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December 30, 2010

Vozzella details O'Malley inaugural events

From The Sun's Laura Vozzella:

Gov. Martin O'Malley will kick off his second term in somewhat muted style, judging by inaugural ball plans I came across online. Details are yet to be formally announced and invites aren't going out until next week. But http://www.mdinaugural.com/ offers a sneak peek at the particulars.

The festivities begin on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, two days before the Jan. 19 swearing-in, with service projects ranging from construction work at a Baltimore elementary school to a stream cleanup in Montgomery County.

The next day, O'Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown will take part in what is billed as a "youth inaugural event" at the University of Maryland, College Park. High school students from across the state will meet with them to discuss challenges and opportunities for their future.

And finally, on Jan. 19, after the formal swearing-in in Annapolis, there will be a ball in Baltimore. Four years ago, O'Malley's inaugural ball drew more than 8,000 to the Baltimore Convention Center. This time around, about 3,000 are expected to attend. The venue, the 5th Regiment Armory in Baltimore, will be smaller, too.

The dress code is "business cocktail attire," a shift from the "black tie optional" of four years ago.

Also new this year: Those who attend are asked to bring a canned or nonperishable food item for the Maryland Food Bank. The ball was a bigger to-do back in 2007 because Maryland was getting a new governor and the economy was better, O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said.

"It's still a celebration, but smaller," Abbruzzese said. "It is an inaugural for our times."

About the only thing beefed up for the privately financed ball is the slogan. Four years ago, it was "One Maryland." This year it's "We Are One Maryland."

Does a scaled-down ball mean O'Malley won't see fit to sing and strum for the crowd as he did last time around?

All Abbruzzese would say on the topic was, "Stay tuned." If you're interested, tickets are available through the website. The price is $75, or $50 for students and seniors.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:24 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Martin O'Malley
        

Cordish gets go-ahead for Arundel casino

Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. has received approval from Anne Arundel County to begin the construction process at Arundel Mills mall on what is expected to be the state's most lucrative slots parlor.

The Anne Arundel County Department of Planning and Zoning has approved Cordish's site development plan -- a first step in the construction approval process -- for its 4,750 slot parlor casino.

Cordish plans to construct the project in two phases -- the first a temporary casino in the first floor of an approximately 8-story parking garage with 2,000 slot machines, which is slated to open late next year. The second phase is the permanent casino structure, which will include a live music venue and several restaurants, expected to be completed by late 2012.

Cordish's site development plan, which officials say complies with the adequate public facilities ordinance, requiring upgrades to nearby roadways and public utilities, was approved Tuesday, county officials said Thursday.

"I'm hopeful that the construction jobs and the revenues that will come to the county will begin flowing by the end of 2011," said County Executive John R. Leopold.

With the initial approval, Cordish can now apply for grading and building permits, undergo a site development review and submit its transportation management plan, which also requires approval from the State Highway Administration, to the county.

-Nicole Fuller

Posted by Andy Rosen at 12:13 PM | | Comments (9)
        

December 29, 2010

Operative says robocalls protected by Constitution

Election Night robocalls that drew a federal civil complaint and the attention of Maryland’s state prosecutor in a criminal investigation are Constitutionally protected free speech, the lawyer for political operative Julius Henson says a motion to dismiss the case.

Henson, who worked for Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. at the time, has acknowledged ordering the calls, which told voters to “relax” because Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley had “been successful” and that “the only thing left to do is watch it on TV tonight.”

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who filed the civil suit in November, alleges that the calls were made with the intent of suppressing and intimidating voters in predominantly African-American areas. Gansler’s civil complaint against Henson, his company Universal Elections and his employee Rhonda Russell seeks millions of dollars in fines.

Gansler said 112,000 calls went out that night before the polls closed, and if they are found to be violations, each carries a $500 fine.

In a memorandum supporting the motion to dismiss, filed Tuesday in federal court, the attorney for the defendants, Edward Smith Jr., writes that nothing about the content of the calls was untrue and that the message, which “gave no command, inspired no fright,” is protected by the First Amendment.

O’Malley defeated Ehrlich by more than 14 percentage points.

“The damage promoted even to deceptive political speech is far greater than the evil that it seeks to prevent,” Smith writes about the civil complaint against his clients. An earlier motion to dismiss the case claims the federal court lacks jurisdiction and cites other technical issues.

Gansler had not reviewed the latest motion, his spokeswoman said Wednesday. Smith could not be reached for comment.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 7:11 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Maryland election 2010
        

House of Delegates committee assignments are in

House Speaker Michael E. Busch has announced new committee assignments and leadership moves. The highlights: Prince George's County legislators take party leadership positions, Republicans pick up a seat on each committee and the sometimes testy Judiciary committee promotes an ally of crime victims.

In the upcoming session, Appropriations will have 25 members, Environmental Matters will have 24, Health & Government Operations, Economic Matters and Ways & Means each will have 23, and Judiciary will have 22 members, according to a release today from Busch's office.

The Democratic caucus will be led by Del. Marvin Holmes (chairman) and Del. Justin Ross (vice-chairman) of Prince George's County. That county posted huge turnout this fall, helping push Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley to a 14-plus point victory over Republican challenger former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Although Republican lost two seats in the Senate, they gained in the House, and those new members will be spread among the six standing committees. 

Judiciary Vice-Chairman Del. Samuel Rosenberg of Baltimore will move to the vice-chairman position on Ways and Means. Taking his old role is Del. Kathleen Dumais of Montgomery County. That shift could be seen as a nod to the sometimes uncomfortable atmosphere on the committee that deals with criminal offenses. Dumais is an ally of the women's and victims' advocate groups that have occasionally complained about the sometimes brisk treatment they receive from Chairman Joe Vallario, who will retain his position. 

The Senate unveiled its committee assignments earlier this month. All House changes are highlighted after the jump.

Delegates not noted below maintain their current committee assignments.

APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE Delegate-elect Michael Hough (District 3B) Delegate-elect Kathy Szeliga (District 7) Delegate-elect Mary Washington (District 43) Delegate-elect Craig Zucker (District 14)

ECONOMIC MATTERS COMMITTEE Delegate Benjamin Barnes (District 21) Delegate-elect Steve Hershey (District 36) Delegate Tom Hucker (District 20) Delegate Benjamin F. Kramer (District 19) Delegate Steven R. Schuh (District 31) Delegate Kelly Schulz (District 4A) Delegate Jay Walker (District 26)

ENVIRONMENTAL MATTERS COMMITTEE Delegate James W. Gilchrist (Delegate 17) Delegate-elect Patrick Hogan (Delegate 3A) Delegate-elect Jay Jacobs (District 36) Delegate-elect Herb McMillan (District 30) Delegate-elect Charles Otto (District 38A) Delegate-elect Shane Robinson (District 39) Delegate-elect Cathy Vitale (District 33) Delegate-elect C.T. Wilson (District 28)

HEALTH & GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS COMMITTEE Delegate-elect Bonnie Cullison (District 19) Delegate William J. Frank (District 42) Delegate-elect Ariana Kelly (District 16) Delegate Peter F. Murphy (Districgt 28) Delegate-elect Justin Ready (5A)

JUDICIARY COMMITTEE Delegate-elect Tiffany Alston (District 24) Delegate-elect Sam Arora (District 19) Delegate-elect Luke Clippinger (District 46) Delegate-elect John Cluster (District 8) Delegate-elect Michael McDermott (District 38B) Delegate-elect Keiffer Mitchell (District 44) Delegate-elect Neil Parrott (District 2B) Delegate-elect Geraldine Valentino-Smith (District 23A)

WAYS & MEANS COMMITTEE Delegate-elect Kathy Afzali (District 4A) Delegate Talmadge Branch (District 45) Delegate-elect Mark Fisher (District 27B) Delegate Glen Glass (District 34A) Delegate-elect Eric Luedtke (District 14) Delegate-elect Aruna Miller (District 15) Delegate Samuel I. Rosenberg (District 41) Delegate Andrew A. Serafini (District 2A) Delegate-elect Michael Summers (District 47)

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:45 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Rep.-elect Andy Harris' staff features Ehrlich aides

Maryland's new congressman, Republican Andy Harris, has recycled aides to former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to fill his top leadership positions. Harris, who defeated Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil to represent the Eastern Shore and parts of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties, will be sworn in Jan. 5. 

Harris, a former state senator and longtime ally of the state's only Republican governor in a generation, announced in a release today that he has selected Kevin Reigrut as his chief of staff, Dave Schwartz as his deputy chief/director of communications, Pat Daly as his district director and Ryan Nawrocki as his press secretary. All four worked with Ehrlich in previous years.

Harris' hiring decisions come as state-level Republicans appear to have turned the page on Ehrlich, selecting former state Sen. Alex Mooney over Ehrlich's 2010 running mate Mary Kane as the new state party leader.

Schwartz, a former Ehrlich fundraiser, was in the news this year in his role as lead Maryland tea partier, director of the state's Americans for Prosperity chapter. Nawrocki narrowly lost a Baltimore County Council seat this fall. Reigrut and Daly both served a turn as chief of staff for Harris when he was state senator.

Their bios, via Harris, are available after the jump.

Kevin Reigrut (Chief of Staff) - Reigrut previously served as Harris’ Chief of Staff in the Maryland State Senate and as Planning and Policy Development Manager in former Governor Bob Ehrlich’s Office of Homeland Security. Most recently, Reigrut served as an Associate with Booz Allen Hamilton. A Maryland native residing in Pasadena with his wife and two daughters, Reigrut earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the Maxwell School of Public Citizenship at Syracuse University.

Dave Schwartz (Deputy Chief of Staff/Director of Communications) – Schwartz, a former aide to Gov. Ehrlich, worked for the past 2 years as Maryland State Director of Americans for Prosperity - a grassroots, free-market organization. He is a lifelong Marylander and lives with his wife in Bel Air.

Pat Daly (District Director) – Daly, the most recent Chief of Staff to Harris in the Maryland State Senate, also served in the Ehrlich administration. He is a Maryland native and has a bachelor’s degree from Salisbury University.

Ryan Nawrocki (Press Secretary) – Nawrocki previously worked in the administration of former Gov. Ehrlich, and most recently served as a communications coordinator for Fortune 100 LifeBridge Health. Born and raised in Maryland, he received a bachelor’s degree from St. Mary’s (MD) College.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:04 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Washington
        

December 28, 2010

Worker advocacy groups call for tax increases

In a report out today, the Progressive Maryland Education Fund and other groups are promoting tax increases as a way to help balance a state budget marred by at least a $1.2 billion hole.

The report, which calls for increases in the gas tax, the alcohol tax and on millionaires, among others, comes as Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley says he is putting together a budget that contains painful cuts, including to education, and no new sources of revenue.

"We're concerned about trying to balance the budget on cuts alone," said Neil Bergsman, head of the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute, another author of The State of Working Maryland 2010. "We need revenue measures."

The recommended tax changes begin on Page 23 of the report.

The ideas: Leave in place the million-dollar tax bracket, which is due to expire in 2011; raise the alcohol tax by a dime per drink and earmark those funds for health care; increase the gas tax by 15 cents per gallon; enact combined reporting for corporations, which would prevent them from sheltering profits in other states; and "modernize" the sales tax by taxing services in addition to goods.

In a conference call about the report this afternoon, Del. Thomas Hucker, a Montgomery County Democrat, said that despite the governor's pledge not to propose tax increases, "there is a lot of interest among my colleagues at looking at revenue enhancements."

"We can't just cut our way out," Hucker said. "We've been cutting for years." 

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:55 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Senator wants in-state tuition for illegal immigrants

An incoming state senator said Tuesday that he plans to introduce legislation to give in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants who have attended state high schools.

“After we have invested in their education, it makes sense to treat them equally when it comes to college tuition,” said Victor Ramirez, a Prince George’s County Democrat. He said colleges should focus on residency requirements rather than immigration status.

Annual tuition and mandatory fees at the University of Maryland are $8,416 for state residents and $24,831 for non-residents, according to the school’s website.

Ramirez, who was a delegate for eight years before winning a Senate seat this fall, said his legislation would be similar to a 2007 plan that passed the House of Delegates but faltered in the Senate. Both chambers approved an in-state tuition bill in 2003, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who has referred to illegal immigrants as “new Americans,” has said he would sign an in-state tuition bill.

Ramirez said he believes the changed makeup of the state Senate — which gained two Democrats this fall — gives the effort “a good chance of passing this year.” He said the legislation would require that a college applicant attend at least two years of high school in Maryland, have parents who pay income taxes and sign an affidavit swearing that he or she would complete the paperwork necessary to become a U.S. citizen.

Del. Pat McDonough, a Baltimore County Republican, said Tuesday that he plans to introduce 15 bills that crack down on illegal immigrants, including a proposal that would specifically ban colleges from giving them in-state tuition.

“It’s not fair to law-abiding students, and it’s not fair to taxpayers,” said McDonough, who has condemned a Montgomery County community college for giving in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.

Ramirez's renewed interest in the topic comes just after the President Barack Obama-backed federal Dream Act failed in the lame-duck Congress. That bill would have provided a path to citizenship for the children of parents who illegally brought them to the United States.

Political observers predict that the infusion of new Republicans in Congress next year means the immigration debate will shift to enforcement.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:24 AM | | Comments (91)
Categories: 2011 legislative session, Immigration
        

December 27, 2010

Survey says: New Wash. Co. senator seeks opinions

Call it Legislating Version 2.0. 

Sen.-elect Christopher Shank has put together an Internet survey for his constituents, asking 10 questions ranging from national health care to the makeup of the local board of commissioners. After months of persuading voters that he had the right vision for Washington County, he now wants you to persuade him.

Shank, a delegate since 1999, ousted fellow Republican Sen. Donald F. Munson this fall. He'll be sworn in next month.

As House minority whip for the past four legislative sessions, Shank was never short on opinions. He challenged Munson in part because he thought the senator was "too liberal" for Washington County. So why the survey?

"Democracy works best when there is an active and engaged citizenry. It is also a two-way street. I need to know where my constituents stand on the important issues of the day," Shank, an adjunct political science professor at George Washington University, wrote in the survey intro.

Among the queries: Do you favor/oppose legalizing same-sex marriage in the State of Maryland? Should national health care reform be repealed? Should the gas tax be increased to pay for transportation projects?

This morning, Shank wrote on his Facebook page that more than 250 people have taken the survey so far. "I will use these survey results during the next legislative session to help formulate  my position on a number of issues," he said.

"The responses so far to the open-ended question have been particularly insightful in helping me keep my finger on the pulse of the electorate," Shank wrote.

Shank is publicizing the survey through his social media sites and email contacts. He also has an ad for it in the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

The new senator has promised to keep individual responses private but will share overall results on Facebook in the coming days.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:24 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

December 23, 2010

Ehrlich on robocalls: 'I don't think they work'

A reporter for the news site Towson Patch caught up with Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday at a Princeton-Towson basketball game, where the twice-defeated Republican former governor briefly discussed his future and the controversial Election Day robocalls that are under investigation.

Ehrlich, who sat courtside with his two boys as his alma mater defeated Towson, wouldn't comment on the state investigation of his operative Julius Henson and the batch of more than 112,000 robocalls deployed in the final hours before polls closed Nov. 2.

Henson's home was raided last week as part of a state prosecutors' investigation, and Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler has already filed a civil lawsuit against Henson, alleging voter intimidation and voter suppression.

Henson has acknowledged ordering the robocalls, which told voters to "relax" and stay home instead because Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley had already "been successful." But the operative, who also works with dozens of Democrats in Baltimore and Prince George's County, has said Ehrlich probably had no knowledge of the calls.

Ehrlich told Patch that his campaign did not order robocalls from Henson or anybody else

"I'm not a fan of [robocalls]," Ehrlich said. "I don't think they work." 

Ehrlich also told Patch that he is still weighing his employment options. He said he may return to the Baltimore office that he launched for North Carolina law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge and Rice. Or, he said, he may pursue an association presidency in Washington, where he could tap his eight years of experience as a member of Congress.

Ehrlich, who lost to O'Malley by 14 percentage points -- more than double his margin of defeat four years ago, when the then-Baltimore mayor ousted the sitting governor -- reiterated his decision to end his career as a politician.

"I can't imagine running for anything in Maryland," he told Patch. 

 

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:04 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
        

December 22, 2010

Bartlett tapped for Air and Land chairmanship

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett has been named chairman of the Air and Land Force subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, his office announced this week.

The Western Maryland Republican has served on House Armed Services throughout his 17 years as a congressman. He was chairman for two years of the committee panel on Morale, Welfare and Recreation and served as chairman for two years of the Seapower and Expeditionary Forces subcommittee.  

For the past two years, he has been the ranking member of Air and Land.

“I am honored that my Republican colleagues have selected me as a leader in the Congress to craft national security policies for our Armed Forces,” Bartlett said in a statement.

Bartlett, 84, said his background as a scientist and engineer helps him in "finding practical solutions to problems and challenges through collaborative partnerships."

Although leadership positions are coming out now, committee assignments won't be announced until January. Maryland's other Republican congressman, newly-elected Andy Harris, said last month that he hopes to take Democratic predecessor Rep. Frank Kratovil's place on the House Agricultual Committee.

Last week, we reported on this blog that Rep. Elijah Cummings was chosen top Democrat of the House Oversight Committee.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:46 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington
        

Attorney: City officials demanded secret settlement

Since taking office in February, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has proclaimed a desire to increase transparency in city government.

But an investigation published in today's Daily Record shows that in one legal case, city officials withheld the name of a man who received a $200,000 settlement, contrary to the man's wishes, according to his attorney.

Yakov Shapiro, a violinist from Germantown, sued the city after he was wrongfully jailed on child molestation charges in 2007. Police had actually meant to arrest Yisrael Shapiro, a Baltimore rabbi.

Steven D. Kupferberg, Yakov Shapiro's attorney, told Daily Record reporter Brendan Kearney that his client never asked for his name to be kept secret. But at the time, city officials -- who did not release the amount of the settlement until prodded by The Sun -- said they would not reveal his name at his request.

Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, told The Sun's Justin Fenton in March that the plaintiff "demanded confidentiality as part of the settlement agreement. Had we not provided that, the cost of the settlement may very well have been higher."

"We've attempted to provide as much transparency as possible within the confines" of the settlement, he said.

City Solicitor George Nilson termed the discrepancy a "he-said, she-said situation."

He also described the officer's error as a rookie mistake, but the Daily Record's story revealed that the officer, a 17-year-veteran, had been on the sex offense squad since 2001. Nilson said the officer was unfamiliar with the task of researching addresses.

“That’s all I knew then and that’s all I know now,” Nilson told the Daily Record.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 11:38 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: City Hall
        

O'Malley brokers deal to save horse racing

Update: Hanah Cho is now reporting that there's a deal in the horse racing standoff.

"Gov. Martin O'Malley brokered this morning a last-minute deal between the owners of Maryland's two major thoroughbred tracks and the horsemen and breeders to guarantee live races next year — less than 24 hours after a state commission rejected a proposed schedule.

The owners of Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course and representatives of horse owners and breeders — who traded some contentious words on Tuesday night at a Maryland Racing Commission meeting — agreed after a meeting at the State House this morning to a framework that would allow the tracks to at least break even financially and run 146 days in 2011, the same as this year's schedule.

The agreement, which would need the racing commission's approval, calls for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association to contribute $1.7 million and the state to transfer $3 million to $4 million from the state's slot-machine program to help pay for the Maryland Jockey Club's operations. The slots revenue had been earmarked for a track improvements."

Earlier post below:

Efforts to save Maryland horse racing -- and the treasured Preakness Stakes -- have intensified this morning, with Gov. Martin O'Malley convening a group in Annapolis in hopes of brokering a last-minute deal.

The gathering follows the Maryland Racing Commission's unanimous rejection yesterday, at what was to be its final meeting of the year, of a proposed racing schedule by track owners. This is at least the second attempt by O'Malley to intervene in nearly nonstop negotiations over the past few weeks.

If no agreement is reached by the end of the year, Laurel Park racetrack could close its doors Jan. 1, and the Preakness -- a $40 million boon to the state's economy -- at Pimlico racetrack in Baltimore would be in question.

The Sun's Hanah Cho reported this morning:

MI Developments and Penn National and horse-racing industry representatives were unable to agree on a schedule that would ensure that the Jockey Club would at least break even after years of losses and maintain year-round racing for the thousands of workers in the industry.

Though some commissioners expressed hope that the track owners would come back with another proposal, Penn National spokesman Eric Schippers noted that their latest proposal was "summarily rejected by both the horse industry and the commission."

Two years ago, as the track owners filed for bankruptcy, state legislators granted the governor the authority to seize the Preakness.

O'Malley said in a statement yesterday:

“It's disappointing the parties involved could not reach an agreement. We are prepared to aggressively protect the State’s interests, as we did two years ago when presented with the threat of losing Maryland"s treasured Preakness Stakes. 

“I would encourage the track owners, industry representatives, and horsemen and breeders to return to the table and reach an agreement that protects the jobs that depend on our rich history of racing in Maryland. We will continue to explore the legal options available to us.”

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:50 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Administration
        

Teacher pension costs to be sent to schools?

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman has been talking a lot about the cost of teacher pensions lately. As he prepares to take over as the president of the Maryland Association of County's, Ulman has consistently spoken out against any shift of educator retirement costs from the state to local governments.

But what if he can't get the General Assembly to go along? This is a debate that has been simmering for years, and got especially hot last year as the Senate passed a plan that would shift more than $300 million in liabilities to the counties within the next several years. The measure died in negotiations with the House, but could be back.

If lawmakers go through with it, Larry Carson reports that Ulman would like to send the bill directly to the county school board. He argues they're the ones that decide how much teachers will be paid.

An excerpt from Larry's Political Notebook is below, but click through to read the whole thing.

"A state commission headed by former House Speaker Casper R. Taylor recommended a shift of some teacher pension costs after a meeting in Annapolis on Monday. The commission also suggested requiring local school boards to pay those costs as Ulman advocated, according to Andrea Mansfield, associate director of the Maryland Association of Counties.

That would benefit Ulman and other local government leaders because of the way Maryland pays for education, which typically consumes half or more of local revenues. Local governments levy taxes and then allocate money for schools, but school boards decide how exactly to spend it.

If pension costs are borne directly by school boards, those officials would have to wrestle with how to pay the bills, removing that burden from elected county executives and Baltimore's mayor. Instead, Ulman agreed that school board members would likely ask for more money from his administration, but he'd rather face that fight, he said.

"'It would pose a political challenge,' Ulman said, 'but I'm much more able to handle that.'"

Posted by Andy Rosen at 6:00 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: In The Counties
        

December 21, 2010

Landers contemplates mayoral bid

Joseph T. “Jody” Landers III, vice president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and a former Baltimore City Council member, announced Tuesday he is contemplating a run for mayor.

“I’ve grown somewhat frustrated over what I see as a lack of vision with where the city is headed,” said Landers. “The pressing needs of the city and this recession need more than a wait and see approach. We really need to put a priority on doing everything we can to grow the citys tax base and stimulate jobs.”

The web site The Investigative Voice first reported that Landers was considering a run for mayor.

Landers has long criticized the city’s property tax rate, which is the highest in the state. In 2007, under then- Mayor Sheila Dixon, Landers chaired a panel which drafted several alternative taxes that could allow the city to lower property tax rates.

Variations of some of those proposals were adopted by the city this year to fill a $121 million hole in the city’s budget, prompting objections from Landers who believes the measures should be used to reduce property taxes.

“We issued a report and explained all the reasons it is importatnt for the city to increase its tax base, but I feel as if it fell on deaf ears,” said Landers.

He added that the high property taxes dissuade both businesses and residents from moving to the city. There are curently more homes for sale in Baltimore than were sold during all of last year, he said. And the end of the housing bubble has made homes in the surrounding counties as affordable as those in the city, he said.

Landers said the city should cut expenses, investigate other revenue sources and consider sharing resources with the counties to reduce property tax rates.

“We need to make this a priority,” he said.

Landers has spoken out against the two-cent bottle tax approved by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in the spring. As a city council member Landers approved the city’s first bottle tax in the late 1980s in conjunction with Baltimore County. But when the county repealed the tax a few years later, Landers pushed to follow suit, saying it would hurt city businesses.

Other candidates planning to challenge Rawlings-Blake include Otis Rolley III, a former city planning director; Frank Conaway, the city’s longtime clerk of court; State Sen. Catherine Pugh and auto dealer owner Scott Donahoo.

Campaign finance reports which are due about a month from now will provide greater insight into the race. Candidates need to raise about $1 million to launch a successful bid for mayor in Baltimore.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 5:51 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: City Hall
        

December 17, 2010

Investigators raid home of Ehrlich robocaller

Investigators for the state prosecutor on Friday raided the home and office of Julius Henson, the political operative who ordered the controversial Election Day robocalls for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Emmet C. Davitt, Maryland’s new state prosecutor, declined to comment on the raid. Neither Henson nor his lawyer could be reached for comment Friday.

WBAL-TV, which broke the news of the morning raid, aired footage showing investigators carrying boxes away from Henson's home from an early morning raid.

Henson, a Democratic operative who was working this year for the Republican Ehrlich, ordered more than 112,000 robocalls before the polls closed on Election Day last month.

The calls focused on Democratic precincts in Baltimore and Prince George’s County. The recorded message featured a female voice suggesting that Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley had already won the election and encouraging supporters to stay home.

The woman told voters to “relax” because “Governor O'Malley and President Obama have been successful.… Everything is fine. The only thing left is to watch on TV tonight.”

Nobody answered the door Friday at Henson’s home on Decker Street. There was also nobody answering Friday afternoon at his office on North Charles Street.

Henson has acknowledged orchestrating the calls. He told The Baltimore Sun last month that the message was meant to encourage turnout.

“We believe the call was made for voters in Baltimore City who were not going to go to the polls, to go to the polls and vote,” Henson said in early November. “It never said, ‘Don't vote.’ ”

Henson said Ehrlich “probably” did not know about the calls. Ehrlich’s campaign paid Henson $111,000 for “community outreach.”

Ehrlich told the Annapolis Capital last week that the calls were “done outside of my purview.” When news of the calls broke on Election Night, an Ehrlich spokesman called them “absolutely irresponsible.”

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler has filed a civil lawsuit against Henson, alleging voter intimidation and vote suppression.

Gansler’s complaint alleges that Henson and an employee violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by because the phone message did not include any identifying information. Gansler is seeking $500 for each violation, which would add up to a fine of more than $56 million.

Henson started his career promoting Democrats, and most of his income over the last four years has come from left-leaning candidates. In the last election cycle, his firms Universal Elections and Politics Today netted about $763,000.

Clients included a slate led by Baltimore Democratic Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, which paid him $37,000. Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young paid Henson $30,000 this year for consulting services. Young has since cut ties with the consultant.

Del. Gerron Levi, a Prince George's County Democrat, paid him $75,000 for help in her race for county executive. She did not win.

December 16, 2010

Cummings named top Democrat on Oversight

Rep. Elijah Cummings has been elected the top Democrat on the House’s principle investigative panel.

The Baltimore Democrat can now look forward to two years of combat with incoming chairman Darrell Issa, the California Republican who has pledged wide-ranging investigations of the Obama administration when the GOP takes control of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in January.

In seeking to become ranking member, or leader of the committee minority, Cummings had said he would not allow the oversight committee “to tie the hands of our President and federal workforce, preventing them from fulfilling their duties to protect and serve the American people.”

The position will put Cummings first in line to become chairman of the committee should the Democrats regain control of the House. Earlier, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Montgomery County Democrat, was named ranking member of the House budget committee.

After his election by the Democratic House Caucus on Thursday, Cummings spoke of the oversight committee’s importance in the coming Congress, “as we continue to seek the causes and solutions of our economic downturn, as we attempt to stem the tide of fraudulent foreclosures in America, and as we ensure our citizens’ money is spent effectively and efficiently by the Federal Government."

He continued: “I understand the power of the Committee and how it can be utilized for progress and growth, or for obstruction and attack. I strongly believe in the mission of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that is embodied in that Committee’s very name: to conduct meaningful oversight of government operations and identify methods for improving government processes.

“I am ready to stand beside the new Majority as they continue the hard work Democrats have begun, seeking real solutions to the problems that trouble our government and our nation. I understand the urgency of ensuring that government effectively completes its missions and serves the needs of our citizens. I will hold this Administration to the highest standards and will vigorously exercise the Congress’ responsibility of overseeing executive action.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 11:23 PM | | Comments (7)
        

Update: Birther colonel gets six months

Sun colleague Andrea Siegel reports:

An Army doctor convicted of disobeying orders to deploy to Afghanistan because he questioned whether Barack Obama was eligible to be president was sentenced today to six months in a military prison.

He also will be dismissed from the military, meaning he will forfeit a nearly $90,000 annual salary and a pension.

In closing arguments at the court-martial at Ft. George G. Meade, government prosecutors said Lt. Col. Terrence Lakin had created "a spectacle that has embarrassed the Army" with his website and YouTube video. In both, Lakin said he wouldn't deploy until his questions about whether the president is a natural born U.S. citizen were answered.

Capt. Philip J. O'Beirne asked the eight-member panel to sentence Lakin to between 24 and 36 months in a military jail and dismiss him from the army after almost 18 years of service. The maximum sentence was reduced from 3 1/2 years to 3 years this morning.

Lakin's civilian lawyer argued against jail time.

"Does the Army or society need protection against Dr. Lakin?" attorney Neal Puckett asked the panel.

He suggested that the panel "make [Lakin] work his debt off" and reprimand Lakin.

He described his client as obsessed and remorseful, and said he had followed bad advice from an outside lawyer on pushing his issue within the army.

Lakin's stance, first made public when he refused to report to Ft. Campbell, Ky., in April, has made him a hero to the "birther" movement. Supporters say Obama, the first black president, was not born in Honolulu in August 1961, and so fails to meet the constitutional requirement that the president be a "natural born citizen."

While such conspiracy theories have largely been squelched, Lakin's refusal of a deployment earlier this year generated fresh attention for the cause.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:10 PM | | Comments (17)
        

December 15, 2010

Retiring senator donates 52 acres for conservation

Sun colleague Annie Linskey reports:

Outgoing Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus and his wife, Sharon, set aside 52 acres of their land in Somerset County for conservation, a donation that abuts a larger parcel the couple agreed not to develop several years ago.

The property, which is on Back Shelltown Road south of Snow Hill, is valued at about $314,000, according to a preliminary estimate from the Department of Natural Resources. Stoltzfus said he’d initially planned to build homes on the property, but decided against it.

“It is like a little garden of Eden,” he said. The land is wooded and full of turkeys, deer and other wildlife, Stoltzfus said.

The Maryland Environmental Trust will oversee the property, though it will remain in Stoltzfus’ name. Under the terms of the conservation easement, any future landowner will have to respect the arrangement and will not be allowed to develop the property. Stoltzfus will receive a tax credit for the donation.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 6:15 PM | | Comments (3)
        

Cummings seeks top Democrat spot on Oversight

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings is asking colleagues to support his bid to become the top-ranking Democrat on the House’s investigatory panel.

The position would pit the Baltimore Democrat against incoming chairman Darrell Issa, the California Republican who has pledged wide-ranging investigations of the Obama administration when the GOP takes control of the House Committee on Overight and Government Reform in January. Current Chairman Edolphus Towns, a New York Democrat, is not seeking the ranking member position after control of the committee changes parties.

“Issa … has announced his intention to seek as many as 280 hearings in 2011 alone, in pursuit of obstructing some of the most significant legislative achievements from the 111th Congress and undermining the current Administration,” Cummings said in a statement. “The Democratic Caucus must not cede to the new House Majority that wishes to move our nation backward, and must take every opportunity to defend against partisan attacks and the dismantling of policies that ensure security for hardworking Americans.”

Cummings’ main opponent for ranking member is Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the New York Democrat who is currently the second-ranking member. Towns is backing Maloney, according to Politico; Rep. Dennis Kucinich, also a member of the committee, has thrown his support behind Cummings.

Cummings pledged “not to allow the Committee to tie the hands of our President and federal workforce, preventing them from fulfilling their duties to protect and serve the American people.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 1:44 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Hey, hey, hey: Cosby coming for Rolley fundraiser

Comedian, actor and Jell-O pitchman Bill Cosby comes to Baltimore next month in an unexpected role: political fundraiser.

Cosby will be the star attraction Jan. 11 at a $4,000-a-plate dinner at the Tremont Grand on North Charles Street to benefit Otis Rolley, a former city housing and planning official who is challenging Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in the Democratic primary for mayor.

There also will be a $500-a-head reception and a $75 stand-up performance.

But don’t expect a laugh a minute from Cosby, who in recent years has spoken forcefully and sometimes controversially about the need for black self-reliance.

“While I’m there on the 11th, I will be very happy to take pictures with people, greet them and say hello — and with a great deal of clenched-fist seriousness about the work that has to be done,” Cosby told me in a telephone interview Wednesday.

The Cos agreed to do the event, and some door-to-door campaigning with Rolley at some point, after talking with Rolley by telephone recently.

That conversation took place at the behest of Karen Miller, who worked with Rolley at City Hall in various capacities and currently serves as his fundraiser. (She was Mayor Sheila Dixon’s communications director and he was Dixon’s chief of staff during her first year in office.)

Miller had arranged for Cosby to come to town twice, for a Park Heights block party in 2008 and for Black History Month in 2009, when she worked for then-Mayor Dixon.

“I really would like you to talk to this person,” Miller recalled telling Cosby. “I think he’s a rock star.”

Cosby’s reply, according to Miller: “What do you need me for if he’s a rock star?”

“OK,” she conceded, “he’s not a rock star.”

But Rolley is, she said, someone who shares Cosby’s passion for “what’s happening in urban cities and what’s not happening.”

Cosby agreed to give Rolley 20 minutes. They wound up talking for 40.

During that time, they talked about Rolley’s master’s degree in planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his poor childhood in Jersey City, N.J., where Rolley said he was physically and sexually abused.

“I do have a degree from MIT,” Rolley recalled telling Cosby. “I also have a Ph.D. from the School of Hard Knocks.”

Cosby was impressed.

“He spoke to me about his life and how he came up,” Cosby said. “For the city of Baltimore, it just appears to me that this is a young man who, no matter what comes at him, he is not going to turn away from the people.”

Cosby said he was basing his endorsement in large part on Miller’s recommendation. Of course, Miller vouched for Dixon, too.

Dixon “sounded good and she showed at every function,” Cosby said, calling her demise “rather sad.”

The fundraiser will come at a critical time for Rolley, whose first campaign finance report is due Jan. 20.

“Word on the street is, ‘Otis is good. He would be great, but there’s no way he can raise money,’ ” Rolley said. “If I have a strong showing on the 20th, then that conversation will change.”

Posted by Laura Vozzella at 12:44 PM | | Comments (0)
        

December 14, 2010

Army Lt. Col., 'birther,' on trial for refusing to deploy

Sun colleague Childs Walker reports:

Terrence Lakin is one of the fervent band of Americans who doubt that President Barack Obama was born in the United States.

The catch is that Lakin is an Army lieutenant colonel who refused to report for deployment to Afghanistan because he questions Obama’s credentials to serve as commander in chief.

Lakin, a flight surgeon, pleaded guilty before a military court at Fort Meade on Tuesday to a charge that included not meeting with a superior when ordered to do so and not reporting to duty at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. The 18-year veteran faces up to 18 months in prison and dismissal from the Army.

Lakin pleaded not guilty to a second charge of missing a flight he was required to be on, and the court-martial proceeding continued on that count. If convicted of all the charges against him, the Colorado native could face more than three and a half years in prison.

In videos posted on YouTube, Lakin said he had “no choice” but to disobey orders. Lakin said he would deploy if Obama's original birth certificate were released and proved authentic.

Lakin’s stance, made public when he refused to report in April, has made him a hero to the “birther” movement. Birthers say Obama, the first African-American president, was not born in Honolulu in August 1961, and so fails to meet the constitutional requirement that the president be a “natural born citizen.”

Hawaii officials say they have verified Obama's original 1961 birth certificate, and both of Honolulu’s major newspapers published news of his birth.

Obama has released a digital certification of live birth confirming his birth in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961. Hawaii officials will not release a certified birth certificate to anyone who does not have a “tangible interest.”

The birther movement surfaced during Obama’s 2008 campaign for president, and adherents have continued to raise questions about his eligibility to serve. A CNN poll this summer found that 27 percent of Americans doubt or deny that Obama is American-born. Recently, Orioles outfielder Luke Scott made headlines by questioning Obama’s place of birth.

In September, a military judge ruled the president's birth certificate is irrelevant to Lakin's case. That means his civilian lawyer, Neal Puckett, will be unable to use questions about Obama’s birth certificate as part of Lakin’s defense.

A Fort Meade spokeswoman said the Maryland base was chosen as the trial site for logistical reasons, not because of any connection to Lakin.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 6:04 PM | | Comments (6)
        

December 13, 2010

Steele wants to remain RNC chair

The Tribune's chief Washington correspondent Paul West writes that Republican National Chairman Michael Steele wants to keep his job.

The move apparently shocked some in the party and the media. Fox News reported yesterday that Steele would announce his resignation during a conference call this evening.

Instead, as West writes:

His decision means Republicans will be debating the record of its first African-American chairman next month at the moment the new GOP-controlled House is being sworn in. Steele and Republican congressional leaders have been at odds in the past and a bruising internecine fight could become an unwelcome distraction.
Near the close of a sometimes rambling, 33-minute speech, delivered to members of the Republican National Committee via conference call Monday night, Steele asked them to give him a second term "because I really believe in my heart that our work is not done."
Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:42 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Steele to reveal intentions Monday

With Maryland's GOP leadership race settled, the state's Republicans can look to the national party for intrigue.

The Tribune Washington bureau and the New York Times reported Sunday Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele will announce today whether or not he intends to run again for the top post. Steele, the former Maryland Lieutenant Governor, will inform committee members of his decision during a conference call Monday evening.

The Times provides some heavy context suggesting Steele will get out of the race:
[Steele] He has lost the backing of many top supporters, and a coordinated effort to replace him has been under way for weeks. Several leading Republicans have argued that the committee urgently needs to improve its fund-raising and tighten its structure to prepare for the 2012 election. At least six top Republicans have taken steps to run for party chairman. ...

And FOX News, a media outlet with potentially better Republican connections than The Times, is reporting Steele "is expected to" announce his resignation on the call. They cite anonymous sources.

With all of the anti-Steele chatter it is worth noting the attitude toward the current RNC leader was markedly different among Maryland GOP leaders at Saturday's convention in Annapolis.

There outgoing chair Audrey Scott called Steele is "a very special friend to Maryland" who "deserves to be re-elected chair." She credited Steele with providing the local party funds necessary for a first ever state-wide GOTV effort and helping to pull the party from the brink of bankruptcy.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 7:53 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

December 11, 2010

Alex Mooney wins GOP chair

Departing state Sen. Alex X. Mooney has been elected chairman of the Maryland Republican Party after a contested election. He edged out Mary Kane, who ran for lieutenant governor this year.

We will have updates with the vote count and additional details right here.

Mooney can look forward to a season of change: Gov. Martin O'Malley and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly will be redrawing legislative and congressional districts, term limits mean the next gubernatorial race will be for an open seat and, for the first time since 1998, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is unlikely to be the party's nominee for governor.

"The party is on the brink of making a change of some sort," Chris Cavey, a former chairman of the Baltimore County Republican Party said in a story published today. "It is at the crux of change. and [Saturday] is Day One."

Ehrlich's 14.5-percentage point loss to O'Malley last month in a year that was good for Republicans elsewhere has stirred debate within the Maryland GOP, with some saying the party should focus more on local elections than on the top of the ticket, while others want to aggressively recruit new members from Democratic strongholds such as Baltimore.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:23 PM | | Comments (4)
        

Mooney v Kane

First ballot finished at the MD GOP convention. All but two candidates have dropped out.

Results of first ballot:
Mooney 276
Kane 183
Hale 52
Campbell 48
Esteve 29

Esteve asked his supporters to vote for Kane.
Hale asked his supporters to back Mooney.
Campbell didn't tell anyone what to do.

Second ballot starting soon.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:15 PM | | Comments (0)
        

MD GOP convention

Candidate speeches are beginning at MD GOP convention in Annapolis where members of Republican central committees have gathered to select a new chair.

Meanwhile there is a move afoot to persuade tea party candidate Sam Hale to run for a lower office in the party. Carol Voss, of the Worcester County Central Committee suggested 3rd vice chairman. She said the party wants his "youth" and "enthusiasm."

Hale, 25, hasn't accepted the offer. "I've got to see how the first ballot goes," he explained.

Voss countered: "Would you deny the nomination if we put it forward?"

A field of five candidates are running for party chair. Front runners include Mary Kane, who had red signed printed up that read "Mary! MD GOP chair." and Alex Mooney (who put up a very large sign at the entrance to the hotel.)

Rooms were sold out last night at the Doubletree hotel where the convention is being held.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:59 AM | | Comments (0)
        

December 10, 2010

Dixon: 'I disappointed the city, my family and myself'

Ten months after her conviction for embezzlement, her Alford plea on perjury charges and her resignation as mayor of Baltimore, Sheila Dixon told The Daily Record this week that she “disappointed the city, my family and myself,” but that she still follows city politics and hasn’t ruled out a future run for office.

“Of course, I would do a poll to find out” how such a return to the fray would be received, Dixon told Daily Record reporter Melody Simmons in an interview published Friday.

Of her successor, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Dixon told Simmons: “I don’t see a clear vision.” Dixon said the city has lost some of the momentum that she said started during her own administration on eliminating homelessness, reducing violent crime and making the city more green.

“We were making great strides,” Dixon said. “I feel like the city has gotten back to being more reactive than proactive. And I know there have been crises that have happened that you can’t control, but there’s no real plan of action. And I hear from different groups that they don’t have access to the administration the way that they did.”

Read the interview at mddailyrecord.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:01 PM | | Comments (49)
        

December 9, 2010

Um, about that 'Christianity Under Attack Business.' Never mind

Looks like Christianity might not be under attack after all. Or if it is, the Metropolitan Baltimore Council of AFL-CIO Unions doesn't care anymore.

As I wrote in my Thursday column, Ernie Grecco, the longtime president of the Baltimore union, sent an official e-mail this week with this in the subject line: "Christianity Under Attack."

"CHRISTIANITY IS UNDER SEVERE ATTACK!!!," it began. "WE MUST TAKE A STAND!!! IF WE DON'T, WE WILL FALL!!!"

What followed was a poem, a spoof on "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" that complains about the commercialization of Christmas and has made the rounds on the Internet for years — long enough for many of the targets to have passed into irrelevance. Here's a bit:

"At K-Mart and Staples and Penny's and Sears / You won't hear the word Christmas; it won't touch your ears / Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-is-ty / Are words that were used to intimidate me / Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton, Wolf Blitzen / On Boxer, on Rather, on Kerry, on Clinton! / At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter / To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter."

I wanted to ask Grecco if getting Christ back into Christmas was an official position of the AFL-CIO, but he didn't return my calls Wednesday. He has since issued a press release on the subject. It reads:

"Earlier today I forwarded a personal e-mail concerning Christmas on the Baltimore AFL-CIO letterhead. It was a personal email and the sentiments expressed in that e-mail do not represent the position of the Baltimore AFL-CIO. I hope you'll accept my apologies."

Posted by Laura Vozzella at 11:36 AM | | Comments (2)
        

Ehrlich addresses robocalls

The GOP's gubernatorial pick this season broke his silence (a little bit) on the controversial robocalls his campaign funded hours before polls closed.

Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., also a former governor, told The Annapolis Capital the calls were "done outside of my purview." He didn't elaborate, but it was the most he's said to date about the calls.

Ehrlich's campaign paid Democratic operative Julius Henson $111K for "community outreach" a role that seems to have included organizing over one hundred thousand calls to Democratic parts of the state informing voters to "relax" because Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley had already won.

Henson says the calls were meant to encourage people to vote. The state's Attorney General has filed a civil lawsuit accusing Henson of voter intimidation and vote suppression.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 8:58 AM | | Comments (22)
        

December 8, 2010

Jenna Bush moves

Maybe it was the mountain-bike heist.

Former first daughter Jenna Bush and her husband, Henry Hager, have moved out of their South Baltimore rowhouse and put it up for sale. The couple bought the two-story, 1880s rowhouse for $440,000 in March 2008 and moved in shortly after their wedding that May.

The 3BR, 3BA end-of-group property, listed this week for $474,900, boasts a private garage, “luxurious sea grass carpeting” and unspecified “security features.” (Not that the security system did much to deter the thieves who swiped two Trek mountain bikes from the couple’s garage in June.)

It’s not clear if Bush and Hager continue to live in Baltimore or the area. Will Runnebaum, a broker with Marcus-Boyd Realty, which is listing the house, was not authorized to say.

Shortly after moving to the area, Bush taught at SEED School of Maryland, a public boarding school in Baltimore. She left this fall, according to Laura O'Connor of the SEED Foundation. 

In August 2009, she also started work as a part-time correspondent for the “Today Show” out of NBC’s Washington bureau. Has her work for NBC prompted a move? A network spokeswoman did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Hager continues to work for Constellation Energy, Constellation spokesman Larry McDonnell confirmed this week. But McDonnell declined to say if Hager is still employed in Baltimore or if he’s working somewhere else for the energy conglomerate.

David Sherzer, a spokesman in former President George W. Bush’s Dallas office, wasn’t talking either.

“Unfortunately, we don’t comment on the girls,” said Sherzer, who grew up in Maryland and volunteered this much: “I’m the only Orioles fan in the [Dallas-Fort Worth] metroplex.”

Wherever she went, Jenna Bush demonstrated some political savvy in the way she moved out. She knew enough not to hire Mayflower, the company some Baltimoreans still blame for relocating the Colts to Indianapolis. A neighbor who spied the movers last week tells me it was an unmarked truck.

Posted by Laura Vozzella at 3:14 PM | | Comments (12)
        

O'Malley installs longtime aide in key DGA post

The new top staff job at the Democratic Governors Association goes to Colm O’Comartun, an aide who has been with Gov. Martin O'Malley since his days as the mayor of Baltimore.

The move had been rumored for days and was openly discussed by lobbyists hanging around the bar at the Saint Regis Hotel in Washington last last week when O'Malley became the organization's chair. O’Comartun refused to talk about the possibility at the time.

In a statement O'Malley called O'Comartun "one of the most skilled and loyal public servants." That loyalty should come in handy if O'Malley hopes to maintain a national profile beyond the one (or maybe two?) year term of his chairmanship.

The executive director job will put O'Comartun in a good position to build relationships with top Democratic donors outside the Maryland money circuit. And it could let him build a network of the pollsters, consultants and field directors key to any national campaign.

At the very least he'll rack up favors from needy governors who look to him to deploy resources when their campaigns look shaky. O'Comartun's predecessor held the position for four years -- and worked there for six.

In Maryland O'Comartun has been largely out of the public eye (he's only been mentioned in the Sun five times), but he's frequently by O'Malley's side. We've described his role as a "handler" and a "spokesman" and once by his proper title: "director." He's gotten some of the cush assignments, traveling with O'Malley to England and Ireland in 2005.

During the recent campaign O'Comartun popped up with O'Malley at events and toted around the governor's over-sized three-ring binder. The governor clearly favors him, turning to him when even minor questions arose including, at one event, a request for information about the federal unemployment program. His official job with the state: Director of the Governor's Office.

O'Comartun will replace Nathan Daschle, the son of the former Senate Majority Leader. In a statement, O'Malley praised Daschle's work, saying he'd "taken the organization to new heights"
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:58 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: DGA
        

Barbara Mikulski: Have you ever noticed?

 

Michaels appears to have recently changed its logo, but just saying.  Mikulski used the logo when she was first elected to the Senate in 1986; Michaels went public and began expanding beyond Texas in 1984.

UPDATE: I have been advised by Mikulski's office that she has been using the same logo since she first ran for House of Representatives in 1976.

Posted by Andy Rosen at 11:15 AM | | Comments (0)
        

December 7, 2010

O'Malley offers buyouts

Gov. Martin O'Malley today offered state workers $15,000 a piece if they resign by the end of January, the latest effort by the administration to cut costs as they look ahead to another massive budget hole next year.

Not all of the state's 79,000 employees will qualify for the plan. Those who do will also receive $200 for each year of state employment.

In a statement accompanying the announcement, O'Malley said Maryland continues to "face significant budget challenges" and told workers "we all need to do more to cut costs."

He also said the plan will help avoid layoffs, a goal he has repeatedly mentioned. Already state workers have seen their pay reduced three years in a row via furloughs, with employees giving up between five and 10 days of pay depending on their salary.

The state's work force has contracted since O'Malley took office, shedding 1,286 positions since 2007 -- a reduction of 1.6 percent. The General Assembly this year required that the executive branch eliminate 500 additional workers, though most believed those reductions would come from erasing empty positions or attrition.

O'Malley's fiscal leaders are currently working on next year's budget, a spending plan that will have to take account for an expected $1.6 billion gap between revenues and expenditures. O'Malley has said the plan will rely on a "continued diet of cuts" rather than any new taxes.

(A longer version of this story appeared in Wednesday's Sun.)


Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:13 PM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Administration
        

December 3, 2010

Miller announces new committee assignments

Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller just put out the list new assignments for four of the body's six committees.

As was widely rumored, the powerful Budget and Taxation committee shrank from 15 to 13. The pain was blunted by the fact that one member retired and another was not re-elected. Also Sen. Robert Zirkin moved off the committee on to the Judicial Proceedings panel and replaced by Sen. Richard Colburn.

Baltimore's Nathaniel McFadden moved up to Vice Chair of B&T. As previously announced, Sen. Edward Kasemeyer will chair the committee. He replaces Sen. Ulysses Currie who was indicted on bribery charges. Currie will remain a member of the panel.

Newcomer Bill Ferguson of Baltimore will be on the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee, which fits with his background as a teacher and staffer in Baltimore's school system.

That committee also underwent significant change -- five of its members are unchanged. Their work will be watched closely, as the committee has jurisdiction over the high-profile issue of potentially legalizing wine shipments directly to consumers.

See new committee assignments for B&T, Education, Finance and JPR after the jump. Memberships for the Rules committee and Executive Nominations panel haven't yet been announced.  

* New to the committee
** New to the senate and the committee

Budget and Taxation
Edward J. Kasemeyer, Chair
Nathaniel J. McFadden, Vice-Chair
David R. Brinkley
*Richard F. Colburn (Moved from Education)
Ulysses Currie
James E. DeGrange, Sr.
George C. Edwards
Verna L. Jones
Nancy J. King
Richard S. Madaleno, Jr.
**Roger Manno
Douglas J.J. Peters
James N. Robey  

Education, Health and Environmental Affairs
Joan Carter Conway, Chair
Roy P. Dyson, Vice-Chair
**Joanne C. Benson
**Bill Ferguson
**J.B. Jennings
**Karen S. Montgomery
Paul G. Pinsky
Edward R. Reilly
James C. Rosapepe
*Bryan W. Simonaire (Moved from JPR)
**Ronald N. Young

Finance
Thomas M. Middleton, Chair
John C. Astle, Vice-Chair
Robert J. Garagiola
Barry Glassman
Delores G. Kelley
Allan H. Kittleman
Katherine A. Klausmeier
**James N. Mathias, Jr.
*C. Anthony Muse (moved from JPR)
E.J. Pipkin
Catherine E. Pugh

Judicial Proceedings
Brian E. Frosh, Chair
Lisa A. Gladden, Vice-Chair
James Brochin
**Joseph M. Getty
Jennie M. Forehand
Nancy Jacobs
Jamin B. (Jamie) Raskin
Norman R. Stone, Jr.
*Robert A. (Bobby) Zirkin (moved from B&T)
**Victor R. Ramirez
**Christopher B. Shank

Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:33 PM | | Comments (5)
        

Kamenetz names staff, plans to hire Gardina

Incoming Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz plans to hire outgoing County Councilman Vince Gardina to head the new Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability, which he announced that he plans to create by merging other departments.

Gardina, a Democrat and, the longest-serving councilman in Baltimore County's history, is set to leave office on Monday, the same day Kamenetz will take office.

This is new information, and we're still sorting through it, but here some other points of interest in Kamenetz's staff announcement. The County Council must review his appointments within 40 days after he submits them on Monday.

-Kamenetz wants to keep Fred Homan as County Administrative Officer, a powerful job he held in ougoing County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s administration.

-Stanley H. Jacobs will serve as acting director of economic development while Kamenetz looks for a permanent chief. This means David Iannucci, Smith's economic development point man, is not keeping his post.

-Smith's communications director, Donald I. Mohler, III, will become Kamenetz's chief of staff.

-Arnold E. Jablon has been tapped to head of the new Department of Permits, Inspections, and Approvals.

Here's a full list of the appointments, from Kamenetz's office:

-Administrative Law Judge (designated as Zoning Commissioner)-Lawrence M. Stahl
-Administrative Law Judge (designated as Deputy Zoning Commissioner)-John E. Beverungen
-Aging-Joanne E. Williams
-Budget and Finance-Keith A. Dorsey
-Corrections-James P. O'Neill
-Environmental Protection and Sustainability (DEPS)-Vincent J. Gardina
-Fire Chief-John J. Hohman
-Health- Gregory Branch, M.D.
-Human Resources-George E. Gay
-Information Technology-Robert R. Stradling
-Law-Michael E. Field
-Permits, Inspections, and Applications (PIA)- Arnold E. Jablon
-Police Chief-James W. Johnson
-Public Works-Edward C. Adams, Jr.
-Recreation and Parks-Barry F. Williams
-Social Services-Timothy Griffith
-Although not subject to council confirmation, Timothy M. Kotroco will serve as the third Administrative Law Judge in the Office of Administrative Hearings.

Posted by Andy Rosen at 2:36 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: In The Counties
        

Spending money to make money

Maryland's fiscal wizards were busy this week talking to the rating agencies about an upcoming deal to finance slots machines for two casinos.

If all goes according to plans in early January the state will borrow about $41.6 million to buy 1,825 machines for the the new Hollywood Casino Perryville and the Ocean Downs gaming house expected to open later this month. The price tag does not include the maintenance contracts or costs of leasing some additional machines.

Comptroller Peter Franchot and others have questioned the price the state attached to the machines. In response the state's Lottery Commission asked two outside industry analysts to evaluate the costs. Neither was overly alarmed by the costs, though their evaluations did not include millions in maintenance contracts.

The money that the state is borrowing must be paid back within five years, a time period that matches the useful life of the machines (most of the state's debt is repaid over 15 years).

Also, in this case, the debt will be repaid from Maryland's anemic general fund. For next year, Gov. Martin O'Malley would have to ask the General Assembly for a $8.3 million chunk to cover the costs.

Naturally, the state hopes to make a significant return on its investment, and revenues from the sole operating casino are exceeding expectations. The latest slots revenue projections from the Department of Legislative Services are as follows:

FY12: $105 million, from revenue at Ocean Downs and Perryville
FY13: $228 million, adds expected revenues from the casino at Arundel Mills
FY14: $448 million, adds expected revenues from a casino in Baltimore
FY15: $491 million
Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:27 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Slots
        

Wargotz does not want to lead state GOP

Eric Wargotz has decided that he does not want to lead the state's Republican party, explaining to supporters yesterday that the position would prevent him from running for another elected office.

The news narrows the field of GOP candidates who've talked about succeeding current chairwoman Audrey Scott. She is not seeking another term.

Our friends at The Washington Post are also reporting that Andrew Langer has dropped out.

The state's Republicans plan to meant on Sat. Dec. 11 to make their decision, a selection that will play a significant role shaping the state's Republican party in the post-Ehrlich era.

Other candidates include Mary Kane, who was on the ticket this year with Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.

Other choices include William Campbell, the former Amtrak and U.S Coast Guard financial executive who lost a bid this fall for Maryland comptroller and Mike Esteve, chairman of the Maryland College Republicans.

Wargotz wouldn't tell us what he's considering next. But he said his next campaign will benefit from lessons he's learned from from his failed attempt to take on popular Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski this year. (He declined to talk specifics.)

In his email to supporters, he said that he hopes going forward party will hue to its "conservative values."
Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:28 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: People
        

December 2, 2010

Barth on crossing party lines for Ehrlich

Four years ago, Andy Barth was a Democrat. He ran and lost in the Democratic primary won by Rep. John Sarbanes. This year, he was the voice of the most prominent Republican in Maryland, when he became spokesman for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

So what made Barth cross the aisle for Ehrlich? With the election over, the former TV reporter answered some questions for Larry Carson's Howard County Political Notebook.

A few excerpts are below:

Barth said his work for Ehrlich was based on a personal respect formed over a period of years.

“I never thought of this as a political decision,” he said. “I covered him starting in 1994 when he first ran for Congress. I thought then this was an honest and decent guy I would love to work for, but I filed it away.” Barth was a reporter for more than 35 years, both at Baltimore’s WMAR (Channel 2) and later for Washington station WTTG (Channel 5). He also once sought the presidency of the Columbia Association.

Bottom line, Barth said he preferred Ehrlich to O’Malley, who won the election by double digits.

“I thought of the two people running, Bob Ehrlich was the better choice in terms of character and values. I wish people would get past the partisanship that has people vote on party labels.”

Posted by Andy Rosen at 5:37 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: In The Counties, Maryland election 2010
        

Renegades only, please

Richard Cross, a former speechwriter for Bob Ehrlich who became a vocal critic of "strategic missteps" made by his campaign four years ago and again this year, is ready for a revolution.

"[A] bunch of us will be celebrating the rising renegade movement in Maryland GOP politics by hosting a 'Renegades Room' at the state Republican convention on the evening of December 10, 2010 at the Doubletree Hotel in Annapolis," Cross writes on his politics and pop culture blog, Cross Purposes

Cross writes that he has reserved a hotel suite for "free-thinking" Maryland Republicans who are ready to shake up the party.

"[P]lease keep in mind that the organizers of the event reserve the right to control access to the room," he writes. "In other words, legitimate renegades are welcome, but those who foment trouble simply for self-serving reasons are not."

Posted by Laura Vozzella at 10:48 AM | | Comments (2)
        

Kevin Kamenetz: early adopter

Kevin Kamenetz, who will be sworn in as Baltimore County executive on Monday, wasn't quite there with Al Gore at the creation of the Internet. But he was an early adopter.

So early, in fact, that Kamenetz made news in April 1996 when he had the County Council create a Web page, something so widely unknown at the time that the Woodlawn Villager newspaper had to explain what the heck it was.

"Kevin Kamentz [sic], Chairman of the Baltimore County Council, has announced that the Council has established a home page on the World Wide Web, an information retrieval system for the computer network known as the Internet," the article began.

Kamenetz came across the article recently as he prepared to vacate his County Council office.

"I'm cleaning out my desk after 16 years, and I'm finding all sorts of things," he said.

That Kamenetz understood the Internet before most of us suggests he'll make good on his campaign pledge to improve the county's use of technology.

But there are limits to his skills as a tech seer.

"I only wish I bought stock in the Internet 15 years ago," he said. "Then I really would have been a smart guy."

Posted by Laura Vozzella at 10:44 AM | | Comments (1)
        

December 1, 2010

Steele, absent from first RNC chair's debate, attacked anyway

On a stage flanked by the American flag and the yellow rattlesnake banner of the tea party movement, would-be Republican national chairmen took turns Wednesday whacking the current incumbent--Michael S. Steele-who was absent.

The two-hour forum of the conservative caucus of the Republican National Committee attracted four potential candidates for GOP chairman, including Mike Duncan of Kentucky, the last chairman, who lost to Steele two years ago. About 20 of the 168 Republican National Committee members who will choose the new chairman attended the session in a Washington hotel ballroom.

Steele, whose term expires next month, has not declared his re-election intentions and has been expected to enter the race. But some anti-Steele Republicans, noting that one of the leaders of his last RNC campaign is considering a run this time, said the former Maryland lieutenant governor's support is eroding and predict he'll step aside.

Steele's name was seldom mentioned during the forum, co-sponsored by FreedomWorks, an arm of the tea party movement. But his would-be successors went to considerable lengths to say how they would fix shortcomings that have been attributed to Steele.

Most of the criticism revolved around fund-raising and what one of the potential candidates, former RNC political director Gentry Collins -- who broke with Steele after working for him for the last two years---described as a failure to make the most of the Republican wave in last month's midterm elections.

"This isn't about firing somebody. This is about hiring somebody," said Saul Anuzis, a national committeeman from Michigan and the only announced candidate in the field.

He said Steele is vulnerable both because he hasn't announced his candidacy and because the qualifications for the next RNC chairman are different than they were in 2009.

All the contenders zeroed in on fundraising, a primary responsibility of the national party. There was also implied criticism of Steele for using his party position to advance his own political ambitions and earn outside income from speaking fees and book royalties.

Collins said Steele "failed to raise the major donor money that it’s going to require" to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012. He estimated that figure at between $400 and $425 million, adding that "under this chairman we have not made enough progress toward that end."

Anuzis said the party failed to attract more money from large donors because many former givers simply weren't asked, another implicit criticism of Steele.

Ann Wagner, a Missouri Republican and former RNC official, promised to provide "ethical management," a knock on RNC spending irregularities during Steele's term that embarrassed the national party.

In addition to those at the forum, at least two other Republicans are considering bids for chairman, Maria Cino, a former party official from the Bush years, and Reince Priebus, the Wisconsin Republican chairman. Priebus, regarded as one of Steele's biggest allies on the party committee, has been toying with a run for some time and was expected to meet privately with RNC members in Washington this week.

Posted by Paul West at 3:50 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Michael Steele
        

O'Malley to lead Democratic governors

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue spilled the news: as expected, Martin O'Malley will was picked today to be the next chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.

(While the organization already has announced O'Malley's election in a press release, and Perdue described him in her speech as the chairman, the actual vote is happening right now.)

** UPDATE: O'Malley has now, officially, been selected chair via a unanimous vote, says spokesman Rick Abbruzzese. **

O'Malley is currently emceeing an association lunch at the St. Regis Washington hotel. He spoke briefly, giving a somewhat nationalized version of his stump speech.

As DGA chairman, O'Malley now has the opportunity to expand his Rolodex with Democratic donors from other states, deepen relationships with a network of emerging Democratic leaders and recruit new faces to the party.

The position proved a stepping-stone for former President Bill Clinton, current Health Secretary Kathleen Sibelius and current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, among others.

"It is an important leadership position," Nathan Gonzales, the political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, said Tuesday, before the vote. "If it is O'Malley, it will put him on a larger stage than just being the governor of Maryland."

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi showed the way during the 2010 election campaign, when he made the Republican Governors Association a major fundraising resource for GOP candidates — and kept his own name in the national media.

But the job does not necessarily translate into national stardom.

"You don't get this huge national profile unless you seek it out and work it," said Jennifer Duffy, an analyst with the Cook Political Report.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:49 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Martin O'Malley, People
        

Senate GOP shakeup after election losses

The new, thinner state Senate Republican caucus has returned former minority leader David Brinkley, of Frederick County, to its leadership team, dropping Harford County Sen. Nancy Jacobs from the minority whip post.

In caucus elections Tuesday, Sen. Allan Kittleman of Howard County held onto the minority leader post, which he has held for the past two legislative sessions. Brinkley was the top Republican in the Senate during the 2007 and 2008 sessions, but did not seek a return to the post for the following year. In a widely publicized incident in 2008, police responded to a domestic disturbance at his home. No criminal charges were ever filed.

"I have enough to deal with personally," he told the Frederick News-Post at the time. "When things are sufficiently addressed in those areas, then I can pursue [the position] again if I choose."

The Republicans voted for only two leadership positions. The whip is the lower of the two, and is largely responsible for helping round up votes for or against legislation.

Brinkley's addition gives the Republicans a leadership voice on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, which makes many crucial decisions on the state budget. This year, he was the only Senate Republican appointed by President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. to the powerful budget conference committee, which negotiates differences between the House and Senate on the state's operating budget.

Republicans will need to leverage their negotiation strengths next year, after losing two seats in the November election. The caucus now holds 12 seats in the 47-member body.

Posted by Andy Rosen at 10:49 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: General Assembly 2010
        
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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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