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August 31, 2010

Ehrlich reports raising $725K in 18 days

Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s campaign released some preliminary campaign finance information this afternoon, saying they’ve raised $725,505 since the last reporting period 18 days ago.

They say the money has come from 3,040 donations, and say that 41 percent of the donors have never given money to their campaign before. Ehrlich’s team claims “in excess of $2.5 million” is in their bank account.

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s campaign isn’t planning to release early figures, but unless they’ve gone on some kind of wild spending spree in the last three weeks, the incumbent governor still has a significant cash advantage over his opponent. O’Malley last reported having $6.7 million cash on hand.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:58 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Campaign finance

More Dems, GOPers eligible to vote in primary

Voter registration numbers released this week by the Maryland Board of Elections show that both major parties have grown their ranks between the primary election two years ago and the one in two weeks.

Voter registration closed last week and will not reopen until after the Sept. 14 primary election. Only registered Democrats and Republicans may vote in the primary -- leaving some half a million Maryland voters at home until the Nov. 2 general election.

In raw numbers, there are 2,860,126 registered Democrats and Republicans this year, compared with 2,622,951 registered for the 2008 presidential primary election, which was in February. This year, Republicans make up about 32 percent of major party voters, down slightly from 34 percent two years ago.

Baltimore Sun colleague Mary Gail Hare noted here earlier this month that Harford County had tipped from being majority Democrat to majority Republican, possibly thanks to a less-than-exciting field of Democratic primaries.

Also of note is the enormous bloc of registered Democrat in Prince George's County -- 400,577 compared to 330,758 at this point two years ago. Some of that increase is no doubt thanks to the Obama effect. Record numbers of African-American and young voters registered to participate in the 2008 general election.

Let me know if you spot any other interesting numbers in the registration data.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:40 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Elections

Kratovil hits airwaves in re-election run

Rep. Frank Kratovil of Maryland is launching the first TV ad of his re-election campaign Tuesday. If the initial spot is any indication, the freshman Democrat will try to do whatever it takes to put distance himself between himself and the toxic political scene in Washington.

The spot portrays Kratovil as an independent operator and promotes his centrist voting record during his first term. In the ad, Kratovil says he's tried to make decisions based "on facts, not politics."

Looking into the camera, the congressman highlights his vote against President Barack Obama's health care legislation and against the "big bank bailout."

That last claim is something of a stretch, since the unpopular bank bailout legislation--creating the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP)--was approved during the Bush administration, before Kratovil got to Congress.

He did cast a vote in early 2009 to withhold the final $350 billion in TARP money--but that vote was largely symbolic, since the Senate had already acted to guarantee release of the bailout money.

"You see, for me, it's not about Democrats or Republicans. It's about common sense, and doing what's best for our families," says Kratovil, as he strolls a small-town street in a blue knit shirt.

Click here to view the spot.

There's no mention of his party affiliation, but that's hardly a surprise. When was the last time you saw a candidate of any party do that?

In Kratovil's case, the "D" next to his name may well be his biggest liability. Maryland's First District, which takes in the entire Eastern Shore and largely Republican portions of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties, went for Republican John McCain by a landslide in 2008.

Kratovil, a former prosecutor who lives in Stevensville, not far from the eastern end of the Bay Bridge, is the first Democrat in nearly two decades to represent the district. He is also rated as one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country this fall, largely because he holds an historically Republican seat in an election expected to favor Republican candidates.

Andy Harris of Baltimore County, a veteran state lawmaker who narrowly lost to Kratovil last time, is likely to defeat newcomer Rob Fisher in the Republican primary. Kratovil is unopposed in the Democratic primary. Early voting in both primaries begins Friday.

Fisher, a businessman with roots on the Eastern Shore, has invested in TV ads to introduce himself to Republican voters, while Harris is conserving his ad money for the general election contest.

Also on the air in the district is an anti-Kratovil ad sponsored by an offshoot of the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. The radio commercial, part of a national campaign, attacks Kratovil for, in effect, siding with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by failing to support a parliamentary maneuver that would force a symbolic House vote on repeal of the Obama health care plan that Kratovil already voted against.

Posted by Paul West at 5:00 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

August 30, 2010

O’Malley to regulators: Pay more attention to PEPCO

Gov. Martin O’Malley wants the state agency that regulates utilities to keep a closer eye on PEPCO, the electricity company that provides power to Maryland’s Washington suburbs.

Hundreds of thousands in those areas underwent days of outages this summer after violent storms knocked out power lines. In a letter today to the state’s Public Service Commission, O’Malley asked regulators to establish standards for the frequency and duration of power outages – and then hold the company’s feet to the fire.

“We can no longer accept that utilities are trying their best” O’Malley wrote. “We must demand safe and reliable electric distribution service and responsive and meaningful customer communication as measured by objective standards.”

Montgomery County was walloped by two storms that left residents in the dark (and with no air-conditioning) -- A July storm left 200,000 without power; and this month a storm knocked out 90,000 residences.

But, what the county residents may lack from time to time in electrical power, they can make up in electoral clout. Montgomery is brimming with independent voters that could tip the balance in the upcoming gubernatorial contest, my colleague Julie Bykowicz wrote in The Sun this weekend.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:03 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Administration

Coming soon: another peek at candidate finances

The next campaign finance reports are due at the end of the week. This round will cover just two weeks -- from Aug. 11 to midnight this morning.

It's a far smaller period than the mega reports covering seven months that we wrote about extensively earlier this month. At that point, we learned that the main gubernatorial contenders raised about the same amount -- more than $3 million apiece -- this year, but have spent at different rates. Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's stockpile over the past few years helped leave him with a $4.5 million advantage over Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who entered the race in April.

Still, a few interesting nuggets could be in these small new reports.

For one, we'll be anxious to see whether underdog Republican gubernatorial challenger Brian Murphy received a bump in donations following Sarah Palin's high-profile endorsement. The Palin shout-out came at an awkward time, campaign finance-wise, because it was so close to the previous fundraising cutoff.

We're also wondering whether Ehrlich has narrowed his cash-on-hand gap with O'Malley. The former governor has yet to air any television commericials, while O'Malley ads run regularly in the Baltimore market.

And competitive primaries will be in the spotlight, since this is the final fundraising report before the Sept. 14 primary election.

In Baltimore, some notable same-party challengers to establishment Democratic candidates raised loads of money this year. Among them, Bill Ferguson, who wants Sen. George Della's seat, and Gregg Bernstein, who hopes to topple State's  Attorney Patricia Jessamy.

The tight -- and costly -- Baltimore County Democratic primary saw Kevin Kamenetz outraise and outspend Joe Bartenfelder. Has that trend continued in recent weeks?   

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:20 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Campaign finance

Governor's race: The battle for votes

Each candidate has a successful political playbook for reference. Eight years ago, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. inspired enough support in Democratic Maryland to win a governor’s office his Republican party hadn’t occupied in a generation. Four years ago, Baltimore’s Democratic mayor, Martin O’Malley, toppled a governor so popular that his approval rating had never dipped below 50 percent.

But these 2010 gubernatorial hopefuls each face new hurdles if, as expected, they turn away challengers in the Sept. 14 primary. O’Malley is seeking the support of an electorate that has tired of incumbents. Ehrlich is himself a longtime politician, with a long record to defend.

On Sunday, The Sun examined the territories -- both geographic and demographic -- where the 2010 election will be hardest fought.

The battle for votes:

Baltimore suburbs: Ehrlich will try to widen his margin of victory in his home county as O'Malley attempts to undercut it; other city suburbs could help pad Republican vote totals, though Howard could be split.

Montgomery County: O'Malley can count on this reliably Democratic county, but Ehrlich can make inroads among "independent-minded" voters.

Exurbs: Ehrlich could do well in Frederick and Washington counties, while O'Malley could retain his dominance in Southern Maryland's Charles County.

Obama voters: O'Malley must energize black voters, observers say, while Ehrlich might hope the Democratic voting bloc stays home.

Angry voters: Ehrlich wants to tap a national anti-incumbent mood, but is it pervasive enough to topple O'Malley? 

(photos from Tawes crabs and politics feast in July.)

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:44 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

August 28, 2010

Few surprises in O’Malley’s tax returns

As promised, Gov. Martin O'Malley released some tax returns at his campaign HQ in Baltimore this morning. The Democratic governor and his wife Catherine, a district court judge, make about $300K a year, earning roughly $900,000 since 2007.

The income is mostly from his $150K yearly salary as governor, her roughly $120K salary as a judge and two years worth of city pension payments O'Malley earned from two terms in the city council and two terms as Baltimore mayor.

O'Malley was not required to release the forms, though said he would do so if his political opponent, Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, made his public. O'Malley issued three years worth of forms; Ehrlich released five years. O'Malley released W2 forms; Ehrlich did not. Neither candidate allowed reporters to keep copies of the forms or photograph them.

Ehrlich's tax forms, which were made public Friday afternoon, showed that the and his wife Kendel have made nearly $2.5 million since he lost the 2006 election and joined the private sector as a partner in the Baltimore offices of Womble, Carlyle Sandridge and Rice. A story detailing Ehrlich's income was in today's Sun.

O'Malley and his wife Catherine filed jointly. The couple has donated about $20,000 to charity in the last three years. They did not provide any detail about which organizations benefited from their giving.

The O'Malley's also checked off voluntary contributions to the Chesapeake Bay and Endangered Species fund in 2009 and 2008. In 2008, the O'Malley's also contributed $50 to the Fair Campaign Finance Fund.

O'Malley has not earned any income from his band, O'Malley's March, since he became governor, his reports show. His spokesman, Rick Abbruzzese, said any earnings from CD sales and tickets have gone to band members.

O'Malley received one $7.58 payment from Walt Disney in 2009 -- Abbruzzese said those funds from O'Malley's brief appearance in the 2004 movie Ladder 49, which starred John Travolta and a young Joaquin Phoenix.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:45 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

August 27, 2010

Ehrlich made $821K in private sector last year

Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich and his wife took home $821,641 last year, nearly all of it from the Baltimore office of Womble Carlyle, where he earned $734,663.

Ehrlich made five years of tax returns available for reporters to review for three hours Friday afternoon. The campaign would not release copies. Gov. Martin O’Malley’s campaign will allow reporters to review his returns Saturday morning.

“If it were up to Bob Ehrlich he would have never been in the private sector,” said Henry Fawell, an Ehrlich campaign spokesman. “He looks forward to joining public service again next year.”

Ehrlich and his wife Kendel filed join returns. She earned roughly $45,686 from her board membership on BankAnnapolis, campaign officials said.

The couple took in about $31,230, mostly from their WBAL radio show, campaign spokesman said.

The Ehrlichs also earned a sizable income in earlier years, making $884,502 in 2008 and $784,372 in 2007.

Read The Sun story about Ehrlich's tax disclosure here.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:21 PM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

Ehrlich to get a labor endorsement

Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich is poised to pick up a union endorsement next week: The Maryland Classified Employees Association sent out an email to say they'll support his candidacy.

Most of the other labor groups are siding with Gov. Martin O'Malley, a democrat. And MCEA, or at least a faction of it, supported O’Malley in 2006 (see portion of Sun story after the jump.)

This time the group’s leadership is angry that O’Malley supported legislation requiring state employees to pay dues to the union that is in charge of collective bargaining -- whether the employees are members of it or not.

“If people don’t want to be a member of a union you should not have to pay a fee,” said MCEA Executive Director David Boschert, a former Republican delegate. MCEA, has about 10,000 members including an number of correctional officers, but is not a union designated to do any collective bargaining. Democrats hunt for rural votes
O'Malley, party seek to make headway in regions usually dominated
Date: Thursday, October 19, 2006

Robert Stephens, president of the MCEA, said Council 92 backed O'Malley because the mayor supports legislation allowing the union to collect fees on all state employees, not just its union members, to pay for its collective bargaining authority. Ehrlich opposes the fee. Bailey said O'Malley told the union that he does not oppose the fee, but that there was no quid pro quo for the endorsement.

The governor has worked to ease tensions with correctional officers with pay raises this year and legislation to hire retirees to offset staffing problems, said Kelly, the delegate. He said he did not know if that would be enough to mend divisions, but he added that there is not enough discontent to translate into enhanced Democratic turnout. "Ehrlich has been very good to this part of the state on highway projects and by giving us the first high school in 50 years to be constructed in Allegany County," Kelly said. "These [correctional] employees are not one-issue people."

O'Malley made the drive from Baltimore last week to meet with Hagerstown business leaders at a hotel conference room here. As he pulled off Interstate 70, large blue Ehrlich signs greeted him.

Correctional officers endorsed Ehrlich in 2002 believing the prison system could not get worse, the mayor said. "But it has," O'Malley said. "I think we will do much better in Western Maryland then we did four years ago."
Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:12 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Horserace

Delegate campaigns on furlough, forgets to take his

Del. Saqib Ali, a Montgomery County Democrat running in a competitive Senate primary, sent out a campaign mailer recently that touted his decision to take voluntary furlough days.

“To help close the budget deficit, he even volunteered to cut his own pay, despite having a young family to feed,” the missive boasted.

The only problem: The ambitious young delegate wasn’t participating in the furlough program this year.

Asked about the claim this week, he said his failure to sign up was an oversight, and he quickly joined the program.

Furloughs are tricky for lawmakers, who rely on a constitutionally ordered compensation commission to set their salaries. Most earn make $43,500 per year. For the past three years, however, most have voted to impose pay reductions on the thousands of state workers.

In a show of solidarity many have elected to garnish their own wages. Most lawmakers take eight days, the number that has been required of state employees making $40,000 to $50,000.

Of the 141 delegates, 68 disclosed that they volunteered to take furlough days this year. Thirty-one of the state’s 47 Senators also signed up – including Sen. Nancy King, whom Ali is hoping to unseat.

Curiously, lawmakers have been more stingy this year — an election year. Last year 114 delegates volunteered to have pay reductions and 40 senators did so. Ali opted to take eight voluntary furlough days last year — giving the state $966.72. King also took eight days.

Notified that he was not on this year’s list, Ali responded indignantly, offering to show his pay stubs to prove his participation. After reviewing documents provided by The Baltimore Sun, he explained that he had improperly assumed his participation in last year’s program extended to the current fiscal year. “It was just an oversight,” he said.

The lawmaker had apparently not seen a June memo from House Speaker Michael E. Busch explaining how delegates could participate in this year’s program. But he quickly located the necessary forms Thursday and signed up for 10 days of furloughs, putting an extra $1,208.40 into the state coffers.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:29 PM | | Comments (6)

Glenn Beck angers Arundel MLK event observers

Civil rights leaders across Maryland plan to commemorate the 47th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech Saturday at a rally on the grounds of Anne Arundel Community College.

Hundreds of attendees are expected at the noon event at the King memorial statue on the Arnold campus, which coincides with events across the country, including a controversial rally hosted by conservative commentator Glenn Beck and featuring former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington — the site of King’s iconic 1963 speech.

Carl O. Snowden, chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Committee, which organized the Maryland event, said news of the Washington rally has energized Marylanders to come out in greater numbers to celebrate King at the community college. Snowden said he has fielded dozens of calls from people angry that Beck would hold a rally there on the anniversary of the famous speech, but he sees the controversy as an opportunity to galvanize voters ahead of the state’s gubernatorial race and the country’s mid-term elections.

“Every now and again you need someone or something to remind you of why it’s important to continue to struggle,” said Snowden, who is director of the Maryland attorney general’s office for civil rights and said he now expects hundreds of people to attend the event. “Them being at that location is symbolic of something — that freedom is not free. One of Dr. King’s famous lines was ‘Give us the ballot box and we’ll solve our problems.’ It’s our responsibility now to make sure people get to the polls.”

Civil Rights leader Al Sharpton has organized a march and rally on the National Mall in response to Beck’s event, called “Restoring Honor,” which is expected to draw a huge crowd of conservative activists, including those in the Tea Party movement.

The community college event will feature Evelyn Bethune, granddaughter of civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune as keynote speaker. Other participants include County Executive John R. Leopold, U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, participants in the 1963 rally and representatives from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Cosponsors of the event include the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP, the Anne Arundel County NAACP, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, and the United Christian Clergy Alliance and several other community groups.

Organizers say it was important to mark this year’s anniversary as the civil rights movement finds itself at a crossroads. Despite electing President Obama as the nation’s first black president, many of the social ills that King tried to remedy still exist, said Snowden, who said it’s important to attend the rally to “remind this generation of the need to become engaged in the struggle to make the lives of future generations better.”

Jacqueline Boone Allsup, president of the Anne Arundel County branch of the NAACP, said, “It is our intention to have a community celebration of one of the most pivotal rallies that ever occurred in our nation. The 1963 rally changed the course of our nation.”

-Nicole Fuller

Posted by Andy Rosen at 2:22 PM | | Comments (43)
Categories: In The Counties

A congeniality contest for Balto. Co. exec?

Running Baltimore County government is a big job, and one that involves many technical decisions: which roads to fix, which projects to fund, how to structure agencies. Winning the job, however, may be less about policy than it is about personality.

The three Democrats who are vying for a chance to take on Republican Ken Holt in November offer an interesting comparison in disposition, as Arthur Hirsch writes in a package of profiles in today's paper.

Joe Bartenfelder and Kevin Kamenetz, both 15-year county councilmen, come off as an affable, folksy farmer and an intense, detail-oriented lawyer, respectively. Ron Harvey, a 28-year county human resources veteran, doesn't offer handshakes, but speaks with experience about how the machinery of county government operates.

Click below for some excerpts.

From the Bartenfelder piece:

Joe is Joe, they say — what you see is what you get. What you see is a tall, broad-shouldered man with a genial manner who seems to move easily between dark business suits and dusty work pants, who says he means to sustain small bits of this long-running juggling act even if he wins the job of Baltimore County executive, running the multibillion-dollar operation that is the county government.

From the Kamenetz piece:

By all accounts the 52-year-old lawyer from Owings Mills overachieves in his command of policy, but over the years has received guidance to work on his patience, humility and listening.

In the heat of a race, Kamenetz won't exactly acknowledge a need for improvement. He'll go this far: "I demand a lot of myself. I want others to have the same level of competence."

From the Harvey piece:

With about three weeks to go until the primary, Harvey, 63, a Nottingham resident in the race with two four-term members of the County Council, has no campaign staff, no website or campaign literature — though he says those are in the works — and no inclination to show up at candidate forums. What he does have is a cause, and what he calls an "insider's view of county government" that he says would serve him well as a reform-minded county CEO.

Posted by Andy Rosen at 11:42 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: In The Counties

August 26, 2010

Currie missing $187K from campaign, fires treasurer

The chairman of Maryland’s powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee reported Thursday that roughly $187,000 has been drained from his campaign account, and his attorney is conducting a “comprehensive investigation” to determine what happened to the money, Baltimore Sun colleague Annie Linskey reports.

Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Prince George’s County Democrat, also reported that he has replaced his longtime campaign treasurer. Currie’s attorney, Gregg Bernstein, wrote in a letter to the Maryland State Board of Elections that “inconsistencies” with the campaign funding report “appear to be the result of the treasurer’s conduct.”

The missing money appears to be unconnected to a federal probe into Currie’s relationship with Shoppers Food Warehouse, a grocery chain in his Prince George’s County district. State prosecutors have also been investigating Currie’s campaign account since an article in The Baltimore Sun raised questions about how the money was being spent.

Currie’s former campaign treasurer, Olivia Harris, did not return phone calls on Thursday. State prosecutors raided her Upper Marlboro home on Friday, according to a source familiar with the investigation. She has prepared Currie’s campaign reports since he was elected to the Senate in 1994. Currie also did not return calls.

Jared DeMarinis, director of the division of candidacy and campaign finance for the State Board of Elections, said he would work with Currie’s campaign to determine what happened to the money.

“They recognized that a full accounting is required,” he said. “We would have required this, but they are doing it proactively on their own.”

Currie chairs the committee that oversees Maryland’s $32 billion budget. He was first elected to the General Assembly 24 years ago as a delegate representing Prince George’s County, and then ran successfully for senate in 1994. He was once a school principal and taught for 30 years.

Currie’s campaign finance report, filed about a week late, indicates he paid $20,000 to Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, Bernstein’s law firm, for “legal fees on behalf of state prosecution.” Bernstein, who is running to be State’s Attorney in Baltimore, declined to comment.

Candidates are permitted to use their campaign funds to pay for legal fees associated with investigations into their campaign accounts. However, Currie attracted attention from State Prosecutors after filing a January report that showed the campaign paid $41,500 in legal fees to Baltimore law firm Miles & Stockbridge to fend off the federal probe into his dealings with Shoppers. The expenditure raised eyebrows because the federal investigation appears centered on his official duties and not his campaign.

The January report also showed campaign money used for an eye examination, auto repair and online games.

The federal investigation of Currie became public when federal agents searched Currie's District Heights home in May 2008. The federal agents alleged that Currie was paid $200,000 by Shoppers Food and Pharmacy over five years and did not disclose it on required ethics forms.

While receiving the payments, Currie support legislation that would help the company, including a bill in 2005 that allowed the chain to transfer liquor licenses between locations, according to federal agents. He pushed for state financial incentives that would help a Shoppers store at Mondawmin Mall in Baltimore. He also sought the installation of traffic lights and roadside improvements near the chain's store in Owings Mills.

The most recent report also showed $6,500 in legal fees paid to another Baltimore law firm, Rosenberg, Martin, Greenberg LLC, for “legal fees related to grand jury investigation of Olivia Harris.” Gerard Martin, Harris’s attorney, also declined to comment.

Currie faces no opposition in the upcoming primary or the general election. He raised $1,050 in the last eight months from four donors: one from Maryland, one from Florida, one from South Carolina and one from a Virginia-based storage company.

When Currie last filed a campaign finance report in January, he had $312,873 in his bank account. His most recent filing shows that he spent only $37,300 — mostly on legal fees — but has a balance of only $89,800.

Bernstein, Currie’s lawyer, wrote in a letter to the Board of Elections that his client had “only recently” discovered “inconsistencies” in the finance account.

“We are currently conducting a comprehensive investigation of the situation,” he wrote, “and we will provide you with information concerning the results of that investigation as soon as possible.”

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

Cordish launches campaign for Arundel Mills casino

The Cordish-Cos. backed group pushing for passage of a referendum allowing slots at Arundel Mills mall on Thursday announced the launch of its campaign committee -- called “Jobs and Revenue for Anne Arundel County.”

The group is pushing for the passage of Question A on the November ballot in Anne Arundel, which would uphold the project’s requisite zoning already approved by the county council and allow Cordish to build a 4,750-slots parlor near the mall.

In a statement, the group stressed its makeup of a broad range of supporters, including county police and fire unions and taxpayers who “who support the building of a world class gaming and entertainment facility in the Arundel Mills Commercial District to fund education, public safety and infrastructure needs in Maryland and Anne Arundel County.”

The coalition is being financed by the Baltimore-based Cordish Cos., which lost a legal battle against the ballot question before the state’s highest court, which ruled that the referendum was legal. Pushing for a “No” vote on the ballot question is “No Slots at the Mall,” which is funded by the Maryland Jockey Club.

“Anne Arundel County voted overwhelmingly for slots in 2008 because of the jobs and revenue it promises for our schools and our County,” said Todd Lamb, campaign manager for the committee.

“Our broad spectrum of support boldly underscores how important creating jobs, revenue and opportunities are for Anne Arundel County families, businesses, public safety workers, teachers, seniors and our children. The choice is now or never for slots in Anne Arundel County.”

-Nicole Fuller

Posted by Andy Rosen at 4:34 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: In The Counties

Baltimorean Mehlman, former RNC chair, comes out

Ken Mehlman, the Baltimore native who served as a campaign manager for President George W. Bush in 2004 and chaired the Republican National Committee from 2005 to 2007, has told family and associates he is gay, the Atlantic reports in an online article.

Marc Armbinder, politics editor at the Atlantic, calls Mehlman “the most powerful Republican in history to identify as gay.”

Mehlman tells Armbinder that he agreed to answer questions about his sexuality he wants to become an advocate for gay marriage and anticipated that questions would arise about his participation in a fundraiser next month for the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the group that supported the legal challenge to California's ban on same-sex marriage.

"It's taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life," Mehlman says. "Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I've told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they've been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that's made me a happier and better person. It's something I wish I had done years ago."

As Armbinder writes, Mehlman's ascent in the GOP came at a time when the party was stepping up its anti-gay activities:

Mehlman said at the time that he could not, as an individual Republican, go against the party consensus. He was aware that Karl Rove, President Bush's chief strategic adviser, had been working with Republicans to make sure that anti-gay initiatives and referenda would appear on November ballots in 2004 and 2006 to help Republicans.

Mehlman acknowledges that if he had publicly declared his sexuality sooner, he might have played a role in keeping the party from pushing an anti-gay agenda.

"It's a legitimate question and one I understand," Mehlman said. "I can't change the fact that I wasn't in this place personally when I was in politics, and I genuinely regret that. It was very hard, personally."

Indeed, Mehlman’s coming out already has sparked debate in the gay community.

“The three people most responsible for the anti-gay actions of the Bush reelection campaign are Mehlman, Karl Rove and Bush,” blogs gay activist Mike Rogers, who had long pressed Mehlman to clairfy his sexual orientation. “Ken Mehlman is horridly homophobic and no matter how orchestrated his coming out is, our community should hold him accountable for his past.”

The executive director of Log Cabin Republicans said the organization was “supportive and appreciative” of Mehlman’s disclosure. Log Cabin Republicans says it promotes legislation to provide basic fairness for gay and lesbian Americans and works to build a more inclusive GOP.

"As a fellow Bush alumnus, I look forward to Ken helping me and our colleagues build a stronger and more inclusive Republican Party,” executive director R. Clarke Cooper said. “I am happy that Ken has come to a place where he can take a stand with integrity, and I welcome him as yet another conservative, common-sense voice to join with Log Cabin Republicans and all Americans in this important dialogue."

"The process of coming out, and certainly coming out in the public eye, is never an easy one, but I am glad that Ken has decided to take this step and am glad that he is doing so on behalf of the fight for equality," added Republican former Rep. Jim Kolbe.

"Ken joins a chorus that includes Laura Bush, Dick Cheney, Ted Olson, and countless others advocating for the American value of inclusion," Kolbe said. "This is not a time for playing politics; it is a time for us all to join together – Republicans and Democrats – to repeal the failed 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy, to pass workplace non-discrimination, and to recognize all committed relationships."

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 11:59 AM | | Comments (17)

August 25, 2010

Ehrlich: No new taxes or fees

The Associated Press is reporting that former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said Wednesday he won't raise taxes, and isn't planning any fee increases, if he gets his old job back. According to AP reporter Brian Witte:

Ehrlich, a Republican who is proposing a 1 percent cut to the state's sale tax, said he's not ready yet to disclose how his budget proposal would address a budget deficit of more than $1 billion in the next fiscal year, but he said he plans to later in the campaign.

“We're not even thinking about fee stuff,” Ehrlich told reporters when questioned whether he is considering raising fees instead of taxes. He answered “no” when a reporter asked a follow-up question about whether fee increases of any sort could be under consideration.

Many Republicans in Maryland have worried that tax increases are coming next year, as the state is expected to face another gap between revenues and expenses -- and annual problem -- and the election will be in the rear-view mirror.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, has said he doesn't intend to raise taxes, but he has stopped short of making a campaign pledge, according to the AP.

The rest of the AP story on competing tax pledges and reaction:

O'Malley has been quick to point out that Ehrlich raised property taxes and a variety of fees, including vehicle registration fees, when he was governor during much better financial times.

Rick Abbruzzese, O'Malley's campaign spokesman, said Ehrlich “is very good at making empty promises during an election year.”

“Bob Ehrlich has zero credibility when it comes to fiscal responsibility,” Abbruzzese said in response to Ehrlich's comments Wednesday.

Taxes have been a big campaign issue so far.

Ehrlich has criticized O'Malley for raising a variety of taxes during a 2007 special session, including an increase in the sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent and a jump in the corporate income tax from 7 percent to 8.25 percent.

But O'Malley has fired back that Ehrlich wasn't nearly as disciplined in spending as he says he was, pointing to property tax increases, higher tolls and fees and big increases in college tuition when the Republican was governor.

Ehrlich, however, said the O'Malley administration has celebrated transportation projects and Chesapeake Bay restoration, while criticizing fees Ehrlich raised relating to transportation and bay restoration.

“You can't have it both ways,” Ehrlich said Wednesday after speaking to some small-business owners and families at Kaufman's Tavern in Gambrills. “You can't celebrate the successes of dedicated sources of revenue that have worked and then criticize fees on the back end.”

Posted by David Nitkin at 8:04 PM | | Comments (27)

GOP reports shot fired at Salisbury office

A gunshot fired early this morning shattered the glass door of a Maryland Republican Party field office on the Eastern Shore.

The Salisbury police discovered the vandalism after midnight and are investigating. No motive has been established, but Lt. Rob Kemp of the Salisbury police said the shot was likely "random."

"It just looks like somebody took a random shot. It wasn't multiple rounds or anything," he said. The single round was located in the office lobby but with no witnesses, Kemp said, it's not clear how much more investigating police can do.

State Party Chairwoman Audrey Scott called the incident "very disturbing."

“No motive has been established but whatever the reason may be it is very troubling that someone would do this to our volunteer field office,” Scott said in a statement.

The Salisbury office -- part of the GOP's national "Victory Campaign" -- is in a former Hollywood Video store.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:00 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Elections

Race to the Top bragging rights

Almost exactly 24 hours after beating out other states to win a competitive education grant, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s re-election campaign issued an email newsletter touting the so-called Race to the Top award is proof that the governor is “leading the way.”

Prediction: The award will start showing up in the governor’s stump speech. A story in today’s Sun analyzed the political implications of winning the grant.

O'Malley's top challenger, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said through a spokesman Tuesday that his charter school law helped clear the way for the award. So perhaps both candidates will claim some credit.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:23 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

A Cinematic Morning at the Board of Estimates

Meetings of the city's spending board are generally sleepy bureaucratic pageants, punctuated by the occasional protest from contractors or the sopping arrival of officials caught in the rain.

But Tom Kiefaber, who ran the Senator Theater until just a few weeks ago, brought a level of drama worthy of a summer blockbuster to today's meeting.

Kiefaber accused the Baltimore Development Company of being "deceitful and fraudulent" in the manner in which they awarded the contract for the theater to James "Buzz" and Kathleen Cusack, the father-and-daughter team behind the Charles Theatre.

He interupted assistant city solicitor Larry Jenkins, prompting Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young to rap his gavel and call for order.

"This is out of order," Kiefaber yelled. "This is a fraud coming down here."

After Kiefaber stormed to the back of the chamber, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, "I'm very much looking forward to new leadership at the Senator Theatre."

She praised the Cusacks' role in the renaissance of Station North and said she anticipated a "viable theater" would add to the revitalized Belvedere Square area.

"Shame on you. Shame on all of you," Kiefaber yelled from the back of the room as the five-member board voted on the agreement. City Comptroller Joan Pratt abstained from the vote.

Four teams responded to a request for proposals last fall. BDC officials winnowed the field down to two -- the Cusacks and Towson University's WTMD radio station, but the university dropped out saying it could not come up with a workable financial model.

The city is offering the Cusacks this deal-- $1 annual rent for the first 40 years and a $700,000 loan to aid with construction. The Cusacks are fronting $400,000 and applying for $550,000 federal and state tax credits and grants.

The family plans a $1.65 million renovation of the 71-year-old theater that includes building two small restaurants and constructing a second screen.

Kiefaber's story is quite compelling. His grandfather opened the theater and it stayed in the family until the bank seized it last year after he was unable to make mortgage payments.

The city bought the mortgage, and after an auction failed to produce a buyer, took control of the theater last summer.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 11:22 AM | | Comments (35)
Categories: City Hall

August 24, 2010

Ehrlich promises tax break to vets

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. told Maryland’s veterans he’d push to fully exempt their pensions from state income taxes, a pledge Gov. Martin O’Malley’s campaign dismissed as another “budget busting” promise.

Ehrlich, a Republican, made the same promise to veterans while governor, but was unable to fulfill it. “This is about unfinished business,” he told reporters.

In 2006 Ehrlich signed into law a measure that allows the state's 47,000 veterans to exempt $5,000 of their pension income from state taxes, and today at a VFW hall in Howard County, blamed the General Assembly for not enacting a broader exemption.

"I promised you," he said. "Mike Busch promised you. Mike Miller promised you."

Ehrlich, who wants to reclaim his old job from O’Malley, cast the initiative as an economic stimulus program, saying it would draw more veterans and their spending power to the state.

O’Malley’s campaign was ready to respond, putting forward Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, a Colonel in the army reserves, for a press avail outside the campaign's Canton headquarters. He called the initiative, which has been introduced in Annapolis four times, “something that ought to be looked at.”

Brown also said the plan is another example of Ehrlich of making “budget busting promises.” Ehrlich has also promised to give an additional $60 million to local governments to pay for road maintenance and would reduce the state sales tax by a penny, which would cost the government about $600 million. He has not said how he would pay for those proposals.

Whomever wins the election will already need to close a $1.6 billion gap between government spending and revenues. Ehrlich estimates his the veterans’ tax relief idea would cost $37 million over five years – an amount he said is so small it is equivalent to “a rounding error.”

It was unclear where he got those figures, a similar bill introduced in 2008 would have cost the state about $40 million a year, an amount that is more than twice the budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Other, similar bills have been introduced in 2009 and 2007. All have died in committee.

When asked how Ehrlich would be able to convince the Democrat-controlled General Assembly to move forward on the proposal that they’ve rebuffed in past years, he said there would “pressure” on them and suggested that some recalcitrant Democrats could lose their jobs in November.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:10 PM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

Balto. Co. police union endorses Bartenfelder

Baltimore County executive candidate Joseph Bartenfelder won the last of the major county labor endorsements Monday night, as the union representing 1,900 police officers voted unanimously to support him in his race for the Democratic nomination with fellow veteran County Council member, Kevin Kamenetz.

Sgt. Cole Weston, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, said more than 100 members gathered at the union's headquarters Monday night to back Bartenfelder, who has already won the endorsements of the Baltimore County Professional Firefighters Association and the Metropolitan Baltimore Council AFL-CIO, representing more than 180 separate locals. Kamenetz is supported by the Teachers Association of Baltimore County and the Laborers International Union of North America.

"Through Joe's tenure, he's established himself professionally and personally with a number of our members in issues that are important to us," said Weston.

He specifically mentioned votes the council took in the spring of 2008 on provisions of the police contract that had already been approved under binding arbitration. Of the 14 items submitted separately to the council, Bartenfelder voted for 13, Kamenetz for 7.

Weston said those votes were not the only reason for the decision, but "it was certainly a part of it. Legislative history is a part of the consideration."

Both Bartenfelder and Kamenetz have served on the council since 1994.

Weston said the endorsements meant not only financial support, but volunteers to hand out literature, plant campaign signs and work the polls on primary day, Sept. 14. The union represents officers up to the level of lieutenant, as well as about 900 retirees.

Bartenfelder, who has raised about $800,000 to Kamenetz's $1.4 million, has been hoping that the labor endorsements will help him stay competitive with his opponent.

Kenneth C. Holt, the lone Republican in the race, and a third Democrat, Ronald E. Harvey, have received no public labor endorsements.

-Arthur Hirsch

Posted by Andy Rosen at 12:00 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: In The Counties

O'Malley edges Ehrlich in poll; Murphy low show

Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley is posting a slight lead over Republican former Gov Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in a poll out this morning.

The OpinionWorks survey, conducted for Center Maryland, shows O'Malley garnering 47 percent of the vote and Ehrlich 41, with about a 4 percentage-point margin of error. The pollster also asked about the Republican primary -- the first time the question was posed to voters and the results made public.

Brian Murphy, a Montgomery County investor and political newcomer who landed Sarah Palin's endorsement, would win 13 percent of the vote to Ehrlich's commanding 75 percent. The primary poll questions, the results of which were released yesterday, had an 8.5-percentage-point margin of error. 

The survey probed the "Palin effect." In blue Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-to-1 and Republicans are arguably more centrist than in other states, Palin's backing seems to do Murphy more harm than good, according to the poll results.

Of likely Republican primary voters, 11 percent said Palin’s endorsement made it more likely to vote for Murphy, and 15 percent said it made them less likely to support Murphy. Two-thirds said it made no difference.

“If you’re a Republican in Maryland, the more likely you are to vote in the primary, the less likely you are to like Palin’s endorsement,” Steve Raabe, OpinionWorks president and founder, told Center Maryland. “She cuts against the hard-core primary voter.”

The telephone survey was conducted Aug. 13-18. It included 600 "likely" general election voters statewide and, for the Murphy-Ehrlich question, 132 "likely Republican voters who said they are certain or probable to vote in the September Republican primary election."

Other results:

* "Certain" voters favor O'Malley 45 percent to Ehrlich's 41 percent. "Likely" voters prefer O’Malley 48 percent to 40 percent.

* 49 percent of those polled approve of the job O'Malley is doing, compared to 39 percent who disapprove.

* 40 percent say Maryland is headed in the right direction, and 42 percent say it's on the wrong track.

* 43 percent of likely voters say they'd vote for more Democrats in state and local fall elections, and 31 percent say Republicans.

Annapolis-based OpinionWorks has polled for media companies, including The Baltimore Sun. Center Maryland, which paid for this poll, bills itself as a "nonprofit media outlet ... with straight-down-the-middle reporting."

Many of its six founders, however, have Democratic ties and donate to O'Malley and other Democrats. Three of the founders are employed by a public relations shop launched two years ago by Steve Kearney, O'Malley's former communications director, and Damian O'Doherty, a former aide to Democratic Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. 

More Center Maryland/OpinionWorks poll results -- focusing on the economy -- will be released tomorrow. The entire poll has not been published, but details about the questions can be found on Center Maryland's web site summaries (Murphy-Ehrlich and Ehrlich-O'Malley)

This marks OpinionWorks' first Maryland gubernatorial poll this year. A Rassmussen Reports poll out last week, showed O'Malley and Ehrlich essentially tied. Earlier this summer, The Sun examined the roll of partisan pollsters in the governor's race.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 8:38 AM | | Comments (39)
Categories: Horserace

August 20, 2010

Balto. Co. police criticize candidate's use of badge

Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson has demanded that District 7 County Council candidate Charles "Buzz" Beeler stop using a police badge in campaign literature, but Beeler says he's going to keep using the insignia.

The chief threatened legal action in an Aug. 11 letter to Beeler, a 39-year veteran officer, if he did not immediately stop using the badge and retrieve any fliers or mailers with the symbol.

An excerpt: “The police department's badge and patch are trademark protected and can only be used in connection with police services and with agency approval. … Your immediate compliance is essential to avoid litigation in this matter.”

Beeler said he will continue to use the badge. He accused the chief of playing politics, noting that Johnson supports County Executive candidate Kevin Kamenetz, whom Beeler’s opponent, Councilman John Olszewski, has endorsed. District 7 includes Dundalk and Essex.

“I am not intimidated nor will I be bullied,” Beeler said. “Maybe the Chief should (have) noted my other campaign symbol, boxing gloves.”

-Raven Hill

Posted by Andy Rosen at 5:31 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: In The Counties

BaltCo Councilman Oliver backs Bartenfelder

Baltimore County executive candidate Joseph Bartenfelder picked up some support in his chief opponent’s backyard as he has won the endorsement of a fellow County Councilman, Kenneth N. Oliver, of the west side.

Before Oliver’s district — which extends from the city line west to the Howard and Carroll County border — was established in 2002 to create a minority jurisdiction, part of it was represented by Kevin Kamenetz, the councilman from the west-side District 2, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination for county executive.

In a press release, Oliver praised Bartenfelder for supporting a number of projects in District 4, including Storyville Library in Woodlawn and a Sonic drive-in restaurant on Liberty Road that opened this month. Oliver said in the statement that Bartenfelder “recognizes the importance of providing for education and jobs within our community. He does this by continually supporting the revitalization efforts while recognizing the need for Baltimore County to provide the highest level of services to our citizens.”

Oliver, who pleaded guilty last year to two misdemeanor charges of writing checks to himself from his campaign funds, is facing a tough race for re-election. Six Democratic candidates have lined up to challenge him, including Penny McCrimmon of Owings Mills, an activist who has opposed him twice before, and lawyer Leronia A. Josey of Lochearn.

Bartenfelder is also supported by Suzanne Mensh, the longtime Circuit Court clerk, who is from Pikesville, which is in Kamenetz’s district. Kamenetz in turn has the endorsement of several prominent east-side politicians, including council members John Olszewski Sr. of District 7 and Vincent Gardina of District 5, and former state Sen. Michael Collins of Essex.

-Arthur Hirsch

Posted by Andy Rosen at 2:54 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: In The Counties

Ehrlich pledges to give counties roads money

* Updated with O'Malley campaign response. * 

Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said today that he'd restore $60 million in road maintence money to counties, making the announcement as local leaders met nearby for their summer convention.

Both he and Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley took chunks from the "highway user revenue fund" -- gas taxes and bridge fees and such -- to plug holes in the state budget. The fund is supposed to be used for road maintenance and improvements.

This fiscal year, O'Malley and the Maryland General Assembly cut that aid by more than $300 million.

Ehrlich said today that local leaders have begged him to give them more roads money. This fiscal year, the 23 counties are splitting $10 million -- which for many places translated to a more than 90 percent decrease in what they're supposed to receive. Baltimore City, which maintains all of its roads, got $130 million, less than it usually receives but still enough to anger some in the counties.

Ehrlich did not say where he would reduce the state budget to make up for the $60 million expense.

"Bob Ehrlich is promising to spend more taxpayer dollars and dig an even bigger hole than the $1.7 billion budget deficit he left four years ago as the biggest spending governor in Maryland history," O'Malley campaign manager Tom Russell said in a statement.

The Sun recently analyzed the taxing and spending histories of the two governors and the claims each has made.  

O'Malley has made comments in the past few weeks that lead some local officials to believe that he intends to take the same amount of money next year, possibly more.

Ehrlich said the local roads money is "where the rubber meets the road." He defended his administration's use of the money, saying he basically returned it by passing a $250 million transportation funding package in 2004.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:52 PM | | Comments (3)

Angelos to bat for O'Malley

Orioles owner Peter Angelos will host a fundraiser for Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley next month before an Orioles-Boston Red Sox game at Camden Yards.

The $1,000-per-person event is to be co-hosted by Angelos, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and real estate guru Wayne Gioioso. Attendees will mingle in a SkyBox at the Sept. 2 game.

Earlier this summer, Vice President Joe Biden and Baltimore developer Patrick Turner hosted pricey fundraisers for O'Malley.

But O'Malley hasn't always been touched by Angelos' "Orioles magic." 

Last time around, Angelos favored Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., taking out a full-page ad thanking him protecting his Orioles as the Washington Nationals came to the region. Angelos said at the time, in 2005, that O'Malley was a "Washington suburbanite" who does not understand Baltimore.

Angelos isn't the only sports team owner who likes to play politics. Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder wrote Ehrlich a check for $4,000 this year.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 8:45 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

August 19, 2010

O'Malley outraises Ehrlich; Ehrlich has more donors

Gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. submitted a campaign finance report so large it crashed The Sun’s computers and the Board of Elections had trouble e-mailing it out in the morning.

When we could open it, we learned that Ehrlich posted $3.1 million from about 18,300 donors. Incumbent Gov. Martin O’Malley took in $3.3 million from roughly 7,500 donors. Read more here.

In Baltimore City, aside from the surprising Jessamy v. Bernstein fundraising results, there were some interesting reports. Bill Ferguson, a twenty-something upstart, raised $83K to mount a change to longtime incumbent Sen. George Della.

Della only raised $2,400 in the same time period – but has $55K in the bank.

The other contested Baltimore Senate race pits fairly well funded incumbent Sen. Joan Carter Conway ($22K in the bank) against challenger Hector Torres. Torres didn’t raise much – he only posted $7K – but he had 95 donors. Conway raised $11K from 45 people.

-- Annie Linskey

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:07 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Campaign finance

Latest poll: O'Malley, Ehrlich 'essentially tied'

Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. remain “essentially tied” according to results of a Rasmussen Reports poll released Thursday.

The statewide telephone survey of 750 likely voters conducted Tuesday shows O’Malley with 45 percent support and Ehrlich with 44 percent. For the third straight month, the difference fell well within the 4 percent margin of error.

In the first independent survey to be released since former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin endorsed businessman Brian Murphy for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, 3 percent said they supported what Rasmussen identified as “some other candidate.” The survey results do not name Murphy or any other candidate.

When taking into account “leaners” – defined by Rasmussen as respondents who initially indicate no preference for either of the candidates but say in a follow-up question they are leaning towards one of them – O’Malley and Ehrlich are tied with 47 percent support.

According to Rasmussen, the numbers without leaners are generally more significant early in a campaign; later the numbers with leaners matter more. Rasmussen continues to rate the race a toss-up.

Other findings, after the jump.

• 90 percent of Republicans support Ehrlich; 70 percent of Democrats support O’Malley.

• 78 percent of O’Malley voters say they already are certain how they will vote in November; 72 percent of Ehrlich voters say the same.

• 55 percent of all voters say O’Malley is either somewhat or very liberal; 25 percent say he is a moderate.

• 76 percent of all voters say Ehrlich is either somewhat or very conservative; 13 percent say he is a moderate.

• 55 percent describe the views of O’Malley’s and 51 percent describe the views of Ehrlich as mainstream. 30 percent describe the views of Ehrlich and 27 percent describe the views of O’Malley as extreme.

• 54 percent approve of O’Malley’s performance as governor, up from 50 percent in July. 45 percent disapprove.

• 55 percent have a somewhat or very favorable impression of O’Malley; 42 percent have a somewhat or very unfavorable impression.

• 56 percent have a somewhat or very favorable impression of Ehrlich; 38 percent have a somewhat or very unfavorable impression.

Earlier this summer, The Sun examined the role of partisan pollsters in the Maryland governor's race.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 11:00 AM | | Comments (16)

August 18, 2010

GOP overtakes Dems in Harford registration

Registered Republicans outnumber their Democratic counterparts in Harford County for the first time in recent memory. The latest figures show a difference of 28 voters, an increase that will likely continue until registration ends on Tuesday, said James Massey, director of the county board of elections.

“This is the first time ever,” Massey said. “Republicans got close a few times before but never exceeded Democrats. We have been seeing this trend for years.”

He attributes the change to those switching parties to vote in numerous Republican primary races, rather than to new registrations, which he said are fairly flat.

“We have seen a lot of switching, probably because there are more choices in the Republican primary and a lot of close races,” Massey said.

Since Democrats did not field candidates in several key Harford races, including county executive and council president, primary voters will decide the outcome.

Registration as of Tuesday shows 148,059 voters in Harford County, with 62,199 Republicans and 62,171 Democrats. The remaining voters are registered in various smaller parties and 22,180 are unaffiliated.

-Mary Gail Hare

Posted by Andy Rosen at 3:57 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: In The Counties

FEC finds major errors in Bartlett's campaign account

An audit by the Federal Election Commission has uncovered significant errors in Rep. Roscoe Bartlett's campaign account, the agency disclosed Wednesday.

A final audit of the Bartlett for Congress Committee for 2007 and 2008 found that it failed to report dozens of expenses and significantly under-reported the amounts he raised and spent during that period, which covered his '08 re-election run.

The FEC, which enforces federal election law, has not imposed any penalties. Nor did it describe the errors as intentional. However, it said it reserved the right to take enforcement action.

Bartlett, in a statement, said there had been no wrongdoing or misuse of funds. He said the FEC audit showed that he was "honest, not perfect" and that he had acknowledged and corrected the errors.

The state's only Republican congressman, who lives in the Frederick area and represents western Maryland and northern portions of Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties, is seeking another two-year term this fall. He was first elected in 1992.

According to the FEC, Bartlett's committee understated the amount of money it received by more than $37,000 out of $360,000. Included was a failure to report eight donations from political action committees totaling $7,300.

FEC auditers compared bank records with Bartlett's public disclosure reports and found that his campaign failed to report 63 separate payments, totaling $67,000 (out of overall spending of $272,000). The unreported spending appeared to have been mainly for political advertising and operating expenses, the FEC said.

The FEC did not say specifically why it had conducted the Bartlett audit but did say it generally launches investigations when a campaign committee appears to have not met basic requirements for compliance with federal election law.

In response to the audit, Bartlett's campaign amended its financial reports in a series of filings over the last four months. Bartlett had $416,000 in his campaign account as of the end of June, according to his most recent FEC filing.

"I strive to be as frugal with donations from supporters to my campaign as I am with taxpayers' money," Bartlett said in a statement relayed by his office. "I have been very lucky to benefit from superb volunteers for my campaign rather than paying pricey professional consultants. I was gratified and I hope Sixth District residents and supporters of me will be pleased that the routine audit by the FEC found that there was no missing money or misuse of funds by my campaign. Mistakes identified in reporting have been corrected. The bottom line is that this FEC report reassures the public that above all, I'm honest, not perfect, but honest. When I make mistakes, I acknowledge and correct them."

Bartlett is a heavy favorite to win re-election and faces only token opposition in next month's Republican primary. Two Democrats, Casey Clark and Andrew Duck, are competing for their party's nomination against Bartlett.

Posted by Paul West at 2:35 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

Arab group to Md. leaders: Speak up for liberty

The Baltimore chapter of a national Arab-American rights group is calling on Maryland leaders to support the religious freedom of all Americans, following criticism by some of the proposal to build a mosque near the former site of the World Trade Center in New York.

The statement by the local chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee comes a day after Republican state Sen. Andy Harris drew national attention by calling the Park51 project “blatantly disrespectful.”

A spokesman for Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., meanwhile, said Ehrlich was “firmly opposed” to a proposal he believes “is clearly inappropriate and insensitive to the victims” of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Bash Pharoan, Baltimore chapter president of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said Maryland politicians were failing to counter “election-profiteering Islamophobia against Muslims.”

In a statement, the committee called on elected officials and the media to speak up “in support of the rights of every American to worship or build a place of worship, as they chose, as long as they are not in violation of local, State or federal laws.”

It was the latest in a series of comments and statements by Marylanders on the New York proposal. On Sunday, Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County told CNN’s Candy Crowley that he agreed with President Barack Obama on the subject.

At a White House event last week to mark Ramadan, Obama said the developers have the right to build the mosque on private property two blocks from Ground Zero, subject to local laws and ordinances. Obama said he would not comment on the wisdom of building the mosque and community center on the site.

Harris, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil in the First Congressional District, said Tuesday that “the proposal to build an Islamic mosque and community center near Ground Zero is blatantly disrespectful to the sacred ground that is a memorial to the 3,000 Americans who died on September 11th.”

“The president is once again trying to have it both ways; publicly supporting the project while saying he won’t get involved in local politics,” Harris said in a statement. “He is thinking like a lawyer and not like an American, making declarations without America’s best interest in mind.”

Harris said he lost a “very close friend” in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and considers Ground Zero “a place to remember my friend and how she lost her life trying to save others on that day."

“The area around Ground Zero is a special place where Americans should feel comfortable to visit, mourn, and remember what happened on 9/11,” he said. “That will be impossible if this project is allowed to continue. One of America’s founding principles is freedom of religion, but that does not mean you should practice your religion without a sense of respect for others.”

Asked to respond, Kratovil told the Associated Press: "I mean, it seems to me those are issues related to local zoning laws and so forth, and that's a decision that they're going to have to make, but I don't see the federal government having any role in that.”

An Ehrlich spokesman, meanwhile, told WJZ that Ehrlich "is firmly opposed to locating a mosque at the site of the 9/11 attack. He believes it is clearly inappropriate and insensitive to the victims of this tragedy. While Bob Ehrlich respects religious freedom and believes New York should work with the Muslim community to find an appropriate location, Ground Zero is simply not appropriate."

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:41 PM | | Comments (26)

August 17, 2010

Ehrlich walks a fine line in Western Maryland

Gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. put himself in the middle of a hot political contest this afternoon in Hagerstown at one of his many small business round table events.

Ehrlich was at a long table – with rival Republican state Senate candidates on either end.

“Everyone is watching my actions,” Ehrlich said.

Incumbent Sen. Don Munson, seated to the right of Ehrlich, complimented the former governor for spurring growth in the county’s burgeoning wine industry. To the left sat Del. Chris Shank, who just put out a campaign mailing featuring a photo of Ehrlich.

Ehrlich called the race interesting in part because it is “generational.” Munson is 72 and Shank is 38. “The major difference is approach,” Ehrlich said. Shank, a Republican whip in the General Assembly, has been a key strategist in the House GOP. Munson has taken a more low-key tact toward legislating.

Ehrlich described Shank as “one of our young stars” but said Munson is a senator who “knows the process” and “knows how things get done.”

Both candidates heaped praise upon Ehrlich and listened intently to a group of small business owners gathered to discuss concerns about the economy. As he has in the past, Ehrlich pledged to try to have the state sales tax reduced and improve what he called the “unfriendly” regulatory attitude at state agencies.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:20 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

Jim Smith campaign report shows thousands spent on research

Outgoing Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. began the year with a pile of cash – more than $1 million – and designs on a state Senate seat.

Even though Smith, a Democrat, had moved to the county's District 7 in preparation for a Senate run, he announced in June that he was opting out of the race. At the time, political observers speculated that his internal polling showed he couldn't win the seat. Smith has said his numbers were strong.

His latest campaign report reveals that he spent about $75,000 on campaign research and consultants in the final months that he was weighing a Senate run. He raised no money between Jan. 20 and Aug. 10 and has about $974,000 left in the bank, his report shows.

Smith, who is leaving the county executive office because of term limits, has vowed to stay out of the contentious battle for county his job.

Democratic county council members Joseph Bartenfelder and Kevin Kamenetz are vying for the seat, along with Republican Ken Holt. Smith’s campaign finance report shows no sign that he’s serving up cash to either Bartenfelder or Kamenetz. But he has transferred money to one Baltimore County politician.

Late last month, Smith's account posted a $6,000 transfer to Del. Adrienne Jones, a Democrat from Catonsville and speaker pro tem of the House. She also works for Smith as director of the county Office of Fair Practices and Community Affairs.

As for Smith's campaign research, here are the financial details:

In March and again in April, he made $11,000 payments to Nesbitt, and in May, he paid $23,000 to Peter D. Hart. Both are Washington-based research firms. Smith spent about $30,000 on consultants, the report shows.

With Smith out of the Senate race, all eyes are on the Republican primary, where Del. J.B. Jennings and former state insurance commissioner Al Redmer are both running strong, visible campaigns. Two lesser-known Democrats also are in the mix. The seat is open because Republican state Sen. Andy Harris is running for Congress.

And there was one other recent Smith expense – about $700 on promotional material for a reception this week at the Maryland Association of Counties summer conference in Ocean City. He’s held the event for several years and told The Gazette it’s not a last hurrah, but rather a celebration of his eight years as county executive.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 5:05 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Campaign finance, In The Counties

Howard: Ulman outraises Kittleman for exec

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, a Democrat running for re-election, has added to a sizable cash advantage over challenger Trent Kittleman this year.

Ulman reported having $713,424 on hand in campaign finance reports filed Tuesday, compared to $23,297 for Republican Trent Kittleman, who remained undaunted.

“I wish it were more,” Kittleman said, adding that “running against an entrenched incumbent in such a Democratic state puts roadblocks in the way.” But she predicted a close race in November.

According to the reports, Kittleman, who was a senior official in the administration of former Governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., raised $42,002 since January, and spent almost half of that. Kittleman formally entered the race in February.

Ulman began the period with a $573,183 balance and added another $296,560, while spending just $156,318.

“We’re executing a plan to execute our vision,” he said, refusing to elaborate on his plans to spend the money.

Ulman is the most prolific fundraiser by far in Howard County’s history, which typically produces relatively low budget campaigns without high-priced commercial television ads.

-Larry Carson

Posted by Andy Rosen at 3:12 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Campaign finance, Candidate Watch 2010, Elections, In The Counties

Opponent-less Gansler continues to raise money

What do you do when you have more than $2 million in your campaign coffers and no opponent in either the primary or general election?

That’s Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler’s enviable predicament.

Taking a look at his latest campaign finance report -- he got his in early – the first-term Democrat raised $261,286 between Jan. 20, the date of the previous report, and Aug. 10, the closing date of this report. He spent about $65,000, mostly on media and campaign materials, and his available cash stands at just over $2.3 million.

In March, Gansler transferred $450 to the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, but he doesn’t appear to be sharing his wealth with other candidates.

About 40 percent of Gansler's some 500 individual donations were from other states, including four dozen contributions from nearby Washington, D.C. and three dozen from Massachusetts. He even nabbed a couple of donations from Oklahoma.

Gansler has attracted the attention – and perhaps the money – of gay rights groups and citizen supporters with his stance favoring the legalization of gay marriage. Earlier this year, he wrote an opinion saying Maryland should recognize out-of-state gay unions, and he has spoken at recent Equality Maryland and Stonewall Democrats events.

However, none of the $19,000 Gansler collected from political action committees appears to be from gay rights groups.

Gansler said in an interview today that he has not seen a bump in fundraising because of his gay marriage stance, though he noted, "I haven't done any sort of targeted effort."

As for the percentage of out-of-state donors, Gansler says his two big in-state fundraisers, one in the DC area and one in Baltimore, are scheduled for the fall. After those, he expects to his in-state donations to dramatically outnumber contributions from other states.

"Most of our Maryland donations have yet to occur," he said.

Gansler said his position as president of the Democratic Attorneys General Association until June and his role now as vice president of the National Association of Attorneys General help raise his national profile, perhaps attracting far-off donors. But maybe they're just his college buddies, he says.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Campaign finance, Candidate Watch 2010

Harris: Mosque proposal 'blatantly disrespectful'

A second Maryland politician has weighed in on plans to build a mosque near the former site of the World Trade Center in New York.

On Sunday, Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County told CNN’s Candy Crowley that he agreed with President Barack Obama that the developers have the right to build the project called Park51 on private property two blocks from Ground Zero, subject to local laws and ordinances. Obama said he would not comment on the wisdom of building the mosque and community center on the site.

Now state Sen. Andy Harris is offering his view.

“The proposal to build an Islamic mosque and community center near Ground Zero is blatantly disrespectful to the sacred ground that is a memorial to the 3,000 Americans who died on September 11th,” Harris, a Baltimore County Republican challenging Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil in the First Congressional District, said in a statement Tuesday.

“The president is once again trying to have it both ways; publicly supporting the project while saying he won’t get involved in local politics,” Harris said. “He is thinking like a lawyer and not like an American, making declarations without America’s best interest in mind.”

Harris said he lost a “very close friend” in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and considers Ground Zero “a place to remember my friend and how she lost her life trying to save others on that day."

“The area around Ground Zero is a special place where Americans should feel comfortable to visit, mourn, and remember what happened on 9/11,” he said. “That will be impossible if this project is allowed to continue. One of America’s founding principles is freedom of religion, but that does not mean you should practice your religion without a sense of respect for others.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 11:45 AM | | Comments (146)

City councilman supports Senate challenger

Senate challenger Hector Torres touted an endorsement from City Councilman Bill Henry this morning, providing one establishment stamp of approval for the Senate hopeful.

Torres, a former fire department spokesman, wants to unseat veteran Senator Joan Carter Conway, who chairs the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee.

She’s known for her fiery presence in Annapolis and frequently takes the floor push back efforts to reduce funding for the city. But she ruffled feathers this year when she did not allow a bill permitting Marylanders to purchase wine via the Internet to leave her committee.

Torres says she’s too cozy with the state’s powerful alcoholic beverages lobby, which opposed the wine bill. She denies that charge, but he’s also trying to tie her to other special interests, showing on his website that her campaign donors have obtained state contracts.

"It is not about cozy," Conway said. "I tell people you can send me your money if you want, but it is not going to affect what I do."

The race is one of the few contested legislative contests in Baltimore this year and so far it has not attracted the attention as the Della v. Ferguson match up on the city's waterfront.

Henry’s councilmanic district overlaps part of the area Torres hopes to represent. In a statement, Henry said: "Hector Torres has a proven track record of dedicated public service in Baltimore City and I believe he is the candidate who will best represent the interests of the 43rd District in Annapolis," said Henry.

Conway said she was not suprised by the endorsement, and does not think it will not have much of an impact on the race. "It is a democracy, you have the right to endorse whoever you want," she said.

The rest of the councilman’s statement after the jump. "His earnest dedication to community empowerment and transparency in state government are some of the important assets that set him apart from the incumbent, but just as important is his commitment to engaging his constituents in matters of the state, and communicating with them in a way that fosters civic engagement," said Henry in a statement.

"It is with great anticipation of working with a true partner in Baltimore that I announce my support for Hector Torres and I hope that my friends and supporters will join me in electing Hector Torres to the State Senate."
Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:27 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010, City Hall

Md. gets 1st African-American woman appeals judge

When she was sworn in today, Judge Michele D. Hotten became the first African-American woman to serve on the bench of any Maryland appellate court.

Gov. Martin O'Malley appointed Hotten last month to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the state's second-highest court. She had been a judge for 15 years in Prince George's County Circuit Court. A graduate of Howard University's law school, Hotten has also served as counsel to the Prince George's County Human Relations Commission and as a county prosecutor.

"Many judges and lawyers have written to me to describe Judge Hotten as impeccably prepared, uniformly fair, and a devoted legal scholar with a truly legendary work ethic," O'Malley said in a statement.

Hotten fills a vacancy created by the retirement of Judge James P. Salmon.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:20 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Crime & Justice

Campaign finance reports due at midnight

The hundreds of hopefuls for the state's 188 legislative seat, the gubernatorial contenders and the scores of people trying for local offices must submit campaign finance reports by midnight.

The State Board of Elections will make those reports public as they come in until the office closes at 5 p.m. -- so expect to wait until tomorrow morning for much of the information. Marylanders are hungry for the reports because not since January have we had a look at the finances of any candidates.

Because the reporting period closed Aug. 10, most candidates know at least basic information about how much money they have raised and how much cash they have on hand. Some have made those numbers public.

Here's what we've learned so far:

* The two best-known candidates for governor say they raised more than $3 million each since January. Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley has $6.7 million in the bank, and Ehrlich has just over $2 million available.

* Brian Murphy, a lesser-known Republican candidate for governor who recently picked up the high-profile backing of Sarah Palin, told The Washington Post that he raised $250,000 and has $40,000 in the bank.

* The Maryland Democratic Party says it raised $1.5 million and has $1.3 million in its accounts, which include a federal candidate fund. The Maryland Republican Party says it raised more than $600,000 but hasn't disclosed its available cash.

* In the Baltimore City state's attorney's race, challenger Gregg Bernstein raised the tidy sum of $217,000, The Sun's Justin Fenton and Peter Hermann reported this morning. Longtime top prosecutor Patricia Jessamy has not disclosed her fundraising number. 

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 8:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Campaign finance, Candidate Watch 2010

August 16, 2010

O'Malley-Ehrlich radio debate appears to firm up

Could it be that O'Malley and Ehrlich have agreed to a debate? The two major candidates for governor appear to have committed to an Oct. 29 appearance on Washington-based WTOP radio.

Last week, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican candidate for governor, released a five-point debate proposal that included two television appearances and three radio gigs. Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's aides say they have been working behind the scenes to set up debates with Ehrlich. They had contacted some of the same outlets on Ehrlich's wish list. 

The candidates have a history of squabbling about debate specifics, though both say they are eager to argue their views before the voters.

One of the radio debates Ehrlich proposed was a one-hour appearance at 10 a.m. Oct. 29 -- just a few days before the general election -- on WTOP. O'Malley has already agreed to that appearance, his aides say.

Of course, there's a complication.

Curiously, Ehrlich's debate proposal said "host to be determined." However, WTOP's Mark Plotkin has a politics program in that exact time slot. He said Friday that he had been working for weeks to arrange the Oct. 29 debate between O'Malley and Ehrlich. He was puzzled by Ehrlich's "host to be determined" note on the five-point proposal.

Plotkin said O'Malley's aides had agreed to the debate and Ehrlich's spokesman Andy Barth "gave every indication" that Ehrlich would be there, too.

"I took (Ehrlich's) debate proposal to be further confirmation," Plotkin said.

Contacted Monday, O'Malley's spokesman Rick Abbruzzese reiterated that the governor will be there. But Barth deflected. Asked why Ehrlich didn't recognize Plotkin as the host of the Oct. 29 event, Barth wrote in an e-mail:

"(W)e haven’t heard from the O’Malley people, and there remain several aspects of any debate to be discussed. We have the highest regard for everyone at WTOP, and look forward to a debate occurring there ... " 

Plotkin said Friday that the format hasn't been nailed down, but he said it would be basic: brief opening and closing remarks, and no timed responses (which Ehrlich prefers).

Four years ago, during the first O'Malley-Ehrlich match-up, O'Malley accepted a similar offer from Plotkin, but Ehrlich didn't. Plotkin notes that Ehrlich was a guest on his show in April, the Friday after he announced his gubernatorial bid. Oct. 29 would be the first time O'Malley and Ehrlich appear on the Plotkin show together.

Meanwhile, other debate proposals are percolating. Baltimore's WBAL-TV and Maryland Public television have offered to host a debate, as they did four years ago. Stay tuned.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:10 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

Van Hollen backs Obama on mosque

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Montgomery County Democrat who chairs his party’s House campaign fundraising operation, is backing President Barack Obama on controversial plans to build a mosque near Ground Zero in New York.

In comments over the weekend, Obama said Muslims have the same right as other Americans to practice their religion, including building a house of worship and a community center in lower Manhattan, “in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”

“This is America,” Obama said at a White House dinner to mark Ramadan, “and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.”

Sunday on CNN, State of the Union host Candy Crowley cited a recent poll indicating that the project is opposed by 82 percent of Republicans, 70 percent of independents and 54 percent of Democrats, and asked Van Hollen if he would have preferred that Obama not raise the subject.

“I think that when it comes to 9/11 and the memory of 9/11, we should all agree that it would be wrong to politicize this issue,” said Van Hollen, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “And I think what the president said [Friday] was as the president of the United States of America, he was simply stating the principle that under our great Constitution, we do not discriminate against people based on their religion.”

“He went on to say later … that the decision as to where to site the mosque, this Muslim place of worship, was up to the people of New York, and Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg and inter-faith leaders, Christians, Jews, Muslims have said they think it's appropriate; others have said it's not. That's a question for the people of New York …”

Van Hollen said that when Congress had an opportunity to vote on legislation related to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – a bill that would have extended a healthcare fund for first responders who were sickened – most Republicans voted against it.

“Now, that's a decision to be made by members of Congress,” he said. “We had a vote. With respect to siting the mosque, that's a decision to be made by the people of New York.”

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican appearing opposite Van Hollen, asked why Obama weighed in on the mosque project.

“If Chris is saying this is a New York issue, then why did the president engage in it?” he asked.

“Look, you look at the poll,” McCarthy said. “There is a sensitivity to that area. Yes, we have the freedom. Build a mosque; build more than one mosque, but don't build it there. There are other places to build them. And I think that's really what America is saying.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (9)

August 13, 2010

Ehrlich raises $3.2 million,has $2 million in bank

* Updated. *

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. released his hotly anticipated campaign fundraising numbers this morning. The Republican says he has raised $3.2 million -- about the same as his chief opponent, Gov. Martin O'Malley.

O'Malley, a Democrat who began the year with $5.7 million to Ehrlich's $140,000, now has $6.7 million cash on hand, his campaign reports. Ehrlich reported this morning that he has "in excess of" $2 million in the bank.

Ehrlich said he exceeded his money-raising expectations and noted that he'd pullled in cash from more than 13,000 individual donors, 96 percent of whom live in Maryland.

O'Malley has raised money from about 13,000 donors, as well, his campaign manager, Tom Russell, says.

In a statement today, Russell trumpeted O'Malley's 3-to-1 cash advantage over Ehrlich.

"Momentum is clearly on our side," Russell said. "momentum is clearly on our side. "The Ehrlich campaign’s cash on hand number is lower than we expected to see. It appears the Ehrlich campaign suffers from the same problem that the Ehrlich administration had. They just spend too much money."

Ehrlich's campaign, based on the numbers he released, has spent more than $1 million so far, without running costly television ads. O'Malley appears to have spent more than $2 million this year. He has purchased numerous television and radio ads. Campaign reports on next week will provide details of such spending.

O'Malley released his numbers Wednesday morning, hours after the reporting period ended. The State Board of Elections will make official campiagn finance reports for all candidates -- including the hundreds of hopefuls trying for the state's 188 legislative seats -- available Tuesday.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:00 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Campaign finance, Candidate Watch 2010

August 12, 2010

Ehrlich to release fundraising numbers Friday

We'll have to wait at least another day to see how much money former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has raised in his bid to win back the office from Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Although Ehrlich, a Republican, said at a campaign event yesterday that he'd put out the numbers by this morning, his campaign spokesman said in an e-mail this afternoon that the information will actually come tomorrow.

O'Malley, a Democrat, released his totals on Wednesday, the morning after the campaign finance reporting period had closed. He had raised $3.3 million this year and had $6.7 million in the bank.

Asked why Ehrlich's campaign wouldn't be putting out the information today as the former governor had said, spokesman Andy Barth said in an email, "... it’s well ahead of the Tuesday deadline, it’s when we’ll have everything ready to distribute."

(On Tuesday, the Maryland Board of Elections will release official campaign finance reports for all candidates for state and local offices.)

E-mails this week to supporters indicate that Ehrlich was hoping to raise $3 million since March.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:29 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Campaign finance, Candidate Watch 2010

O'Malley v. Ehrlich: Return of the debate debate

Just when it seemed this week's political news would center on how much money the major candidates had raised, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has instead decided to talk about ... talk.

This morning, Ehrlich communications director Henry Fawell released a letter to O'Malley's campaign mananger proposing five debates. (Where'd that come from?! Neither campaign had talked publicly about debates in four months.)

"I am confident our respective campaigns will agree that holding multiple public debates is the best way for the citizens of Maryland to learn about the two leading gubernatorial candidates," Fawell writes.

Here's Ehrlich's proposal:

* WMAR-TV “Square Off” with Richard Sher as moderator; sixty minute debate with no timed responses.  Taped for live on September 16th in the afternoon with no audience.
* WJLA-TV/NewsChannel 8 in association with the Howard County Chamber of Commerce; sixty minutes with no timed responses; Bruce DePuyt as moderator.
* Radio debate hosted by the Baltimore Jewish Council.  Broadcaster, length, moderator and rules to be determined.
* WOLB Radio hosts a sixty minute debate, moderated by Senator Larry Young. No timed responses.
* WTOP Radio debate with host to be determined; Friday October 29th at 10 AM; sixty minutes with no timed responses.

(A couple of notes: Longtime Ehrlich aide Greg Massoni used to work for WJLA. Young, a Democratic former Baltimore senator, is friendly with Ehrlich and his family.)

Tom Russell, O'Malley's campaign manager, issued a statement saying the governor "will be happy to debate whoever is the Republican nominee after the primary." The primary election is Sept. 14, and although Ehrlich is favored to win, he faces a Republican challlenger in Brian Murphy, who recently drew an endorsement from Sarah Palin.

But the O'Malley campaign has already been working to arrange debates with Ehrlich. Russell says the campaign has been in talks with several television and radio stations. He names three that appear on the Ehrlich list: the Baltimore Jewish Council, WTOP and WMAR.

Could it be that the two campaigns will work out several debates? We'll see. The two prefer dramatically different parameters -- Ehrlich unmoderated and O'Malley more traditional.

During their 2006 matchup, it took the campaigns until October to reach accord on debate. O'Malley and Ehrlich had two testy televised debates Oct. 14. One aired on WBAL and Maryland Public Television and the other on WJZ and MPT.

Dusting off the "debate debate" whenever a candidate wants to change the subject (ahem -- campaign finance report?) seems to be a popular concept this year.

O'Malley did just that the day before Ehrlich made it official that he'd be challenging O'Malley in the fall election. He offered to debate Ehrlich on the former governor's own WBAL radio show -- something Ehrlich accepted on the condition that there be no moderator. No deal.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:45 AM | | Comments (34)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

August 11, 2010

Offside? Delegate's NFL experience questioned

His district is the heart of Redskins territory, but on his campaign web site, Prince George's County Del. Michael Vaughn highlights his time as a player for the hated Dallas Cowboys.

Lately, though, the Democratic legislator has been tussling with the Washington City Paper over his NFL record.

Last week, City Paper's Dave McKenna wrote that Vaughn "plays fantasy football with his bio." Specifically, McKenna wrote, the lawmaker falsely claimed on his web site that he played for three years with the Cowboys. McKenna wrote that the Cowboys have no record of Vaughn.

When confronted by the reporter, Vaughn said he practiced with the Cowboys for a few months in 1980 but acknowledged he'd never played a game with them -- and certainly hadn't spent three years on the team. 

The web site, Vaughn told the reporter, was inaccurate. He blamed the webmaster, whom he said was either "overzealous" or misunderstood the information he'd sent.

This week, Vaughn issued a statement accusing the City Paper of "attempt(ing) to create the appearance of dishonesty on my part." He says the article made it sound as if his NFL career was made up. It's not, he says.

Vaughn says he was signed by the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent wide receiver in 1980 but didn't make it out of training camp. A year later, he signed with the New Orleans Saints as a free agent, but didn't make the cut there, either, he said. He said he is a professional member of the NFL Alumni Association, a designation reserved for NFL players (however brief their stints).

"My credibility is very important to me," Vaughn said in an interview Wednesday. "I've never exaggerated my time with the NFL. I even tell people it was a cup of coffee."

After the Saints and a short run with the New Jersey Generals in the ill-fated United States Football League, Vaughn quit playing football altogether, feeling he was "always a bridesmaid, never a bride."

Vaughn's campaign web site has been changed. It makes no mention of his length of time with the Cowboys but says he signed with them as a free agent, though there's no mention of the Saints. (A Dallas Morning News blog wonders why the Landover legislator would want to note his Cowboys career at all.)

There's another member of the Prince George's County delegation with NFL ties. Del. Jay Walker, a Democrat, says he played four seasons with the NFL in the 1990s, two with the New England Patriots and two with the Minnesota Vikings.

Walker's entry at indicates that the former Howard and Long Beach State quarterback signed with the Patriots as a seventh-round draft pick in 1994 and appeared in one NFL game, completing 2 of 2 pass attempts for 31 yards for the Vikings in 1996.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

Ehrlich claims 20,000 donations; will release fundraising numbers 'soon'

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. says he has amassed more than 20,000 individual contributions in his bid to unseat Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Ehrlich, a Republican, has not released campaign fundraising totals but says he will do so within the next 24 hours. This morning, O'Malley, a Democrat, said he and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown had raised more than $3.3 million in the past four months and have $6.7 million in the bank. O'Malley campaign manager Tom Russell said the O'Malley-Brown ticket has more than 13,000 donors, including many who have given multiple times.

The campaign finance reporting period ended at midnight, and official numbers will be out next week. The previous report, which came out in January, months before Ehrlich made his reelection bid official, showed he had about $140,000 to O'Malley's $5.7 million.

Although Ehrlich said he wasn't ready to release his new totals, he called the amount he'd raised "pretty good." In an email earlier this week to supporters, Ehrlich said he was seeking their help in reaching $3 million raised since March.

"We hit the number we thought we'd need to hit to win the race," Ehrlich said after a campaign event this morning in Dundalk.

Ehrlich said he was "not unhappy" with the numbers that O'Malley posted, saying he'd expected him to raise more. However, the 2006 Ehrlich campaign raised $2.4 million in the same four-month period that this year's O'Malley campaign raised $3.3 million. (Sitting governors are not allowed to raise money during the January-April legislative session.) The state has more than double the number of registered Democrats as Republicans.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:35 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Campaign finance, Candidate Watch 2010

O'Malley raises $3.3m, has $6.7m in bank

Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown raised $3.3 million in the last four months, and now have more than $6.7 in cash on hand for their reelection bid, their campaign announced Wednesday.

Maryland candidates are required to report how much they raised through midnight Wednesday, but the reports are not made public until next week. We are working on getting numbers from Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and running mate Mary Kane.

O'Malley and Brown, who were handicapped by a prohibition on fundraising until after the legislative session ended in April, have raised more than they had through the same point in 2006, when they faced no such impediment. In August 2006, O'Malley reported raising $3 million, with $4.4 million in cash on hand. With Brown's account included, the total was $5.1 million.

Interestingly, the O'Malley-Brown campaign release refers not only to Ehrlich, but also to Brian Murphy, the Republican longshot who received some attention last week with a surprise endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Clearly, the O'Malley-Brown campaign doesn't mind giving Ehrlich's GOP challenger a little promotion, as well.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 11:20 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Campaign finance, Candidate Watch 2010

August 10, 2010

Md. candidates plead for cash as deadline looms

It's not just Cinderella watching the clock today. The stroke of midnight marks the end of a critical fundraising period for Maryland politicians.

Not since January has the public had a look at campaign finances. The reporting period that ends today will show how much a candidate has been able to raise since announcing a run for office, becoming official and diving into election season. This camapign finance report, which will become public in a week, is one way to measure just how serious a candidate is.

The major candidates for governor, Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., seem to understand the importance of today's deadline and have flooded supporters with last-minute requests for cash.

Ehrlich, who had just about $140,000 in the bank in January, months before he made official his new bid for his old office, has said he'd like to hit $3 million by the end of today.

"We are on the cusp of sending a strong message to the incumbents in Annapolis, but I need your help to cross the finish line," Ehrlich said in an email to supporters. "We have one goal for tomorrow's deadline: report $3 million in contributions since March."

Meanwhile, O'Malley, who had about $5.7 million, says he's raised more than $130,000 in the past 24 hours alone.

"We're all blown away by the support you have given the Governor in the last few days," O'Malley finance director Adam Goers said in an email to supporters. "We set an aggressive goal of $100,000 raised online before tonight's filing deadline, and I'm proud to say that, with your support, we topped that goal before noon today!"

O'Malley's aides have characterized Ehrlich's goal to hit $3 million as a sign of weakening support. They point to an interview in March where Ehrlich aides said they had a goal of raising $1 million in the month of March.

But Ehrlich and his aides have long hinted that they're not planning a dollar-for-dollar battle with O'Malley, whom they said has had four years to raise "piles" of money.

Richard E. Hug, Ehrlich's longtime fund-raiser, said in March that the race will be "about the message and the messenger," rather than the money.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said Tuesday that the campaign had devised a "sensible fundraising plan for an out-of-power challenger, and I'm pleased to say that we're very much on target."

The State Board of Elections will make the totals public next week. We'll be able to see exactly how much each candidate -- not just Ehrlich and O'Malley, but everyone running for the state legislature, federal posts and local offices -- has raised. Equally important, we'll know how they're spending their money.

With midnight looming, the candidates are hoping to turn their pleas into cash.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:45 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Campaign finance, Candidate Watch 2010, Elections

O'Malley supports Purple Line, dodges on gas tax

UPDATED, with response from Ehrlich campaign

Baltimore Sun transportation writer Michael Dresser reports from Silver Spring:

It was no accident that Gov. Martin O’Malley wore a purple tie to his campaign event in Silver Spring this morning.

The governor met with about two dozen small business owners and other voters at the Tastee Diner in this Montgomery County community to discuss his approach to transit issues -- and to underscore his support for a light rail project known as the Purple Line and the opposition of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to it.

While O’Malley launched no new verbal missiles at his prospective Republican opponent, he used the Purple Line issue to underscore a stark policy difference between the two.

Ehrlich has said he would scrap the O’Malley administration’s plan to build a light rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton, saying the state can’t afford it. O’Malley cast that position an an example of a retrun to the past -- a central theme of his re-election campaign.

“For whatever reason, Bob Ehrlich has decided to turn back the clock and take Maryland back,” O'Malley said. “I think it shows a contrast between the way the two of us look at the future.”

But Andy Barth, a spokesman for the Ehrlich campaign, said O'Malley's promises to build the Purple Line and Baltimore's Red Line light rail systems would not move the state forward.

"It would be nice to build every transportation project that comes up, but Bob Ehrlich wants to be honest with the voters and the money to do those projects doesn't exist," Barth said. He said Ehrlich would consider a rapid bus system, which he said would be much cheaper to build, along the proposed route of the Purple Line.

The governor’s meeting with the business group -- largely made up of pro-O’Malley Purple Line supporters -- was relatvely light on campaign rhetoric and heavy on the detail-oriented policy discussions O’Malley clearly revels in.

The topics reflected the concerns of a group that depends heavily on transit to bring employees to the workplace and customers to their places of business. In addition to the Purple Line, topics included the performance of Washington’s Metro system and the perception that Montgomery County receives less than its fair share of transportation funding.

O’Malley avoided taking the bait on that point.

“When we’re in Baltimore, the allegation is the Washington suburbs get more money for transportation,” he said. The governor said he hopes to see Metro adopt “transparent” performance measures and to make them public through a system similar to his administration’s web-based StateStat program.

On Metro, O’Malley promised to push for more effective leadership of an organization that has been criticized for poor service and a lax approach to safety.

“What Metro doesn’t have is stable leadership at the top right now,” he said.

The governor boasted that his administration has made a real difference in transportation funding -- increasing the share of the pie for transit by 9 percentage points over the Ehrlich years for what O’Malley called “a more balanced transportation system.”

But Barth said the state needs a better balance between new projects and upkeep of current infrastructure.

"We strongly think we should spend money to fix what's broken -- the things that are wrong with Metro and MARC," he said.

O’Malley punted on the politically volatile issue of the gasoline tax, which some transportation infrastructure advocates believe will have to be raised to finance any major new projects. Declining to commit one way or another, he expressed the hope that a recovering economy will lead to a surge in transportation revenue.

Barth said Ehrlich has no plans to raise the gas tax but did not speciifically rule it out.

Silver Spring is considerd to be friendly territory for O’Malley in many ways. It is a transit hub, a role that would only increase if the Purple Line is built. And its downtown has undergone a remarkable renaisance in the last decade -- becoming something of a showpiece for the “smart growth” policies O’Malley has embraced.

Montgomery County is expected to be one of the keys to this year’s expected OMalley-Ehrlich rematch. The Democrat trounced Ehrlich in Maryland’s most populous county in 2006, garnering 63 percent of the vote, and the Republican is hoping to at least hold down O'Malley’s winning percentage there this year.

O’Malley’s pitch resonated with some of the small business owners -- a group Ehrlich has targeted with pledges to cut regulation and hold down taxes. But for Dan Meijer, owner of Danco Electronic Service Specialists in Silver Spring and a Purple Line supporter, the transit issue trumped those appeals.

“It’s just wonderful that we have a Governor O’Malley in office,” Meijer said. “His vision is long-term rather than short-term political gain.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:48 PM | | Comments (22)

Michelle Obama, daughter visit Annapolis


First Lady Michelle Obama, 9-year-old daughter Sasha, a young niece and other relatives toured Maryland's historic State House on Tuesday.

Gov. Martin O'Malley greeted the family, said O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec, and gave Sasha, the niece and a 2-year-old girl in the group Salisbury Pewter pill boxes engraved with the state seal. Obama's sister-in-law was also in attendance.

Maryland State Archivist Edward C. Papenfuse led a 45-minute private tour of the capitol and grounds. Secret Service restricted access to the capitol building during the event, from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and kept media and passers-by at a distance.

Papenfuse, state archivist since 1975, said the guests were "engaged" and enjoyed themselves.

"We had a great time," Papenfuse said. "They were a wonderful audience."

The State House -- which dates to 1772 and is the oldest working state capitol in the country -- is loaded with history.

The first stop was the House of Delegates chamber, Papenfuse said, where House Speaker Michael E. Busch explained the legislative process. 

After peeking into the Senate chamber across the hall, Papenfuse led the group to the state archives room, the Old Senate Chamber -- where George Washington resigned as commander of the Continental Army in 1783 -- and the governor's office, which holds a huge desk made out of Wye Oak. The Obamas also viewed a rarely displayed draft copy of Washington's resignation speech.

Papenfuse shared history highlights and trivia about the capitol: The flag pole atop the wooden dome is a real Ben Franklin lightning rod. President Abraham Lincoln came to town in 1865 but didn't want to be seen by anyone. He walked a mile to his boat undetected.  

In addition to the pewter boxes, the Obamas left with several books, most notably an autographed copy of roots. Author Alex Haley's nephew, Chris Haley, heads the state archives research division.

Michelle Obama, wearing a knee-length flowy, white dress, the children and her sister-in-law descended the State House steps about 12:30 p.m. and briefly strolled the pedestrian area between the capitol and the governor's mansion. Papenfuse explained the statuary commemorating Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court case that led to school integration.  

The Obamas hopped into a silver SUV and sped off in a motorcade, reportedly stopping at the nearby U.S. Naval Academy and at other historic Annapolis sites.

Obama told Papenfuse and others that the day was part of the girls' summer educational visits.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:00 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Washington

Steele to raise money for Arundel candidate

Maryland House of Delegates candidate Cathleen M. Vitale says Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele will attend a fundraiser for her next week in Severna Park.

The outspoken GOP leader -- who most recently stoked controversy by saying the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan was "a war of Obama's choosing" -- has made few public campaign stops in Maryland this year.

Along with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Steele headlined the annual Maryland Republican Party fundraiser in Linthicum, but the onetime lieutenant governor hasn't played a prominent role in former partner Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s new gubernatorial bid. The RNC did not make Steele available to comment last week when former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin endorsed Ehrlich's main Republican opponent, Brian Murphy, in the GOP primary.

Vitale, a Republican member of the Anne Arundel County Council, attributed the chairman's support to their longtime friendship. Before Steele was Ehrlich's lieutenant governor, he was chairman of the state GOP.

“I'm honored to have received the support of Chairman Steele and excited about the opportunity to have him visit our area. I first met Michael when we were both members of the Republican State Central Committee fighting for core Republican values,” Vitale said in a press release this morning announcing the fundraiser. “A lot has happened over the past 18 years but our friendship has always remained strong.”

Vitale, whose campaign web site identifies her as a pro-life conservative, is one of five Republicans running in District 33A. The others are Del. Tony McConkey, David Boschert, Sid Saab and Vic Bernson. Democrat Madonna Brennan also is filed to run.

The district is represented by two delegates. Del. James King, a Republican, is running for the area's Senate seat.

A call to the Republican National Committee for details on Steele's Vitale stop was not immediately returned.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:55 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010, Michael Steele

Young gets rattled at council meeting

If you're looking for a little excitement on Monday evenings, don't turn on the TV, just come down to City Hall for a council meeting.

It seems as if there's always drama at the meetings, whether protests from union leaders or business owners, or the members squabbling among themselves.

Longtime Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young promised to tone down his trademark fiery temper when he became council president in February.

But he got his hackles up last night after council members teased him as he counted votes on a referendum, introduced at the request of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration, that would allow the city to make more purchases without public announcement.

Councilman Robert W. Curran said something unintelligible to Young from his seat in the first row of the council chambers.

Young shot back, "I can count very good. Look at my bank account book and look at yours."

He went back to counting votes and became flustered again. "Bobby Curran got me all twisted up," he said.

Later, Young's staff doled out birthday gifts to several council members, including Curran. "Make sure you count everything in the bag," he told Curran.

At the end of the meeting, Councilman Nicholas D'Adamo rose to speak. "Thank you, Madame President," he said, addressing Young with a feminine title for at least the third time in recent weeks.

Said Young: "Should I say something to you like I did to Bobby about counting?"

Posted by Julie Scharper at 5:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: City Hall

August 9, 2010

Living Wage bill to rise from the grave?

Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young signed a petition today asking the council to reconsider a living wage bill introduced by Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke.

The bill would require stores that gross more than $10 million annually, or are part of a chain that does, to pay workers the state living wage, which is currently set at $10.59 per hour. It was killed by a tie vote a couple weeks ago in a subcommittee hearing led by Councilman Warren Branch.

But the bill could bypass the subcommittee move back to the full council for consideration if eight of the 15 members sign a petition.

So far, Clarke has seven signatures and was scouting about after today's luncheon work session trying to find an eighth member.

Clarke drafted the measure after hearing about plans for a new Walmart in Remington. Labor and progressive activists support the bill, but business leaders say it would dissuade chains from opening in stores in the city.

If Clarke gets the eight backers, the bill could come before the full council as soon next month. So far, she has signatures from Belinda Conaway, Sharon Green Middleton, Bill Henry, Carl Stokes and Bobby Curran, in addition to Young. Council Vice-President Ed Reisinger has said he would vote for the bill, but would not sign a petition.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 4:35 PM | | Comments (6)

On the waterfront, a generational clash

Baltimore Sun colleague Annie Linskey -- a former City Hall reporter who now covers state government -- opens her roundup of Baltimore's legislative races with one of the few competitive contests in the city. She describes it is as a clash of generations:

Dodging raindrops Thursday night, the incumbent senator sped from door to door in a South Baltimore neighborhood.

"I'm George Della," he said at one door. "Keep me in mind on election day." Then he was off to the next.

A few miles south in Westport his young upstart of an opponent, Bill Ferguson, was leading a group of supporters in the same activity.

"We've had the same senator for 27 years," he said. "I don't think he's pushing hard enough."

In a city where most incumbents face little or no opposition at the polls, the contest in Baltimore's 46th district is shaping up to be the most dynamic legislative race. Della and Ferguson each embody a different force tugging at the gentrifying district, an area that encompasses the entire waterfront from Curtis Bay to Dundalk.

Della, 67, is the old-school pol who started his public career as a Baltimore City councilman, winning a Senate seat the year Ferguson was born. When he knocks on a door, Della often knows the current occupants — and sometimes the families that lived there before.

Ferguson, 27, is a Teach for America import from Rockville with bundles of energy who is using social media to spread his message of school reform. He moved to Baltimore five years ago, though his campaign stresses that he's a "fifth-generation Marylander."

Read more about Della, Ferguson and Baltimore's other legislative hopefuls at

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

August 8, 2010

Kamenetz, Bartenfelder invade each other's turf

In Dundalk and Essex, they're getting to know Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, who is from way over on the West Side of Baltimore County. In Pikesville and along Liberty Road, they're taking a closer look at Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, from way over on the East Side.

Baltimore Sun colleague Arthur Hirsch takes a look at efforts by the two best-known candidates for Baltimore County executive to make inroads into each other's home turf:

East or west allegiances might not be the potent force that some older political players suggest, but the fallout from one prominent east-side politician's endorsement of Kamenetz, a lawyer from Owings Mills, shows that some political activists still expect more regional loyalty.

Graham "Butch" Henry, a longtime member of the Battle Grove Democratic Club in Dundalk, was flabbergasted when he heard that his district's councilman, John Olszewski Sr., had endorsed Kamenetz. He would have expected his fellow east-sider to back Bartenfelder, a farmer and former state delegate from Fullerton.

"I couldn't believe what I was hearing," said Henry. He said Olszewski's decision has scrambled the local political alliance, and "disrupted this whole area, as far as I'm concerned."

Kamenetz and Bartenfelder have each won support in their opponent's backyard from local officials who have opened doors. One step at a time, they're learning about communities where they have not sought votes before. The candidates are hoping to bridge distances of geography — with the county's extreme east and west poles separated by a city in between — as well as the culture gap between places such as the affluent suburb of Ruxton and working-class Dundalk.

Read more about Bartenfelder's and Kamenetz's campaign strategies at

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

August 7, 2010

Jessamy says Bealefeld fuels distrust

Baltimore's top prosecutor has accused the city's police commissioner of using the power of his badge to help her opponent in next month's primary, Baltimore Sun colleague Peter Hermann reports.

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said in a statement last week that Frederick H. Bealefeld III has broken years of precedent with "overt actions … to influence the outcome of an election" — which she warned "can only lead to divisiveness and distrust in the community."

Jessamy said it was "unprecedented and inappropriate" for the city's top police officer to put a campaign sign on his lawn. Her campaign spokeswoman, meanwhile, said staff members have learned that Bealefeld, while in uniform, "approached some citizens, recruiting volunteers" for Gregg Bernstein's campaign.

Spokeswoman Marilyn Harris-Davis said Bealefeld asked city resident Billy Taylor, a Jessamy supporter, to meet with Bernstein.

Bealefeld's spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, denied that the commissioner made any such requests while on duty. He confirmed that Bealefeld spoke with Taylor at an event but said that Bealefeld did not try to influence his vote or recruit him as a campaign worker. He said Bealefeld spoke with Taylor about Bernstein in detail only when he was off-duty.

Taylor, who supports Jessamy, said he met with Bernstein for lunch. "I don't know about if it's appropriate," he said. Of Bealefeld, he said, "We're friends, and he asked me to do that and so I did it."

Read more about Jessamy and Bealefeld at

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (2)

August 6, 2010

Balto. Co. sign fight in court today

A federal judge this afternoon is scheduled to hear arguments challenging the constitutionality of Baltimore County's regulations on political signs in a lawsuit filed this spring by a man who was ordered by the county to remove a campaign sign from his lawn.

Stephen V. Kolbe of Dulaney Valley Road wants the U.S. District Court to block enforcement of several provisions of the county sign code, including the rules restricting the size of political signs based on the zoning of the property and the rule allowing such signs only 45 days before an election.

Kolbe, who runs a computer consulting business out of his home, took down the 4-by-8, blue-and-white sign backing former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in his re-match with Gov. Martin O'Malley. The rules say that in his residential area, Kolbe cannot display a sign larger than 8 square feet.

The case is being heard in Baltimore by Judge Catherine C. Blake, who ruled three years ago that the 45-day provision was unconstitutional and barred the county from enforcing the rule. Kolbe argues that the county is still enforcing it, as the code enforcement officer who came to his house jotted the rule number on the "correction notice" taped to his side door. The county has argued that the notation was a mistake.

Kolbe's suit argues that the campaign sign restriction based on property zoning effectively governs political speech according to what type of property a person owns and where it's located. The suit argues that the rules violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

In the meantime, the county is pursuing limited enforcement of rules on political signs. The county will be keeping files on complaints but is issuing no notices of violation for political signs.

-Arthur Hirsch

Posted by Andy Rosen at 11:37 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: In The Counties

Feds likely to help with state Medicaid bill after all

The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a $26 billion package that includes some of the Medicaid funds Gov. Martin O'Malley relied upon to plug a $389 million hole in this year's budget.

The deal still must be approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, but House members have been far more supportive than the Senate. It is unclear how much Maryland will eventually get, since the package is smaller than the initial plan. ((**UPDATE** O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec writes in to say that the current language provides Maryland with $272.7 million.))

Nevertheless, any money from the feds will reduce the amount O'Malley will need to borrow from the income tax reserve fund and will leave whoever wins in November with a healthier cash balance.

O'Malley has taken some flak from the conservative Americans for Prosperity for offering a budget that relied on federal money. Dave Schwartz, the group's executive director, said the issue has surfaced at budget-themed town hall meetings and he questioned the governor about it during a recent Board of Public Works meeting.

Schwartz said their group is keeping an eye on what Congress does, and is still annoyed with the governor. "This is just not how you balance budgets," he said. "People at home don't balance budgets on what might come  through."

The Senate, apparently also worried about Congress balking on the promised money, inserted a budget provision that allowed the state to borrow from the income tax fund to keep Maryland's spending plan balanced. Other states, including New York, face wide-spread layoffs if the money does not materialize.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Tax & Spend

August 5, 2010

Hearing on Remington Walmart proposal tonight

The city planning commission will hear lengthy testimony tonight on a proposed development for the current Anderson Automotive site that flanks Howard Street in Remington.

Plans for the 11.5 acre plot of land have divided residents, many of whom have strong reactions to a Walmart store proposed for the site, and thrust the neighborhood into the limelight.

A diverse group of people call Remington home and opinions on the store run the gamut from those who welcome opportunities to buy cheap goods to those who fear the store will drive down wages in the area.

Two coaltitions of residents and business owners who have concerns about the project, Bmore Local and Bmore CAN are holding a rally before the planning commission meets.

If the commission votes to approve the plans for the project tonight, it could return to the City Council for approval as soon as next month.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 5:11 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: City Hall

First District Republican Fisher ups ad buy

Rob Fisher, the political newcomer challenging state Sen. Andy Harris for the Republican nomination against Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil, is doubling down on his self-financed longshot bid.

Fisher has just put another $80,000 into TV advertising, with 30-second commercials set to air over the next three weeks on Baltimore and Salisbury broadcast stations. The ads start Thursday, Aug. 5.

The 43-year-old businessman is financing his run primarily out of his own pocket. He started TV advertising two months ago on cable outlets in the First District, which covers the entire Eastern Shore and portions of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford Counties.

His new buy ups the ante, taking Fisher's outsider message to broadcast stations, which have wider audiences.

The 30-second spot includes footage of Fisher walking down the street with an unidentified man, actually campaign aide Sal Sabatino. The spot is designed to reinforce Fisher's message that he is a political outsider who will "fight career politicians"--like Harris, a 12-year veteran of the Maryland legislature, and incumbent Kratovil, who would face the winner of the Sept. 14 Republican primary.

A Fisher aide said the ad buy would continue until next month's election and is designed to introduce the candidate to Republican primary voters. Harris and Kratovil have yet to take to the airwaves.

Fisher, a government IT contractor, says he is prepared to spend $1 million on his campaign.

Posted by Paul West at 4:56 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

Vozzella: The surgeon on speed dial

After the stabbing death of a young Hopkins researcher in Charles Village, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake agreed to talk to Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper about the time eight years ago when her brother was gravely wounded in a stabbing.

In a city freshly rattled by violent crime, it might have been smart politics for a mayor to let people know she'd been personally affected by it.

Except for this part, Baltimore Sun colleague Laura Vozzella writes: The mayor recalled in the interview that when things looked dire for her brother, Wendell Rawlings, her powerful politician-dad pulled strings to get him moved from Sinai Hospital to Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

"Delegate [Pete] Rawlings called Thomas Scalea, physician-in-chief at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, who rode an ambulance to Sinai to pick up Wendell Rawlings," The Sun's Julie Scharper wrote.

I can't blame the late delegate for pulling any string he could to save his son. What parent wouldn't?

But was it smart for the mayor to offer up that tidbit — that her dad had one of the world's greatest trauma surgeons on speed dial, and that the doc was willing to hop into an ambulance on his behalf — in the context of an interview meant to show that she'd been touched by violent crime, just like so many ordinary Baltimoreans? Kinda undercuts the everywoman theme, doesn't it?

I bounced that off attorney Warren Brown, a reliably colorful observer of Baltimore crime and politics. Turns out, he represented one of the guys charged in the matter, but only until he got the case transferred to juvenile court. ("I don't mess around with juvenile court," Brown said. "It's a mess down there.") So Brown is not exactly a disinterested observer, but I still wanted his take.

He had no issue with what Pete Rawlings did for Wendell. "I'd do the same thing, no question about that," Brown said. But when it came to the mayor's comments, he did question "the wisdom of her broadcasting" what amounted to "special treatment."

"As much as, you know, in her position, she wants to appear to relate to the people, there is this little something in her that still causes her to let folk know that, 'I am a little better than you are,'" Brown said.

Did Brown give Rawlings-Blake any points for honesty? After all, she didn't have to offer up that detail, which had not been reported at the time and likely would have stayed buried if she hadn't volunteered it.

"Honest," he said, "but not particularly wise."

Ryan O'Doherty, the mayor's spokesman, saw it differently.

"If it shows anything," he wrote in an e-mail, "it is that the fight against violent crime in Baltimore is deeply personal for the Mayor and she will continue to pursue aggressive policies to confront crime including hiring 350 police officers in 2011 and seeking tougher penalties for illegal gun possession."

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:00 PM | | Comments (2)

Ehrlich: Palin endorsement will not impact race

Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said today that Sarah Palin's nod to his primary opponent "doesn't change anything" in his bid to win back the governor's mansion.

"It just doesn't mean much at all," the former Princeton linebacker said from the sidelines of the Ravens' training camp in Westminster. Polls show that Ehrlich is running neck-and-neck with Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley in a general-election matchup.

Some analysts have posited that Palin's support for his opponent could help Ehrlich convince wavering Democrats that he is the moderate Republican that he says he is.

"That school of thought has been advanced," Ehrlich said. "There may be some truth to that."

Palin shocked Marylanders and national pundits Wednesday when she waded into state politics with a endorsement for Brian Murphy, a political novice who is trying to capture the GOP nomination by presenting himself as a conservative alternative to Ehrlich.

Murphy has said that Palin is frequently in Washington, D.C., and might come and stump for him toward the end of the month -- closer to the Sept. 14 primary.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:45 AM | | Comments (37)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

Vozzella: Putting their 'Nazi' past behind them

The first time Bob Ehrlich ran for governor, Baltimore political operative Julius Henson called him a Nazi. This time around, Baltimore Sun colleague Laura Vozzella writes, Henson just calls him boss.

Henson, who lost his job as a Democratic campaign mobilizer in 2002 over the Nazi remark, is working as a political consultant to Ehrlich's campaign, Henson and the campaign confirmed this week.

“I'm going to be doing some work for Ehrlich, yes,” Henson said. “I've already begun consulting.”

Vozzella asked Henson how he squared that gig with his comments eight years ago. Back then, Henson told The Washington Post: “Bobby Ehrlich is a Nazi. His record is horrible, atrocious. ... He should be running in Germany in 1942, not Maryland in 2002.” He told the paper that Ehrlich was against “blacks, schools and old people.”

“I did say that, but also, it was in context,” Henson told Vozzella. “The context was, I thought his policies — I disagreed with them and said so. Since that time, if you look at his record, many things — small business — many things I care about in the African-American community, Governor Ehrlich's been pretty right on.”

“To his credit, we had a different public policy view,” Henson said. “It was not personal. He's a big enough man to have me work for him, and I'm a big enough man to work for him.”

Henson had a bad-boy reputation long before the Nazi remark. He shouted down speakers to disrupt an endorsement rally when Martin O'Malley first ran for mayor, and called state Sen. Joan Carter Conway a “pseudo-Negro” because she’d backed O’Malley’s mayoral bid. He forced a candidate for city state's attorney to withdraw from the race after digging up information about alleged extramarital affairs.

Such was Henson’s reputation that the Ehrlich campaign turned him down when he peddled his services to it eight years ago, before the Nazi bit.

“His brand of politics is one we have no interest in,” top Ehrlich aide Paul Schurick said back then.

(After the Ehrlich campaign turned him down in 2002, Henson wound up working to mobilize voters for Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and other Democrats — until his Nazi remark got him canned.)

Ehrlich spokesman Andy Barth said former Governor Ehrlich is letting bygones be bygones.

“Well, sometimes in life, things get said that you later reconsider and change your mind,” Barth said.

Henson said he couldn’t recall if he’d approached Ehrlich or if Ehrlich approached him this time around.

“I'm aware of his work,” Henson said. “He's aware of my work.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (4)

August 4, 2010

Palin endorses Brian Murphy for governor

Conservative darling and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin endorsed gubernatorial candidate Brian Murphy today, posting a note of support on her Facebook page. It is the first Palin endorsement in Maryland.

Murphy is running for the state GOP nomination as a more conservative alternative to Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who has most of the establishment GOP support in the state.

So far, Murphy has not shown up in polls or had much of an impact on the race, but in other states a nod from Palin has given outlying candidates momentum. On the stump Murphy says both Gov. Martin O'Malley and Ehrlich have spent too much state money and says he would cut corporate income taxes and reduce government spending.

Murphy’s campaign put out the following statement from Palin:

“I’m honored to endorse Brian Murphy for Governor of Maryland. Brian is a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment commonsense conservative and a firm believer in the free market and the cause for energy independence. As a former energy industry executive and current small business owner, Brian has the private sector experience that is so lacking in government today. He knows how to incentivize industry to get our economy moving again. Together with his running mate for lieutenant governor, Mike Ryman, Brian will provide Maryland with principled and results oriented leadership.”

Murphy said in a statement that her endorsement is "an honor and a privilege."
Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:14 AM | | Comments (77)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

August 3, 2010

Two Md. sites finalists for Social Security center

Two Maryland locations have been chosen as finalists for the new location of the Social Security Administration’s National Data Center, members of the state’s congressional delegation said Tuesday.

The General Services Administration has selected sites on Johnnycake Road in Woodlawn and Bennett Creek Boulevard in Urbana as finalists for the data center, which the delegation members said would create up to 250 new jobs. The Social Security Administration is headquartered in Baltimore.

“The decision to build the new National Data Center at one of these two Maryland sites is good for the state and for the mission of the Social Security Administration,” Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said in a statement.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin called the center “a priority project for our state.”

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings put in a plug for his district: “Obviously, I believe the Baltimore area has been a fine home for the Social Security Administration, and I would be most happy to see the Data Center remain in Woodlawn.”

Each site will be subjected to an environmental assessment to analyze potential impacts on the surrounding communities, according to the delegation members. The center, which is to be built with federal stimulus funds, will measure approximately 300,000 square feet.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 7:07 PM | | Comments (13)

Coulter, Ed Meese raising money for Md. candidates

The tight gubernatorial race is not the only contest in the state attracting national attention this cycle: Ann Coulter and Ed Meese will stump for various state legislative candidates.

Ben Lawless, a Republican running to unseat Democratic incumbent Sen. Katherine Klausmeier in Baltimore County, will host the Coulter event.

Lawless is paying Coulter to speak – but didn’t say how much. The amount should turn up on his campaign finance filing.

The event is billed as Lawless’s “First Annual Baltimore gala;” Lawless said he picked Coulter because she “says what is on her mind.” Top-tier tickets will go for $1,000 and includes an exclusive reception with Coulter and a suite at the Tremont Hotel, where the party will be held.

Depending on how much a donor is willing to pay, the evening could also include: a VIP reception on a yacht, which will be “Butler’d [sic] with Open Bar;” dessert with Coulter; and a photo with Coutler. All participants will hear Coulter give a “dialogue.”

The event, originally scheduled for Sunday, has been bumped to mid-October due to an illness in the Lawless family. Lawless faces a Republican challenger in September.

Meese, an attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, is going to help raise money for incumbent Republican Del. Ron George, who wants to hold onto his Anne Arundel County seat.

“There aren’t many people who will do events for Republicans in this state,” said Ron George. “It is hard.” George said that he has met Meese at conferences, and the two clicked.

George does not have a primary fight, but may face a challenge from Republican Herb McMillian, who is fairly well known is the district.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:26 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010, People

Rawlings-Blake in Asia for leadership program

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is visiting China and India this week. But her tour of Asia is not a vacation-- she's traveling with the Aspen Leadership Institute's Rodel Fellowship Program.

According to its website, the program “seeks to enhance our democracy by identifying and bringing together the nation's most promising young political leaders to explore, though study and conversation, the underlying values and principles of western democracy, the relationship between individuals and their community, and the responsibilities of public leadership.”

Rawlings-Blake was in Beijing Tuesday and will head to New Delhi Thursday, aides said. They said city money is not being used to find the travel

She joins a familiar face on the trip: Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler is one of the 20 fellows participating.

Rawlings-Blake has had a busy couple months of business travel, heading to Las Vegas for the International Council of Shopping Centers conference in May, catching the Indianapolis 500 over Memorial Day weekend in advance of the announcement of the Baltimore Grand Prix and attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Oklahoma City in June.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 5:00 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: City Hall

August 2, 2010

Pension issue at the polls

Baltimore's FOP and firefighter's union are furious over a pension reform law approved by the City Council and signed into law by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake earlier this summer. They filed a federal lawsuit asking the court to halt the pension changes and claiming the city "knowingly underfunded" the pension for a decade.

Today, as Justin Fenton reports on the Baltimore Crime Beat blog, the unions posted a billboard saying "Welcome to Baltimore, Home to a Mayor & City Council who turned their backs on our Police & Firefighters."

Firefighters union president Bob Sledgeski says the unions will continue to turn up the heat on the mayor and council as next year's elections approach.

"We’ll see this from now until next September," says Sledgeski. "Our members have been at the protests, they've been at the rallies, they've been at the fundraisers and they're going to continue to come out."

Last month, two dozen police and firefighters protested outside a fundraiser for Councilman Bill Cole that was hosted by Rawlings-Blake at Luckie's Tavern.

The unions hope to send a message to Rawlings-Blake and the council members who supported the pension plan that their actions will not be forgotten on election day.  But it's unclear if voters will agree with them.  Many police officers and firefighters live outside the city, so they won't be casting ballots.

And city officials say the pension changes-- which increased the requirements of retirement and replaces a costly variable benefit with a fixed 1 percent or 2 percent cost-of-living increase-- are necessary to avert a fiscal disaster. The changes are estimated to save the city $65 million in the coming fiscal year.

Ian Brennan, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, issued this statement."Rank and file police and fire officers understand that cities that give full retirements to 41 year old government employees will go bankrupt before long.

This year’s reform of the Fire and Police Pension System ensures our retirees will have a dignified and secure retirement plan the City can afford.  The restructuring saves more than $400 million over the next five years and rescues the pension system from fiscal collapse"

Posted by Julie Scharper at 5:38 PM | | Comments (6)

After Bartlett, tighter rules for lawmaker lodgings?

Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch is calling for tighter rules on lodging expenses for lawmakers after a Western Maryland delegate was found to be using taxpayer money to pay rent to his girlfriend, the Capital of Annapolis reports.

Frederick County Republican Joseph Bartlett, the son once seen as the political heir of Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, decided against running for a fourth term after it was revealed that he had spent more than $30,000 in public funds since 2007 to rent space in his girlfriend's house.

Busch, an Annapolis Democrat, told The Capital that legislative and ethics officials should review lodging regulations to see if there is a way to tighten them up.

"We can have a discussion about how to avoid this," he said.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 7:30 AM | | Comments (1)

Competing claims complicate comparisons

In the first television advertisement of his reelection campaign, Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley invited viewers back to his first year in office. Faced with a deficit left by Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the spot said, O'Malley was forced to cut spending.

Ehrlich, now running to win his job back, remembers the transition differently. He says he handed his successor a billion-dollar surplus — money Ehrlich says O'Malley then frittered away, before passing a historic tax increase.

So who is telling the truth?

Baltimore Sun colleague Annie Linskey reports that both are — up to a point. Ehrlich did set aside extra funds. But he also left the new governor with spending and revenue forecasts that were out of balance. In the end, O'Malley used the surplus to plug the hole.

The competing claims illustrate the difficulty confronting voters hoping to compare the candidates' records. But the electorate has good reason to examine past decisions: Whoever wins in November will face a $1.6 billion budget gap.

In fact, O'Malley, a Democrat, and Ehrlich, a Republican, have used many of the same tools. Both increased spending. Both covered shortfalls by shuffling money from one account to another. When recessions caused fortunes to ebb, both went to the Board of Public Works to cut spending, and both relied on federal funds and increased taxes and fees.

Read more about Ehrlich's and O'Malley's budget records at

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