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September 30, 2011

Two maps emerge in redistricting discussions

As Maryland Democrats prepare to draw new boundaries for the state's eight congressional districts, they are considering plans that would target one or both of the state's Republican congressmen, according to a Democratic strategist familiar with the discussions.

One map under consideration would slice Republicans from the Western Maryland district now held by Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett but make only small changes to the boundaries of the state's six Democrats in the House of Representatives. The Eastern Shore district held by the state's other Republican, Rep. Andrew Harris, would actually become even more Republican.

A second proposal would give Democrats a shot at winning all eight congressional seats. But in doing that, the map would make radical changes to all of the current congressional boundaries and would force sitting Democrats to introduce themselves to large swaths of new constituents. Copies of both maps were obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

Continue reading here.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:07 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: 2012

Stronger ban on texting and driving takes effect Sat

Glancing at a text message or an email from behind the wheel will cost $500 in fines starting Saturday when a new law goes into effect clarifying Maryland’s muddled driving-while-texting rules.

Until now, drivers were barred from writing text messages while negotiating traffic but permitted to read them.

"When you are driving, your eyes should be on the road," said Sen. Jim Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat who pushed the bill.

It’s bound to be the most noticeable of several hundred new laws that officially go on the books starting Saturday. Other new rules toughen penalties for drunk driving, gun possession and animal abuse.

Maryland drivers also aren’t supposed to talk on their cell phones per a year-old law, but doing so is remains a “secondary offense” meaning police can only pull over a driver who is also breaking another rule.

Drivers will still be able to use GPS systems on their phone while driving, or text an emergency operator.

Drivers who are ticketed can still choose to accept guilt and pay a $70 fine (plus one point on their license). If the texting leads to an accident, accepting guilt means an automatic $110 fine and three points.

Drivers who contest the tickets and lose in court will be guilty of a misdemeanor and have to pay the full $500.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:10 PM | | Comments (29)
Categories: 2011 legislative session

September 29, 2011

Cummings, Issa seek answers on HGH testing for NFL

Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Oversight Committee requested NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the head of the players association to appear before Congress to explain the delay in implementing testing for human growth hormone.

In a rare display of bipartisanship, the committee’s Republican chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, and its top-ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore, wrote that the league had hoped to begin testing by the first week of the regular 2011 season. Instead, the two sides have become bogged down in a battle over the test itself.

“We believe the league and its players remain best positioned to implement an HGH testing regime, but concerns have been raised about the status of these efforts,” according to a joint statement by Cummings and Issa.

In addition to Goodell, the committee sent letters to DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association and Travis Tygart of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

The goal of beginning HGH testing was part of the agreement inked Aug. 4 to end this year’s lockout and was hailed at the time as a model for other sports. Since then, Goodell has leaned on the players union, suggesting that it is delaying the program’s implementation. The association has raised concerns over the accuracy of the test.

Fourteen members of Congress, including North Carolina Democrat and former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler, signed a similar letter this month. But the oversight committee’s interest gives added heft to the inquiry because of the panel’s past probes into doping. And while committee leaders have only requested Goodell, Smith and Tygart to appear, the panel could use its subpoena power if they decline.

“The purpose of this meeting is to understand the concerns of the players and the league and to strongly convey our universal interest in protecting the health of millions of younger athletes across the country,” the joint statement read.

Posted by John Fritze at 6:59 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington

September 28, 2011

DCCC fires shot at Bartlett

The campaign arm of House Democrats has for months been focused almost exclusively on one person in Maryland: Rep. Andy Harris, the first-term Baltimore County Republican. But on Wednesday the group added a new target – Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett – and the timing is not likely a coincidence. 
In a press release Wednesday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee tried to link the Western Maryland Republican with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, questioning whether Bartlett would support a health care plan Ryan unveiled this week.  
Because the group tends to send out the same release to dozens of districts -- only changing the name of the target -- the issue raised is far less important than the fact that Bartlett’s name appears at all. It is a possible indication the DCCC has started looking at the seat as competitive. And that is almost certainly the result of speculation that the district will be altered when the General Assembly takes up redistricting next month.
Bartlett, first elected in 1992, has won with wide margins in the past, but a new district could change the political landscape, making it harder for virtually any GOP candidate to win. Bartlett, meanwhile, has not been aggressively raising money. He pulled in $28,300 in the second quarter of this year, making his the lowest haul of any member of the state’s delegation. Some inside-the-Beltway observers, including the newspaper Roll Call and the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, have labeled him a "possible retirement" this year.  

Posted by John Fritze at 6:24 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Washington

Slots commission may dismiss two bids

** UPDATE: Slots commission voted to reject one bid in Baltimore, and one at Rocky Gap

Staff to Maryland's slots commission this afternoon recommended tossing one of the two bids to build a casino in Baltimore and one of the three proposals for Rocky Gap. Commissioners are meeting in a closed session.
Robert Howells of the State Lottery Agency recommended ejecting a bid by Baltimore City Casino LLC, because the group failed to provide the required $22.5 million licensing fee when they submitted their proposal last week. A man attending the meeting who said he was from that group declined to talk to a reporter.

If the commissioner accepts the staff recommendation, the only bid standing for Baltimore will be one headlined by Caesars Entertainment.

Howells also recommended removing Allegany Entertainment Group from the mix of potential casino owners at Rocky Gap. The group had proposed a 200 VLT casino, but failed to provide "numerous" other parts of the bid, Howells said.

Missing elements included affidavits attesting to conflicts of interests by the principals, fees for conducting background checks, and a litigation protest bond. "We feel this is far beyond a minor irregularity," Howells said.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:05 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Slots

Muse might challenge fellow Democrat Cardin

State Sen. C. Anthony Muse is considering a primary challenge to U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, who faces re-election next year.

Muse, a Prince George's County Democrat, said this morning on WOLB radio that "we should build up our state" and wants to travel across Maryland to talk about ways that federal investment is needed to jump start the economy.

"I have a message for the people that Maryland can be better," Muse told radio host Larry Young.

Muse said he does not have significant policy differences with Cardin, but believes he can be more "effective" than the incumbent senator. Muse said he would be able to "stop the gridlock" that has strangled Washington over the past year. Cardin enjoys the backing of much of the state's Democratic establishment, which could make Muse's bid tricky -- particularly since President Barack Obama has not drawn a primary challenge that could gin up general interest in the federal primary.

Muse said that he's "run against the machine" in the past, and is not concerned about Cardin's campaign organization or ties with other popular Democratic leaders.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:06 AM | | Comments (15)

September 27, 2011

Currie trial begins with opening statements

Opening remarks lasted for most of the morning in the federal bribery case against Sen. Ulysses Currie and two executives from Shoppers Food Warehouse.

The federal prosecutors sought to invoke generally negative views held by many toward elected officials and business leaders, repeatedly referring to Currie as a "politician" and his two co-defendants from Shoppers as "corporate executives."

Defense attorneys tried to counter those images immediately. Lucius Outlaw, one of Currie's public defenders, used the first moments of his opening statement to request that jurors "push out of your mind" all "natural conclusions" made when an elected official is charged with a crime. Instead, Outlaw stressed Currie's humble roots. He is the son of a sharecropper who moved to Maryland and taught for years in public schools.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen O. Gavin described Currie as holding "one of the most powerful positions in our state" as the chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. But Outlaw was quick to point out that Currie was unable even to persuade state roads officials to move a stoplight for a Shoppers store.

Attorneys for the two Shoppers execs sought to draw sympathetic portraits of their clients: Former President William White was described as a hard working everyman who worked his way up from a grocery store clerk to the top levels of the company. An attorney for former Shoppers real estate VP Kevin Small explained that he has a learning disability that has hampered him for years. The government's opening statements revealed far more details about the alleged corruption, for the first time exactly what Currie was alleged to do and say in various meetings with top state officials on behalf of Shoppers. It also served as a primer of sorts to the General Assembly, with prosecutors explaining the basics about state government.

Former state highway administration head Neil Pedersen is expected to testify this afternoon.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:47 PM | | Comments (1)

Longtime Baltimore budget czar to retire

Baltimore's top financial officer and longtime budget writer said Monday he will retire from city government, the first Cabinet-level departure since Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake won the Democratic primary this month.

Though not a household name, Edward J. Gallagher has been a behind-the-scenes force in shaping every Baltimore spending plan since he was hired in 1983. The city's finance director since 2005, he plans to remain in the job until the mayor's office completes a national search for a replacement. Rawlings-Blake called him "one of our city's unsung heroes." Former Mayor Sheila Dixon said: "He is the man."

And Gov. Martin O'Malley, who as mayor promoted him to his current job, said he always had "the utmost respect for his integrity" and recalled that Gallagher was the first official he asked to stay on upon becoming mayor in 1999. "He's honest as the day is long," O'Malley said.

In recent years, Gallagher has overseen the accumulation of a rainy-day fund and pushed policies that nudged Baltimore's credit rating from A+ to AA. He drew the ire of fire and police unions last year by shaping a deal that cut ballooning pension benefits.

Though many of Gallagher's ideas kept the city on stable financial footing in the long term, his City Hall reputation is that of the consummate "no man" for reining in the spending ideas of the city's political leaders.

Gallagher recalled William Donald Schaefer haranguing him after the then-mayor noticed a favorite garden-focused project had been cut from the city's Recreation and Parks Department budget. Schaefer pointed at Gallagher and yelled: "You cut my flowers!"

The city finance director also disliked the long tradition of fancy lunches the day of City Council meetings, a battle he eventually won when Rawlings-Blake became mayor and cut back the perk. Salmon cakes went out. Deli sandwiches came in.

Gallagher's command of nuances within the $2.3 billion city budget and his direct, no-nonsense manner has allowed him to maintain a professional — though sometimes frosty — relationship with both the mayor's office and the City Council. As a sign of respect, the last two mayors and most City Hall staffers have referred to him as Mr. Gallagher.

(Read the rest of the story here.)
Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:31 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: People

September 26, 2011

Possible witness list for Currie trial

Jury selection is starting in federal court today for the bribery case against state Sen. Ulysses Currie.

Judge Richard Bennett read off a list of potential witnesses or people who could be mentioned during the course of the four to six week trial, Sun reported Tricia Bishop listed some of the names:

Lt. Gov Anthony G. Brown; Rep. Elijah E. Cummings; former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich; former Maryland Del. Robert L. Flanagan; Sen. Jennie M. Forehand; Sen. Brian E. Frosh; former Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr.; Sen. Lisa A. Gladden; lobbyist Gilbert Genn; former Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman; former Sen. Paula C. Hollinger; Rep. Steny Hoyer; Freeman A. Hrabowski III; former Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah; former Del. Timothy Maloney; Aris Melissaratos, former secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development; Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller; Gov. Martin O’Malley; former State Highway Administrator Neil Pedersen; Sen. Paul G. Pinsky; former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke; and former Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus.

Also, potential top staffers would could be called or mentioned include: O'Malley's top lobbyist Joseph Bryce and Miller's chief of staff Victoria Gruber. Other notable officials include former Ehrlich chief of staff James "Chip" DiPaula, former O'Malley Business and Economic Development Secretary David Edgerley and former O'Malley Transportation Secretary John Porcari, who now works for the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:58 PM | | Comments (1)

September 23, 2011

Caesars wants to run Baltimore casino

Sun reporter Alison Knezevich reports ....

Caesars Entertainment Corp., the world's largest casino operator, applied Friday for the license to run the slot machine parlor proposed for Baltimore, while three developers will compete for the opportunity to run a casino in Western Maryland.

Caesars submitted a bid for a 3,750-machine casino on Russell Street in Baltimore. The location drew another bidder, Baltimore City Casino LLC, but the company did not submit the required $22.5 million initial license fee and is likely to be disqualified, state slots commission Chairman Donald C. Fry said.

There will be more competition for the slots license at Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort in Allegany County. Landow Partners LLC, the Bethesda firm owned by former Democratic state Chairman Nathan Landow; Allegany Entertainment Group and Potts Gaming; and Paragon Project Resources of Dallas, under the name Evitts Resort LLC, submitted bids for that license.

Fry said licenses could be awarded early next year. For now, he said, officials will scrutinize the applications before the slots commission meets next week to ensure they meet minimum requirements.

"We'll have to continue to examine the proposals," he said. "But we're fortunate that the remaining two facilities that have not been awarded licenses now have applications to consider."

Read the full story here.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:34 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Slots

PG Delegate charged with theft

Del. Tiffany T. Alston, a Prince George's County Democrat, was charged this morning with stealing money from her campaign account to pay for wedding expenses.

Alston, a freshman member of the General Assembly, is heretofore best known for walking out of a House Judiciary Committee voting session on same-sex marriage even though she had sponsored the bill.

The charges were brought by the Office of the State Prosecutor, which alleges that she made a series of withdrawals from her campaign account in late 2010, spending $3,560 on wedding related expenses, $660 to pay an employee of her law firm and $1,250.

The indictment uses her new, presumably married surname, Tiffany A. Gray.

Speaker Michael E. Busch, a Democrat, said in a statement that he will "determine the appropriate course of action" after "the judicial process has concluded."

Alston is the fourth Prince George's County Democrat to make headlines this year for corruption. Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Prince Geroge's Dem, will be in court for the next month facing bribery charges. Former Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson pleaded guilty to corruption charges, as did his wife Leslie, who was a member of the County Council.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:22 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Crime & Justice

Cancer treatment may have made Currie "fuzzy" during FBI interview

An attorney for state senator Ulysses Currie said in federal court this morning that the senator was diagnosed with "a very aggressive form" of prostate cancer and was being treated for it when FBI agents interviewed him in 2008.

Defense lawyer Joe Evans, a public defender, said that "potent drugs" used to treat the cancer reduced the senator's cognitive abilities and made him "fuzzy."

Evans gave his presentation during a round of final motions hearings this morning. Currie's public corruption trial begins next week. Currie, a Prince George's County Democrat, is accused of accepting bribes from a grocery chain headquartered in his district.

During the hearing Judge Richard D. Bennett noted that there are several members of the General Assembly who may testify as character witnesses for the defense. Evans declined to provide any names after the hearing. Currie declined to talk with reporters about his health after the court hearing, Evans said that his client is now in remission. Its the first hint that Currie, who chaired the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee from 2002 to 2010, had been ill.

Evans introduced the illness and treatment to make an argument that Currie was not thinking clearly in spring of 2008 when he was interviewed by the FBI. He would argue that the temporary lack of mental acuity caused the senator to give some incorrect answers to the FBI, a defense for the false statement charge Currie faces.

Evans said Currie was diagnosed around Christmas 2007. The FBI interviews were in the spring of 2008.

Evans also revealed that at some point the senator had stumbled and fallen to the ground, injuring his head. A series of MRIs revealed "a mass" in his brain, Evans said in court. Evans declined to say anything additionally about the mass or how it could relate to Currie's health or defense.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:53 PM | | Comments (13)

Sneed concedes in Baltimore City Council race

The Sun's Luke Broadwater reports:

Shannon Sneed, the television producer who finished just 43 votes short of unseating Councilman Warren Branch in Baltimore City Council District 13, posted a concession message on her campaign Facebook page Thursday and pledged to continue her activist work in East Baltimore.

"We have come to the end of a long journey. I am thankful for the opportunity I had to get to know many of the great residents of District 13. I would also like to thank my husband, family, friends, and neighbors who dedicated so much time in this campaign. Though I was not selected to be the next council member, I will still be working tirelessly in our community. I would like to congratulate our councilman on his race and I know if he succeeds then our community succeeds."

In an interview earlier this week, Branch, the brother of Del. Talmadge Branch (D-Baltimore), claimed victory in a race that was too close to call for more than a week. He praised Sneed's campaign as "wonderful."

"She put on a positive campaign. There was no innuendo and slander," Branch said.

Sneed, who has worked for WJZ-13, has not responded to calls and emails seeking comment.

About 4,500 votes were cast in the district's five-person primary race.

The Baltimore City Board of Elections expects to certify the election results this afternoon, officials there said.

Posted by at 9:54 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: City Hall, Elections

September 22, 2011

O’Malley to appear on 'Morning Joe'

Taking his latest turn on the national stage, Gov. Martin O’Malley will appear on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program Friday to weigh in on the national debate over job creation and to discuss Maryland’s projected 2012 budget surplus.

O’Malley, who appeared on the program in April, has stepped up his presence in Washington since taking over as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association last year. He has been an aggressive supporter of the $447 billion jobs plan that President Barack Obama unveiled earlier this month.

This week, the governor said that he may ask the General Assembly to pass a Maryland specific jobs plan during its special session next month, though few details are available. On the same day, Comptroller Peter Franchot announced that tax revenues in Maryland' exceeded projections by $195 million.

Posted by John Fritze at 5:52 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Washington

National group joins in-state tuition battle

The Washington group Judicial Watch filed papers Thursday to intervene in the lawsuit over legislation to extend in-state tuition discounts to illegal immigrants.

he conservative group, which bills itself as a watchdog on immigration, can bring money and national attention to the battle in Maryland, where the controversial measure was suspended after opponents successfully petitioned for a statewide vote.

“There is no question that the Maryland DREAM Act should be put to a referendum,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. “The illegal immigration lobby simply wants to keep Maryland voters from having their say on the issue.”

The legislation was approved this year by the Democratic General Assembly and signed by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley.

But a Republican-led petition drive gathered enough signatures to put the Dream Act on the ballot in November 2012. The effort, which attracted Republicans, Democrats and independents, was the first successful petition drive campaign in ten years. That effort was overturned in a court challenge.

CASA de Maryland and other immigrant advocates are suing the State Board of Elections, which they say validated many of the signatures improperly.

Judicial Watch said Thursday it would represent the organizers of the petition drive.

CASA spokeswoman Kim Propeack said her group and other plaintiffs consented to Judicial Watch intervening in the case.

“They are representing the petitioners, and the petitioners clearly have a reasonable role in the dispute,” Propeack said.

A motions hearing is scheduled for the end of January.

Immigration advocates across the country have long argued that state universities should charge illegal immigrants the same in-state rates that apply to other residents. They've lobbied successfully for such breaks in about a dozen states, including Texas under Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who now faces heat from opponents in the GOP presidential primaries for supporting the law.

O'Malley has praised Perry for that support.

“I do like the fact that he recognizes that fair is fair and if a family’s paying in-state taxes, they should pay in-state tuition,” O'Malley said.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:43 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Immigration

Labor Dept. delays wage hike for foreign workers

A day after Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski advanced a proposal to delay a new rule that would increase wages for temporary foreign workers in Maryland’s crab processing plants, the U.S. Department of Labor agreed to postpone implementing the rule voluntarily.

The higher wages for the workers, which were set to go into effect Oct. 1, will be delayed 60 days, according to the Maryland Democrat. On Wednesday, Mikulski attached a one-year delay in an amendment to a spending bill that was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Sixty days will allow the senator and her coalition to look for some sort of fix. It’ll get the crab folks through the season,” said Jack Brooks, co-owner of J.M. Clayton Seafood Co. in Cambridge. “But, we’ve still got some work to do.”

The U.S. permits 66,000 foreigners to come to the country each year under what is known as the H-2B visa program. The temporary workers are hired for seasonal jobs such as crab picking, oyster shucking or landscaping and return home once the season is over.

Labor Department officials proposed higher wages for H-2B workers in January after a federal court struck down guidelines for the program crafted by the Bush administration. Under the rule, workers in Maryland who now make $7.25 an hour would receive $9.24, according to industry

Despite the 60-day cushion, Mikulski said she will continue to push for a year-long delay of the rule’s implementation.

“We got a pause, but I’m going to keep fighting for a long-term solution that is fair for workers and viable for preserving jobs in Maryland’s seafood industry,” she said in a statement. “These are jobs that once they are lost, they will never come back. I will not stop fighting until we have a sensible approach to H-2B wages.”

Posted by John Fritze at 3:59 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Washington

Rawlings-Blake says Obama bill would fight poverty

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake responded to a Census report Thursday showing growing poverty in Baltimore with another call to support President Barack Obama’s jobs bill.

“The Great Recession has hit America’s cities particularly hard with higher unemployment rates, and the tough economy has pushed more families into poverty,” Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. “That is why Republicans in Congress must work now to pass the American Jobs Act.”

The Census reported Thursday that more than one in four Baltimoreans is living in poverty. That’s an increase of more than 20 percent in the last year.

Obama’s llegislation would cut payroll taxes for employers and employees and pump $100 billion of new infrastructure spending into the economy. It has met opposition from GOP lawmakers, who object to the payroll tax cut, the stimulus spending and Obama’s plan to fund it in part by raising taxes on the wealthy.

Rawlings-Blake joined mayors from across the country earlier this week to lobby Washington in support of the $447 billion package. They met at the White House on Tuesday with National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and senior advisor David Plouffe.

In her statement, Rawlings Blake said the American Jobs Act would “cut payroll taxes for Baltimore families — keeping more money in their paychecks; extend unemployment benefits for Baltimoreans looking for jobs; create new tax incentives for small businesses to create jobs; build or renovate thousands of new schools in America’s poorest school districts—immediately creating new construction jobs; and fund rehabilitation and demolition of vacant buildings in struggling neighborhoods.

“Families in Baltimore and throughout the country are hurting and struggling everyday to stay afloat, and just saying ‘no’ to the American Jobs Act is not an option,” she said. “Failure to act only means more families will fall behind and slip into poverty. It is time for Congress to act now and pass this bill to create more job opportunities for Baltimore families.”

Gov. Martin O'Malley said Wednesday that he also is considering jobs legislation for the special session of the General Assembly next month.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:48 PM | | Comments (6)

September 21, 2011

Senate panel approves delay of guest worker wage hike

A new federal rule that would require crab processing plants on the Eastern Shore and elsewhere to pay a higher wage to temporary foreign workers would be delayed for a year under legislation approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday.

Advanced by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the measure was attached to a larger spending bill in the Senate and appears to enjoy bipartisan support. The rule, created by the U.S. Department of Labor, will take effect Oct. 1 unless Mikulski's change is approved.

"We're for everybody earning an honest wage," the Maryland Democrat said. But, she added, "eighty percent [of the workers] come back every year. They must be satisfied."

The U.S. permits 66,000 foreigners to come to the country each year under what is known as the H-2B visa program. The temporary workers are hired for seasonal jobs such as crab picking, oyster shucking or landscaping and return home once the season is over.

Labor Department officials proposed higher wages for H-2B workers in January after a federal court struck down guidelines for the program crafted by the Bush administration. Under the rule, workers in Maryland who now make $7.25 an hour would receive $9.24, according to industry estimates.

Mikulski, who has long advocated for the Eastern Shore crab picking plants, has repeatedly expressed frustration that Labor Department officials would not meet with her on the issue because of pending lawsuits over the new rule.

"When they lawyered up, I got revved up," she said Wednesday. "This is the result."

Two Republicans on the committee, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said they support Mikulski's measure. Both have industries in their states that rely heavily on the H-2B workers.

"Without the H-2B workers, many employers in Maine would have to literally close their doors," Collins said. "That would put out of work the year-round American workers that they have."

No one raised objections to Mikulski's one-year delay during the hearing, but that doesn't mean there is unanimous opposition to the wage increase. Several advocates, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, argue that more U.S. residents would consider taking the seasonal jobs if employers paid a higher wage.

Posted by John Fritze at 6:56 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Washington

‘Significant’ budget shortfall projected in Baltimore City

With Baltimore County attempting to cut 200 positions in hopes of saving $15 million for next budget year, city officials say they’re also eying a dire budget year.

Ryan O’Doherty, spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said city budget analysts are predicting a “significant” shortfall this budget cycle – which will cause the mayor to make “difficult reductions” to city government when the budget process begins next spring.

“We expect to have budget projections that show a significant shortfall,” he said. “Without getting into specifics, there will be very difficult reductions in this budget.”

The city has frequently faced structural deficits in recent years. Last year’s shortfall was $65 million; the year before, the deficit was $121 million, O’Doherty said.

“Again, it’s largely as a result of declining revenues and rising fixed costs,” he said of the projected shortfall.

O’Doherty said low income and property tax revenue, combined with the “ever-increasing” cost of employee benefits and prescription drug costs have created the deficit.

“Every year it gets more difficult because the year before you already cut everything you thought you could cut,” he said.

He said he expected the city’s budget office to have specific projections within a month.

-Luke Broadwater

Posted by Andy Rosen at 4:42 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: City Hall

Agreement clears way for Andrews cleanup

Cleanup of a federal Superfund site at Joint Base Andrews will proceed with oversight from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – ending a years-long stalemate over contamination at the military facility that is home to Air Force One, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said Wednesday.

An agreement signed by the Department of Defense and the EPA lists 13 contaminated sites to be addressed at the base, formerly known as Andrews Air Force base, as well as six additional munitions sites that require investigation and cleanup, Cardin’s office said.

State and federal environmental agencies have been working on the remediation effort since the site was placed on the federal Superfund list of contaminated sites in 1999. But attempts to make the cleanup mandatory have stalled for years.

“For more than a decade, a number of Department of Defense facilities around the country refused to sign mandatory cleanup agreements with EPA, as required by the Superfund law,” the Maryland Democrat said in a statement.

“With today’s agreement, all of these facilities in Maryland now have enforceable clean-up agreements in place, recognizing EPA’s role as [the] ultimate arbiter of clean-up standards," Cardin said. "That’s good news for the military personnel who work on base as well as the Prince George’s County residents who live nearby.”

Similar agreements have been signed for other military facilities in Maryland, including at Fort Meade and Fort Detrick.

Lead and other contaminants have been detected in the Piscataway Creek, which runs through the base, Cardin’s office said. Mercury, chromium and cadmium have been found on the base, which has been in operation since the 1940s. In addition to supporting regular military operations, the facility also serves as the home to Air Force One.

Posted by John Fritze at 1:23 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

Special session could include jobs bill

Gov. Martin O'Malley said he is considering asking the General Assembly to pass a legislative package aimed at stimulating hiring during the October special session.

"We may well take up a couple of jobs items," O'Malley said to reporters after the Board of Public Works meeting this afternoon. "There may be a few things we do on the jobs front. We're still working on it."

The governor's statement was the first public indication that the Oct. 17 special session would take up any issues beyond congressional redistricting.

O'Malley declined to provide specifics about potential jobs legislation, saying the ideas are still being developed. In the past he pushed tax credits for companies hiring off the unemployment rolls.

O'Malley said that he "doubts" the General Assembly will take up any of the tax increases that have been discussed in a series of hearing over the summer.

Though the state's tax receipts have inched up, Maryland still faces a $1 billion on-going gap between revenues and expenses. Separately, the state lacks funds for needed transportation projects and some are considering increasing the gas tax to pay for repairs.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:12 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Administration

MD will have $195 million cushion this year

Maryland's revenues for the current budget year inched up by $195 million on better than expected income tax returns, Comptroller Peter Franchot announced this morning at the Board of Public Works.

Franchot warned that the figures mask soft sales tax returns, and urged caution spending the money. He also noted that the figures reflect revenues from the first half of the year, since then the economy has cooled. More details about the figures will be available later this afternoon.

Treasurer Nancy Kopp also released the first budget estimates for FY2013, saying the state is expecting 2.8 percent growth. "While it is very good to have growth, it is very slow growth," Kopp said.

Despite the caution from public officials, the figures fill out a far sunnier picture of the state's budget than in recent years. Earlier this month the first glimmer of good news came when Maryland budget writers announced a nearly $1 billion surplus at the end of FY2011.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:07 AM | | Comments (21)

September 20, 2011

Rawlings-Blake lobbies Washington on federal jobs act

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake joined mayors from across the country Tuesday to lobby Washington in support of the $447 billion jobs plan unveiled this month by the White House – even as the proposal’s future in Congress remains uncertain.

A half dozen mayors, including Rawlings-Blake, met Tuesday at the White House with National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and senior advisor David Plouffe to discuss the plan, which would cut payroll taxes for employees and employers and pump $100 billion of new infrastructure spending into the economy.

Rawlings-Blake focused her remarks on a section of the measure that would direct $30 billion to modernize 35,000 public schools across the country. She noted the money could have a particularly significant impact in Baltimore, which is home to some of Maryland’s oldest school buildings.

“We can turn that around,” Rawlings-Blake said. “Our kids, like kids across the country, deserve to go to school in buildings that they’re proud of, buildings that are healthy, buildings that are safe.”

Rawlings-Blake is in Washington this week as part of a U.S. Conference of Mayors effort to support the jobs plan. Mayors meeting at the White House Tuesday were all Democrats with the exception of Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City.

Cornett said he supports the infrastructure spending included in the plan and said he would press his GOP colleagues in Congress to back it.

“The unattended maintenance on our interstate highways, on our bridges, on our railroads, on our water systems, in our airports, is unimaginable,” he said. “The president’s plan addresses a lot of these concerns.”

Republicans on Capitol Hill have been more cool to Obama’s plan, especially the new spending. The White House has proposed paying for the plan partly with new taxes on high earners. Rawlings-Blake said she believes a jobs plan focused solely on tax reductions might still be beneficial.

“For many cities across the country it is small businesses that are the backbone of the economy,” she said. “If we find out that that would be helpful, we have a whole new reason to be working hard to get this done.”

Asked about early estimates indicating that Maryland would receive $20 million to combat foreclosed and abandoned properties under a new program called Project Rebuild – the lowest allowed for a state under the bill – the mayor said she was hopeful the state and city could secure more money for the effort.

Posted by John Fritze at 1:51 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington

Judge in Currie case wants to select jury from pool of 75

U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett said Monday afternoon that a pool of 75 potential jurors will be called next Monday for the federal corruption case against state Sen. Ulysses Currie, the Prince George's County lawmaker accused of wielding his power to benefit a grocery chain. Twelve jurors and four alternates will be selected from that group.

No candidates for the jury were present, the attorneys on both sides made their recommendations based on results from questionnaires. Lawyers were not given the names of the possible jurors, only a number for each, preventing them from using Google or social media like Facebook to research their background. (My colleague Tricia Bishop wrote about the practice of masking juror names in yesterday's Sun.)

Bennett revealed some tidbits about the likely direction of the case while overseeing the pre-screening process. The number of African-Americans on the jury could be an issue as Bennett took pains to tell lawyers that 16 members of their pool were black. He noted that was trying to accommodate a request by Joe Evens, Currie's attorney. Currie is African-American.

Bennett was also concerned about anyone with any connection to the state legislature, axing a candidate who revealed in a questionnaire that he'd once delivered the opening prayer to one chamber of the General Assembly. "I tend to think he's a little too close to the flame," Bennett said. Bennett counted out another -- candidate No. 77 -- because he or she had been FBI agent for 27 years. Prosecutors said they intend to call several agents.

And medical excuses of all types were accommodated including one candidate who needs to deliver a shot to a diabetic patient by 6 p.m. each evening.  "We are not going to sit past 5 p.m.," Bennett said. But he noted "over the course of time things happen" and did not want to be responsible for missed medication.

Defense attorney Joe Evans revealed that the patient is a dog.

"Certainly I'm concerned about the dog and don't want the record to reflect otherwise," Bennett said, excluding the possible juror.

During jury selection next week, the government will be able to strike six candidates. The defense has 15 strikes. Each side can also strike two alternates.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 7:33 AM | | Comments (4)

September 19, 2011

Md. Dems back Obama's debt plan

Maryland Democrats on Monday praised President Barack Obama’s plan to trim the nation’s debt by more than $3 trillion but Republican leaders just as aggressively opposed the proposal, which calls for as much as $1.5 trillion in new taxes.

Arguing that Washington cannot rely solely on cuts to address the nation’s growing budget deficit, Obama called for ending income tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush, a new minimum tax rate on millionaires and curbing certain loopholes for those earning more than $250,000.

“It is wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay higher tax rates than somebody pulling in $50 million,” Obama said during a Rose Garden address Monday. “Anybody who says we can’t change the tax code to correct that, anyone who has signed some pledge to protect every single tax loophole so long as they live, they should be called out.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who is serving on a bipartisan panel charged with making recommendations to reduce budget deficits by $1.5 trillion, said Obama’s plan represents a “common sense” approach that deserves “serious consideration” by the committee.

“He laid out the case for putting our fiscal house in order by making difficult cuts and also asking millionaires and billionaires to pay at least the same effective tax rate as many of those who work for them,” the Maryland Democrat said in a statement.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley called it a “balanced and responsible” proposal.

“And unlike the proposals put forth by congressional Republicans, President Obama's plan asks Americans of all income levels to contribute their fair share to reducing the deficit,” O’Malley said in a statement.

Republicans have cast many of the provisions, especially the proposed tax increases on the wealthy, as class warfare. House Speaker John Boehner said the GOP-led House and the White House appeared to be no closer to an agreement on the deficit than they were during protracted negotiations over the summer on the nation’s debt limit.

“Pitting one group of Americans against another is not leadership,” Boehner said in a statement. “This administration’s insistence on raising taxes on job creators and its reluctance to take the steps necessary to strengthen our entitlement programs are the reasons the president and I were not able to reach an agreement previously, and it is evident today that these barriers remain.”

Other Maryland reaction:

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer: "The plan put forward by the president today is a balanced approach to create jobs in the short-term and bring down the deficit over the long-term. It asks everyone to pay their fair share, strengthens Medicare and Medicaid for future generations while protecting beneficiaries, and emphasizes the need for immediate job creation."

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees: "Asking federal employees to accept additional cuts to their take-home pay is unfair, especially at a time when citizens are demanding more services from their government...This is a double whammy for federal employees, who are facing the same economic hardships as most other Americans. Enough is enough.”

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin: “I agree with the president that every American – including millionaires and billionaires – needs to pay their fair share to solve our fiscal problems. He has put forward a solid, balanced plan that stimulates private-sector growth and legitimate profit-making, but not in such a way that squeezes the middle class out of existence or puts seniors and other vulnerable Americans at greater risk."

Posted by John Fritze at 2:43 PM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Washington

O'Malley, Brown announce state agency to move to PG (again)

Gov. Martin O'Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown announced this morning that New Carrollton will become the new home of the state's Department of Housing and Community Development, an agency currently located in Crownsville.

The new site was selected after years of lobbying from the Prince George's County delegation which has long wanted to headquarter a state agency. The move-in state is set fall 2013.

The state will construct a new building -- called "Metroview" -- for the 385-person agency. The same building will contain about 400 units of rental housing. Carl Williams, of Grand Central Development, will build Metroview, according to the governor's office.

The governor stressed in a statement that the new building would be close to the Washington, D.C.-bound Orange Line and the yet-to-be-constructed Purple Line. O'Malley called it a "modern investment" that will "allow us to do the right thing for reducing traffic and sprawl, the right thing for our quality of life, and the right thing for our land, our water, and our air.”

O'Malley and Brown first announced that the agency would move to Prince George's County 15 months ago, during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:07 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Administration

September 16, 2011

Mikulski presses White House on guest workers

Unable to get a response from the Department of Labor about a new, higher wage requirement for seasonal foreign workers employed in Eastern Shore seafood plants, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said Friday that she had taken her case to the White House.

The Maryland Democrat wrote White House Chief of Staff William Daley, asking the Obama administration to intervene to delay new requirements that would raise the hourly rate of the foreign workers who come to the U.S. to pick crabs and shuck oysters. Business owners have threatened that they will have to close if the higher wages take effect.

The U.S. allows 66,000 foreigners to come to the country each year under what is known as the H-2B visa program. The temporary workers are hired for seasonal industries such as crab picking, oyster shucking or landscaping. They are required to return home once the season is over.

Labor Department officials proposed higher wages for H-2B workers in January after a federal court struck down guidelines for the program crafted by the Bush administration. Under the new rules, workers in Maryland who now make $7.25 an hour would receive $9.24, according to the industry. The new wages will take effect after Sept. 30 – in the middle of this year’s crab season.

“The wage rule was drafted without regard for or consultation with the industries it would affect,” Mikulski wrote in the letter. “I’m for everyone making an honest living and an honest wage, but I will not support the federal government changing the rules of the game in the middle of the tide for these watermen.”

Mikulski told The Sun this week that she has tried to contact the Labor Department to discuss the issue but said officials there had “lawyered up” because of a lawsuit filed by seafood businesses in Louisiana.

Posted by John Fritze at 11:13 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Washington

September 15, 2011

O'Malley urges Congress to pass Obama jobs bill

Sun colleague Joe Burris reports:

Gov. Martin O’Malley said Thursday that President Barack Obama’s new American Jobs Act would create about 19,000 jobs in the state’s infrastructure, schools and services sectors and could help generate future employment opportunities for 100,000 Marylanders by providing skills training.

O’Malley joined Delaware Gov. Jack Markell and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter in a conference call on Thursday to discuss the impact of the proposed jobs act.

Obama has proposed a package of tax cuts aimed at small businesses and the middle class, spending on infrastructure and an extension of employment insurance.

The White House said the American Jobs Act would provide Maryland with an immediate investment of at least $625.5 million for highway and transit modernization projects that would fund about 8,000 jobs.

The plan would include $541.7 million for about 6,000 jobs for teachers, firefighters and law enforcement officers and $315 million in school construction and upgrades. The White House sad that work would generate more than 4,000 jobs.

“We need to pass this now. A four-corners defense is not an option when so many people are without jobs in our country today,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley said that the jobs plan would bolster efforts the state already has implemented to spur job growth, such as a jobs tax credit.

“A lot of things in this bill are continuations of good things we have been doing,” he said. “These are all the things we have been doing as a state. We can do them in an even more robust way and in a way that moves our economy forward with the president’s jobs act."

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 6:18 PM | | Comments (7)

O’Malley praises Rick Perry for in-state tuition law

Arguing that both political parties need to create a “new narrative” as the nation heads into a polarizing 2012 presidential election, Gov. Martin O’Malley said Thursday that none of the leading GOP candidates have “offered policies that are terribly different than the ones that got us into this mess” and he predicted that President Barack Obama would be reelected despite sagging poll numbers.

Speaking to a regular breakfast gathering of political reporters in Washington, O’Malley also offered sly praise for the leading GOP presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, for supporting a 2001 law in Texas that permits some illegal immigrants to attend college at in-state tuition rates. The law, similar to one passed in Maryland this year, has recently been used against Perry by his Republican opponents.

“One thing I do like about Perry -- I do like the fact that he recognizes that fair is fair and if a family’s paying in-state taxes, they should pay in-state tuition,” the Maryland Democrat said at the breakfast, hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “I think he’s right in making that assertion… Just because Congress can’t get things done and just because we can’t overcome our current affliction of xenophobia and have a rational immigration policy again, is no reason to condemn hardworking kids.”

In the Republican presidential debate on Monday, Perry defended the Texas law against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who vetoed a similar proposal in 2004. “I’m proud that we are having those individuals be contributing members of our society, rather than telling them, ‘you go be on the government dole,'” Perry said during the debate.

Maryland’s law, which O’Malley signed in May, was suspended this summer after opponents gathered enough signatures to put it on the ballot for referendum next year.

It was O’Malley’s first time addressing the breakfast, a longstanding Washington gathering. The first Maryland governor to attend one of the sessions was Spiro T. Agnew in 1968.

The hour-long discussion focused largely on next year’s presidential election, with O’Malley defending the Obama administration, including the $447 billion jobs package the White House unveiled earlier this month. O’Malley, who chairs the Democratic Governors Association, blamed the Bush administration for the sluggish economy and the debt crisis, noting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the 2001 and 2003 income tax cuts.

“Their party is directly responsible for a great deal of damage to our economy because of their polices. And they cannot run away from that…People over time do figure out who’s on their side and who’s not. They’re responsible for an awful lot of damage to our country’s economy, to the erosion of our middle class, to first stagnating and then declining wages. Their worship at the altar of tax cuts for the wealthy is unbecoming to the vast majority of hardworking families that want a better future for their kids.”

Asked about deficit increases created by Obama, particularly the $830 billion economic stimulus package in 2009, O’Malley held up a chart from the New York Times that showed that Bush’s policies added more to deficits than Obama’s. “In terms of the deficit, yes, certainly under President Obama it continues to go up until we get to a point where we bring it down. And no nation with 10 percent unemployment can ever hope in a timely fashion to retire the deficit – the record deficit that George Bush created and left to his successor.”

O’Malley has become increasingly more engaged in national politics since taking the chairmanship of the Democratic governors group, fueling long-held speculation that he has ambitions to run for president, possibly in 2016. Asked about the emerging field of GOP candidates for 2016, O’Malley said, “I’m not, as a Democrat, afraid of their bench.”

The governor declined to say whether he intends to face off against those potential candidates himself.

“I think we’ll probably just go to another question.”

Posted by John Fritze at 11:46 AM | | Comments (28)
Categories: Washington

City Council primary still too close to call

Sun colleague Nicole Fuller reports:

The political fate of Baltimore City Councilman Warren M. Branch, whose primary race remains too close to call, won’t be determined until later this month, election officials say.

The current counts from the Tuesday vote – 1,713 for Branch, 1,698 for his nearest competitor, Shannon Sneed, a television news journalist – do not include absentee and provisional ballots that are still being counted, city elections director Armstead B. Crawley Jones Sr. said.

A margin of less than 2 percent would trigger an automatic recount, Jones said. The elections board has until Sept. 21 to certify the vote totals for Tuesday’s Democratic primary and declare a winner.

Sneed is looking forward to a final count.

“When I first decided to run for city council it was because of a desire to improve our community,” she wrote in an e-mail, and added: “I remain committed to those goals while we wait on ALL the votes to be counted. It is not over!”

Branch, who was elected to the council in 2007 to represent the East Baltimore district, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 11:02 AM | | Comments (8)

September 14, 2011

Rawlings-Blake tight-lipped on plans for next four years

In her first public appearance after securing the Democratic nomination for mayor, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake spoke briefly and in vague terms to reporters, but was tight-lipped on future plans.

"I'm glad it's over and now we can continue to do the work to move Baltimore forward," Rawlings-Blake said of the election, in which she swept a field of challengers with 52 percent of the vote.

In heavily Democratic primary, the November general election is generally considered a formality. Rawlings-Blake, who was appointed to the mayor's office last year following the resignation of Sheila Dixon, is all but guaranteed a four-year term.

Rawlings-Blake addressed reporters for fewer than 10 minutes Wednesday morning in the ceremonial office in which city leaders swear an oath of office.

"Today is about moving forward together," she said. "I think the broad support that I was able to get mixed with my olive branch to the opponents' supporters, we have a unique opportunity to move forward again."

Rawlings-Blake received broad support throughout the city, crossing color lines to win precincts in both traditionally white and black neighborhoods.

When asked about her goals for the future, Rawlings-Blake returned to the three-prong slogan that has been her motto since she was the City Council President.

"We have a shared vision for our city," she said. "Everyone wants safer streets, better schools and stronger neighborhoods."

Rawlings-Blake declined to say whether she planned to replace agency heads or cabinet members, many of whom remain holdovers from the Dixon administration.

"I'm not making any personnel announcements here," she said, noting that she was "constantly evaluating" city leadership.

Rawlings-Blake said that she planned on "continuing the restructuring" of the quasi-governmental Baltimore Development Corp.

"We're going to do a lot more advocacy in the business community, trying to retain more business in Baltimore," she said.

And she said she planned to spur economic development by "making more investment in innovation," and praised the work of Canton's Emerging Technology Center.

Rawlings-Blake said she was "frustrated" that work on the city's slots parlor had been delayed. Bids for that project are due in two weeks, a two-month extension of the original date.

She said she did not know how many bids would be submitted, but that she had "confidence that we will receive bids from people who are not just interested but capable."

Rawlings-Blake said she was disappointed by voter turnout, which, at 18.5 percent of registered voters, sunk to a historic low.

"I had hoped for a larger turnout," she said. "My campaign put considerable resources into yesterday -- feet on the street as well as money."

Describing herself as a "student of politics and a love of democracy," Rawlings-Blake said she planned to study other city's initiatives to boost turnout. She noted, however, that slightly more voters cast ballots yesterday than in last year's citywide race for State's Attorney in which Gregg L. Bernstein upset incumbent Patricia Jessamy.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 4:10 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

Newcomer Mosby beats Conaway in council primary

In an election with few surprises, Baltimore City Councilwoman Belinda M. Conaway, the daughter of a storied political family, was soundly defeated in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

Political newcomer Nick Mosby, an electrical engineer from Reservoir Hill, bested two-term incumbent Conaway by 648 votes in the Democratic primary, part of a larger shift on the Council that increases the number of allies of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Conaway, 43, who had been dogged in recent months over residency issues and filed a $20 million lawsuit against a blogger she claimed had defamed her, said in a brief interview Wednesday morning that she looked forward to spending more time with her family. She ultimately dropped the suit.

“I don’t have any regrets -- none,” said Conaway, 43. “There’s a lot of support for me and for my family. We remain positive and remain committed to the community. Life goes on. The world keeps on turning.”

The defeat is a blow to the Conaway political dynasty, which includes the councilwoman’s father, Frank M. Conaway, Sr., the clerk of the city’s Circuit Court who made an unsuccessful primary challenge to Rawlings-Blake. Belinda Conaway's mother, Mary Conaway is the city’s register of wills and her brother, Frank M. Conaway Jr. represents the city in the House of Delegates.

Mosby, who ran unsuccessfully for the Council in 2007 against William Cole, before Reservoir Hill was shifted from District 11 to District 7, said he saw an opportunity when Conaway filed the suit.

“I can remember the day I was driving to Northern Virginia and my wife called and said, ‘Councilwoman Belinda Conaway just filed a $20 million lawsuit,’” said Mosby, 32. “My initial reaction was why would she draw more attention to this issue? We kind of sat back and watched it. I felt like if Belinda Conaway was going to be able to escape this residency issue, she was going to be unbeatable for years to go. I knew they had the Conaway name. but I saw it as now or never. If she was going to be able to escape this, she would be untouchable. It was now or never.”

Brandon M. Scott, a protege of Rawlings-Blake who previously worked for the mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods, won the Democratic primary in the Council’s only open seat this year – an East Baltimore district that has been represented by Councilman Nicholas D’Adamo for 20 years.

-Nicole Fuller

Posted by Andy Rosen at 3:20 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: City Hall

Senate panel hears transportation revenue ideas

Increases to the gas tax, higher vehicle registration fees and hikes to the titling tax were among the options discussed to raise transportation revenues during a lengthy hearing before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee this afternoon.

The panel is examining ways to increase funding by $800 million a year for roads projects, an issue that's likely to be one of several budget related priorities in January when the General Assembly meets for its regular legislative session. The state legislature will also try to take another bike out of Maryland's persistent $1 billion structural deficit.

Lawmakers mostly kept their thoughts to themselves during the afternoon hearing, though some Republican lawmakers expressed discomfort with the pattern of state spending on public transit projects that benefit urban areas at the expense of rural road construction.

The panel heard one possible solution to the GOP concern: Impose a regional sales tax on some counties that would fund urban transit projects. For example, raising the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent in central Maryland could yield about $400 million, according to legislative analysts.

Other ideas included adding a nickel or a dime to the state gas tax, adding a six percent sales tax to the wholesale price of gas, and doubling an assortment of fees.

Analysts warned that gas tax revenues have been flat because drivers are selected more fuel efficient cars and used their cars less during the recession.

In 2007 Gov. Martin O'Malley proposed tying the gas tax to the construction cost index. The General Assembly rejected the idea. Legislative analysts showed that the gas tax would have risen to about 41 cents per gallon in 2010 had it passed. The state gas tax is now 23.5 cents.

In evaluating unmet transportation needs, state lawmakers on the committee were guided by the interim findings from a Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding, which estimated the state needs $800 million a year to "shore up and expand core" funding.  

Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley presented sobering news during the hearing: The cost to fund just the top priority project for each of the state's 24 subdivisions would be $12 billion. She said that even if the General Assembly raises revenues and the federal government provides more funding than expected it is "very clear" that the state could not "knock off" the backlog of projects.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:58 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Tax & Spend

Cardin, Harris meet with Tubman advocates

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and Rep. Andy Harris spoke Wednesday with advocates who are hoping to build support in Congress for a national park system in Maryland and New York that would honor Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman.

Cardin is the lead sponsor of a bill that would create a park in Caroline, Dorchester and Talbot counties – along with a separate park in Auburn, N.Y. – to remember the Eastern Shore woman who was born into slavery but ultimately lead dozens of slaves to freedom.

“Harriet Tubman is one of our heroes in America,” the Maryland Democrat told the advocates, who gathered on Capitol Hill. “Her story is an incredible story. We are fortunate in Maryland that the landscape still exists.”

“Now is the time,” Harris, a Baltimore County Republican who represents the Eastern Shore, told the group.

The parks bill is currently pending in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which held a hearing on it in May.

During the legislative session in Annapolis this year state lawmakers considered sending a statue of Tubman to the U.S. Capitol. Because each state may submit only two statues to the Capitol, Maryland would have had to remove a statue of founding father John Hanson. The legislation ultimately did not pass.

Maryland received a federal grant earlier this year to build the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center in Dorchester County. The Center is scheduled to be completed in 2013, 100 years after Tubman's death.

Posted by John Fritze at 2:34 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Washington

Sun Poll predicted mayoral primary

The results of Baltimore’s Democratic primary election are in — and they show the accuracy of The Sun Poll.

The survey conducted by the Annapolis polling firm OpinionWorks last month predicted the order in which the mayoral challengers finished and, after distributing the undecided respondents among the candidates, gave a good approximation of their shares of the vote:

Candidate Poll response / Primary vote

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake 50 percent / 52 percent

Catherine E. Pugh 12 / 25

Otis Rolley 10 / 13

Joseph T. “Jody” Landers III 5 / 7

Frank M. Conaway Sr. 5 / 3

Wilton Wilson 0 / 0

Undecided 18 / n/a

The Baltimore Sun commissioned the OpinionWorks to conduct the survey of 742 likely Democratic primary voters on their mayoral picks and other issues from Aug. 22 to 24.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:56 PM | | Comments (3)

Rawlings-Blake wins Democratic primary

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake glided to victory in the Democratic primary Tuesday, securing the nomination for a full four-year term in the office to which she ascended last year.

Bernard C. "Jack" Young, picked by his fellow City Council members last year to lead the panel, won the Democratic nomination to keep the office for four more years.

A fraction of the city's electorate trickled into polls for Tuesday's primary — apparently the lowest recorded turnout in Baltimore's history.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)

September 13, 2011

Voter turnout sharply down from 2007 primary

Far fewer Baltimore voters have cast ballots in the city primary this morning compared to the 2007 election, according to the director of the Baltimore Board of Elections.

By 11 a.m., 15,283 people had cast ballots, which is about 4,100 fewer voters than the last city primary, said Armstead B. Crowley Jones Sr, elections director.

That means that about 4 percent of the city's 380,000 registered voters had voted.

Jones predicted that about 20 percent of registered voters would come to the polls.

In the six days of early voting -- which marked the first time that Baltimoreans have been able to cast ballots in a city race before the primary -- 7,815 residents voted.

"I'm looking at 18-20 [percent], somewhere around there," Crowley said. "By the time everything is added up, we may get to 25."

Jones reported no significant problems at the polls this morning, but said that two of the city's 290 polling places opened about 20 minutes late due to tardy judges.

Polls will remain open until 8 p.m.

Here is a full list of candidates for city offices, and a guide to the leading Democratic competitors for mayor.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 11:20 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

Baltimore polls open for primary

UPDATED: 9:22 a.m.

Luke Broadwater reports:

Voters took to the polls this morning, casting their ballots for Baltimore mayor in a crowded race that could change the direction of the city.

At Fort Worthington Elementary School in East Baltimore, 44 people had voted within the first hour, election judges said.

East Baltimore resident Lisa McCray said she had nothing against Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, but preferred challenger Catherine Pugh, a state senator.

"I like her outlook on things," McCray said of Pugh. "She's going to be able to change things."

McCray said the most important issues for her were the schools and crime.

Angela Lyles, 46, of East Baltimore, said she voted for the mayor, who assumed the position once her predecessor Mayor Sheila Dixon was forced to step down after a corruption trial.

"I want to give her a full term," Lyles said of Rawlings-Blake. "She needs to get a fair chance."

Robert and Margaret Jackson -- an East Baltimore couple married for 56 years -- said they came out to the polls early to vote for the candidates, including Rawlings-Blake, endorsed by the AFL-CIO union.

Robert Jackson, 77, said he believed Rawlings-Blake could help improve schools, while his wife said she earned respect for the mayor when Rawlings-Blake attended an event for adult illiteracy.

"That made me see her in a positive light," Margaret Jackson said.

City Council President Jack Young stopped by the polling station to greet election judges, he said.

Young said he had been driving around to bus stops encouraging people to vote.

"I know they're predicting light turnout but I hope that's not the case," he said.

Young, who faces multiple challengers to his seat, said he did not take the race lightly.

"People need to get out and exercise their right to vote," he said.

Check out the Baltimore City elections guide

At Hazelwood Elementary and Middle School, 138 people had voted in the first two hours -- which election judge Frances Carr called "sort of light."

Channon Rankin, 29, a former police officer who is now a student, said she voted for Rawlings-Blake, because of her work in criminal justice.

"She's in the neighborhoods. I see her throughout the city. Unlike Catherine Pugh, she wants to add more police to Baltimore's streets," Rankin said of Rawlings-Blake. "She has a better rapport with police [than past mayors]. Crime is going down. She's really been effective."

A retired couple, Angelo and Anita Nucci, said they were voting for Landers because of his focus on tax rates.

"He's new but he's been around a while," said Angelo Nucci, a retired brick layer who helped build the school in which he was standing. "The city will never grow if taxes are so high."

But Mike Perkins, 61, said Pugh was the best alternative to Rawlings-Blake.

"We need some changes," he said, adding that he supports Pugh's tax reduction plans. "Stephanie Blake is a rubber stamp."

Outside the polling place, City Council candidate Brandon Scott greeted voters. He said he chose the location because it had the third-most voters in the city last election.

"They've been coming in bunches," he said of turnout.

Posted by at 8:34 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: City Hall, Elections

September 12, 2011

Jobs bill would direct millions to Md. schools, White House says

Maryland schools would receive $315.8 million in federal construction money and $114.2 million would be directed to Baltimore City Schools under the $447 billion jobs bill President Barack Obama sent to Congress this week, according to estimates released Tuesday by the White House.

The money is part of a $25 billion program the Obama administration says would be used to modernize 35,000 public school across the country. Of that money, $10 billion would be directed toward the 100 largest high-need public school districts, including Baltimore, Prince George's County and Montgomery County schools, according to a list released by the Obama administration.

New estimates on the impact of the jobs plan come as the administration tries to sell the legislation directly to the public. Obama travels to Ohio Tuesday to visit a high school in Columbus as part of that effort. The president unveiled the jobs plan in a speech to Congress last week and has aggressively pushed for its passage. The measure has faced resistance from some Republicans who are concerned about its cost and whether it would create enough jobs to have an impact on the economy.

The projections are only estimates and they are being crafted by the same administration that is pressuring Congress to pass the bill. Predicting the economic impact of economic policies is notoriously difficult as the Obama administration learned during the debate over the 2009 economic stimulus.

School money allocated by the latest jobs bill could not be used for new construction, only renovating or upgrading current buildings. To ensure projects and the hiring of construction workers gets underway rapidly, the bill requires schools to spend the money by Sept. 30, 2012.

The White House estimates the funding has the potential to create 4,100 jobs in Maryland.

Maryland's aging school buildings have long been a top concern for education officials and lawmakers. Baltimore County recently estimated it would have to spend $2.2 billion to modernize its buildings, while the estimated need totals $2.8 billion for the city.

In addition to the school funding, the administration estimates some $625.5 million in transportation money would be spent in Maryland under the plan. Another $541.7 million would be used to help the state pay salaries for teachers, police and firefighters. Maryland would receive $20 million -- the minimum for a state under the law -- to renovate foreclosed and abandoned properties.

Posted by John Fritze at 11:04 PM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Washington

Cummings proposes short-term fix for USPS

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings is among a group of Democrats introducing a bill Monday that would let the U.S. Postal Service delay a $5.5 billion payment for retiree health benefits as the beleaguered mail agency struggles to avoid a default.

The Postal Service, which is losing money as e-mail continues to supplant traditional paper mail, expects to default on that payment, which is due at the end of the month, officials have said. The three-month delay included in the bill would give the White House and Congress more time to find a long-term solution.

“The Postal Service is one of our nation’s most trusted and reliable institutions,” the Baltimore Democrat said in a statement. “This short-term measure would give Congress an additional three months to consider ways to ensure that the Postal Service is profitable and competitive in the 21st Century economy.”

Unlike most private firms, the Postal Service is required to fully fund its anticipated future retiree health care costs, according to Cummings. Temporarily suspending that prepayment, he said, would not affect retiree health care.

Officials are considering several ideas to address the service’s financial woes, including ending Saturday mail delivery, closing post offices and layoffs.

In addition to Cummings, the bill is sponsored by Democratic Reps. Norm Dicks, of Washington; Stephen Lynch, of Massachusetts; Jose Serrano, of New York; Gerald Connolly, of Virginia; Danny Davis, of Illinois and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, of Washington, D.C.

Posted by John Fritze at 5:42 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Washington

Candidates protest lack of debate, media coverage

Sun colleague Liz Kay reports:

Four primary challengers for president of the Baltimore City Council gathered outside City Hall Monday afternoon to protest the lack of media attention to their race.

Local organizations held more than a dozen forums for the mayoral candidates in the primary Tuesday election Tuesday. But the one forum scheduled for the council president candidates was canceled by the League of Women Voters when the venue -- the downtown branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library -- was closed following the earthquake earlier that day.

Thomas A. Kiefaber, one of several Democrats challenging Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, said the lack of a debate favors the incumbent.

Kiefaber, the former owner of the Senator Theater, organized the news conference that included two other Democratic candidates, Leon Winthly Hector Sr. and Renold B. Smith, as well as Republican contender Armand F. Girard.

“They don’t even know who we are,” he said.

Kiefaber said that he knew media often aren’t able to cover the district races closely, but he was disappointed in the coverage of city council president, a citywide post. He said the position is significant in part because the last two city council presidents were appointed mayor.

“Nobody knows anything about the second-highest elected office,” he said.

Smith said the candidates had joined together to confront a shared challenge.

“We want to support each other because we have not gotten support from the media,” said Smith. “You can’t vote the same way every election and expect the same results.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:46 PM | | Comments (1)

Council candidates trade tax charges

Sun colleague Jamie Smith Hopkins reports:

City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway’s challenger has blasted her in campaign mailings for receiving a tax break intended for owner-occupiers on a property in Baltimore County while claiming to live in Baltimore.

Now Conaway is blasting back, accusing Nick Mosby of improperly handling his late mother’s estate so her home would appear eligible for the same tax break.

In a statement sent out late Sunday, Conaway – who represents the 7th District in West Baltimore – said she has asked state Comptroller Peter Franchot to investigate.

At issue is a small estate Mosby opened shortly after Eunice Orange’s death in May 2010. It specifies that she did not own any property, according to documentation Conaway provided to the comptroller’s office. Orange did own a home on Hillenwood Road, and it has received homestead tax credits worth $2,086 in the two tax years since her death. The homestead credit can be collected only by a homeowner on his or her primary residence.

“Nick Mosby is a phony and hypocrite,” Conaway said in her statement.

But Mosby said Monday that the estate documentation specified that it was being opened for litigation purposes only and was not intended to deal with any assets. He said he filed that paperwork so he could get his mother’s medical records and will later open a formal estate to dispose of her home. He said Conaway’s accusation is “just creating smoke” and added that he found it “really appalling and disgusting” that she would bring his mother’s death into the campaign.

“It’s a non-issue,” he said. “No one’s hiding any property. … When there is an estate, the home will be included.”

Robert E. Young, director of the state Department of Assessments and Taxation, said the agency generally removes a homestead tax credit from a property on the July 1 following the owner’s death, if staffers are aware that the owner is no longer living. The tax year runs July 1 through June 30. The exception to that rule is if the home goes to an heir who will live in the property, he said. In that case, the heir gets to retain the homestead credit.

Mosby owns a home of his own. He said Monday that it’s not clear yet whether he or his sister will inherit their mother’s property.

Young said it’s the assessment agency’s policy to make an inquiry if staffers become aware of a home in limbo after the owner’s death. “We’d say, ‘Please tell us who’s going to reside here,’” he said. “If they say, ‘We don’t know,’ we’d say, ‘That’s fine, but we’ll have to take away the homestead.’”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:25 PM | | Comments (7)

Cummings presses for 9/11 probe of News Corp.

On the day after the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings joined seven other Democrats in renewing their call for an investigation into whether Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. tried to hack telephones of those killed in New York and Washington.

More than a dozen people have been arrested as part of a scandal involving News Corp. reporters in London hacking into voicemail messages of politicians and crime victims. Department of Justice officials have said they are looking into claims that the journalists also offered to buy telephone records of Sept. 11 victims from New York police officers.

“As you know, we have just observed the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks on our nation and these victims deserve to know whether they were targeted in this offensive and potentially illegal manner,” according to a letter signed by the Baltimore Democrat and his colleagues.

“We request that the committee at least take preliminary steps to determine how to proceed, such as meeting with the September 11th families, consulting with the Department of Justice, and pursuing other measures the committee has utilized in many other investigations,” the letter read.

Cummings is the top-ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. Democrats on the committee have previously requested that Republican Chairman Darrell Issa launch an investigation of the issue.

Posted by John Fritze at 1:12 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Washington

Landers blasts The Sun, says race isn't over yet

Sun colleague Ed Gunts reports:

Baltimore mayoral challenger Joseph T. “Jody” Landers III urged city voters to go the polls on Tuesday and not be misled by “political commentators and pundits” -- including those at The Baltimore Sun -- who he said were predicting the outcome of the primary election before ballots have been cast.

“The point I want to get across today, in the strongest language possible, is that this election is not over,” Landers said at a news conference Monday morning at his Key Highway campaign headquarters. “The citizens have yet to register their votes ... Each and every vote counts.”

Landers, one of six candidates for mayor in Tuesday’s Democratic primary election, said he called the news conference because he wanted to call attention to “negative influences” he believes are affecting the race.

He warned that media reports that suggest that the mayor’s race is a “fait accompli” and state that incumbent Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has a commanding lead in the polls will only discourage voter turnout.

Rawlings-Blake finished first in a Sun Poll of likely Democratic voters last month with the support of 50 percent of respondents. State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh came in second with 12 percent. Landers finished tied for fourth with 5 percent.

“The media and the political commentators and pundits are doing the citizens of Baltimore a disservice, by predicting the outcome of the race before the voters have gone to the polls,” he said. “The actual election takes place tomorrow, Tuesday, September 13th. It is clear to me that the media’s characterization of this race as a fait accompli just discourages voters from expressing themselves at the ballot box.”

Landers said people tend to lose interest in an election if they think their vote doesn’t matter, and he doesn’t want people to stay away from the polls on Tuesday.

“When someone tells you the outcome of a sporting event or how the plot of a movie ends, most of us lose our motivation to watch the game or the film,” he said. “When the political commentators and prognosticators make pronouncements about the outcome of an election before the election day, it has the same effect. … No one should tell us, or make us believe that it isn’t worth the bother, or that it is a done deal. From the voters’ perspective, the only poll that means anything is the poll taken on Election Day in the voting booth”

Landers also said he was troubled by The Baltimore Sun’s endorsement process and the makeup of the Sun’s editorial board. He said he was granted an interview with the editorial board, which he was told “consisted of five writers and managers at The Sun”. After reading on Friday that the board endorsed Rawlings-Blake, he said, he asked how many of the editorial board members live in Baltimore City and was told “currently two of the five, though all of us have at one time or another.”

Landers said it occurred to him that the five member board was not seeing or experiencing the city from the same perspective that he does as a life long resident.

“As a citizen, I am incensed and amazed by the fact that the editorial group is attempting to influence city voters, when a majority of the editorial board does not even live in Baltimore City,” Landers said. “For a majority of the editorial board, the endorsement process is nothing more than an academic exercise, since they do not live in the city and do not have to live with the consequences of their recommendations one way or the other.”

Landers said he also believes the media in general has been manipulative and duplicitous in its campaign coverage, by making the incumbent “the lead in many stories” but giving less exposure to her competitors.

“I think the citizens of Baltimore are smart enough to know that when the media shows up at a mayoral press conference and skips a candidate press conference, it is manipulative,” he sad.

Landers is one of five Democratic challengers to Rawlings-Blake. The others are Clerk of Court Frank M. Conaway Sr., Pugh, former city planning director Otis Rolley and activist Wilton Wilson.

Landers said he was working to encourage city residents to vote Monday by waving to traffic in the morning and knocking on doors in the afternoon.

City polls will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:47 PM | | Comments (15)

September 9, 2011

Howard exec Ulman to hold fundraiser in Baltimore

With more than three years to go before the next statewide election, County Executive Ken Ulman is starting to look outside Howard for cash.

On Tuesday, he will hold a $1,000-a-plate dinner at the Maryland Club in downtown Baltimore, a move that could suggest Ulman is broadening his political reach with an eye toward the governor’s mansion.

Ulman played down the significance of the event.

“We have a number of events throughout the state,” Ulman said, but he stopped short of saying what he was raising money for.

“I’m keeping my options open as long as I feel I have more to give to public service,” he said. “We consistently continue to raise money. It’s flattering that folks offer to have events for us.”

Although Ulman minimized the meaning of the event, some say it’s not an illogical step for a possible gubernatorial contender.

Though Ulman has managed to raise a sizable amount of cash — nearly $440,000, according to his most recent campaign finance report in January — some of his potential Democratic contenders had raised more by that date. State Comptroller Peter Franchot reported more than $515,000 and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler reported about $2.9 million. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown had just under $130,000.

Republican Harford County Executive David R. Craig had close to $65,000 on hand in January.

Baltimore is “a bigger playground, isn’t it?” said Donald F. Norris, chairman the department of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who lives in Howard.

“For all intents and purposes, it’s the center of Maryland,” he said.

Norris said Ulman’s major handicap is that he’s not well-known outside Howard, which, by comparison, is relatively small and does not carry a large electoral base. Ulman has also worked primarily on the local level, while some of his potential competitors hold statewide positions.

But, Norris said, by making public appearances around the state each weekend, Ulman is trying “to get his name out in front of local notables.”

While Ulman is the president of the Maryland Association of Counties, Norris said, that only makes him known to other county executives. One advantage Ulman does have, Norris said, is that he’s relatively popular — “from what anybody can tell, … he’s done a good job in Howard County.”

State Sen. Allen H. Kittleman, a Republican from West Friendship, said Ulman “certainly is a contender for governor. He’s been around the state,” from Baltimore to Ocean City to Washington County, Kittleman said.

While he said, “I don’t agree with him on a lot of issues,” he praised Ulman’s abilities, noting that the two served two years together on the County Council.

He agreed that Ulman’s weakness might be that he’s up against several candidates who currently hold statewide offices.

But he added that Ulman is “capable of raising a lot of money, and he’s the leader of one of the best counties in the state.”

In March, Ulman held a $1,000-a-ticket gathering at Turf Valley in Howard County.

That fundraiser added more than $200,000 to Ulman’s treasury, according to Ulman’s campaign manager, Colin O'Dea. In a relatively small county, Ulman reported raising a total of $1.4 million over the past four-year election cycle.

-Jessica Anderson

Posted by Andy Rosen at 8:15 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Howard County

Perry edges Romney in Md. GOP poll; Palin fifth

Texas Gov. Rick Perry edged former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination in a straw poll held at the Maryland State Fair, the state GOP announced Friday.

Perry, who also leads national polls among Republicans, scored 25.8 percent of the nearly 900 votes cast, according to the state party. Romney picked up 21.2 percent.

Republican former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the party's 2008 vice presidential nominee, came in fifth, despite not having indicated a campaign for 2012. That put her ahead of Georgia businessman Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, all of whom have declared their candidacies.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas came in third with 16.8 percent of the votes. Rep. Michele Bachman of Minnesota finished fourth with 12.5 percent.

"From the attendees, we heard a strong desire to turn our nation and state around and a commitment to make Maryland a two-party state," state GOP Chairman Alex Mooney said. "The Maryland Republican Party is committed to giving individuals, families, and businesses a stronger voice in Annapolis and Washington, D.C."

The complete results, as released by the state party, after the jump.

Rick Perry 25.8 percent
Mitt Romney 21.2 percent
Ron Paul 16.8 percent
Michele Bachmann 12.5 percent
Sarah Palin 7.2 percent
Herman Cain 5 percent
Other/Write-Ins 4.4 percent
Newt Gingrich 2.3 percent
Jon Huntsman 2.2 percent
Rick Santorum 1.4 percent
Buddy Roemer 0.5 percent
Gary Johnson 0.3 percent
Thaddeus McCotter 0.3 percent

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:23 PM | | Comments (208)

O'Malley to campaign for Rawlings-Blake, Brown today

Gov. Martin O'Malley will be in Baltimore this afternoon to campaign for two candidates -- Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and De'Von Brown, a college senior running for the City Council.

At 3, O'Malley will talk with Brown supporters at Terra Cafe on the 2500 block of St. Paul Street. Brown became close with O'Malley and his wife, Judge Katie O'Malley, after he was featured in the documentary "The Boys of Baraka" several years ago.

A senior at Maryland Institute College of Arts, Brown is vying for the 12th District seat currently occupied by Carl Stokes. Other challengers include community activist Odette Ramos, Mt. Vernon-Belvedere Association President Jason Curtis and labor leader Jermaine Jones.

At 5, O'Malley will head to Belvedere Square to stump for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, his long-time political ally. Rawlings-Blake and O'Malley have been closely allied since they both served on the council together.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 1:31 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

September 8, 2011

Mikulski calls for ‘urgent’ measures on unemployment

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said Thursday that she expects voters would support additional government spending to help tackle the nation’s stubborn jobless rate as long as the money is used for specific programs that have an immediate impact on unemployment.

“We have to have a greater sense of urgency about what we can do now,” the Maryland Democrat said in an interview hours before President Barack Obama was set to roll out a jobs creation plan before a joint session of Congress Thursday. “I've got the fierce urgency of now.”

Mikulski said Congress has a number of proposals queued up that would have an immediate impact, including a long-stalled highway bill that pays for transportation projects. The legislation must be passed by the end of the month or Maryland and other states could lose federal funding.

Mikulski, a member of the Senate Appropriation Committee, said the appropriations process should also be geared toward job creation.

Many of those programs, however, have faced opposition from the Republican-led House of Representatives, particularly given the emphasis on reducing government spending and cutting budget deficits. The highway bill, for instance, has stalled over the amount of spending and the size of the federal gasoline tax, which funds many of the construction projects.

Asked whether Obama should strike a conciliatory or confrontational tone in his speech, Mikulski said that if he uses “plain talk” then he “will have the people’s support and they will put pressure on those that are obstructing.

“I think he needs to teach, rather than preach, and by ‘teach’ I mean really brief the American people on where we are…and [convey] that he truly understands the pain and reality” that the public is facing.

Posted by John Fritze at 4:31 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Washington

Romney announces Md. endorsements

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced Thursday that his campaign has received endorsements from more than a dozen GOP officials in Maryland -- including 10 members of the General Assembly and several former state party officials.

Included on the list are GOP Sens. Richard Colburn, who represents the Eastern Shore, and Joe Getty of Western Maryland. Also endorsing Romney: Howard County Republican Party Chairman Loretta Shields and Mary Kane, a former secretary of state who was Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s 2010 running mate.

The announcement comes a day after Romney and other GOP presidential candidates squared off at a nationally televised debate. In 2008, Romney carried 7 percent of the vote in Maryland's Feb. 12 Republican primary. Arizona Sen. John McCain, who ultimately won the nomination, won the state with 55 percent of the vote.

“It is an honor to have the support of so many in Maryland,” Romney said in a statement. “They share my goals in this campaign to reverse President Obama’s failed policies and get our economy moving again. I look forward to working with them as I bring this message to Maryland and the American people.”

In the statement released by the Romney campaign, Colburn said that “Mitt Romney has a proven record of creating jobs and cutting spending. President Obama has failed on these points and it has hurt the American economy.”

A poll conducted this month by ABC News and The Washington Post showed Texas Gov. Rick Perry leading Romney 29 percent to 23 percent in the race.

The complete list of Maryland endorsements announced by the Romney campaign include:

Sen. Richard Colburn, Eastern Shore
Sen. Joe Getty, Carroll County
Sen. Allan Kittleman, Howard County
Del. Kathryn Afzali, Frederick County
Del. John Cluster, Baltimore County
Del. Adelaide C. Eckardt, Eastern Shore
Del. Donald Elliott, Carroll and Frederick counties
Del. Michael Hough, Frederick County
Del. Nic Kipke, Anne Arundel County
Del. Steven Schuh, Anne Arundel County
Robert Goodwin, former United States ambassador to New Zealand
Louis Pope, national committeeman
Joyce Terhes, national committeewoman
Mary Kane, former secretary of state
John Kane, former Maryland Republican Party chairman
Audrey Scott, former Maryland Republican Party chairman
Chris Cavey, former Maryland Republican Party first vice chair
Chuck Gast, former Maryland Republican Party first vice chair
Christopher Rosenthal, Maryland Republican Party treasurer
Brenda Butcsher, Garrett County Republican Party chairman
Loretta Shields, Howard County Republican Party chairman
Mark Uncapher, Montgomery County Republican Party chairman

Posted by John Fritze at 1:47 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

Van Hollen: Debt panel can rely on earlier ideas

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, one of a dozen members of Congress serving on a high-profile panel charged with reducing the nation’s debt, used the committee’s first meeting Thursday to argue that the ideas created by past deficit reduction groups should serve as the “scaffolding and the framework for a serious deficit reduction plan.”

“We have just 77 days left to complete our work. The clock is ticking. There are already plenty of ideas for reducing the deficit that have been thoroughly debated, and we have a menu of options,” the Montgomery County Democrat said during his opening statement Thursday. “If this committee fails, it won’t be for lack of ideas. It will be for lack of political will.”

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which is also often referred to as the “super
committee,” was created as part of the agreement this summer to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. The group has until the end of November to find a way to cut U.S. budget deficits by $1.5 trillion or automatic cuts will triggered.

Van Hollen, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, has been at the center of the deficit debate all year. He was also part of the debt negotiations earlier this year led by Vice President Joe Biden.

“There are some people who believe that the next election will somehow bring about a huge new political alignment that will allow either Republicans or Democrats to get 100 percent of what they want in the way they want it,” Van Hollen said. “It is a dangerous illusion that will put the long-term economic health of our nation at risk. It is time for both sides to bite the bullet."

Posted by John Fritze at 12:52 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

Baltimore couple to attend Obama's jobs address

A Baltimore city student teacher and her husband will be among the White House guests attending President Barack Obama’s address to Congress Thursday as the administration rolls out its plan to kick start the economy and spur job growth.

Sabrina Mangrum, a student teacher at John Eager Howard Elementary School, and her husband Dannie Mangrum, a Maryland correctional officer, will sit with first lady Michelle Obama on Thursday after the White House connected with them through a Washington, D.C.-based foster agency. The family has three foster children.

The White House frequently invites non-political guests to attend major addresses as a way to call attention to struggles faced by families outside of Washington, D.C. Sabrina Mangrum said she was told the administration was seeking families who earn less than $100,000 a year. Though details of Obama's jobs plan have not been released, the administration has signaled it will target tax relief to middle- and low-income families.

The economy “has really affected us,” said Mangrum, 41. “We have a different mindset: You save when you can and spend only when necessary...I would like to hear the president say he’s for the people – that even a small person does count.”

The family’s story, said White House spokeswoman Joanna Rosholm, “shows why it is so important that we, as the president has said, put country before party and act quickly to implement his bipartisan plan to strength the economy, create jobs and support the middle class.”

Marlena Clark, of Catonsville, will also attend the address. Clark, a former maid and bartender, said she turned her life around after attending classes at Anne Arundel Community College, where she received a degree in information systems security last year. Dr. Jill Biden, who teaches at a community college in Virginia and has been working to bolster the reputation of the nation’s community colleges, invited Clark.

“From being a maid and a bartender, I had no tech background. I just progressed with it,” said Clark, who is now a systems engineer at a Crofton-based company called Force 3, an IT and communications firm that does contract work for the federal government and private firms.

Clark, 30, said that the current economy is forcing people to retain for new careers. In her case, community college was a ticket out of minimum wage jobs.

“A lot more people need to go back to school,” she said.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley will also attend the address, the White House said. The invitation drew a rebuke from the Maryland Republican Party.

"Millions of Americans are out of work, including hundreds of thousands of Marylanders, but Barack Obama and Martin O’Malley continue their tired playbook of more government spending and imposing job-killing tax hikes," the party chairman, Alex Mooney, said in a statement.

"For this, Governor O'Malley gets rewarded with recognition at a Presidential speech – about job creation? No wonder our economy is struggling.”

Posted by John Fritze at 12:08 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington

O'Malley raises money for same-sex marriage campaign

Gov. Martin O'Malley urged supporters of same-sex marriage to "call on the goodness" of their opponents as they try to gain more votes in the General Assembly and more allies throughout the state.

Speaking at an Equality Maryland fundraiser in Chevy Chase last night, the governor said that the issue should be viewed from the eyes of the children of same-sex couples. He said children across the state should grow up in households governed by the same sets of laws.

"It is through their eyes, the eyes of the children of gay and lesbian couples, that I have viewed this issue," O'Malley said. "This is all about the protection of families."

"Even people who do not yet agree with us on this issue, there is a lot of goodness in each and every individual and we need to engage in that goodness," O'Malley said. "We need to call people to that goodness."

The governor gave a far more impassioned plea for the bill during the fundraiser than he did two months ago at a Friday afternoon news conference when he announced that he would put his name on a same-sex marriage bill. This time several in the audience complimented his speech and he earned two rounds of applause when he finished.

* Photo credit: Governor's press office

The event raised at least $12,000  and drew around 300 supporters, organizers said.

So many members of the General Assembly attended that one speaker joked that the group might have enough votes in the room to pass the bill. Last year the controversial measure passed in the Senate but vote counters in the House believed they were a few votes shy and pulled it from the floor. 

Also speaking at last night's event were Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Attorney General Douglas Gansler -- two possible gubernatorial candidates in 2014. They both sounded optimistic that the bill would pass next session, and both looked ahead to the next hurdle: A statewide referendum on the legislation.

(Two other possible gubernatorial contenders were invited but did not come. Comptroller Peter Franchot was out of town, though his chief of staff attended. Howard County Executive Ken Ulman was not there.)

The 2012 ballot is now set to include a question on whether illegal immigrants should receive college tuition discounts that are available to legal residents. And most believe that should same-sex marriage pass in Maryland, it would be quickly petitioned to the ballot for voters to decide.

Gansler even took it a step further, predicting that if  the issue lost at the ballot box, it could re-emerge as a legal fight if a gay couple tried to challenge the current law. Same-sex marriage advocates already tried to do that, but were rebuffed by Maryland's highest court.

Brown weighed in too, saying that there will be "a coalition-driven effort targeted in every county" to convince voters to support the legislation on the ballot. "The effort in 2012 will require a lot of hard work," he said. "It will require a lot of us to redouble our efforts."

The event was held at a no-frills community center and guests enjoyed wine and cheese and looked photos from supporters' marriage ceremonies. The only extravagance was the dessert: A multi-layered white wedding cake.  

* Photo credit for cake: Annie Linskey
Posted by Annie Linskey at 8:16 AM | | Comments (48)
Categories: Same-Sex Marriage

September 7, 2011

Sen. Simonaire mulls run for Arundel county exec

State Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire announced Wednesday afternoon that he’s considering a run for Anne Arundel County Executive in 2014.

Simonaire, a Republican who represents District 31 in the General Assembly, said he expects to finish the process of forming an exploratory committee later this fall.

Simonaire said he decided to blow the whistle a full three years before the election on his plans as a sort of preemptive strike against possible opponents.

“Several people are out there starting to try to gain support for the race,” said Simonaire, a six-year veteran of the legislature. “Some of them are trying to take all the oxygen out of the room. I just want to make sure people know there are options out there and they don’t have to commit.”

Several other Republicans are rumored to be considering runs, including Del. Steve Schuh, former Ehrlich administration official Larry Hogan, Sen. Edward R. Reilly and former County Councilman Ronald C. Dillon, Jr.

Simonaire said much of his work in the legislature has centered on local issues involving education, the environment and law enforcement and he forsees having a greater impact on local issues as county executive. He also praised County Executive John R. Leopold, a second-term Republican who is term-limited.

“I think I’ll have a bigger platform to work on local issues,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of issues come to my office and a lot of them are county issues. …I think there’s a lot of work that can be done, to continue the work of Leopold. … I think he’s done a good job. No politician’s perfect. But as far as keeping taxes low, controlling spending and protecting the environment, he’s done a good job.”

Simonaire, 48, is an engineer at Northrop Grumman and lives in Pasadena. He and his wife Elizabeth have seven children, ranging in ages from 7 to 24.

-Nicole Fuller

Posted by Andy Rosen at 5:58 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Anne Arundel County

September 6, 2011

Bill Cosby to campaign for Rolley Wednesday

Bill Cosby will be visiting a senior apartment complex, the Loch Raven neighborhood and the Northeast Market Wednesday to campaign for mayoral candidate Otis Rolley.

Cosby will start the day 2 p.m. at West Baltimore's St. James Terrace Apartments and conclude with a 6 p.m. rally for Rolley at Coppin State.

Cosby's visit, which comes less than a week before the Sept. 13 primary election, marks the second time the comedian has come to Baltimore stump for Rolley, the city's former planning director.

Cosby hosted a January fundraiser for Rolley, on the same night that Stephanie Rawlings-Blake threw a gala just a few blocks away.

Cosby learned about Rolley from Karen Miller, an old friend of his who had been running communications for Rolley's campaign.

The full schedule for the day appears after the jump:

2:00 pm - Conversation with Seniors
St. James Terrace Apartments
827 N. Arlington Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21217

3:15 pm - Neighborhood Canvass
Loch Raven Community
4600 Block of Northwood Drive
Baltimore, MD 21239

4:15 pm - Northeast Market Tour
2101 East Monument Street
Baltimore, MD 21206

5:30 pm - Media Avail for Questions
Coppin State University
2500 W. North Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21216

6:00 pm - Rally for Otis Rolley
Coppin State University
2500 W. North Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21216

Posted by Julie Scharper at 4:06 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

September 2, 2011

Rick Perry to raise $$ in Maryland

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, is set to make a stop in Baltimore later this month to raise money for his presidential bid, an event that would be his first in Maryland since announcing his national intentions last month.

Organizing the fundraiser is Republican money man Dick Hug, a veteran from Gov. Robert Ehrlich's tenure. He also raised money for President George W. Bush.

Hug said that he flew down to Texas about three weeks ago with other fundraisers and spent time with the Perry team. "When you see him and meet with him you'll be very impressed," Hug said. "He's going to be our next president."

The Perry fundraiser is scheduled for 8:15 a.m. Tuesday Sept. 27 at The Center Club in downtown Baltimore. Tickets are $2,500 and include a photo-op with the presidential hopeful, according to a list compiled by Annapolis lobbyist Bruce Bereano.

Blue Maryland isn't often where GOP presidential candidates spend time looking for votes, though as my colleague John Fritze noted in a story earlier this summer, the state is great place to scoop up cash.

In June potential contenders and big shots stopping by the state for fundraisers included: Pizza magnate Herman Cain, tea party star Sarah Palin and the top GOP budget maker in Congress Rep. Paul Ryan.

Also former House Speaker Newt Gingrich headlined an event for the Maryland Republican Party over the summer. And last year former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney spoke at the state GOP party dinner.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:00 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: 2012

September 1, 2011

Cummings glad of progress in probe of killing

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said Thursday he is grateful the Norfolk Police Department appears to be making progress in its investigation into the killing of his nephew three months after the 20-year-old was shot to death in his off-campus apartment near Old Dominion University.

In a statement, the Baltimore Democrat said police are questioning a person of interest about the June 10 murder of Christopher Cummings. A Norfolk police spokeswoman did not confirm any recent developments in the case.

“Our family has constantly stated that we will not rest until the persons who viciously murdered Christopher are brought to justice,” Cummings said. “Our society simply cannot afford to allow people who commit such awful crimes to remain free.”

Cummings, a longtime critic of the witness intimidation campaign known as "Stop Snitching,” implored anyone with information about the murder to come forward. Christopher Cummings, a rising senior at Old Dominion, was remembered at a funeral at the Victory Prayer Chapel in Baltimore on June 18.

There have been no arrests in the case.

"Investigators continue to research and follow all leads and tips surrounding the Cummings homicide, to include search warrants and follow-up questions," the spokeswoman, Karen Parker-Chesson, wrote in an e-mail.

Posted by John Fritze at 5:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

Conaway says he's flummoxed by phony emails

Emails apparently from mayoral candidate Frank M. Conaway's campaign called and then cancelled a press conference Thursday -- but Conaway says they didn't come from him.

The first email, sent around 9:30 this morning, said Conaway would make an "important announcement" at 1 p.m. today in front of the War Memorial Plaza across from City Hall.

Three hours later, an email sent from the same account cancelled the press conference.

Conaway, who has served as Baltimore's Clerk of Court for the past dozen years, denies sending the emails, which arrived on the first day of early voting in the city.

"I didn't call for any press conference," he said. He declined to speculate on who had sent the mysterious missives, and what the motive might have been.

"You're asking me to explain something that I didn't have anything to do with," Conaway said.

Indeed the emails were sent from a Gmail account, while Conaway had used a Hotmail account for previous campaign correspondences.

Conaway said he was recovering from injuries he suffered in a car accident Tuesday evening while en route to a candidates' forum jointly sponsored by the Baltimore Sun, WYPR and The League of Women Voters.

Conaway has injected a note of levity into the mayor's race, reciting snatches of nursery rhymes at debates and releasing a rap song slamming his opponents.

He ran for mayor in 2007 as well, but dropped out of the race about two weeks before the primary.

A recent Baltimore Sun poll showed Conaway capturing about 5 percent of the vote.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 4:26 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

Md. shows nearly $1 billion budget surplus

Maryland finished the fiscal year with $990 million in unspent funds, showing an end-of-year surplus that was about 50 percent higher than expected, according to a memo obtained by The Sun.

The administration attributes the balance to better-than-anticipated income tax returns, a sign that the economy firmed over the past year. The new data shows the state has $344 million over their estimates.

In a memo sent today to Gov. Martin O'Malley, State Budget and Management Director T. Eloise Foster warned Administration officials that it is "unclear" whether they can count on the trend to continue "due to the current uncertainties in the national economy."

Maryland budget writers had expected to close the FY2011 fiscal year which ended on June 30 with $641 million excess funds, and had planned to use nearly all of it ($590 million) to balance the FY2012 budget.

Much of the newly identified unspent funds must go into the state's Rainy Day Fund, but about $10 million will be available for day-to-day operations, according to the memo.
Neighboring Virginia also recently announced a budget surplus -- though not as large as Maryland's. The Old Dominion state ended their year with $544 million extra money, about $234 million more than expected, according to The Washington Post.

Last month in a news release, the Virgina State Republican Party pointed to their surplus as proof that GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell manages his state's books more prudently than O'Malley, who is a Democrat.

The comparison used an unorthodox method of pairing Virginia's FY2011 budget surplus to Maryland's FY2013 deficit projections. Maryland's FY2011 books had not yet closed, and Virginia budget officials do not provide out year projections.  
Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:53 PM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Administration
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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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