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August 31, 2011

Md. firm part of White House push on highways

As President Barack Obama Wednesday called on Congress to pass a transportation funding bill next month, he also named two employees of a Sparks-based engineering firm whose jobs could be affected by the legislative effort.

Adam Vencill and Chris Negley, both senior inspectors for KCI Technologies, stood on stage with Obama during the Rose Garden event as examples of transportation workers who could be furloughed if lawmakers fail to advance a highway bill by Sept. 30.

Weeks after Congress left Washington without extending funding for the Federal Aviation Administration – a move that put thousands of government employees and contractors out of work – Obama pressed lawmakers to find a compromise on highway funding to avoid a similar showdown.

“If we don’t extend this bill by the end of September, all of them will be out of a job -- just because of politics in Washington,” Obama said, citing Vencill and Negley by name. “And that's just not acceptable… It's inexcusable to put more jobs at risk in an industry that’s already been one of the hardest hit over the last decade. “

KCI Technologies, founded in 1955, has more than 850 employees, about half of whom are based in Maryland, said CEO Terry F. Neimeyer. The company performs engineering and inspection services for state, federal and private transportation projects, he said.

“If Sept. 30 rolls around and they don't reauthorize this, they would turn these projects off ,” said Neimeyer, who is also the chairman of the American Council of Engineering Companies, the industry’s national lobbying arm. “In doing so, we would take these actively employed, taxpaying, good people and make them temporarily unemployed. That isn't good for anyone.”

Transportation groups are pushing Congress for a long-term highway funding bill after years of stop-gap extensions. But when lawmakers return to Washington next month, they will have only a few weeks to broker a compromise. The House and Senate are considering widely different bills.

A major sticking point is the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal tax on gasoline that is used to pay for the construction projects.

Maryland officials have said they would need to consider halting some construction projects if the funding appeared to be in jeopardy. Maryland receives roughly $45 million a month in federal highway funds.

For Vencill, a Harford County resident, attending the event was a chance to make a political statement – but was also just a “cool experience.” Before attending the event, KCI employees and others met with Obama briefly in the Oval Office, he said.

“He shook our hands and told us how much he appreciates our work,” said Vencill, 25. The legislation, Vencill said, will “have a big impact on our lives.”

Posted by John Fritze at 3:45 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington

O'Malley assess the utilities

Gov. Martin O'Malley said this morning that he "won't be satisfied" until power across the state is restored and showed reporters that he is tracking hour-by-hour progress on outages via his iPad.

"A lot of people had 48 hours of patience," O'Malley said. "That 48 hours is up. People are getting understandably prickly."

The governor said that Pepco, which provides power to the Washington suburbs, has been "really quick" to restore power to Marylanders. The governor had strongly criticized that utility in the past, after two blizzards in 2010 knocked out power in Pepco's service area for extended periods of time.

"I bet most of the people n the Pepco area were pleasantly surprised," O'Malley said.

O'Malley also noted that the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, which serves St. Mary's, is restoring power at a healthy clip. He said that southern Maryland suffered some of the worst damage, but as of 9:25 a.m. this morning 83.5 percent of households that lost power had it back.

Looking at Baltimore County, O'Malley observed that only 73.2 percent of households with outages had power restored. "I'm not sure that [Baltimore County] was hit any stronger," O'Malley said. The area is served by Baltimore Gas and Electric.

The governor was receiving power outage data via a webtool that his office made public for the first time during Hurricane Irene. The governor noted that the data is intended to give citizens a sense for how their utilities are preforming and compare their service against others in the state.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:53 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Administration

August 30, 2011

Senate Finance Committee starts summer study

Maryland's Senate Finance Committee kicked off a series of five hearings on Gov. Martin O'Malley's off-shore wind proposal Tuesday, the beginning of a study period intended to help lawmakers hash through their concerns with the governor's bill.

The time away didn't seem to resolve any issues: Lawmakers expressed the same concerns about cost that led the committee to shelve the bill earlier this year.

O'Malley, a Democrat, has proposed authorizing a wind farm in the waters off Ocean City. The legislation would allow the state's Public Service Commission to enter long term contracts with wind energy developers, making energy deals that would increase ratepayer costs -- at least in the short term. Wind energy is more expensive than traditional energy sources because of the high development costs.

During today's hearing Sen. Allan Kittleman, a Howard County Republican, wanted to know why Maryland should be on the leading edge of the off-shore wind industry. "Why not wait for other states?" Kittleman asked. Over time the costs associated with wind energy are projected to decline as technology improves.

Jim Lanard, the President of the Offshore Wind Developers Coalition, said that speedy passage of the legislation would put Maryland on the "vanguard" of a developing field and guarantee jobs for the state. He said that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, is backing off-shore wind in his state purely for the economic development benefits.


But Kittleman and others were skeptical: How would it be possible to be sure that any new wind turbine manufacturing plant would locate in Maryland? What about Virginia? Or Pennsylvania? 

Wind proponents say that any new plant in the region would have benefits for Maryland, an explanation that Kittleman cast aside with a quick quip. "Yes," Kittleman said, "Kind of like a 'regional win?' " (The Republican Senator was referencing O'Malley's spin when defense contractor Northop Grumman picked Virginia as its corporate headquarters over Maryland.) 

Lawmakers also raised a concern that a federal loan guarantee program for off-shore wind projects has been gutted, which would increase the costs of borrowing money for a new wind project and therefore further increase the financial burden to ratepayers. "It raises an additional hurdle," said Sen. EJ Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican. 

Lanard argued that the price of wind -- free -- is far more stable than fossil fuels which are being depleted. Overtime, he argued, wind would help stabilize energy prices if included in the state's portfolio. 

And there are other benefits, he said. Climate change, rising sea levels and energy independence can all be addressed by developing a wind energy industry, he said. Europe and China, he said, are looking to wind for those reason.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:15 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Administration

O'Malley and other pols earn kudos for storm react

In addition to the national attention lavished on Gov. Martin O'Malley and other state leaders for their handling of Hurricane Irene, Maryland's governor got a nod from inside-the-beltway publication Politico.

The politics-obsessed news organization listed O'Malley among four East Coast governors who passed an executive leadership test administered by Irene.

"With the memory of Hurricane Katrina forever serving as an object lesson in crisis management gone awry, the group of potential 2016 contenders whose states stud the coastline—Republicans Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie and Democrats Andrew Cuomo and Martin O’Malley—appear to have endured Hurricane Irene with burnished reputations after an uncommonly ferocious storm where executive missteps could have cost even more lives," according to Politico's Maggie Haberman.

The Sun wrote today about the hurricane's silver lining, which also illuminated Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. The hurricane was the topic of O'Mallely's first appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, which he did from storm-watch headquarters at the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.  

Of course Irene's test is not quite over. Hundreds of thousand of Marylanders remain without power and are losing patience. O'Malley and Brown are spending the day in Southern Maryland, the hardest hit part of the state, to assess damage.

O'Malley's office asked us to note that the power outages will affect the state redistricting meeting originally scheduled for this afternoon at the Anne Arundel Community College. The hearing has been moved to the Joint Hearing Room in the Legislative Services Building at 90 State Circle, Annapolis. The meeting will be at 4:30.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:23 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Administration

August 29, 2011

Brown gets firsthand experience with disaster recovery

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown had to step away from his position at the Maryland Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Reisterstown this afternoon to attend to his own personal disaster clean up: A flooded basement.

Brown's Prince George's County home was one of the 820,000 that lost power when Hurricane Irene barreled through the state over the weekend. While the power was out, Brown's automatic basement pump stopped working.

He estimated two inches of water have filled the basement and guessed that the carpeting would have to be ripped out.

"We are not immune to reality," Brown said. "It is what it is. We will get through it."

Brown said that he's planning to fill out insurance forms and he's kicking himself for failing to buy a generator after the basement flooded last time -- during Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:20 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Administration

O'Malley "proud" of the state

Roughly half a million Marylanders don't have power after Hurricane Irene whipped through the state, but Gov. Martin O'Malley said that on balance "we came through this very well."

Speaking briefly on WTOP radio this morning, the governor said "providence protected us" from greater destruction. "I'm very proud of our state," O'Malley said. One death in Maryland was blamed on the hurricane.

The governor said that some dialysis centers around the state still lack power and not all secondary  roads are cleared of trees and debris. The main arteries, he said, are open.

O'Malley is keeping a fairly normal schedule today. Suitably, he is set to give a speech this morning in Baltimore at a conference entitled Environmental Management of Coastal Seas. Later he is dropping by a dental clinic for low-income children in west Baltimore. (O'Malley's dental clinic event was cancelled due to power outage at the venue.)
Posted by Annie Linskey at 8:38 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

August 26, 2011

Kratovil hired in Prince George’s Co.

Reporting by Annie Linskey and John Fritze
Updated with comments from Kratovil.

Frank Kratovil, the Democrat who represented Maryland’s 1st Congressional District from 2009 through 2010, has taken a job with the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney, a spokesman for the office has confirmed.

Kratovil, a former Queen Anne’s County State’s Attorney who recently has been working for a private law firm, will oversee homicide and major crimes and will try some cases, said the spokesman, Ramon Korionoff.

He will be sworn in Aug. 31.

In recent weeks, Kratovil has flirted with making another run for Congress in 2012. It’s unclear whether his decision to take the new job in Prince George’s County -- which is outside of the 1st District -- is an indication of that possibility looking less likely.

For his part, Kratovil warned against reading anything into the new position. He noted that he had previously worked for the office as an assistant state's attorney in the mid-1990s.

"I wouldn't read anything into that," he told The Sun. "The bottom line is I'm going back to one of the things I love to do...I still haven't made a final decision" on whether to run.

The 1st District is currently held by Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican who beat Kratovil 54 percent to 42 percent last year.

Despite earlier comments by Southern Maryland Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer that the Eastern Shore seat could become competitive after this year’s redistricting process, attention in Annapolis appears to have shifted to the 6th Congressional District, which is currently held by the state’s other GOP lawmaker, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett.

The General Assembly will hold a special session in October to draw the new congressional boundaries.

Posted by John Fritze at 2:44 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Washington

O'Malley: 'No complaints' about federal response

Gov. Martin O'Malley spoke with President Barack Obama and other governors this morning about the federal response to Hurricane Irene, the mammoth storm churning toward Maryland.

O'Malley described the president and his team as "very pro-active" and said the president was "letting us know that we are all in this together."

The president reached out to "hear directly from the governors if there were any problems," O'Malley said. "He wanted to hear ahead of the storm and not after if somebody wasn't getting what they need."

O'Malley said he has "no complaints" about the federal cooperation so far.

The storm is expected to hit Maryland early Sunday morning and one path shows the eye could travel directly over Annapolis. O"Malley briefed reporters from the Maryland Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Reisterstown this morning, where he plans to spend much of the day. He is expected to give another briefing at 2:30 p.m.

The governor warned of mass power outages, downed trees and flooding and suggested that Marylanders stock up on enough essentials to last 72 hours.

Depending on the extent of damage, the storm could be the first test of a new "dual status" command structure between state and federal authorities that was finalized this summer at the National Governors Association meeting in Utah, O'Malley said.

Under the new rules a state national guard commanders can lead federal troops.  "It took a lot of hashing out," O'Malley said. The rules were put in place to avoid some of the confusion between state and federal official that contributed to the inadequate response in to Hurricane Katrina.

O'Malley also provided an update on the Ocean City evacuation, saying it is going "fairly smoothly." The governor predicted that most people would be out of the city by today's 5 p.m. deadline.

"It is becoming a bit of ghost town," O'Malley said. He's ordered 50 state troopers to help local police enforce the mandatory evacuation order that was issued yesterday. This is the first time in two decades that the city residents have been ordered to leave.

The governor had stern words for anyone who might challenge authorities, saying it is the "height of stupidity and selfishness" to "burden" first responders by ignoring the order.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:53 AM | | Comments (2)

August 25, 2011

Rolley says mayor campaigning from City Hall

Mayoral candidate Otis Rolley accused Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake today of using mounting her campaign from City Hall and using city employees and resources for her political gain.

"What we've seen in recent months... is the wholesale use and misuse of government to aid the mayor's election, and that is hurting Baltimore," Rolley said at an afternoon news conference in his Hampden campaign headquarters.

"For every moment her staff is spending on the campaign, that's one minute they are taking away from the taxpayers who pay their salaries," said Rolley.

He said he had sent letters to the city state's attorney, U.S. attorney for the State of Maryland the Office of the State Prosecutor, asking them to investigate Rawlings-Blake.

Rolley said that mayoral spokesman Ryan O'Doherty provided political information to reporters, an issue about which Sun colleague Laura Vozzella has written.

He also took exception to a campaign flier from Rawlings-Blake which included a photograph of the mayor flanked by police and firefighters after a tornado which ripped through Northeast Baltimore last fall. The photograph was taken by Marc Dennis, the city's official photographer.

Rolley criticized Rawlings-Blake for ordering the finance department to prepare a lengthy report on Councilman Carl Stokes' plan to halve property taxes. Rawlings-Blake frequently cites figures from that report when bashing her challengers' property tax plans.

A campaign spokeswoman characterized Rolley's criticism as "desperate behavior."

"Otis Rolley is out of money, out of ideas, has no political support and now he is attacking innocent people to get ahead politically. This is the same Otis Rolley who recently said that he saw no wrongdoing when he worked as Chief of Staff for Sheila Dixon," said spokeswoman Keiana Page.

O'Doherty did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mark Chesire, a spokesman for city state's attorney Gregg L. Bernstein, said that he was unable to comment on Rolley's allegations because he had not yet seen the letter.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 4:36 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

O'Malley declares state of emergency

Gov. Martin O'Malley just declared a state of emergency in preparation for Hurricane Irene, which could dump as much as a foot of rain on Maryland this weekend.

The executive order signed by the governor activates the state national guard and puts the Maryland Emergency Management Agency into high gear. The governor plans to give a news conference from the MEMA headquarters in Reisterstown later this afternoon.

States up and down the eastern seaboard are preparing for the storm, the first to threaten Maryland this year.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:36 PM | | Comments (31)
Categories: Administration

August 24, 2011

City Council candidate shot by pellet gun in Charles Village

City Council candidate Odette Ramos was shot by a pellet gun while campaigning in Charles Village last week, according to Ramos and police.

Ramos, 38, a long-time community activist who lives in Charles Village, was struck in the back and leg around 8:45 a.m. on Aug. 17.

Ramos was waving signs with a group of five campaign workers at the northwest corner of St. Paul and 25th Streets when the shots were fired. The first pellets hit her back when she spoke with a radio reporter halfway up the block, and a second volley hit her leg after she rejoined the group waving signs.

"I was definitely targeted," said Ramos. "No doubt about it."

Ramos said she did not believe that she was injured by a person associated with a rival campaign, but by a youthful troublemaker.

"This proves my point that we need more productive things to do for our kids," she said.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi confirmed that Ramos had been struck with a pellet gun, and that the "suspect shot out the window of a passing car."

Police have not identified any suspects, he said.

Ramos said that the pellets bruised her back and leg, but did not puncture her skin.

She helped found the nearby Village Learning Place, and runs a consulting business that works with progressive groups.

Ramos is vying for the 12th District council seat currently held by Carl Stokes. He canned his mayoral bid on the candidate filing deadline last month, and decided to run to represent the district, which includes portions of Charles Village, Mt. Vernon, Remington and East Baltimore.

Other challengers include Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association President Jason Curtis, who is seeking to be the council's first openly-gay member, and Maryland Institute College of Art student De'Von Brown, who was featured in the documentary, The Boys of Baraka.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 8:23 PM | | Comments (15)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

Baltimore man freed in Libya

Matthew VanDyke, the Baltimore freelance journalist who went missing in Libya in March, has escaped from an infamous prison there one day after rebel forces stormed Moammar Gadhafi’s compound in Tripoli, his family said Wednesday.

The 32-year-old VanDyke, who traveled to the war-torn country to witness the revolution for a book he is working on about the region, called his mother, Sharon VanDyke, and told her that he escaped from the Abu Salim prison where he was held for six months in solitary confinement.

"He sounded fine and said, 'Hi, mom,' saying what I wanted to hear all along," said Sharon VanDyke, the South Baltimore resident who has been a tireless advocate for her son since she lost contact with him earlier this year. "He sounded fine other than he said he thought maybe he lost his voice because he didn't have anybody to talk to for six months."

VanDyke's family, who said he is wearing prisoner's clothing as he wanders a lawless Tripoli, said he borrowed someone's phone to call home at around 2 p.m. He then called again around 2:30 p.m.

VanDyke's girlfriend, Lauren Fischer, who was the first to hear from VanDyke, described the family as "exited and relieved."

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who has been working to bring attention to VanDyke's plight for months, said he is now focused on trying to find a way to bring him back to the U.S. -- no easy task as the fledgling Transitional National Council attempts to restore order to the country.

"It's very chaotic. We still have a long way to go," Ruppersberger told The Sun. "This is really what makes this job worthwhile."

Earlier this week, there were six U.S. citizens still missing or presumed held in Libya, including VanDyke. State Department officials said Wednesday that all citizens known to be detained in Libya had been released, but said the government is still concerned for their safety.

"We are diligently working through a variety of contacts, including the Hungarian Embassy in Tripoli which serves as our protecting power, to provide assistance to those who may require it," a State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said in a statement. "To the extent possible, we are in contact with those U.S. citizens in Tripoli who have alerted us to their presence. Interruptions in communications services, however, are frequent."

The months-long military stalemate in the country has rapidly shifted in recent days after rebels, backed by NATO support, took control of Tripoli.

Posted by John Fritze at 4:47 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Washington

Minority groups want redistricting maps released soon

A coalition of African-American and minority groups called on Gov. Martin O'Malley to release his proposed redistricting maps well before the deadlines, allowing time to digest the information before lawmakers vote on the new lines.

"The public has the right to weigh in on what is being proposed," said Del. Aisha N. Braveboy, a Prince George's County Democrat.

She and others called for O'Malley to release his proposal for the Congressional map 30 days prior to the Oct. 17 special session. The group wants the governor to circulate an outline for the state legislative map 60 days before session begins in January.

Braveboy also asked O'Malley to hold townhall meetings after unveiling his maps. Those meetings would be different from the series of 12 hearings that the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee is holding around the state. 

Braveboy and others, including the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee, would like to see the state eventually elect a third minority member of Congress. They warned state leaders not to "dilute" African-American voting power with the new maps by breaking up minority communities.

Currently two of Maryland's eight members of Congress are black.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:34 PM | | Comments (0)

Md. Democrats, Va. Republicans exchange barbs

Maryland's Democratic Party shot back at the Virginia Republicans this morning, taking the Old Dominions to task for a news release they issued assailing Gov. Martin O'Malley's ability to handle the state budget.

"Bob McDonnell and Virginia Republicans tout their accomplishments but – as often with the GOP - the facts tell another story," said Maryland Democratic Party Executive Director David Sloan in a statement. "Rather than investing in Virginia’s future, McDonnell has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars from schools, colleges and universities, and cut funding by a third for EMTs, police officers and firefighters. "

The cross-border bickering bubbles up about a week after Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell became the head of the Republican Governors Association, an arrangement that sets up a natural rivalry with O'Malley, who heads the Democratic Governors Association.

The two men faced off over the weekend on CNN's State of the Union -- but O'Malley has gone out of his way to downplay any enhanced competition. On WTOP Monday, O'Malley said that McDonnell is a "skilled communicator" and said he can understand why McDonnell would be an "attractive" GOP candidate for higher office.

In the past McDonnell has also played nice -- he came to Annapolis for O'Malley's inauguration in January. Speaking to reporters in the statehouse, McDonnell said O'Malley "obviously had a record of accomplishments during his first four years" and added: "He's a very smart guy." Nevertheless, this week the Virginia Republican Party took a swing at O'Malley, seizing on a National Review blog post that used a wholly unorthodox method to compare the two state budgets. The news organization contrasted Virgina's $545 million surplus from the end of fiscal 2011 with Maryland's projected $1 billion deficit in FY2013 and concluded that Virgina's fiscal discipline is superior. 

The National Review piece ignored that Maryland also is expected to also close FY2011 a hefty surplus (in the hundreds of millions) due mostly to better than expected tax returns.

Also, the piece is silent on Virgina's budget projections for FY2013. (We're asking Virginia budget analysts that question, and will update this post when we get it.) Jeff Caldwell, a spokesman for Gov. McDonnell said that he "has never seen" out year budget estimates for the state of Virginia.

Thankfully, we had our own crafty way of finding them (see page 26). The document is two years old (much has changed since that time), but Virginia's budget writers were projecting modest surpluses for FY2012 and FY2013. And by FY20016 projected surpluses grow to about $300 million.

Maryland's budget picture is based on more recent information and not so rosy, with a row of deficits projected in coming years. Warren Deschenaux, the legislature's top fiscal analyst however, stressed that Maryland has historically always balanced its budget and will do it again this year.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:02 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: DGA

August 23, 2011

In D.C., quake forces evacuations, snarls commute

Office workers in Washington poured out onto sidewalks and faced snarled evening commutes as the federal government closed buildings and private companies sent employees home early after Tuesday's earthquake.

Though there appeared to be minimal physical damage to buildings, many federal and private offices were closed for hours Tuesday, including the U.S. Capitol and the Smithsonian museums. A spire at the National Cathedral -- the highest point in Washington -- sustained significant damage, according to cathedral officials.

But the biggest impact from the earthquake on Washington appeared to be on the afternoon commute. There were delays on Metro trains, which were running at reduced speeds, as well as MARC service to Baltimore, New York and other destinations. At Union Station, announcers pleaded for patience as commuters waited in unusually long lines to board.

Traffic also jammed on city streets as traffic lights failed at key intersections. Lines for city buses, meanwhile, were especially long throughout most of downtown.

Sherrice Flowers, a Baltimore resident who works in a law firm near McPherson Square, said she walked the roughly 16 blocks from her office to Union Station, where she waited for a Penn line train home Tuesday evening. When the earthquake struck, she joined thousands of workers who streamed out onto sidewalks.

"I felt the building just shaking, shaking, shaking. I have a window that looks out on the lobby. I looked out and saw people running out of my building. We ran out of the building  and ran into the park," she said.

David Fronapfel, a 30-year-old Silver Spring resident, said he noticed that people in his 7th-floor downtown office began running for stairways. Fronapfel, an IT contractor who said he previously experienced earthquakes while living in Japan, said he quickly realized what was happening.

"First I thought it was just maintenance in the building but then it just got bigger and bigger and I knew it was something serious. I noticed people running through the hallways and they were running toward the stairwells." 

Deborah Grant, 47, was on the ninth floor of an office building nearby.

"I've never, ever felt an earthquake before. I thought maybe somebody was moving something really, really heavy," said the federal employee, who lives in Harford County. "But some guys said it was an earthquake. It was pretty quick getting out."

Private buildings throughout the city began allowing employees to return mid-afternoon. At the U.S. Capitol, police allowed some workers back to their offices late Tuesday to retrieve personal belongings, but requested they limit their time inside while engineers with the Architect of the Capitol's office continued inspections.

Though most lawmakers are absent from Washington during the August congressional recess, most staffers continue to work. The Senate, which is meeting in pro forma session to block President Barack Obama from making recess appointments, held an unusual session in a nearby building off the Capitol grounds.

Obama, who is vacationing in Martha's Vineyard, was updated by senior advisors during a conference call at 2:50 p.m., the White House said. The president did not personally feel the earthquake, a spokesman said. Vice President Joe Biden, by coincidence, was touring earthquake-ravaged Japan.

For federal workers who were in Washington, the biggest impact from the earth quake seemed to be on the commute.

Dominique Tillman, a 27-year-old Capitol Hill staffer, was waiting in line Tuesday to board a delayed MARC train to Baltimore. But Tillman, who was working in the Rayburn House Office Building when the earthquake hit, was taking his long ride home in stride.

"There was some rumbling and some shaking. I sat around and wondered 'what was that?' Then, there was an alarm that went off and then I left the building," the Baltimore resident said. "I bought a ticket, got a bite to eat, sat and waited. I would hope that people recognize that today's an interesting day."

Posted by John Fritze at 8:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

Earthquake cracks Landers' headquarters


Earthquake damage to Landers' campaign headquarters



The earthquake that shook Baltimore this afternoon damaged a wall at mayoral candidate Joseph T. "Jody" Landers' campaign headquarters.

Several cracks appeared in the building in the brick building in the 200 block of Key Highway in Federal Hill, according to an email from Landers' campaign.

Landers, a former city councilman who headed the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors until recently, said in a statement, "My thoughts are with any citizens whose homes may have been affected,” 

Fellow candidate State Sen. Catherine Pugh, in an interview with WBAL TV's Jayne Miller, used the earthquake to call attention to the city's problem of vacant buildings, an issue she has discussed frequently in her campaign. 

Posted by Julie Scharper at 6:45 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

O'Malley: 'We will continue to monitor the situation'

Gov. Martin O’Malley released a statement on the earthquake Tuesday:

“The earthquake this afternoon was an extremely unusual occurrence for us here on the East Coast. I have been briefed by members of my cabinet and public safety officials on the status of state facilities and operations. Presently, there are no reports of significant damage or incidents and we will continue to monitor the situation closely, particularly over the next 24 to 48 hours. We will be paying close attention to our utilities for problems with water mains or gas lines that may not be present immediately following an earthquake.

“Of course, when the earthquake first hit, our thoughts immediately turned to the safety of our loved ones. I encourage everyone to check on their family members, friends and neighbors; particularly the elderly to make sure everyone is safe.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:58 PM | | Comments (0)

SRB: No significant injuries or major damage

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has addressed reports at the city’s emergency operations center on the earthquake that rattled Maryland. The following are her remarks, as prepared for delivery.

"Good afternoon.

"Today, just before 2pm, Baltimore residents experienced the effects of a 5.8 magnitude earthquake originating South of Richmond Virginia.

"While this came as quite a shock to all of us, I am pleased to report that there have been no reports of significant injuries or major damage in Baltimore.

"There have been a handful of reports of minor to moderate damage to some buildings.

"Shortly after the earthquake, I immediately activated the City's Emergency Operation Center.

"And we convened a meeting of City First Responders and City Agency heads to conduct a preliminary assessment of the effects of the earthquake.

"Again, at this time we have no reports of injuries or Major damage in Baltimore.

"Let me be clear:

"911 is fully operational and responding to all emergencies.

"All nine Police Districts are fully-staffed and additional resources have been deployed.

"The Baltimore City Police helicopter "Foxtrot" is continuing to conduct an aerial survey of the city.

"Again, we will respond to every single 911 call for service.

"We have deployed Special Traffic Officers to ensure the steady flow of traffic on major roadways.

"Earlier, I ordered the Department of Transportation to conduct an inspection of older City bridges.

"And, I ordered the Department of Housing and Community Development to assess vacant structures throughout the City. Over 50 Inspectors have been deployed to check on vulnerable buildings.

"As a precaution, building engineers are also conduct an assessment of all city government buildings.

"All city employees will report to work tomorrow. City government will be open for business.
At this time, we ask residents to remain calm as we continue to assess any impact the Virginia earthquake could have had on property and services in the city of Baltimore.

"Please, do what you can to check on your neighbors. Especially the elderly and disabled.

"Again, 911 is fully operational for any emergencies and citizens can contact 311 for regular city services.

"We will continue to provide additional updates this evening.

"Thank you."

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:48 PM | | Comments (0)

Council president forum postponed after quake

The League of Women Voters of Baltimore City has cancelled the forum planned Tuesday evening between candidates for City Council president after officials closed the Enoch Pratt Free Library, where it was to be held.

The central library building, which dates to the 1930s, was evacuated and closed after the earthquake shook Baltimore Tuesday afternoon. It must be inspected before the public will be allowed back in.

The League, which organized the event, did not say Tuesday whether it would be rescheduled.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:42 PM | | Comments (0)

O'Malley planning trade mission to India

Gov. Martin O'Malley said today that his office is planning a trade mission to India, an expedition that would be the governor's second international trip this year aimed at promoting Maryland businesses abroad.

O'Malley said the purpose of the trip would be "jobs" and said he hopes to go "before the year's end."

"We're working on it," O'Malley said. "As with the trip that we took to China, we promote the competitive strengths of Maryland. Life sciences, biotech, information technology, healing -- all of the things that are our strongest sectors."

The governor led a three-nation tour of Asia in June and was joined by nearly 70 officials for various parts of it. In addition to China, the itinerary included South Korea and Vietnam.

After returning, O'Malley estimated the trip netted $85 million in deals between Maryland and Asian companies, and additional contracts were in the works at the time. The cost to taxpayers for the 10-day mission was $164,000.
The governor did not give any other details about the upcoming India trip, stressing that it is still in the planning phases.

The India trip was mentioned during at an event at Montgomery College designed to promote a new link between the community college and Discovery Communications, a $20 billion media firm that produces popular shows like Animal Planet and MythBusters. The company is launching an advertising campaign aimed at persuading mid-career workers to enroll in community colleges.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attended the event and calling himself "a cheerleader" for the ad campaign. "This is clearly a challenging time in our country with high unemployment," Duncan said.

He also estimated there are two million unfilled jobs in the country, with employers unable to find workers with the right skills. Duncan said the "skills gap" can be addressed through the country's network of community colleges, institutions that are nimble enough to make changes in their curriculum to provide the training for high-skills jobs like nursing.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:56 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Administration

August 22, 2011

Lawmakers eschew town hall meetings

Sixty percent of House lawmakers across the county – and all but one in Maryland – are forgoing town hall-style meetings with constituents during the August recess period, according to a review released Monday by the nonpartisan group No Labels.

The group, founded by Democratic and Republican centrists, surveyed individual offices on Capitol Hill. The only member of Maryland’s delegation actively holding town hall meetings is Rep. Andy Harris. The Baltimore County Republican announced another meeting in Fruitland, Md., for Tuesday.

“Washington must hear from all Americans, not a handpicked few who (pass) a partisan litmus test or can afford to donate,” said William Galston, a co-founder of the group and a former advisor to President Bill Clinton. “Our concern is that elected officials are only hearing from their respective partisan bases and will not expose themselves to criticism.”

The number of town hall meetings scheduled by lawmakers dropped precipitously after the summer of 2009, when voters who were upset about health care legislation turned out in droves. The response forced the then-Democratic majority in the House to alter the legislation and was considered a significant victory for the Tea Party movement.

The No Labels survey found that 68 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of Republicans are ditching the meetings. Congress will return to Washington after Labor Day.

Posted by John Fritze at 5:14 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington

O'Malley talks taxes, but not specifics

Responding to repeated questions about tax increases on WTOP radio this morning, Gov. Martin O'Malley said: "We need to be open to a balanced approach, including, if necessary, looking at revenues."

Over the next few months the state will have to have "a conversation" about taxes, O'Malley said though he made it clear that he's not going to be a lone wolf howling for increases. "It will not be up to me," O'Malley said. "It will take a group effort."

WTOP reporter Mark Seagraves quizzed the governor for an hour on live radio this morning, focusing on the state budget, the economy and O'Malley's recent national talk show appearances as head of the Democratic Governors Association.

O'Malley declined several times to give any specifics on taxes that might be raised, though he pointed out that the Maryland General Assembly rejected his suggestion to peg the state's gas tax to an index which would trigger automatic increases. When asked if he would sign a five-cent bag tax similar to one in Washington, D.C., the governor said: "I don't know. What is your next question."

The Democratic Maryland governor also paid his neighbor a compliment, saying that Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, is a "skilled communicator" who would "be a very attractive candidate" in the GOP pool for higher office. McDonnell's name has been floated recently as a possible vice presidential partner should Texas Gov. Rick Perry win the Republican nomination for president.

O'Malley and McDonnell squared off last weekend on CNNs "State of the Union." McDonnell recently became the head of the Republican Governors Association.

The interview hit a number of other topics:

* Teacher Pensions
O'Malley signaled a continued hesitation to transfer the costs associated with teacher pensions to county governments. "I have always been in favor of keeping it at the state level," O'Malley said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has repeatedly called to restructure those pension costs, putting more of the burden on the locals. But the county governments vehemently object, saying such a change would snap their already strapped budgets.

* Evolution on same-sex marriage
O'Malley said that he had previously "made a judgement" that the "point of consensus" on same-sex partnerships was civil unions, an arrangement that offers the same legal protections of marriage without issuing marriage certificates.

It is an idea that many in the gay community have rejected as a stamp of second-class citizenship. O'Malley switched his position and earlier this summer pledged to sponsor a same-sex marriage bill.  "I think the consensus that has been reached is marital equality rights," O'Malley said.

He predicted that there are "a number of different places" where he can find the votes to pass the bill. "I think it should pass," O'Malley said. "With every day that goes by people become more comfortable with the notion."

* Illegal immigration
In response to a caller who said the state is being inundated with illegal immigrants, O'Malley said: "I'm not aware of illegal immigrants coming into our state in droves."

* Toll increases
O'Malley floated the idea that the state's tolls should be "indexed." The state's toll costs have not risen in decades, though this year there's going to be a hike in order to pay for two massive transportation projects that are underway. 
Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:23 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Administration

August 21, 2011

O'Malley and McDonnell discuss economy

Squaring off for the first time with the new leader of the Republican Governors Association, Gov. Martin O’Malley said Sunday that the economic stimulus approved by Congress in 2009 didn’t go far enough and he called for new investments in infrastructure and education to spur job growth.

O’Malley, who heads the Democratic Governors Association, appeared on CNN’s State of the Union opposite Gov. Bob McDonnell, the Virginia Republican who took over the GOP governors group when its former chairman, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, entered the presidential race.

“What I hope the Congress will come back to do is to pass bills that actually make those investments in infrastructure, in research and development, in innovation, and, yes, in the important work of educating the next generation for the jobs that are available,” O’Malley said.

McDonnell focused on spending cuts and eliminating federal mandates on states. Asked about a new stimulus, McDonnell said he is skeptical.

“We've tried that. We've tried stimulus spending. We put very little into infrastructure. We put it into a lot of other spending that didn't create jobs. And now we've gone from 7.8 to 9.1 percent unemployment,” he said.

President Barack Obama is expected to unveil a jobs-creation package next month that could include tax cuts for companies that hire workers and new spending on roads and construction projects.

The televised exchange was less testy than during O’Malley's recent appearance on ABC’s This Week opposite Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions. McDonnell said he works well with O’Malley on regional issues and at one point described him as a “great Irish-American, just like me.”

Later on CNN, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings appeared on the show to discuss Obama and the relationship the president has with black voters.

“He needs to go back to the horse that brought him in. In other words, when he came in he talked about hope, he talked about jobs, he has talked about fairness, he has talked about addressing Wall Street effectively and efficiently, and trying to make a difference,” the Baltimore Democrat said. “He has got to go back to those basic points. That's what got him in.”

Asked if he thought the president had taken the black vote for granted, Cummings said, “No, I do not.”

Posted by John Fritze at 12:31 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington

August 19, 2011

Rolley criticizes Rawlings-Blake on slots deal

Mayoral candidate and former city planning director Otis Rolley criticized Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake today for allowing the states slots commission to loosen the minority and woman hiring requirements for the city's planned casino.

"In this economy, with things being as bad as they are... I don't understand how there could be a waiver for the minority and women-owned business requirements," Rolley said in an interview following an afternoon press conference in front of City Hall.

"It speaks volumes about her commitment to helping the majority of the citizens find jobs," he said.

Keiana Page, a spokeswoman for Rawlings-Blake's campaign, said that Rolley "has been making multiple attempts over the last few days to get attention for his campaign" and has been "misrepresenting facts for political gain."

Earlier this week, the state slots commission voted to relax the minority and woman-owned business participation requirement for the casino contract. Bids for the project were initially due in late July, but the deadline was extended to September-- after the mayoral primary.

Following complaints from potential bidders that the terms of the deal were too onerous, both the city and the state announced in the past couple weeks that they were relaxing some requirements. Bidders are required to agreement to the terms of a memorandum of understanding with the city as well as respond to a request for proposals from the state slots commission.

The slots commission eased the minority and women participation requirements following a law suit from Canadian developer Michael Moldenhauer that alleged that the terms of the project discriminated against white men.

Moldenhauer's company was the sole bidder in 2009 when the slots commission sought a developer for Baltimore's commission. The state later rejected his bid, prompting Moldenhauer to sue both the city and the state. The slots commission began seeking new bids this spring after those suits were partially resolved.

Page noted that it was the state slots commission that eased the minority participation agreement -- not the city.

Rawlings-Blake "has been in support of women and minority participation goals in city projects," said Page. "She has been vocal in the past about advocating for increasing minority participation."

But Rolley countered that Rawlings-Blake should have used the "bully pulpit" of her office to fight against the state loosening the minority requirement.

Rolley had urged reporters to call into Marc Steiner's radio show on WEAA earlier this week as Rawlings-Blake was giving a live interview to ask about the minority hiring issue.

In response to a question on the topic, Rawlings-Blake explained that there had been a legal challenge to the state slots commission's minority participation requirements.

"We have very strict minority and women goals [for city contracts] and we take it very seriously," Rawlings-Blake said, adding that her staffers reach out to small businesses to help them obtain contracts.

"We work hard to make sure minority firms are represented at the table," she said.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 5:23 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

Cardin weighs in on NIH bias study

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin called on the Bethesda-based National Institutes of Health to re-evaluate its grant-making process in light of a report this week that found black scientists are significantly less likely to win medical research grants than their white counterparts.

The NIH-commissioned study, which was published in the journal “Science,” found that black scientists had a 10 percentage point lower chance of winning a grant than white researchers.

The study “raises concerns about the NIH grant review process,” the Maryland Democrat said in a statement Friday. “NIH, which receives $30 billion annually in federal taxpayer dollars, has a responsibility to ensure that its grant review process is transparent and equitable, and that its research workforce is diverse.”

In response to the study, NIH officials have said they intend to review their grant process for bias and look for ways to confront it, such as removing identifying information from applications. The NIH is the nation’s largest source of medical research funding.

"The results of this study are disturbing and disheartening, and we are committed to taking action," NIH director Francis Collins said in a statement. "The strength of the U.S. scientific enterprise depends upon our ability to recruit and retain the brightest minds, regardless of race or ethnicity. This study shows that we still have a long way to go.”

Posted by John Fritze at 11:05 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington

August 18, 2011

Judge dismiss MoCo illegal immigrant tuition suit

Sun colleague Andrea Siegel reports:

A Montgomery County judge has dismissed a lawsuit that demanded a Montgomery County community college end its practice of offering in-county tuition rates to illegal immigrants.

A spokeswoman for Montgomery College, which has campuses in Rockville, Takoma Park and Germantown, told The Baltimore Sun last year that the school's policy is to offer the reduced tuition rate to anyone who can demonstrate that he or she lives in Montgomery County or graduated from a public high school there within the past three years.

Washington-based Judicial Watch filed, which describes itself as a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, filed the lawsuit against the school's board of trustees in Circuit Court in January, saying the practice violates state and federal law.

The organization filed its lawsuit after Maryland Del. Patrick L. McDonough said an audit of Montgomery College suggested the cost to taxpayers might have topped $2 million for about 11,000 credit hours during the 2009-10 academic year, as the state was struggling with a budget shortfall.

The college spokeswoman responded at the time that the 11,000 credit hours cited in the audit represented students who did not provide information beyond address or local high school diploma. She said the number was not used in determining state funding; she said the two-year college complies with the law.

But the tuition break appeared to defy a 2006 by then-Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who told the Prince George's County Community College Board of Trustees that it “lacks the authority to waive the out-of-county tuition rates for undocumented aliens.”

Judge Marielsa A. Bernard threw the Judicial Watch complaint out on Tuesday, ruling that the three people named as plaintiffs — Montgomery County residents Michael Lee Phillips, Patricia Fenati and David Drake — lacked the right to bring it.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 9:28 PM | | Comments (3)

O'Malley appeals to fellow Democrats on Somalia

Gov. Martin O'Malley on Thursday reached out to fellow Democrats and asked for help in raising money for relief efforts in Somalia, where drought and famine have claimed tens of thousands of lives in recent months. Recent estimates by the federal government suggest that 29,000 children have died.

"The Somali drought and famine have forced mothers with scarce resources to choose which child will live, fathers to leave their sick children to die on the streets and babies to enter a world with no hope for survival," the governor wrote in an email sent to a list maintained by the Maryland Democratic Party.

In the letter, O'Malley suggests that people donate through the U.S. Agency for International Development. He references an op-ed in USA Today written by Jill Biden, Vice President Joe Biden's wife, and former Republican Sen. Bill Frist. The two recently traveled to a Kenyan refugee camp inhabited by hundreds of thousands of Somalian refugees.

Posted by Andy Rosen at 4:47 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Martin O'Malley

Union chief blasts budget cuts

The head of a leading federal employees union said Thursday that budget cuts called for by the White House for federal agencies will have a devastating effect on the economy and could also reduce public services.

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement that the Office of Management and Budget guidance unveiled this week would translate into lost jobs in a down economy. The administration instructed agencies to plan for their 2013 budget to fall between 5 percent and 10 percent below this year's spending levels.

“Cuts of this magnitude will inevitably mean fewer staff to take care of injured veterans in our VA hospitals, fewer officers patrolling the borders, fewer inspectors to enforce our laws on clean air and water, and fewer scientists to conduct medical research and make sure that Americans are sold medications that are safe and effective," Gage said. "All of America suffers when government lacks the resources to carry out the promise of effective and efficient public service."

The federal workforce, which is heavily represented in Maryland, has been a target of recent attempts to cut federal spending, including during the debate last month over raising the nation's debt ceiling. It is not clear what cuts may be in store for federal employees in the next several months as a 12-member committee of lawmakers tries to identify $1.5 trillion in additional cuts by Thanksgiving.

Posted by John Fritze at 4:36 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Washington

Pugh paid $250 to political operative charged in robocall case

State Sen. Catherine Pugh, who is running for mayor, paid $250 to a consulting company run by a political operative accused of vote suppression in last year's gubernatorial race -- but a campaign spokesman said the charge was for work before he operative was accused of wrongdoing.

A spokesman for her campaign said that Pugh and other legislators in the 40th District jointly hired Politics Today to work on their re-election to the General Assembly last year, before Julius Henson, the company's head, had been accused of vote suppression.

"It was for the senator's re-election for the 40th District," said spokesman Anthony McCarthy. "It had nothing to do with the mayor's race."

He said the campaign received an invoice from Henson early this year for work from last fall, before he had been accused of wrongdoing.

Henson was indicted by a grand jury on three conspiracy counts in June.

Prosecutors allege that he was masterminded a robocall that went out to 112,000 registered Democrats in Baltimore City on Nov. 2 telling them to "relax" because Martin O'Malley had won the election. The calls came several hours before polls had closed.

Henson, who had been hired by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich's campaign, has worked on city campaigns for decades.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 4:13 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

August 16, 2011

Rawlings-Blake boasts fundraising lead

Sun colleague Justin Fenton reports:

With less than a month left before the Democratic primary, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has opened a commanding fundraising lead over her challengers, according to figures released by the campaigns in advance of the final reporting deadline Tuesday.

Rawlings-Blake had raised $800,000 since mid-January and $1.4 million overall this year, her campaign said, more than all her opponents combined. She has $676,000 in cash on hand — enough, her campaign said, to fund an aggressive television campaign in the race’s final weeks.

Her lead poses a challenge to her the rest of the field, which was already battling the perception that she has the race all but locked down.

Rawlings-Blake, who became mayor early last year following the resignation or Sheila Dixon, has also secured the endorsements of much of the city and state’s power establishment. But her campaign touted the breadth of her support.

“We’re really proud of the fact that we have had more than 1,000 individuals donors since the beginning of the year,” spokeswoman Keiana Page said. “I think it just goes to show that people aren’t necessarily in agreeance with some of the radical plans put out by our opponents.”

Her challengers have tried to use Rawlings-Blake’s fundraising prowess against her, saying it shows she is beholden to special interests and the political establishment.

State Sen. Catherine Pugh said she had raised $345,000 since she announced her candidacy for mayor in June. She had $250,000 in January. A campaign spokesman said he did not know how much cash she had on hand.

Former city planning director Otis Rolley reported raising about $267,000 since mid-January and $400,000 overall. He had less than $95,000 in cash.

Former City Councilman Joseph T. Landers raised $140,000 after he announced his candidacy in April, much of it in loans from himself and his campaign manager, according to a report filed with state board of elections. He had about $101,700 on hand.

With four candidates raking in at least $100,000, the combined take exceeded proceeds at the same point in the last mayoral race, when Dixon and Keiffer Mitchell were the only ones to hit six figures.

Rawlings-Blake has collected more than the $1.2 million that Dixon had raised at this point. Dixon went on to beat Mitchell in the 2007 Democratic primary by nearly 40 percentage points.

Donald F. Norris, chairman of the Department of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said Rawlings-Blake’s challengers are carving up anti-incumbent contributions — and, ultimately, votes.

Johns Hopkins political scientist Lester Spence, said the challengers will have to “aggressively figure out other means to get the vote. That’s the power of incumbency.”

Rawlings-Blake’s campaign declined to release detailed information about contributions and expenditures, which were not due to the elections board until midnight. In a summary report, the campaign said she had raised $800,000, spent $971,000, and had $676,000 cash on hand. About $40,000 came from other politicians or political action committees.

Rolley’s campaign said his contributions came from more than 900 donors, nearly as many as Rawlings-Blake. They touted the $400,000 he had raised as an “unprecedented amount for a mayoral challenger who has never held political office.”

“Unlike my opponents, I don’t have contracts to give away, I don’t have powerful political patrons in Annapolis, and I don’t have a rich family legacy,” the candidate said in a news release. “All I have is my ideas, my record of accomplishment, my work ethic, and my integrity.”

And Bill Cosby, who Rolley said would return to the city next month to campaign for him.

Rolley received $1,000 from the campaign fund of Dixon, who is barred from running for office under terms of her plea agreement last year on corruption charges, but has been giving behind-the-scenes advice to several of Rawlings-Blake’s challengers. UPDATE: Rolley campaign manager Dan Fee says the candidate returned the money.

Dixon also contributed $1,000 to Joseph T. “Jody” Landers, the former head of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.

Other notable donors to Rolley’s campaign include the Fraternal Order of Police and its president, Robert F. Cherry, who each gave Rolley $3,000.

Local philanthropists Harvey and Phyllis Meyerhoff each gave $4,000; Former city health commissioner Peter Beilenson and former State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy each gave $400.

Landers has given himself $10,000 and loaned himself another $35,000, according to his report. His campaign manager loaned $30,000. Landers also received contributions from various real estate political action committees and companies.

Jared DeMarinis, director of the campaign finance division of the elections board, State said challenger Wilton Wilson had filed an affidavit stating his campaign had neither raised nor spent more than $1000.

Clerk of Courts Frank M. Conaway Sr. said he has been raising funds but did not have figures available.

Fundraising for this year’s campaign got off to a quick start, with Rawlings-Blake raising $600,000 at a gala before the first reporting deadline, in January. Pugh and Rolley also brought in six-figure takes.

Spence, the Hopkins political scientist, said Rawlings-Blake “knew she had to hit it hard to be able to kind of sit down people who were even thinking about giving money or aggressively pushing another candidate.”

Her opponents have chastised her for not participating in more debates or candidate forums. She made her second debate appearance on Tuesday, on the radio show hosted by former state Sen. Larry Young.

Norris, of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, said Rawlings-Blake has run a solid campaign, but must keep it up if she wants to win next month.

“No matter what the poll numbers, no candidate, whether incumbent or challenger, can take their campaign for granted,” Norris said. “She’s got to raise money, and she’s got to campaign.

“From what I’ve seen, she’s running a really good campaign.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 8:53 PM | | Comments (20)

Candidates trade barbs, plans at morning debate

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s Democratic challengers teamed up against her Tuesday as they sparred over development, property taxes, school construction and crime in a spirited radio debate.

Clerk of Courts Frank M. Conaway Sr. described Rawlings-Blake and Gov. Martin O'Malley as “conjoined twins” that only the renowned surgeon Dr. Ben Carson could separate, a line that drew laughs from the audience of about four dozen — primarily campaign staffers and politicos — huddled in the Gywnn Oak studio of WOLB.

Forner city planning director Otis Rolley said “I will work with the governor, not for the governor,” a not very veiled criticism of Rawlings-Blake's relationship with O'Malley.

Rawlings-Blake fired back that her opponents' plans to cut property taxes were “reckless,” and compared them to the proposals of tea party members.

And she said her close relationships with O'Malley and other state leaders have helped her push the city's agenda in Annapolis.

“While some of us think it's a liability to have the support of the governor and the lieutenant governor and so many members of the state legislature, I consider it a plus,” she said. “I'm very proud to have the support that I have and I use that support to make our city better.”

Conaway, Rolley, former Baltimore Board of Realtors Executive Vice Chairman Joseph T. “Jody” Landers, state Sen. Catherine Pugh and nurse Wilton Wilson are challenging Rawlings-Blake in the primary next month that is expected to decide the mayoral election in overwhelmingly Democratic Baltimore.

Former state Sen. Larry Young, moderating the debate on his radio show, questioned the candidates on their solutions to the city's toughest challenges, including repairing aging school buildings, reducing the murder rate and reversing decades of population loss.

Rawlings-Blake spoke of balancing the city's budget deficit large deficits in the past two years, making the city's required payment to the school system and plans to hire 300 police officers to fill vacancies.

She said that her family, like many others in Baltimore, had been touched by violence, a point she has also made in a radio advertisement. Her younger brother, Wendell Rawlings, was stabbed in a robbery attempt outside her condominium several years ago.

Landers, a former city councilman, focused in his opening remarks on the central issue of his campaign: His view that the city needs to cut property taxes to draw residents and businesses. The city's tax rate is more than twice that of surrounding counties.

“The fiscal cisis we find ourselves in year after year is partly a result of the city leadership's failure to put the city back in a better standing from a fiscal standpoint,” Landers said.

Pugh vowed to create year-round job opportunities for young people, focus on driving small business growth and create a program modeled on William Donald Schaefer's “Dollar House” initiative to refurbish the city's vacant houses. The most recent Census counted 47,000 vacant properties in Baltimore.

“Everyone knows the best crime reduction strategy is crime prevention,” she said. “But this administration balanced its budget on the backs of young people, closing rec centers and pools opening late.”

Rawlings-Blake did not close any rec centers this summer, but has said that she hopes to turn over about half of the city's 55 centers to nonprofits or community groups in January. Those that are not managed by an outside entity could be closed.

She also opened the city's pools on a staggered schedule this summer to save money, a move criticized by youth advocates.

Rolley spoke of his experience working in the administrations of three mayors — Kurt Schmoke, O'Malley and Dixon — but also stressed his humble background.

“Like many of our children, I grew up poor. My family had challenges. I attended a failing public school, lived in a neighborhood that had violence and drugs,” he said. “But I had the opportunity to go beyond the realities of my block and my neighborhood, and I want the same opportunity for all the children of Baltimore.”

Rolley said that the city has been held back by “failed leadership” that “focuses in on their own needs and the needs of their contributors instead of the needs of the people and of our neighborhoods.”

Rawlings-Blake said she had worked with the Downtown Families Alliance and other groups to help improve schools and keep young families from moving out of the city.

In response to a question about improving school buildings, both Pugh and Rolley said they would forge partnerships with businesses to pay for improvements.

“It has to be about public and private partnerships,” said Pugh. The mayor's responsibilities include “galvanizing support around the state for better schools,” she said.

Rolley said he would devote almost all revenue from the city's planned slots parlor to float bonds to pay for school repairs.

“There's no better investment than in our schools,” he said. “People will move into a neighborhood, even if it's not the best neighborhood, if there's a strong school.”

Rawlings-Blake said she would use 10 percent of slots revenue as a “creative funding stream” to finance school improvements.

Rolley called a proposed African-American arts district “insane.”

The other candidates said they supported the proposal.

Rolley noted that African-Americans comprise 64 percent of the city's population, yet own 8 percent of the wealth.

“We don't need a district. We don't need crumbs,” he said. “We've been eating crumbs for so long we think it's a meal. I want every Baltimorean to feel comfortable having a good time, getting a job, living and feeling safe all throughout Baltimore City.”

Both Rawlings-Blake and Rolley fired off emails after the debate declaring victory. Pugh sent an email saying “my message is resonating with voters and we can see victory in sight.”

The candidates are slated to face each other again Tuesday at a forum sponsored by the interfaith coalition BUILD. That group has been asking candidates to sign on to a platform centered on fixing schools and boosting job and recreational activities for young people.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 11:20 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

August 15, 2011

Rolley makes a campaign issue of Grand Prix

Sun colleague Childs Walker reports:

Mayoral challenger Otis Rolley questioned Monday whether the city will profit from the Baltimore Grand Prix, and called on Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to release all city documents related to the three-day event.

Other challengers in next month’s Democratic primary joined in the criticism, saying the event raised doubts about Rawlings-Blake’s spending priorities, and how carefully she weighed the costs and benefits of the race before she pledged millions of dollars to support it.

The Baltimore Grand Prix, a three-day event culminating in an IndyCar race through the streets along the Inner Harbor on Sept. 4, is one of the most visible projects Rawlings-Blake has pursued during her 18 months in office.

Rolley’s press conference, and the follow-up remarks by former City Councilman Joseph T. “Jody” Landers and state Sen. Catherine Pugh, amounted to the most significant attempt yet by Rawlings-Blake’s challengers to portray the event as a potential liability for the city and its mayor. The race comes nine days before the Sept. 13 mayoral primary.

Rawlings-Blake has signed a five-year agreement pledging $7.75 million in road work for the race. Much of the money comes from the federal government, and city officials say most of the work would have been necessary in coming years anyway.

Rolley, who is challenging Rawlings-Blake in the Democratic primary, noted that the city cut funding this year for after-school programs, and the mayor proposed staggering swimming pools schedules, closing fire companies on a rotating basis and reducing the hours of the city’s 311 service request line.

He questioned how much thought Rawlings-Blake put into the Grand Prix before signing off on it.

“It sounded like a cool idea, and she ran with it,” Rolley said. “That’s not what we expect in terms of leadership from the mayor of the city.”

A campaign spokeswoman for Rawlings-Blake said Rolley was muddying the issue by implying that federal money for roadwork could have been directed to other needs.

"As Mr. Rolley should know, since he was former Mayor [Sheila] Dixon's chief of staff and the Founding President/CEO of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, federal road dollars can only be spent on road projects — not rec centers or any other purpose,” spokeswoman Keiana Page said in a statement emailed to reporters before Rolley spoke.

“The Grand Prix will bring 100,000 people to Baltimore on Labor Day weekend,” Page said. “It will provide a tremendous boost to struggling small businesses like restaurants and shops — as well as hotels. And it is unbelievably cynical for Mr. Rolley to try to lift his failing campaign by belittling something that will boost our economy and improve Baltimore’s image nationally and internationally.”

Political scientist Matthew Crenson, a professor emeritus at the Johns Hopkins University, said Rolley chose an inviting target.

“It’s something that has caused a lot of Baltimoreans recent inconvenience,” Crenson said. “And there is doubt over whether it’s going to pay for itself.”

Contacted by The Baltimore Sun, other Democratic challengers quickly piggybacked on Rolley’s comments. Pugh questioned spending millions of dollars on a concentrated area when roads are dilapidated around the city.

“I think you have to ask whether this is the right economic engine for Baltimore when you look at what has happened with races in other cities,” she said.

Landers said he hopes the Grand Prix will succeed.

“But my whole impression is that they did not really do their homework,” he said. “I’m not convinced that the costs and benefits are going to match up.”

Crenson said the mayor remains the candidate to beat, but her challengers are smart to register their doubts about an event that could blow up in her face shortly before the primary.

“This is their last, best chance,” he said.

Rawlings-Blake, who championed the race as City Council president, signed the contract pledging $7.75 million for roadwork three months after she was sworn in as mayor last year.

While critics have raised complaints about traffic delays and questions about the race’s economic potential, the mayor has defended the move as a bold attempt to lure money and attention to downtown Baltimore.

The record for street racing in other cities is mixed. Races have become annual fixtures in Long Beach, Calif., and St. Petersburg, Fla.

But the District of Columbia gave up its race after a year after residents complained of the noise. San Jose, Calif. backed away after three years because of cost concerns.

Even the Baltimore race’s staunchest supporters say the inaugural running is unlikely to be profitable for the city. They describe it as a long-term investment in Baltimore’s image that could pay off if it makes the city a destination for race fans each Labor Day — and if it helps lure bigger events such, as an Olympics or World Cup.

City officials have said they teamed with race organizers to produce a study that showed the race will produce $70 million in economic impact.

But Rolley questioned the figure, citing a Baltimore Sun report that said the economic impact of the long-established events in St. Petersburg and Long Beach was little more than half that.

City officials say they will receive about $2 million in direct tax benefits from the race. Organizers also are required to pay the city a $250,000 annual fee and another $500,000 in the first year to cover costs for police, firefighters and other services related to the event. That second figure will increase in future years.

Rolley accused the mayor of “refusing to be transparent” in laying out the costs and potential revenues for the event.

He said that based on the incomplete figures he has seen, “the mayor’s Grand Prix is more likely to cost the taxpayers money than to make money.”

“We have been transparent,” Page countered. “City Hall released thousands of pages of documents to The Sun and [the Associated Press] last week. What more does he want?”

Rolley said that if he had been mayor, he would have considered pursuing the Grand Prix but probably would have passed on it, based on the existing evidence.

He said he has spoken to voters who are “very frustrated that this is seen as a priority when people are dying and our schools are struggling.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 6:03 PM | | Comments (29)

Rawlings-Blake raises $1.4 million for campaign

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has raised more than $1.4 million this year for her bid to keep her post, her campaign announced Monday, indicating the incumbent heads into the final weeks before the Democratic primary with a substantial edge over her opponents.

Rawlings-Blake has received more than $800,000 in contributions since the last campaign finance reports were released in late January. She raked in more than $600,000 at a gala in early January.

"Our supporters also know that the Mayor is a leader we can count on to get the job done,” Keiana Page, a spokeswoman for the Rawlings-Blake campaign said in a statement.

Rawlings-Blake, who was appointed mayor in February 2010, has received donations from more than 1,000 people, according to the campaign.

Full campaign finance information for all the mayoral candidates -- who include Clerk of Courts Frank M. Conaway Sr., former Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors head Joseph T. "Jody" Landers, State Sen. Catherine Pugh, former city planning director Otis Rolley and nurse Wilton Wilson -- is slated to be filed with the state board of elections tomorrow, less than a month before the Sept. 13 primary.

Rawlings-Blake had huge lead over her challengers in the last round of financial reports. She had more than $842,000 cash-in-hand in January. Pugh had about $250,000 and Rolley had $106,000.

In the 2007 contest, Dixon had raised $1.2 million by the August report and Keiffer Mitchell, her leading challenger, had raised $640,000.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 5:51 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

August 12, 2011

State mapmakers come to Baltimore

Baltimore residents and neighborhood leaders made a pitch Friday for preserving as much of the city’s power in the General Assembly as possible with new legislative districts that would straddle the city-county line.

The advocates spoke before the five-member panel tasked with redrawing the state’s legislative map to reflect population changes recorded in the 2010 Census.

Baltimore stands to lose representation in Annapolis after losing some 30,000 residents over the last decade.

The governor’s redistricting advisory committee, which includes state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, is charged with recommending new congressional and legislative maps to Gov. Martin O’Malley.

O’Malley is not required to use their work when he proposes a congressional map to the General Assembly in October or a legislative map in January.

Until recently, Baltimore was able to retain political power despite decades of population decline by sharing representatives with the surrounding counties.

But Maryland's Court of Appeals rejected the last effort to create districts that cross the city-county line, after the 2000 Census.

Judge Robert M. Bell drew a new map that included six districts entirely within the city’s borders, represented by six senators and 18 delegates. Such a map in the current round of redistricting would leave the city with five districts, represented by five senators and 15 delegates.

State Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell, who chairs the city’s Senate delegation, said members agree that the city should poach population from surrounding counties. She said she'd be open to her own district expanding into Baltimore County.

Citizens Planning and Housing Association director Mel Freeman agreed. He said projects such as the Red Line and State Center require lawmakers to take a regional view.

The current map, he said, “created an island,” discouraging the type of cross-jurisdictional partnerships he said are needed for success.

Though the hearing was sparsely attended compared to others elsewhere in the state, commenters made some of the most pointed criticism to date. David Greene, a city resident, took lawmakers to task for the “arrogance” of Maryland’s current congressional map.

Particularly in Central Maryland, that map cuts through counties and neighborhoods in a tangle of lines designed to link Democratic voters together and limit Republican power in Congress. He said one district resembles a cow-brand that lawmakers stamped on the state.

He compared the public lack of concern about gerrymandering to what he says was once a similar attitude toward date rape.

“Everyone says 'politicians will be politicians,' “ Greene said. “It is time for us to shift our attitudes just as we did with date rape. Not acceptable.”

He drew applause when he asked: “Are you going to fix this problem or are you going to rape us again?”

Posted by Annie Linskey at 6:47 PM | | Comments (4)

McDonough to join in-state tuition lawsuit

Del. Patrick McDonough is assembling a legal team to help fight a court challenge against a popular petition seeking to repeal the MD Dream Act, a controversial law that would give illegal immigrants discounted in-state tuition rates at Maryland colleges and universities.

McDonough (pictured on the right) said that the petition is so important that it "ranks up there with Oxygen" and wants to ensure that legal challenges fail so voters can determine whether the law should be implemented. The question is set for the 2012 ballot.

He said he will add himself to the case as an intervenor next week. 

Earlier this month the immigrant rights group CASA de Maryland filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the in-state tuition petition, which attracted nearly 109,000 valid signatures. Should the petition survive this legal challenge it will trigger the first state-wide referendum on a General Assembly-passed law in 20 years.

McDonough shared other gripes: He believes that Judge Ronald Silkworth, the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge assigned to the case, should remove himself because of a previous ruling.

Last year Silkworth tossed out a county-wide referendum effort on whether a casino should be constructed at Arundel Mills saying the ballot initiative would be would be illegal because the legislation to authorize the billion-dollar casino was part of an appropriation package. According to state law, appropriations - or spending allowances - cannot be decided upon by voters at the ballot box.

CASA de Maryland and its allies are making a similar argument to overturn the in-state tuition petition -- saying that the bill is budget related because it will trigger millions in state costs.

"He has prejudiced himself," McDonough said of the judge. A call to Silkworth's chambers has not been immediately returned.

With the slots referendum, Judge Silkworth's decision was overturned by the state's highest court. However, the Maryland Court of Appeals never released their reasoning. McDonough also wants that document made public, saying it will help guide legal strategy on both sides.

David Paulson, a spokesman for Attorney General Douglas Gansler said their office will not join McDonough's request to have the opinion released. Paulson said his office "respects" the high court's decision making process "and the time it may take to issue an opinion."

Gansler, a Democrat, leads the office responsible for defending state agencies. His lawyers will argue in court for the petition to go forward, as the state Board of Elections ruled.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:47 PM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Immigration

August 11, 2011

Pelosi names Van Hollen named to deficit panel

Tapped Thursday for the bipartisan congressional committee that will be charged with finding $1.5 trillion in federal deficit reduction, Rep. Chris Van Hollen said the panel should focus on jobs.

“Putting America back to work is the best and most immediate way to reduce our deficit as we also develop and implement a balanced plan to establish long-term fiscal discipline and sustained economic growth,” the Montgomery County Democrat said in a statement Thursday. “Our plan should put jobs first, sharpen America's competitive edge, ensure health and retirement security, and require shared responsibility from those who have done so well even during these tough economic times. Together, we can build a prosperous and secure future for all Americans.”

Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, was chosen by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to serve on the 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which was created last week as part of the deal to raise the federal debt ceiling.

The legislation charged the so-called supercommittee with identifying $1.2 to $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction by Nov. 23. That’s on top of some $900 billion in cuts ordered over the next 10 years.

If the supercommittee is unable to agree on the additional reductions, or if Congress does not accept its recommendations, the law imposes automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion.

Pelosi said the panel “has a golden opportunity to take its discussions to the higher ground of America's greatness and its values.”

In a statement, she said the committee must focus on economic growth and job creation; make decisions regarding investments, cuts and revenues and their timing to stimulate growth; and increase demand by offering recommendations that ensure that wages grow with productivity and reduce America’s families’ dependence on credit.

“We must achieve a ‘grand bargain’ that reduces the deficit by addressing our entire budget, while strengthening Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security,” Pelosi said.

Where Democrats speak of increasing revenues by closing what they characterize as tax loopholes and allowing tax cuts initially signed by President George Bush to expire, Republicans have focused on cutting spending.

Earlier this week, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell cited "chronic joblessness, out-of-control deficits and debt," and described entitlement programs as "the biggest drivers of our debt."

House Speaker John Boehner said “our debt and deficits are a threat to our economy, and America cannot achieve long-term job growth until we take action to address this crisis."

He said the supercommittee "presents an opportunity for both parties to bring to the table their best ideas, debate them on the merits, and ultimately come together to do what’s best for our country."

“The two parties have fundamental differences about government and its proper role in our society," Boehner said. "Where we've been able to agree, we have acted, and in a way consistent with the American people’s desire for a smaller, less costly, and more accountable government. Still, the differences remain, and so does the urgent work of returning our economy to creating jobs and lifting the crushing burden of debt that threatens our children’s future."

The supercommittee is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans each from the House and the Senate, selected by each party’s leader in each chamber.

With Pelosi’s announcement, the membership is now complete. In addition to Van Hollen, it includes Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Patty Murray of Washington, Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Rob Portman of Ohio and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Democratic Reps. James Clyburn of South Carolina and Xavier Becerra of California and Republican Reps. Dave Camp of Michigan, Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Fred Upton of Michigan. Murray and Hensarling have been named co-chairs.

Van Hollen, who represents parts of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland’s Washington suburbs, could use his position to give voice to the tens of thousands of federal workers whose jobs have been threatened during the deficit debate by talk of spending cuts.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:12 PM | | Comments (15)

Conservative flank of House GOP caucus might challenge leadership

Maryland delegates Nic Kipke and Michael Smigiel may take on the current House GOP leadership, a shift that would move the caucus to the right.

Kipke said in an interview that he's been approached by several House Republicans and asked to challenge current Minority Leader Anthony O'Donnell. However, Kipke said that he -- and other members of the GOP -- are now "evaluating" what the next steps could be. The news was first reported on the blog Red Maryland.

Kipke said that he's keen to avoid a nasty leadership fight, and believes that some arrangement will be made with O'Donnell. O'Donnell could not be reached immediately.
Maryland's Republicans picked up at net of six new seats in House of Delegates last year. There are 43 members in the House GOP caucus and 16 of them are freshman.

"There is a lot of young blood in the caucus," Kipke said, adding that many members are finding innovate new ways of communicating with the diaspora of Republicans in Maryland, a deep blue state.

Exhibit A is Del. Neil Parrott, a freshman GOP lawmaker who spearheaded a challenge to the MD Dream Act. Parrott used his own money to launch a repeal effort and he created signature-gathering campaign that drew over 100,000. The law is poised to be the first in a generation to be put on the ballot.

His efforts drew no financial contributions from the GOP leadership.

Kipke said the success of Parrott's efforts has energized the GOP base, who want to be more involved in the party. Kipke believes he can find ways of bringing their voices into the debate.

Smigiel, who founded the House Tea Party Caucus, said in an interview that he wants to see the party focus more on fiscal discipline. He noted that current Minority Whip, Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, asked the House Speaker for money to fund pet projects even though she publicly criticized the practice of making such requests.

"You lose the message in the hypocrisy," Smigiel said.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:42 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Republicans

Pugh urges police audit, youth programs in safety plan

Mayoral candidate state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh said Thursday she would audit police statistics, implement a program to seize guns from young people and create a watch list of children most likely to become involved in violence.

“If we're going to solve crime in our community, we need to focus on young people,” Pugh said at a morning news conference at her East Baltimore campaign headquarters.

Pugh said she would create a program that would allow police to confiscate guns from juveniles without levying criminal charges. Under “Operation Disarm Our Youth,” parents, teachers and social workers worried that a young person may have a gun could arrange for police to search the youth's home — with parents' permission — and seize weapons.

Campaign staffers for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who is running to keep her post against a crowded Democratic field in the Sept. 13 primary, issued a news release saying that Pugh presented a “stolen public safety plan” calling for tougher gun laws as the mayor had done. Rawlings-Blake campaign spokeswoman Keiana Page said the news release referred to a point on Pugh's website that urges stricter gun laws.

Pugh's campaign fired back, saying that the mayor's news release represented “a desperate attempt ... to distract citizens from the fact that she has been absent from the conversation with the community and doesn't really have a comprehensive plan for reducing the growing violence in our city.”

The seven-page crime prevention plan that Pugh unveiled Thursday does not mention tougher gun laws. While Pugh’s campaign said she supports the idea, that’s not a centerpiece of her proposal.

Pugh also would target 300 children most likely to perpetrate or be victims of gun crimes and provide mentoring and monitoring to prevent them from being involved in violence. She would establish a “youth crime” section in each police district that would focus on kids teetering on falling into crime and expand the police cadet program in high schools.

Pugh said she would seek help from philanthropists, businesses and nonprofits to expand job programs for young people and recreation centers to provide constructive opportunities for youth.

Pugh questioned the accuracy of police statistics and said she would immediately call for an audit of the department if she were elected mayor.

She rejected Rawlings-Blake's plan to hire 300 police officers to fill vacant positions and said she would raise standards to join the force. Pugh also said she would reinstate a tuition reimbursement program for officers that Rawlings-Blake eliminated as part of last year's budget cuts.

Pugh repeatedly vowed that her plan would not cost the city additional money. She has said she could eliminate $12 million from the police budget through greater efficiency. And many of her youth programs would rely on private funding, she said.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 1:08 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

August 9, 2011

Md. Treasurer predicts state will keep AAA rating

Despite Maryland's close ties to the federal government, state Treasurer Nancy Kopp said today that Maryland's AAA score from Standard and Poor's is safe. The agency downgraded America's rating Monday for the first time in history.

Kopp said in a statement that she's “pleased" S&P will evaluate each state on a case-by-case basis and she believes "Maryland’s prudent fiscal management will be viewed positively."

Kopp said her office has been on contact with all three rating agencies and will continue to do so. She bases her optimism about S&P on word from a Standard & Poor's analyst who told her office: "There is no action on MD's rating," according to a news release from Kopp. The analyst is not named. 

An accompanying report from S&P, however, does not sound quite as sunny. Speaking generally, S&P writers said that states "with relatively low levels of funding interdependencies with the federal government" would be safer. Maryland clearly does not fit that category.

But the folks at S&P said they'd look kindly states that keep their fiscal house in order -- and they do tend to put Maryland in the group.

Sun columnist Jay Hancock also analyzed the likelihood of a downgrade to Maryland's rating in today's Sun. He spells out some of the state's so-called "interdepedancies" with Washington: Maryland benefited from $80 billion in federal funding in 2009 and one of 18 MD jobs is directly connected to the federal government. 

Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:58 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Administration

August 8, 2011

O'Brien urged O'Malley against backing gay marriage

In the days before Gov. Martin O’Malley announced his support for same-sex marriage, Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien privately urged him against “promoting a goal that so deeply conflicts with your faith.”

“Preserving the central role of the natural family unit has always been — and should continue to be — the reason why our government recognizes marriage as existing between one man and one woman,” the archbishop wrote to the governor in a letter dated July 20.

Two days later, O’Malley said he would introduce legislation next year to allow gay couples to marry.

“As a free and diverse people of many faiths, we choose to be governed under the law by certain fundamental principles or beliefs, among them ‘equal protection of the law’ for every individual and the ‘free exercise’ of religion without government intervention,” O’Malley said. “Other states have found a way to protect both these rights. So should Maryland.”

A same-sex marriage bill cleared the state Senate this year, but it was pulled from the House floor after vote-counters determined they were a few delegates shy of a majority. With O’Malley’s active support, backers are hopeful of success next year.

O’Malley, who is Catholic, opposed same-sex marriage when he first ran for governor in 2006. He said at the time that he had been “raised to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

His announcement last month came weeks after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that made New York the sixth state to allow gay couples to marry — and enjoyed a boost in his national profile.

“I am well aware that the recent events in New York have intensified pressure on you to lend your active support to legislation to redefine marriage,” O’Brien wrote, in a letter released Monday by the governor’s office.

“Maryland is not New York,” O’Brien wrote. “We urge you not to allow your role as leader of our state to be used in allowing the debate surrounding the definition of marriage to be determined by mere political expediency.”

O’Malley responded to O’Brien last week. In a letter dated Aug. 4 and released by his office on Monday, he listed the many areas in which they agree, including efforts to eradicate poverty, support for a progressive income tax and opposition to the death penalty.

“But on the public issue of granting equal civil marital rights to same sex couples, you and I disagree,” O’Malley wrote.

“As governor, I am sworn to uphold the law without partiality or prejudice. When shortcomings in our laws bring about a result that is unjust, I have a public obligation to try to change that injustice.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 8:46 PM | | Comments (54)

August 7, 2011

O'Malley backs Baraka alumnus for city council

Boys of Baraka subject and city council hopeful De'Von Brown got a boost from Maryland's top Democrat this weekend, capturing the endorsement of Gov. Martin O'Malley.

O'Malley said Friday that he could not recall ever before wading into contested Democratic primary -- but in this case he said he picked 21-year-old Brown out of a crowded field because "I think he just represents the best of what Baltimore has to offer."

The governor said that Brown is "good friends" with all of the members of his family and he handed the candidate a campaign check when he arrived at a Brown fundraiser in Little Italy.

"I love his passion," O'Malley said. "He is a good guy and I think the city would do very, very well to bet on this guy." Brown is vying in the 12th councilmanic district, which includes parts of Mount Vernon and East Baltimore.
Brown said that he got to know the O'Malley clan after the movie Boys of Baraka was screened. The film follows Brown and three other disadvantaged Baltimore children who were scooped out of the city schools and sent to be educated in Kenya for a year.

O'Malley, who was mayor when the film was released, invited Brown to dinner with his family. Brown became close with Katie O'Malley, a district court judge, and has addressed defendants her truancy court.

The governor spoke briefly at the fundraiser addressing criticism that Brown is too young to be a city council member. "When I was 27 years old all of the all of the political power brokers said, 'It is not his time. He needs to wait in line. He hasn’t paid his dues.' "

"You know what the due are?," O'Malley said. "The dues are knocking on the doors of the people you want to serve and asking them for their trust. That’s the dues."

The governor stayed at the fundraiser for about an hour, mingling with guests including Abell Foundation President Bob Embry. Embry's organization funded the experimental Baraka School, which closed in 2003 because of unrest in Kenya. 

O'Malley decision to get into the race is unprecedented: He has always sat on the sidelines, at least publicly, in contested primaries. But, in this case it can't hurt that Brown happens to be challenging O'Malley foe Carl Stokes.

The veteran councilman last year hosted Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich at a charter school event in Baltimore. At the time Stokes insisted the stop was not a campaign event, though it happened to be the same day Ehrlich toured the state to introduce his running mate for the first time.

Stokes became a councilman in the chain of events following former Mayor Sheila Dixon's resignation. He took the East Baltimore seat that became vacant when Bernard C. "Jack" Young took over as city council president. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the city council president, became mayor.

Stokes briefly considered throwing his hat in for mayor this year, but is now is gunning for re-election to city council.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:58 PM | | Comments (21)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

O'Malley tangles with a top Senate Republican

Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's appearance this morning on ABC's This Week with Christiane Amanpour included a sharp back-and-forth about jobs with Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions.

Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate budget committee, floated a 10 percent cross-the-board cut to all federal departments and agencies as a solution to the federal debt crisis that led Standard and Poor's to downgrade America's sterling AAA rating.

O'Malley listened to Session's remarks and wryly noted: "I never once heard the distinguished senator use the word jobs." O'Malley next accused Sessions of "worshipping at the altar of the false god of tax cuts."

Sessions appeared whipsawed during the exchange and the two talked over one another for a period.

On the show, O'Malley promoted his view that the country must focus on a "balanced approach" that includes "investing in the future and investing in job creation."

It was O'Malley's first appearance on a network Sunday morning political talk show. But he's been a guest on several national cable shows since last December when he assumed leadership of Democratic Governors Association.

These TV appearances, plus a series of speeches at Democratic fundraisers around the country, have revealed a side of O'Malley rarely seen in Annapolis: A fierce partisan. Maryland's state legislature is dominated by the Democratic party, so broad swings at the GOP don't matter that much.

But on the national state, O'Malley regularly takes swings at the tea party, Republican "extremism" and he's jabbed at  New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a conservative darling.  

Posted by Annie Linskey at 9:21 AM | | Comments (23)
Categories: DGA

August 5, 2011

Rolley: Rawlings-Blake lacks 'real' crime plan

Mayoral challenger Otis Rolley said at a Friday news conference held across the street from where a 91-year-old woman was fatally stabbed to death this week that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake lacks a “real plan” to address crime.

“Instead of providing leadership or proposing a real plan to make every neighborhood safer, she's running campaign commercials touting a drop in crime that began under another mayor,” Rolley said. “She knows crime is too high and she has no plan to make us safer.”

Rolley, the former city planning director, said Rawlings-Blake's strategy focuses only on “catching criminals” and not reducing crime. His plan, which he claims is the only one being offered by any of the candidates, goes beyond law enforcement and includes proposals to increase spending on youth programs and reduce recidivism by “eliminating barriers for ex-offenders.”

Rawlings-Blake this week released radio and TV ads focused on crime, saying she has worked to strengthen gun laws and avoided laying off police officers in tough budget times. Since taking office in January 2010, she has largely continued the policies that were already in place that dropped the city's murder rate to its lowest mark in 22 years, with an added emphasis on pursuing additional surveillance camera technology.

Despite the declines, Baltimore also remains one of the most deadly in the country as crime has dropped across the country. Rolley’s remarks coming on the heels of a week that saw two 15-year-olds gunned down in Southwest Baltimore and 91-year-old Irene Logan - the mother of a family friend of Rawlings-Blake - fatally stabbed inside her Northeast Baltimore home. For the year, murders are up slightly compared with a year ago.

Rawlings-Blake's campaign hit back by mocking Rolley’s crime plan, which includes among its proposals the institution of a bullet tax. The idea got nationwide attention, though much of it negative.

“His crime plan is literally a joke from Chris Rock,” said spokeswoman Keiana Page, referring to a routine from the comedian's 1999 special Bigger and Blacker (link contains explicit material) in which the he jokes that shootings would drop if bullets were more expensive. “But crime in Baltimore is a serious challenge that needs serious solutions. ... Her crime strategy is not only real, but it is working.”

“Murders have reached their lowest level in 26 years, gun crime is down, and citizens, elected officials and police officers are working together to make neighborhoods safer,” Page said.

Other candidates have also been rolling out plans for reducing crime. State Sen. Catherine Pugh said she would audit police department statistics and reorganize the department. Former City Councilman Joseph T. “Jody” Jody Landers has spoken about drug treatment programs and wants police commanders to be more accessible. Clerk of Courts Frank M. Conaway Sr. says his platform is “jobs, jobs, jobs.”

In addition to his proposals dealing with youth and ex-offenders, Rolley would reduce penalties for simple marijuana possession and said he wants to create a public safety cabinet that brings together officials from various city agencies, such as police, housing, social services, schools, and recreation and parks, to come up with ways that their agencies can complement each other.

Rolley, who as former Mayor Sheila Dixon's chief of staff had advised her to hire DC police chief Charles Ramsey, has repeatedly offered a muted endorsement of Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III.

“You saw a sharp difference when Bealefeld was reporting to the last elected mayor, and when he started reporting to the current appointed mayor,” Rolley said. “We started seeing a spike in crime when the Police Department stopped feeling like they had a mayor that had their back. The main change needs to happen at City Hall.”

As of Thursday, murders in Baltimore were up, with 129 people slain compared with 124 at the same time last year. As of July 23, the most recent statistics available, non-fatal shootings were down 3 percent and overall gun crimes were up 6 percent compared to the same period last year. Total crime is unchanged.

Posted by Justin Fenton at 2:28 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

Cardin vows to stand with federal workers

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin told a large crowd of federal employees in Suitland on Friday that Maryland's congressional delegation will stand with them as Washington begins the process of looking for deep spending cuts under the new debt ceiling law.

"We're going to stand up and defend what you do every day," Cardin told employees at the U.S. Census Bureau headquarters. "We know the sacrifices that you've made. We know the abuse that you take."

Federal employees have been a central target in the debates over budget cuts in recent months, with lawmakers of both parties suggesting the workforce might have to accept trims to their retirement and other benefits. Maryland is home to 286,810 federal workers, census data show.

Days after Congress approved an unpopular plan Tuesday to raise the debt ceiling through next year and cut about $1 trillion in spending over 10 years, Cardin and other lawmakers have fanned out to explain the plan to voters. Cardin, who is up for election in 2012, spoke with seniors about the debt deal earlier in the week.

"It's time to look at revenue," Cardin said, echoing a mantra Democrats used throughout the months long debt ceiling debate. "It's time to look at our mandatory spending. It's time to look at bringing our soldiers's time to use those savings and to stop looking toward the federal workforce."

The new law calls for an initial round of cuts but also creates a 12-member, bipartisan panel that will be charged with finding a plan by November to reduce budget deficits by an additional $1.5 trillion. If that panel deadlocks, or Congress fails to accept its recommendations, then automatic cuts will kick in.

Either course -- either a compromise by the committee or the automatic cuts -- could leave federal workers vulnerable.

"Americans really appreciate what you do, they just have a hard time expressing it," Cardin told several hundred federal employees at the event, which was organized by several large public-sector unions, including the American Federation of Government Employees. "I can tell you when they get their Social Security check, they're happy...They just take our federal workforce for granted."

Cardin received a round of applause when he noted that the Senate on Friday voted to end the stalemate over the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration -- a move that will return some 4,000 federal employees to work after two weeks on furlough. Cardin presided over the Senate floor Friday during the pro-forma session in which the FAA legislation was passed.

Nick von Stein, a Census Bureau employee and a member of AFGE said after the event that he wants to see Washington do more to put people back to work -- not just federal employees but also private-sector workers.

"I think he's probably doing what he can, but I don't think there's really anybody out there that's really doing anything to try to get people back to work," von Stein said. "There was the stimulus and now there's nothing."

Posted by John Fritze at 1:34 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Washington

August 4, 2011

Slow clapping from Baltimore

As computer programmer Chris Ashworth watched the debate over raising the nation’s debt ceiling unfold this past weekend, the germ of a snarky idea entered his head: Why not ask people to make videos of themselves “slowly and sarcastically” applauding members of Congress?

“It seemed like a funny joke,” said Ashworth, who posted the idea on the social networking site Twitter.

Within hours, as his comment began bouncing around the Internet, the Charles Village resident realized he was on to something. He registered a domain name — — and posted a video of himself, somber-faced, clapping slowly.

Soon others were posting videos, too.

The website, which had grown by Thursday evening to include about 50 videos of people clapping, sighing and shaking their heads, has been noted by CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post and several blogs.

A staff member for Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, noted on Twitter that the site is “making the rounds” on Capitol Hill.

“It clearly has struck a chord, and I think it's great that it's an outlet for people's frustrations,” said Ashworth, who runs a Baltimore company called Figure 53.

Without bells or whistles — Ashworth described the site as “tape and string as far as technology goes” — the idea clearly tapped into the public’s growing frustration with Washington. A USA TODAY/Gallup poll this week found that 46 percent of Americans disapproved of the debt ceiling agreement signed into law Tuesday by President Barack Obama.

The last-minute compromise called for $1 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade — most of which will not be made right away — but it put off difficult choices about entitlement spending and new taxes. A bipartisan panel, which has yet to be seated, has been charged with addressing some of those broader questions by November.

On the site, disappointed-looking people stare wordlessly into the camera and raise their arms slowly to clap. Included in the mix are a dog named Cronkite, a baby named Lily and a person who, instead of clapping, simply brings his fingers together. One man pours himself a drink before starting to applaud.

“Dear Congress,” the site reads. “For your leadership, your maturity, and your inspiring ability to perform the basic duties of your job. We applaud you.”

The site is politically agnostic, blaming both sides for the impasse.

Ashworth said he’s thinking about whether the project has a future — and perhaps some greater purpose — once the consternation over the debt debacle quiets down. He said he has heard from other technology-savvy Baltimore residents who are interested in finding ways keep the site alive.

“It's not especially constructive, which I think is a reasonable criticism of it,” said Ashworth, who posts each video manually. “It'd be cool if there was some way to put a more constructive slant on it.”

Posted by John Fritze at 4:59 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington

FAA shutdown puts Md. airport money in limbo

Nearly $1 million in grant money intended for Maryland airport construction is being held by the federal government because of the 12-day-old partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Transportation Department officials said Thursday.

The money is part of roughly $2.5 billion in grants the FAA has set aside for construction projects across the country this year that cannot be distributed because the agency shuttered its grant payment system when Congress failed to pass a short-term funding extension this week.

In addition to the grant money, the shutdown has forced several Maryland contractors to consider furloughing employees.

Administration officials distributed state-by-state grant numbers at a briefing Thursday with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has been ramping up pressure on lawmakers to return to Washington and end the stalemate. LaHood, a former Republican member of the House from Illinois, has noted that an estimated 74,000 workers nationwide have been furloughed during the impasse.

"We're asking Congress to come back from vacation, pass the bill, and put 70,000-plus people to work," LaHood said. "Whenever they want to pass something, they can do it very quickly. They know how to fix this."

The FAA stalemate has largely flown under the radar as Congress wrestled with raising the nation's debt ceiling. After that issue was resolved Tuesday, lawmakers returned to their home states for the summer recess. Leaders in both political parties have blamed each other for the holdup.

The FAA has issued stop-work orders for six projects in Maryland, including a new radar system at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport that helps manage traffic on runways and taxiways. In addition to an unknown number of private sector workers, seven FAA employees in Maryland have been furloughed.

And LaHood said there would "absolutely" be additional stop-work orders if the shutdown continues. Asked to assess his confidence that Congress will return and pass a funding measure for the agency, LaHood paused before answering, "Stay tuned."

Posted by John Fritze at 11:55 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington

Rawlings-Blake to face challengers at disabilities forum

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will join those fighting for her job for her first political debate of the campaign this afternoon at a forum addressing disability issues.

While the other candidates -- former City Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers, State Sen. Catherine Pugh, former city planning director Otis Rolley and Clerk of Courts Frank M. Conaway, among others -- have squared off at at least half a dozen times, Rawlings-Blake has chosen not to attend a forum until today.

The challengers, and in some cases, the moderators, have criticized Rawlings-Blake for not appearing at other debates, where the topics have centered on schools, crime and economic development.

Earlier this week, Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor of the Empowerment Temple, one of the city's largest churches, left an open podium on the stage to mark Rawlings-Blake's absence.

Organizers of today's debate say that the questions will be centered on issues concerning disabilities. Perhaps it will be similar to this forum last fall, where Gov. Martin O'Malley and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich answered questions about policies concerning disabled people.

Rawlings-Blake's campaign says that she will attend a total of four debates before the Sept. 13 Democratic primary. Those include: an August 16 debate hosted by former state senator and WOLB radio host Larry Young, an August 25 debate hosted by interfaith coalition BUILD, an August 29 debate hosted by Maryland Public Television and an August 30 debate hosted by WYPR, The Baltimore Sun and the League of Women Voters.

The August 29 debate could present some complications, because Fox 45 and other news organizations had planned a debate on that day.

Rawlings-Blake, who became mayor in February 2010 following the resignation of Sheila Dixon, is following a familiar political strategy by limiting her participation in debates.

Dixon followed a similar route in 2007, facing opponent Keiffer Mitchell in only a handful of forums as the September primary neared.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 10:14 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

August 3, 2011

Recess turns into fight over FAA

Updated with statement from Cardin

A day after Congress settled the longstanding debate over the nation’s debt ceiling, Maryland lawmakers are reacting to the next crisis caused by partisan gridlock: The partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration, which has caused thousands of employees to be furloughed.

In a testy press conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Rep. Steny Hoyer blasted House Republicans for the impasse, arguing that both the House and Senate could approve legislation to temporarily extend FAA funding, even though most lawmakers have left Washington for the summer recess.

“It will cost more than $200 million per week. It has already cost us $360 million. This is from the party that is worried about fiscal responsibility,” said the Southern Maryland lawmaker, who is the second-highest ranking Democrat in the House. “We need to get this done and we should get it done today.”

In a statement, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin called the impasse "yet another attack on public-sector workers."

"Hardworking FAA employees are going without a paycheck and are at risk of losing their health care coverage. Some FAA inspectors are still on the job, but are putting official travel costs on their personal credit card," he said. "This is unacceptable."

The Republican-led House of Representatives passed an extension of FAA funding that would keep the agency running through Sept. 16, but Senate Democrats have balked at that proposal, which includes $14 million in cuts in federal subsidies for rural airports. Democrats and Republicans have also wrestled over the rules that dictate how airline workers may unionize.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner called on the Senate to pass the bill approved by the House. In a statement, he claimed Senate Democrats were playing politics with the issue.

“I respect the fact that senators have certain objections, but they have had two weeks to respond to the House bill and done nothing, leaving tens of thousands of workers in limbo,” Boehner said. “The House has done its job, and now it’s time for senators to do theirs.”

Budget authority for the agency ran out on July 23. The U.S. Department of Transportation says that some 4,000 FAA workers – and an additional 70,000 contract employees – have been furloughed. In Maryland, stop-work orders have been issued for six contracts, including work on a new radar system for Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

One of those contractors, Greenbelt, Md.-based Applied Integrated Technologies, has had to stop work on a $3.5 million contract in which they are helping to develop new air traffic control software. Tom Ockuly, the company’s chief operating officer, said there is concern the company may have to reduce its workforce if the impasse continues.

“We can probably hold out for a month, if they act quickly when they get back in September,” said Ockuly, whose company employs 100 people, most in Maryland.

Though Congress is in recess, both chambers technically continue to meet in “pro forma” sessions. That would allow legislative leaders to pass a short-term extension if no single lawmaker objected. Other options include calling members back to Washington once an agreement is reached, or allowing the furloughs to continue until Congress reconvenes next month.

Allowing the shutdown to continue for a month also means forgoing $1 billion in airline ticket tax revenue.

“I think it’s scandalous that we left – the Congress left – before resolving this issue,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Montgomery County Democrat, told MSNBC on Wednesday. “This is an example of where Congress totally failed.”

The outcome could also have an impact on Hagerstown Regional Airport, which is one of more than 100 airports that benefit from federal subsidies.

In a press conference Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urged members of Congress to “end your vacation for a coupe of days…get off the beach” and end the standoff.

Posted by John Fritze at 2:16 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Washington

Arundel councilman hires lawyer, PR rep in tax case

The Anne Arundel County Councilman who was charged Tuesday in federal court for failing to file a tax return in 2005 has hired a prominent Baltimore attorney and Montgomery County communications firm to handle the legal and public relations issues from the allegations.

County Councilman Daryl D. Jones, who briefly answered questions about the indictment when reached on his cell phone Tuesday, issued a statement Wednesday through a media adviser expressing regret and reiterating that he failed to file the return because of family illness, but that he is now “up to date.”

“It’s uncharacteristic of me to not address obligations in a timely manner, but to be candid, it was a very tough period as I struggled to take care of my mother who was gravely ill for an extended time, and then with her passing, adding on the additional responsibility of taking care of my disabled brother,” read the statement issued by Audrey Fix Schaefer, a communications executive.

It continued: “I regret that it happened and I have been working to resolve the matter. I’m now up to date in filing and paying the taxes and interest. I look forward to finalizing the issue, fulfilling my responsibilities and moving on.”

Jones, a second-term Democrat from Severn, was indicted on a single count of failing to file a tax return by the deadline, which is a misdemeanor.

Jones has retained attorney Andrew C. White, a partner in the Baltimore firm Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin and White, to represent him in the tax matter, according to Schaefer. White could not be immediately reached for comment. Jones, a defense attorney himself, also owns a tavern in Glen Burnie.

Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, said Wednesday she could not confirm the status of Jones’ taxes. An initial appearance and arraignment in the case is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 12 at 2 p.m. before U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Hollander, said Murphy.

-Nicole Fuller

Posted by Andy Rosen at 2:00 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Anne Arundel County

August 2, 2011

Cardin, Mikulski, vote yes on debt ceiling deal

With John Fritze reporting from Washington:

Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski, both Maryland Democrats, joined a majority of their Senate colleagues Tuesday in voting to approve the bipartisan deal to raise the debt ceiling.

The legislation now goes to the White House, where President Barack Obama is expected to sign it.

The 74-26 vote came less than 12 hours before the government ran out of money and faced a default on its financial obligations, according to officials.

Cardin, who is running for reelection next year, said he was "conflicted" over the deal.

"There's a lot of things in it I don't like," Cardin said. "The main reason I voted for it is we cannot allow the debt ceiling to be breached and there were no other alternatives."

Mikulski called the vote difficult.

"I found it wrenching because of the continual draconian cuts to entitlements," she said. "I was pleased that I helped stop the stampede to raid entitlements."

The deal brokered over the weekend by Obama and Senate Republicans would cut federal spending by at least $2.1 trillion over the next decade and allow the government to continue to borrow money through the end of next year.

The legislation would slash about $900 billion in spending over 10 years and create a bipartisan panel of lawmakers to seek out additional cuts by December. If that panel fails to reach a deal, or Congress declines to approve its recommendations, the bill calls for automatic, across-the-board cuts of $1.2 trillion - including to defense spending and Medicare.

The House voted 269-161 to pass the measure Monday.

Cardin had said before the House vote that he was undecided on the legislation. He said he was investigating details of the cuts that would be triggered if the bipartisan committee deadlocked or Congress failed to approve its recommendations.

Much of the concern from Maryland officials has appeared to center on the automatic cuts triggered by congressional inaction, which would likely have a disproportionate effect on the state.

Maryland is home to more than 286,800 federal workers and local companies were responsible for about $60 billion in federal contracts in 2010. Many of the automatic cuts envisioned by the bill could fall to defense contractors.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:49 PM | | Comments (9)

August 1, 2011

Rawlings-Blake to skip Empowerment Temple forum

Six candidates vying to be Baltimore's next mayor will speak at a forum at one of the city's largest churches Tuesday night--  but Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will not be participating, a campaign spokeswoman said.
Organizers of the forum at the Empowerment Temple said that Rawlings-Blake's campaign had told them Sunday that she would be participating, but campaign spokeswoman Keiana Page said another engagement prevented Rawlings-Blake from attending.
Candidates State Sen. Catherine Pugh, former city planning director Otis Rolley, former city councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers, clerk of courts Frank M. Conaway Sr., nurse Wilton Wilson and Vicki Harding-- the lone Republican on the panel-- are expected to attend, a church spokeswoman said. 
Michael Steele, the former lieutenant governor and Republican Party chair, is slated to moderate the event along with radio host Marc Steiner. 
Nicole Kirby, a church spokeswoman who is organizing the forum, said she was surprised to hear that Rawlings-Blake would not be joining the other candidates.  
The campaign "called Sunday to say she would be in attendance," said Kirby. "The mayor was the last one to confirm."
Update: Page forwarded an email that Rawlings-Blake's campaign manager had sent Kirby last week, saying that the mayor would not be able to attend.
More than 2,000 people are expected to view the forum, she said.  More than 8,000 people are members of the Northwest Baltimore mega-church, she said.
The church has promoted the event -- and Rawlings-Blake's attendance -- in radio ads and emails, she said. 

But Page, the campaign spokeswoman, said that Rawlings-Blake would not be able to come due to her "full schedule."

"The mayor is the incumbent. She has a very busy schedule," she said. "She manages the city. She doesn't have the luxury the other candidates have" to attend such events.

Rawlings-Blake announced last month that she would join in four candidate debates, including a forum this Thursday about disabilities. 

Page said that Rawlings-Blake would also be unable to join in a debate next week hosted by the Safe and Sound Campaign, which advocates for children and teens. 



Posted by Julie Scharper at 6:37 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

Md. GOP lawmakers hold out on debt deal

Maryland’s two Republican members of Congress were once again hedging their bets Monday over the latest deal to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, with Rep. Andy Harris saying he’s “leaning against” the proposal and Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett noting that he’s “technically undecided.”

The proposal, which would cut $917 billion in spending over a decade to extend the debt ceiling through the end of the year, could come up for a vote in the House on Monday – a day before the deadline to raise the debt ceiling or risk default. Democrats say a Senate vote will take place after the House acts.

Harris, of Baltimore County, was one of the first conservatives to tie his support for raising the debt ceiling to a proposed constitutional amendment that would require Washington to balance the federal budget. On Monday, Harris said he was concerned that “the linkage to the balanced budget amendment isn’t strong enough” in the deal worked out between the White House and congressional leaders over the weekend. “There’s not enough reason for someone to vote for” the amendment, he said.

Harris, who represents the Eastern Shore, nevertheless predicted the measure would pass.
Bartlett, meanwhile, said there are “a lot of good things in this bill,” but said that spreading out the initial budget cuts over 10 years is a problem for him. “That’ll never balance your budget at home, and it’s not going to balance your budget here, either.”

Both Harris and Bartlett were among the final holdouts of the original proposal put forward by Speaker John Boehner last week. Both came on board – and ultimately voted for that bill – when Republicans leaders added the balanced budget amendment to the legislation. That bill was promptly tabled by the Senate.

The most recent version only requires a vote on the budget amendment.

What’s less clear is how some of Maryland’s Democrats feel about the 11th-hour deficit-reduction deal, particularly Rep. Donna F. Edwards, a Prince George’s County lawmaker who has increasingly positioned herself as a progressive leader. A spokesman for Edwards did not return a request for comment.

Posted by John Fritze at 3:28 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Washington

CASA wants to overturn in-state tuition petition

** Updated to includes grounds for lawsuit

CASA de Maryland wants a court to overturn the petition drive that suspended the Maryland Dream Act, and plans to sue the Maryland State Board of Elections, a spokeswoman said. Their hope is to reinstate the controversial law and prevent it from going to referendum in 2012.

Joe Sandler, an attorney hired by Casa, said at a news conference this morning that the petitions generated by the website should not count because the computer fills out some voter information. He also says that the Maryland Dream Act should be viewed as an appropriation, a type of law that can not be petitioned to ballot.

More than 132,000 Marylanders signed a petition this summer to reject a state law allowing illegal immigrants tuition discounts at state colleges and universities -- nearly double the number needed to trigger a referendum. But CASA funded lawyers have spent the past few weeks poring over the petitions looking for flaws.

There's been no public polling on the issue, but my Sun colleague Julie Bykowicz wrote in Sunday's paper about Maryland's split personality on immigration issues. The state funds flow to CASA, a group that welcome immigrants regardless of status; but some counties have used their tax money to aggressively deport undocumented workers.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 8:00 AM | | Comments (56)
Categories: Immigration
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About the bloggers
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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