Monday, June 30, 2008

Suburban Hospital's Destructive Expansion Plans Doomed to Fail

By Wayne Goldstein, Montgomery County Civic Federation Immediate Past President. This column is an unedited version of an article submitted to the Sentinel.

On Mondays, every two weeks or so, the Development Review Division of MNCPPC brings together staff from all of its divisions and staff from other county regulatory agencies to meet with recent applicants to provide comments that are meant to assist the applicants in a successful presentation to the Planning Board. This meeting is known as the Development Review Committee, or DRC. On rare occasions, these staff find such significant problems with an applicant's plans that success may be extremely difficult or perhaps impossible to achieve. This past Monday, two such problematic projects were presented to DRC, Clarksburg Town Center (CTC) and Suburban Hospital. The comments of every staff member present were so uniformly critical of the CTC project that it may take a miracle to get it approved. I will be writing about this planning catastrophe later this year. The MNCPPC staff response to Suburban Hospital's plans were not much better, particularly the proposal to permanently close Lincoln Street to the residents of the adjacent Huntington Terrace neighborhood so that the hospital could connect two adjacent blocks that it owns.

In Montgomery County, hospitals, like private schools and day care centers, are allowed to be located in residentially-zoned areas through a process known as the special exception, which is adjudicated and administered by the Board of Appeals with assistance from the Office of Zoning and Administrative Hearings. The needs and concerns of the immediately adjacent neighborhood are given great weight in the special exception process. Suburban Hospital has refused to work with its neighbors. Instead, it has engaged in a crude, disingenuous and ineffective propagandistic public relations campaign since 2002 to try to expand the way it wants to, not the way it needs to. This hospital supported a surreptitious effort in 2003 to eliminate the longstanding special exception process for hospitals. It has also sought to create the illusion of support from a larger "community" that stretched far beyond Huntington Terrace. Here are some examples of this PR effort:

"Winter 2004 - President’s Message: … A proposed amendment would address the concerns of hospitals like Suburban, which has lived in a residential neighborhood for more than 60 years, while serving an entire county. The proposed zoning process adjustments would accelerate the now cumbersome regulatory process that results in delays of several years before hospitals are able to make essential modifications to their campuses.

Summer 2006: "To ensure we receive important feedback from our many stakeholders, we assembled a Community Panel for a Healthy Future. This key advisory board includes 25 people who represent the broad interests of our growing and diverse Montgomery County community — neighborhood associations, civic and community organizations, emergency responders, business leaders, hospital patients, staff, physicians and volunteers. Additionally, we have initiated discussions with [MNCPPC] and other county officials. Through the Community Panel, we have discussed our goals and exchanged ideas in an open and transparent process. We look forward to continuing to work closely with our Community Panel, our immediate neighbors, and state and county officials as we finalize plans for an enhanced Suburban Hospital."

Fall 2006: "… The web site also contains a section where you can register your support of our enhancement and modernization plans. It is extremely important for all those served by Suburban Hospital to take a few moments and register as a supporter today. In just a few short weeks, close to 400 people have signed up as supporters, and more continue to do so each day. As we prepare to bring our plans before Maryland state health officials and Montgomery County Park and Planning, it will be critical that we demonstrate the strong support that exists for Suburban from residents throughout the county."

Winter 2006: "Hospital Enhancement Plans Garner Widespread Community Support - This fall was a busy time for Suburban Hospital and our efforts to build strong and widespread community support for the enhancement and modernization of our hospital and campus."

Summer 2007: "President's Message - … As we prepare to file our plans with state and county officials later this summer, I am buoyed by the tremendous outpouring of support we have received from community residents… More than 5,000 area residents have signed bright yellow cards of support for the hospital enhancement project."

Summer 2008: "The Momentum is Building: Campus Enhancement Plans Advance - Community leaders are voicing broad support as Suburban Hospital unveils plans for our first major clinical enhancement program in 30 years —and the changes are good news for you! …Leaders in our community understand how important our enhancement is, too… TAKE ACTION. Please let county officials know that you support the revitalization of Suburban Hospital by contacting them today."

This 2008 issue also includes a postcard addressed to the Montgomery County Council with the following message: "As a resident of Montgomery County, I am writing to urge you to support Suburban hospital's campus enhancement plans, including the abandonment of one block of Lincoln Street that will make the project possible..."

The following news account excerpts show this effort for the sham that it is: June 17, 2007 Gazette news account: "… For residents in the Huntington Terrace neighborhood just west of the hospital's Old Georgetown Road campus, the expansion could mean more noise, reduced light from shadows cast by taller buildings and the potential for more traffic. "It's a community hospital. It's in a neighborhood. It wants to be a really big regional hospital in a community footprint," said Lesley Hildebrand… who lives nearby. "I think they're trying to shoehorn their way on top of us. Some people would say they're getting too big for their britches."

"Suburban's next move is to petition Montgomery County this summer to close one block of Lincoln Street, which bisects the property. If that is approved, the hospital will begin to outline to county regulators details of its expansion, which neighbors say would nearly double the size of the facility. Eventually, the matter will be turned over to a hearing examiner and reviewed by the county Board of Appeals.

"… Neighbors, who said their relations with the hospital under Gragnolati's predecessor were friendlier, have begun alerting local officials about their concerns and are digging in for a long fight. "They are trying to destabilize the neighborhood," said Huntington Terrace Citizens Association President Lorraine Driscoll. The association voted twice last month to oppose the hospital's plans. Driscoll said Suburban could accomplish its modernization without closing Lincoln Street or tearing down houses that separate the hospital from the neighborhood.

"… Gragnolati pointed to a panel of area residents that the hospital used to vet possible expansion plans, and Borenstein-Levy said the hospital has received about 5,000 expressions of support. The panel suggested that the hospital put extra parking next to Old Georgetown Road rather than close to the neighbors. It appears that the hospital has dropped plans for below-ground parking, which many of the neighbors had endorsed.

"Bob Deans, a board member of the Huntington Terrace Citizens Association, said the panel was stacked against the neighborhood. The only representative from Huntington Terrace, the hospital's closest neighbors, eventually quit because the panel seemed to be a "very cynical public relations charade," Deans said. Some residents also accused the hospital of trying to muzzle neighbors by offering $25,000 bonus payments to homeowners willing to sell and keep mum in any fight over expansion. A hospital spokeswoman said it would not be a deal breaker if a homeowner declined to remain silent.

"Gragnolati has also tried to persuade the county to limit neighborhoods' clout by changing the way hospital construction projects are reviewed. He has proposed limiting the significance that regulators could attach to neighbors' viewpoints. That effort has been watched carefully by civic organizations as well as the county's three other hospitals that are in residential neighborhoods."

February 13, 2008 Washington Post news account "… The hospital will tear down 24 homes that it owns in the surrounding neighborhood to make room for the new construction… The county must approve the hospital’s request to close a block of Lincoln Street in the neighborhood, in order for the expansion to go forward. The road splits the two blocks of Old Georgetown Road that would encompass the hospital’s new, larger campus. Many, but not all, of the hospital’s Huntington Terrace neighbors have rallied against closing any part of Lincoln Street, saying it is the neighborhood’s central artery. Hospital officials say the road closure is the only way to unify the new and old segments of the campus… ‘‘This is the same plan that Suburban has been trying to steam roll the community with for more than three years now,” said Bob Deans, Huntington Terrace Neighborhood Association spokesman. The hospital ‘‘has what it needs for undeveloped property” to build on and shouldn’t push for closing Lincoln Street, Deans said."

When I look at the drawing of the hospital's proposed plan for expansion in its latest piece of self-serving PR known as "New Directions", I see buildings set back far from streets, large open areas for driveways, and a large aboveground parking structure. Suburban Hospital appears to want to build a sprawling, suburban-style campus in an urbanizing area near downtown Bethesda where land is very expensive. By putting most of the parking underground and by clustering buildings close to Old Georgetown Road, the hospital could easily reduce its footprint by 50%. There is no need to destroy the neighborhood by demolishing any of the houses that the hospital owns or by closing Lincoln Street.

Suburban should permanently rent or sell the 24 houses it owns for workforce housing for its nurses and its other hospital workers. All of us should be speaking out in support of Huntington Terrace, opposing the closing of Lincoln Street, and condemning Suburban for its refusal to work transparently and in good faith with its real neighbors. I expect that the Board of Appeals will reject Suburban's plans and direct the hospital to listen to its neighbors, who have never opposed the hospital's need to expand, just an expansion that threatened the survival of their community.


Give Them a Raise!

Folks, I have been in the labor movement for almost 14 years and rarely have I seen a more oppressed group of workers. They are vastly underpaid compared to their peers. They work extremely long hours with no overtime payments. They toil in cramped, noisy worksites with constant chaos all around. Their employers are brutal, never thanking them for good work and always flogging them for more output. Worst of all, when they screw up, their bosses drag their names into the newspapers.

Am I talking about carpenters? I could be, but not in this column. How about construction laborers, roofers, bricklayers, janitors or domestic workers? No, not this time. I’m talking about workers who are, in their own way, almost as exploited: the members of the Montgomery County Council.

OK, I just heard you yell, “Adam must be eating too many bon-bons again!” But please bear with me.

Montgomery County Council Members are paid $89,721 per year. The Council President, an office that rotates annually, is paid $98,693. That’s barely a middle-class income in this county. Just look at our housing costs. As of a year ago, the average price of an existing detached single-family home in Montgomery County was $540,000. If you assume annual property taxes of $3,000, an interest rate of 5.75% and $40,000 down, then 42% of a Council Member’s pre-tax salary would be required to make the monthly payment. So we don’t pay our Council Members enough to allow them to afford a house!

Now look at their peers. D.C. Council Members earned $115,000 each last year. There’s thirteen of them serving just over half the population that our nine Council Members cover. Maryland state legislators start at just over $43,000 for three months of work. And there are even quite a few county government staffers that make more money than their superiors on the Council.

And what do our Council Members get for these crumbs? For starters, they get over a hundred emails a day. (I get about that many, but most of them are scams or porn.) They endure endless meetings with wild-eyed activists. (I can hear my wife laughing.) The particularly unlucky Council Members are hauled into Marc Elrich’s office for long lectures on growth policy.

Want more? How about nasty phone calls at home. And pickets in front of their houses. And just to add insult to injury, voters approved a 2006 ballot measure to designate Council Members as “full-time” without raising their pay.

Now if you’ve ever met these Council Members, you know that they are all smart and capable. All of them could be earning far more in the private sector. Take Valerie Ervin. She has 25 years experience in the labor movement plus five more in local government. Any international union would be on its hands and knees to hire her as a political director for more than twice her council salary. She could be flying out to conferences in Palm Springs and Disney World and eating fist-sized shrimps with U.S. Senators if she wanted. Just think about that the next time you’re yelling at her over a cracked sidewalk! And good luck finding anyone who was smarter or worked harder than the late Marilyn Praisner. If she had stayed at the CIA, Osama bin Laden would be on the business end of a bunker-buster by now.

If ever a group of workers needed a union, this is it. So let’s get organized! Every Council Member should wear a button that says, “Pay me what I’m worth!” (Can you imagine the reaction at town hall meetings?) We’ll set up a picket line outside 100 Maryland Avenue. And maybe we’ll have to call a strike. That will stick it to those miserly residents!

Council Members of MoCo, unite! You have nothing to lose but your Blackberries!

End of Column

(Psst… OK, all the readers have left their computers, people. I held up my end of the deal. Now let’s talk about that pedestrian tunnel project…)


Friday, June 27, 2008

The State of Maryland Blogdom, Part Five

Remember our landmark interview with Senate President Mike Miller last January? I described a weird scene as nine liberal bloggers, some with pony tails, others with earrings and several in T-shirts were summoned to a rare audience with the most powerful man to never serve as Governor in the history of the state. It was a heady time for the blogosphere. The special session had driven Maryland political blog readership, both on the left and the right, to record levels and the Annapolis leaders had finally recognized our reach.

As far as I know, of the bloggers who participated in that meeting, I am the only one who still posts on a near-daily basis. Almost all of the rest are gone.

The fundamental building blocks of a political movement are not money, slogans, literature pieces or hired consultants. They are IDEAS and the people who generate them. Maryland is not a blue state because of Mike Miller’s personal power or Martin O’Malley’s campaign war chest. It is blue because residents want a stronger economy, quality education, widely available and excellent health care, a clean environment and, above all, social justice. They want to know how we will get there. And that takes creativity, willpower and risk.

We cannot leave these tasks to our politicians. They are ill-suited for them. The vast majority of the state and local politicians I have met are intelligent, possess superior people skills and are individuals of good will. But they are often cautious by nature and tend to balance their beliefs against their electoral needs. They function within a system that encourages incrementalism and seniority and punishes provocateurs. Many of them can and do implement good ideas but few create lots of them. Those people who do are seldom viable candidates for office.

Red Maryland, possibly the most-read political blog in the state, is a seething lava-pit of ideas, criticism, debate and above all hunger. Its contributors are outsiders. They have little access to money, influential officeholders, mainstream media or any of the conventional tools of political power. All they have left are ideas – lots of them. And thousands of their readers share them with their friends and spread their message. This is exactly what William F. Buckley, Paul Weyrich, Milton Friedman and many other conservatives did before the Reagan presidency. This is how to build a movement.

What about the left? We control every political resource in the state and assume that the right will never be competitive. There are many people on our side who would be excellent bloggers. But they are mostly current officeholders, staffers, lobbyists, activists who work within the system or national players. We hear from them by press release, newspaper soundbite, fundraiser speech or often not at all.

In its prime, Maryland’s liberal blogosphere provided an intellectual vigor that kept the Democratic Party in fighting form. With the decline of many liberal blogs, the ideological field of battle has been nearly abandoned to the right. This is complacency at its worst. It is very dangerous for the Maryland Democratic Party and the state’s political left in general. It must be reversed.

So if you are a progressive and have an idea for something better, write it up. Put it on Free State Politics, start your own blog or email it to us at Don’t assume that someone else will come up with it. They probably will not. Maryland’s blogosphere is wide open and thousands of liberals across the state are waiting to hear what your idea is. Ladies and gentlemen, now is an excellent time to blog.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

The State of Maryland Blogdom, Part Four

Political blogs in Maryland really began to roll in 2006, an election year. Back then, a lot of blogs sprang up to cover state and local campaigns, especially in Montgomery County. Remember MoCo Progressive, MoCo Politics, Outside the Beltway, On Background, Sprawling Towards Montgomery, Quid Pro MoCo and the notorious MoCorruption? Most were run anonymously (with Michael Raia's Outside the Beltway the exception) and all offered frequent posts with mostly liberal viewpoints. And now all of them are gone.

Then came the era of Free State Politics. Isaac Smith’s grand experiment set up a common forum in which liberal bloggers from around the state, some open and others anonymous, could post on any state or local issue they wanted. The bloggers fed off each other, shared their experiences in online diaries and elevated the quality of left-wing discourse across the state. Red Maryland, now possibly the state’s most-read political blog, was founded in July 2007 as a counterbalance to Free State Politics.

At its peak last fall, Free State Politics boasted an all-star line-up including Smith, Eric Luedtke, Andrew Kujan, Paul Foer and others, often posting multiple times per day. Free State’s coverage of the special session rivaled the mainstream media, led by Luedtke’s near-daily reporting from Annapolis. Red Maryland bloggers sometimes began their posts by denouncing one of Free State’s contributors (usually Smith or Foer) and much smack-talk was exchanged.

But Red Maryland surpassed Free State in visit count starting in October 2007 and soon had twice as many visits. Luedtke, Kujan and Foer stopped posting and left Smith to battle on alone. Free State has been resurrected in the past and may be revived again, but Red Maryland has won the lead for now.

Like the conservative blogs, the liberal blogs peaked because of the special session and the last general session. MPW, Free State, Bruce Godfrey’s venerable Crablaw and the now-dead MoCo Politics together recorded 8,000-11,000 monthly visits between July and November 2007. Combined visit counts spiked to 21,894 in February before falling to 12,124 last month. That fall is mostly due to Free State’s 66% decline in visits – from 8,892 in February to 3,013 in May. MPW, with 7,320 visits last month, is now the biggest liberal political blog in our dataset.

One blog for which we do not have data is Jim Kennedy’s Vigilance blog. Kennedy is President of Montgomery County’s Teach the Facts group, which advocates for a liberal, open curriculum on gender identity issues in the county’s schools. Kennedy acts as a patient ringmaster in the Chuck Barris mold while dozens of mostly anonymous liberals and conservatives battle it out on everything from nature vs. nurture to the origins of religion. MPW friend Dana Beyer even made news there by announcing her 2010 candidacy for District 18 delegate against a crowded forum of hostile anons. Vigilance must get tons of visits judging from its comment counts but Kennedy seldom strays into non-gender issues.

The decline of the liberal blogs is an important event in the state’s blogosphere. We will discuss the consequences of the left’s fall in Part Five.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How the Planning Board Vote Went Down

The Gazette reported the County Council’s selection of Joseph Alfandre and Amy Presley to the Planning Board yesterday. But the details of the vote are more interesting than the results.

By law, the council had to select one Democrat and one Republican to fill the two vacancies created by the departure of Allison Bryant and the death of Gene Lynch. On the Democratic seat, the first vote taken by the council resulted in four votes for Action Committee for Transit President Ben Ross (from George Leventhal, Valerie Ervin, Duchy Trachtenberg and Phil Andrews), three votes for Kentlands developer Alfandre (from Marc Elrich, Roger Berliner and Mike Knapp) and two votes for former Prince George’s County Director of Parks and Recreation Marye Wells-Harley (from Nancy Floreen and Don Praisner). Since no candidate had a majority, a run-off vote was held. Ms. Floreen and Mr. Praisner supported Alfandre, giving him a 5-4 victory.

The interesting fact here is the nature of the two voting blocs. Many observers expected the five slow-growth Council Members (Elrich, Andrews, Trachtenberg, Berliner and Praisner) to decide on one candidate. This group has been sticking together, more or less, on votes on the budget, free parking at libraries and demolishing the Hillmead house. But that did not happen this time even though the selection of a Planning Board candidate is about as critical a development decision as the council will ever make. Council Members Leventhal, Ervin and Trachtenberg are known to be enthusiastic Purple Line supporters and perhaps that was one reason why they supported Ross. But most of the others concluded Alfandre was the better overall candidate. Most surprisingly, anti-development bad boy Marc Elrich and former End Gridlock slate member Nancy Floreen agreed on the same Planning Board candidate – and a developer no less!

This is a very positive event for a rather rancorous county government. What else might Mr. Elrich and Ms. Floreen agree on? Perhaps they should find out. I for one would love to see the product of an Elrich-Floreen alliance, if only because its very existence would bewilder the rest of the council!

Legendary Clarksburg activist Amy Presley was expected by everyone to win the other seat. But her move to the Planning Board creates some challenges for her Clarksburg Town Center Advisory Committee. Clarksburg has been a mess in recent weeks with the filing of multiple lawsuits and an apocalyptic showdown in which residents turned against each other in front of developer Newland Communities. (As an activist, I can tell you that there is nothing worse than seeing your own troops go to pieces in the face of the enemy.) Presley’s successors must find a way to get the best deal possible from Newland while keeping their own people together. That is going to be a challenge.

A word on outgoing Planning Board Member Allison Bryant. I will not soon forget how Bryant nearly fell out of his chair with roaring laughter at the sight of our Crossing Georgia video last winter. I have testified many times before many panels and have often wondered whether some of the presiding officials were paying attention. I never asked that question of Bryant, an engaging man who delighted in sparring with speakers. I did not always agree with him, but the Planning Board will not be the same without Bryant’s rolling eyes and thigh-slapping good humor. Planning, politics and life are more enjoyable if you can have fun, a valuable lesson taught by Allison Bryant to the rest of us.


Delegate Gutierrez Wins Progressive States Network Award

On Monday night, the Progressive States Network honored District 18 Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez for her work in defeating anti-immigrant legislation in Maryland. We carry her acceptance remarks below.


The State of Maryland Blogdom, Part Three

With only two of eight Congressmen, 14 of 47 state senators, 37 of 141 state delegates and no statewide officeholders, Maryland’s Republican Party is in bad shape. That cannot be said of the state’s conservative blogosphere. Right-wing blogs have established a loud, robust, and active online conservative community that eclipses the state’s Republican establishment.

Of the 25 state blogs for which we have collected statistics, twelve are conservative political blogs. Prior to the fall of 2007, these twelve blogs saw a combined 16,000-22,000 visits per month. But the special session and the 2008 general session caused readership to explode to a peak of 39,917 visits in February. Since then, visits have dropped to 30,411 in May – down 24% from the peak, but still much higher than a year ago.

Red Maryland is the most widely-read blog among all those for which we have data. The site had a peak level of 14,614 visits in January before falling to 9,839 visits last month. Red Maryland is a common site shared by 20 conservative bloggers, many of whom cross-post from their own individual blogs. With so many contributors, the site offers multiple posts on many days and acts as a one-stop shopping center for Maryland conservatives. Whether free-state right-wingers want quick-and-dirty Democrat bashing or more detailed critiques of liberal policies, they will find it on Red Maryland.

Other leading conservative blogs include the Baltimore Reporter (4,000-5,000 monthly visits), the often-national issue Pillage Idiot (3,000-5,000 monthly visits) and Howard County (also 3,000-5,000 monthly visits, but declining). No other right-wing blog for which we have data reliably cracks 2,000 visits per month but that is deceiving. Many of these blogs cross-post to Red Maryland and so many readers no doubt receive their content there rather than click on multiple sites.

One important blog for which we do not have data is the infamous O’Malley Watch. There is no policy debate or prescription here: it is pure and endless bashing of the Governor, thrown out as blood-dripping red meat to his legions of enemies. While calling for transparency and open government from O’Malley, the blog’s author hides behind anonymity and does not release visit data. But since the blog’s posts often receive over 100 comments each, mostly from anonymous readers, its visit count must be high. In fact, the venomous O’Malley Watch may be the most-read blog in the state, a sad comment on the politics of the free state’s blogosphere.

In Part Four, we will look at Maryland’s left-wing blogs.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Montgomery County’s Democratic Women

By Marc Korman.

Way back in December I wrote my first guest blog entry for MPW about all of the new young Democrats Montgomery County had sent to the state legislature. At the time, I received some criticism for “kissing up” to legislators, though I still contend the topic was worth discussing. At the risk of drawing criticism once again, I want to take a few brief paragraphs to acknowledge some of the amazing women involved in Montgomery County politics. I am compelled to post the following blog entry for two reasons.

First, there was some criticism in recent months about the decline in female legislators from Montgomery County. As a member of the Central Committee who voted to fill those vacancies, I have partial responsibility for that trend. Second, many active Democratic women I have spoken to feel that Senator Obama’s victory in the presidential primary is a defeat for all women and that they are not appreciated or respected by their male Democratic peers.

Setting aside the validity of both of these points, as each could be the subject of multiple blog entries, I want to take a few moments to acknowledge some of the women I have gotten to know in Montgomery County Democratic politics and tell you about them. By naming names, I run the risk of offending those who are not on the list, so let me assure you that the list is not exhaustive and is just a sample of the many talented women supporting the Democratic Party in Montgomery County. I also will not pretend that the blog entry below is the result of objective analysis. I have met everyone discussed below and consider many of them friends, mentors, or both.

The list begins with our newest Member of Congress, Donna Edwards. Regardless of whether you supported her in any of her Congressional campaigns, Congresswoman Edwards’ defeat of an incumbent Congressman is a remarkable feat. I believe it is the result of both her organizational talents, and her ability to inspire people to work for better leadership in Washington. At the same time, one of the leaders of the campaign Congresswoman Edwards beat also deserves special recognition. Lori Sherwood, who joined Congressman Wynn’s campaign shortly after he won the 2006 Democratic primary, led his campaign effort in Montgomery County. For the time she worked for him, Lori made Congressman Wynn a better representative of his portion of the county by making him a more present and responsive Congressman. She is representative of the many outstanding women who worked for candidates in the 4th Congressional district.

Congressman Chris Van Hollen is, as you know, not a woman. But whenever the Congressman cannot attend an event, he is almost always represented by one of five women: Joan Kleinman, Karen McManus, Char Rosnick, Ann Humphrey, and from his campaign, Michelle Widman. Each of them has the difficult job of filling the void when Congressman Van Hollen cannot be present to give a speech or participate in an event. Each is also active in local politics in their own right. I know there are other capable women who work for Congressman Chris Van Hollen I have not had the chance to meet.

In Annapolis, Montgomery County has two capable women legislators named Anne Kaiser and Heather Mizeur. Delegate Kaiser showed great personal courage and leadership several years ago when outing herself during a hearing on gay marriage. Delegate Mizeur has only been in Annapolis since the 2006 election, but has already established herself as a national leader on healthcare issues with the passage of legislation allowing parents’ insurance to cover children up to age 25 and a new law improving uninsured children’s access to assistance they already qualify for. Heather Mizeur also serves on the Democratic National Committee for Maryland. And speaking of the DNC, Montgomery County is also home to DNC Vice Chair Susie Turnbull who travels the country tirelessly in her efforts to support Democratic candidates, but always finds time to attend and host events for local Democrats as well. Other hardworking women legislators from Montgomery County are Karen Montgomery, Rona Kramer, Kathleen Dumais, Susan Lee, Jennie Forehand, Ana Sol Gutierrez, Sheila Hixson, and Nancy King. At the County Council level, we have Duchy Trachtenberg, Nancy Floreen, and Valerie Ervin. Each of these women deserves their own blog entry.

Montgomery County is also lucky to have many former female legislators still actively working for the Democratic Party. One example is Esther Gelman, who served on the Montgomery County Council from 1974 to 1987 and was the first female Council President. Her service continues today with her regular attendance at Democratic events, her mentorship of many young activists, and most recently her service on the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee’s Ballot Questions Committee.

Our state and county Young Democrats are also led by two capable young women. Jennifer Kramer is the president of the Young Democrats of Maryland (YDM). She is in her second term as president and is leading YDM’s effort to support Frank Kravotil in Maryland’s 1st Congressional district. She has also greatly improved Maryland’s reputation with the national Young Democrats of America organization. In Montgomery County, the Young Democrats (MCYD), an organization to which I belong, are led by Sarah Holstine. Just this past weekend, Sarah and MCYD provided volunteers for the Democratic Unity Picnic in Gaithersburg. MCYD also registered approximately 650 voters before the February primary, focusing on 17 year olds who would be 18 before the general election. That effort was headed by Young Democrat Lisa Kaneff.

At the weekend’s unity picnic, Peter Franchot joked that the person who got the most applause was Karen Britto, the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee Chairwoman. While the applause Karen received on Saturday was loud, she does not always receive such a great reception, as readers of MPW know. But during her years leading the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, we have turned the County almost entirely blue and had many other great political successes, as I recently discussed in another post. The Democrats have also stayed largely united, which does not always happen when political parties find success. Karen Britto deserves a lot of credit for these achievements. Karen is joined on the Central Committee by eleven other hard working women who do not get nearly the recognition they deserve for their continuing work in staffing polls, raising money, and otherwise supporting Democrats. They are Marie Wallace, Tracy Terrell, Venattia Vann, Elly Shaw-Belblidia, Karen Czapansky, Sandy Raymond, Vivian Malloy, Aruna Miller, Beth Siniawsky, Vilma White, and Lindsey Brewer. Again, I am a member of MCDCC and admit I may have a little bias when it comes to my colleagues.

The list above is in no way exhaustive. But it does give some indication of the depth and breadth of female Democratic talent our County has. I would encourage readers to add more names in the comments to help me publicly acknowledge some of our great Montgomery County women Democrats, and thank them for all they do and will do as we work to elect a new president and keep Maryland blue.


The State of Maryland Blogdom, Part Two

Maryland political blogs generally fall into one of three categories: liberal, conservative or local. Today, we will focus on the local blogs.

Liberal and conservative blogs are self-explanatory. Local blogs tend to cover a specific area, like Baltimore, Silver Spring or Howard County. They are sometimes not directly political in the sense that the author does not have a strong ideological bias. But they often touch on political issues as they apply to a particular local area. The Silver Spring blogs, for example, offered outstanding coverage of last year’s photography dispute on Ellsworth Drive and the recent debate over the Birchmere/Live Nation project.

Of the 25 blogs for which we have obtained visit statistics, nine are local blogs. Of those, Inside Charm City is the most widely-read with a peak of 16,267 visits in April. Inside Charm City is a general news blog reporting on events in and around Baltimore. Jeff Quinton has established himself as perhaps the city’s most prominent blogger since founding the site in April 2007.

Dan Reed’s Just Up the Pike ranks second with a peak of 6,331 visits in April. In a previous post, I proclaimed Dan the “best interviewer in MoCo blogdom.” He is that and more. Dan chronicles often over-looked East County and occasionally branches out to Downtown Silver Spring and Wheaton. Dan is an architectural student and often comments on development-related issues. He is one of a handful of MoCo bloggers who has kept his blog alive since the summer of 2006. Before I started with MPW, I was a guest-blogger on Just Up the Pike and I continue to read it daily.

Rethink College Park wants Maryland’s biggest college town to become “a walkable, inclusive, and dynamic city.” The site peaked at 7,977 visits in December 2007 and now draws around 4,000 visits a month. Authors David Daddio and Rob Goodspeed have a style similar to Dan Reed’s: highly detailed, very local and forward-looking.

The nine blogs for which I have data have grown steadily in visit counts. Prior to the fall of 2007, they drew combined monthly visit counts in the low twenty thousands. Now they are drawing around thirty thousand visits a month. But that understates their influence because I do not have data for some of the most prominent local blogs including the Pocomoke Tattler, Delusional Duck (in Charles County), Salisbury News and most of the other Silver Spring blogs. Silver Spring, serviced by not only Just Up the Pike but no fewer than three other long-running, frequently-updated blogs is probably the blog capital of Maryland.

Local blogs offer a mix of news, opinion, humor and detail that are indispensable supplements to mainstream media (MSM) sources. That is why demand for them is rising steadily and surely. The only constraint to their growth is the time demands on the bloggers themselves. That is an important constraint (as I can testify!) but enough people have overcome it to make this sector of the blogosphere a serious factor in the state’s political scene.

In Part Three, we will cover Maryland’s conservative blogs.


Monday, June 23, 2008

The State of Maryland Blogdom, Part One

Like many MPW readers, I am a heavy consumer of blogs. Yes, I am addicted to information in general. It’s difficult for me to go an entire day without checking the Post, the Sun, the New York Times and several other mainstream media (MSM) sources at least once each. But blogs (at least the good ones) offer something of value beyond the MSM: a fresh take blending fact and opinion from informed, involved observers – and sometimes players – in the scene they cover. Over the last two years, blogs have become an important but largely intangible part of the Maryland political scene. In this five-part series, I present my best shot at measuring the reach of Maryland’s blogs for the first time.

Now there are many, many blogs in Maryland and everywhere else in the world. They range across every interest imaginable: music, art, food, travel, sports, professional issues, medical issues, and on and on. Our focus in this series will be on blogs that relate to Maryland politics. (Hence our name!)

We exclude from our focus “blogs” that are essentially extensions of corporate media outlets. Maryland Moment, a “blog” that often carries short versions of Washington Post stories, is one example. PolitickerMD is another, as we exposed last year. So are the countless other “blogs” run by the Post, the Sun and other MSM sources. While these sites contain useful information often provided by capable professionals, they are for-profit sites controlled by editors and operated for the benefit of corporate entities. That makes them news sites but not truly independent blogs.

Regular readers know that I am a stickler for measurement and that is the biggest challenge for evaluating blogs. How many people read them? Who reads them? How much influence do they have? These are very difficult questions to answer.

Bloggers, and website operators in general, can use a variety of tools to measure traffic on their sites. Most of them identify IP addresses that connect to the site and access its pages. These tools can then aggregate the visit and page view data and report it back to the blog owner. Some blog owners make the aggregate information public while others do not.

The most common traffic measurement tool used by Maryland bloggers is Sitemeter. Sitemeter describes its measures on its website:

Sitemeter tracks page views and visits. You may also have heard the term “hits.” When someone comes to your site, they generate a “hit” for every piece of content that is sent to their computer. Viewing a single web site page would generate one hit for the page and one hit for every individual graphics file that was on the page. A single page could easily generate a dozen or more hits. When you are browsing a site, every time you follow a link, it is treated as a single “page view.” Sitemeter defines a “visit” as a series of page views by one person with no more than 30 minutes in between page views.
The definitions of both “visits” and “page views” leave a lot to be desired. Visits are not unique; one user accessing the blog in the morning and the evening would be counted twice. And page views are a better measure of use intensity than the number of users. But the virtue of examining statistics from Sitemeter is that it applies the same imperfect standard to every site it measures. Blog-to-blog comparisons can be made and trends can be determined over time. This is a far more transparent standard than that applied by BlogNetNews, which declines to release its criteria for selecting the “highest influence” blogs on the grounds that they are “proprietary.” Imperfect though it may be, data from Sitemeter may be the best available option for measuring and comparing the state’s blogs.

We collected data from Sitemeter or a comparable service for 25 Maryland blogs related directly or indirectly to state or local politics over the last year. In Part Two, we will begin reporting our results.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Planning Board WANTS YOU!

You are invited to participate in an exciting environmental planning project – jointly sponsored by the Montgomery County Planning Board and the County Executive. Called the Healthy and Sustainable Communities initiative, county staff will be crafting environmental policy goals and indicators that measure our progress – with your help! While county environmental programs do a great deal toward improving quality of life in Montgomery County, County Executive Ike Leggett and Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson have identified a missing link: a set of goals and corresponding measures of progress to guide decision making.

Join us at our kick-off workshop June 25-26 at the Universities at Shady Grove. At the workshop, we want participants like you to help us chart our progress toward meeting sustainability goals. RSVPView draft schedule of events

We've kicked off our project as a virtual document. Give us your feedback on how we should measure our environmental progress, even if you can't join us at the workshop. Log on to contribute your thoughts to any of the following indicator reports. Simply click on a goal and enter your comments. Visit often to view what others say. And please spread the word!

1. Climate protection

a. Energy use
b. Carbon emissions
c. Waste management

2. Clean air

Air quality index b. Travel indicators

3. Clean water

4. Wildlife habitat and open space

5. Smart communities

6. Healthy people

7. Green economy

a. Jobs
b. Agriculture

8. Environmental justice


Friday, June 20, 2008

Trying to Get it Right on Traffic

Remember our description of Montgomery County’s screwed-up system for measuring traffic congestion? Remember our proposal for accurately measuring congestion through massive usage of GPS devices? Well, it turns out that the country’s largest traffic measurement company agrees with us.

INRIX is a traffic measurement firm based outside Seattle that was founded by two former Microsoft executives in 2004. The company just released a report ranking traffic congestion all over the United States. (The Washington area ranks fourth-worst after Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.) How does the company gather its data? The company states:

The raw data comes from the historical traffic data warehouse of the INRIX Smart Dust Network. Since 2006, INRIX has acquired billions of discrete “GPS-enabled probe vehicle” reports from commercial fleet vehicles – including taxis, airport shuttles, service delivery vans, long haul trucks – and cellular probe data. Each data report from these GPS-equipped vehicles includes at minimum the speed, location and heading of a particular vehicle at a reported date and time.

INRIX has developed efficient methods for interpreting probe vehicle reports that are provided in real-time to establish a current estimate of travel patterns in all major cities in the United States. These same methods can aggregate data over periods of time (annually in this report) to provide reliable information on speeds and congestion levels for segments of roads. With the nation’s largest probe vehicle network, INRIX has the ability to generate the most comprehensive congestion analysis to date, covering the nation’s largest 100 metropolitan areas.
How do they measure congestion? The company calculates a “reference speed” based on how fast GPS-equipped vehicles travel on a road in the middle of the night. Presumably, that reflects driving time in non-congested conditions. Then the company draws on more GPS data to calculate average speeds in each hour of the day for every day of the week. Then the company divides the reference speed (representing free flow) by the average peak-hour driving speed to calculate a Travel Time Index. The higher the index, the greater the congestion. For example, an index value of 1.3 indicates that a peak-hour trip will take 30% longer than a free-flow trip because of congestion.

Is INRIX’s congestion formula the right one? Maybe yes, maybe no. But more importantly, their calculations are based on billions of actual trips recorded by GPS devices in commercial vehicles all over the U.S. Unlike Montgomery County, INRIX does not base its statistics on fluky critical lane volume measurements that are taken once every four years or so and, according to Park and Planning’s own research, do not actually measure congestion.

Folks, we have to be able to measure traffic congestion accurately in order to plan successful mitigations, including road improvements and transit. Here’s a private sector company that is getting a ton of real-world data and giving it their best shot. So if INRIX is doing it, why can’t we?


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Views from the Water-less Environs

By Sharon Dooley.

On a Monday morning one wakes up and saunters into the bathroom - it seems the toilet is making strange gurgles and the faucet dribbles, sputters and quits. Upon turning on the news one learns that a water main has broken and no one should drink the water – well as it happens there now is none, so that is no longer an issue. But one wonders – what about such ordinary things like tooth brushing and showers? What about that usual morning cup of coffee?

Have I suddenly traveled to a third world country - is this a travellogue? Nope, it is just the latest from good old Montgomery County – the place where we are now allowed to shower but not drink the water and must boil any county water we use in cooking. The place where over 1000 restaurants inside the magic circle of suspect water cannot serve the public any newly prepared foods.

We should, I guess, be happy that we are getting frequent updates from the county and that many minds are working to keep us safe; soon this too shall pass. But – the lingering doubt sticks in ones mind – just how bad is the infrastructure in this area anyway? Within the last week we have seen downtown DC turn chaotic as the power was lost for several hours in the center of the city. Metro has had several major mishaps with stranded passengers, fires and twisted tracks. Pepco took several days to return power to thousands after recent storms. Is this a sudden trend of breakdowns that will be come the usual state of affairs for the Metro area for the near future?

How long can we, as residents of an major urban area that is increasingly interdependent, look away from infrastructure improvements? WSSC says it cannot predict water main breaks – we were used to them in the winter – now they are occurring in the hot weather. According to the Washington Post we have had multiple breaks this year and the WSSC board has decided it cannot assess greater fees for improvements at this time.

Metro is said to be looking for many millions of dollars that will be required to upgrade its aging system of tracks and trains, yet those dollars have not been allocated. We daily travel under or over bridges that have not been inspected in recent times. Do we need to have a major water system failure with widespread illness or a crash from a defective Metro car before we as a collective group of counties, states and areas decide to look at common interests and long-term solutions? We do not need to have a major highway bridge collapse before we take action do we?

Just the view from the less crowded upcounty where we welcome you as visitors, but ask - please - that you bring your own beverages 'cause you cannot drink our water - yet!

Sharon Dooley lives in Olney where she has been celebrating the return of some water. She is the Legislative Director of Upcounty Action.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Democratic Democracy

By Delegate Heather R. Mizeur (District 20).

Neutrality guided my thinking as an uncommitted superdelegate during the recent Democratic nominating process, largely because I prefer building the Party to picking horses. Voters decided that Senator Barack Obama should be our presumptive Presidential nominee.

Sure, superdelegates came out to break the deadlock, but they opted for the candidate who had earned the most pledged delegates. Based on the rules that were in place, the nominating process came to its appropriate conclusion.

That’s different than saying the system worked.

Like any idea committed to paper but unproven in the real world, the flaws in our process only became evident when it was put to the test.

The last eighteen months have made it clear that there are many improvements needed, and that reform means more than preventing superdelegates from becoming the central front of another nominating process. Here are some of the things we should consider.


The idea of superdelegates – or, more officially, an unpledged party leader and elected official (PLEO) delegate – strikes many as undemocratic. Many proposals aimed at curbing their influence center on making their votes more dependent on how the voters in a Congressional district, state, or the whole country voted.

Among these ideas was one I heard from many of Senator Obama’s supporters in Maryland, who believed superdelegates should pledge to vote the way their state (or Congressional district) voted.

The trouble is, Democratic superdelegates aren’t evenly distributed around the country – by population, by percentage of the nationwide Democratic primary vote, or by any other means. Several states – including Maryland and the District of Columbia, won by Senator Obama, and California, New York, and Massachusetts, won by Senator Clinton – are overrepresented by superdelegates. Others states are underrepresented.

This inequity happens for a number of reasons. Many superdelegates are appointed to be at-large DNC members, representing a particular constituency – Young Democrats, African-Americans, GLBT Americans, etc. Former Presidents, Vice Presidents, and some other high-ranking officials also continue to be superdelegates. Wherever these superdelegates live, they are counted with that state’s delegation.

If this logic had been followed by everyone, and all superdelegates had voted the way their States voted, the final numbers would have been much, much different – and this would have probably helped Senator Clinton more than Senator Obama.

Later in the campaign, as the process was nearing its end, I began to hear another argument emerge, mainly from Senator Clinton’s supporters: superdelegates should pledge to support the winner of the national popular vote. But this argument, too, is more complicated and problematic than it seems.

First – in addition to the disagreement about whether (and how) to seat delegates from Michigan and Florida – there was a lack of consensus about whether (and how) to count the votes cast by Michiganders and Floridians. Second, the contests weren’t all held on the same day, making the national popular vote a “photo montage” of the electorate rather than a snapshot. Third – and most importantly – the caucuses held in just over a dozen states do a poor job at capturing “popular” sentiment (more on that in minute).

For these reasons, using the national popular vote for a nominating contest would be as flawed as requiring superdelegates to vote the way of their state or district.

What does it all mean? What should we do about superdelegates?

We could require them (or certain categories of them) to remain neutral until after the primary contests have all concluded, as I did. We could devise a system to bind them (or certain categories of them) to primary vote totals in a way that wouldn’t give some states an outsized influence. We could reduce the overall number of superdelegates, making it less likely that they would exercise as much influence on the nominating process.

Or we could do away with superdelegates entirely.


After Senator and Michelle Obama move into the White House and we’ve secured expanded majorities in the House and Senate, the DNC needs to review whether or not we continue allowing states to hold caucuses. Though cheaper to hold than primaries, they are an imperfect way of nominating a President.

First, and most obviously, caucuses are a bizarre creature in a democracy that values secret ballots. But they also depress overall turnout, and skew what turnout there is away from older voters, working-class voters, voters with disabilities, and other who have trouble making it to a caucus site and staying there, sometimes for hours. There are no absentee ballots for caucuses, and so voters with unmet child care needs, voters who make a living through shift work, deployed members of the military, and voters without reliable transportation are shut out of the process.

We should invest in our democracy by requiring primaries, not caucuses.

A Rotating Regional Primary System

If only Michigan and Florida had followed the rules, their influence on the nominating process may have been greater. But they were only marginally more ambitious than most states in trying to increase their influence on the primary process. (See: Tuesday, Super)

It is past time to allow more states an opportunity to hold the first in the nation primary. We should strongly consider fundamental reform to our party’s nominating contest, taking a close look at a regional primary system. The DNC could carve up the country into 5-8 regions and then use a lottery system to determine the contest dates for each region. This would allow new, different voices to be heard.

Hindsight is always 20/20. Let’s use what we’ve learned from this extraordinary nominating contest to make further improvements for years to come.

Editor's note: This guest post is the second part in a two part series describing Delegate Heather R. Mizeur’s (D-Takoma Park and Silver Spring) status as a Democratic superdelegate in the recent Presidential nominating process.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On the Sidelines but in the Fray

By Delegate Heather R. Mizeur (District 20).

The Washington Post recently ran an article detailing my fifteen minutes in the superdelegate spotlight.

I hope it’s the last fifteen minutes I’ll have to spend there.

Like a couple hundred other Democratic superdelegates around the country, I remained – as the Post put it – “adamantly, stubbornly undeclared” throughout the primary season. And so for nearly six months, the Clinton and Obama campaigns each lined up a small legion of surrogates, who dutifully called to sway my vote one way or the other.

And that’s the story the Post ran, the story most Americans wanted to read about uncommitted superdelegates: phone conversations and meetings with Governors and Senators, encounters with friends and neighbors on the Metro, and – of course – Melissa Etheridge calling.

But my experience is more nuanced than that.

The night before the article ran and my support for Obama’s candidacy became official, he had become our presumptive nominee by reaching the number of delegates needed to clinch the Democratic nomination.

The timing of my decision prompted questions by people who posted online comments, emailed me, or blogged about the article. Why did she wait so long? Why now?

Fair questions – what I haven’t ever articulated well enough was why I stayed on the sidelines.

It’s quite simple: I wanted the voters to decide.

We have never had an election like this one, and we may never have another. Since their creation in 1982, superdelegates had never played a significant role in choosing our Party’s nominee for President.

Even when it became clear that we might be forced into that role, there was no rulebook to guide our decision-making process – or the campaigns’ and the public’s efforts to sway our votes.

I became a superdelegate when the Maryland Democratic Party chose me as one of its representatives to the Democratic National Committee. When I was elected as a Committeewoman in 2005, I pledged to work hard for our Party, to grow our base, to shape our platform, and to support our candidates. Since then, I have remained neutral in Party primaries, which isn’t always easy in a state and a county boasting a bumper crop of talented Democratic leaders.

Last fall, when faced with a heavily contested presidential nominating process, I decided to remain neutral until at least after the Maryland primary had concluded. Doing so lets me be an unbiased resource connecting voters and activists to all Democratic campaigns. It also allows me to advocate and assist all our candidates.

I held a house party for Bill Richardson, and offered to do the same for the other candidates. I volunteered at rallies for Barack Obama and John Edwards. I drove elderly voters to the polls for Hillary Clinton. I took pride in helping other Marylanders do the same.

As Maryland’s primary concluded, it seemed increasingly likely that the contest would remain close and the national dialogue would continue to unfold and flourish. My gut told me that it was important to let that conversation run its course – that Superdelegates should not prematurely end this race. Though my resolve to remain uncommitted was sometimes tested, it was never broken.

Along the way, I was encouraged to declare my choice for the Democratic nominee by both sides of the contest – campaign surrogates, advocates in Maryland and across the country, neighbors, and the candidates themselves. Sometimes it seemed that there were as many rationales as there were pundits to deliver them.

These were oftentimes compelling, but none ultimately convinced me that I should abandon my neutrality. And so I remained “adamantly, stubbornly undeclared,” waiting for the process to play itself out.

On June 3rd, it had ended. The last primaries and caucuses had been held, the last votes had been cast and counted. Senator Obama and his campaign had masterfully developed and executed their national strategy and he emerged as our presumptive nominee.

Never has staying out of a fight proved to be so bruising.

Committing my support when I did has been misinterpreted by some as political opportunism; remaining undeclared through the end of the races has been misconstrued by others as a self-interested joy ride. While I can probably do very little to change these opinions, I would like to offer some insights.

The Democratic Party, Senator Barack Obama, and our candidates up and down the ballot are stronger than ever as a result of this primary season, and we stand ready to defeat Senator John McCain and the failed policies of the Bush Administration in November.

Because the process was allowed to play itself out, each state played an important role and we sent organizers to states and cities where Democrats normally do not compete. Because the process was allowed to play itself out, tens of millions of people voted and we registered record-breaking numbers of new voters. Because the process was allowed to play itself out, Senator Obama is ready to win in November, and we are all ready to help him.

And finally, because the process was allowed to play itself out, America decided – instead of me.

Editor's note: This guest post is the first part in a two part series describing Delegate Heather R. Mizeur’s (D-Takoma Park and Silver Spring) status as a Democratic superdelegate in the recent Presidential nominating process.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Understanding the Proposed Ambulance Fee

From Marc Korman:

On June 10, the County Executive sent the County Council a proposal to allow the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service to impose a fee when transporting patients by ambulance. The proposal is not new. It was put forth previously by the County Executive during the budget deliberations and by the previous County Executive in 2004. Opposition has been expressed to the proposal from many parties on the grounds that it will adversely affect healthcare, while proponents cite the overwhelming budget and healthcare needs to justify the fee. But what is really being proposed and what are the implications?

What Is Being Proposed?

The County Executive’s formal proposal is available here, beginning on page two. Although articles have cited the exact cost of the fee, the legislation only authorizes a regulation establishing the program and not a specific fee amount. The County Executive’s revenue projections assume a $247 fee in fiscal year 2009, rising to $253 in fiscal year 2012. The fee would only be assessed against non-County residents and residents with “available insurance coverage.” The legislation also includes a requirement that individuals must receive medical service, regardless of their ability to pay. The proposal is similar to current policy in Prince George’s County, Washington, DC, and New York City to name just a few examples. Based on the above numbers, the County Executive projects $14.8 million in additional revenue in FY2010. The legislation also requires that the funding gained from the fees not offset existing emergency rescue funding, but supplement it.

So Who Would Pay?

If you are not a County resident the legislation would require you to pay regardless of insurance. But for County residents, who would pay depends on the meaning of the term “available insurance coverage.” Based on the public rhetoric, the fee would be invisible to patients because it would be entirely dealt with through insurance companies. But does “available insurance coverage” mean the fee will only be assessed if an insurance company will fully cover it? What if an insurance company requires a co-pay from the patient for the ambulance service? What if the use of the ambulance, and the required payment, leads to increased premium costs for the patient? The answers to these questions are not self-evident from the County Executive’s proposal.

What Does It All Mean?

If you listen to the critics, the County Executive’s proposal means that those who need medical assistance will think twice before calling an ambulance and could suffer. If you listen to the proponents, the insurance companies will foot the entire bill. As usual, the truth is probably somewhere in between.

The fear that patients will not get the healthcare they need is valid. But the ambulance proposal would just ameliorate, not create, the existing problem with the private sector driven healthcare status quo. Due to the extreme costs, even those with insurance must still self-ration care to avoid increased premiums or paying the full cost of care while meeting their high deductible. The conservative approach to healthcare, market driven proposals like Health Savings Accounts, only worsen the problem by making those in need even more sensitive to the cost of care. People should be aware that healthcare is costly, but they should also not be dissuaded from seeking needed care.

When it comes to the insurance companies paying the bill, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Insurance companies have proven themselves quite capable of making money despite increased healthcare costs. If the County Council manages to keep the fee from being charged against those who do not receive 100% ambulance coverage from their insurers, we will likely either see fewer health insurers offering that benefit (health insurance plans are not national and can be tailored for specific locations) or an increase in premiums.

What Can You Do?

Given the complexities of the issue and the County’s real healthcare and budgetary needs, the County Executive and County Council need to carefully consider the proposal. As always, you can weigh in by contacting your Councilmember or attending the public hearing tentatively scheduled for July 8th.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Barack Obama on Father's Day

Barack Obama gave a courageous speech on Father's Day at Apostolic Church of God, a 20,000 member African-American church on Chicago's South Side. It showed why Obama appeals to so many, conservatives and liberals alike as it combined a conservative message of responsibility with a liberal message of community and help for those who need it wrapped up in the country's love of religion and the eternal American hope for a better tomorrow.

Some of the best lines were left out of the official text released on web. Money quote from own transcription:

How many in this generation are we willing to lose to poverty, or violence, or addiction? How many? We can't simply write these off to past injustices. Those injustices are real. There's a reason why our families are in disrepair. And some of it has to do with a tragic history. But we can't keep on using that as an excuse.

Some it has to do with the failures of our government, and those failures are real. But we can't keep on using that as an excuse. Yes we need fewer guns in the hands of people who shouldn't have them. Yes we need more money for our schools, and more outstanding teachers in the classroom, and more after school programs for our children. Yes we need more jobs and more job training and more opportunity in our community. We know all that. That's why I'm running for president of the United States of America.

We know we need to bring about change in America. We know that. But he change we need is not just going to come from government. It's not just going to come from a president. It's going to come from us. It's going to come from each and everyone of us. We need families to raise our children.

We need fathers to recognize that responsibility doesn't just end at conception. That doesn't just make you a father. What makes you a man is not the ability to have a child. Any fool can have a child. That doesn't make you a father. It's the courage to raise a child that makes you a father.
And, in case you were wondering, this message of tough love--for which some African-American leaders have been vilified in the past--was received with thunderous applause and cries of "amen". Of course, according to the New York Times, it sounds like Michele had the last word:

Mr. Obama sprinkled his roughly 30-minute address with some moments of levity. When he asked Mrs. Obama why Mother’s Day produces so much more “hoopla” than Father’s Day, he said, she reminded him of his special status.

“She said, ‘Let me tell you, every day is Father’s Day,’ ” he said. “ ‘Every day you’re getting away with something. You’re running for president.’ ”

Watch it for yourself on the YouTube.


Tim Russert (1950-2008)

By Charles Duffy.

Tim Russert died suddenly on Friday. The news stories of his death are already being pushed off of the front pages as other breaking news happens.

I did not know Mr. Russert although I met him once and he was kind to me then. From watching him on TV I could tell he was a person who was always well prepared and always gave his best. Those are qualities that I value greatly.

I read an interview that he gave a while back and two things he said have stayed with me. One was that he always reminded himself, while hosting Meet the Press, that his own views were not what was important. Unlike many political interviewers on TV these days, Mr. Russert was most concerned with presenting and highlighting the views of his guests.

Another thing that he said was that he did not "dislike any of the political figures that [he] interview[ed]." He was an ardent Democrat once who worked years ago for New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and New York Governor Mario Cuomo but yet he could still see the goodness and humanness in all of his guests, no matter which party they were from or what views they espoused.

Mr. Russert was not an Ivy-leaguer and he was not born on third base. He went to John Carroll University and was from a working class family in Buffalo. I loved when he would joke about the Buffalo Bills football team at the end of a Meet the Press Show after having just finished a tough interview on some consequential issue of the day. It would remind me that there is more to life than the serious side of things and also, that it is alright to embrace ones past and take pride in being from a place like Buffalo ... or Pittsburgh (where I'm from).

Also, his love for his father, which he wrote about in his book "Big Russ and Me," was a special thing. Hearing him talk about his Dad always triggered in me thoughts about how much I admired and loved my Dad, Roger F. Duffy, who passed away last year.

Tim Russert died way too young but he lived life to the fullest while he was alive and taught much through his work and actions.

Editor's Note: Charles Duffy is the host of Political Pulse, Montgomery County's premier political interview show.


Friday, June 13, 2008

The Good List and the Bad List

I suppose it was inevitable that the Clintons are keeping an enemies list. After all, someone has to show Richard Nixon’s fans how this is really done. Well, I’ve got two lists: the people who make me happy and the ones who don’t.

The Good List

Mike Miller
Big Daddy’s decision to conquer, err, run again is the best news of the month. He is a blogger’s dream and has given us a lot of great material over the years. I am so pleased that he is coming back that I am even willing to forgive him for proposing that dreadful blogger tax.

Dana Beyer
Another politician that just keeps on giving back to bloggers. Whether it’s chasing away shower nuts, taunting right-wing zealots with campaign announcements or running amok on Teach the Facts Vigilance blog, Dana just can’t stop herself from raising Hell regardless of whether it’s good for her politically. If Robin Ficker had joined the County Council staff, I would be sitting in the council lobby with a video-camera every day to watch him go at it with Dana.

Rich Madaleno
He is my State Senator and will one day build us a new Forest Glen Metro entrance, so he has to be on this list. Hmmm… I guess that came across the wrong way. No Rich, you are here because we really, really like you!

Marc Korman, Bob Fustero, Sharon Dooley, Alan Banov, Eric Luedtke, Joe Davidson, Dana and the Rest of You
We really appreciate everyone who regularly reads and comments on this blog. It is both encouraging and necessary that we get feedback, good and bad, on our posts.

The Bad List

Planning Department Transportation Managers
Knowingly relying on a congestion measurement system that their own research proves is flawed is really intolerable. The new Planning Board members, whoever they are, must deal with this issue.

Montgomery County Council Member Marc Elrich
I like Marc and he should not be on this list. But Marc is not happy unless someone is mad at him, so here he is. I’ll come up with a reason for his inclusion later.

They haven’t done anything lately and that’s the point. They used to give us tons of great stuff in the good old days. But recently they have been so quiet and even constructive that I have been reduced to the sad fate of actually praising them. Come on, Central Committee Members, go back to your old ways and help a blogger in need!

And the Worst of the Worst…

My Blog Brothers
David has re-appeared, but what about the rest of you? Why are you making me do all the work?


Planning Board Denies Approval for Metro 4

The Planning Board denied approval to the proposed sixteen story building in the location of the currently shuttered food court in the Bethesda Metro Plaza, saying that it did not conform to the Bethesda Master Plan. A central aspect of the dispute over the proposal centered on whether Meridien, the developer, had the right to the level of density under the Master Plan. Perhaps even more crucial was whether the developer could count one-half of the adjoining public roads, primarily Old Georgetown Rd. and Wisconsin Ave. as part of the gross lot area--an issue identified here by Adam Pagnucco which was hammered relentlessly by plan opponents.

Planning Board Staffer Josh Sloan had recommended approval for the project. The denial of the project now represents the second major project on which Josh Sloan has been rolled by the Board. Readers of MPW may recall that he also recommended approval of the original Woodmont East plan and the developer was forced to withdraw and resubmit their application. On that occasion, the nature of the open space in the project was a crucial issue and locals found Mr. Sloan's defense of the open space risible to say the least.

On this occasion, Mr. Sloan argued that the proposal conformed to the Bethesda Master Plan and that it was clear that the gross site area should include the portions of public thoroughfare which have origins as Indian trails predating not just the founding of Montgomery County but of the nation. The 80-odd page report provides little to no justification for the critical conclusion on gross site area which was heavily disputed by opponents of the project who were led by normally pro-development interests who own the nearby Clark and Chevy Chase buildings, an undoubted source of schadenfreude for activists who want the Master Plan and regulations to have meaningful life.

Regardless of the merits of the project--and I express no opinion here on it--the lack of nuance in the report should disturb County residents. Chairman Royce Hanson charitably said that Josh Sloan made a "reasonable argument" but also said that the same could be said for the opposite conclusion. It seems a pity that Josh Sloan could not acknowledge the same in his report and instead insisted that the conclusion was clear without any reservation. More consultation with community civic organizations representing local residents was also needed.

You can listen to a podcast of the transcripts--the Planning Board spent much of yesterday listening to testimony on this question--on the Planning Board website.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Van Hollen Press Release on Passage of Law to Fight Childhood Cancer

Washington, DC – Congressman Chris Van Hollen today announced that the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1553, legislation to fight pediatric cancer. The bill, which Van Hollen co-authored along with Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-OH), would dramatically increase federal funding for childhood cancer research. It passed unanimously.

“This legislation will bring us one step closer to eradicating pediatric cancer,” said Congressman Chris Van Hollen. “No child should have to experience and suffer the effects of cancer, and no parent should have to see their child suffer.”

Van Hollen and Pryce worked with CureSearch National Childhood Cancer Foundation of Bethesda, Maryland, the world's largest cooperative cancer research organization, to advance this legislation.

Cancer is the number one killer of children under the age of fifteen who die from a disease. The bill targets federal resources and research dollars against the cancers afflicting children nationwide, and elevates our nation’s prioritization of pediatric cancer through additional funding, improved treatment, and more centralized, accessible information for researchers and families.

H.R. 1553 has 223 cosponsors in the House. In November 2007, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously approved the companion bill, S. 911, sponsored by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI).

The Conquer Childhood Cancer Act includes the following provisions:

Ø Centers of Excellence for Childhood Cancer Research: This legislation enhances and expands biomedical research programs in childhood cancer through an existing National Cancer Institute-designated multi-center national infrastructure.

Ø National Childhood Cancer Research Database: It will establish a population-based childhood cancer database to evaluate the incidence trends of childhood cancers and to further investigate genetic epidemiology in order to develop and implement prevention and treatment strategies.

Ø Outreach and Education for Pediatric Cancer Patients and Families: In addition, the legislation provides for education and information services to patients and families affected by childhood cancer to ensure they are aware of and have access to appropriate clinical treatment as well as the array of needed support services.

Ø Authorization of Appropriations: $30 million annually for 5-fiscal year period.


On Political Pulse

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley will be on the 'Political Pulse' political talk show on:

Thursday, June 12th (at 9 p.m.);
Tuesday, June 17th (at 9:30 p.m.);
Thursday, June 19th (at 9:00 p.m.); and
Tuesday, June 24th (at 9:30 p.m.).

Political Pulse is on Channel 16 TV in Montgomery County.


4 Bethesda Metro Center Heads to the Planning Board

The Planning Board is holding a hearing on 4 Bethesda Metro Center today, the new office building on top of downtown's Metro station. The Post covered the issue today but left out a couple things our readers should know.

In a previous post, I detailed how the Bethesda CBD Master Plan uses Floor Area Ratio (FAR) to set the density level of the area around the Metro station. FAR is gross building area divided by lot area. But Meridian, the applicant for the new 16-story building, persuaded the planning staff to include half the width of several roads around the project, including Wisconsin Avenue and Old Georgetown Road, in the FAR calculation. Why? Because supposedly the roads were once Indian trails associated with the property and Meridian is arguing that they should count towards lot area. Forget the fact that the Indians did not keep deed or plat records.

Furthermore, the project's opponents are alleging that the inclusion of undedicated road area in FAR has occurred several times before, but only when project applicants were represented by Linowes and Blocher. Charles Claxton and Jerry Pasternak, representing Clark Enterprises, wrote to the Planning Board:

It thus appears that this whole theory of the "prescriptive dedication" of Indian trails is not an historic practice, but the recent creation of Linowes and Blocher, the attorneys who initiated this application for Meridian and who first argued that Wisconsin Avenue and Old Georgetown Road should be included in FAR calcuations for Bethesda Metro Center. Recent history has shown that the fact that Linowes and Blocher can convince staff to accept its concepts of zoning compliance is not necessarily a good thing.
But Claxton and Pasternak actually go further, baldly stating that the dispute amounts to a repetition of the Clarksburg scandal:

We have seen this scenario before - a developer gets too cozy with staff at the Planning Board and staff enables the developer to violate plans and the law. In Clarksburg I, there was no opportunity for the Board to prevent the integrity of the process from being shattered and citizen confidence in its government undermined. This Board, however, has the opportunity to prevent "Clarksburg II" and should do so by denying the application.
The irony of attorneys for Clark, which is a general contractor, developer and construction manager, deploring developer "coziness" with staff is rich. But then what does Rollin Stanley, the new Planning Director, do but add new ammo to the opponents' arguments. According to the Post:

Stanley criticized the opponents during a speech Friday to members of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce. He suggested that they are too focused on minutiae and don't see the big picture, which he said is a growing need for more housing and jobs near public transit as gas prices skyrocket.

"Planning shouldn't be about sitting in a room with five lawyers talking about the road in 1781. When you get to that level... something has gone wrong."
The role of the Planning staff, including its Director, is not to criticize a development applicant or any other parties expressing views on an application. The staff's role is to offer its best professional guidance to the Planning Board. Stanley, who over-ruled lower-ranking staff who originally recommended against the new office building, is treading dangerously close to the line on this project.

Stay tuned folks - this dispute is just getting started.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Planning Board Applicants Narrowed Down to 12

The Montgomery County Council has selected 12 interviewees from 29 applicants for two positions on the Planning Board.

The council’s press release states:

Montgomery Council Sets Interviews for 12 To Fill 2 County Planning Board Positions

ROCKVILLE, Md., June 10, 2008—The Montgomery County Council has set interview dates with 12 applicants seeking to fill two vacancies on the Montgomery County Planning Board.

The term of Allison Bryant, a Republican, will expire on June 14. Mr. Bryant has served two terms and is not eligible for reappointment. The other vacancy was created by the passing of board member Eugene Lynch, a Democrat, on Jan. 31. Mr. Lynch’s term will expire on June 14, 2011.

Interviews are open for public observation. They will be conducted at the Council Office Building at 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville. The interview schedule is as follows:

Patrick Ryan June 12, 2008 1:30 PM
Benjamin Ross June 12, 2008 2:00 PM
Gerald Roper June 12, 2008 2:30 PM
Goldie Rivkin June 12, 2008 3:00 PM
Cary Lamari June 12, 2008 3:30 PM
Marye Wells Harley June 12, 2008 4:00 PM
Carol Placek June 19, 2008 1:30 PM
Alan S. Bowser June 19, 2008 2:00 PM
Joseph Alfandre June 19, 2008 2:30 PM
Paula Bienenfeld June 19, 2008 3:00 PM
Amy Presley June 19, 2008 3:30 PM
William Mooney June 24, 2008 8:30 or 9:30

The Planning Board has five members. No more than three members of the Planning Board may be from the same political party, and all members must be residents and registered voters of Montgomery County when appointed. Members serve four-year terms and are limited to two full terms. The positions can be filled by a Democrat; a Republican; a voter who declines to affiliate with a party; or by a member of another party officially recognized by the Montgomery County Board of Elections.
Several of these applicants are well known in Montgomery County. Pat Ryan and Cary Lamari are former candidates for the County Council. Amy Presley was a leader in the fight to expose misconduct at the Planning Department in the development of Clarksburg. Ben Ross is the current President and a longtime board member of Action Committee for Transit. Joseph Alfandre was a developer of the Kentlands in Gaithersburg. William Mooney is a former staffer at the Planning Department and was a business partner of Planning Board Member Gene Lynch.

Of the twelve finalists, Alfandre, Bowser, Harley, Lamari, Mooney, Placek, Rivkin, Roper, Ross, and Ryan are Democrats and Bienenfeld and Presley are Republicans. Since the Planning Board will have only one Republican (former District 15 Delegate Jean Cryor) after Allison Bryant leaves, either Bienenfeld or Presley must be picked to fill one of the two vacancies.

We suggest that all the applicants read this series as preparation for what they will be encountering from the Planning Department!