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June 30, 2011

Opponents of in-state tuition have 100K signatures

The Republican-led group trying to repeal the controversial new state law granting new benefits to illegal immigrants reported that they've met their goal of 100,000 signatures opposing the law.

The group submitted 57,000 signatures last month and plan to turn in the balance this evening in Annapolis. So far, the State Board of Elections has determined that 47,000 of the signatures are valid. The group needs another 8,400 acceptable signatures to have the law put to voters in November 2012.

Supporters of the new law, which grants illegal immigrants in-state tuition at Maryland's colleges and universities, held a rally in Baltimore earlier today where they pledged a state-wide campaign supporting the measure.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:45 PM | | Comments (31)
Categories: Immigration

O'Malley calls state permit process a 'weakness'

Gov. Martin O'Malley called Maryland's often lengthy and confusing business permit process "one of the weaknesses of our state," this morning before signing an executive order aimed at easing it.

"Fast Track," he said, is supposed to help speed projects with significant economic impact in specific redevelopment areas -- so long as they would not adversely impact the state's environmental and Smart Growth goals.

Developers who qualify for Fast Track would be told up front whether their business plans have any chance at approval, or whether the state will fight "tooth and nail" against the project, O'Malley said.

The new program is part of an overall administration concept called Maryland Made Easy, which corrals state permitting and business approval information in one area. Noting that small businesses account for 85 percent of the jobs in Maryland, O'Malley said, "We understand that government is not the job creator. But it sets the conditions."

Bureaucratic red tape was a theme on the gubernatorial campaign trail last year, with Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. repeatedly criticizing the Democratic governor's "over-regulation" of private businesses.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who is tasked with overseeing Fast Track, said complaints about Maryland's approval process date back far longer than the O'Malley administration.

"It's not like approvals came to a standstill four years ago," Brown said. He said he and the governor have been pondering ways to improve it for years but "we needed to make sure we got it right."

The state Department of Business and Economic Development now plays "traffic cop" for the permitting process, said Secretary Christian Johansson, helping businesses contact all the right state agencies. The speed of permitting will be monitored by StateStat, allowing the governor to prod agencies that aren't moving quickly enough, Johansson said.

Maryland Business for Responsive Government -- a frequent critic of O'Malley's approach to small business -- issued a supportive press release today on Fast Track.

"Governor O'Malley is taking a step in the right direction today by streamlining regulatory processes in Maryland departments and agencies," MBRG President Kimberly M. Burns said in a statement. "The executive order has potential to increase business productivity, investment and ultimately lead to job creation."

Bakery Express in Halethorpe played host to the Fast Track executive order ceremony this morning. The many cabinet secretaries and state and local lawmakers in attendance left with boxes of doughnuts.

Owner Charles Burman said his own experience with state and local permits has been positive in recent years.

By the time he began working on the 143,000 square-foot bakery in Halethorpe in 2007, he'd already opened three others in Maryland and one each in California, Texas and Florida. He said he knew to stay in constant communication with the state agencies that would issue permits.

"The state was extremely responsive," Burman said, "but we were extremely proactive."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:40 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Administration, Money and Business, jobs, jobs, jobs

Cummings: ATF probe should consider gun laws

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, in the latest battle with his Republican counterpart on the House Oversight Committee, said Thursday that an investigation into a troubled federal gun trafficking operation should also consider the role U.S. gun laws play in violence on the Mexican border.

In a report released by the Baltimore Democrat on Thursday, in advance of a Capitol Hill forum he scheduled on the issue, Cummings argues that federal agents working to combat international drug cartels would benefit from tougher criminal penalties on straw purchases and trafficking.

Cummings, who is the top-ranking Democrat on the oversight committee, said the committee’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, has tried to “wall off any discussion of the nation’s gun laws” as part of the ongoing investigation.

“Trafficking firearms to Mexico is illegal. Anyone who buys an assault rifle on behalf of a Mexican cartel is a criminal,” the Baltimore lawmaker said. “Placing common-sense restrictions on criminals who supply guns to drug cartels does not infringe on the rights of law abiding citizens.”

Issa’s investigation has centered on a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives sting operation called “Fast and Furious,” in which agents allowed weapons to be sold to straw purchasers for Mexican drug cartels to discover how those guns were brought across the border. But the ATF lost track of many of those weapons, including two that were found at the scene of the murder of an ATF agent last year.

Republicans say Cummings’ focus on gun laws is beside the point.

“This is a predictable maneuver from a minority that has sought to obstruct the investigation into Justice Department sanctioned gunwalking,” said Issa spokesman Frederick Hill. “It will not affect the committee’s continued focus on a reckless operation that has been linked to deaths on both sides of the border.”

Cummings and Issa have battled publicly this year over everything from a high-profile investigation into the mortgage foreclsoure crisis to rules over who can call which witnesses to testify.

At a news conference Wednesday, President Barack Obama was asked whether he will consider replacing the current leadership at the ATF.

“My attorney general has made clear that he certainly would not have ordered gun running to be able to pass through into Mexico,” Obama responded. “I’ve made very clear my views that that would not be an appropriate step by the ATF, and we got to find out how that happened. As soon as the investigation is completed, I think appropriate actions will be taken.”

Posted by John Fritze at 10:17 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Washington

June 29, 2011

Hoyer, Sarbanes discuss manufacturing in Baltimore

With congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama emphasizing American manufacturing as key to the nation's economic recovery, two Maryland lawmakers met with Baltimore business leaders Tuesday to discuss what role Washington should take to help the industry.

During a wide-ranging talk at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, Democratic Reps. Steny Hoyer and John Sarbanes addressed trade agreements with Korea, Columbia and Panama that are pending in Congress as well as government regulations and taxes that business leaders told the lawmakers are stifling growth.

"Too many Americans are not confident that America is going to make it in the decade and century ahead," said Hoyer, the Southern Maryland lawmaker who is the second-highest ranking Democrat in the House and who has been pushing a manufacturing agenda for months. "We have a decision to make: Are we going to compete?"

Hoyer echoed bipartisan calls for Congress to get the nation's spending under control and lower corporate tax rates by weeding out loopholes.

Sarbanes, who represents portions of Baltimore city as well as parts of Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties, focused on building up the nation's infrastructure as a way to spur future economic development.

"People understand that we need to invest in our country," said Sarbanes, who has also visited Under Armour and Columbia-based TEDCO this week. "If you believe we've got to rebuild the country then, while we're at it, why don't we use American products to rebuild it?"

The Inner Harbor event drew former congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley, a Republican, and Baltimore mayoral candidate Joseph T. "Jody" Landers, a Democrat.

The focus on manufacturing in Maryland came a day after Obama travelled to an Alcoa plant in eastern Iowa to discuss the economy.

Earlier Wednesday, Hoyer toured Adcor Industries, an East Baltimore company that develops telecommunications and weapons systems for government and commercial contractors. The 100-employee Adcor has been working on a replacement for the military's M4 rifle, which Hoyer got a chance to test in the company's firing range.

Posted by John Fritze at 10:21 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington

Kamenetz: Balto. County employee salaries going online

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced plans to post salaries of 7,800 government employees online on Friday.

The Baltimore Sun has been in touch with county officials in recent weeks while preparing to launch its own database. The Sun sent a request to the county last August for each employee’s annual salary, including name, title, department and hire date. In addition, the newspaper asked for each employee’s actual gross pay from 2008 to 2010, including overtime, expenses and other payments that would be added to the annual salary, along with the county’s check log. The Sun’s databases for the city and state are currently online.

UPDATE: The Sun's county employee database is now live.

Kamenetz said the county’s database will be placed under the human resources section of the website and show the base salary of every employee, including first and last names, as of June 30.

The effort is designed to “increase transparency of county government operations” and was not triggered by the newspaper’s request, spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said.

In a statement, the county executive said, “People expect government to be open and forthcoming with information and that is what we are doing in Baltimore County.”

Posted by Raven Hill at 5:03 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore County

Big names rejected from in-state tuition petition

At least two members of the House of Delegates were among the 10,000 Marylanders whose signatures were rejected from the first batch of in-state tuition petitions.

Dels. Michael J. Hough and Susan W. Krebs both submitted petitions with errors, according to a list supplied by the State Board of Elections. Both delegates say they are frustrated that state rules prevent them from resubmitting corrected paperwork.

Hough, a Western Maryland Republican, said the experience might prompt him to introduce legislation next session easing the petition rules so that signers can fix problems. "It is just wrong," Hough said. "The general attitude of the state is to make it difficult to overturn a law."

Krebs' entire family of four were rejected. She immediately knew why: After the family signed a petition Krebs and her husband both added their signatures as witnesses even though only her husband was the designated "circulator." Had she crossed out her name, the all four signatures would have been valid, she was told.

The two delegates are part of an effort to overturn a controversial new law that grants undocumented students discounts at state colleges and universities. They've been collecting signatures for months with a goal of suspending the law and having it put on 2012 ballot.

So far, the opponents have collected 47,000 valid signatures. They have until Friday to submit an the additional 8,700 needed to trigger a referendum. 

Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:57 PM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Immigration

Ruppersberger joins AT&T merger letter

Jumping into the fray on one of the most controversial issues facing federal anti-trust regulators this year, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger joined 75 other congressional Democrats in a high profile letter touting the proposed merger of AT&T and T-Mobile.
The letter, which lawmakers sent to the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission late last week, does not specifically endorse the $39 billion deal, but instead urges regulators to consider AT&T’s promise to build a wireless broadband network that would cover much of the nation.

"Such a commitment will require billions of dollars in private investment capital and create thousands of jobs, including many good paying union jobs with solid benefits, which will greatly contribute to our continuing economic recovery," the letter reads.

Proponents say the wireless network will benefit areas often unable to access internet service, such as rural areas. Opponents say the merger could stifle competition and increase costs for that access. They also say AT&T is prepared to build the wireless network regardless of whether the government approves the merger.

“There are still many Marylanders in rural areas and underserved communities without broadband access, including parts of Baltimore city,” Ruppersberger said in a statement. “With proper oversight, the industry will remain competitive, providing the best technology at the lowest price for consumers.”

Ruppersberger was the only Maryland lawmaker to sign the letter.

Both the letter and the underlying issue have proven controversial. A host of consumer groups — including Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports — have criticized the deal. The public interest group Free Press argued recently that AT&T’s attempt to tie the merger to the promise of the broadband network is dubious.

“Members of Congress should be more careful about signing any letter that AT&T puts in front of them," the group's research director S. Derek Turner said in a statement. "This letter is riddled with misleading and factually inaccurate statements that contradict what the company is telling investors and regulators."

Posted by John Fritze at 12:08 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

June 28, 2011

Senate candidates solicit funds for 2012

With an important fundraising deadline for congressional candidates approaching at the end of this week, a handful of campaigns in Maryland were out seeking last-minute donations Tuesday – and the pleas for cash are likely to grow louder over the next few days.

First in line was Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, who is one of 17 incumbent Democrats across the country up for reelection in 2012. Gov. Martin O’Malley’s campaign shop sent an e-mail to supporters Tuesday, urging Democrats to “help Ben get a head start on what’s sure to be a tough race.” The e-mail says that Cardin’s campaign is “about to go into full swing, so he needs to build up his resources now.”

As is often the case with these requests, the e-mail sprinkles in plenty of criticism of the other side for core voters. In this case, O’Malley’s e-mail argues that the Republican Party stands for tearing “down our safety nets, our programs and our rights rather than rebuilding and moving our nation forward.”

The e-mail came on the same day that Cardin’s campaign distributed a request from the senator’s wife, Myrna Cardin, who pointed out that the two met when they were in elementary school. Her request notes what is really driving the spate of fundraising e-mails -- the second-quarter period for campaign finance reporting ends June 30 -- and says that “a contribution of $5 or more” will “give him the strength he needs for the campaign ahead.”

On the Republican side, both Eric Wargotz, the former Queen Anne's County commissioner, and Daniel Bongino, the former Secret Service agent, also asked for cash. Wargotz, who ran against incumbent Barbara A. Mikulski last year, solicited donations in an e-mail headlined “the most dangerous liberal” in which he calls Cardin “dangerous” and “craftier” than other Democrats.

“Barbara Boxer, John Kerry and Chuck Schumer push their liberal agenda loudly and obnoxiously. They attract lots of attention and you know all about them,” the e-mail reads, referring to the Democratic senators from California, Massachusetts and New York. “Ben Cardin is much craftier. He’s quiet. He works behind the scenes. He’s a master of the legislative process and he does a lot of damage without you ever knowing anything about it.”

Wargotz told The Sun last week that he is considering a run against Cardin but is not officially in the race. In the e-mail, he reiterates that position but also says he has “decided to explore a run against him.”

While Cardin encourages donors to give at values as low as $5, Wargotz sets his “bare minimum” at $25.

Bongino also sent out a message this week, attacking Cardin for what he called "disturbing ideology" and noting that "every dollar helps."

The 2012 election is still a long way off, but the amount of money House and Senate candidates can haul in at the end of each quarter will start being scrutinized for signs of strength or weakness soon. The campaign finance reports, which are filed with Federal Election Commission, are due July 15.

In his first quarter report this year, Cardin reported raising nearly $756,000, which includes $114,000 he collected through joint fundraising with other candidates, FEC records show. During that same period, Wargotz reported raising $3,471 with more than $666,000 in debt. Bongino got into the race after the deadline to file a first quarter report this year.

This item was updated with information from Daniel Bongino's campaign.

Posted by John Fritze at 10:01 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington

Former Balto. County Exec. Venetoulis criticizes 'retroactive legislation'

Former Baltimore County Executive Ted Venetoulis gave a nod of support Tuesday to legislation that would allow a controversial Catonsville townhouse development to proceed.

Venetoulis submitted a letter to the County Council stating his views on the planned unit development (“PUD”) concept. An excerpt:

“First, the concept of a ‘Planned Unit Development’ was initiated by the civic groups and citizens during my Administration as part of a growth management policy intended to encourage creative, well-planned residential, commercial or mixed-use developments. Most importantly, it was designed to enhance citizen participation in the County’s future growth. … Democracy cannot function if rules are altered and then applied backwards. The public must know that the rules in effect will be applied fairly and consistently. As a matter of good government, retroactive legislation is not simply poor public policy, it is unfair, unwise and dangerous.”

My colleague Arthur Hirsch (@hirsch18) wrote an article a few weeks ago exploring problems with PUDs and the Thistle Landing controversy. The County Council is expected to put the project back on track next week.

Posted by Raven Hill at 7:18 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Gay marriage: A look at the N.Y. and Md. bills

Maryland gay-rights activists and supporters of same-sex marriage say they are studying the text of New York's new law as they gear up for another fight next year.

As reported in The Sun this morning, an ambitious Democratic governor, a multimillion-dollar outreach effort and the involvement of key Republicans were among the factors that led to New York's passage of a same-sex marriage bill, which was signed into law Saturday by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Maryland's effort succeeded in the Senate, only to fall about three votes short of the House of Delegates, which shunted the bill into a committee rather than taking a roll-call on it.

New York's bill, like Maryland's, provided protections for religious organizations that do not condone gay marriage. Compare those two passages after the jump.

The New York legislation provides an extensive description of the "religious exception:" 

"Notwithstanding any state, local or municipal law, rule, regulation, ordinance, or other provision of law to the contrary, a religious entity as defined under the education law or section two of the religious corporations law, or a corporation incorporated under the benevolent orders law or described in the benevolent orders law but formed under any other law of this state, or a not-for-profit corporation operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious corporation, or any employee thereof, being managed, directed, or supervised by or in conjunction with a religious corporation, benevolent order, or a not-for-profit corporation as described in this subdivision, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.

"Any such refusal to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges shall not create any civil claim or cause of action or result in any state or local government action to penalize, withhold benefits, or discriminate against such religious corporation, benevolent order, a not-for-profit corporation operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious corporation, or any employee thereof being managed, directed, or supervised by or in conjunction with a religious corporation, benevolent order, or a not-for-profit corporation.

"Notwithstanding any state, local or municipal law or rule, regulation, ordinance, or other provision of law to the contrary, nothing in this article shall limit or diminish the right ... of any religious or denominational institution or organization, or any organization operated for charitable or educational purposes, which is operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, to limit employment or sales or rental of housing accommodations or admission to or give preference to persons of the same religion or denomination or from taking such action as is calculated by such organization to promote the religious principles for which it is established or maintained.

"Nothing in this section shall be deemed or construed to limit the protections and exemptions otherwise provided to religious organizations under section three of article one of the constitution of the state of New York.

... A refusal by a clergyman or minister as defined in section two of the religious corporations law, or Society for Ethical Culture leader to solemnize any marriage under this subdivision shall not create a civil claim or cause of action or result in any state or local government action to penalize, withhold benefits or discriminate against such clergyman or minister."

Click here for a link to this text. An accompanying memo describes the bill in total.

In Maryland, religious protections came up throughout the same-sex marriage debates in the Senate and the House of Delegates. Here's the language upon which the Senate settled:

"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a religious organization, association, or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious organization, association, or society, may not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges to an individual if the request for the services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges is related to: the solemnization of a marriage or celebration of a marriage that is in violation of the entity’s religious beliefs; or the promotion of marriage, through religious programs, counseling, educational courses, summer camps, and retreats, in violation of the entity’s religious beliefs.

"A refusal by an entity described in subsection (a) of this section to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges in accordance with subsection (a) of this section may not create a civil claim or cause of action or constitute the basis for the withholding of governmental benefits or services from the entity.

"AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That: Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a fraternal benefit society described in 8–402 of the Insurance Article that is operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious organization may not be required to admit an individual as a member or to provide insurance benefits to an individual if to do so would violate the society’s religious beliefs. A refusal by a fraternal benefit society described in subsection (a) of this section to admit an individual as a member or to provide insurance benefits to an individual may not create a civil claim or cause of action or constitute the basis for the withholding of governmental benefits or services from the fraternal benefit society.

Here's the text of Maryland's civil marriage bill as it passed out of the Senate.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:28 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Same-Sex Marriage

June 27, 2011

Cardin: Obama should seek authority on Libya

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said Monday he believes President Barack Obama erred in not requesting authority from Congress for the ongoing military effort in Libya despite the administration's stance that it does not need that approval.

"First, I disagree with President Obama," the Maryland Democrat, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an address to the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs. "I believe the war powers have been triggered. I think President Obama should come to Congress for authorization."

The comments, which reflect growing bipartisan concern over the Libya effort, came on the eve of a hearing by the Foreign Relations Committee on legislation that would authorize the U.S. to continue limited operations in the country for one year. Cardin was one of 10 original sponsors of that resolution.

On Friday, the House of Representatives voted against two resolutions on Libya — one that hewed closely to the Senate bill and would have authorized a one-year extension of the U.S. military operation, and another that would have ended funding for that effort. Both resolutions failed on bipartisan votes.

"I'm not sure what the House is doing," Cardin said. "In the Senate, we want to be very clear."

Obama argues that the administration does not need authorization from Congress under the Constitution or the 1973 War Powers Resolution because of the limited scope of the effort in Libya.

Cardin's comments were part of a broader address on human rights and the recent uprisings in the Middle East. He spoke at the World Trade Center in the Inner Harbor.

Days after Obama called for reducing by 33,000 the number of troops in Afghanistan, Cardin suggested the U.S. would be better off directing some of the money spent on that war to domestic programs or deficit reduction. Cardin has called for a faster draw down of forces than the timetable set by the White House.

Cardin also had sharp words for Pakistan, echoing a bipartisan chorus in Congress that has been skeptical of the country's partnership in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden. Many lawmakers have balked at Obama's request for $3 billion in additional aid for Pakistan next year.

"I can tell you that the budget process could be pretty brutal on Pakistan this year," Cardin said. "There's anything but an agreement to provide the type of aid to Pakistan in this budget year. It will certainly be conditioned in a much stronger sense."

Posted by John Fritze at 8:00 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Washington

Rawlings-Blake officially launches campaign

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake officially launched her campaign to retain her seat Monday evening, as the state's highest elected leaders joined in a rally on the lawn of her mother's West Baltimore home.

“I've lived here and worked here my entire life. This is our hometown,” said Rawlings-Blake, who was flanked by Gov. Martin O'Malley, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Sen. Barbara Mikulksi, Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. Elijah Cummings, among other elected officials.

Rawlings-Blake, who became mayor in February 2010 following the resignation of Sheila Dixon, touted her balanced budgets despite major deficits, overhaul of the police and firefighter pension system, ethics reforms and school system gains.

“We want real progress, not empty promises,” she said. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't true. The hard truth and the hard work are the only things that make it work.”

More than 200 people, including many city and state workers, flocked to the leafy neighborhood of Ashburton for the event Monday evening. Rawlings-Blake's mother, Nina Rawlings, a retired pediatrician, still lives in the home where she and her husband, the late Del. Howard P. Rawlings, raised their three children.

Nina Rawlings clapped enthusiastically from the front of the crowd and jumped up and waved a sign at one point. The mayor's husband, Kent Blake, and daughter Sophia, stood with her onstage.

As Rawlings-Blake read her remarks, Sophia, 7, clung to her side, periodically whispering questions, and once asking audibly, “Are you done, Mommy?”

O'Malley spoke of Rawlings-Blake's father, saying he was “schooled at this kitchen table” many times early in his tenure as mayor of Baltimore. Rawlings' support played a key role in O'Malley's election to lead the city in 1999.

Rawlings-Blake is “the woman we need right now to move the city forward through these challenging times,” O'Malley said.

Cummings praised Rawlings-Blake's budgets — she closed gaps of $121 million and $65 million in the past two years — saying she “cut the budget with the skill of the most skillful heart surgeon.”

“I will do everything in my power to make sure she is reelected,” Cummings said.

Mikulski said Rawlings-Blake “will and does represent every neighborhood and every community.”

“We have one Baltimore and [Rawlings-Blake] knows how to bring us together,” Mikulski said.
Rawlings-Blake demonstrated her ability to bring politicians together at the event, as a majority of City Council members and several state delegates, including Curt Anderson and Keiffer Mitchell stood behind her.

Several state senators, including Lisa Gladden, Verna Jones-Rodwell, Nathaniel McFadden, also stood with Rawlings-Blake, although their Senate colleague, Catherine Pugh, is one of her leading challengers.

Former city planning director Otis Rolley, former city councilman Joseph T. “Jody” Landers and clerk of courts Frank M. Conaway Sr. have also filed to run. Councilman Carl Stokes said last week that he planned to submite his papers this week.

The filing deadline for all the city races is July 5, the board of election chief said last week.

In her remarks, Rawlings-Blake made several veiled jabs at Rolley's education platform. Rolley has repeatedly criticized the city school system and called for mayoral control of schools and vouchers for students at the five lowest-performing middle schools.

He stepped up his criticism of the system last week after schools CEO Andres Alonso revealed that two elementary schools showed cheating on mandatory state tests.

Rawlings-Blake said she was “positive” her daughter, a student in the city school system, is “getting a good education.”

“It's so sad to me when some people try to make us feel miserable about our schools ... miserable about our city, to promote themselves,” she said.

In an emailed statement Monday morning, Rolley said he was “happy” to see that Rawlings-Blake had drawn elected officials around her for her announcement.

“While her campaign is based on the establishment propping her up, I am basing mine on standing with the residents, workers, and families of Baltimore. It’s a different way of looking at things and a different set of priorities,” he said in the email.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 6:48 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

Wine shipping applications drip in

It's not yet time to pop the champagne in celebration of Maryland's new wine-shipping law.

As noted in Sunday's business section, the law takes effect Friday, but just 11 wineries have applied for a permit. Comptroller Peter Franchot said there's also a "learning curve." He predicted it would "take a while for the wine community to adjust" to direct shipping.

Maryland is home to 50 wineries, and there are about 6,500 across the country.

"People need to get comfortable with the new law once it kicks in," he said. "For decades, the wine industry has seen Maryland as a medieval regulatory state. They slapped their foreheads and wondered what we were thinking."

Wineries must submit an application, pay $200 per year to the state and post a $1,000 bond to ship to residences in Maryland. 

So who's in? List of wineries on the jump.

Wine shipping applications received

Black Ankle, Frederick County

Boordy Vineyards, Baltimore County

Elk Run Vineyards, Carroll County

Far Eastern Shore Winery, Talbot County (Mesozoic Technologies)

Fiore Winery, Harford County

Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, Frederick County

Terrapin Station Winery, Montgomery County (Diamondback Wine)

Tilmon's Island Winery, Queen Anne's County

Pride Mountain Vineyards, California

Spanos-Berberian Winery, California
no website found

Westport Winery, Washington

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:47 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: 2011 legislative session

June 25, 2011

Gubernatorial citation is *not* an endorsement, O'M spokeswoman says

Rev. Milton Williams said he was “shocked and mesmerized” when a special delivery arrived Saturday morning containing a gubernatorial attaboy for an unorthodox methadone clinic his church plans to open in East Baltimore.

Why the surprise?

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s health department has not granted permission for the reverend to open the new facility, which will provide methadone to addicts within 15 minutes by ignoring some of the federal and state requirements for evaluation and treatment.

Williams, who already runs one traditional clinic in East Baltimore, kicked up a storm last week when told The Sun of his intentions to go forward with new program without the state’s blessing. He says he’s currently treating 650 patients and sees the new quick care option as a gateway to more traditional treatment.

Thomas Cargiulo, director of the Maryland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration expressed concern that the express clinic won’t give enough scrutiny to potential patients before offering treatment. Methadone is a schedule 2 narcotic. Dated Thursday, the citation offers “recognition of a special day to celebrate the historic ground breaking ceremony” for the Turning Point Clinic. The governor also extends “sincere best wishes for success.”

It’s printed on heavy paper with a gold seal, signed by O’Malley, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Secretary of State John P. McDonough, and came in a black folder.

O’Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said the citation is a routine courtesy and is “in no way an endorsement.” The governor wants the facility to succeed if, and only if, “he operates properly,” Guillory said.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:31 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Administration

Maryland gay rights group applauds NY vote

Leaders from Equality Maryland blasted out an email Friday evening cheering the passage and signing of a gay marriage law in New York and pledging to try again here next year.

"It’s time that Maryland joins the ranks of states who favor marriage equality," said Patrick Wojahn, the Chair of Equality Maryland Foundation in a statement. He said that Maryland is "on the verge" of passing similar legislation here and his group "commits to the fight to bring full equality in the 2012 legislative session.”

New York's legislature passed the measure after an intense lobbying effort from Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo signed it into law immediatly.

In Maryland, a same-sex marriage bill passed the Senate but was yanked off the House floor after vote counts came up short. Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley stayed on the sidelines for much of the debate, making calls only in the final week when delegates were bolting from the measure.

But in other ways the debate over the New York bill, and the media coverage of it, echoed Maryland's efforts. There was intense speculation about whether the measure could get through New York's Republican controlled Senate with news organizations closely tracking lawmakers' public statements and doing independent vote counts.

And, as in Maryland, the NY measure was amended at the behest of conservatives who wanted to be sure the bill would provide legal protections to religious groups that might want to opt-out of same-sex celebrations.  

The national group Freedom to Marry also put out a statement lauding a "surge in new support" and predicting that their "epic win" in New York would create momentum to pass similar bills in other states. The group had targeted three states this year: New York, Rhode Island and Maryland. New York was the only state where it passed.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 8:39 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: 2011 legislative session

June 24, 2011

Sarbanes seeks funding for electronics recycling

Citing the growing number of consumer electronics products that wind up in landfills, Rep. John Sarbanes on Friday proposed giving federal agencies $60 million over the next three years to promote recycling of computers and other gadgets.

Used electronics represent a relatively small share of solid waste — about 2 percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — but it’s a segment that’s growing quickly. Companies and households tossed between 1.9 million and 2.2 million tons of electronics in 2005. Of that, about 350,000 tons were recycled.

Discarded electronic components create environmental hazards, particularly if chemicals leach into groundwater supplies. But many of those components can be reused, Sarbanes said, potentially reducing the rare-element imports needed to manufacture new electronics.

“There’s a whole national security element to this, because we don’t want to be in a position where we’re so dependent on these foreign interests,” said the Baltimore County Democrat, who serves on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. “We can pull a lot of that back out of this material on the back end.”

The Sarbanes bill would authorize the EPA to create a grant program to spur research on recycling electronics. It also calls for a study to determine the current barriers to electronics recycling.

A similar measure sponsored last year by then-Rep. Bart Gordon, a Tennessee Democrat, passed the House of Representatives but died in the Senate.

The issue has received considerable attention in Washington. This week, a pair of House Democrats reintroduced another proposal that would ban the export of some electronic equipment containing hazardous materials. Some recycling companies export discarded electronics to be salvaged in developing countries.

President Barack Obama, meanwhile, created a task force last year that will make recommendations on how federal agencies should dispose of their outdated electronic gear.

Maryland is one of 25 states that has passed legislation on electronics recycling. In 2006, the General Assembly approved a law that requires companies that manufacture certain devices to pay an initial $10,000 fee that is used to support recycling programs. Companies then pay an annual fee of $5,000 unless their leaders develop a recycling program.

Jason Linnell, executive director of the National Center for Electronics Recycling, said states have taken vastly different approaches on the issue, creating a patchwork of regulations that can be hard for national technology companies to follow.

Posted by John Fritze at 6:56 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

Maryland lawmakers split on Libya

Maryland’s congressional delegation split along party lines Friday over a resolution in the House of Representatives that would have authorized President Barack Obama to continue U.S. military involvement in Libya for one year, with the state’s six Democrats in support and two Republicans opposed.

The measure, similar to one pending in the Senate that is backed by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, failed on a vote of 123-295. Seventy Democrats joined all but eight Republicans in opposition.

Lawmakers in both parties have grown increasingly restive about the administration’s approach to Libya, which began with a series of airstrikes in March to weaken forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. Obama has maintained he does not need authorization from Congress to continue the effort because the military is not engaged in full-blown hostilities.

"A sudden withdrawal of American support for the mission would strengthen Gadhafi’s hand and increase his confidence that he can wait out the rebellion against his rule," said Rep. Steny Hoyer, the Southern Maryland lawmaker and second-ranking Democrat in the House.

Democratic Reps. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Elijah E. Cummings, John Sarbanes, Donna F. Edwards, Chris Van Hollen and Hoyer voted in favor of the resolution. Republican Reps. Andy Harris and Roscoe G. Bartlett voted against it.

In a second vote Monday, the delegation split again mostly along party lines over whether to cut off funding for the effort, with Harris supporting that measure, and Bartlett joining the state's six Democrats to oppose it. That measure also failed, on a 180-238 vote.

Eighty-nine Republicans joined all but 36 Democrats in opposition to the funding proposal.

"I will not offer tacit approval of the president’s actions," Bartlett, who joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers in suing the Obama administration over Libya last week. "That is why I voted no on these resolutions. Neither acknowledged the grave fact that President Obama violated and continues to flout our Constitution as well as the War Powers Resolution.”

An earlier version of this post misstated Bartlett's vote.

Posted by John Fritze at 12:55 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Washington

June 23, 2011

Gingrich in MD: Obama's war speech 'dangerous'

Former House Speaker and 2012 presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich called President Barack Obama's war speech "fundamentally dishonest and fundamentally dangerous" in an address this evening to Maryland Republicans.

At the appearance at the BWI Airport Marriott, Gingrich continued his criticism of the president's statement Wednesday that "the tide of war is receding." Gingrich challenged the president to withdraw the phrase, which he said was "dangerously misinformed."

Gingrich said the climates in Pakistan and North Korea are among other indications that "a potential tsunami of violence is building offshore." He sharply criticized Obama's response to American soldiers finding and killing Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

The president, Gingrich said, should have reacted with "extraordinary aggressiveness" and "moral outrage" to word that Pakistan had arrested people believed to have assisted Americans in the raid. Obama, he said, "has no clue how dangerous the world can be." 

On the economy, Gingrich said, Obama has "broken his word" to the American people by failing to put people back to work, leading to what he called "the Obama Depression."

Gingrich, whose presidential bid has stumbled in recent weeks as aides have left and he has dipped in Republican primary polls, said he is prepared to debate Obama even in blue states such as Maryland. He called Obama "the best food stamp president in American history" and said he would like to be "the best paycheck president."

Gingrich is one of several GOP presidential candidates to appear in Democrat-heavy Maryland in recent months. Last year, Maryland Republicans hosted former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, another 2012 hopeful, at their fundraiser.

A Republican who represented Georgia, Gingrich was born in Pennsylvania and said he visted Baltimore often as a child.

The Maryland GOP crowd of about 250 appeared smaller than at last year's fundraiser, which came months before a gubernatorial election. Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who lost his return bid last year, appeared briefly at a closed-door VIP party before departing. He did not stop to talk to reporters. 

Among the dinner attendees were Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, former U.S. Rep. Marjorie Holt and congressional candidate Del. Patrick McDonough. State delegates, senators and local officials also filled the tables. 

Maryland GOP Chairman Alex Mooney kicked off the dinner by saying "Maryland does not deserve a one-party state" and urged fellow state Republicans to "keep fighting."  

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 8:45 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Republicans

O'Malley, Mikulski to speak at Rawlings-Blake campaign kick-off Monday

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will officially announce her campaign to retain her seat Monday afternoon, according to her campaign.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown are slated to speak at the event, which will be held at the Ashburton home where Rawlings-Blake grew up and where her mother still lives today.

"We're just expecting a huge crowd of supporters," said campaign spokeswoman Keianna Page.
"Mayor Rawlings-Blake is very proud of where she comes from and you'll be able to see that."

Rawlings-Blake frequently touts the fact that she is a lifelong Baltimorean in her campaign ads. Her two leadings challengers-- former city planning director Otis Rolley and State Sen. Catherine Pugh-- both grew up out of state, he in New Jersey and she in Pennsylvania.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 4:48 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

30 percent of petition signers are Democrats

Nearly 30 percent of the signatures on a petition opposing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants are from registered Democrats, according to data released this afternoon from the State Board of Elections.

The data comes from the initial batch of 47,000 valid signatures turned in to the State Board of Elections last month. A second (and final batch) is due at the end of next week.

Republicans made up the majority of signers in all areas save one: Baltimore City, where 80 percent of voters are Democrats. There 56 percent of signers are Dems.

There were also large numbers of Democrats signing in Baltimore County (39%) and in Prince George's County (38 percent).

Organizers of the effort have long said that the new law generates anger from all parts of the political spectrum, though it passed in the General Assembly on a mostly party line vote.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:55 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Immigration

Rolley criticizes Rawlings-Blake on school cheating

Former city planning director Otis Rolley, who is challenging Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for her job, questioned gains in education touted by the mayor following revelations today that two city elementary schools practiced widespread cheating on state tests.

Rolley said the cheating scandal described by Sun colleague Erica L. Green today, is "extremely disturbing, not just because of what it means for our kids, but for our city."

Rolley challenged statements by Rawlings-Blake, who has touted recent gains in test scores, and said she needed to hold the school system and school board accountable.

"We are not giving a quality education to our kids," said Rolley. "It's not good enough for my kids and it's not good enough for any children in Baltimore City."

"At the end of the day, the buck stops at this building behind us," said Rolley, who held a press conference in front of City Hall.

Rolley called for the immediate release of Maryland School Assessment tests for all city schools. Principals received the data earlier this week, but it is not slated to be made public until next week.

'Enough with the drama. Enough with the spin," said Rolley. "She must act in the best interest of our kids."

A spokeswoman for Rawlings-Blake campaign said "We can't undermine the progress that Dr. Alonso is making with our schools."

"Anyone who reads can see that our schools are making progress," said spokeswoman Keianna Page. "Test scores are up. Enrollment is up. Drop-out rates are declining. African-American males are graduating at a higher rate. Who can deny we are making progress?"

"Fixing Baltimore City Schools isn't an overnight process," said Page, adding that Rolley was "using an old political trick to divert attention away from the fact that his voucher plan is catching a lot of heat from educators and parents."

"Baltimore city schools do not need their right wing agenda placed on it," she said.

Rolley has proposed issuing vouchers to students at the city's five-worst performing middle schools to enable them to attend private schools. The city teacher union's president strongly opposed that plan in an editorial this week.

Rolley wants to restore control of city schools to the mayor, an idea floated by former mayors Martin O'Malley and Sheila Dixon, but opposed by Rawlings-Blake.

In 1997, then-Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke signed a consent decree that turned over control of the school system to a city-state partnership, resulting in a $254 million boost in state aid over three years. The school system was embroiled in several lawsuits at the time that could have resulted in a forced state or federal takeover.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 12:17 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

Wargotz will decide on 2012 in fall

Eric Wargotz, the former Queen Anne's County commissioner who ran an unsuccessful campaign for Senate against incumbent Barbara A. Mikulski last year, will decide this fall whether to give a statewide run another shot in 2012, this time against Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin.

Visitors of his campaign website could have easily been left with the impression that the Republican physician was already in the race. The site includes a list of what Wargotz would stand for “as your senator” (he would oppose earmarks, for instance, and fight to repeal the health care law). Last week, the campaign released a video of Wargotz wearing a white lab coat in which he describes himself as “a candidate for U.S. Senate.”

But while he acknowledges being “interested” in running next year -- and also maintaining a volunteer campaign staff -- he said he has not made up his mind. The video, he said, is a re-release from his 2010 campaign. He notes that a summary accompanying the video points out he is “considering a run against [a] career politician.”

“The campaign has stuck together. I meet with the team once in a while. We’re looking at it. We learned a lot in the race in 2010 – we learned by leaps and bounds,” Wargotz said Thursday. “I’m not officially in the race. My name shows up here and there. I go where I'm invited to speak.”

Wargotz is eager, however, to state his opposition to the budget plan put forward by House Republicans this year that would overhaul Medicare and Medicaid. Democrats are using the proposal, which passed the House but failed to advance in the Democratic-controlled Senate, as a political weapon against Republicans.

Wargotz described the plan as a “real mistake,” both politically and in terms of policy.

If he does run, Wargotz would face Daniel Bongino, a former U.S. Secret Service agent from Severna Park, in the GOP primary. If he won the nomination, he’d be up against Cardin, who is considered safe by political observers such as the non-partisan Cook Political Report. Mikulski beat Wargotz 62 percent to 36 percent in 2010.

Posted by John Fritze at 11:33 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Washington

Balto. County unions ratify contract extension

Two Baltimore County unions ratified contract extensions requiring them to give up cost-of-living increases through 2014 as officials announced a tentative agreement with its public health nurses union.

The county sheriffs and firefighters unions approved the extensions by 96 percent and 98 percent, respectively. Under the agreement, employees will receive scheduled increment and longevity increases, and contribute more to their pension plans. In exchange, they will not be laid off or furloughed.

Earlier this month, the county announced that it had also reached a tentative agreement with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) representing skilled trade employees and laborers. The two largest unions — the police union and the county Federation of Public Employees, which represents most government workers — have not agreed on contract extensions.

According to a news release from County Executive Kevin Kamenetz:

As a result of these agreements, all new employees in the Sheriff's department hired after July 1, 2011 will contribute 10% to their pension annually, up from the current rate of 8%. New uniformed members to the fire department hired after July 1, 2011 will also contribute 10%, up from the current rate of 8.5%.

UPDATE: AFSCME Council 67, Local 921 president Norman Anderson said the union will vote Friday on the extension. 

Posted by Raven Hill at 10:19 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Conaway suit could "chill free speech in Baltimore," blogger says

Blogger Adam Meister has asked a judge to dismiss the $21 million law suit that Baltimore City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway brought against him after he reported she signed documents indicating she lived in Baltimore County.

The suit "if allowed to proceed, will chill free speech in Baltimore," an attorney for Meister wrote in a motion asking the judge to dismiss the suit. "By filing this suit, [Conaway] is attempting to silence Mr. Meister during the period of her re-election campaign."

In March, Meister,on his blog for, reported that Conaway had designated a home in Randallstown as her principal residence and linked to public real estate records to back his case.

"Belinda K. Conaway should immediately resign from Baltimore's City Council since she does not reside in Baltimore," Meister wrote.

Last month, Conaway filed suit against Meister demanding $21 million in damages and saying the blog post was libeous, defamatory and intentionally inflicted of emotional distress.

Conaway says in the suit that she was "having trouble sleeping," "short-tempered and ill" because of the blog post.

Meister's legal filings, prepared by two attorneys from the Venable firm on a pro bono basis, states that Conaway is a public figure and Meister was reporting on a matter of public concern-- indicating that his words do not pass the test to be considered libel.

Moreover, the filings state, Meister linked to documents Conaway herself had signed, attesting that her primary residence as in the county.

"If politicians can punish journalists by dragging them into litigation for reporting on the
politicians’ own statements, on matters of public concern, then the First Amendment is
endangered in Baltimore," Meister states in the suit.

An attorney for Conaway, Thomas J. Maronick Jr. said he had not yet had time to thoroughly studying Meister's filings, but said, "Obviously, at this point, we intend to vigorously argue against that motion."

"We don't believe our suit is frivolous," he said. "We filed it in good faith."

Posted by Julie Scharper at 9:37 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: City Hall

June 22, 2011

Md. lawmakers offer tepid reaction to Obama on Afghanistan

Maryland lawmakers offered a decidedly mixed reaction Wednesday to President Barack Obama's decision to pull tens of thousands of U.S. troops out of Afghanistan in the coming months.

Obama announced in a nationally televised address that the U.S. will withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of next summer. That process will begin next month, he said, when the administration will begin removing the first 10,000 troops.

The reduction, which comes amid growing bipartisan concern over the war and just weeks after special forces killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, will cancel out the 30,000-troop Afghanistan "surge" Obama announced in 2009. Some 68,000 military personnel would remain in the country after September 2012.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, argued that the White House should pursue a faster timetable.

“U.S. forces have served admirably in Afghanistan for nearly a decade, but they should not be expected to secure and police every Afghan town and village," the Maryland Democrat said in a statement. "The shift in U.S. policy and troop withdrawal should be sped up, saving American lives and treasure."

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski echoed that sentiment in a statement Thursday.

"It’s an important first step, but it can’t be the only step," she said. "I respectfully urge the president to examine every opportunity to accelerate bringing our troops home."

Rep. Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, offered a measured statement.

"Our struggle against terrorists who would do Americans harm is certainly not over," said Hoyer, who represents Southern Maryland. "But now is a time to consider how the threats against Americans have changed, and how we can most effectively defeat the terrorists behind those threats."

Rep. Donna F. Edwards, a Prince George's County Democrat, released a joint statement with Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington. The two are co-chairs of the Afghan Women's Task Force, which they launched this month, and said they are concerned about the impact of withdrawing the troops.

"We share the concerns of Afghanistan’s female members of parliament, civic, and business leaders that a U.S. drawdown could leave a vacuum where Afghan women see their rights eroded in a government transition," they said.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat, praised Obama for pulling out of Afghanistan "in a way that gives the commanders on the ground the resources, time and flexibility they need to react to the situation."

Posted by John Fritze at 9:45 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington

Bartlett’s net worth appears to grow in 2010

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, who is generally among the most wealthy members of Maryland’s delegation to Congress, appears to have boosted his net worth and expanded his real estate holdings in 2010, according to a recently filed financial disclosure report.

Disclosure reports for most members of Congress were made public last week but Bartlett received a one-month extension and his financial information was recently posted on the clerk’s website.

The Western Maryland Republican reports purchasing eight lots on seven sites in 2010 valued at between $580,007 and $1.3 million. The properties were located in Frederick, Annapolis, and Knoxville, Md. Overall, Bartlett put the value of his assets at between $2.4 million and $8.2 million, up from the $1.8 million to $6.8 million he reported for 2009.

The reports, filed with the Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives, list value ranges, not specific numbers. Click on the following link for more detail on financial disclosure reports filed by Maryland lawmakers.

Posted by John Fritze at 5:50 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Washington

City approves $30K contract for election day taxis

Baltimore's election judges will be ferried to the polls by Yellow Cabs this fall, under a deal approved by the city's Board of Estimates.

The board approved a $30,000 contract with the cab company this morning. The contract was not competitively bid, but awarded to Yellow Cab because it is the "only known vendor that has the proven resources" to deliver the judges, according to the board's agenda.

Baltimore City Elections Board Chair Armstead B.C. Jones Sr. said that the cabs would wait outside board of elections offices near City Hall to take substitute judges to the polls during the September primary and November general election.

More than 2,000 election judges are hired to work the polls and 100 or more do not show up due to illness or other problems, Jones said. That's where the cabs come in-- to rush the substitute judges to fill the vacancies, he said.

"The rush is really in preparation to make sure all these polling places are staffed and ready to open," Jones said.

The $30,000 award represents an upset limit, but the cab company will likely be paid less, he said.

Jones said the Board of Elections has contracted with Yellow Cab and the company is the only one with a large enough fleet to transport all the election judges.

"One year, a man did it who didn’t have the proper equipment and dispatchers.... It was a disaster," he said. "I feel better in knowing that I can rely on a company that can get it done."

Jones also clarified the last date to file to run for city office-- July 5. Many have been saying that the deadline was July 6, but Jones, after doing a little research, said it was definitely July 5 at 9 p.m.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 3:34 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

Majority of tuition signatures gathered in the field

* Updated with petition and opposition website and location information below. * 

Newly released data from the State Board of Elections shows that petitioners trying to repeal a law providing in-state tuition to qualified illegal immigrants shows that nearly 64 percent of valid signatatures were gathered the old-fashioned way.

As noted this morning in The Sun, volunteers who oppose in-state tuition for illegal immigrants have been hitting the streets hard in recent weeks, camping out at local MVAs, going door to door and approaching Marylanders at festivals, parks and other gathering places.

Del. Neil Parrott, the Washington County Republican organizing the petition drive, said he hopes to have volunteers stationed outside every MVA building in the state this weekend, during the hours that they are open.

The board today notified petitioners that 47,288 of the 62,000 or so signatures they submitted at the end of last month have been deemed valid. That means petitioners must submit just 8,448 more by the end of this month.

If the petition effort succeeds, Maryland voters would decide in November 2012 whether illegal immigrants should be allowed access to the community college and state university tuition breaks.

Petitioners supported their effort with a sophisticated website that links to a database of registered voters, a controversial method that helps ensure would-be signers use their correct name. The Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and groups that advocate for immigrants have said they plan to challenge the Internet signatures.

But a signature breakdown provided to The Sun by Donna Duncan of the Board of Elections shows that while 17,092 valid signatures appear to have been Internet-generated, 30,196 came in through more traditional gathering methods such as the ones described in this morning's story.

Petitioners said they have encountered some opposition in the field, but Del. Michael D. Smigiel, a lawyer and Eastern Shore Republican, has worked to help the group gain access afforded by the First Amendment and the Maryland constitution.

The group sought a fresh opinion from the Office of the Attorney General to show authorities if they try to boot volunteers from public spaces. You can read it here.

To read what supporters of the in-state tuition law have to say, check out the One Maryland Defense campaign website.

For information about the repeal effort, here's the online signature-gathering effort,

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:14 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Immigration

MD pols to attend tonight's U2 show

The Sun's nightlife reporter Erik Maza reported on his Midnight Sun blog that some Maryland politicians are planning to be at M&T Stadium tonight for the U2 show ... though music lover Martin O'Malley is taking a pass.

From his post:

Expect to see some familiar faces among the seventy five thousand or gazillion people who’ll be at U2 tonight.

Just from the number of politicians going, you’d think we were entering a second week of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Howard County executive and Katy Perry fan Ken Ulman doesn’t go to many shows outside of the music venue in his county, Merriweather Post Pavilion.

But he’s a big fan of the composers of “Spider Man: Turn off the Dark.”

“My wife and I are going. It’s pretty exciting for Baltimore and the region,” he said.

Ulman, who last saw U2 live at RFK stadium some years ago, is getting a mid-afternoon presentation on how the tour organizers mitigate the carbon footprint on a show this big. Though he’s campaigned on green issues, Ulman said he still doesn’t know how he got invited. “I’m supposed to be there at 4 p.m. or something,” he said. “Then im going to enjoy the show like a fan.” You can rest assured, he said, the kids are staying home for this one.

Shockingly, Martin O’Malley, a self-confessed U2 mega-dork, won’t be going, said spokeswoman Raquel Guillory over e-mail.

“I know, I know...impossible to believe, isn't it? He's fishing with his boys.” Katie O'Malley, Guillory said, might be in the audience, but she isn't sure yet.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who announced the band would be coming to Baltimore back in November, will also be at the show, spokesman Ryan O’Doherty said without elaborating. Funny, we always took her for a Phish fan.

Not going are Lt. Governor Anthony Brown and Kevin Kamenetz. Said Kamenetz’ spokesman Don Mohler, “Sounds like he may be the only one in the metro area who won't be there.”
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:42 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Administration

FDA project secures $44M from feds

The General Services Administration will allocate more than half of its $82 million construction budget this year for the Food and Drug Administration’s consolidation project in White Oak, despite deep cuts the agency took to help reduce the nation’s budget deficit, Maryland lawmakers said Wednesday.

The agency, which serves as the federal government’s landlord, will spend $44 million on the project this year. When completed, the 12-year-old project will provide 1 million square feet of space for the Food and Drug Administration and house 9,000 employees, many of whom are now scattered around the Washington region.

General Services – and the FDA project by extension -- was cut as part of the short-term budget deal approved this year to avoid a government shutdown. Those cuts are still in effect, but the agency will now use a significant portion of its discretionary construction fund to keep the FDA project moving.

“The FDA is our premier agency for safeguarding the nation’s public health regarding food products, drugs, medical devices and other products that Americans use every day,” Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said in a statement. “The allocation of more than half of GSA’s construction budget for this project confirms its importance.”

Cardin, along with Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, and Reps. Steny Hoyer, Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards wrote the GSA in May asking that officials use as much of its budget authority as possible on the project. In that letter, the Democrats wrote that 500 construction jobs were at stake if the complex had to be redesigned or put on hold.

“Consolidating FDA’s offices and laboratories at White Oak will allow some of the world’s top researchers to move out of dilapidated working conditions and into state-of-the-art facilities,” Hoyer said in a statement. “However, this allocation still falls far short of what will be needed to complete the FDA headquarters consolidation project on schedule.”

The funding will allow the project to continue without a redesign this year, but the schedule could be pushed back -- particularly given that the FDA will now have to seek funding annually, rather than relying on a dedicated source of money.

A spokesman for the GSA was not immediately available for comment.

Posted by John Fritze at 11:36 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

Greens, Libertarians prevail in Circuit Court

An Anne Arundel County Circuit judge yesterday ruled in favor of Maryland's Greens and Libertarians in their quest to get back on election ballots -- determining that failure to fulfill the controversial middle name requirement is in itself not a reason to toss a petition signature.

The question now is whether the State Board of Elections will appeal the ruling. It has about a month to decide. A spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General, which represents the elections board, said officials are reviewing their options.

An appeal could eventually land the contentious middle name issue back before the Court of Appeals -- a step the state may or may not want to take with a far more politically heated petition waiting in the wings.

The Greens and Libertarians sued the State Board of Elections for invalidating signatures of registered voters. Each had needed to collect 10,000 valid signatures to remain as official parties in the state, and each turned in about 16,000, though about 3,000 signers could not be identified as voters.

Working off previous Court of Appeals rulings that established tight requirements on petitions, the board invalidated thousands of signatures where the person failed to use his or her middle initial or middle name, abbreviated a first name or used some other imprecise name configuration. 

But retired Judge Eugene M. Lerner, brought in specially for the case, agreed with the plaintiffs' argument that the printed name is but one of many ways to verify that the signer is a registered voter.

Mark Grannis, a Washington-based attorney representing the Greens and Libertarians, quoted a more recent Court of Appeals ruling on messy signatures that indicated "sufficient cumulative information" (emphasis added) was needed to validate a signature.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Elections

June 21, 2011

City clears legal hurdle over slots site

City officials have agreed to pay a local development team $1.2 million to settle a 2007 deal on a portion of land included in the 17-acre parcel slated for a slots parlor, clearing one of the last legal hurdles before the site can be developed.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's office announced today that it had reached the agreement with Gateway South LLC, headed by Samuel Polakoff, over the 11-acre site off of Russell Street. The deal is slated to go before the five-member Board of Estimates tomorrow.

The quasi-public Baltimore Development Corporation awarded the exclusive negotiating rights to Polakoff for the 11-acre waterfront site in 2007. Polakoff, whose company was then called Cormony Development LLC, had plans to team with Ray Lewis to build offices, shops, restaurants and a sports entertainment complex on the site.

Polakoff had initially asked for as much as $4 million to repay the investment he had made in the property, but the city negotiated the amount down, according to a statement from Rawlings-Blake's office.

One last legal challenge remains on the site. Canadian developer Michael Moldenhauer, who was the sole bidder on the casino in 2009, is appealing the state's decision not to grant his company a slots license.

The state slots commission issued a new request for proposals for the site in late April and applications are due at the end of next month. Moldenhauer is among the developers who are considering placing a bid on the project.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 2:59 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: City Hall, Slots

Cardin supports Libya resolution

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin is one of 10 senators who signed on to a bipartisan resolution introduced Tuesday that would authorize the U.S. to continue military operations in Libya for one year – even as the Obama administration has maintained it does not need that authorization.

"President Obama made the right decision when he engaged U.S. forces in the international effort to protect innocent civilians from being slaughtered by Qaddafi's forces,” the Maryland Democrat said in a statement. “But the mission cannot go on indefinitely.”

The proposal, which was introduced by Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. John Kerry, is the latest effort by restive lawmakers who are concerned about President Barack Obama’s decision to not seek congressional approval for the Libya operation. Republican leaders in the House of Representatives are considering a resolution that would end funding for the effort.

Other sponsors of the Senate resolution include Democrats Carl Levin of Michigan, Richard Durbin of Illinois and Dianne Feinstein of California. Republicans include Jon Kyl of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Roy Blunt of Missouri. Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut, is also a sponsor.

Cardin, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it was important to him that the authorization limit the time and scope of the operation, specifically prohibiting the use of any U.S. ground troops. The White House has vowed to not use ground troops.

In fact, the lack of "boots on the ground" is a key justification the White House has used to argue that it does not need authorization from Congress under the Constitution or the 1973 War Powers Resolution for the action in Libya. In a report to Congress last week, the White House said the limited scope of the operation meant the War Powers Resolution does not apply.

The Vietnam-era war-powers resolution is interpreted as allowing a president to initiate military action but requires the military to pull out after 90 days unless Congress approves the action.

Posted by John Fritze at 1:15 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Washington

O'Malley re-sets strategy to tighten septic rules

Baltimore Sun colleague Tim Wheeler posted that Gov. Martin O'Malley just named a 28-member task force to study the environmental and health impacts of on-site sewage disposal.

The governor's legislative push to tighten septic rules was a non-starter during the most recent legislative session, though lawmakers pledged to study the issue over the summer.

From Wheeler's blog:

The task force is to be headed by Del. Maggie McIntosh, chair of the House Environmental Matters Committee. McIntosh, a Baltimore city Democrat, tabled the governor's push for septic limits during this year's legislative session and called for more study of the issue. The panel's vice chair is Jon Laria, a Baltimore development lawyer who is head of the state growth commission.

A press release from the governor's office calls the task force broad-based, with representatives of business, agriculture, science, environmental advocacy and government. A quick scan of its members, though, suggests the panel is stacked at least modestly in favor of the governor's position that septic-based development needs to be limited. O'Malley contends curbs on septic-based growth are needed to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay and to curb suburban sprawl.

"This effort is not about stopping growth" O'Malley said in a statement. "It is about stemming the tide of major housing developments built on septic systems to generate clean water and protect our environment and public health."

State planners project that septic-based development will account for 26 percent of all the new households built in the state over the next 25 years, but produce 76 percent of all the new nitrogen pollution getting into ground water and streams feeding into the bay.

Critics also say building with septics aggravates suburban sprawl, fragmenting farmland and forests and increasing the costs to government of providing roads, schools and other services.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:53 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Administration

Franchot: NFL lockout could cost state $37 million

Maryland's top tax collector said Monday that a season-long lockout of the National Football League this year would cost state and local governments between $33 million and $37 million in lost sales, income and amusement taxes.

In the first report produced by a state to project revenue losses in the event of a missed season, Comptroller Peter Franchot said a cancelled season would have "a measurable impact" on the Maryland's economy because the state is home to two NFL teams.

NFL owners and players are in talks to end the three-month-old lockout. But as The Sun's Ken Murray reported today, "there is no guarantee a deal will be reached in time to save the 2011 season."

Franchot estimated that the state could lose as much as $13.5 million from income taxes, $4.6 million from admission and amusement taxes and $5.5 from sales taxes.

Local governments could lose as much as $9.4 million in income taxes and $7.8 million in admission and amusement taxes, Franchot estimated.

The ding to state state revenues would come largely from the loss of income taxes paid by Baltimore Ravens players and the levies visiting players must pay when they come to Maryland and from Ravens players. Franchot notes that "many" Redskins players and staff live in Virginia, where a reciprocal agreement lets them pay income taxes there instead of here.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:40 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Administration

June 20, 2011

Rawlings-Blake, Pugh supporting Young campaign

Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young formally announced Monday his campaign to retain his office, backed by several city politicians who had not supported his quest for the office a little over a year ago.

"There is no other job in the world that I would rather be doing, today or for the next four years," said Young. He said he had earned the nickname the "Iron Man" of the council for having only missed five meetings during his 15 year tenure on the legislative body.

With the deadline to enter the city races a little more than two weeks away, no well-known politicians have filed to run against Young, who was appointed council president as part of a string of shake-ups caused when Sheila Dixon resigned from the mayor's office.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake praised Young for supporting her budget and state legislation mandating tougher gun laws.

Young "shares my vision for a better, safer and stronger Baltimore," Rawlings-Blake said. "Jack is truly the captain of the team moving Baltimore forward."

"Baltimore could not ask for a better council president," said Rawlings-Blake, who was ferried over from the U.S. Conference of Mayors to speak at the rally for Young on the steps of the War Memorial Building.

Yet a little more than a year ago, Rawlings-Blake backed Councilman William H. Cole IV's quest for the council president's seat, which was left open when Rawlings-Blake rose to become mayor following Dixon's resignation to settle criminal charges.

Cole also spoke on Young's behalf, saying "politics can be funny sometimes" and saying that he and Young remained friends despite the contest for the council presidency.

Sen. Catherine Pugh, one of Rawlings-Blake's leading challengers in the mayor's race, also took the stage, calling Young "a person who understands the community."

"He listens to the people," she said. "He works for and with the people."

City Councilman Carl Stokes, who has said he intends to run for mayor but has not officially filed for the office, attended the event but did not speak or join Young and other officials on-stage.

Also in the crowd was Michael Sarbanes, the city schools spokesman and son of former Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who challenged Rawlings-Blake for the council presidency in 2007.

Sarbanes praised Young's "tremendous passion" in an interview and said he had no intention in running against him.

As a group of young singers belted out a campaign jingle, another group of young people converged on a park a few yards away to protest Rawlings-Blake's $1.3 billion budget, which the council is slated to give final passage to tonight.

The protesters, members of the Safe and Sound Campaign, demand more funding for jobs and recreation for young people and criticize the large sum the city spends on law enforcement.

Young, who last week backed the budget in a committee vote, said he had not yet decided how he was going to vote on the spending plan.

"I haven't decided what my vote is going to be today," he said.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 12:42 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

Rawlings-Blake elected trustee of mayors' group

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has elected Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake one of 13 trustees of the organization.

The conference, which is concluding its annual meeting Monday in Baltimore, represents the 1,210 U.S. cities with populations of 30,000 or more. As a trustee, Rawlings-Blake is part pf the conference’s executive committee, which helps determine the direction of the organization, her office says.

Conference CEO Tom Cochran called Rawlings-Blake “a tireless advocate for her city.”

“Her speedy rise to a Trustee position with the U.S. Conference of Mayors is unprecedented,” Cochran said in a statement released by Rawlings-Blake’s office. “She is smart, talented and energetic, and we are lucky to have her as a Trustee.”

Rawlings-Blake called the election “a great honor.”

“I am very humbled and proud to represent the people of Baltimore in this new position to help advocate for America's great cities,” she said.

Rawlings-Blake has served on the conference’s advisory board, which identifies and advocates in Washington for policies that benefit cities.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:34 PM | | Comments (4)

Baltimore County school board task force appointed

Members of a task force to study the structure of the Baltimore County school board will start meeting next month.

The group, formally named the Task Force on the Selection Process, Accountability and Professionalism of the Baltimore County Board of Education, will hold three public meetings in Reisterstown, Essex and Towson, starting July 6. State Sen. Kathy Klausmeier and Del. Steve Lafferty will chair the task force, which will include six other state lawmakers -- Senators J.B. Jennings, Delores Kelley and Bobby Zirkin, and Delegates Emmett Burns, Wade Kach and Dana Stein.

Baltimore County Council chairman John Olszewski, Sr. will serve as its representative. Appointments from County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and the Maryland Association of Boards of Education are forthcoming.

Klausmeier and Del. John Olszewski Jr., gave comments in a press release:

“I am pleased that the Task Force includes a diverse range of opinions and experiences,” shared Senator Klausmeier. “This will serve the group well as it embarks on its work in the months ahead.”

Delegate Olszewski said that he is “excited to bring our educational stakeholders together so that we can collectively develop solutions to continue advancing educational excellence in Baltimore County.” Olszewski added that, “The work of this group can act as an important blueprint as we consider changes to how our school system operates during the next legislative session.”

The meeting dates are as follows:

  • July 6 -- Reisterstown Library, 21 Cockeysmill Road, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  • July 7 -- Essex Library, 1110 Eastern Blvd., 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  • July 25 -- Towson Library, 320 York Road, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Klausmeier's district office is also accepting testimony by mail (ATTN: Baltimore County School Board Task Force). Submissions may also be emailed to by July 25. The task force will make recommendations for the House and Senate delegations to consider during the 2012 legislative session.

Posted by Raven Hill at 11:37 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

City Councilwoman signed doc calling county home "primary residence"

A Baltimore City Councilwoman who is suing a local blogger for reporting that she “does not reside” in the city signed a document last year certifying that her primary residence was in Baltimore County.

Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, who lists her father’s Northwest Baltimore home on city documents as her official residence, signed a mortgage agreement last year indicating that the house she bought in Randallstown in 1997 was her primary residence.

Conaway joined the City Council in 2004.

Contacted for a response on Monday, Conaway said: “You know I can't talk about that” and referred questions to her lawyer.

Attorney Thomas J. Maronick Jr. said the councilwoman and her husband signed the document “inadvertently.”

“They shouldn’t have signed it,” Maronick said. He said the couple “didn’t look very carefully” at the papers and called the signing an “oversight.”

“It’s not unusual for people at a real estate settlement to sign documents without reading them carefully,” Maronick said. “There was no attempt whatsoever to defraud anyone.”

Conaway filed a $21 million lawsuit against blogger Adam Meister and the Examiner news organization last month after Meister posted copies of Conaway’s property records online and wrote that she “should immediately resign from Baltimore's City Council since she does not reside in Baltimore.”

In her lawsuit, Conaway claims the posts were libelous, defamatory and intentionally inflicted emotional distress because she “does in fact live in Baltimore City.”

Meister said Monday that a major law firm had agreed to defend him pro bono. He declined to name the firm publicly.

He said he planned to file a motion to dismiss “because the suit inhibits free speech.” He declined to comment further, on the advice of his lawyer.

Conaway is not the only City Council member whose residency has sparked questions.

Councilman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, who represents Northwest Baltimore, says she has lived in her boyfriend’s Inner Harbor condominium for years. She says she maintains a residence in her district.

Councilman William “Pete” Welch lists his campaign office as his official address, but says he actually lives with his mother at another home in his district.

Councilman Warren Branch lists his mother’s address on official records and says he stays there once a week, but spends most of his time with his girlfriend and their three children at a different address in his district.

Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young lists one East Baltimore home as his official address, but he says he actually lives around the corner. Young owned a home until 2005 in the Harford County neighborhood of Edgewood. He called it a “vacation home.”

Shortly after he became council president last year, Young led reporters on a tour of the home where he spends most of time. He pulled fistfuls of clothing from drawers, saying, “Do you want to see my damn underwear?”

State law grants elected officials wide latitude in declaring an official address.

In 1998, a court ordered hen-state Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount off the ballot after a private detective showed that he lived primarily in Pikesville, not the Northwest Baltimore neighborhood he was elected to represent. But a Court of Special Appeals judge overturned the ruling.

“The requirement is that one must be domiciled in the district, and domicile is not synonymous with primary place of abode,” Judge John C. Eldridge wrote in his opinion.

The latest documents, posted last week by the website Baltileaks, indicate that Conaway and her husband received an $8,700 line of credit from the Municipal Employee Credit Union of Baltimore on the Randallstown home in January 2010.

The couple signed a statement ‘Under oath and penalties of perjury’ affirming that the Randallstown home “is his/ her / their principal place of residence,” according to the documents, which are posted on a state land records website.

Maronick said that Conaway and her husband, Milton D. Washington, purchased the home in the 9800 block of Southall Road in Randallstown in 1997 and lived there “briefly” with their two children and her mother.

Soon afterward, Maronick said, Conaway moved to her father’s spacious home in the 3200 block of Liberty Heights Avenue in the city, which is closer to her son’s school.

Maronick said Conaway’s mother and Washington live in the Randallstown home.

Baltimore County tax records indicate that Conaway and her husband sought and received a $708 Homestead Tax Credit for the Randallstown home last year.

Maronick said that Conaway would pay back any tax credit that was received improperly.

When a reporter visited the Randallstown home last month, an elderly woman answered the door, shook her head silently and shut the door.

Neighbors reported seeing an elderly woman at the tidy brick home, and occasional visits from relatives.

“I’ve seen an older lady tending to her flowers,” said Laura Blanks, who lives on the other side of the quiet suburban street. “Her roses are beautiful.”

Conaway’s father, Clerk of Courts Frank M. Conaway Sr., her stepmother, Register of Wills Mary Conaway, and brother Del. Frank M. Conaway Jr. all claim the Liberty Heights home as their official residence.

Conaway's husband and her 13-year-old son were at the large brick home on Liberty Heights Avenue across from Hanlon Park when a reporter dropped by last month.

Conaway's father said that his daughter's family occupied one wing of the 17-room home.

“This house has two sides to it and they live on one side,” he said.

Conaway urged his grandson, Xavier Washington, to speak to a reporter.

“I live here,” Xavier said. “I just go there sometimes to visit my grandmother.”

Posted by Julie Scharper at 9:53 AM | | Comments (36)
Categories: City Hall

Cummings to discuss security at Old Dominion

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings will travel to Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., Monday to meet with college officials there and discuss security efforts a week after his 20-year-old nephew was shot and killed near the campus.

Cummings, who spoke at his nephew's funeral in Baltimore on Saturday, had earlier described the students living in the neighborhood surrounding the campus as "sitting ducks" because of a recent spike in crime there.

Cummings’ nephew, Christopher Cummings, was killed on June 10. He was a junior at Old Dominion. Christopher Cummings' father, James Cummings, will also speak at the event as will Rep. Robert Scott, a Democrat who represents portions of Norfolk.

Posted by John Fritze at 8:58 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Washington

June 17, 2011

O'Malley's trip to Asia costs $164K

The O'Malley administration spent $144,086 on the 10-day trade mission to Asia, according to figures released this afternoon.

Costs includes airfare, food, hotels and other expenses for six staffers.

State police spent an additional $19,868 on security, but a spokesman would not itemize expenses because he did not want to reveal how many members of the executive protection accompanied the governor.

The trip was intended to strengthen links between Maryland and Asian companies, and the governor traveled with a 68-member delegation of mostly business leaders. Gov. Martin O'Malley estimates that the trip netted $85 million in foreign investment to the state. China was the most expensive part of the trip and cost $63,000. It is also where the group spent most time (five days). Three days in Korea cost $22,000 and two days in Vietnam was $10K.

During O'Malley's first term, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown went on a week long trade mission to China. It cost $96,000.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:14 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Administration

June 16, 2011

Ehrlich aides indicted in Election Day robocalls case


By Annie Linskey and Julie Bykowicz

Two longtime political operatives who worked last year on Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s gubernatorial return campaign were indicted today for ordering what the state prosecutor called deceptive robocalls intended to suppress votes on the night of the election.

Julius Henson and Paul Schurick each face three counts of conspiracy to violate Maryland election laws, one count of attempting to influence a voter's decision and one count of failing to provide an authority line (on campaign material). Schurick also is charged with one count of obstruction of justice.

Read the indictments here.

Edward Smith, Jr., Henson's attorney, said his client will plead not guilty. Peter Zeidman, an attorney for Schurick, said the charges are "based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts."

"When the truth comes out," Zeidman said, it will be clear that Schurick "did not violate any laws."

An arraignment in Baltimore Circuit Court is scheduled for July 18.

The former governor was not accused of wrongdoing. He released this statement: "I believe in the rule of law. I believe in my friend and colleague, Paul Schurick. I hope a fair resolution is reached as quickly as possible for both Paul and Mr. Henson."

The indictment, handed up by a Baltimore City grand jury, came after an eight-month investigation by State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt into tens of thousands of robocalls that went out late on Election Day. A caller instructed voters in Democratic areas to stay home and “relax” because Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley had already won. In fact, the polls were still open. (Full recording after the jump.) 

Henson, who'd worked mostly with Baltimore and Prince George's County Democrats before joining Ehrlich's team, acknowledged orchestrating the calls. He was paid $111,000 by the Ehrlich campaign for “community outreach.”

He told The Sun the calls were “counter-intuitive” and were intended to encourage supporters to vote. Schurick was Ehrlich's communications director when he was governor and was his top campaign aide last year.

The indictment describes a document titled "The Schurick Doctrine" and says that it was "designed to promote confusion, emotionalism, and frustration among African-American Democrats."

The indictment quotes from the document: "The first and foremost desired outcome [of the Schurick Doctrine strategy] is voter suppression."

Ehrlich testified before the grand jury earlier this month. Greg Massoni, another longtime Ehrlich aide, also appeared in before the grand jurors. Massoni and Ehrlich are working for the Washington office of law firm King & Spalding. It's unclear what Schurick is now doing. (Update: Schurick's attorney said his client is working as a consultant.)

Massoni is named in the indictment, along with Henry Fawell, Ehrlich's campaign communications director and Bernard Marczyk, the campaign's political director. Henson met with the men in summer 2010 and outlined a voter suppression strategy in 472 precincts -- but at that time the campaign decided it would be too expensive, according to the indictment.

Henson and Universal Elections associate, Rhonda Russell, also face a multimillion-dollar federal civil complaint filed in November by Maryland Attorney Douglas F. Gansler. An attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division also is listed as a plaintiff in the case.

Gansler alleges that the robocalls were made with the intent to suppress and intimidate voters in predominately African-American Democratic neighborhoods. The attorney general says 112,000 such calls were made on election night, and if found to be violations, each carries a $500 fine.

On May 25, U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake denied Henson's motion to dismiss his civil case. The court is still entertaining a defense motion to stay the proceedings pending the outcome of any criminal cases. Defense attorney Edward Smith Jr. argued that the going to court in the civil case would violate the witnesses' right against self-incrimination.

Gansler's office, in a response to that motion filed June 2, argued that "defendants are asserting this privilege even though no criminal actions have commenced."

The recorded message, according to civil and criminal complaints: "Hello. I’m calling to let everyone know that Governor O’Malley and President Obama have been successful. Our goals have been met. The polls were correct, and we took it back. We’re okay. Relax. Everything’s fine. The only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight. Congratulations, and thank you."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:36 PM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Elections

"Stop cutting police and fire" unions tell visiting mayors

Baltimore's police and fire unions hoisted a billboard near City Hall Thursday asking attendees for the U.S. Conference of Mayors to "Stop cutting police & fire."
Baltimore FOP and Fire Union billboard for U.S. Conference of Mayors
The unions had previously threatened to picket the conference, which is expected to draw more than 200 mayors and their staff members to Baltimore for the weekend.
The unions have been struggling with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake since she pushed through a reform of their pension plan last year that saved the city hundreds of millions of dollars, but delayed retirement and cut some benefits.
The billboard is a few blocks from City Hall and is visible from I-83-- and The Baltimore Sun newsroom. 


Posted by Julie Scharper at 1:56 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: City Hall

O’Malley, Biden talk broadband

Gov. Martin O’Malley joined Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder in Washington on Thursday to call for a national wireless broadband network for public safety officials that he said would address the communications breakdowns that took place during the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Speaking to public safety officials in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House, O’Malley noted the state’s recent effort at developing interoperable radio networks that are accessible to officers and firefighters from different cities and counties.

“In a background where we see some really damaging cuts to homeland security grants, this day is a bright contrast, a real solid movement forward,” the Maryland Democrat said. “There’s absolutely no reason why teenagers should be more advanced in their technology in doing video games than our first responders are in protecting lives.”

President Barack Obama has pushed for better communications system for first responders, which was one of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. Legislation sponsored by West
Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat, would raise money for a nationwide network by allowing entities that control a segment of radio spectrum to voluntarily give up those frequencies in exchange for a portion of the proceeds from their sale.

Rockefeller’s bill was approved June 8 by the Senate Commerce Committee. Biden said he is confident federal money will be directed to the effort, despite the recent emphasis in Washington on cost-cutting.

“The money is going to be there,” he said, noting Rockefeller’s proposal. “I promise, we're going to be able to get this done, because it has to get done.”

The meeting also included John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and a former governor of Arizona, and Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

Last November the state’s Board of Public Works approved a $485 million contract to start work on a statewide communications system. On an interim basis, 23 of the state’s 26 jurisdictions have regional interoperability, according to the governor’s office, and state officials hope to have the three remaining counties online by the end of the year.

Posted by John Fritze at 1:41 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Washington

Baker, Leggett, Ulman endorse Rawlings-Blake

County executives from Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's County this morning endorsed Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's campaign to retain her office.

Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker praised Rawlings-Blake's father, the late Del. Howard P. Rawlings, as one of the "best mentors I ever had."

"He allowed me to sit in his office and watch him exercise power in the way it should be used-- for the greater good," said Baker at a press conference on Federal Hill.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said he was proud to have joined Rawlings-Blake in successfully lobbying the General Assembly for tougher gun control laws. He also touted
a regional broadband initiative announced early this week.

Montgomery County Isiah "Ike" Leggett noted that the four leaders represent about one half of the state's residents. He described Rawlings-Blake as a "very competent" leader and "the person needed for this time."

Reading from prepared remarks, Rawlings-Blake ticked off achievements in education, ethics reform and balancing the city's budget.

"You can count on me to work closely with you on our shared interests," she said to the three executives.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 12:56 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

June 15, 2011

McDonough: I am not an extremist

State Del. Pat McDonough says he’s been called a lot of things in his political career, but he takes exception to being characterized as an extremist who turns off Democrats and moderates.

Jon Herbst, a Baltimore County Republican Central Committee member, used words to that effect in discussing the problems that led to chairman Tony Campbell's ouster this week:.

"We've got to address the underlying problem and it was not all Chairman Campbell's doing," Herbst said. "The reality is the Republican Party has been hijacked by the religious right, not just in Baltimore County but across the country. As long as Pat McDonough, Brian Murphy and Sarah Palin are the face of the Republican Party, the party is simply not going to appeal to mainstream voters."

McDonough points to his own efforts in leading the petition drive against the new state law that gives in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants, noting that he leads the ticket in votes in his district and attracts more Democrats and independent voters than any of his fellow Republicans.

“Saying I’m an extremist who can’t attract Democrats and moderates…I am the one who’s been doing that,” McDonough said. “I’ve been accused of a lot of things in my life, but I’ve never been accused of that. The record is clear.”

He also downplays his role and influence in the committee, which is responsible for fundraising and offering other support to Republican candidates, saying he’s only attended one meeting in the last six months.

“I don’t think these kinds of public squabbles really do the party any good, especially when you have a chairman who was elected by Republican voters,” he said.

The county committee is the only one in the nation state (corrected) where voters elect the chairman, instead of members selecting a leader from within. Committee members said they are working to change the bylaws.

Posted by Raven Hill at 6:15 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore County

Councilwomen win additional $50K for youth jobs

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration pledged an additional $50,000 for summer youth jobs, following lobbying from City Council members Belinda Conaway and Mary Pat Clarke and youth advocates.

The announcement came as the council's budget and appropriations committee unanimously voted in favor of Rawlings-Blake's $1.3 billion operating budget for the financial year that begins July 1.

Rawlings-Blake increased spending in her operating budget by 1 percent while cutting $65 million in expenses.

Rawlings-Blake had offered to devote an additional $36,000 to Youth Works and $14,000 for the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau, but the director of that organization pledged his funds for the city's youth summer jobs program.

Legal Aid executive director Wilhelm Joseph said the $14,000 allocation was "insulting." The city had given his organization as much as $250,000 in recent years and $125,000 last year.

The organization spends $9.5 million of its $24 million budget helping city residents, he said.

Youth advocates, including the Safe and Sound Campaign, led by Hathaway Ferebee, and Ralph E. Moore Jr. of East Baltimore's St. Frances Academy Community Center, had pushed for greater funding for programs for young people.

Youth Works' budget for the coming year will be $2.85 million, substantially larger than the $1.76 allocated for it this year. State funding for the program rose from from $86,000 last year to $1.17 this year.

Nearly 5,000 young people are expected to have summer jobs through the program.

The entire council is slated to cast final votes on the budget Monday.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 5:01 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: City Hall

Harris, Cardin wealthiest in delegation, reports show

The newest member of Maryland’s congressional delegation, it turns out, might also be its most wealthy.

Rep. Andy Harris, the Baltimore County Republican elected last year to represent the Eastern Shore along with several Baltimore suburbs, holds assets valued between $1.5 million and $4 million, according to annual financial disclosure statements by members of Congress that were made available to the public Wednesday.

Harris, an anesthesiologist, appears to have surpassed Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, who is worth between $1.4 million and $3.5 million and has frequently turned up as one of the state’s most well-off elected officials. Because lawmakers report the value of assets in broad ranges, it’s impossible to assess actual net worth.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, meanwhile, who also typically reports significant financial holdings, received a one-month extension to file his report.

Harris’ disclosure statement shows that he earned $123,705 last year from Johns Hopkins, where he practiced medicine. The statement also documents $40,011 in salary he received from his time as a state lawmaker and $27,000 from his private medical practice, Tidewater Anesthesia Associates. A spokesman said Harris has taken a leave of absence from Hopkins but still sees patients at his practice in order to maintain his medical license.

“It’s the second time that he’s taken a pay cut to serve his country,” said Harris spokesman Ryan Nawrocki, referring to Harris’ decision to join the U.S. Naval Reserve, in which he served as a commander.

Rank-and-file members of Congress earn $174,000 a year.

The annual disclosure statements offer a limited glimpse into members’ finances – including retirement savings, trips paid for by private groups and work performed outside their official duties. The reports show Rep. Donna Edwards, a Prince George’s County Democrat, traveled to Turkey last year on a trip paid for by the Turkish Coalition of America, for instance.

Rep. Elijah Cummings listed three rental properties – two in Baltimore, one in Washington – owned by him or his wife that are worth, in total, between $1 million and $2 million. The Baltimore Democrat also received a trip to Orlando, Fla., last year on behalf of the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

Democrat Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersbeger lists a $89,863 pension from his time as Baltimore County executive.

Edwards was the Maryland lawmaker who reported holding the least in assets, between $3,004 and $46,000.

Reports from House members are available on the clerk’s website. To see reports from Mikulski and Cardin, click on their names in the list below. (The list includes assets held by spouses and dependent children.)

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D: $1,443,047-$3,450,000
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D: $156,018-$517,000
Rep. Andy Harris, R, 1st District: $1,525,050- $4,050,000
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D, 2nd District: $1,035,044-$2,676,000
Rep. John Sarbanes, D, 3rd District: $260,014-$775,000
Rep. Donna F. Edwards, D, 4th District: $3,004-$46,000
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D, 5th District: $18,005-$96,000
Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R, 6th District: N/A
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D, 7th District: $1,256,010-$2,590,000
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D, 8th District: $63,007-$245,000

An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Ruppersberger received a gift from Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 2009. He did not.

Posted by John Fritze at 4:23 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Washington

Police, fire unions cancel protest of U.S. Conference of Mayors

The city's police and fire unions have called off a protest of the U.S. Conference of Mayors that will begin in Baltimore later this week.

"It's about messaging getting for our members what they deserve," said Fraternal Order of Police president Bob Cherry. "We thought going back to a billboard reminding mayors of the importance of public safety was the best way to go."

Speakers at the conference, which begins Thursday night and runs through Monday, include House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. About 200 mayors and their staff are expected to be in the city through Monday morning.

Gov. Martin O'Malley and filmmaker John Waters are slated to entertain the mayors.

The unions had threatened last winter to picket the conference to push Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to compromise over furlough days and pension benefits. The police and firefighters union remain locked in a legal battle with the city over changes to their pension plan that Rawlings-Blake pushed through last year.

Cherry declined to describe the message to be printed on the billboard. Last year, the unions posted a billboard near City Hall that said, "Welcome to Baltimore, Home to a Mayor & City Council who turned their backs on our Police & Firefighters."

Posted by Julie Scharper at 3:34 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: City Hall

Eastern Shore senator laments loss of chicken jobs

State Sen. Richard Colburn is sounding the alarm on the recent bankruptcy filing of a Delaware poultry company with operations on Maryland's Eastern Shore -- calling it "devastating" news for his district.

Allen Family Food's Cordova plant is Talbot County's second-largest employer, Colburn said, behind only the Memorial Hospital at Easton. The bad news comes as the Delmarva Poultry Industry prepares for its annual Chicken Festival this weekend in Georgetown, Del.

Seaford, Del.-based Allen filed for bankruptcy last week and announced plans to close its facilities in Maryland, Delaware and North Carolina, according to The 92-year-old company is seeking to sell assets to Mountaire, another Delaware poultry company.

The state Department of Business and Economic Development reports that about 500-600 employees work at the Cordova plant, not including farmers with Allen-contracted chicken houses.

Colburn, an Eastern Shore Republican, said in a statement that he does not believe Maryland's two other major poultry producers, Perdue and Mountaire, will take over any of Allen's chicken houses north of Route 301. 

"The Delmarva poultry industry has already been adversely affected by the economic recession, and the bankruptcy of Allen Foods will only hurt the industry even more," Colburn said in a statement. "Since Allen has long been a major employer on the Eastern Shore, the company’s bankruptcy will cause many Shore residents to lose their jobs."

Last year, the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation imposed a record $1 million fine on Allen after finding 51 violations at its Hurlock production plant. Allen sold that property to South Carolina-based Amick Farms.

A DBED spokeswoman said the agency is aware of Allen's bankruptcy and is tracking the situation.

Colburn said he has contacted DBED and the Maryland Department of Agriculture to "address the situation."

"I intend to continue to work closely with both departments to help lessen the devastating economic blow that the closure of Allen Foods will have on our area," Colburn said. 

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

State extends BWI taxi contract for one year

Jet-setters touching down in Maryland will continue taking taxis under familiar flag of BWI Taxi Management Inc., after the state's Board of Public Works decided this afternoon to extend their contract by one year.

The move tamps down a controversy kicked up by local cabbies who did not want the state contract to go to a Virginia-based firm. That company, called Dulles Airport Taxi, Inc., would have paid the state more money for the airport rights. But cab drivers feared new management would cut jobs and pay. They drove their cabs around state circle earlier this week to protest.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, one of the three state officials on the BPW, said he wants the Maryland's Department of Transportation to have an additional year to review the contract and find a way to balance state revenues with the needs of the taxi drivers. During the meeting, he noted that the winning company "did not do anything wrong" but said that since "a lot of different point of views have been raised" it would be prudent to defer the new contract.

Treasurer Nancy Kopp agreed. As did Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who presided over the Board because Gov. Martin O'Malley is at a Democratic Governors Association meeting in Chicago.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:27 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Administration

Bartlett joins lawsuit against Obama over Libya

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers Wednesday in filing a lawsuit against President Barack Obama over U.S. involvement in Libya, alleging that the White House overstepped its constitutional authority when it launched the military effort in March.

The 36-page complaint, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, argues that Obama’s decision to initiate strikes against the government of Moammar Gadhafi violated the constitution and the War Powers Resolution. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican, has consistently been among the most vocal critics of the way the action was initiated.

“This is not the king’s army,” Bartlett said in an interview Wednesday. “This is a terribly dangerous precedent…Clearly what he did was a violation of the constitution.”

The other House members included in the lawsuit are Reps. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, Walter Jones, R-N.C., John Conyers, D-Mich., Michael Capuano, D-Mass., Dan Burton, R-Ind., Howard Coble, R-N.C., John Duncan, R-Tenn., Timothy Johnson, R-Ill., and Ron Paul, R-Texas.

The lawsuit comes amid growing concern by members of both parties in Congress over how the military action was started. On June 2, the House passed a resolution requiring the White House to inform Congress on the scope and cost of the Libyan mission, which is currently being led by NATO. That measure passed on a 268-145 vote, with both Maryland Republicans, Bartlett and Baltimore County Rep. Andy Harris, in support.

The White House has maintained for several weeks that it is making every effort to keep Congress informed about the Libyan effort.

Bartlett was part of a similar lawsuit against then President Bill Clinton over U.S. involvement in Kosovo. The effort was not successful.

Posted by John Fritze at 2:06 PM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Washington

Cordish: Arundel's Maryland Live! on track for 2012

Before discussing Maryland's two unawarded slots projects, the state Video Lottery Terminal Location Commission received assurances this week from the Cordish Cos. that its casino at Arundel Mills Mall will be open in roughly one year.

With 4,750 terminals, it will be the largest of the five slots facilities in the state. Cordish expects to open the site in June 2012 with 3,000 machines -- double the number at what is now the state's largest parlor, Hollywood Casino in Perryville. The other slots site, at Ocean Downs race track on the Eastern Shore, has 750 machines. The state is seeking proposals on projects in Baltimore and Rocky Gap.

Joseph Weinberg, president of development at Cordish, told the slots panel that the company decided to "condense" the construction timetable by scrapping plans for a temporary site and working full-steam on the permanent structure. "There is a pretty good chance," he said, that all 4,750 machines will be up and running by October 2012.

The size of the parlor will undoubtedly provide a boost to state finances; the state gets a 67 percent cut of all slots revenue. Cordish first detailed its new plans in May, which will cost the state more than $100 million in lost profits from the temporary facility. The change in plans came after Cordish fended off time-consuming legal challenges filed by area homeowners working with the Maryland Jockey Club, which had sought to pry away the county's only slots license.

The casino has continued to be a sore spot for area residents, as The Sun's Nicole Fuller detailed in a story May 24. Some complained that construction parking has limited access to Joe Cannon Stadium and its surrounding park.

On Monday, Weinberg walked the slots commission through the basics of the $1 billion casino and entertainment complex: It will be on the ground floor of a structure that also contains six levels of above-ground parking.

A recent visit to the site shows construction is indeed underway, with a large swath of the mall parking lot -- roughly from Burlington Coat Factory to the movie theater -- cordoned off.


Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:45 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Slots

O'Malley, Biden to talk broadband

Gov. Martin O'Malley is set to stop at the White House Thursday when he returns from his DGA event in Chicago. He'll share the stage with Vice President Joe Biden for an event pushing greater access to broadband for first responders.

President Obama's budget included $10 billion for the "development and deployment" of a national "wireless broadband network," according to a White House press release.  The network is intended for public safety agencies.

On Monday, O'Malley pushed a similar message in Maryland, stopping in Howard County with Sen. Barbara Mikulski and County Executive Ken Ulman to launch a state-wide push for more access to high speed internet.

Maryland's chief executive has been racking up the travel miles. He landed in Maryland Saturday after a 10-day trade mission in Asia and admitted to feeling a little "blurry" on Monday, just before a groundbreaking for a new sports field in Baltimore's Patterson Park.

On Tuesday after briefing reporters on the Asia trip in Annapolis, he jetted off to Chicago for a two-day Democratic Governors Association regional policy meeting in the windy city. (Fun fact about the DGA conference: There appears to be an app for it. Really.)
Posted by Annie Linskey at 9:33 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Administration

Parkville advocates can take case to state

Opponents of the Parkville parking lot sale have some reason yet to hope, even if it is just a faint glimmer.

They're shifting their attention from the Baltimore County Revenue Authority, where the battle to stop the sale has been lost, to the Maryland Board of Public Works, where a key decision has yet to be made.

"I don't believe in done deals until they're done,"said Ruth Baisden, president of the Greater Parkville Community Council. "And this isn't done."

Her group and the Parkville/Carney Business and Professional Association wrote letters, argued before the Revenue Authority and staged protests at the parking lot -- all in vain. They claimed that the 58-space lot was crucial for the businesses along that stretch of Harford Road near the city line, which they call Parkville's Main Street. They said the lot had for years been used as a center of such community activities as the annual Parkville fair and the Christmas tree lighting.

The authority board was persuaded by chief executive William L. Cook II's argument that the authority should unload the lot because it wasn't bringing in enough money. And there was the high bid of $530,000 for the land made by DMS Development LLC, which wants to build a Walgreens drug store at the parking lot site on Harford Road between Lavender and Taylor avenues.

But there's a hitch.

To make the plan work, DMS, based in Towson, needs not only the lot of just under a half-acre that the Revenue Authority has owned since 1958, but also two other properties. One is owned by two local women who have agreed to sell, and the other is a smaller L-shaped strip of land owned by the Maryland Transit Administration. The MTA once used it as a bus turn-around lane, a remnant of the days when the strip and the lot were used as a trolley car turn-around owned by the Baltimore Transit Company.

The Revenue Authority has an option to buy the strip of land for $14,000 that was agreed to in August, 1958 with the Baltimore Transit Company, one of the companies that was later incorporated into the MTA. Cook said a check for that sum has been sent to the MTA.

MTA spokesman Terry Owens said the sale is in the works, and the arrangement has to be approved by the Maryland Board of Public Works, comprised of the governor, comptroller and the treasurer. He said he expected the board to take up the subject in the fall.

There's the potential chance for opponents, but perhaps only a longshot.

Sheila McDonald, the Board of Public Works executive secretary, said the panel has wide discretion to do what it believes is in the state's best interest, but in light of the fact that there's a signed agreement, "it would be hard for me to think the board might not approve it. That kind of thing would ordinarily be respected by the board."

Baisden said the organizations have to press their case.

"We're going to request the Board of Public Works doesn't release the property," said Baisden. She said she'd be happy if that strip were devoted to public parking that she argues local merchants need.

The opponents have the support of state legislators from District 8, who backed them before.

Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier, a Democrat, said she's called the MTA to gather some information about the pending sale, but she said she and three other delegation members from the east side expect to write to the Board of Public Works to try to stop the sale.

"We'll just have to see if we can get the best deal for the community," said Klausmeier. "This could be the saving grace."

Democrat Del. Eric M. Bromwell said "any opportunity we have to block that sale, we're going to do it."

-Arthur Hirsch

Posted by Andy Rosen at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

June 14, 2011

Arundel gets new rides for Leopold detail

Anne Arundel County recently purchased three new SUVs for $80,000 and two of the vehicles will replace the small fleet of county-owned vehicles that County Executive John R. Leopold and his security detail drive.

The three 2011 Ford Expeditions will replace similar, older-model vehicles that were assigned to the police and fire departments and to Leopold and the security detail as part of a “normal replacement cycle,” Leopold’s spokesman Dave Abrams said Tuesday. The vehicles were ordered late last year and arrived in the county in April – before the County Council in May voted to prohibit the Police and Fire Departments from purchasing any new vehicles – but have not been used because they are being outfitted with emergency equipment

Leopold typically has three county-owned vehicles at his disposal: a Chevrolet Impala, which he drives on a daily basis; a Ford Expedition assigned to the police bureau overseeing his executive protection unit; and a third Expedition that is assigned to the Fire Department, but serves as a spare for Leopold’s use.

Two of the new Expeditions – which cost the county $28, 582 each – are assigned to the county Fire Department and one will be used as a spare vehicle for Leopold if the others are not available. The other, a slightly more expensive Expedition XL that cost $29,245 replaces a 2006 Ford Expedition that the county paid $26,410 for, and which county officials said has $112,000 miles and has had $7,200 work of maintenance performed on it in the last year-and-a-half.

“The county executive is going to be very rarely using this vehicle,” said Abrams Tuesday. “It is going to be on standby for inclement weather.”

Leopold, who does not own his own private vehicles and acknowledges using the car for personal errands, has paid taxes on his use of the Impala for the last four years, according to his staff. While he typically drives the Impala, Leopold frequently used one of the two SUVs at his disposal when he was campaigning for re-election and also while he was recuperating from two separate back surgeries last year.

Leopold’s use of county vehicles briefly became a campaign issue when his Democratic opponent criticized him for driving “multiple gas-guzzling vehicles and [using] police officers to transport him around.”. At the time, county Police Chief Col. James Teare Sr., said the vehicle arrangement was “customary and very appropriate.”

-Nicole Fuller

Posted by Andy Rosen at 11:00 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Anne Arundel County

Mikulski, Cardin oppose ethanol proposal

The state's two Democratic senators joined with a majority of their party on Tuesday to block a symbolic effort to end federal ethanol tax subsidies, even though both lawmakers said they ultimately support doing away with the controversial tax credits.

Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin said they opposed the measure on procedural grounds Tuesday but expressed support for the underlying policy. Democratic leaders were upset by the way the proposal, offered by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, was brought to the floor.

The measure failed on a 40-59 vote, falling far short of the 60 votes needed to advance.

But although the Coburn version of the legislation did not pass, the debate Tuesday suggested that there is bipartisan support in the Senate for limiting the ethanol breaks. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Senate will take up another version of the measure in a matter of days.

“At a time when high gas and corn prices are hurting many people and businesses in Delaware and Maryland, particularly within our agriculture communities, and America is facing a massive federal deficit and debt, ending the subsidy for corn-based ethanol is long overdue," read a joint statement by Mikulski, Cardin and Delaware's Democratic senators, Tom Carper and Chris Coons.

“We voted against the Coburn amendment today because of the manner this issue was brought to the Senate floor," the statement read. "We have been assured by the Democratic leadership that the Senate will vote on this issue later this week, allowing us to consider and debate the substance of this important policy decision."

The subsidies, and the debate over their repeal, have prompted an intense federal lobbying campaign. The credits go to oil companies and others who blend ethanol into gasoline. The credits cost about $6 billion annually.

Coburn raised the ire of his Democratic colleagues by swapping out the text of a placeholder amendment he had pending on the floor, replacing it unexpectedly with the tax credit repeal.

Posted by John Fritze at 7:31 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Washington

O'Malley to headline speech for Utah Democrats

Gov. Martin O'Malley will deliver the keynote speech at the Utah Democratic Party's annual fundraising dinner in July. O'Malley will be in the state for the National Governors Association meeting.

Called the Democratic Jubilee, the dinner will be at the Salt Lake City Hilton on July 15. Tickets are from $50 to $5,000, according to the Utah Democratic Party's website.

Barbara Eubanks, the Development Director fort the Utah Democrats, said O'Malley was invited because of his leadership of the Democratic Governors Association and his experience as Maryland's chief executive. "It is always nice to hear what Democrats in other parts of the country are doing," she said.

O'Malley is expected to hit many of the same themes he's highlight during similar party fundraisers in Richmond, Va and New Brunswick, N.J. "He'll contrast Democratic governors' leadership with the Republican recklessness," said Elisabeth Smith, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Governors Association.

Since becoming the head of the DGA in December, O'Malley has made a handful of appearances on national talk shows and stepped up partisan attacks. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is a favorite target -- though if he stays out of the 2012 presidential race, it will be interesting to see if O'Malley takes on someone else.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:52 PM | | Comments (0)

After Asia, O'Malley planning more foreign travel

Fresh from a 10-day trade mission to Asia, Gov. Martin O’Malley said Tuesday he hopes to make more foreign trips during his second term.

Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, have requested a detailed accounting of public money spent on the expedition.

O’Malley said the trip to China, South Korea and Vietnam was good for $85 million in deals between Asian and Maryland businesses, and spoke of future travel to India, Africa and Latin America.

“You can't really be effective as a governor in a global economy … unless you are engaged abroad and doing things that only the governor's office can do,” the Democratic governor told reporters in Annapolis.

The Asia was O’Malley’s first to the world’s fastest-growing region. Other governors, including Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., his Republican predecessor, made similar expeditions.

What distinguished O’Malley’s trip was the size. Nearly 70 officials, educators and business leaders, who paid their own way, accompanied O’Malley for at least part of the mission.

While O’Malley was overseas, the Maryland House Republican leadership wrote to the state Department of Business and Economic Development asking for a breakdown of state expenses.

“Could the same thing have been accomplished without such a large delegation traveling on the taxpayer’s dime?” House Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell asked.

A spokeswoman for DBED, which organized the trip, said tax dollars were used to fund travel for six officials. That does not include O’Malley’s security detail or University System of Maryland staff.

A more complete accounting is expected later this week.

O’Malley, who had never traveled in Asia, said he was struck by the “enormity” of the sprawling Asian cities and the “the pace of the industrial progress.” He noted that Shanghai, one of the five cities he visited, has a population 35 times that of Baltimore.

The pace of development was also stunning, he said. On a high-speed train ride from Shanghai to nearby Nanjing he said he “saw nothing but cranes on the horizon.”

He spoke also of a downside to the rapid development and industrialization. In five days in China, he said, “we never saw the sun. We never saw the sky. So thick was the smog.”

Lin Hwang, vice president of J&R Seafood Inc. in Cambridge, said the trip was “better than expected.”

Hwang’s company exports blue crabs to South Korea. He met with five potential buyers in China, where he said drought has made crabs scarce; he said one wanted an exclusive deal “for everything we could produce.”

Terry Lin, the chief executive officer of Planned Systems International in Columbia, said the trip accelerated the pace of a $45 million deal the information technology consulting firm had been negotiating with a Chinese company. The contract was one of the first O’Malley announced during his trip.

The governor hinted that more deals from the trip are in the works.

The governor displayed a slideshow of pictures from the trip, including images from the Great Wall of China and The Forbidden City in Beijing. His 13-year-old son William joined him during those portions of the trip, at O’Malley’s expense.

O'Malley was also photographed visiting the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. The image shows him standing inside a building on the border as two North Korean soldiers outside glare through a window over his shoulder.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:39 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Administration

June 13, 2011

Slots commission readies Rocky Gap bid

The state slots commission is ready to issue a new request for proposals to develop a casino at Rocky Gap resort in Western Maryland. The panel also approved slight changes to the bid for a far larger project in Baltimore.

Rocky Gap and Baltimore are the last of the five slots licenses available in Maryland, and state officials have had a tough time attracting qualified bidders to either project -- Rocky Gap because of its remote location in Allegany County and Baltimore because of its higher financial requirements.  

At a meeting today in Annapolis, the Video Lottery Facility Location Commission determined that the Rocky Gap RFP could go out by the end of next week. It will be the state's third attempt to lure a developer to the money-losing state-owned property and will reflect the General Assembly's attempt to sweeten the deal by lowering the tax rate from 67 percent to 50 percent.

Proposals would be due in mid- to late-September, said Donald C. Fry, chairman of the slots commission. The panel also approved technical changes to a request for proposals on the Baltimore site.

Fry said he will work with city officials to clarify that would-be developers can count the fee to lease the city-owned land near the stadiums toward the state-mandated capital improvement, and that applicants' $22.5 million initial licensing fee may be refunded if the slots panel rejects the bid.

The RFP tweaks also will clear up confusion about zoning and minority business participation, Fry said.

Proposals for the Baltimore project -- which, at 3,750 slot machines would be the second-largest in the state -- are due July 28.

Fry said he believes both remaining licenses will attract multiple applicants. Robert Howells, procurement officer for the Maryland Lottery, said he is "optimistic" that Baltimore will see a good response to its RFP and said applicants were "well on track" to meet the deadline, though the city is just beginning this week to meet with individual parties interested in the site.

Potential applicants have expressed skepticism about financial viability of the project. license holder would turn over 67 percent of slots revenue to the state and more than $8 million per year to the city.

The slots developer also would pay the $22.5 million licensing fee and foot the bill for any environmental cleanup at the casino site.

"It makes the project incredibly difficult," said William Kress, a lobbyist for Clairvest, a Canadian private equity group weighing a bid. "The tax rate and other financial obligations are so high that there's not a great deal of room for error."

He said his clients are interested because "the gaming market is under-served in Baltimore."

Other potential applicants include a group led by local attorney Hassan Murphy, who said at a pre-bid conference last month that the Baltimore proposal "presents some interesting challenges."

Also attending the conference were representatives from Florida-based Peebles Corporation and from Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas. Here's the full sign-in sheet.

Western Maryland officials also are hopeful about the project there. Dallas-based Paragon Project Resources is among several firms that have considered applying.

Groups that have long expressed interest "are coming back much more seriously" now that the tax rate has been lowered, said Robert C. Brennan, executive director of the Maryland Economic Development Corp., which oversees operations at Rocky Gap.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 7:05 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Slots

Baltimore City Council joins chorus against Obama immigration enforcement

The Baltimore City Council tonight voted to adopt a resolution condemning a federal program that is key to President Obama’s strategy to toughen enforcement of immigration laws, joining a chorus of other states and law enforcement agencies across the country in rebuffing the initiative.

According to a press release from Casa of Maryland, the non-binding resolution calls for a suspension of the "Secure Communities" program, which the council says is "undermining public safety in the city for everyone" by mostly deporting people who have not committed an infraction. It was introduced by City Councilman Jim Kraft, who represents Southeast Baltimore.

Across the country, states have been rebuffing the program. Illinois was first, terminating its agreement with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in May. New York followed suit, withdrawing from the program earlier this month, and Massachusetts also notified the Department of Homeland Security that it will not participate. California Governor Jerry Brown is also being pushed to suspend that state's participation. 

Casa officials told The Sun's Julie Scharper that they hope the Baltimore council's resolution will lead the state officials to join other states in suspending the program. Casa claims that 60 percent of those deported in Maryland under the program have been "non-criminals."

ICE says the program helps identify criminal aliens in state prisons and local jails by running their fingerprints against federal immigration databases when they are booked into the system. It has led to record numbers of deportations, almost 8,000, in the past two years, according to reports.

According to an ICE report from January, when 7 of 24 jurisdictions in the Maryland were active in the program, 163 convicted criminal aliens had been arrested and booked into ICE custody. Seventy-two convicted criminal aliens had been removed from the U.S. As of April 2011, 21 Maryland jurisdictions had signed on: Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Kent, Prince George's, Queen Anne's, Saint Mary's, Somerset, Talbot and Worcester counties.  

Posted by Justin Fenton at 6:33 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: City Hall, Immigration

O'Malley talks property taxes

Gov. Martin O'Malley gave props to Baltimore's current mayor at an event today and dismissed one of her opponent's plans to reduce the city's property taxes as election year promise-mongering.

The governor, speaking after an groundbreaking for a new sports field at Patterson Park, was asked about a Sun story by Julie Scharper that laid out plans by various mayoral candidates to slash the city's high property tax.

One idea, put forward by City Coucilman Carl Stokes, would reduce the rate by $1.10 over four years. Baltimore homeowners currently pay $2.268 per $100 of assessed value, by far the highest in the state.

"In an election year there will be people promising all sorts of things that they know in their heart of hearts they really can’t accomplish," O'Malley said.


Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake wants a more gradual decline in the rate. And O'Malley Monday sounded in sync. "As our population starts to grow we’ll move toward being able to bring that property tax rate down," O'Malley said.

As mayor, O'Malley made two-cent reductions to the property tax rate in 2005 and 2006. Former Mayor Sheila Dixon reduced the rate by two-cents in 2007.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 6:22 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

Flirtatious tweet mistakenly sent by Pugh aide, spokesman says

Update: Following the inquiries from The Baltimore Sun, the @pughformayor account now says, "By authority: Committee to elect Catherine E. Pugh..."

A flirtatious tweet sent from state Sen. Catherine Pugh's account was the result of a staffer's mix-up, a campaign spokesman said today.

The staffer, legislative aide Gary Brown, sent a tweet from Pugh's account saying "mmm mmm good looking men here" Saturday night, while at an Associated Black Charities gala at Martin's West, said campaign spokesman Anthony McCarthy.

Brown thought he was logged into his personal account, but was actually logged into Pugh's account when he sent the tweet, McCathy said.

Within minutes of tweeting from Pugh's account, Brown sent a prim-and-proper message from his own account about being pleased to attend the gala. Both tweets were deleted following inquiries from The Baltimore Sun.

Brown will no longer be tweeting for Pugh, McCarthy said.

McCarthy also said that Brown, who is a legislative assistant, volunteers for the campaign in his free time. He did not send campaign tweets while he was on the clock, McCarthy said.

Pugh could run into another problem with her Twitter account -- it does not include a line saying that is authorized by her campaign committee. Under a state law passed last year, candidates are required to include an authority line on
campaign-related social networking sites.

McCarthy said he thought the line was not necessary because Pugh has not yet filed to run for mayor. I've put in a call to State Board of Elections director Jared DeMarinis for clarification.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 2:32 PM | | Comments (18)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

Cardin calls on SSA to keep sending statements

For many who have not yet retired, the annual earnings statements mailed out by the Social Security Administration are the only regular contact they have with the agency.

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin requested that Social Security officials continue to send those statements despite budget cuts the Woodlawn-based federal agency is facing. Social Security recently stopped sending some of the statements, which cost $70 million a year to mail, as a cost-cutting measure.

"Since 1999, the Social Security annual earnings statement has given Americans an indispensable retirement tool to ensure that every worker has an in-depth knowledge of where their hard-earned money is being saved," Cardin said in a letter Monday to Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue.

The agency mails out approximately 152 million statements to workers over age 25 every year, according to Cardin's office. The four-page mailings list a worker’s earnings record, including an estimate of their expected Social Security payout.

"We agree the information in the statement is important," Social Security spokesman Mark Hinkle said in a statement. "We are exploring how to deliver a better version to the American people and save the federal government $1 billion over 10 years by making it available online."

Posted by John Fritze at 2:00 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Washington

Newt Gingrich coming to Maryland next week

Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich is scheduled as the featured speaker at the Maryland Republican Party's major annual fundraising event next week.

The Republican former speaker of the House of Representatives has visited the Free State many times in recent years, including for the House GOP retreat in Baltimore this January. He was keynote speaker for the state party fundraiser in June 2009, and you can listen to a video recording (images are quite fuzzy) here

But Gingrich's remarks to the state party may have added importance this year, as he attempts to build a presidential bid. His campaign has faced major challenges of late, including the departure last week of more than a dozen key staff members.

Nonetheless, Gingrich will be among the field of Republican presidential contenders at a debate tonight in New Hampshire.

Tickets to the state party dinner, June 23 at the BWI Airport Marriott, cost $200. Another presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, spoke at last year's fundraiser. The former Massachusetts governor drew a crowd of 700, raising about $200,000 for the party, Republican officials said at the time.   

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:37 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Republicans

Mikulski concerned about fed. worker pensions

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski wants U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to “protect federal employee pensions” as the government endeavors to keep paying its bills despite exceeding its debt limit nearly a month ago.

Geithner has said the Treasury Department is taking “extraordinary steps” to keep the government afloat as Congress and the White House look for a compromise that will lead to raising the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit. As part of that effort, the government is reducing its holdings in retirement funds for federal workers.

Geithner, who says the effort will buy the government until Aug. 2 before it will default on its obligations, has said that retirees will not be affected by the moves. But Mikulski wrote earlier this month to say she nevertheless is concerned about the changes.

“Federal employee pension funds are being used to prevent a fiscal disaster, and federal worker’s pensions are being targeted for cuts to balance the budget,” the Maryland Democrat wrote in the letter. “Congress has tested the faith of our federal workers repeatedly.”

Posted by John Fritze at 11:51 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

Andy Barth: Journalist. Flak. Movie star?

Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr's campaign spokesman will be back on the small screen -- playing a political journalist.

Andy Barth wrote an op-ed in today's Sun about a bit part he landed in Game Change, an HBO made for TV movie about the 2008 presidential election that is being filmed in Baltimore. Barth plays a political journalist and his one-line part involves a woman-on-the-street interview with a Sarah Palin supporter. The supporter is at a Palin rally, and Barth provides an amusing anecdote about how hundreds of extras must cheer in the background each time he does a take of the scene.

It's a role that pulls together a number of previous jobs that Barth has held. He was a real journalist for WMAR. He also ran for Congress unsuccessfully (as a Democrat). Most recently he was a spokesman for Ehrlich's 2010 gubernatorial campaign. Memorable work included a series of web videos about the campaign where Barth pretended to be a reporter. Barth's op-ed includes echoes of his bi-partisan past. In one graph he gives a liberal sounding shout-out to the unions that supplied him with breakfast on the set. Toward the end of the piece he sounds like he's still shilling for his former GOP boss. ("I know how the election turned out, but I also know Baltimore will win this version.")

HBO, however, has been courted by both parties in Maryland. Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley  offered HBO execs and the movie industry a $2 million tax break this year. The legislature added $7.5 million. Ehrlich too wanted to attract movies to Maryland, and pledged that had he been elected governor he would have offered money to the industry.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 9:12 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010

June 12, 2011

Cummings' nephew shot to death in Va.

Update: Read The Sun's full story.


A nephew of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings was shot to death Friday in his off-campus apartment near Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., according to Cummings' office.

In a statement, the Baltimore congressman describes the attack on Christopher Cummings as a "random shooting." He says his nephew's roommate is in critical condition.

The complete statement follows.

“My family and I remain in shock over the news of the random shooting that took the life of my nephew, Christopher.

“Christopher was an amazing young man who was loved and admired by so many people who had the honor of knowing him. An exceptional student with a 3.5 GPA, he had ambitious plans for his future after graduating from Old Dominion.

“I am certain that the Norfolk authorities are doing everything within their power to find those responsible for this heinous crime and I urge the local community to cooperate with the police and provide any information that will offer answers to this senseless tragedy.

“My family is grateful for the support and condolences we have received and our hearts and prayers are with Jake Carey and his family. Mr. Carey, Christopher’s roommate, is a fellow Old Dominion University student who was critically shot in the incident.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 9:11 PM | | Comments (3)

State Sen. Pugh denies sending flirtatious tweet

Twitter-addicted political junkies got a surprise last night when State Sen. Catherine Pugh's account published the following:

@PughforMayor: Mmm mmm good looking men here (@ Martin's West w/ 4 others)

Pugh, a candidate for mayor who was attending the Associated Black Charities gala, says she did not send the tweet-- and she did not even have her phone with her.

"I don't know why anyone would want to do that to me," she said. "It's not even my kind of terminology. I don't speak that way."

The tweet was sent using Foursquare, an app that allows users to record their location. That means whoever sent the tweet had to have been logged into Pugh's Foursquare account and been at or near Martin's West.

Pugh said her legislative assistant, Gary Brown, who was also at the gala, primarily handles her social media efforts. She said Brown had denied sending the tweet, although it's possible someone else could have picked up his phone.

Brown sent a tweet from the gala from his personal account, @gbhitman, within moments of Pugh's update, but that tweet was later deleted.

Pugh's tantalizing tweet, which was sent around 10 p.m., was promptly deleted after I inquired about it to campaign spokesman Anthony McCarthy.

But the local political twitterati had already spotted it and started a local internet meme. So far today, people have tweeted "mmm mmm good looking men here," from an airport, a bathroom mirror and even a church.

Pugh said her first inclination was to shut down her Twitter account, which is only followed by about 200 people. She has only been tweeting a few months, and while she occasionally sends updates herself, such as when her bills were passed in the General Assembly, staffers write most of the tweets.

McCarthy said he is "narrowing in" how the tweet was sent and that he has changed the passwords and limited access to Pugh's social media accounts.

Incidentally, Pugh was not the only mayoral candidate to tweet from the Associated Black Charities gala. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and former city planning director Otis Rolley III were there as well.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 1:12 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

June 11, 2011

Van Hollen calls for Weiner's resignation

Rep. Chris Van Hollen joined a growing chorus of congressional Democrats Saturday who are calling on fellow Democrat Rep. Anthony Weiner to resign after the New York lawmaker acknowledged sending racy pictures of himself over the social networking site Twitter.

“Anthony Weiner’s repeated violation of the public trust is unacceptable," the Montgomery County lawmaker said in a statement. "He can best advance the issues he fought for by resigning immediately.”

Van Hollen, the first Maryland Democrat to call for Weiner's ouster, issued his statement on the same day that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz also called for him to step down.

The outrage followed the latest revelation in the case: Police have interviewed a 17-year-old girl in Delaware about online contact she had with Weiner. The congressman has said those communications were "neither explicit nor indecent."

Posted by John Fritze at 2:57 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Washington

June 10, 2011

In-state tuition petitioners call their process sound

The Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the group behind the effort to repeal in-state tuition for illegal immigrants are sparring over the website used in the signature-gathering process -- in what could be a preview of court battles to come.

The ACLU said in a release today that concerns that the website,, is "illegal and vulnerable to fraud," led the group ask the State Board of Elections to "scrutinize" its legality. (Here's a link to the 20-page letter.)

"Online systems for signature gathering in support of a petition drive are new to Maryland, and raise serious questions about whether election officials can meaningfully scrutinize the authenticity of signatures, verify each signer’s intent, and investigate possible acts of fraud," Deborah Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland, said in a statement.

Del. Neil Parrott, creator of the website and a leader in the petition drive, fired back that the ACLU's allegations are "baseless" and said "Maryland citizens have a constitutional right to continue to sign the petition online."

The Washington County Republican also called the ACLU "hypocritical" for questioning the petition-signer validation process when the same group frequently calls for lesser voter identification standards at the polls. 

The back-and-forth comes as the Elections Board is in the process of validating the first round of signatures submitted by the group. About 18,000 were due at the end of May, and the board reported today that 44,000 have been deemed valid.

That's nearly 80 percent of the overall requirement; 55,736 must be submitted by the end of this month. If the petition is successful, Maryland voters would decide in November 2012 whether the state should give in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants.

The petition is a reaction to a law passed this year by the General Assembly. It would provide the discounted tuition to undocumented students who have attended at least three years of high school in Maryland and whose parents have filed tax returns. The law is due to take effect July 1, but a successful petition drive would stop it in its tracks. 

The ACLU's letter to the board, and its press release, could be a signal that the pro-tuition forces are gearing up for a court battle over the petition.

"The online petition system at could be highly susceptible to fraud," the ACLU said in a statement. "Any user who knows the name, zip code, and birth date of an individual can easily generate a petition for that person, forge the individual’s signature, and fraudulently verify the petition on the individual’s behalf."

"Maryland law prohibits the use of “pre-filled” petition forms such as those generated by the website, instead requiring that each signer of a petition personally provide the relevant information about himself or herself," the ACLU continues.

Parrott said he consulted with the Board of Elections as he developed the website and predicted it will withstand scrutiny. He says the ACLU's move "seems to be their opening salvo to a planned lawsuit."

"The law that they point to clearly states that the information on the form may be typed or handwritten," Parrott writes in a statement. "Nowhere in the law does it indicate that a signer cannot be aided by someone filling in the information for them."
Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:39 PM | | Comments (42)
Categories: Immigration

O'Malley announces deals with Vietnam businesses

Gov. Martin O'Malley, nearing the end of his trade mission to Asia, announced four new business agreements between Maryland companies and their counterparts in Vietnam on Friday.

Half of the agreements involved Maryland firms working with state-owned enterprises in Vietnam. These include Marlin Steel Wire Products, a Baltimore company that manufactures wire baskets that inked a “business collaboration agreement” with Inox Hoa Binh, a steel production and fabrication firm.

Marlin Steel CEO Drew Greenblatt, one of 68 business leaders, educators and state officials traveling with the governor, said before they left that he would not come home empty-handed.

“Because the governor is with us, doors are going to be opened,” he predicted.

O'Malley also discussed trade with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in Hanoi, his office said, and signed a memorandum of understanding between Maryland and the Vietnamese Ninh Thaun Province to explore a sister state relationship to promote trade, investment and educational and cultural exchanges.

The governor’s office said it was the first such agreement between a Vietnamese province and a U.S. state.

Maryland maintains trade offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The state exported more than $25 million in goods and services to Vietnam last year, O’Malley’s office said, and imported more than $156 million in goods including furniture, apparel and wax products from the Southeast Asian nation.

Other deals announced Friday by O’Malley:

Rockville-based AmeriSure Pharmaceuticals, one of a few U.S. companies licensed to distribute pharmaceutical products in Vietnam, will collaborate with VIMEDIMEX, a state-owned pharmaceutical firm.

Rockville-based MIH-IDI Capital Group, a joint venture of Meiwah International Holdings and the Maryland Center for Foreign Investment, signed an agreement to use Vietnamese Rising Sun Home Co. as an “agent to attract investment.”

Howard County's Blue Wing Environmental Solutions and Technologies, which sells “floating islands” of greenery to help pull nitrates and other pollutants out of dity waters, received a commitment that the Vietnam Natural Resources and Environmental Corporation will promote its products.

In China last week, the governor announced $45 million worth of deals. The delegation visited South Korea before flying to Vietnam. O'Malley is scheduled to return to Maryland on Saturday.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:16 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Administration, Money and Business

Pugh forms commission to study property tax cuts

State Sen. Catherine Pugh, a candidate for mayor, announced this morning that she was forming a commission to study how to cut the city's property tax rate in half over four years, but did not detail specific steps to reduce the rate.

"I'm saying to the people of Baltimore that this property tax reduction is going to take place in my first four years in office, and if it doesn't, don't re-elect me," said Pugh, who spoke in front of a block of abandoned homes on Barclay Street in East Baltimore.

"This is an opportune time for Baltimore to reconfigure itself," said Pugh, adding that residents had told her the high property tax rates were causing them to move out of the city.

Media entrepreneur Dorothy Brunson and Scott Donahoo, the former owner of a chain of car dealerships, will head the commission, Pugh said.

Pugh said she would release some parts of a plan to lower property taxes in the coming week, but that the total plan would likely not be completed before the September primary.

Pugh is the latest challenger to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to declare lowering the city's property tax rate -- twice that of surrounding jurisdictions -- a priority. Former city planning director Otis Rolley III, Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors Joseph T. "Jody" Landers and City Councilman Carl Stokes have all stressed that lowering the rate will attract new residents to the city.

Rawlings-Blake has formed a task force to draw up a 10-year financial plan for the city. She has said she hopes to reduce property taxes over time, but characterizes her challengers' promises of immediate property tax reduction as unrealistic.

Donahoo, who had considered a mayoral bid last year, said that he had decided to support Pugh after learning about her goals and plans for the city. Brunson is the former owner of a media company and a longtime Pugh supporter.

After the press conference, one of the block's few remaining residents denounced the Housing Authority of Baltimore City for trying to spur her to move. Willinette Williams said she had rented her home from the HABC for 39 years and raised 11 kids there.

"This is my home. I've been here all my years," said Williams, tears trickling down her cheeks. "It's not fair."

Posted by Julie Scharper at 11:11 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

June 9, 2011

Pugh to unveil plan to cut property taxes in half

Update: A spokesman for Sen. Catherine Pugh's campaign clarified that she will share only a component of her plan tomorrow.

Pugh will discuss "a component of the plan that includes calling on the leadership of Scott Donahoo, Dr. Dorothy Brunson and other leading business persons, economists, accountants and other financial experts," said spokesman Anthony McCarthy.

Original post:
State Sen. Catherine Pugh, who announced last week that she is running for mayor, plans to reveal a plan tomorrow morning to cut the city's property tax rate in half in four years.

"The citizens of Baltimore cannot wait another decade for property tax relief," Pugh said in a statement. Lower property taxes will assist in "repopulating our city, helping grow business investment, and encourage employment opportunities."

Pugh will be joined at the announcement by media executive and longtime friend Dorothy Brunson and Scott Donahoo, the former owner of a chain of car dealerships who had also contemplated a run for mayor late last year.

At least three other candidates who are challenging Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for the city's top office have also stressed the importance of lowering property tax rates: former city planning director Otis Rolley, Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors vice president Joseph T. "Jody" Landers and City Councilman Carl Stokes.

Rawlings-Blake told WBAL's Jayne Miller earlier this week that dramatically lowering property taxes is a "pie in the sky idea."

Rawlings-Blake says that she has formed a task force to draw up a 10-year financial plan for the city that includes lowering property taxes.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 5:40 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

Pro-choice women's group endorses Rawlings-Blake

Emily's List, a group that encourages the political careers of pro-choice female Democrats, endorsed today Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's campaign to retain her office.

"As mayor, Stephanie has worked to build economic development, create jobs, and provide opportunities for her constituents," Jonathan Parker, Political Director of EMILY’s List, said in a statement. "A groundbreaking mayor, Stephanie is the only African-American female mayor out of the nation’s 100 largest cities."

"Baltimore is home to some amazing women who wake up every morning ready to do everything in their power to create a better life for their families," Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. " These women can count on me to make the same type of tough decisions as mayor so that our families can have better schools, safer streets and stronger neighborhoods.”

Emily's List cited in the statement a contentious 2009 Rawlings-Blake initiative that required crisis pregnancy centers that do not perform abortions to post signs saying that they did not offer those services. A federal judge struck down that law in January, saying that it violated the centers' First Amendment rights. The city filed an appeal of the ruling about a month ago.

Backers of the law said that the centers had provided deceptive information; the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which filed suit against the city, said that being forced to post signs infringed on the centers' right to free speech.

Rawlings-Blake has previously been endorsed by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Del. Keiffer Mitchell and the local health care workers union of the SEIU.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 4:29 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

McDonough wants more time for petition drives

Del. Patrick McDonough, a key Republican behind a popular effort to stop in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, said Maryland should give petition drives more time and fewer deadlines.

The Baltimore County conservative stalwart says petitioners should have 90 days, instead of 60, to collect the 55,000-plus signatures needed to get a referendum on the ballot. He also wants to do away with the rule requiring one-third of the signatures in the first 30 days.

His timing might seem odd: This week, the Board of Elections validated more than enough signatures to keep the in-state tuition referendum alive. In fact, in his release today,. McDonough notes that the group has more than 40,000 valid signatures -- well over the 18,000 that were due May 31 and closing in on the 55,736 needed by the end of this month.

But McDonough said that while "passion" and Internet prowess (the group has collected thousands of valid signatures though its have given this particular referendum drive a boost, the time is right to revisit the referendum process.

"We're succeeding in spite of the system," he said. "This is the opportune time" to try to change the rules for petitions "because it's going to be on people's minds."

If the in-state tuition referendum is certified, Maryland voters will decide in November 2012 whether to repeal a new law that provides in-state tuition for undocumented students who have attended at least three years of high school in the state and whose families have paid taxes.

McDonough said he would file legislation to alter petition drives either in this fall's special session or in the regular session that begins in January. 

"The Maryland petition process is one of the toughest in the nation," he said. He said the state  -- which does not give citizens the power to recall elected officials or propose new laws at the ballot box -- should do more to empower citizens.

Past efforts to ease the rules on petition drives, give voters recall powers and institute ballot initiatives all have failed in the General Assembly. If McDonough's bill succeeds, it would then need voter approval, as it is a change to the state constitution.

Petitioners have long complained -- and filed lawsuits -- about the strict rules on signature validation. The state's highest court has determined that a petition signer's printed name must match or nearly match what he or she used to register to vote.

For example, someone registered as John Arnold Doe would have to sign either using that full name, John A. Doe or J. Arnold Doe. John Doe would be deemed invalid. However, the Court of Appeals ruled in March that it's OK to have a sloppy signature.

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

Balto. County Council members release tuition statement

Five Baltimore County Council members -- Vicki Almond, Cathy Bevins, Todd Huff, David Marks and John Olszewski Sr. -- have released a statement calling on residents to support the petition drive to repeal a new state law on in-state tuition for undocumented students, joining commissioners in Frederick and Carroll counties. According to the statement:

"A majority of the Council sees this issue in terms of its cost to Baltimore County citizens during very challenging economic times," said John Olszewski, Sr., Chairman of the County Council. "This law is just unfair to the hardworking citizens of the Seventh District whom I represent."

"Unless it is rejected by the voters, this law may well increase the cost of a college education for Baltimore County families who obey the law and follow appropriate procedures," said Todd Huff, Councilman for the Third District. "At the same time, it will reward illegal behavior and provide an incentive to attract more illegal immigration."

"This is an issue that has resonated with the public, particularly in Baltimore County, which is leading the state in petition signatures. The support for a referendum on this law transcends party and social lines," said David Marks, Councilman for the Fifth District.

"Although S.B. 167 is a state issue, this law involves an important and emotionally charged subject for Baltimore County residents, who will bear the cost of in-state tuition subsidies," said Sixth District Councilwoman Cathy Bevins. "I believe it would be appropriate to let the voters make the ultimate decision."

Posted by Raven Hill at 1:19 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

Oliver, Quirk decline to support in-state tuition petition

Baltimore County Council members Kenneth N. Oliver and Tom Quirk said today they will not join their colleagues in supporting a petition against a new state law that gives discounted in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.

"I think that we are only looking at part of the bill, not the whole bill," said Oliver, noting that an undocumented student would need to have attended a Maryland high school and provide proof that their parents filed state taxes. "If their parents are paying taxes to the state of Maryland, I don't see where there's a major problem."

Quirk said he views immigration issues as state and federal matters. "The county really doesn't have anything to do with this."

The students would qualify for in-state tuition rates at a community college. After completing two years, he or she could transfer to a four-year institution and again pay the in-state rate.

Council members were told last month that only 20 students in the county would qualify, Oliver said.

The county has gathered the most signatures in the petition drive to place the Dream Act on the 2012 ballot, according to a statement issued last night by Tony Campbell, chairman of the county Republican Central Committee. The statement notes:

According to the State Board of Elections, Baltimore County was the top jurisdiction with 14,494 signatures for the petition drive to place the Dream Act on the 2012 ballot. ...

In Baltimore County, the effort took off with the Towson Town Spring Festival the weekend of April 30 – May 1st with an estimated 2,000 signatures collected in 15 hours. According to State Board of Elections data, volunteers in Baltimore County including current and former Central Committee members, grass roots activists and Republican elected officials were successful in having 12,043 signatures validated or 83% of the total signatures turned into the SBE.

“The petition is well on its way to achieve its goal of putting this terrible law passed on the last day of the legislative session before the people of Maryland,” said Tony Campbell, Chairman of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee. “However, we cannot rest on our success. The deadline for the remaining 24,720 is only 3 weeks away. The goal of acquiring 100,000 signatures across this great state will send a message to Annapolis that the people of Maryland are paying attention to what they are doing and will stand up and fight for the rule of law.”

Posted by Raven Hill at 10:03 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Baltimore County

June 8, 2011

Balto. County Council members support tuition petition

A majority of the Baltimore County Council plans to issue a statement as early as Thursday morning expressing support for a petition that seeks to halt a new state law giving discounted in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, according to Republican Todd Huff.

Republican David Marks said he has already signed the petition.

Huff said he is "strongly opposed" to the bill and supports efforts to put the issue to a referendum.

"I do feel it's going to have an economic impact on local jurisdictions," he said. "We depend on tuition to help fund our community college. Where they lack the funds, we have to supplement, and in these economic times that's not good."

Posted by Raven Hill at 6:27 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Affordable housing bill clears hurdle

An effort to indefinitely extend a Baltimore law that requires developers to build affordable housing units along with market-rate homes received the backing of a key City Council committee today, although it's unclear how the measure will fare when the full council takes it up Monday.

The 2007 law, which was championed by Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, requires developers to set aside a certain percentage of homes, condominiums or apartments to be sold or rented at lower rates for large developments that receive significant public subsidies or meet other criteria.

Only one development project, Union Mill in Hampden, has triggered the terms of the law, resulting in the construction of 10 affordable units. Seawall Development, the builders of that project, also tapped into the city's affordable housing fund to construct 20 units in other projects.

Affordable housing advocates say the law was watered down in 2007 when the council -- following recommendations of a panel of developers -- passed nearly 100 amendments, including some which slowed the implementation of the law.

Mel Freeman, the executive director of the Citizens' Planning and Housing Association a major proponent of the measure, is lobbying council members to extend the law indefinitely. He hopes to then amend the law to make it apply to more projects.

The bill was "beat up pretty bad in 2007," he said. "Getting the sunset removed gives us time to go back to the table and work on those amendments."

The law was intended to open opportunities for low-income residents to live in neighborhoods where they have access to quality schools, grocery stores, parks and other amenities, he said.

"The issue is quality affordable housing," said Tammy Mayer, community engagement director for Citizens Planning and Housing Association. "If you segregate all your affordable housing in one area, you wind up with ghettos."

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who voted to repeal a provision that would have repealed the law next year, said the law "deserves to have a wide horizon of time" to demonstrate its efficacy.

Council Vice President Edward Reisinger, who chairs the Transportation and Land Use committee, voted in favor of the bill, but said he planned to introduce an amendment to it on Monday.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is pushing for the bill to sunset in 2020, a spokesman said.

Rawlings-Blake "supports an extension of law to July 2020 which would give more time for the housing market to recover and give the City a better understanding the of effectiveness of the ordinance in providing affordable housing opportunities," spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said in an email.

The city's planning and housing departments recommended that the law be extended for a finite period. The finance department wrote in a letter to council members that the law is "neither cost-effective nor sustainable," noting that it had yielded 20 housing units at a cost of approximately $87,500 per unit.

Four members of the council's Land Use and Transportation Committee voted to support the indefinite extension: Reisinger, Clarke, Bill Henry, Sharon Green Middleton and Warren Branch. Two members, Belinda Conaway and James B. Kraft, were not present for the vote.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 5:09 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: City Hall

City approves $99K more for Grand Prix work

The city spending board voted today to allocate an additional $98,800 for infrastructure improvements related to the Grand Prix race.

The money, which was primarily drawn from federal funds, will be used for construction management and inspections, said transportation department spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes.

The five members of the Board of Estimates, who include Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Comptroller Joan Pratt, voted unanimously to approve the expenditure.

The city had allocated $7.75 million for road construction to transform two miles of streets ringing the Inner Harbor into a race course for the three day open-wheeled racing festival, which is scheduled for the Labor Day long weekend.

The city previously awarded a $4.2 million contract to contractor P. Flanigan & Sons for road work related to the race. The construction management contract was awarded to Whitman, Requardt & Associates.

Crews shutdown Conway Street earlier this week for construction related to the race and it is expected to remain closed for two weeks. Transportation officials expect the roadwork to be finished by late July or early August -- around the time Jersey walls and concrete barriers start going up along the course.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 4:17 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: City Hall

June 7, 2011

In-state tuition foes reach first signature goal

Conservative advocates trying to repeal a law that grants new privileges to illegal immigrants came a step closer to their goal this morning when state officials said the group surpassed a preliminary target.

The advocates are trying to gather enough signatures to halt a new state law that grants discounted in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. If they present the State Board of Elections with enough valid signatures by the end of the month the law will be put on hold and the issue will go to the voters on the 2012 ballot.

State officials this morning verified 21,919 of the 62,500 signatures that were submitted on May 31. Officials are still sorting through signatures submitted, so the number of acceptable signatures is likely to grow. The group needed 18,500 valid signatures by May 31 to keep their efforts alive. Remarkably, only 3,723 signatures have been rejected so far. 

The group, led by Republican Del. Neil Parrott, will submit a second batch of signatures by the end of the month. They need 55,736, which is three percent of the turnout for the last gubernatorial election.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Immigration

Balto. County extends employee labor agreements

Three Baltimore County unions have agreed to give up cost-of-living increases in exchange for job security through 2014, yet another sign that local officials are bracing for continued tough economic times.

The county is approaching the end of a two-year agreement that required municipal and public safety employees to pay a larger share of health care costs. Unions representing 1,925 sheriff’s department workers, firefighters and some municipal employees — roughly a quarter of the county’s workforce — would be affected by the contract extension, which was announced Tuesday by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

The two largest unions — the police union and the county Federation of Public Employees, which represents most government workers — have not agreed on contract extensions.

Negotiations are underway with the county Federation of Public Employees and county Federation of Public Health Nurses. The county has not started negotiating with the police union, its largest bargaining unit.

Employees in the three unions will receive scheduled increment and longevity increases, and they will not be laid off or furloughed. However, employees in the sheriff’s department and firefighters hired after July 1 will contribute more to their pension plans.

“I applaud the leaders of these labor organizations for recognizing that there is no more important issue facing government today than the creation of a benefit structure that is affordable and sustainable,” Kamenetz said in a news release. “These agreements will help Baltimore County navigate the very difficult years ahead.”

Michael Day, president of the Baltimore County Professional Fire Fighters Association, credited Kamenetz with helping to facilitate the agreement in the release.

“He and his team have hit the ground running,” said Day, whose union also represents paramedics.

The county executive said previously that locking up contract extensions early would be a priority. The current agreement expires June 30, 2012.

Posted by Raven Hill at 1:36 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Kamenetz's cabinet now complete

With the approval last night of Daniel C. Gundersen as director of economic development, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s cabinet is now complete.

The County Council unanimously approved the appointment. Gundersen previously served as senior advisor for Philadelphia-based Econsult Corporation and as Maryland’s assistant secretary for business development in the early 2000s.

He will replace David Iannucci, who is now working in Prince George’s County. Gundersen, who will earn $185,000, in his new role, discussed his goals with the council last week.

Posted by Raven Hill at 10:51 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

June 6, 2011

Supreme Court tosses challenge to Calif. tuition law

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a challenge to a California law that allows illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition rates, a decision that gave a boost to supporters of a similar law approved this year in Maryland.

California’s 2001 law, which grants in-state college rates to students who attended a California high school for three years and graduate, was challenged by a conservative immigration group that argued the provision conflicted with federal law. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case and did not comment on that decision.

A California court had previously upheld the law.

The law is similar to one signed in May by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. Opponents of Maryland’s law are attempting to gather 56,000 signatures to suspend its provisions and put it on the ballot so that voters can decide its fate next year. Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin have comparable tuition laws.

Opponents said last week they had cleared an early hurdle in the petition drive, securing more than the 18,500 signatures initially needed to keep the effort alive. Del. Patrick L. McDonough, has said he expects opponents will also file a lawsuit to stop the law. McDonough, a Baltimore County Republican, was not immediately available for comment.

Those in favor of the law cheered the court’s decision.

The state law "is absolutely lawful under federal law and the California decision is just one more in a litany of court finding making that declaration," said Kim Propeack with the immigration advocacy group CASA de Maryland.

The decision “is good news for supporters of in state tuition,” said Wendy Sefsaf , a spokeswoman with the Washington-based Immigration Policy Center. “It's also good news for those who believe these young students who were brought to the U.S. at a young age and educated in our schools should be able to finish their educations so they can be more productive and contributing citizens.”

Del. Neil C. Parrot, a Washington County Republican, said he agrees with the Supreme Court decision not to hear the case because, he said, federal courts should not weigh in on what is essentially a state issue. He said he does not believe the case will have any significant impact on his effort to overturn the law in Maryland.

"We're confident that the people of Maryland are not going to support this bill," he said.

Posted by John Fritze at 1:33 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington

Cardin calls on Biden to drop GOP Medicare plan

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin was one of five Senate Democrats -- all of whom are up for reelection next year -- to sign a letter to Vice President Joe Biden asking that the Republican plan to overhaul Medicare be taken off the table as part of the ongoing White House deficit talks.

The Medicare proposal, crafted by House Republican Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan and passed by the House in April, would provide seniors federal subsidies to purchase private health insurance -- a change that would save money by requiring seniors to pay a higher share of their healthcare costs.

Democrats have attacked the idea for weeks and have already used the issue once successfully as a campaign theme to win a special election in New York last month. At the same time, Democrats -- including President Barack Obama -- have acknowledged that entitlement reform of some kind will be necessary to address the nation’s debt.

“This proposal would never pass Congress on its own, and it does not belong in a larger deal either,” Cardin and the other Democrats wrote Biden. “It would be devastating for America’s seniors, who would see their out-of-pocket costs for health care double and the benefits they currently enjoy jeopardized.”

Biden is leading a series of closed-door negotiations with a bipartisan group of lawmakers intended to find a compromise on federal spending that can clear the way for Congress to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit by August. It’s not clear that the GOP Medicare proposal has been a part of those discussions.

The other Democratic senators who signed the letter include Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana and Bill Nelson of Florida.

The full letter follows:

Dear Vice President Biden,

It has come to our attention that the bipartisan working group you are leading is making considerable progress in identifying ways to reduce the deficit. We are encouraged by the progress being made in these negotiations and stand ready to work with you towards the passage of a responsible deficit reduction package that will set our nation on a healthy fiscal course.

But as the working group moves beyond areas of consensus and into parts of the budget that will require the toughest choices, we wish to identify in advance one proposal that we cannot support in any form—the House-passed plan to dismantle Medicare.

As you know, the House-passed budget would end Medicare as we know it by destroying the guaranteed-benefit system and instead requiring seniors to enter the private insurance market. Despite the public’s overwhelming rejection of this proposal, and even after the Senate vote against it last week, many top congressional leaders are now saying they want the plan included as part of a package to reduce the deficit. Just last week, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan declared that the plan to dismantle Medicare is “part of the debt ceiling talks.” Then on Sunday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell echoed that it is “on the table.”

This proposal would never pass Congress on its own, and it does not belong in a larger deal either. It would be devastating for America’s seniors, who would see their out-of-pocket costs for health care double and the benefits they currently enjoy jeopardized. Under this risky proposal, insurance company bureaucrats would decide what care seniors get.

We are aware the administration has rejected this proposal since its passage by the House, and we applaud your efforts to educate the American people about its serious implications. We encourage you to remain unwavering in opposition to this scheme. For the good of the nation’s seniors, it must remain off the table.

We share the goal of ensuring the long-term health of Medicare. We hope to identify delivery system reforms and other sources of savings that can extend the life of Medicare in its current form. But we will never allow any effort to dismantle the program and force benefit cuts upon seniors under the guise of deficit reduction. Our nation’s seniors are not responsible for the fiscal challenges we face, and they should not be responsible for shouldering the burden of reducing our deficits.

Thank you again for your leadership in these budget talks and for your continued work standing up on behalf of the nation’s seniors.


Senator Ben Cardin
Senator Sherrod Brown
Senator Claire McCaskill
Senator Jon Tester
Senator Bill Nelson

Posted by John Fritze at 10:11 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

June 3, 2011

Lobbyist joining O'Malley on Asia trade mission

Baltimore Sun colleagues Hanah Cho and Jean Marbella report:

The delegation accompanying Gov. Martin O’Malley on his Asian trade mission includes at least one lobbyist. And the e-mail from her Annapolis firm this week was almost boastful.

“As far as we know, Hannah is the only registered lobbyist on the trip and we are extraordinary pleased that she has a chance to represent our client and our firm,” the chief operating officer of the government relations division at Alexander & Cleaver wrote to clients.

“If you have any important messages that you want her to deliver to the Governor, please contact her before Sunday!”

On Friday, ethics advocates said the participation of a lobbyist in the governor’s 10-day trip to China, Korea and Vietnam raises questions, rival lobbyists said it was unusual, and a spokesman for O’Malley called the e-mail Thursday by Robin F. Shaivitz “unfortunate.”

Lobbyist Hannah Powers, who plans to join the delegation for the Korean leg of the trip next week, said there was nothing improper about her participation. She said she will be traveling with client Jim Oberhaus of JX3 Energy, a Cumberland firm looking to expand its relationship with a Korean steel maker. She said her firm would pay her expenses.

“I’m strictly going for JX3 Energy and we’re looking for improving economic development in Western Maryland through our partnership with POSCO,” Powers said. “To me, it makes perfect sense.”

Shaivitz, meanwhile, called her e-mail “innocuous.” She said she sends a weekly message to clients.

“If you have good will, pass it along – that was what I meant by it,” she told a Baltimore Sun reporter. “You’re reading a lot more into it than I gave thought to it.”

She said she had not received any messages from clients for the governor.

A spokesman for O’Malley called the e-mail “an unfortunate example of the firm attempting to promote itself with regard to this trip.”

“The fact of the matter is this particular lobbyist is on the trip representing her client and her client’s interests in the Far East,” spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said. “Beyond that, she will have limited interaction with the governor.”

O’Malley is leading 68 business leaders, educators and state officials on the mission to bolster trade between the state and the fast-growing region. In Shanghai on Thursday, he announced that the state and several Maryland companies secured deals with Chinese firms worth more than $45 million.

An official with the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development said the private firms participating in the trip were selected because they have existing ventures in Asia or a serious interest in doing business there.

JX3 Energy mines and exports metallurgic coal to POSCO, which uses it to make steel.

Several groups recommended delegation members, said Signe Pringle, director of the Office of International Investment and Trade at DBED.

The delegation members from private firms, including Powers and Oberhaus, are paying their own expenses, officials and participants said.

The trip is expected to cost the state around $100,000, which covers travel costs for O’Malley, DBED Secretary Christian S. Johansson, Secretary of State John McDonough and other state officials, Abbruzzese said.

“We were mindful of the positive impact that the trade mission could have for the region, and we were very mindful of those costs and did what we could do to reduce the costs, like the delegation traveling coach,” Abbruzzese said.

Officials at DBED said Friday that they did not know whether lobbyists had joined overseas trade missions in the past. Lobbyists contacted by The Sun said Powers’ participation was at least unusual, but none was willing to comment on the record.

“My parents taught me that if I have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” the ordinarily voluble Bruce Bereano said.

Susan Wichmann, the executive director of the government ethics watchdog Common Cause Maryland, said the inclusion of the lobbyist raised questions about how participants were selected and what qualifications she brought.

Wichmann wondered what expenses Powers would have to report under state ethics law, which requires lobbyists to report what they spend on, say, food or gifts that they purchase for government officials.

Wichmann said she wasn’t surprised that Powers’s firm touted her access to the governor.

“I don’t think it’s surprising they would send out a message to their clients,” she said. “That’s the business lobbying firms are in.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 8:09 PM | | Comments (0)

Delegation splits on Libya votes

Maryland’s delegation split along party lines over two votes in the House of Representatives Friday that addressed U.S. involvement in the Libyan conflict – and, in an unusual twist, the state’s two Republicans supported a measure drafted by one of the most liberal Democrats in Congress.

One measure, authored by Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich, would have required President Barack Obama to halt U.S. operations in Libya within 15 days. Eighty-seven Republicans – including Maryland Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett and Andy Harris – sided with 61 Democrats to support that measure. The proposal ultimately failed, 148-265.

“The only truly constitutional option available today was the resolution introduced by Congressman Kucinich,” said Bartlett, who had previously called Obama’s decision to deploy U.S. forces in Libya without congressional authorization “an affront” to the Constitution. “I am opposed to how
the United States military was ordered into war with Libya.”

Five of the state’s six Democratic lawmakers opposed the proposal. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer did not vote. He later released a statement saying he opposes the measure.

A second proposal, put forward by Republican House Speaker John Boehner, requires the White House to inform Congress on the scope and costs of the effort in Libya. That measure passed on a 268-145 vote, with both Maryland Republicans in support and the state’s Democrats opposed.

Republicans and some Democrats have expressed concern that Obama did not seek approval from Congress before initiating a bombing campaign in Libya in March. The White House has argued that the ongoing military effort is being led by NATO, not the U.S., and that administration officials have regularly briefed lawmakers.

“While I certainly agree the United States should not put boots on the ground in Libya, I did not support either of these resolutions,” Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat, said in a statement. “I believe they both unnecessarily tie the president’s hands, undermine the mission and send the wrong message to our allies around the world.”

Posted by John Fritze at 6:53 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

June 2, 2011

Bartlett calls for more alternative-fuel cars

As gas prices in Maryland hover just under $4 a gallon, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill Thursday to press for legislation that would require auto manufacturers to produce more alternative-fuel vehicles.

The bill, known as the Open Fuel Standard Act, would require that 50 percent of new automobiles manufactured in 2014 be able to run on non-petroleum fuels in addition to regular gasoline. By 2017, the measure would require 97 percent of new vehicles to run on alternative fuels.

“It is a certainty that we’re going to have to be burning different fuels in the future in addition to the oil we burn now,” said the Western Maryland Republican, who has long warned of the nation’s reliance on oil.

Putting more alternative-fuel vehicles on the road would drive up demand for ethanol, methanol and other fuels, creating more competition at the pump, supporters said. Though similar proposals have been embraced by lawmakers in both parties, the idea has failed in Congress in the past – partly under pressure from the auto industry.

As currently written, the measure does not include an enforcement mechanism to penalize companies that do not comply.

Supporters hope the high price of gas can give the measure some momentum in Congress this year. The average price for regular unleaded gas in Maryland is $3.80, about two cents higher than the national average, according to AAA.

“It’s a bipartisan piece of legislation whose time has come,” said Rep. John Shimkus, a Republican from Illinois.

Posted by John Fritze at 2:51 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Washington

June 1, 2011

Former Balto. County Exec. joins son's law firm

Former Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. has joined his son at the Towson law firm of Smith, Gildea & Schmidt.

According to a release from the firm:

Smith will serve as “of Counsel,” assisting in complex litigation and business matters, administrative law and governmental affairs. Smith will be working with Smith, Gildea & Schmidt’s 11 attorneys, including his son, Michael Paul Smith.

“I have been blessed with many opportunities in the past, but I always wanted to be a part of building a premier law firm. Joining my son and Smith, Gildea & Schmidt will give me that opportunity,” said Jim Smith.

David Gildea and Michael Paul Smith, who have done work for local developers, held fundraisers for two County Council members last fall, Cathy Bevins and Tom Quirk. Though some criticized the lawyers' contributions, both lawmakers said they would not feel beholden to developers.

Development -- along with the influence of developers -- is a constant issue in races for County Council, where members who propose zoning changes in their own districts are generally not challenged by other members. Rezoning takes place every four years, with the next one due in 2012.

The firm, which specializes in land-use law, includes former county zoning commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt.

Michael Paul Smith moved to Gildea’s firm in January from the Reisterstown office of Bodie, Dolina, Smith & Hobbs. He said in the release he was excited to work with his father.

“Though I was fortunate to serve as his campaign manager in his first election as county executive, I have always hoped we would someday have the chance to work together in law, something that is a passion for both of us.”

A two-term county executive, Smith left the County Council after seven years in 1985 when he was appointed to the Circuit Court.

He graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law and has served on various boards and organizations.

Posted by Raven Hill at 3:23 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County
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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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