I will continue to fight to keep this Baltimore icon home, where it belongs.”

Mikulski, a member of the Senate appropriations committee, is seeking federal funding to study the impact of moving the ship on its wartime and humanitarian missions, and the impact of the home port on the medical facilities that staff the ship.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin weighed in on Wednesday, saying in a statement that the Comfort “has taken on the difficult mission of saving lives and addressing some of the most difficult medical cases – all from the Port of Baltimore. I believe the resources of the Port of Baltimore have enabled the Comfort to fulfill its mission and there is no reason to spend money on a costly move to Norfolk.”

Congress has been considering legislation to authorize $10 million to upgrade a pier to berth the ship in Norfolk. Navy spokesman Lt. Justin Cole said Tuesday it was too early to say whether the Navy would move the ship from Baltimore.

“The Navy is looking at options for the Navy’s home-porting of Comfort when the contract in Baltimore ends in May of 2013,” he said. “There are a lot of options on the table.”

Republican former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a consultant to the port who has been working with Democrats Mikulski and Ruppersberger to block the move, told The Baltimore Sun Tuesday a move is "being considered seriously — but it's not the first time it's been considered seriously."

Berthed in Canton, the Comfort employs 18 civilians, with 60 naval personnel located within a 30-minute drive. For deployments, it takes on additional civilian crewmembers and draws on physicians, nurses, technicians and other staff from the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, the Naval Academy in Annapolis and Naval Air Station Patuxent River.

The Navy paid $5 million two years ago to upgrade the Comfort's Baltimore berth to serve for another 20 years, and pays Keystone Ship Berthing $1 million annually to keep the ship in the port. In a release, Ruppersberger refers to a study indicating that Maryland received $150 million over a five-year period for activities generated by the Comfort.

The Navy berthed the Comfort in Baltimore, which is a half-day's sail from the open ocean, in part for its proximity to the National Naval Medical Center. A move to Norfolk would put the ship within a few miles of the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

The 894-foot ship, converted from an oil tanker into a 1,000-bed medical center in 1987, was designed to provide emergency medical care for U.S. troops in combat. It deployed to the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the war with Iraq in 2003, and has also responded to domestic disasters including the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.

Throughout its history, the Comfort generally has proved too slow and cumbersome to be useful as an emergency hospital, however. In recent years it has been used primarily for humanitarian relief missions, including a two-month mission to Haiti after the Jan. 12 earthquake, during which the ship's medical crew treated nearly 1,000 survivors with broken bones and life-threatening injuries.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:57 PM | | Comments (3)
        

Crabs + politicians + sweltering heat = Tawes

It's a Maryland thing.

Politicians -- including Gov. Martin O'Malley and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr -- are among the hundreds of hot crab-pickers circling through tents and tables at the annual Tawes crab and clam festival in Crisfield on the Eastern Shore.

O'Malley called it a "must-attend event." Ehrlich, meanwhile, called it a "have-to."

"It's almost kind of a political rite of passage," O'Malley said. He arrived at 2 p.m. and, with a green-clad entourage, is still shaking hands and squinting in the sun.

Tawes is like a final exam for political aides, who do their best to tactfully and quietly steer competitive candidates away from each other. Ehrlich arrived essentially at the same time as O'Malley, but waited in the parking lot until "this stuff goes away," as Ehrlich spokesman Andy Barth put it.

When he did make his entrance, Ehrlich called the Tawes tradition "about as Maryland as you get... It's part of our political heritage." Ehrlich also continues to make the rounds this afternoon. The event ends at 4 p.m.

Organizers say they were expecting 6,000 people at this year's festival. Some other numbers: 41,000 clams, 300 bushels of crabs and a high of 94 degrees.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:10 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Elections
        

O’Malley releases four new TV ads

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s campaign dropped four new television ads into the gubernatorial race this afternoon. Yes, that is right. Four.

These will be the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth O’Malley ads this season – compared with zero paid TV or radio ads from his likely opponent former Governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Questioned last week – when the ad tally was merely four to zip -- Ehrlich said he was content to use the Internet and free press to spread his message. (The Sun’s Julie Bykowicz is waiting in Crisfield to get Ehrlich’s response … he is expected there shortly.) Pressed again this afternoon about when his campaign would put up ads, Ehrlich said: "We'll do our own thing."

The new O’Malley ads are all positive and focus on jobs, featuring different sectors of the economy in which the governor says progress has been made. Ehrlich took aim at the premise, saying "Gov. O'Malley talking about small businesses is counterintuitive for most people."

One stars Port of Baltimore CEO Christopher Lee – he credits O’Malley for “expansion” at the port. The ad features the same apparent blue collar workers whose photos are displayed prominently on O’Malley’s newly designed campaign website.

In another O'Malley focuses on a new ecnomy business: Biomarker Strategies CEO Karen Olson says an O’Malley-backed tax credit helped make her company one of “the top startups” in the country.

A third spot features Arrow Bicycle Shop, a small repair shop in Hyattsville that recently opened.

And the last focuses on recent expansion at a GM plant, a point Vice President Joe Biden mentioned at an O’Malley fundraiser on Monday.

The four new ads will go up in some type of rotation starting later this week, according to O’Malley Deputy Campaign Manager Rick Abbruzzese.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:41 PM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Pace of Cheltenham case raises political questions

House minority leader Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell is demanding answers about the February death of a teacher at a state juvenile facility in Prince George’s County. O’Donnell, who represents Calvert County, said it is inexcusable that five months have elapsed and yet no charges have been filed in the killing – even though investigators quickly identified a 13-year-old suspect.

A fellow employee found Hannah Wheeling's beaten body early one Feburary morning outside a locked door at a small, lower-security building on the groounds of Cheltenham Youth Facility. The suspect, a boy she had taught, was moved to another juvenile center in Maryland. Little information has emerged about the circumstances of the killing, though the Department of Juvenile services shuttered the building and fired two employees.

O’Donnell, a frequent critic of DJS, says Gov. Martin O’Malley must be held accountable for the lack of movement in the case and said he can’t help but wonder if the delays are politically motivated. O’Malley, a Democrat, faces reelection in November.

“He has the responsibility to give us information,” O’Donnell said. “How many months is it going to take?”

In a letter hand-delivered yesterday to the governor, O'Donnell wrote that O’Malley should provide citizens with a status update on the case and to explain the "silence" surrounding it.

Shaun Adamec, a spokesman for O’Malley said “the process is underway” and that O’Donnell’s broader questions “have been asked and answered over, and over, and over again.”

The Sun wrote in May about the role the killing -- and DJS in general -- might play in the election, where Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. hopes to reclaim the job O’Malley won from him four years ago.

The Maryland State Police investigated Wheeling's death, and the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office is responsible for prosecuting the case. Sources close to the investigation said yesterday that “charges are imminent.”

Authorities have blamed the slower-than-average progress of the case on two circumstances: a significant DNA backlog at the state police and the complexity of charging such a young person with such a serious crime.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:08 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        

July 20, 2010

Navy considers moving hospital ship from Baltimore

The Navy is considering moving the hospital ship U.S.N.S. Comfort from its home in the Port of Baltimore to Norfolk, Va., when its current berthing agreement expires in 2013, officials said Tuesday.

Maryland’s representatives in Washington are trying to block such a move. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski is seeking federal funding to study the impact of moving the ship on its wartime and humanitarian missions. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger introduced legislation Tuesday that would require the Navy to conduct a cost-benefit analysis before making a decision.

“The U.S.N.S. Comfort has long been a source of pride and jobs for its home, the Port of Baltimore, and the rest of the region,” Ruppersberger said. “ When a catastrophe like Hurricane Katrina or the recent earthquake in Haiti strikes, time is of the essence. The Comfort and its team of military medical professionals quickly answer the call to serve.”

Congress has been considering legislation to authorize $10 million to upgrade a pier to berth the ship in Norfolk. A spokesman for the Navy confirmed that Norfolk is one option; he said staying in Baltimore is another.

“The Navy is looking at options for the Navy’s home-porting of Comfort when the contract in Baltimore ends in May of 2013,” said Lt. Justin Cole, the spokesman. “There are a lot of options on the table. It’s too early to tell whether the Comfort will shift away from Baltimore.”

Former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a consultant to the port who has been working with Mikulski and Ruppersberger to block the move, said “it’s being considered seriously — but it’s not the first time it’s been considered seriously.”

Berthed in Canton, the Comfort employs 18 civilians, with 60 Naval personnel located within a 30-minute drive. For deployments, it draws on physicians, nurses, technicians and other staff from the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, the Naval Academy in Annapolis and Naval Air Station Patuxent River.

The Navy paid $5 million two years ago to upgrade to the Comfort’s Baltimore berth, and pays Keystone Ship Berthing $1 million annually to keep the ship in the port.

Bentley, who helped to bring the Comfort to Baltimore as a member of Congress in 1988, said a move to Norfolk would be “a waste of money” that would be “penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

“We consider the Comfort an icon in this port,” she said. “When you’re driving in any direction you can see the Comfort, and it is a comfort.”

Ruppersberger visited the Comfort in January as it prepared to deploy to Haiti to assist after the earthquake there.

“I was amazed at how quick and well-orchestrated the extensive undertaking was,” he said. “I fear moving the ship to Norfolk will make that job harder and waste taxpayer dollars in a time when every dollar matters.”

The Navy berthed the Comfort in Baltimore in part for its proximity to the National Naval Medical Center. A move to Norfolk would put the ship within a few miles of the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth.

The 894-foot ship, converted from an oil tanker into a 1,000-bed medical center in 1987, was designed to provide emergency medical care for U.S. troops in combat. It deployed to the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the war with Iraq in 2003, and has also responded to domestic disasters including the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.

Throughout its history, the Comfort generally has proved too slow and cumbersome to be useful as an emergenccy hospital, however. In recent years it has been used primarily for humanitarian relief missions, including a two-month mission to Haiti after the Jan. 12 earthquake, during which the ship's medical crew treated nearly 1,000 survivors with broken bones and life-threatening injuries.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:27 PM | | Comments (13)
        

High court: Arundel slots referendum is legal

Just hours after hearing arguments, Maryland's highest court ruled Tuesday that a referendum on whether to allow slots at the Arundel Mills mall can move forward, Baltimore Sun colleague Nicole Fuller reports.

The Court of Appeals issued the ruling after justices asking pointed questions about the reasoning behind a lower court ruling that blocked the referendum.

Circuit Court Judge Ronald A. Silkworth had ruled last month that the referendum was illegal because the zoning legislation to authorize a subsidiary of the Baltimore-based Cordish Companies to build a billion-dollar casino is part of an appropriation package. According to state law, appropriations — or spending allowances — cannot be decided by voters at the ballot box.

Lawyers for community groups the Maryland Jockey Club, which financed a successful referendum effort to challenge zoning approval for Cordish Cos. to build the state's largest slots casino, appealed the decision to the state's highest court.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has issued a statement supporting "the right for the people of Anne Arundel County to have their voices heard on whether slots should be located at Arundel Mills Shopping Mall."

“I have always preferred that these slots locations be limited to race tracks, but this is a local zoning issue that should be decided by the people of Anne Arundel County, just as Marylanders overwhelmingly approved the slots referendum in 2008," O'Malley said.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:13 PM | | Comments (0)
        

First lady touts fitness, works out at Camden Yards

First lady Michelle Obama visited Oriole Park at Camden Yards Tuesday to enlist Major League Baseball in her campaign to end childhood obesity within a generation, Baltimore Sun reporter Jean Marbella reports.

Joined by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Maryland first lady Katie Curran O'Malley and about 40 Baltimore children, Obama announced a joint initiative between the White House and professional baseball that will address what has become her signature issue. The "Let's Move!" campaign promotes healthy eating and increased activity for children.

"Sue Selig said they're sending the women to do the job," Obama said, referring to Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig's wife, who also attended the event. "I think we're handling it."

After debuting a public service announcement featuring Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, Obama joined the children in running and throwing drills led by Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays players.

"They said I need work," Obama said as she exited the bullpen area, where she pitched with some children and the Orioles' Jeremy Guthrie and Will Ohman. "I'm not ready for the majors."

But Guthrie demurred, saying: "She can throw. Her and the president are obviously athletes."

Michelle Obama is due back at Camden Yards Tuesday evening to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in the Orioles-Rays game. The White House is not saying whether she's spending the afternoon in Baltimore or heading back to Washington.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 1:50 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Candidates must adhere to new social media rules

A committee of state lawmakers today approved regulations that will change how much information candidates must include on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The new rules take effect in two weeks.

Candidates must begin including an authority line -- a declaration of approval that lists their campaign treasurer -- on their official campaign pages on Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites that have exploded in popularity this election season.

The rules do not mean that each 140-character "tweet" has to contain that detailed infomation. Rather, it has to be on the "landing page" that corrals all of the tweets for a specific candidate.

Both major gubernatorial contenders, Gov. Martin O'Malley and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., are already including authority lines. Check out the bio section and of their Twitter pages to see what all candidates must now begin doing.

"This is very new," said Jared DeMarinis, director of the division of candidacy and campaign finance for the State Board of Elections, which crafted the regulations. "We're taking the rules as they are today and applying them to Internet."

Social networking companies have lauded the state for being at the forefront of the issue. Company representatives for Google, AOL, Yahoo and Facebook were in Annapolis this morning to testify in favor of the regulations.

Only Florida has specifically regulated how candidates can use social media sites, the company representatives said, and lawmakers there did so only after a lawsuit.

MAryland's new rules also provide clarity on what a candidate must do if he or she wants to purchase an online ad with Facebook or Google or another provider. If the ad is too small to include the full authority line -- which it often is -- candidates will need to include a link to their official campaign site.

The Maryland General Assembly's joint committee on administrative, executive, and legislative review heard testimony today and then voted 11-to-1 to approve the emergency regulations.

Del. Michael Smigiel, an Eastern Shore Republican, oppposed the regulations, fearing they would have a "chilling effect" on the free speech of candidates.

In an appropriately timed display of just how pervasive social media is this election season, several committee members posted updates during the hearing.

"This may be one my last authority line free twitters unless the hearing I am in votes to reject the proposed electronic media rules," Smigiel posted just before voting against the regulations.

And Sen. Richard Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat, confided to committee members that he'd been updating his Facebook page during the hearing.

As the hearing concluded, he posted a status update saying, "just voted to approve the new emergency regulations concerning authority line requirements and electronic media. The vote was 11 to 1 to adopt them. In my opinion, they make great sense and help inform the public as to who is communicating and for what purpose."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:15 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010, Elections, Political ads
        

July 19, 2010

Biden in Baltimore to boost O'Malley

Vice President Joe Biden heaped praise on Gov. Martin O’Malley at a Baltimore fundraiser Monday evening, Baltimore Sun colleague Annie Linskey reports, telling a room of 200 supporters that the governor can be trusted to lead in part because he “feels” the pain of ordinary Marylanders “in the gut.”

Speaking for half an hour at the private event at the Baltimore Hilton Convention Center, Biden highlighted some of the themes O’Malley regularly hits while on the stump: keeping jobs in Maryland and pushing a tax credit for small businesses.

Tickets to the event, intended to raise money for O’Malley’s reelection campaign, ranged from $250 to hear the Biden’s remarks to $1,000 for a brief private reception with the vice president. Members of the host committee paid $4,000.

Biden is the first big-name Democrat to stump for O’Malley, who is locked in a tight re-election race with his predecessor, Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. O’Malley has already spent more than his opponent, airing two radio commercials and a TV spot. Fundraising reports will not be public until August.

Biden said that he’s known the governor since O’Malley was mayor of Baltimore. “This is a man whose passion for Maryland starts in the gut and moves to the heart,” the vice president told the audience.

The economy and fiscal management was the theme of the day Monday. Hours before Biden arrived in Baltimore, The state Republican party issued a statement calling him “the Administration’s chiefspokesman for the failed stimulus bill” and saying that the legislation had failed to create as many positions as promised – a subject of continuing debate.

Biden said during his speech that the stimulus plan was always going to be a difficult sell. He pointed to the trillion dollar-plus deficit that the Obama administration inherited and mocked Republicans for calling themselves good fiscal stewards.

“I find it fascinating that our colleagues [in the Republican Party] talk about fiscal restraint,” Biden said. “That is like an arsonist talking about fire safety.” Part of the role of government, he said, is to create an environment where businesses can grow.

Pointing to the 2008 financial crisis, Biden blamed the GOP for lax oversight on Wall Street. “They gave us a Ponzi scheme masquerading as vision,” he said.

The event was spare; food included only a table of hors d’oeuvres and desserts. It was held at a ballroom in the Hilton, a $301 million city-owned hotel O’Malley fought hard to build when he was mayor.

Current Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake also took a dig at the Republican budget management, saying the GOP was “driving our economy into the ditch.”

Biden repeatedly complimented U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who also gave brief remarks. She likened the Maryland Democrats to the NATO alliance. “If you attack one of us, you attack all of us,” she said.

Slots update: State to seek new bidder for Rocky Gap

The state commission that selects the development teams for Maryland's five slot-machine parlors said Monday that it expects this week to release a request for proposals for an available site in Western Maryland.

The developer would be licensed by the end of the year, the slots commission hopes, and could quickly begin building a 1,500-terminal facility at Rocky Gap State Park in Allegany County.

No one put forward a complete application during the first round of slots licensing almost two years ago. This year, the Maryland General Assembly reduced the tax rate for only Rocky Gap in hopes of attracting a bidder.

To speed the selection process, slots commission chairman Donald C. Fry said interested parties would have to submit a $100,000 deposit and background information on the development team members 45 days before the RFP due date in early November.

Other slots issues dicussed at the commission meeting Monday included the failed bid for a slots emporium near the sports stadiums in Baltimore. In December, the slots commission rejected a bid by the Baltimore City Entertainment Group because it had failed to meet deadlines for submitting plans and licensing payments.

BCEG, which included former Maryland Democratic Party chairman Michael Cryor, Canadian homebuilder Michael Moldenhauer and several local developers, has appealed the rejection, and the board of contract appeals will consider the case over at least four days at the end of September.

The lottery commission, which oversees the vetting of slots developers, also said BCEG owes more than $200,000 in fees for the background investigation, Fry said.

Fry said the slots commission must weigh the potential "chilling effect" BCEG's appeal before putting together a new request for proposals for the 3,750-terminal facility, which would be one of the biggest and most lucrative in the state.

The other large slots development, a 4,750-machine emporium near Arundel Mills Mall, is tangled in court proceedings.

Fry said the state's first slots project, Hollywood Casino in Cecil County, is on track to open this fall. The slots commission will tour the 1,500-machine building at the end of September. An invitation-only slots demonstration will be held Sept. 25.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:10 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Slots
        

Eastern Shore gets new delegate as widow sworn in

Del. Carolyn J. Elmore was sworn in at noon today, taking the seat held for seven years by her husband D. Page Elmore, who died in June of cancer.

Carolyn Elmore, a Republican and longtime educator, will represent parts of Somerset and Wicomico counties until the new crop of 188 lawmakers takes over in January. Elmore is not running for the seat.

After Speaker Michael E. Busch administered the oath of office on the House floor, Elmore posed for photographs with friends and new colleagues and stood by her husband's desk, which was adorned with a single white rose.

Elmore said it was her husband's wish that she fill the seat in the interim between his death and the 2011 legislative session.

"I want to honor him and continue his good works on the Eastern Shore," she said. "This also helps my family make the transition, too."

The Wicomico and Somerset County Republican Central Committees submitted her name to Gov. Martin O'Malley earlier this month.

She said her appointment is also a point of fairness; this way, none of the four Republicans who have filed to run gets the advantage of holding the office. A Democrat also is running for the seat, in District 38A.

Carolyn Elmore is retired from the Wicomico County School System, according to a biography released by Busch's office. Her most recent position was director of curriculum and professional development.

"Dr. Elmore is active with Salisbury University, including serving on the Advisory Board for the University’s Eastern Shore Institute for the Advancement of Thinking and on the Salisbury University Foundation Board," the release states.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:15 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

Poll feud has Maryland ties

Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley pans the onslaught of automated survey in the Maryland governor's race as "Republican robo-polls." Republicans have a skeptical view of a Democratic automated pollster. And political analysts have only haltingly begun using such pollsters in their reports, calling the work dubious at best.

In short, there's not a lot of love for automated polls, although as The Sun reported this morning, we'll be seeing lots of them this year.

But it's worth noting that the most explosive polling controversy of the moment does not involve a fly-by-night "robo-poll" operation. Or any automated pollster. Rather, at the center is a traditional live-interview firm with a 10-year history, an experienced pollster and, until recently, a solid reputatation.

Research 2000 -- based in Olney, Md. -- seems to have closed up shop amid an embarassing feud with the liberal web site, Daily Kos. Late last month, the web site's founder, Markos Moulitsas, said three independent analysts had found that R2K's Daily Kos surveys for the past year and a half were "likely bunk."

The web site filed a lawsuit against the polling firm July 1 in California. The allegations of fraud cover only R2K's weekly surveys for the web site, not its horserace or other polls. Still, Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent predicted that the lawsuit will give us an "unprecedented look at the inside of a professional polling operation."

Research 2000 founder Del Ali at first defended his firm but now appears to have closed up shop, redirecting his company web site to a Wikipedia entry on opinion polls.

Poll-watchers Mark Blumenthal at pollster.com and Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com have written extensively about the controversy.

The lesson: it's probably wise to view polls -- all polls -- with a skeptical eye. As a favorite political mantra goes, the only poll that really matters is what voters decide on Election Day.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010, Horserace
        

Schmoke campaign manager defending Jessamy

Over the Baltimore Crime Beat blog, Baltimore Sun colleague Justin Fenton tracks down the sender of an unsigned e-mail written in support of Baltimore City State's Attorney Paticia C. Jessamy:

The first line read, "Jessamy: Tough and Smart on Crime," (her campaign slogan) and it proceeded to explain that since Jessamy took office in 1995, crime had declined substantially. It didn't say whether Jessamy was taking credit for this decline, nor did it draw any parallels between prosecutions and crime rate. There was no contact information.

In an attempt to discern the sender's identity, I wrote back. It turned out it was from none other than Larry S. Gibson, an old hand in politics once described as the "man behind [former mayor] Kurt Schmoke" and a political "kingmaker" in the city. Though the statistics and exact wording of the email appear on the front page of Jessamy's election web site, Gibson said he had prepared the email as a private citizen because it was important that the "public know the truth," calling Democratic primary challenger Gregg Bernstein "dishonest."

Gibson said he has had almost no involvement in local politics since 1999 (he ran former state's attorney Stuart Simms' failed bid for Attorney General in 2006), but wants to get involved with the Jessamy campaign. "I intend to do what I can to re-elect Patricia Jessamy," he wrote in a reply email.

Among the stats highlighted is the 80 percent decline in rapes, which victim's advocates say "doesn't make sense on any planet" as a team of detectives audits police investigations.

It's an interesting strategy, to be highlighting police statistics as she is criticized over conviction rates, which she has called an "old school" way of measuring effectiveness. The police, among Jessamy's biggest critics, would say they achieved those declines in spite of her office, not because of it. But it's not the first time Jessamy has made the claim, telling The Sun's Julie Bykowicz in May: "I tell everyone ... crime has been going down since 1995, and the only consistent thing there has been me."

Read more on Patricia C. Jessamy and Larry S. Gibson at Baltimore Crime Beat.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 10:35 AM | | Comments (7)
        

July 16, 2010

Michelle Obama coming to Camden Yards

First Lady Michelle Obama will appear at Camden Yards with members of the Orioles next week to promote her campaign to combat childhood obesity, the White House announced Friday.

Orioles Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Will Ohman, Lou Montanez and Corey Patterson and visiting Tampa Bay Rays Carl Crawford, David Price, James Shields, B.J. Upton will be joined by officials from Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association for the announcement Tuesday of a joint initiative between Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign and Major League Baseball.

Obama started Let’s Move! with the goal of “solving the challenge of childhood obesity” within a generation so the children of today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight. President Barack Obama has created a Task Force on Childhood Obesity to review programs and policies relating to child nutrition and physical activity and to develop a national action plan.

After a press conference Tuesday morning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the players will conduct a baseball clinic on the field for 50 young players from the local Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) leagues and Boys & Girls Clubs.

Obama is scheduled to throw out the first pitch before the O’s-Rays game that night. The Orioles are encouraging fans to arrive earlier than normal due to heightened security measures.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:01 PM | | Comments (16)
        

Auditors: Center must return $79,800 to state

A state home for intellectually disabled adults improperly kept nearly $80,000 that it should have returned to the state general fund at the end of fiscal year 2009, the Office of Legislative Audits reported Friday.

The state Department of Mental Health and Human Hygiene, which operates the Potomac Center in Hagerstown, has agreed to return the $79,800 to the general fund, according to a letter signed by Secretary John M. Colmers and included in the OLA report.

Auditors for OLA, an agency of Department of Legislative Services, found that the Potomac Center did not have adequate records to susbtantiate general fund expenditures it had accrued on June 30,2009, the last day of the fiscal year.

Under the comptroller’s State Policy on Accounts Payable, Accrued Expenditures and Encumbrances, expenditures should be accrued only when goods or services have been received before the end of the fiscal year but not paid. State law requires that any funds remaining at the end of the fiscal year be reverted to the state’s general fund.

The auditors said the Potomac Center is responsible for establishing and maintaining effective internal control of financial records, but acknowledged that errors or fraud might still occur and not be detected.

They said their audit “did not disclose any conditions that we consider to be significant deficiencies in the design or operation of internal control that could adversely affect the Center’s ability to maintain reliable financial records, operate effectively and efficiently, and/or complyu with applicable laws, rules, and regulations.”

The Potomac Center is licensed to house up to 63 adults. According to its website, it is an intermediate care facility for individuals with intellectual disability that “provides individuals admitted there with the appropriate service consistent with the individual's welfare, safety and plan of habilitation.” Its actual average daily population duing fiscal year 2009 was 52 residents.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Administration, Money and Business
        

AFL-CIO backs Conti for Arundel exec

One of the region’s largest labor unions has endorsed the Democratic candidate for Anne Arundel County executive.

The Metropolitan Baltimore Council AFL-CIO announced its endorsement of businesswoman Joanna Conti Thursday night, according to a press release from the Conti campaign.

Read our print story on other metropolitan council endorsements.

“Joanna’s background and her clear vision for the future of Anne Arundel County makes her exactly the kind of candidate we look to support,” said executive board member Tim Goins, who is also the executive vice president of UFCW Local 27. “Our local unions look forward to working with her candidacy and with her as the next county executive.”

Conti, who has started and run businesses in five industries, is challenging Republican County Executive John R. Leopold this fall.

A spokesman for Leopold declined to comment.

“As a businesswoman, I recognize the importance of working collaboratively with our labor unions,” said Conti. “And I look forward to a constant dialogue and positive relationship with our employee groups as the next county executive.

Mike Souder, Conti’s campaign manager, said Conti shares “worker’s values and leads with character and integrity.”

-Nicole Fuller

Posted by Andy Rosen at 3:04 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: In The Counties
        

BaltCo citizen sign complaints skew toward Ehrlich

One Baltimore County supporter of Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for governor has filed a federal lawsuit over his right to display a political sign, and others complain that the Democratic county administration seems more vigilant about enforcing the rules on Ehrlich signs than those for his likely November opponent, Democrat Gov. Martin O'Malley. So what do the records show?

A check of the political signs complaint files kept at the county’s Department of Permits and Development Management shows a great preponderance of Ehrlich over O'Malley, but department chief Timothy M. Kotroco says that's a reflection of who is making the complaints to his department. He said sign code enforcement is driven strictly by complaints.

It's early yet, but as of last Friday, 19 files had been opened on complaints about political signs. Of those files, 15 involved Ehrlich signs, one involved a combination sign for Republican District 6 County Council candidate Ryan Nawrocki and Ehrlich, one concerned an O'Malley sign and in two cases the content of the sign could not be determined from the file.

The 15 Ehrlich sign complaints mostly claimed that the signs were too large for the zone where they were being displayed. Depending on the zone and the type of property, county rules may limit political signs to 8 square feet in residential areas. In business areas, such signs can be up to 50 square feet.

In five cases, the county found no violation. One case was dismissed for lack of grounds, as the inspector wrote on the "correction notice" — the first step in enforcing the rules — that the sign was not legal because the candidate had not yet officially filed his candidacy with the Maryland Board of Elections. There is no such law in the Baltimore County Zoning Regulations on signs. That left nine cases yet to be decided on Ehrlich signs.

No decision about enforcement had been made on the O'Malley sign, which was displayed on North Point Boulevard.

And because of that federal suit filed by Stephen V. Kolbe in May, no further enforcement will happen until the court has ruled on the case, says Kotroco. He says the county will continue to take complaints about political signs, so long as the complainant gives their name and phone number, and will issue a "correction notice" advising of a potential violation. But unless there's a potential safety question, such as a sign blocking drivers' views of the road, he said the county will take no further steps, even if the sign is not removed.

He said the county is waiting for the U.S. District Court. Personally, Kotroco said he's eagerly waiting for the passing of the whole political sign season.

-Arthur Hirsch

Posted by Andy Rosen at 1:29 PM | | Comments (15)
Categories: In The Counties
        

Mikulski campaign a consultant's dream

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's re-election campaigns have been bonanzas for political consultants, and this year's edition is proving to be no exception.

The veteran Democrat never figured to attract a formidable challenger--and she didn't--but she's continued to raise and spend campaign money at a healthy clip.

In the second quarter of this year, she dropped nearly a quarter of a million bucks on a handful of consultants. (Note: An earlier version of this post erroneously confused Ann Lewis, a former Mikulski aide who did not receive a payment from the campaign, with Anne Lewis, who got $22,000 for media consulting).

Mikulski spent more than $105,000 just on direct mail, according to her latest financial disclosure report, filed this week with the Federal Election Commission.

Top-flight DC-based mail consultants Hal Malchow and Rich Schlackman's firm got more than $102,000 of that sum.

Fundraising consultants sopped up another $66,688, including Colleen Martin-Lauer of Baltimore, who received $22,145.

Taking nothing for granted, Mikulski paid $35,000 to the firm headed by Democratic pollsters Geoffrey Garin, Peter D. Hart and Frederick Yang for an in-depth fix on the pulse of the Maryland electorate.

By contrast, Eric Wargotz, a wealthy physician and the Republican Party's likely cannon fodder against Mikulski in the fall, loaned his campaign a half-million dollars and has been spending money faster than he's taking in. His total expenditures for the second quarter fell short of the amount that Mikulski spent on direct mail alone.

Again, these figures are just for the three-month period between April 1 and June 30.

To date, Mikulski has spent almost $2 million, has about $3 million left in the bank and is continuing to collect contributions. That should provide many more happy paydays for her consultants over the final five months of the campaign.

Posted by Paul West at 12:15 PM | | Comments (16)
        

Marylanders give Steele 19 percent approval rating

Only one in five Maryland voters has a favorable opinion of Michael S. Steele, the former lieutenant governor who now chairs the Republican National Committee, according to a survey released this week by Public Policy Polling.

More than half, meanwhile, have an unfavorable opinion of Steele, and he would lose a hypothetical rematch of his 2006 Senate race with Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin by 30 percentage points, according to the survey. Based in Raleigh, N.C., Public Policy Polling is headed by Democratic pollster Dean Debnam.

Opposition to Steele is particularly strong among fellow African-Americans, the demographic he was supposed to help attract to the Republican Party. Just 6 percent have a favorable opinion of him; 73 percent have an unfavorable opinion. In a rematch of the Senate race, African-Americans would vote for Cardin by an 89-3 margin.

The telephone survey of 569 Maryland voters was conducted July 10-12, before Steele issued his statement Wednesday defending Tea Party activists from accusations of tolerating racism but after his comments about President Barack Obama and the war in Afghanistan.

Those comments, in which Steele described the eight-year-old war as “a war of Obama’s choosing” and said it was not “something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in,” led to calls from the conservative Weekly Standard and on redstate.org for his resignation as RNC chairman.

Steele is most popular among Republicans: 42 percent have favorable opinions of him; 31 percent view have unfavorable opinions. The splits are 17/53 among independents and 8/68 among Democrats.

Forty-two percent of voters approve of Cardin’s job performance, while 28 percent disapprove, according to the poll. Fifty-one percent would vote to reelect him in 2012, while 33 percent would support a Republican opponent.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (14)
        

July 15, 2010

Obama, health care overhaul popular in Md., not U.S.

Updated, with national poll numbers

Majorities of Maryland voters approve of President Barack Obama's job performance and his health care plan, according to a survey conducted this month by Public Policy Polling.

Obama enjoyed a 56 percent approval rating versus 39 percent disapproval in the telephone poll of 569 Maryland voters from July 10 through 12. Fifty-three percent of Marylanders supported his health care plan, and 39 percent opposed it.

Those numbers stand in contrast to a national poll conducted by the same firm from July 9 through 12, which found 52 percent disapproval for Obama and 53 percent opposition to his health care plan.

Nationally, 45 percent of voters approve of Obama's job performance and 40 percent support his health care plan. Public Policy Polling is headed by Democratic pollster Dean Debnam.

The Maryland survey brought good news for Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, now seeking a fifth term. Fifty-four percent approve of her job performance, against 32 percent who disapprove.

By contrast, the two Republican challengers named by Public Policy Polling remain largely unknown. Only 18 percent of Maryland voters have formed an opinion about Harford County attorney James Rutledge; the opinion of 13 percent is unfavorable.

Just 10 percent have formed an opinion about Queen Anne's County physician Eric Wargotz; the opinion of 9 percent is unfavorable.

If the election were held now, Mikulski would beat Rutledge 58 percent to 30 percent. She would beat Wargotz 59 percent to 27 percent.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:00 PM | | Comments (27)
        

O'Malley calls Ariz. law expensive, problematic

In his most extensive comments yet on a debate that is emerging as a campaign issue nationally, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley predicted Thursday that Arizona’s controversial new immigration law would be “problematic” and costly.

“I believe this law is problematic in the long term, especially as it will inevitably be applied,” O'Malley told Washington radio station WTOP.

The Arizona law, which takes effect this month, requires police in that border state to determine the immigration status of a suspect they have stopped for any reason if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that the individual is in the country illegally.

Polls indicate the law is popular both in Maryland and nationwide. Supporters describe it as a necessary response to the failure of the federal government to secure the borders

Critics say the law will lead to racial profiling. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit last week seeking to stop Arizona from enforcing it.

O'Malley said border protection was the responsibility of the federal government, not the states.

“We cannot substitute for a lack of federal enforcement by turning all municipal, county and state police into a giant immigration service, nor do we have the money to create large detention camps to hold people until they can prove their citizenship,” he said.

Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., O'Malley's likely opponent this fall, expressed support this week for the Arizona law.

“It's no surprise, but I oppose what the Justice Department has done,” Ehrlich said. He said the “wholesale failure of federal policy” gave state leaders the right to try to address immigration on their own.

O'Malley has offered mild support for the federal lawsuit, saying President Barack Obama is taking a “principled stand.” He reiterated that position on the radio show.

But at a National Governors Association conference last weekend in Boston, O'Malley was among the elected officials apprehensive about the lawsuit, according to the New York Times. The Times said several Democratic governors were concerned about the timing of the lawsuit during what is already expected to be a difficult election cycle for their party.

O'Malley and six other Democratic governors are seeking reelection this fall.

O'Malley told WTOP’s Mark Segraves that he had expressed concerns privately at the governors meeting that debating immigration moves the discussion away from the subject voters want to talk about: creating and saving jobs.

“Any issue that does not address that concern distracts us from what people want us to be working on,” he told Segraves, characterizing his concerns.

O'Malley said that Maryland's policy had been to have federal immigration authorities work with local police departments “from time to time.”

“I believe that the Arizona policy is much more of a blanket approach that leads our country down a path of requiring people to carry citizenship papers or face an indeterminate amount of detention before any sort of trial,” O'Malley said.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:20 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Immigration, People
        

O’Malley: Anti-Ehrlich claim a 'tactical' error

Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley backed away Thursday from an effort in one of his radio advertisements to link former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The spot, which began airing on local radio last month, features a narrator reading key facts about the gusher, and then names oil companies represented by Ehrlich’s law firm. It also included a clip of Ehrlich saying “Drill, Baby, Drill,” without providing the context: He was quoting former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, not necessarily endorsing the position himself.

The Erhlich campaign responded with indignation, accusing O’Malley of taking advantage of a tragedy with dishonest claims.

O’Malley, appearing Thursday on WTOP radio, expressed ambivalence about the advertisement.

“What we should not have mentioned was the fact that the oil spill is going on in that ad, and that was a tactical mistake that my campaign made,” he said.

After the appearance, O’Malley campaign spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said the governor “stands by the facts in the ad.” He added, “It is an ad that used a current event to highlight Ehrlich’s record on the issue.”

Democrats and Republicans around the country are using the spill in campaigns. The O’Malley radio spot was criticized on the editorial pages of The Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post.

In a statement Thursday, the Ehrlich campaign said “dishonest attack ads” are the “least important” of O’Malley’s errors.

O'Malley continues to characterize his opponent as a lobbyist, saying that Ehrlich's role at Womble Carlyle as a government affairs specialist is a fancy way of saying influence peddling and that Ehrlich's failure to register with the state shows merely that he is being disingenuous about his work.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:51 PM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Maryland keeps triple-A bond rating, but ...

The three top rating agencies affirmed Maryland’s long held AAA bond status for an upcoming sale, though Moody’s, which is widely viewed as the most reliable of the three, had terse words for the state’s fiscal leaders.

Moody's analysts called the state’s depleted retirement system a “credit challenge.” The $33 billion system has 65 percent of the funds needed to meet future obligations, and the analysts concerns echo a sentiment raised in February by The Pew Center on the States. (See Jay Hancock story on the Pew report after the jump.)

Moody’s ominously pointed out that Maryland’s retirement system is funded at “a lower level than most similarly rated states.” Moody’s noticed that a proposal to ease the state’s teacher pension burden failed in the General Assembly this year. That idea terrified the cash poor counties because they would have had to pick up some millions in costs.

The rating agency also noted what they called the state’s “high” debt levels – a theme that former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich is likely to hit in his bid to recapture his old job. Maryland has the 14th highest per capita debt, according to Moody’s. But the debt is still within state-set guidelines and Maryland’s law requires paying outstanding bonds in 15 years, a snappier pace than most states.

Pensions: Pay now or pay dearly later on
Date: Sunday, February 21, 2010
Section: BUSINESS
Edition: Final
Page: 1C
Byline: Jay Hancock

New research ranks Maryland among the lowest in the nation in its ability to meet future pension obligations to state employees and teachers.

In a study that came out last week, the Pew Center on the States called out Maryland and seven other states for "having failed to make any meaningful progress toward adequately funding their pension obligations" in recent years.It's not a disaster for retirees, state employees or taxpayers - yet. Maryland's pension fund had $33 billion in investments at the end of the year - enough to cover obligations for decades.

But the Pew report is another dire warning about the unsustainable path of government spending and the dangers of putting off hard decisions. You could make the same point about Medicare or Social Security.

Politically expedient decisions from years ago have come back to challenge us. The longer we wait to correct them, the worse the pain will be.

"State policymakers can't continue to kick the can down the road," said Kil Huh, director of research for the Pew Center. "It's like credit card debt. You keep putting purchases on it while ignoring the payments - all of the sudden, you have an unmanageable level of debt on your card."

Maryland's fund is billions of dollars below what it needs to meet promises for future retirees - not just because of recent financial market declines but also because Annapolis cut annual contributions to the fund, starting under Gov. Parris N. Glendening in 2003. Then benefits were increased under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in 2006.

In 2008, the year for which Pew collected data, Maryland had saved enough to finance only 78 percent of its future obligations - coming up short by about $10.9 billion. The situation has gotten worse since then, thanks to the stock market crash. Only 65 percent of future benefits were funded as of June, although the number, if calculated, would probably be higher now thanks to the market's recovery.

True, Maryland isn't as poorly off as Illinois, which had funded a miserable 54 percent of its future obligations as of 2008, according to Pew.

But like Illinois and a few other states given low scores by Pew, Maryland for years has been contributing less than what experts say is needed to keep promises to retirees.

"This score is attributable to the fact that since 2002 the state has not paid the actuarially required contribution into the system's trust fund," says R. Dean Kenderdine, executive director of the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System.

Widely accepted accounting rules say Maryland should have put in almost $1 billion more into the system during the past decade than it did.

But under Democrat Glendening, the state adopted squishy, alternative rules - the "corridor method" - that allowed lower contributions. The old rules would have ensured that Maryland's current funding gap would be much lower. So would future pressure to raise taxes or cut benefits.

The decision under Ehrlich, a Republican, to increase pension benefits, at a cost of about $100 million a year, hasn't helped. And the dollar amount of unfunded pension liabilities is almost certainly larger today, thanks to continued meager contributions and declines in the retirement system's investments.

(Important aside: This discussion refers only to Maryland's pension system. As scary as that problem is, it's exceeded by what Maryland taxpayers owe to finance the expensive health care plan for state retirees. As I wrote in December, unfunded liabilities for retiree health benefits are a staggering $16 billion.)

Leaders ought to be accountable for decisions even after they leave office, so I called Glendening, now head of the Smart Growth Leadership Institute. He doesn't remember the switch to the more lenient method of calculating annual contributions, he said.

Frederick W. Puddester, Glendening's budget chief, now working for Johns Hopkins Medicine, played down the change.

"The real answer" as to why the pension fund is short-changed, he said, "is the stock market collapsed."

Under some circumstances, he said, the new method of calculating pension contributions could have required greater annual payments to the retirement system, not lower.

Maybe, but that's not what happened. In reality, the switch gave Glendening and subsequent governors hundreds of millions of extra dollars to spend during their terms while leaving the tab to their successors.

An Ehrlich spokesman said the former governor was unavailable before my deadline to discuss pensions. A spokesman for Gov. Martin O'Malley says the governor wants to address both pension and retiree health care liabilities next year in "a comprehensive solution." Meaning after the November gubernatorial election.

Let's hope that he means it, or that whoever wins has the guts to fix the pension pickle. Maryland needs to mimic Minnesota, which raised the retirement age from 65 to 66 and saved tens of millions in pension costs. Or Georgia, which reduced guaranteed pension benefits for future employees and replaced them with a savings plan similar to the 401(k) accounts that private companies provide.

Political expediency got us into the this terrible position. More political expediency - putting off the tough decisions another few years - would make it much worse.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 8:27 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Tax & Spend
        

Don't count on Palin campaigning for Ehrlich

Sarah PalinThough tight races frequently draw political stars, gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said it is unlikely that a cast of national characters like Sarah Palin will parade through Maryland stumping for him.

“We don’t need big names to come in,” Ehrlich said Wednesday, noting that as a former governor most voters already know who he is. “We really haven’t used that as a model.”

In general, he said the long speeches and crowded rallies designed to showcase the stars can be unpleasant.  “You can’t hear. People get bored and they leave,” he said. The typical star-laden fundraiser will include an hour or more of speeches by lesser pols before the main event.

Also a large personality like Palin can eclipse the campaign. "Our message is jobs and jobs and jobs and taxes and fiscal realities and jobs. And education and jobs."

Ehrlich said he prefers more intimate fundraising events known as house parties – small gatherings at a donor’s private residence. Also he said he’s expecting a check from the Republican Governor’s Association – but it hasn’t arrived.

One exception, he said, could be for former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whom Ehrlich counts as a personal friend.

The Maryland state Republicans have already attracted potential 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the Democrats are promising Vice President Joe Biden will stump for Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 7:17 AM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

July 14, 2010

BaltCo: Gardina gives Kamenetz East Side boost

Baltimore County Council member Kevin Kamenetz, whose base of support for his campaign for county executive resides on his home west side of the county, has just picked up his second endorsement in the east side stronghold of his chief opponent, council member Joseph Bartenfelder, as councilman Vincent J. Gardina announced his support on Wednesday.

Gardina, who has represented the area from Towson to Essex for 20 years in District 5, joins John Olszewski of the southeastern District 7, who endorsed Kamenetz weeks ago. Kamenetz, of Owings Mills, represents District 2, on the west side.

The longest serving member of the council, Gardina said in an interview that he's been acting as a campaign adviser to Kamenetz, and admires his colleague's ability to make decisions and offer innovative approaches to county problems.

"I like both candidates, I like both of them as people," said Gardina. "Only Kevin I think is capable of leading the county."

Gardina said the county is going to continue to face difficult economic straits, and "that requires tough decisions that you can't waffle on...You need someone who acts on the facts presented to him, not how the political winds are blowing."

A former county police officer, Gardina said he was particularly impressed with Kamenetz's proposal to have county shopping centers with 15 stores or more install security cameras after a longtime teacher and dean at St. Paul's School was murdered at the Towson Town Center garage in 2005.

"The police department is telling us that reduced crime in shopping centers 31 percent," Gardina said, adding that Kamenetz's bill was opposed by some shopping center owners because of the cost of complying with the law. "That's true leadership. I don't see that in other candidates for this office."

Bartenfelder and Kamenetz, both on the council since 1994, will appear on the Democratic primary ballot with Ron Harvey, who filed as a candidate on the deadline day, July 6. Kenneth Holt is the only candidate for the Republican nomination.

-- Arthur Hirsch

Posted by Andy Rosen at 6:40 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: In The Counties
        

Steele defends Tea Party from racism charge

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele is defending the Tea Party movement from accusations of racism.

Delegates to the annual convention of the NAACP this week accused Tea Party activists of tolerating bigotry and approved a resolution condemning extremism within the movement.

"We felt the time had come to stand up and say, 'It's time for the tea party to be responsible members of this democracy and make sure they don't tolerate bigots or bigotry among their members,'" Ben Jealous, president of the Baltimore-based organization, said before the debate, according to the Associated Press.

"We don't have a problem with the tea party's existence,” Jealous said. “We have an issue with their acceptance and welcoming of white supremacists into their organizations."

Steele, the first African-American to head the Republican National Committee, issued a statement Wednesday about what he described as “recent statements claiming the Tea Party movement is racist.” He said such statements “are not only destructive, they are not true.”

“Tea Party activists are your mom or dad, your local grocer, banker, hairdresser or doctor,” the former lieutenant governor of Maryland said in statement. “They are a diverse group of passionate Americans who want to ensure that our nation returns to founding principles that honor the Constitution, limit government’s role in our lives, and support policies that empower free markets and free enterprise. Enough with the name-calling.”

The NAACP, in a story on its website, says the resolution does not condemn the entire Tea Party movement as racist. As presented to delegates meeting in Kansas City, the resolution called for the NAACP to "educate its membership and the community that this movement is not just about higher taxes and limited government," according to the AP.

The resolution suggested that something could evolve "and become more dangerous for that small percentage of people that really think our country has been taken away from them."

It was not clear whether the original resolution was amended during the debate, which took place mostly behind closed doors. To become NAACP policy, it must be approved by the organization’s national board of directors, which is scheduled to consider it in October.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:33 PM | | Comments (40)
        

BaltCo: Building trades union supports Bartenfelder

Baltimore County executive candidate Joseph Bartenfelder can make another entry to his list of labor endorsements, as the Baltimore Building & Construction Trades Council -- an organization of 15 locals -- announced its support on Wednesday.

Leonard "Bud" Schuler, vice president of the group that includes the Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 486, the Painters District Council 51 and the Teamsters Local 311, said the 15-member executive board's vote was based largely on the experience of working with Bartenfelder during his 16 years on the County Council, and before that when he served in the Maryland House of Delegates.

"Nothing against Kevin," said Schuler, referring to Bartenfelder's chief opponent for the Democratic nomination, fellow council member Kevin Kamenetz, "but Joe has been our go-to guy since he's been in the General Assembly."

He could not specify anything Bartenfelder had done to support organized labor, but he described Bartenfelder — whose family runs a farm in Fullerton — as a "middle of the road type of politician. He respects business and labor."

Bartenfelder and Kamenetz, both on the council since 1994, will appear on the Democratic primary ballot with Ron Harvey, who filed as a candidate on the deadline day, July 6. Kenneth Holt is the only candidate for the Republican nomination.

Check out our print story about Bartenfelder's labor endorsements.

Bartenfelder has compiled several union endorsements in the last few weeks, including the Baltimore County Professional Firefighters Association, the Maryland State United Auto Workers and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27. Kamenetz has been endorsed by the Teachers Association of Baltimore County and the Laborers International Union of North America.

Significant labor endorsements yet to come are the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, which may not be announced until late this month or next, and the Metropolitan Baltimore Council AFL-CIO, an organization of more than 180 locals, which is expected to announce Thursday night. All 15 locals in the Baltimore Building & Construction Trades Council are affiliated with the Metropolitan Baltimore Council.

Neither Holt nor Harvey has any announced organized labor endorsements so far.

-Arthur Hirsch

Posted by Andy Rosen at 2:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: In The Counties
        

Kratovil edges Harris in Q2 funding, pads cash lead

Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil raised $390,413 and boosted his money advantage over his likely Republican opponent during the three-month period ending June 30, his campaign announced Wednesday afternoon.

Kratovil's haul slightly exceeded that of Republican state Sen. Andy Harris, who said a day earlier that he collected $371,323 in the same period. But cash-on-hand figures released by both camps showed the Democrat pulling away from the challenger he narrowly defeated in 2008.

Kratovil and Harris are expected to face each other in Maryland's most competitive congressional election this fall.

Some analysts regard Kratovil, a freshman, as the underdog in the conservative First District, which takes in portions of Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties, plus the entire Eastern Shore.

Both campaigns are required to file their quarterly reports with the Federal Election Commission by Thursday.

Harris reported a cash balance of $896,742 as of June 30, an improvement over the previous quarter.

Kratovil's cash-on-hand figure was $1,325,058, his campaign said.

Apparently, the Democrat has been more conservative with his campaign money. He now holds a $428,000 cash edge over Harris, up from $291,000 three months earlier, when Harris had succeeded in narrowing the gap.

"Momentum is continuing to build behind Frank's campaign, and these fundraising numbers mean that he will have the resources needed to continue to promote his message," Kratovil campaign manager Jessica Klonsky said in a statement.

(Posted by Paul West)

Posted by Andy Green at 12:38 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Hillary Clinton working to free Md. man held in Cuba

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is urging Jewish groups to help persuade Cuba to free a Maryland man detained on the communist island for seven months without charge.

The Associated Press reports that Clinton told representatives of the American Jewish community on Tuesday that they should add their voices to calls for Cuba to release Alan P. Gross, a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development contractor who officials say was helping members of Cuba's small Jewish community use the Internet to stay in contact with each other and with similar groups abroad. Gross lives in Potomac.

"Alan was providing information and technology that would assist this community to be better connected," Clinton said at a State Department reception in honor of Hannah Rosenthal, the Obama administration's special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, the AP reports. Gross' wife, Judy, also attended the event.

"Our government works every single day through every channel for his release and safe return home," Clinton said. "But I am really making an appeal to the active Jewish community here in our country to join this cause ... because this family deserves to be reunited and each and every one of us should do everything we can to make it clear to the Cuban government that Alan Gross needs to come home."

Gross was working in Cuba for a firm contracted by USAID when he was arrested as a suspected spy in Havana on Dec. 3, the AP reports.

He has been held without charge in the capital's high-security Villa Marista prison since. The U.S. says Gross committed no crime and has repeatedly appealed for his release on humanitarian grounds. In May, the head of Cuba's high court said prosecutors had yet to open a legal case against him. Formal charges can't be filed in Cuba without a judicial accusation and the opening of a case, so it appears unlikely charges against Gross are imminent.

Judy Gross has said her husband had brought communications equipment intended only for humanitarian purposes and not for political use by Cuba's small dissident community. Satellite phones and other telecommunications materials are outlawed in Cuba.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 10:00 AM | | Comments (0)
        

July 13, 2010

District Dem slate backs Almond for Kamenetz's seat

Longtime Baltimore County community activist and County Council candidate Vicki Almond got a boost Tuesday in her first run for elected office, as she was endorsed by a foursome of Democratic state legislators running as a District 11 slate: Sen. Bobby Zirkin and Dels. Jon Cardin, Dan Morhaim and Dana Stein.

"She's been working with us for so long," Zirkin said in an interview. "She's been added to our slate and we're putting all our resources behind it."

Zirkin gave Almond -- who is running for the District 2 council seat being vacated by Kevin Kamenetz, a candidate for county executive -- credit for years of work with community organizations in the northwest part of the county, including the Parent-Teachers Association, the Reisterstown/Owings Mills/Glyndon Coordinating Council, the Rosewood Advisory Council and the Police Community Relations Council.

"She's been a part of our team forever," said Zirkin.

Almond is one of six Democrats seeking the nomination in District 2. The others are Sherrie Becker, Albert M. Harris, Theodore Levin, Timmy Ruppersberger (cousin of U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger) and Alan P. Zukerberg. There are no Republican candidates.

-- Arthur Hirsch

Posted by Andy Rosen at 7:46 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: In The Counties
        

Harris has nearly $900,000 in 1st District race

State Sen. Andrew Harris is reporting that he has raised about $371,000 in the past three months in his race for Maryland's 1st District congressional seat, according to the Associated Press.

Anna Nix, Harris' campaign spokeswoman, said Tuesday that Harris has raised about $1.5 million so far in this election cycle. Nix says Harris has about $896,700 cash on hand.

Congressional candidates are required to file fundraising reports for the second quarter on Thursday. Nix says Harris is making his filing on Wednesday.

Harris is seeking the Republican nomination to run against Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil, who defeated Harris in a close race two years ago. Kratovil is considered one of the most endangered Democrats in Congress.

-- The Associated Press and David Nitkin

Posted by David Nitkin at 7:09 PM | | Comments (4)
        

Mikulski has 25-point lead over next challenger

Speaking of polls, a new survey by Rasmussen Reports indicates Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski appears to have little to worry about at this stage of her bid for a fifth term.

The telephone poll of 500 likely voters in Maryland conducted July 8 showed Mikulski with a 25 point lead over Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Eric Wargotz, perhaps her best-known Republican challenger. Fifty-eight percent planned to vote for Mikulski, 33 percent for Wargotz and 2 percent for some other candidate. Seven percent were undecided.

The margin is similar to that in February, Rasmussen’s only previous report on the Maryland Senate race, when Mikulski had a 54-33 advantage over a generic Republican candidate.

To go with the solid support of the state’s Democratic majority, Mikulski enjoys a 53-28 edge among voters not affiliated with either major party, according to the July survey.

Other findings from Rasmussen, which reported Monday that the race between Repubilcan former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley is a statistical dead heat:

Forty-four percent of Maryland voters rate the economy as bad, and 42 percent say it is getting worse. Eleven percent view the economy as good, and 35 percent say it is getting better. The responses are slightly more positive than the national view.

Forty-two percent of Maryland voters believe the $787 billion economic stimulus plan helped the economy, 13 points higher than the national view. But only 32% say the government spending in the stimulus plan created new jobs. Forty-eight percent say it did not. Twenty-eight percent say the plan hurt the economy.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:14 PM | | Comments (14)
        

Bartenfelder gets two more union nods for BaltCo exec

This post has been updated to reflect a new endorsement from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 37

Days before their umbrella labor organization is due to announce its endorsement in Baltimore County elections, the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 37 have endorsed Joseph Bartenfelder in his race with fellow County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz for the Democratic nomination for county executive.

The two unions representing about 3,500 workers in Baltimore County have joined several other locals affiliated with the Metropolitan Baltimore Council AFL-CIO in making its endorsement before the council. The organization with some 180 affiliated locals is not expected to announce its choice until Thursday.

Check out our story on how union endorsements may break toward Bartenfelder this week.

This post has been updated to reflect a new endorsement from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 37

Days before their umbrella labor organization is due to announce its endorsement in Baltimore County elections, the Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 37 have endorsed Joseph Bartenfelder in his race with fellow County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz for the Democratic nomination for county executive.

The two unions representing about 3,500 workers in Baltimore County have joined several other locals affiliated with the Metropolitan Baltimore Council AFL-CIO in making its endorsement before the council. The organization with some 180 affiliated locals is not expected to announce its choice until Thursday.

Check out our story on how union endorsements may break toward Bartenfelder this week.

BCFPE President John Ripley said the endorsement was based on interviews with candidates, polling the membership and the records of the candidates.

"Along with his traditional labor-friendly positions, county employees found [Bartenfelder] more approachable," said Ripley, whose union represents about 1,700 employees in 185 different categories, including correctional officers, civilian employees for police, fire and sheriff's departments, code enforcement and animal control officers.

Ripley, a lieutenant at the Baltimore County Detention Center, said, "I've always had Mr. Bartenfelder's personal cell phone number. ... You don't fake that kind of sincerity."

Joe Shanahan, the business manager with the IUOE Local 37 — which represents some 1,800 heavy equipment operators in the county — said in a written release that Bartenfelder "has a longstanding record of respecting the need for apprenticeship programs within Baltimore County," and would work with state government to "increase and maintain jobs."

Bartenfelder has served on the council since 1994 and before that in the Maryland House of Delegates for 12 years.

Bartenfelder, whose family runs a farm in Fullerton, has already been endorsed by several local affiliated with the Metropolitan Baltimore Council AFL-CIO: Baltimore County Professional Firefighters Association, Maryland State United Auto Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers, Plumbers and Steamfitters. Kamenetz has been endorsed by the Laborers International Union of North America, which is also affiliated with the council, and the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, which is not.

The third Democratic candidate, Ron Harvey, who entered the race on the last filing day last week, has no announced labor endorsements. The only Republican in the race, Kenneth Holt, has also received no announced labor endorsements

-Arthur Hirsch

Posted by Andy Rosen at 3:23 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: In The Counties
        

Poll du jour: O'Malley, Ehrlich in statistical tie

Out today is the first Public Policy Polling survey on the Maryland governor's race -- a matchup that seems to be attracting attention from pollsters right and left. The survey of 569 Maryland voters shows Gov. Martin O'Malley leading former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich 45 percent to 42.

With a 4 percentage-point margin of error, they're statistically tied, as other recent polls have shown. Public Policy says the poll shows that Ehrlich is more strongly supported by his Republican party than O'Malley is by his Democrats. From the company's press release:

In the horse race 87% of Republicans support the former Governor while only 66% of Democrats support the current Governor. Republicans are united for Ehrlich and against O’Malley, while the Democrats are more fractured in their support.

In such a close race the undecided voters will play an important role. 12% of Maryland voters have yet to choose sides.

“The race is close. But with the clear support of his Republican base Ehrlich is off to a strong start,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. “Most of the undecided voters are Democrats, gaining their support will be key to O’Malley’s success.”

The survey, an automated poll where the person who answered the phone presses a number to indicate his or her response, was conducted from July 10-12. Public Policy Polling, which is based in Raleigh, N.C., acknowledges that "other factors, such as refusal to be interviewed and weighting, may introduce additional error that is more difficult to quantify."

Asked about the poll, O'Malley campaign spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said, "We know this is going to be a close race." He said the governor is "continuing to focus on moving Maryland forward, making the tough decisions to get us through this recession and create jobs."

Ehrlich spokesman Andy Barth will be getting in touch shortly with a response. Ehrlich spokesman Andy Barth said, "There are a lot of polls between now and November. This one like yesterday's, shows it's a close race. We believe, in the end, more Democrats, Republicans and Independents will be persuaded by Bob Ehrlich's message of more jobs and lower taxes to vote for him."

Yesterday, a Rasmussen Reports poll also had the candidates in a statistical dead heat, with 47 percent of those polled saying they'd choose Ehrlich, and 46 percent picking O'Malley. And, earlier, a Magellan poll showed Ehrlich ahead of O'Malley.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:20 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010, Horserace
        

One last gubernatorial candidate

Libertarian candidate for governor Susan Gaztañaga was busy campaigning last week and couldn’t respond in time for Sun story over the weekend about gubernatorial underdogs.

But she did get back to us. Gaztañaga has a concise three point plan: eliminating the state sales tax; order the Maryland National Guard back to Maryland; and allow anyone without a criminal record to carry a handgun.

Applicants who have a job related reason to carry a gun can get a permit. Otherwise, citizens must show a “good and substantial” fear for their safety to obtain a permit, according to Elena Russo, a Maryland state police spokeswoman. Typically the state police would require documentation of a threat in order to grant such a permit, Russo said.

Like other candidates, Gaztañaga says she’s running to win. Though, with 8,400 registered Libertarians in Maryland, she will need to stay very busy.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:03 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Even in pieces, big Ehrlich sign breaks county rules

ehrlichsign.jpg

You have to give Keith Stouten credit for trying, even if his cutting maneuver with a large Ehrlich for Governor sign may still run afoul of Baltimore County rules.

Last month, the Dundalk man who owns Stouten's Bear Creek Marina received a notice from the county that he had to remove the 4-by-8-foot campaign sign from his front porch on Wise Avenue because it was four times too big for that particular area, where political signs are limited to 8 square feet. He said he did a bit of research and came up with what seemed a solution.

"I thought I'd have some fun with it," said Stouten. "I took a razor knife and cut it into four pieces I knew would be 8 square feet" each.

Then, spacing the four panels a few inches apart, he mounted the sign back on the porch rail, where it once again announced his support for Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who hopes to unseat Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley in November.

That seemed to fix the problem, Stouten said, or at least he never heard anything further from the county. But the county's inspector returned, took a photograph of the altered sign and noted in the case file: "Sign cut into 4 pieces and install(ed) on front porch."

Timothy M. Kotroco, the county's director of Permits and Development Management, said the razor tactic might satisfy the size limit, but it still falls short of another requirement that signs be spaced at least 12 inches apart. That way, it's more clear what is one sign and what is several signs.

Still, Stouten is safe for now from a citation that could mean $200-a-day fines for not removing the sign.

Because another county resident has taken a dispute over his 4-by-8 Ehrlich for Governor sign to U.S. District Court, Kotroco said, the county is pulling back enforcement on political signs. Unless there's a question of public safety — such as a sign blocking a motorist's view of the road ahead — the county will respond to complaints by issuing a notice, but won’t pursue the matter further if a sign is not removed.

"We're not going to be pressing charges pending the outcome at federal court," said Kotroco. He added that he's seen the sign-cutting move before, during one political season or another. Campaigns can never be over soon enough for his taste.

"In our world we look forward to the day when these signs go away," said Kotroco.

-Arthur Hirsch

Posted by Andy Rosen at 10:58 AM | | Comments (24)
Categories: In The Counties
        

July 12, 2010

Labor cheerleads for O'Malley, vows to deliver votes

Union members gathered in front of the State House in Annapolis today to reiterate their support for Gov. Martin O'Malley, saying the Democratic governor has always paid attention to them, unlike his Republican predecessor.

At times forcefully calling out former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the half-dozen labor leaders who spoke vowed to deliver votes for O'Malley this fall. Some unions endorsed O'Malley months ago, so the event served mostly as a rally.   

Joslyn "Josh" Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council of AFL-CIO, called Ehrlich an "interloper who had no right to be there" in the State House.

"Are we going to let our piece of property be taken over?" he asked. "No!" enthusiastic O'Malley supporters replied.

Michael Smith of the National Association of Letter Carriers reminded the crowd that letter carriers grace every doorstep in Maryland and would "deliver for Governor O'Malley."

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown said that under Ehrlich, "working families did not have a seat at the table. They didn't even know the table existed." O'Malley touted his jobs creation, saying the state had outpaced the national rate in each of the past three months.

The labor delivery theme was reinforced by the music played before and after the event. Song choice: "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours." (Michael McDonald version.)

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:40 PM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

GOP consolidating dominance in Harford

Less than two decades ago, Democrats held nearly every elected office in Harford County. How the times have changed: Republicans have long since come to dominate the county; this year, Baltimore Sun colleague Mary Gail Hare writes, Democrats aren't even challenging for many key offices this year.

There is no Democrat is running for county executive or County Council president. The party is challenging for only three of the six council seats up for election. A Republican state senator who was appointed to his seat in 2007, meanwhile, has no challenger in the primary or general election.

"This is the culmination of a trend reflecting the growing weakness of Democrats in Harford County," Avery Ward, dean of behavioral social science at Harford Community College, tells Hare. "Republicans started gaining strength in the 1980s, especially when a lot of young voters joined the party. There also was a strong local leadership building the party. We have seen a striking shift in power over the last 25 years."

Read Republicans solidifying dominance in Harford at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:03 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Poll: Slight gain for Ehrlich in neck-and-neck race

The latest Rasmussen Reports survey in the Maryland governor's race is out on Monday, and shows Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in a statistical tie with Democratic incumbent Martin O'Malley. The survey of 500 "likely voters" shows Ehrlich ahead of O'Malley, 47 percent to 46 percent. With a 4.5 percentage point margin of error, the results mean that the two candidates remain in a statistical dead heat.

Rasmussen Reports polling -- conducted through automated telephone questionnaires -- tends to favor Republican candidates, longtime pollsters agree.

According to the Rasmussen analysis:

"As expected, the rematch of the 2006 race has been close from the start and has been getting even closer as time goes on. In February, O’Malley led 49% to 43%, but by April it was a closer 47% to 44%. The two were tied last month with 45% apiece.

Still, Ehrlich faces an uphill struggle to reclaim the office he held from 2003 to 2007 in a state that trends strongly Democratic. But Marylanders, like voters nationwide, remain pessimistic about the economy.

Just 11% of Maryland voters rate the economy as good, while 44% view it as bad. Thirty-five percent (35%) say the economy is getting better; 42% say it’s getting worse. While bleak, these assessments are a bit more positive than the national view."

O’Malley was dismissive of the Rasmussen report when asked about it after a campaign event Monday morning. He called it the latest in “a series of Republican robo-polls.” He predicted such polls would come out every week and that “they’ll never be favorable to us.”

Asked whether he trusts any polls, he repeated one of the classic lines in politics, saying the only one that matters is what voters decide Nov. 2.

-- Julie Bykowicz and David Nitkin

Posted by David Nitkin at 10:51 AM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Horserace
        

Could Ariz. immigration law affect Md. election?

Neither Gov. Martin O'Malley nor former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has stumped about immigration issues on the campaign trail this summer. But it's possible that Arizona's decision to seek out and arrest illegal immigrants -- and the Justice Department's lawsuit to stop the state -- will play a role in the fall election here.

O'Malley was among the Democratic governors who expressed concern about the federal lawsuit this weekend at a National Governors Association meeting in Boston, according to the New York Times.

Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland — a Democrat who voiced apprehension about the lawsuit in the private meeting, according to the two governors who requested anonymity — said in an interview that he supported it.

“The president doesn’t have control over some of the timing of things that happen,” Mr. O’Malley said. “When those things arise, you can’t be too precious about what’s in it for your own personal political timing or even your party’s timing. When matters like this arise, I think the president has to take a principled stand.”

The Times reported that some Democratic governors -- seven of whom face reelection this fall -- are uneasy about the timing of the federal lawsuit. It introduces the "toxic" issue of immigration to an election that should be exclusively about jobs, Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, a Democrat, told The Times.

O'Malley serves as vice chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, so he might be particularly attuned to potential problems facing all of his counterparts seeking reelection. And O'Malley and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer were just tapped to head the National Governors Association's homeland security committee, meaning he'll keep a close eye on the topic of immigration nationally.

While immigration might be low on the list of Maryland voter priorities, they appear to be generally supportive of the Arizona crackdown-- and largely disapproving of the Justice Department stepping in.

Hardly scientific, but in response to a question posed by The Sun's editorial board, more than 70 percent of readers said they do not approve of the lawsuit (1,454 people voted.) And a June Rasmussen poll showed that 66 percent of Maryland voters support the Arizona law.

Ehrlich, a Republican, has not directly commented on the Arizona law or the lawsuit, but on his WBAL radio talk show, which he recently gave up, he allowed a caller to promote a protest of Casa de Maryland, a group that assists immigrants.

Don't expect a wholesale conversation change -- in fact, O'Malley will join labor leaders for a jobs rally this morning in Annapolis -- but watch for immigration to creep into the election one way or another.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 7:45 AM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

O'Malley and Brewer, protecting America's borders

Gov. Martin O'Malley will co-chair a national panel on homeland security with Arizona Gov. Janice Brewer, the most prominent champion of her border state's controversial new immigration law.

O'Malley, a Democrat, was reappointed Sunday to the committee of the National Governors Association. Brewer, a Republican, will serve a term as his co-chair.

The Arizona law, which takes effect this month, requires police officers to determine the immigration status of a suspect if they have a "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is in the country illegally. Critics say the requirement will lead to racial profiling; supporters say it is a necessary response to the failure of the federal government to secure the borders.

Attorney General Eric Holder filed a federal lawsuit last week seeking to stop the enforcement of the law.

The NGA committee develops policies to illustrate how federal action affects states, Baltimore Sun colleague Liz Kay writes. In the past, the NGA has issued statements on the 2005 Real ID Act, which established national standards on all state-issued identification; on immigration and refugees; and on cybersecurity, support for military families and illegal drug trafficking.

"There are a lot of issues that by necessity should be worked on across the aisle and across state borders," O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec tells Kay. "There are a lot of homeland security issues that are separate from patrolling the borders."

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (1)
        

July 9, 2010

O'Malley goes up on TV

Gov. Martin O'Malley released on Friday the first TV advertisement of the gubernatorial election cycle — buying time to show an ad that promotes his handling of the state's $32 billion budget.

The ad says O'Malley started in office with a $1.7 billion budget deficit and cut $5 billion in “waste and government spending” over four years.

“While other states are still struggling, Martin O'Malley is making the tough choices,” the O’Malley ad says. It will be aired in Baltimore markets starting Monday, but the campaign did not buy time in the more expensive Washington media market.

Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s campaign says the ad is false, and sorting out the truth requires a deep dive into budgetary nuance. Ehrlich’s camp contends he left office with a $1 billion surplus, and arrives at that figure by counting a $247 million cash balance — plus funds Ehrlich deposited in the state’s rainy-day fund over and above the amount required by law.

But the same documents Ehrlich’s camp sent also show that O’Malley took office facing a $1.4 billion imbalance. Within six months, deficit projections grew to $1.7 billion, prompting O’Malley to call a special legislative session to raise the sales tax and other revenues. That special session also spawned the referendum that legalized Maryland’s slots program.

O’Malley’s ad correctly notes that Maryland is in far better financial shape than some other states. Feckless fiscal management led to widespread layoffs and cuts to core services like health and education in places like New York, Illinois and California. O'Malley frequently points out that Wall Street analysts have given Maryland the highest bond rating.

And the governor has made some painful reductions. The most significant was a furlough program for state workers that has lasted several years and effectively delivered employees a pay cut.

But the budget is sure to be one issue that Ehrlich will embrace. He and other Republicans say O’Malley missed an opportunity to reshape government and instead used one-time sources of funds, such as federal stimulus money, to keep state government humming. Democrats, they say, will push through a tax increase to cover costs after November's election.

The ad does not mention that the next governor will inherit an estimated $1.5 billion structural deficit. The stimulus funds O'Malley used for operating costs are gone, as is the surplus from the income tax reserve fund — an obscure account from which O'Malley has borrowed hundreds of millions in the last two years. Continuing the furlough program, however, would take a chunk out of the shortfall.

There are short-term problems, too. Nearly $400 million in expected federal Medicaid money is now in doubt, though the state Senate installed a safety valve in this year’s budget that mandates more borrowing from a reserve fund if those federal dollars do not arrive.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:47 PM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Obama weighs in on guv race

Tens of thousands of Maryland Obama supporters received email messages yesterday afternoon from the president asking them to support Gov. Martin O'Malley in November. The endorsement isn’t a huge surprise – the White House is sending Vice President Joe Biden to Maryland later this month to campaign for O’Malley.

There’s no word, however, on whether Obama will hit the trail. He’s popular in the state and could fuel enthusiasm and turnout in Baltimore and Prince George’s County - home to large numbers of African-Americans.

Since moving into the White House, Obama has made frequent stops in Maryland with O’Malley – including inviting the governor to a news conference where he announced that the federal government would lease land for oil drilling off the coast of Virginia. Obama reversed that decision after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., is also attracting some national GOP endorsements. Potential 2012 presidential contender Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romeny keynoted a state Republican fundraiser in June. Ehrlich’s first lieutenant governor pick, Michael Steele, also palled around with Ehrlich at the event.

But campaign spokesman Andy Barth could not say whether the national party’s superstar Sarah Palin would make an appearance.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 8:47 AM | | Comments (32)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

July 7, 2010

O'Malley says he'll spend more money building schools

Gov. Martin O’Malley pledged to spend an additional $1 billion in state money for school construction if re-elected, repeating a campaign promise he made and kept four years ago.

“Change doesn’t happen overnight, but we see change happening here,” said O’Malley gesturing toward a construction pit where work was underway for new buildings at Annapolis' Germantown Elementary School.

He appeared at the same school four years ago to promise a $250 million annual investment building schools if elected.  Over the past four years O’Malley exceeded that amount, spending $1.3 billion on construction.

The plan would honor recommendations made by a task force Treasurer Nancy Kopp convened in 2004 that said $250 million a year should be dedicated to new buildings.

When in office Ehrlich chopped money from schools to close a budget deficit but the legislature restored funding.

The governor’s plan also seeks alternative financing to help local governments put more capital resources toward schools. He proposes finance new windows, heating and cooling systems through energy service contracts, an arrangement where the more efficient equipment is funded by the savings realized by lower energy bills.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:58 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Green Party: Two want to be governor

To Maria Allwine supporters, Corrogan Vaughn is nothing more than a Green Party crasher.

Allwine has run four times as a Green candidate, winning 17 percent of the vote in the 2007 Baltimore City Council president race. Vaughn was, until Tuesday, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.

Each filed paperwork just hours before the deadline to run as the Green Party candidate for governor.

The party has 8,000 Maryland members, mostly in Baltimore City and Montgomery, Howard, Anne Arundel and Frederick counties, said co-chairman Brian Bittner. It's up to party leaders to choose whose name will appear on the November ballot. (The September primary election is reserved for Democrats and Republicans.) They'll do so at a meeting July 18.

Allwine said she views Vaughn as "someone who feels he can utilize our ballot line ... This is why people are so fed up with politics."

She said she is running for governor because "Democrats have ruled the state for decades, and they will not take the steps necessary to alleviate the burdens that ordinary families are facing."

Attempts to reach Vaughn -- both by telephone and email (his handle is vaughngop1) -- were unsuccessful. His web site for the U.S. Senate race includes the motto "It's about people and principles," as well as a photograph of him with conservative Fox News personality Sean Hannity.

Bittner, who has been active in the Green Party for five years, says he had never heard Vaughn's name before seeing it Tuesday listed as a Green candidate for governor. His explanation of how the party will choose its candidate makes it seem clear that Allwine will be the one on the ballot.

Requirements include meeting with the chapters -- a process that Allwine has begun but Vaughn hasn't. Allwine also has completed the requisite questionnaire that Vaughn hasn't. A third requirement is that the nominee be a registered Green Party member, which both are.

However, Bittner said, when they registered will have a bearing on the choice. "And we'd probably prefer someone who registered more than a week ago."

Although there's a Green Party battle for governor, many other candidates face no challenge at all.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:48 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

July 6, 2010

Competition in Frederick

Scandal-ridden Del. Joseph Bartlett told his local paper that he is not planning to seek re-election today and three Republicans filed for his seat.

Bartlett has been in the middle of a political firestorm since the local paper revealed that he used public money to pay rent to his girlfriend. The arrangement isn’t illegal, but it raised questions among his colleagues, constituents and members of newspaper editorial boards. Bartlett was the bottom vote getter of his two representative district four years ago.

Signing up today were Kelly Schultz, the Chair of the Frederick County Republican Central Committee and Frederick County Commissioner John L. “Lennie” Thompson. Dino E. Flores Jr., another Republican, also filed. They join Kathy Afzali, a Republican, filed last September as a Bartlett alternative.

Bartlett told the Frederick News-Post that his decision not to run was unrelated to the scandal.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 6:44 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Balto. Co.: Bailey-Shellenberger rematch brewing for state's attorney

In Baltimore County, the state's attorney's race will likely be a rematch of 2006. Republican Stephen Bailey filed Tuesday to run against incumbent Scott Shellenberger, a Democrat who has held the job since 2006.

That race pitted Bailey, a deputy state’s attorney, who was the hand-picked successor to longtime State’s Attorney Sandra A. O’Connor, against one of her former prosecutors. Shellenberger ran with the support of the County Executive James T. Smith Jr.

Bailey, 47, promised a spirited rematch with a strong focus on fiscal issues. The Towson attorney said he would slash the state’s attorney salary from $214,000 to $140,000, opt out of the county’s pension plan for elected officials and limit campaign contributions from fellow attorneys to $250.

-Mary Gail Hare

Posted by Andy Rosen at 5:06 PM | | Comments (6)
        

Dems mostly absent so far in Harford races

In Harford County, as of 3 p.m. Tuesday, the Democrats had posted no challengers in several key races. Voters in the Republican primary will decide will decide who will be the county executive and the council president. Republicans will also chose three of the six council seats.

In the Republican primary, incumbent County Executive David R. Craig will run against Robert S. Wagner, who lost the race for county council president in 2006 after 16 years on that board, and Fred Silva, a Perryman resident who ran unsuccessfully for a council seat four years ago.

Craig was appointed to the office in 2005 and elected to his first four-year term a year later.
Republican Billy Boniface, a Darlington horse breeder, is running unopposed for a second term as council president.

While Republican incumbents have a few challengers from within their party, in council District B, which includes Fallston, no Democrat has filed. Nor have Democrats emerged in the race for Council District D, which includes Harford’s northern area, or District E, the Aberdeen area.

-Mary Gail Hare

Posted by Andy Rosen at 4:33 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Jessamy challenger Bernstein makes his case

Like the former federal prosecutor that he is, Gregg Bernstein today launched his campaign for Baltimore City State’s Attorney by building a case against the incumbent, Patricia C. Jessamy.

Bernstein announced his candidacy just east of 26th and Calvert streets, the site of a murder in March in which he said both the victim and alleged shooter each previously had been charged with multiple homicide and gun charges, and yet both had been freed back to the streets.

“They were allowed to walk out of the courtroom,” Bernstein said. “If the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City had done her job … I would not be here today.”

Bernstein said the State’s Attorney’s Office under Jessamy, who has been the city’s chief prosecutor for the past 15 years, has the lowest conviction rate in the state. He said half the people charged with murder and 53 percent of those charged with felony gun crimes were not convicted. Further, he said, 80 percent of domestic violence cases were effectively dismissed.

“I know I can do better,” said Bernstein, who spoke with his wife, Sheryl Goldstein, the director of the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice, and two sons at his side.

“I know my way around a courtroom,” said Bernstein, who has 30 years of trial experience as a prosecutor and defense attorney, “a place the current State’s Attorney has not been seen since she took office.”

UPDATED:

Jessamy dismissed Bernstein’s use of conviction rates as “old school, living in the past,” and said that “hundreds” of defendants are convicted instead in federal court as a result of her office’s cooperation with the U.S. Attorney’s prosecutors. She touted her record as one of innovative leadership, saying she was the first to focus on guns and gangs.

She said she did not know where Bernstein got his statistics on conviction rates for various crimes and as a result would not respond to them. She did, however, say that there were “glaring inaccuracies” in what Bernstein said today, noting that at least in the case of Donatello Fenner, what he had been charged with previously was attempted murder, not murder.

Fenner, 22, who was shot to death near where Bernstein made his campaign announcement, was said to be a high-ranking member of the Young Gorilla Family gang and charged in connection with what police called a gang-sanctioned hit in May 2008. She mentioned two instances where cases against Fenner were dropped, once because a larger investigation was involved and another time because a witness could not be located.

“Yes this is a tragedy, but definitely not of the State’s Attorney’s making,” she said.

-Jean Marbella

Posted by Andy Rosen at 3:21 PM | | Comments (19)
        

The last of the incumbents

Delegates Cheryl Glenn and Hattie Harrison, two of Baltimore's three 45th District representatives, just filed for re-election. They are the final two General Assembly incumbents expected to submit paperwork, according to an unofficial tally here at the Board of Elections.

Of the legislature’s 188 lawmakers all but 25 are seeking their old jobs. Nine delegates are challenging their senators. Two are running for Congress.

Harrison arrived first but waited for Glenn with super lobbyist Bruce Bereano. He leapt to his feet and held the door for Glenn. “You know why he loves us?" Harrison asked. "He wants our vote.”

Harrison said that this was the first time she’s ever filed as team with another woman. Glenn said she has idolized Harrison growing up. “To me she was what Barack Obama is to young African-Americans,” Glenn said.

Glenn had one question after paying her $50 filing fee: Has anyone signed up to challenge her? The answer, at 2 p.m., was no.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:57 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Howard County: Ulman files on deadline, Kittleman in

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, a Democrat, filed his candidacy for re-election at mid-afternoon Tuesday, following Republican Trent Kittleman, who filed Friday. Ulman's action provided at least a bit of drama in Howard, where every incumbent member of the county council and the General Assembly has also filed for re-election.

Why the last-minute filing? Ulman said there was no special reason.

“It really worked for the schedule," he said. He said he's been busy doing his job running the county.

"We've got a job to do," Ulman added, in a familiar campaign refrain for incumbents.
Ulman said he'll be opening a campaign headquarters in the next several weeks, and has several campaign staff people already at work.

Kittleman, a former top Ehrlich administration official, formally announced her candidacy in February, but waited until nearly the last minute to file.

UPDATED:

Kittleman said she first waited to file to make sure no drastic changes in the political landscape might upset her campaign, and then "I was simply so busy.”

"It's just one of the things you put off," she said. She vowed to continue her "low key, person to person campaign.”

“The response has been very exciting," she added.

Two other late filers in Howard included Dr. Zaneb Beams, an Ellicott City physician and a Democrat who filed to run for county council in District 5, where Republican Greg Fox had previously had no opponent. Robert Wheatley, a Republican, filed for House of Delegates in District 12B, where Democratic Del. Elizabeth Bobo holds sway. Bobo has a primary opponent in John Bailey, a former GOP county party official who switched registrations.


-Larry Carson

Posted by Andy Rosen at 2:28 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Murphy-Ryman ticket is official

Brian Murphy may have made his intentions to run for governor clear months ago – but the full ticket jelled today when he accompanied his running mate Mike Ryman to file for candidacy.

The pair popped into the Maryland Board of Elections just in time for the lunch rush.

Ryman once headed the FBI’s political corruption desk in Philadelphia. Murphy said that his partner’s experience rooting out waste, fraud and abuse will compliment his business know-how.

“We are trying to put forward ideas for the voters,” Murphy said.

Murphy’s earlier pick, former Del. Carmen Amedori, dropped out last month to work for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s campaign. Murphy accused Ehrlich of trying to sabotage his ticket.

Terry Trae Lewis, the head of the Baltimore area young Republicans, warmly greeted the pair saying he thinks competition is good for the party. But Lewis openly acknowledged that Murphy will have an uphill battle securing the state GOP nomination: “We all know what the party is leaning toward,” he said.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:13 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Candidate watch: Lunchtime brings filing watchers

Del. J. B. Jennings filed months ago to run for the state Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Andy Harris, who is running for Congress, but he is hanging out at the elections board today anyway.

"It's exciting," he said, comparing today's candidacy filing deadline to the NFL draft. "Who's in, who's out. I want to see what happens." Jennings, a Baltimore County Republican, has been planted in the second-floor office for an hour, checking out the sometimes-frantic final day filers. (Jennings is on lunch break from his job at an IT consulting company in Annapolis.)

Omnipresent lobbyist Bruce Bereano just popped in to check out the action, saying he's a political junkie who pops up here every cycle.

Among last-day filers we've spotted are Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican in Cecil and Harford counties, who said she filed today because she'd been on vacation last week, and Del. Hattie Harrison, a Baltimore Democrat who has served for 36 years.

(Pictured right are Bereano and Harrison. Photo by Annie Linskey.)

Kathy Szeliga filed today because she said she needed her paycheck. Becoming official, as some readers might remember from a legislative session debate, meant she had to resign her day job as a legislative aide to Sen. Andy Harris.

Also, Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Murphy and freshly chosen Mike Ryman just made their partnership official. More on that shortly.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:35 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Deadline: Candidates in fall election must file today

It's now or never for those who want to run in this fall's election. Candidates for state and local offices have until 9 p.m. today to file financial disclosure forms and then candidacy paperwork at the State Board of Elections in Annapolis.

The biggest-name state candidates, Gov. Martin O'Malley and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., have already held events to mark their filings. Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler and Comptroller Peter Franchot also have completed paperwork to run for another term.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski has filed in a race that has drawn some two dozen challengers, though she appears comfortable with her ability to win the seat she has held since 1987. Rep. Frank Kratovil, whose prospects are dicier, has filed, as has Republican challenger state Sen. Andy Harris, who narrowly lost to Kratovil two years ago.

But the looming deadline means some interesting people might be sprinting through Annapolis today. Check our blog for dispatches from the elections board's office. We'll also Tweet with the hashtag #mdcandidates.

People watching:

We're expecting Republican gubernatorial challenger Brian Murphy to drop by with his new lieutenant governor pick, whom he'll be announcing in Crofton before heading to the State Board of Elections.

Perennial Green Party gubernatorial candidate Maria Allwine is planning to file about 6:30 p.m.

Baltimore defense attorney Gregg Bernstein plans a press conference today and is widely expected to challenge longtime Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy.

The elections board is updating its candidate lists every 20 minutes until about 11 tonight. Here are state races; local contests are posted at the end.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

July 3, 2010

USA v. Kane: False claims lawsuit raises Qs

Gubernatorial hopeful Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his running mate Mary Kane faced difficult questions Friday about the federal lawsuit that has been filed against her husband's firm, prompting the Kane Company to release series of statements about the business and its legal troubles.

At issue is a 12-count complaint alleging The Kane Company failed to pay workers fair wages, doubled billed and inflated prices on government contracts. The Maryland Democratic Party has jumped on the issue, sending out a series of emails questioning Kane’s fitness for office given the details of the complaint.

Asked about the suit during a joint interview with Ehrlich Friday on WUSA9-TV, Kane said: "That is something that I'm not involved in and needs to be decided through the court system.”

The TV reporter pointed out that Kane served on the company's board of directors from 1997 to 2003, a time when the fraud is alleged to have occurred. Kane stammered.

"That is something you have to direct that question to. I am not privy to that information. I get up every day an ..."

Pressed again she said: "It is a privately held concern. When we bought the company at first, yes, I was. But I did not do any of the day to day running of the company. It was just … I did not. I went to work every day." Kane worked at the law firm Ethridge, Quinn, McAuliffe, Rowan & Hartinger during her last three years on the board. Before that she was in law school.

The Kane Company put out a statement Saturday explaining that she sat on the Board of Directors because John Kane wanted his wife to “be aware of the strategic activities” in case he died.

According to the press release, her position was unpaid, did not involve daily management of the firm, and the job ended when she was appointed to work in the Secretary of State’s office.

Ehrlich said in the WUSA9 TV interview that he is not worried about the federal suit and hinted that he would not have picked Kane had he thought it would be a distraction.

"If this was going to be a big issue she may not be sitting here,” he said. “But we're certainly satisfied with it."

The former Republican governor blamed the Maryland Democratic Party for pushing the issue, saying they have "throw up everything they can possibly think of."

According to a Kane Company’s press release, the federal suit stems from a 5-year-old complaint by a "disgruntled former employee" who was fired for "unsatisfactory performance" and "would stand to gain" financially if the company has to pay damages. The complaint was filed under the False Claims Act, a statute designed to encourage whistle-blowers by allowing citizens to join in federal civil actions.

The Kane news release provided a detailed defense to the charge that the company underpaid workers on some federal contracts, saying the federal government failed to include wage schedules on some task orders.

“They did not establish a wage determination schedule, so we followed our normal pay procedures,” according to the release.

The release continued: "The Kane Company is completely confident that there will be no discovery of intent to underpay our employees. That's just not the way we treat our staff."

In an interview, Kane Company Chief Operating Officer Ron Meliker said the company has conducted an internal review and uncovered no instances of double billing. The federal prosecutors are alleging that workers signed in at one job site, worked at a different place, then collected double pay.

Meliker also denied that the company inflated prices when negotiating with the federal government.

Meanwhile, John Kane Thursday emailed Attorney General Douglas Gansler promising that his company would not bid on any state contracts if Ehrlich and his wife win the election
Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:05 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Politics on parade: O'Malley, Ehrlich celebrate Independence together

It's a good bet they won't be strolling down the street arm in arm, but Gov. Martin O'Malley and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. are set to appear in three of the same Independence Day parades today.

The political rivals start their morning in Dundalk, then travel to Towson and later check out Catonsville. No matter what the election cycle, the Fourth of July begets parades and parades beget politicians.

Despite the scheduling similarities, aides say it's unlikely the two will cross paths. Parade organizers are well-versed in the need to stagger political opponents. From a July 2006 Baltimore Sun article:

To avoid clashes between contenders, parade organizers say they follow strict protocol when they create the lineup. "It's federal, state, county and then want-to-bes," says Lil Tirshman, one of the organizers of the Dundalk Heritage Festival and parade.

That year, the last time Ehrlich and O'Malley faced off, both strolled in the same three places they'll appear this year. In 2006, O'Malley -- who as the Democratic Baltimore mayor was trying to unseat the Republican governor after one term -- also marched in Arbutus, Ehrlich's home town.

Ehrlich has Arbutus on his schedule, but O'Malley doesn't.

The remarkably similar schedules arrived one after the other Friday (Ehrlich's press aides prefer the all-caps style):

Ehrlich
8:15 A.M. WALK IN DUNDALK'S 76TH ANNUAL INDEPENDENCE DAY PARADE
O’Malley
8:00 a.m. Governor and First Lady O’Malley to participate in Dundalk Heritage Parade.

Ehrlich
10:30 A.M. WALK IN THE TOWSON AREA FOURTH OF JULY PARADE
O’Malley
10:30 a.m. Governor and First Lady O’Malley to participate in Towson Area Fourth of July Parade

Ehrlich
3:00 P.M. WALK IN THE CATONSVILLE JULY 4th PARADE
O’Malley
3:00 p.m. Governor and First Lady O’Malley to participate in Catonsville Fourth of July Parade

The two part ways for Sunday activities. O'Malley plans to participate in a Takoma Park parade, while Ehrlich will spend the day parading in Havre de Grace and Bel Air.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 5:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

July 2, 2010

REJECTED: Corp. candidate won't be on the ballot

Turns out Bob Ehrlich wasn't the only high-profile candidate filing Friday. An eager young candidate for Congress, who has been featured on National Public Radio and the BBC, sauntered in moments after Ehrlich, hoping to secure a place the ballot.

"Murray Hill is here," Jared DeMarinis, director of the Division of Candidacy and Campaign Finance told his colleagues. "What should I do?"

The complication: Murray Hill is a corporation.

The small public relations firm in Silver Spring has been waging its tongue-in-cheek campaign against Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen as a way to mock the Supreme Court's recent ruling that equates corporations to human beings when it comes to campaign contributions.

The Washington Post put it this way in a March story about Murray Hill:

Murray Hill might be the perfect candidate for this political moment: young, bold, media-savvy, a Washington outsider eager to reshape the way things are done in the nation's capital. And if these are cynical times, well, then, it's safe to say Murray Hill is by far the most cynical.

That's because this little upstart is, in fact, a start-up. Murray Hill is actually Murray Hill Inc., a small, five-year-old Silver Spring public relations company that is seeking office to prove a point (and perhaps get a little attention).

Van Hollen -- a critic of the high court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission who helped to write the Democratic bill that sought to limit its effects -- has welcomed Murray Hill to the field. The opponents will square off in a "forum" at 7 p.m. July 20 at Northwood High School in Montgomery County. Murray Hill has more than 10,000 Facebook fans. Van Hollen, meanwhile, has about, ahem, 3,000.

The face of Murray Hill, president Eric Hensal (pictured) insists that his timing Friday was purely coincidental to Ehrlich's -- he said he's headed to the beach and almost forgot to file his campaign paperwork. (There's only one business day left to do so.)

But the election panel has dampened the corporation's dream of holding office. DeMarinis, referring to a pocket Constitition, informed Murray Hill that, at age 5, it is not old enough to run. A candidate for Congress must be at least 25.

DeMarinis stamped "disqualified" on the candidate's filing forms, apologized and shook hands with Hensal.

"Officially," Hensal told DeMarinis, sounding official, "I'm appalled at this anti-corporate bigotry."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:02 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Obama back at Camp David after long hiatus

Declaring his independence of his official duties, President Barack Obama has started his Fourth of July holiday weekend at Camp David in the Catoctin Mountains north of Frederick.

The latest visit, which began Friday afternoon, is his first to the presidential retreat in more than three months, an unusually long hiatus. Obama has spent less time at Camp David than other recent presidents at the same point in their administrations.

He and wife Michelle insist they really enjoy the place, with its outdoor pool and private golf hole. It's just their daughters' busy schedules--including weekend soccer games in the DC area--that have made it tough to carve out the getaway time, they've indicated.

Until this weekend, Obama hadn't spent time there since late March. That early spring visit made it a snap for him to disguise a secret trip to Afghanistan, which began far from prying public eyes at Camp David.

Despite his sparing use of the Catoctin hideaway, Obama has still made more visits as president to Maryland than any other state. For a map showing his Maryland stops, and other information about his Free State visits, check out our new mashup here.

Posted by Paul West at 3:55 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington
        

Steele tries to clarify Afghanistan remarks

Worth noting in the controversy around Michael S. Steele’s comments about the war in Afghanistan is that he was addressing a Republican fundraiser in Connecticut. The state, home to many workers who commute to New York, lost 65 residents on Sept. 11, 2001.

Maryland’s former lieutenant governor on Friday is explaining remarks from the fundraiser this week in Noank, Conn., in which he described U.S. action in Afghanistan as “a war of [Democratic President Barack] Obama’s choosing,” and said it was not “something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.”

The U.S. initiated the war in Afghanistan in late 2001 in direct response to the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Northern Virginia. While the action, which was aimed at rooting out the leadership of Al Qaida and their Taliban hosts, enjoyed broad bipartisan support both among elected officials and the public at large, it was ordered by Republican President George W. Bush, three years before Obama was elected to Congress.

Steele goes on to say that Obama "was trying to be cute by half," by "flipping a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should be in Afghanistan."

"Well, if he's such a student of history, has he not understood that, you know, that's the one thing you don't do – is engage in a land war in Afghanistan?" Steele asks. "Everyone who has tried, over a thousand years of history, has failed. And there are reasons for that. There are other ways to engage in Afghanistan."

The best guess is that Steele is referring to Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan, following his campaign promises to shift military focus away from Iraq and toward Afghanistan. This approach has also won the broad support of Republicans in Congress, whose main concern has been whether Obama is committed to seeing it through.

Whatever Steele meant – he also described the events surrounding the resignation last week of Gen. Stanley McChrystal “comical” – his comments have drawn quick criticism, mostly from Democrats, but also from at least one prominent conservative. William Kristol, the editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, has called for Steele’s resignation.

“Your tenure has of course been marked by gaffes and embarrassments, but I for one have never paid much attention to them, and have never thought they would matter much to the success of the causes and principles we share,” Kristol writes. But this time, he writes, is different:

Needless to say, the war in Afghanistan was not "a war of Obama’s choosing." It has been prosecuted by the United States under Presidents Bush and Obama. Republicans have consistently supported the effort. Indeed, as the DNC Communications Director (of all people) has said, your statement "puts [you] at odds with about 100 percent of the Republican Party."

And not on a trivial matter. At a time when Gen. Petraeus has just taken over command, when Republicans in Congress are pushing for a clean war funding resolution, when Republicans around the country are doing their best to rally their fellow citizens behind the mission, your comment is more than an embarrassment. It’s an affront, both to the honor of the Republican party and to the commitment of the soldiers fighting to accomplish the mission they’ve been asked to take on by our elected leaders.

There are, of course, those who think we should pull out of Afghanistan, and they’re certainly entitled to make their case. But one of them shouldn't be the chairman of the Republican party.

Steele has now issued a statement:

As we enter the Fourth of July weekend, I proudly remember standing with Maryland National Guardsmen on their way to the Middle East and later stood with the mothers of soldiers lost at war. There is no question that America must win the war on terror.

During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Barack Obama made clear his belief that we should not fight in Iraq, but instead concentrate on Afghanistan. Now, as President, he has indeed shifted his focus to this region. That means this is his strategy. And, for the sake of the security of the free world, our country must give our troops the support necessary to win this war.

As we have learned throughout history, winning a war in Afghanistan is a difficult task. We must also remember that after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, it is also a necessary one. That is why I supported the decision to increase our troop force and, like the entire United States Senate, I support General Petraeus’ confirmation. The stakes are too high for us to accept anything but success in Afghanistan.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:48 PM | | Comments (3)
        

Ehrlich and Kane file candidacy, leave day jobs

Three months after announcing his candidacy for governor, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has made it official. He and newly chosen running mate Mary Kane filed paperwork Friday afternoon with the State Board of Elections.

"I feel really great about it," Ehrlich said afterward. He and Kane spent the morning as guests on Washington-area television and radio news programs. They have 10 parade appearances scheduled over the Fourth of July weekend, Ehrlich said.

Ehrlich and Kane said they had both taken leaves of absence from their day jobs. Until June 30, Ehrlich had been part-time at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, a Baltimore office he helped launch for a North Carolina law firm. Kane said her leave from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where she is a special projects director, became effective Thursday.

The filing deadline for all state candidates is Tuesday, and the elections board is closed Monday. Businessman Brian Murphy, a lesser-known Republican gubernatorial candidate who filed months ago, must refile paperwork that includes his choice of a running mate. The primary election is in September.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, the Democrat who defeated Ehrlich four years ago, filed June 16 for reelection. He faces a handful of little-known Democratic opponents in the primary.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:12 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Brian Murphy's mystery pick

Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. teased the announcement of his running mate this week for several days. Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, meanwhile, tried to build anticipation for a surprise announcement of his own (it turned out to be an award from the National Education Association).

Now GOP gubenatorial hopeful Brian Murphy is trying to get in on the fun. The Montgomery County businessman said Friday he would announce his running mate next week.

The twist: while he wouldn't name the individual, he did offer some hints.

In a release, Murphy said his pick for lieutenant governor "has served the United States with distinction, including duty in the United States Marine Corps, the FBI, the office of Federal Inspector General, and as a Congressional Investigator." The individual currently serves as a "a college forensics professor."

Murphy plans to announce his pick during a public event at 11 a.m. Tuesday at campaign headquarters in Crofton.

Tuesday is the filing deadline for governor and other offices, which raises the question: Why wouldn't Murphy make his announcement now, when he could take advantage of the news vacuum going into the holiday weekend, rather than wait until filing day, when it seems likely to be overwhelmed by the deluge of political information to become available?

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 1:32 PM | | Comments (2)
        

City police, firefighters protest pension changes

Holding signs that said "City Hall Has Turned Their Backs on Police and Firefighters," about two dozen members of the Baltimore police and firefighters unions protested the city's new pension legislation, Baltimore Sun colleague Jessica Anderson writes.

The union members wore shirts saying, "We Protect You. Help Protect Us," and yelled as local city and business leaders entered a fundraising event for Councilman Bill Cole at Luckie's Tavern on Market Place downtown. The new pension bill drastically alters the police and firefighter pension plan.

"We're here to show our displeasure with City Council for cutting our pension system when we provided a viable alternative," said David Cox, secretary-treasurer of Firefighters Local 734.

But council members contend the changes prevent financial disaster for the city.

"The reality was the city is facing extremely challenging times. We needed to make the pension plan sustainable long-term," Cole said.

Read more on the police and fire union pension protest.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (0)
        

July 1, 2010

New Ehrlich-Kane ticket visits Baltimore charter

Freshly chosen lieutenant governor candidate Mary Kane accompanied former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to a Baltimore charter school this afternoon, their second public appearance since teaming up last night. They were in Silver Spring this morning.

The Republican duo had a private tour of the all-male Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy on East Biddle Street and then spoke briefly to a handful of supporters and reporters gathered on the basketball court. The visit was arranged by Baltimore city councilman Carl Stokes, who attended school in that building. But the Democrat made himself scarce during the public part of the event.

Ehrlich, who as governor pushed the state's first charter school law through the General Assembly, has vowed to double the number of charters if elected this fall. His likely opponent, Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, has pointed to the marked increase in charters approved during his tenure.

After the tour of Bluford Drew Jemison, Ehrlich praised himself and the legislature for passing a charter school law, saying "this place celebrates the success of policy calls made in the great state of Maryland."

Kane, a Montgomery County resident who served as Ehrlich's secretary of state, also spoke highly of the school. "When you come to a place like this, you know that state government can work."

As he did this morning, Ehrlich dismissed questions about Kane raised by the Maryland Democratic Party -- most of which relate to legal troubles her husband faces.

"We should focus on what people want us to focus on," he said, adding that the party "files complaints about us on a daily basis."

John Kane is accused in a federal lawsuit of fraudulent billing. He did not pay his workers as much as he told the government he would, according to the suit. Mary Kane said the lawsuit affects her "as a wife," but she said she was not involved in the day-to-day company operations.

Asked how he can reclaim the governor's office in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-to-1, Ehrlich said, "We are not intimidated."

He later acknowledged that he needs to post better numbers in Baltimore than he did in 2006, when he lost to O'Malley. In the city where he had been mayor, O'Malley logged a more than 25 percentage-point win over Ehrlich, a Baltimore County native.

He has also said he must do better in Montgomery County. Republican activists there praised his choice of Kane, saying it is sure to energize the county GOP. But Ehrlich said he believes Kane can help him "generally."

"She's a familiar face and a capable person," he said. He has said the leading reason he selected Kane is because he knows and trusts her. "She's part of the family."

Ehrlich and Kane will attend a Charles County Republican dinner tonight and file with the State Board of Elections tomorrow afternoon in Annapolis. Campaign spokesman Andy Barth reports that they'll also be hitting the Washington-area television and radio circuit tomorrow.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:53 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Hoyer: Calvert Cliffs first in line for nuclear loan guarantee

Constellation Energy Group’s joint venture with a French company to build a new nuclear reactor at Calvert Cliffs is now “first in line” for a federal loan guarantee, according to an influential lawmaker from Maryland.

Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader, said in an interview Thursday that he has been informed by senior administration officials that the Calvert Cliffs project is further along in the loan-guarantee process than competing projects in Texas and South Carolina.

That’s potentially significant because, at the moment, the Department of Energy has only enough loan authority to offer one project a federal guarantee.

Hoyer, whose southern Maryland district includes Calvert Cliffs, site of two existing nuclear units on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, said company officials were informed about two weeks ago that their application is nearly ready to be reviewed by the credit board that makes loan guarantee recommendations to the Energy secretary.

He emphasized that the Maryland project still has not received final approval for a loan guarantee. Hoyer said he had been in touch with top officials at the White House and the Department of Energy on the issue.

"I have been pushing very hard to get an approval of loan guarantees from the Department of Energy for Constellation's third plant," he said. "And we're making progress."

Comments by Constellation executives during a conference call with financial analysts in April led some investors to conclude that the company's loan guarantee application had already been approved. That apparent misinterpretation caused the price of the company’s stock to drop, analysts said at the time, because of a belief that the relatively low price of electric power does not justify the risk of building a new nuclear plant.

President Barack Obama has made increased nuclear power an important element of his energy strategy. Nuclear plants currently generate about one-fifth of the electricity used in the United States.

Earlier this year, during a visit to Maryland, Obama announced the first conditional loan guarantee for a new nuclear project. It went to a joint venture that plans to add two nuclear units to an existing plant in Georgia.

Under the federal program, the U.S. government agrees to repay the loans for nuclear plant construction if a company defaults on the debt.

The Department of Energy has already obligated more than $10 billion of the $18.5 billion in loan guarantee authority for 2010. Obama has requested an additional $35.5 billion in his 2011 budget and is asking Congress to advance $9 billion immediately, which would allow more than one new project to gain loan guarantee approval.

On Thursday evening, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on additional nuclear loan guarantee funding as part of a war supplemental measure. The Senate would need to act before the administration could use the expanded authority.

Posted by Paul West at 3:18 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington
        

Court upholds dismissal of Holton charges

The state’s second-highest court has upheld the dismissal of several bribery charges against City Councilwoman Helen L. Holton, another setback for the state’s challenge to a year-old decision that many charges against Holton were barred by laws that protect legislators from punishment for their official actions.

“Local legislators constitute the most direct form of representative democracy. They are the closest to the people and they often set the policies that most directly affect the health, safety and quality of life of the people residing in their communities,” the 53-page decision released Thursday by the Court of Special Appeals reads. “They must enjoy the same ability to speak and act in their legislative capacities, without fear of retribution, either criminally or civilly, because of what they say or how they vote.”

Holton, who heads the City Council’s powerful Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee, still faces separate charges for alleged campaign finance violations.

State Prosecutor Robert Rohrbaugh initially accused Holton of accepting $12,500 for a poll from developer Ronald Lipscomb in exchange for shepherding millions of dollars in tax breaks for his projects through her committee. His charges, however, were thrown out on the grounds that the case depended on Holton’s votes on the council.

Correction: a previous version of this entry incorrectly identified the court that wrote the decision.

Posted by Andy Rosen at 1:43 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Have a look at new Maryland laws

It's no Oct. 1 -- when the majority of laws passed this year take effect -- but today, July 1, sees a few new rules hit the books. The good news: You have three more months to use your handheld cell phone while driving.

New laws that could affect you include the right to foreclosure mediation and increases in civil court filing fees. Most of them, however, are technical in nature, including liquor board tweaks and the formation or continuation of study and oversight panels.

Check out today's story for details on some of the most high-profile new laws. And here's a link to a complete list of legislation with a July 1 start date.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        

Ehrlich introduces running mate Mary Kane

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. today introduced supporters in Silver Spring to the woman he has chosen as his ticket-mate in this year's governor's race: Mary Kane.

To a crowd of about 100 hoisting freshly printed Ehrlich-Kane signs, the Republican candidate described Kane as "a trusted partner ... who shares my vision."

He noted her background as a prosecutor and his secretary of state and called her "a confidante to the Ehrlichs."

Kane made brief remarks, introducing her parents, who are Irish immigrants; her husband, John; and her three young-adult children.

"Governor, we have a big task ahead of us," she said. She repeated campaign themes of "lowering the tax burden on families" and strengthening the business community.

Supporters chanted, "Mary!" and sported button reading, "Welcome to 'Mary'land" and "We (heart) Mary." One of Ehrlich's Montgomery County coordinators praised his selection of Kane as "extremely energizing to this county."

"I have been rooting for her," said Katja Bullock. "She's a very solid woman, fabulous on small business and politically very savvy."

Taking a handful of reporters' questions after their speeches, Ehrlich and Kane appeared to wave off Democratic Party inquiries about her husband's legal troubles. "Nobody wants to hear about that stuff," Ehrlich said.

John Kane, who own a successful office moving and storage company, has been sued federally for fraudulent billing. (Follow the below link to today's story for more details.) 

Ehrlich announced his selection of Kane last night on his Facebook page. The duo will appear this afternoon at a Baltimore charter school at an event hosted by city councilman Carl Stokes.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:30 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010
        

Democrat Owings out of governor's race, reports say

Democrat George W. Owings III, a former state lawmaker from Southern Maryland and veterans secretary in the administration of Republican Bob Ehrlich, is dropping out of the governor's race as he recuperates from major surgery, according to reports.

The Washington Post reported the departure Wednesday evening, as did the Associated Press. Owings' campaign web site appeared not to have been updated with the information as of Thursday morning.

Owings had mounted an upstart challenge from the right to incumbent Gov. Martin O'Malley, stressing fiscal restraint.

Owings exit from the race reduces the chances that O'Malley will be embarrassed at the ballot box in the September primary.

In a year when voters are expected to register their discontent with incumbents, and especially those of the same party as Democratic President Barack Obama, significant vote tallies by Owings would have been viewed as a sign of weakness for O'Malley.

In 2002, a retired grocery store clerk from Silver Spring, Robert Fustero, collected 20 percent of the vote in the Democratic gubernatorial primary against heavily favored Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. The showing of Fustero -- who selected a homeless man as a running mate and spent less than $1,500 on his campaign -- was glaring evidence of Townsend's flawed candidacy. She went on to lose the general election to Bob Ehrlich.

Posted by David Nitkin at 7:14 AM | | Comments (4)
        
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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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