Friday, August 29, 2008

On Vacation with Big Daddy and Uncle Ike

Greetings from Cape Charles, Virginia! Yes, yes, I am supposed to be on vacation and the missus has forbidden blogging. But nothing can come between myself and my beloved readers!

Well, OK, here is the real truth. I am rather bored here. Sure, there is plenty of seafood, lots of deserted beaches and many opportunities for weight-gaining laziness. But the people here spend all their time frolicking in the sun, drinking wine and eating crab soup. There is little political gossip of any sort. It is the kind of place where the person who catches the biggest fish gets to be the state delegate. These people need to get a life!

So I walked into the nearest bar the other night (an activity for which I do not need to be on vacation) and asked for the best local blog. The bartender replied, “Never heard of that. How do you mix one?” Eventually the patrons came to understand that I am an (unpaid) observer of Maryland politics. One of them asked me to explain how our politics works. So I told them the following story.

Maryland has a great big ruling family and at its head is an old southern gentleman named Big Daddy. Yes, he lets his little brother act like the nominal head of the family, but everyone knows Big Daddy is the Boss. And Big Daddy has many, many children and nieces and nephews. In fact, the family has lots of branches and each of them has their own family businesses. Big Daddy’s role is to collect the proceeds from each of these businesses and send them back to all the branches of the family so that everyone is adequately fed. Big Daddy also protects the children from mean old King George and all those awful mini-Georges that sometimes break into the family estate.

The problem is that many of the family businesses don’t make a lot of money. One branch of the family invested in manufacturing and shipbuilding, but that hasn’t worked out. Another branch built housing for the workers who are employed by the really, really big business next door. But they couldn’t maintain the accommodations very well and many of those workers would rather live somewhere else. Worst of all, some of the children got a bit greedy and took a little extra on the side. Big Daddy has to work far too hard to keep them in line, or at least to make sure that everybody else gets their fair cut!

But Uncle Ike’s branch of the family has been doing quite well. They have set up a giant conglomerate with biotech, R&D, construction and health care subsidiaries and have snagged lots of contracts from the really, really big business next door. Big Daddy loves the giant checks rich old Uncle Ike sends in because they help him feed the rest of the family.

One day Uncle Ike came to see Big Daddy with some bad news. His branch of the family had made some bad real estate investments and the other businesses weren’t doing as well as they had been. So Uncle Ike explained that the checks he was sending would have to be a little smaller. Furthermore, Uncle Ike’s costs were going up and the checks coming back down from Big Daddy were not keeping pace. Things were getting so bad that Uncle Ike said he might have to sell off some of his mansions! (Nobody really believed any of the mansions would be sold but perhaps some of the servants’ quarters would have to be cut back.)

This was horrible, thought Big Daddy. What would happen to the rest of the family? Some of the branches might start going after each other for more money. Worst of all, some of them would have to learn how to pay their own bills. What a calamity!

But because everyone in the family has such love for Big Daddy… err, excuse me. Let’s back up. Because no one in the family can imagine life without Big Daddy, they believe that he will figure out how to get out of this jam. After all, there’s really no choice but to believe that things will be better, right? Big Daddy has suggested going into the gambling business. Not everyone believes that is the way to go. But one way or another, the ruling family will stick together and feed everybody just like they always have. It’s not as if all those rotten mini-Georges will develop any bright ideas.

So I asked the rest of the bar what they thought of this tale and all I heard was, “Zzzzz....” Everyone was fast asleep! And I finally discovered one thing that the residents of Cape Charles and all my MPW readers back home had in common: the same reaction to my story-telling.

See you next week!


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Critics Misfire Against Bold Transit Plans in Baltimore Region

By Hans Riemer.

One of the biggest myths about transportation funding is that transportation projects “pay for themselves.” They don’t. Roads and highways don’t pay for themselves and neither does transit. Both require contributions from general tax revenues.

But you wouldn’t know it from talking to your average politician, or your average voter, for that matter. The myth that the gas tax fully funds our roads and highways is pervasive.

Unfortunately, the gas tax myth also polarizes the debate about transportation, with advocates of one mode claiming that “their” transportation pays for itself while the rival is “free loading”.

A poignant example: You may have read the news about the dramatic and visionary decision by the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board, led by the young and energetic Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, to move $340 million in transportation funds entirely to transit. In the past, a large share of that funding would have gone to roads. The move should be a bellwether for Maryland transportation planning.

Well, the critics are getting their digs in now. Here is Howard County Delegate Bates complaining bitterly that, “We're going to be putting in more mass transit that doesn't even begin to pay for itself?”

Well, the basic fact is that, as The Capital reports, the gas tax only provides 19 percent of the revenues to the state transportation Trust Fund. Titling taxes provide another 20 percent. And the rest—i.e., the near two-thirds majority share of the funds?

The other 61 percent of the fund's revenue comes from federal aid, MVA registration and fees, corporate income taxes, transit fares and fees, bonds, and sales and use taxes.

Nationally, according to researchers, about 40% of the cost of the U.S. road network is covered by taxes that have nothing to do with automobiles at all.

The bottom line, then, is that decisions about how the money is used should not be constrained by where the money comes from—because enough money is coming out of general revenues that without it, the whole transportation fund would collapse. Planning decisions should be based on the merit of the policy, nothing more.

Indeed, the bottom line is that the “public interest” has the majority vote. And besides, if we were going to be strict and say that roads and transit should actually pay for themselves, we wouldn’t have any.

That said, I do think that we need dramatic increases in automobile user fees—including, for drivers, an increase in the gas tax and a large electronic toll network. We have already had a large increase in Metro fares. Why are drivers somehow exempt from their own fee increase in a time of transportation funding shortfalls? They shouldn’t be.

Three cheers to the Baltimore Regional Board for leading the way. Let’s keep it going.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Guest Post: Is Ike Leggett Vulnerable?

By Eric Luedtke of Free State Politics.

The endless election continues in Montgomery County, and lately I’ve been hearing a lot more chatter about the 2010 local elections. It seems we never get a break.

One of the unshakable assumptions among some of the people I talk to about politics is that County Executive Ike Leggett is going to easily win reelection. There are a couple reasons for this assumption. First among them is that Leggett himself is still fairly widely respected personally. With the obvious exception of the people who tend to personalize every political disagreement, those who disagree with Leggett usually think of him as an upstanding guy – though that may be changing, as I explain later. Another reason is his success in the 2006 election. In a race that pretty much everyone thought was going to be very close, where his opponent, Steve Silverman, was heir apparent to the Duncan machine and a prodigious fundraiser, Leggett dominated the Democratic primary for executive. And Leggett has a very strong base among moderates and Montgomery County’s increasingly powerful African-American community.

But he does have vulnerabilities. And I’ve come to think that with the right set of circumstances, and the right challenger, Leggett could be unseated. Here’s why:

First, there has been some damage done to his reputation as the last honest man in politics. Leggett was tagged on the whole question of a bathroom being built in his office during difficult economic times. He’s also recently been called out for a lack of progress on workforce housing issues, a key part of his platform in the campaign. Any headline where a politician is accused of not meeting a campaign promise undermines his or her credibility. Most recently, Leggett has almost completely reversed his position, flip-flopped if you will, on the slots referendum. Hard to trust a guy who goes back on his word on such a major issue.

Second, Leggett has taken a number of positions on policies that can be construed, or at least spun, as hurting the middle class. He was a lone voice calling for an increase in the gas tax, just before gas prices began a rapid rise toward their current levels. He opposed using an increase in the millionaire’s tax to replace the computer services tax, looking as if he cared more about Potomac’s super-wealthy than about middle class jobs tied to the tech industry. This was after opposing a move to make the state income tax more progressive in the legislature’s special session, because he was worried about hurting MoCo’s millionaires. If he were to be challenged, it would make a great attack ad to list the litany of these positions while showing an image of Leggett’s very large, very pretty home on a multi-acre spread in the northern part of Burtonsville.

Third, Leggett’s own tendency to seek middle ground rather than taking sides means he has gained few allies while losing himself some friends. Many slow growth activists that voted for Leggett and helped him into office are annoyed at him for not pursuing a more limiting course on new development. Meanwhile, with the notable exception of the Kramer family, developers and their supporters never exactly warmed to Leggett. That support from the Kramers, by the way, is as likely to hurt as to help, since both Delegate Ben and Senator Rona are among the most conservative members of the Montgomery delegation and are deeply disliked by many of the county’s progressives. And his moderation in supporting candidates led him to support Al Wynn, even going so far as to record a robocall on Wynn’s behalf, something Edwards supporters aren’t likely to forget.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, 2010 won’t be 2006. Two years ago, county voters were exhausted by the twelve years of rapid development seen under Leggett’s predecessor, Doug Duncan. They were ready for a change, and Steve Silverman did not represent change. Instead, Silverman was widely seen as Duncan’s prince-in-waiting, and was therefore weighed down by all of the negative public reaction to Duncan’s term in office, including the story of links to Jack Abramoff that broke that summer. In contrast, Leggett’s personality and absence from public office gave him an aura of respectability. This time, Silverman and Duncan have moved on, Leggett is going to be defending his own record as executive, and his record is not exceptional. Further, he’ll have served during four very difficult years, in the midst of a recession that makes the people that much less happy with any incumbent politician.

The point is this: there is an opening for a candidate running a progressive / populist campaign to win a primary challenge against Ike Leggett in 2010. Who could pull it off is an entirely different question. There is a long list of people who could potentially make the race work, though whether they would is the real issue. But maybe it’s best to leave that discussion for the comments, or another time.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Maryland and Democratic Conventions

By Marc Korman.

In honor of the Democratic National Convention taking place this week, I thought we would take a look back at Maryland’s involvement in Democratic Conventions through the years. Unfortunately, there is not too much to write about, especially in recent times.

Since the birth of political conventions in 1832, Maryland has hosted nine Democratic conventions, all in Baltimore. The Baltimore conventions include the first party convention in 1832, where the Democrats nominated incumbent Andrew Jackson for reelection and Martin Van Buren as Vice President. Prior to 1832, political parties primarily selected nominees by votes of their Congressional caucuses, in coordination with state parties.

One of the most notable Baltimore conventions was in 1860, when Baltimore was home to the second Democratic national convention in the same year. The first, in Charleston, fell apart over the party position on slavery and a failure to nominate a presidential candidate after fifty-seven ballots. The Democrats reconvened in Baltimore two months later and finally managed to nominate Stephen Douglas. The last Democratic convention held in Maryland was in 1912, when the Democratic Party nominated Woodrow Wilson. For more on Democratic convention locations, you can peruse a handy list created by Larry Sabato. For a great survey of Democratic Party history, including the conventions, I suggest reading Party of the People, by Jules Witcover.

There has never been a Democratic presidential nominee from Maryland. But there have been some Vice Presidential nominees with Maryland ties.

In 1868, Francis Preston Blair, Jr. was the running mate of presidential nominee Horatio Seymour in their unsuccessful campaign against Ulysses S. Grant. Blair was a House Member and Senator from Missouri. He was also the son of notable Marylanders Francis Preston Blair, the founder of Silver Spring, and the brother of Montgomery Blair, Lincoln’s Postmaster-General. Descendants from the Blair family include Blair Lee III, a former Maryland Governor, and Blair Lee IV, a current columnist for the Gazette.

In 1972, the second Democratic Vice Presidential nominee was Sargent Shriver. The man nominated at the Democratic convention that year, Senator Eagleton from Missouri, withdrew after his mental health history was disclosed. Sargent Shriver was nominated by a conference call of the Democratic National Committee. Shriver was born in Maryland and is the father of former Maryland Delegate and Congressional candidate, Mark Shriver.

Although not on the ticket, Barbara Mikulski was discussed as a potential running mate in 1984. PolitickerMD recently ran a story on the Mikulski boomlet.

But what Maryland lacks in convention hosting or candidates, it is trying to make up for this year in speakers. Elijah Cummings, Steny Hoyer, Chris Van Hollen, and Maryland native Nancy Pelosi are all on the schedule for speeches in Denver. Enjoy the show.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Ode to the Blogger Spouse

By Holly Olson.

Today, you may have logged on to MPW looking for your daily dose of my husband’s witty rhetoric. (He paid me to say that). Unfortunately (or for the better), you’ve got his wife instead. Why you may ask — is Adam in the hospital? Does he have carpal tunnel syndrome? Have the shower nuts taken him hostage and are holding him for ransom? Hardly. Rather, we are on our annual summer vacation.

So, in honor of taking this week "off," and to prevent him from blogging while we are away, I will take up the mantle for a day. I would also like to take this opportunity to do something a bit different. I would like to dedicate today’s blog to the unsung heroes of the blogosphere: the Blogger Spouses.

The blogger spouse is an unusual creature. We must exhibit extraordinary patience, an uncanny ability to listen, and a boundless enthusiasm for the most inane subject matter. To give you a sense of what I endure as a blogger’s spouse, I’ve included several examples of issues that I frequently deal with.

1. You’re going to write about what??!!
As with any writer, there are lots of ideas that never see the light of day (and rightfully so). Luckily for you, I listen to all of those bad ideas so you don’t have to. This is how the situation typically plays out.

I arrive home from a long day at work. My beloved has not bothered to put away the dishes, feed the dog, or start dinner. Instead he has been playing computer games (or, you guessed it — blogging). So I head into the kitchen to do what he has neglected to do. As I do so, I am bombarded by my husband who has been thinking about all of his new ideas on his drive home listening to Iron Maiden. Being the dutiful wife, I (half) listen to these ideas as I make dinner. My criteria for eliminating ideas are fairly straightforward. Anything that might result in the following is immediately banned:

• Adam being lynched
• Adam being fired
• A bag of flaming dog-s*** being placed on our front door-step
• Protestors outside of our house (a la George Leventhal)

2. Why are you talking about Mike Miller again...
If I have to listen to one more blog idea about Mike Miller I think I am going to scream. Let me be blunt: I have had more discussions about Big Daddy in the past year than I ever want to in an entire lifetime. I know so much about Mike Miller that he might as well include me on the invitation list to his next birthday party. No wait — cancel that. If I did go, Adam would want to tag along and ask him why Montgomery County isn’t getting its fair share of money back from the state.

3. What do you mean you can’t take a vacation from blogging?
As we all know, the DC area pretty much shuts down in August. For almost a year now, my husband has been a fairly regular, if not daily blogger. So, I thought it would be good for him to take a break. Why not just take the whole month off? The response I got was fairly typical. He said he could not take a break because: a. one of his readers complained about another blogger taking a week off, and b. because most of the other bloggers were continuing to post during the month. Heaven forbid that he should be outdone or outblogged by anyone.

But this was not the end of it. This morning, as my beloved and I were about to head to the beach for a swim, he asked me if I would go to an event with him this Tuesday evening. A play? A concert? An evening cruise on the bay of the Eastern Shore? Hardly. Instead, he asked if I wanted to go to the local planning commission hearing. Yes, you heard me. A PLANNING COMMISSION MEETING. My true love wants to go to a public hearing about a new development in Cape Charles, Virginia while we are on vacation.

So there you have it. This is the life of a blogger spouse — unsung heroes of the blogosphere. The next time you see one of us, feel free to extend your thanks, or your sympathies, for all that we endure.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Car Thieves Captured by Silver Spring “Bait Bus”

A Silver Spring neighborhood near the notorious “Intersection of Death” has been plagued with two simultaneous problems. First, a rash of car break-ins and thefts convinced some residents of the need to start a “bait car” program to catch the thieves. Second, a giant “monster bus” parked on a residential street has blocked out the sun for years. So the clever residents put together two problems and came up with one solution.

“We talked to the monster bus owner and transformed it into a bait bus,” explained Neighborhood Watch Chairman Oscar Sodani. “We hung up some zirconium necklaces in the windows and the thieves go right in.” The bait bus is equipped with a door that opens only from the outside and locks immediately after entry.

The sheer number of thieves entering the bus has taxed the resources of the police, who can only pick them up every few days. But the residents keep the bait bus stocked with food and beverages for its “guests.” Even the thieves seem to approve. One thief said, “I like the camaraderie. Just over the last two days, I saw Mickey, Bozo, Shifty... those are great guys. I haven’t seen them since reform school!” Another thief raved, “The bus is so gigantic that no matter how many people come in, it never feels crowded. It’s very tastefully appointed. And the food is great!”

As the police arrived to load the suspects into squad cars, a handcuffed thief seemed remorseful – but not about stealing cars. “I wish I could stay in the bus awhile longer,” he sighed. “It’s a lot nicer in there than in jail!”

Acknowledgement: This post originated from a joke by Paul Gordon.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Purple Line Now Hires Campaign Coordinator

Starting this month and continuing through at least November, Purple Line Now will be employing a campaign coordinator. Their choice is David Moon, a former campaign manager for Senator Jamie Raskin and County Council candidate Nancy Navarro.

David Moon is an unusual figure in the fast-talking, swollen-headed world of political consultants. In the first group meeting I attended with him, it took me a half-hour to figure out he was even in the room. Quiet, studious and small, he leaves the chest-pounding to others.

But in his native setting of soda-can-strewn campaign war rooms, Moon can be lethal. His primary weapon is organization. He is very good at logistics – planning out multiple events, running call lists and door-knocking sheets, and reminding everyone of what has to be done. He can stay up all night, checking every email, every blog, every article and every rumor. He knows as much as anyone about the state of a campaign at all times. He prepares a candidate as much as that candidate will allow. In the context of an issue campaign, he will map out every event, round up every argument and make sure it is delivered by the appropriate messenger. There will be loads and loads of reminders for everyone who takes part.

This fall will be a critical time for the Purple Line. The state’s draft environmental impact statement is due any month now and a choice must be made between bus and rail alignments soon after. By hiring Moon, Purple Line Now will be maximizing its ability to mobilize its large and occasionally unwieldy coalition to move the project through the state’s hoops.

I have only one question: will Foolio be working for Moon again?


Guest Blog: Living with Discrimination as a Transgender Woman

My name is Maryanne Arnow, a transgender woman, native Marylander, and Montgomery County Resident of more than 35 years, openly living in mainstream public society.

In the last year, I've had to face distinct increases in discrimination and denigration from the general public in the normal course of my daily life. This is occurring directly as a result of a local campaign from conservative groups that continually foster unwarranted fears, stereotypical misrepresentations, and highly negative references to transgender people, in the public eye of perception.

I have faced extreme social and workplace humiliations in the last several years since beginning my transition (change) of gender. I have applied at dozens of restaurants, retail stores, warehouses, and even major hotel chains such as Marriott, most located in Montgomery County.

I have walked into the ThaiTanium restaurant in Kentlands, professionally and appropriately dressed as always, spoken to their dining room manager, and been told that they were in fact hiring with positions open. I was then told the next day by one of their kitchen managers, who was callous and smirking at best, upon realizing I was transgender, that there are no positions available.

I applied years ago with P.F. Chiang's restaurant at White Flint Mall, prior to beginning my transition. They all but begged me to enter their management training program at that time, based on my resume, interviews, and obvious qualifications. I reapplied last year, upon learning they were still hiring throughout their company. I spoke frankly to more than one manager as to the changes I have made since the first time I had applied, the last of which was cold and callous towards me. I have yet to have had one follow-up call returned since then.

I applied at a retail clothing store in Rockville - Loehman's on Randolph road. The manager was ready to hire me for retail and management training until I informed her I was preparing to transition in gender. She told me that I would have to keep it under wraps, and I was never contacted again after having two interviews with them and basically being told I was going to be hired.. All attempts at follow up were avoided by their staff, and my calls never returned.

I even applied at the Starbucks shop next door to where I live - Kingsview in Germantown. I had spoken with one of their shift managers that has been friendly to me, and specifically asked that I come in to apply, as they were hiring, and he knew I had years of service industry experience. Upon interviewing with the store's general manger, he spent more time looking around the shop to see who was watching us, than any attempt at sincere eye contact with me. They have never returned any follow up to me. The list is so long I cannot even detail it in this letter. It all smacks of intolerance, and unwillingness to give highly qualified people a chance, apparently based more on outward appearance, than professional qualifications.

As it now stands, it is both legal and apparently still socially acceptable to discriminate against anyone like myself in hiring, workplace, housing, public services, and public accommodations. I once again have no civil rights or legal protections at any level. Not federal, state, or county, and mainly as a direct result of the actions of these groups to force a referendum on this law.

We have been burned at the stake, in the use of guilt by association to other highly negative stereotypes such as pedophiles and sexual predators. This has nothing to do with transgender people whatsoever. This is an outright lie. It is a crass, cruel, and disgusting distortion. This is an utter fallacy to the fullest extent that it has been used by these groups.

As a fellow citizen, neighbor, wife, and daughter - as a warm and articulate person, and skilled professional Culinary Artist, I have found this intolerably painful. This is entirely unacceptable by any ethical standard that I know of. There have been direct, and deeply negative impacts on my life as a result of such discriminatory behaviors.

Enough is enough. Help restore my most basic civil rights, and overrule the falsehoods being spread by these groups, once and for all.

Most Sincerely and Respectfully always,

Maryanne A. Arnow

Note: For more on this issue, see our post from February, "What Transgender Opponents Really Think." And if you would like to help Ms. Arnow, visit Basic Rights Montgomery.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mike vs. Ike

Council Member Mike Knapp’s harshly-worded press release targeting County Executive Ike Leggett and resulting coverage from the Examiner and the Gazette have created a bit of speculation. Will the Gentle Giant of Germantown be challenging the county’s wiliest politician in 2010?

The consensus of this blog’s Secret Shadow Cabinet is no, for reasons specific to each man.

Mr. Leggett
In his nearly two years in office, the County Executive has navigated carefully through two tight budgets, replaced the Birchmere with the Fillmore, and preserved the Council District 4 seat for the Praisner family. He is the all-time best at giving many of the county’s diverse groups much of what they want, but not too much in order to avoid protests from their rivals. He has no enemies other than the virulent Minutemen – a good nemesis to have in liberal Montgomery County. And he has expertly played off anti-tax activists against program advocates to thread the needle on the budget.

Some in our cabinet said they would like to see more leadership from his office, occasionally contrasting Mr. Leggett with his hard-charging predecessor. But Mr. Leggett’s cool, under-the-radar style fits better with this County Council than Doug Duncan’s aggressive approach would have. The quiet phone call, the low-key meeting, the whispered bit of advice – these are Mr. Leggett’s tools of the trade. He is not one to call out people in the newspaper. “He’s the great chess master,” says one politician. “He’s over in his office, moving his pieces around the board. He’s one step ahead of everyone else and only he knows where he’s going.”

The poor state of the economy has held back Mr. Leggett's administration from a policy perspective. But he retains significant personal popularity (witness his crowded birthday party fundraiser a few weeks ago), is an icon in the black community and is respected even by his critics. No power base in the county is sufficiently antagonized against him to rise in revolt at this point. For now, the next move always belongs to Mr. Leggett.

Mr. Knapp
Upcounty’s district Council Member is a man on the move. This year’s Council President seized the vital chair of the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee for himself after Marilyn Praisner’s passing. This is a very important position because it enables Mr. Knapp to oversee all development issues across the county. Mr. Knapp received substantial credit for dealing with this year’s budget crisis and his anti-truck parking bill has county-wide appeal.

Most intriguingly, an out-of-district visitor to Mr. Knapp’s office is likely to be asked, “What’s going on in your neighborhood?” It does not matter whether the individual lives far from Mr. Knapp’s district – he is genuinely interested in learning more about other parts of the county. Clearly, Mr. Knapp is looking to expand his horizons outside of District 2.

But would Mr. Knapp actually challenge Mr. Leggett in 2010? None of our informants take that prospect seriously for the following reasons:

1. The county’s economic problems have so far not damaged Mr. Leggett’s personal standing with the community. No one perceives Mr. Leggett as vulnerable. And so long as that perception remains true, Mr. Leggett will not in reality be vulnerable. This dynamic works to the benefit of many incumbents, but that is especially the case for Mr. Leggett, who enjoys significant advantages of experience, name recognition and good will over any of his potential opponents.

2. Mr. Knapp occupies a safe seat but would be taking an awful risk by challenging the County Executive. If he loses, the consequences will be severe as this county has short memories of defeated politicians. “It’s amazing how fast people disappear around here,” says one Rockville staffer. “It’s cruel, but when they’re gone, they’re gone.”

3. Mr. Knapp has many well-wishers in both the business and the labor communities. (He is not liked by anti-development activists who still remember his participation on Doug Duncan’s End Gridlock slate.) If Mr. Knapp leans toward running against Mr. Leggett – and he has never said or even hinted that he will – many of these supporters will urge him to wait for a better opportunity. “Mike Knapp has a bright future,” said one commentator. “But not against Ike Leggett in 2010.”

The most likely scenario of all is that Mr. Leggett will run again in 2010 and nearly all of the County Council incumbents will seek to return. If that happens, the real County Executive race will occur in 2014. At that point, more than one County Council Member will run. The winner will be whoever can best balance the priorities and conflicts of the county’s three great constituencies: business, labor and the civic community. And no contender yet has a daunting advantage over the other ones.

Update: The Washington Post's Ann Marimow follows up the story here.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Montgomery County Delegation Online

By Marc Korman.

When I first began crafting this entry, I had planned to write about the various Montgomery County state legislators with blogs. After searching the websites of each legislator, I found that not only did few have blogs, but most had rarely updated websites.

Every legislator in Annapolis has a state profile which includes a picture, contact information, and a short biography. Most have a campaign website that they occasionally update but are mostly outdated. I was surprised at how little most of our legislators have on the Internet. There is a website for the entire Montgomery County Delegation which was recently updated to reflect the local bill schedule for the fall.

What follows are four lists. List one are those legislators with blogs on their websites. List two is a list of regularly updated legislator websites. List three are those members with websites that have not been updated in over a year. Finally, list four is a list of legislators who I could not identify websites for. I checked these websites over the past two weeks, so it is possible they have been updated since I last viewed them.

List 1 – Blog Roll:

Legislator: Brian Frosh:
Blog Last Updated: June 2008
Note: Senator Frosh’s blog consists of his newsletters, which are also distributed by email.

Legislator: Saqib Ali
Blog Last Updated: August 2008
Note: Delegate Ali primarily updates his blog during the legislative session.

Legislator: Kirill Reznik
Blog Last Updated: July 2008
Note: Delegate Reznik began keeping his blog earlier this summer. Full disclosure, I am Delegate Reznik’s campaign chair.

Legislator: District 18 Delegation
Blog Last Updated: July 2008
Note: The legislators for D18 and their Central Committeemembers write occasional blog entries.

List 2 – Regularly Updated Websites

Legislator: Anne Kaiser
Note: Includes issues discussion and information from the 2008 legislative session.

Legislator: Karen Montgomery
Note: Includes a link to her 2008 session review, but the link would not open.

Legislator: Craig Rice
Note: Includes press releases updated after the 2008 legislative session.
Note: I helped draft some of the material for Delegate Rice’s website when he ran in 2006.

Legislator: Brian Feldman
Note: Updated since the 2008 legislative session.

Legislator: Rob Garagiola
Note: Last updated during the legislative session with updated news clippings updated.

Legislator: Bill Frick
Note: I saw early versions of Delegate Frick’s website before it went live and gave feedback.

Legislator: Al Carr
Note: Photo album updated during the 2008 legislative session.

Legislator: Mike Lenett
Note: Updated after the 2008 legislative session.

Legislator: Roger Manno
Note: Updated after the 2008 legislative session.

Legislator: Jamie Raskin
Note: Last updated with press clips from April 2008.

Legislator: Charles Barkley
Note: Last updated with a 2008 legislative wrap-up.

Legislator: Nancy King
Note: Last updated with July 2008 news.

List 3 – Rarely Updated Websites

Legislator: Herman Taylor
Note: Site last updated after 2007 legislative session.

Legislator: Rona Kramer
Note: Site last updated in 2006 and most of the links are dead.

Legislator: Kathleen Dumais
Note: Site appears to have been updated in 2007 with new press clippings added.

Legislator: Bill Bronrott
Note: Site last updated in 2006.

Legislator: Susan Lee
Note: Does not appear to have been updated since the 2004 legislative session.

Legislator: Kumar Barve
Note: Not updated since 2006.

Legislator: Jennie Forehand
Note: Not updated since at least 2006.

Legislator: Rich Madaleno
Note: Not updated since 2006.

Legislator: Ben Kramer
Note: Site does not appear to have been updated since 2006.

Legislator: Heather Mizeur
Note: Site not updated since the end of the 2006 election.

Legislator: Tom Hucker
Note: Site not updated since the end of the 2007 legislative session.

List 4 – No Website Found

Note: To find legislator websites I Googled their name. If I could find no website for the legislator on the first three pages of results, I would then Google their name and title. For example, my first attempt would be to search for ‘Michael Gordon.’ If no site came up, I would search for ‘Delegate Michael Gordon.’

Legislator: Delegate Sheila Hixson
Note: A website does come up when searching, but the URL is dead. The address is

Legislator: Delegate Jim Gilchrist

Legislator: Delegate Luiz Simmons

Legislator: Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez

Legislator: Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher

Legislator: Delegate Hank Heller


Prince George’s Labor War, Part Two

Dissatisfied with anti-union statements made by the leaders of the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee (PGCDCC), the Metropolitan Washington AFL-CIO sent an ultimatum to every politician in the county: sign a pro-labor pledge or lose labor’s support in the next election. How did the politicians react?

Publicly, mostly with silence. Only five politicians actually signed the pledge: Delegates Barbara Frush, (D-21), Ben Barnes (D-21), Ann Healy (D-22), Doyle Niemann (D-47) and Veronica Turner (D-26), who is an SEIU staffer. But District 24 Delegate Joanne Benson sent this stinging letter back to the central labor council:

Delegate Benson’s letter is refreshingly honest coming from a politician! She admits that the central committee is “under the control of [the county’s State] Senators, which is very unfortunate. The delegates only seem to matter when we are asked to contribute money.” And then she says this: “At a time when we should be working together, we are embroiled in foolishness! Don’t send out another letter!... Signing letters and threatening those of us who have been your faithful voice won’t get it!... The time for kissing rings should come to a halt.”

Amen, Delegate! This dispute is tragic on multiple levels.

First, PGCDCC is nearly irrelevant. As Delegate Benson notes, it is utterly dominated by the county’s State Senators and cannot even discharge its sole responsibility – filling legislative vacancies – with any semblance of dignity. The odious statements by its leaders against a major power base of the party reveals their comical incompetence. MCDCC would never dream of such a thing. (Can you imagine MCDCC issuing statements cheering on the shower nuts?) So why are these people on the central committee? Because the State Senators need a place to deposit their faithful supporters. Such is their prerogative. Politicians have to be allowed to play with the toys in their sandbox. It is just compensation for the abuse they endure from their constituents!

This is not to say that labor’s outrage is unjustified – it is merely misdirected. And here is the second problem: labor is trying to pressure politicians who have little power to remedy the underlying causes of the dispute. (That is especially the case for any County Council Members who received the letter.) This will only cause resentment that is sure to be exploited by labor’s enemies.

The third problem is labor’s use of a written pledge to compel obedience. Politicians cannot be treated like dogs or robots – they are human beings. The best way to deal with potentially helpful politicians is to form relationships with them. Convince them that helping you also helps them. No politician ever delivers 100% of what you want. But if properly brought along, many of them (at least the Democrats) can deliver enough of the time to produce a tolerable record. The rest of them may be convinced to at least not stand in the way of good ideas. No, this is not a path to nirvana, but it is a path to realistic results.

Here is how labor can extract itself from this mess:

1. Go ahead and treat the central committee like the non-persons they are. Evict them from the Sheet Metal Workers union hall. And send a message that if any of them want to run for public office in the future, they will have to perform a lot of damage control to earn any union support. That message alone will divide the central committee and may provoke the leadership ouster that the unions seek. If not, who cares?

2. Quietly start calling the incumbent politicians and tell them the following: “The central committee is screwed up and we will no longer deal with them. But we know you don’t agree with them. We are ready to move on. Let’s work together on our common priorities.”

Then the central committee will return to the muck-splattered irrelevance from whence they came and the negative press coverage will stop. Pro-worker cooperation will resume with the willing. Perhaps a few of the wobbliest politicians will need to be reminded of labor’s sensitivities and perhaps not. But the labor war will end and the Prince George’s political community will settle down to business.

And what would that be? Moving on to the next big fight, of course. This is Prince George’s County after all!

Disclosure: My union, the Carpenters, is not a member of the central labor council.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Prince George’s Labor War, Part One

In a dispute that is ugly even by the standards of Prince George’s County, much of the local labor movement has declared war against the county’s Democratic Central Committee. The biggest casualty so far is labor’s relations with the county’s politicians.

The battle began last fall when UFCW Local 400 official Anthony Perez filed a zoning appeal to block a new commercial project in Landover containing a non-union Wegmans grocery store. Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee (PGCDCC) Vice Chairman Arthur A. Turner Jr., assisted by committee Chairman Terry Speigner, sent out a mass email on 9/21/07 protesting the appeal. Turner wrote, “Why is Mr. Perez fighting against those who live, work, play and pray in our beloved Prince George’s County? Why is he acting to keep us in a subservient, second-class, substandard, marginal state?... I am prayerful that his intentions are noble and just and not part of some less than honorable scheme.” The labor movement was outraged at the criticism and Metropolitan Washington AFL-CIO President Joslyn Williams wrote to the central committee, “Labor unions have done more to create and expand the middle class in Prince George’s County than any other institution, not to mention our years of work to get Democrats elected to office... I am saddened and dismayed you would help spread such anti-union sentiments.”

The unions sought the ouster of both Speigner, the central committee Chairman, and Turner, the Vice-Chairman, threatening to evict the committee from its space at the union hall of Sheet Metal Workers Local 100. Ultimately, while neither Speigner nor Turner left, they did agree to add six female union members to the central committee as a compromise. But the central committee broke that deal and added six members approved by the county’s State Senators instead.

So in June, the Metropolitan Washington AFL-CIO dropped a nuclear bomb on every politician in the county: sign an all-encompassing pro-labor pledge that included opposition to the central committee’s leadership or receive no labor support in the next election. We reproduce labor’s ultimatum below:

We’ll find out how the politicians reacted in Part Two.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Where is Subsidized Housing in MoCo? - Part Five

In Part Four, per capita income and average home value were closely correlated with percentages of subsidized housing by zip code. But so are demographics: specifically, percentages of black and Hispanic residents.

The chart below compares the 15 zip codes with the highest percentages of subsidized housing to the 15 zip codes with the lowest percentages. In Part Four, we noted that the zip codes with the highest percentages of subsidized units had half the per capita income and half the median home value of the zip codes with the lowest percentages. But we can also see that the highest percentage zip codes had more than four times the percentage of blacks and three times the percentage of Hispanics as the lowest percentage zip codes.

Race tends to be correlated with income. In 1999, white non-Hispanic Montgomery County residents had an average per capita income of $55,533 in 2007 dollars. Black residents had an average per capita income of $29,717 (54% of whites) and Hispanic residents received $21,190 (38%). These income differences affect where these groups can live and some of this may be reflected in the above data.

But there is more than that. The location of subsidized housing, especially large clusters of subsidized units, is extremely controversial. Few politicians will risk constructing public housing complexes in wealthy neighborhoods. We have seen signs of this in Montgomery County, whether in the protests of some Burtonsville residents against “undesirables” or resistance to use of the Piotrow residence in Hillmead for public housing. There are many reasons for this but race and class tensions cannot be dismissed.

Consider the following emails sent to the County Council urging demolition of the Hillmead house:

It did not take too long for your plan to house a “special needs” population next to Hillmead Park to impact property values in our neighborhood. One house under contract x2...both contracts pulled once the potential buyers received word of the county's plan. We have been told that Hillmead is “red-flagged” for potential buyers as well as builders. This is not too encouraging for the prosperity of our community. Your thoughts? Do you have any concerns for the tax- paying residents of this neighborhood? I think this is a fair question as Mr. Leggett is raising property taxes to collect $128 million dollars to address this county's fiscal crisis.


My family has lived in Hillmead for over 40 years.

I would like to voice my concern about the building now standing at 6221 Bradley Blvd. and what is being proposed to become.

I would rather see more green space. I would rather have more animals be housed in the green than to have people come in tractors and kill more trees and pollute more the air.

I am concerned that the people you are proposing to be housed at 6221 be so poor that they would need to take extreme measures for survival and break and enter into our homes or for that matter break into our cars and drive away with them. I am concerned for children's safety.

Three years ago my husband's brand new car was stolen right outside our door. We still think to this day that the people at the shelter, or their visitors, mainly the visitors had something to do with it.

We live in this neighborhood because it was a safe and beautiful place to raise a family and it is the only house we have had since we got married. We work very hard (two jobs each) to keep up with Montgomery County taxes, food prices, rising gasoline prices and also to keep the house up to date so that we can sell it and have money for our retirement.

You tell me, dear council members, would you like to be in a dilemma of getting a lot less money for your property just because your neighbors are not up to par with the rest of the area? If you don't mind, then, may I suggest that you let the poor family live next to you and you let us tear down the house at 6221 at Hillmead citizens' expense and leave the park area as park and let the earth be green and reign once again.


Have you lost your minds? I simply cannot believe that anyone with an IQ above that of a retarded chicken would seriously consider putting a welfare brood sow and her 13 kids in a $2.5 million mansion paid for by the taxpayers of this county. This is appalling!! What kind of message does this send to hardworking individuals who are struggling to stay in their homes because of high property taxes in this county? Answer: Be a irresponsible bum and the county will put you in a mansion. Even Lenin in his wildest moments never came up with a scheme this diabolical.

Consider the following comments made on Marc Fisher’s post on the issue (anonymously of course):

Now if the voters will remove [Council Member George] Leventhal from office, then victory will be complete. Enough of this political stupidity from councilmembers and media types who want this garbage in everyone's neighborhood but their own.

Congratulations to the residents of Hillmead. You have a lot of support.


The “thousands of families sitting on Montgomery's waiting list for housing assistance” wouldn't be on Montgomery's waiting list if Montgomery would quit putting them in hotel rooms at taxpayer expense. They would move to a place where the cost of housing is in line with their skills, such as PG County or Allegany County.


There is plenty of affordable housing for people who work in Montgomery County--it's called “Frederick.”

And here are more anonymous comments on a Washington Post article about Hillmead:

Why should anyone welcome “needy” (read: most likely addicted, convicted, evicted, and illegal) residents in prosperous neighborhoods? So they can move in and turn a lovely street into one dominated by the house that has 11 cars, a revolving door for “relatives”? So that a drug dealer is closer? So sorry, I don't get it...


People will always protect their own neighborhood and I don't blame them. They have every right to stop the county from artificially changing the landscape of their neighborhood.


Let George Leventhal put the homeless in HIS house, then we'll see whether he walks his own talk.

Not enough? Here’s one more comment from another Marc Fisher post:

Leventhal is insane, that's all there is to it. He has no logical link between fair housing and spending taxpayer money on a veritable mansion. Quite simple, the neighbors have every right to decide where public housing goes because that's the definition of PUBLIC housing. Housing is zoned through an democratic process involving elected officials. Through that process the neighbors absolutely get a say. What's next, because of fair housing, the count council should not be an elected body because that would give neighbors a voice in where public housing is built? Leventhal is confusing public and private housing and is envisioning himself as a king who doesn't have to answer to his constituents. He's so far right wing he thinks he's left wing.

I would gladly have paid the family who “got” that house $3000 per month to rent it from them and, based on friends who have successfully done that with rent controlled apartments in NYC, I would have succeeded. Then the family would be dealing with housing issues and I would be written up in the Post as tricking the system.

But in fact, that's not tricking the system, that's how every single instance of public housing works at all times. The system has zero effective historic examples. There is, quite literally, not one single example of publicly-set up affordable housing that did not fall victim to scammers, graft, and “friends who are just staying for a little while.” Zero examples of successful public housing in American history. It's true.

Did race and class animosity motivate every person who wanted to demolish the Hillmead house? No. Did it motivate some of them? Yes. Do racism and prejudice against public housing recipients exist in Montgomery County? It is difficult to read the above remarks and conclude that they do not. After all, every one of these comments was written by a real human being. The only question is the magnitude of the impact of these sorts of feelings on public policy, especially on the location of public housing.

The fact is that Montgomery County’s subsidized housing is disproportionately located in less wealthy neighborhoods with large percentages of blacks and Latinos. Most of the richest neighborhoods are protected from it. Two-thirds of the subsidized units are not convenient to Metro. For whatever reason, whether economic or influenced by racial and class animus, the county’s public housing system reinforces the regime of economic and race-tinged segregation created by the private market.

And our leaders have a moral responsibility to do something about it.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Down with the Fairness Doctrine

A new Rasmussen poll found substantial public support for “mandated political balance” on radio, television and even the Internet. Well, they didn’t poll me!

Here are the responses to two questions on the poll:

Should the government require all radio and television stations to offer equal amounts of conservative and liberal political commentary?

Yes: 47%
No: 39%
Not Sure: 14%

Should the government require web sites and bloggers that offer political commentary to present opposing viewpoints?

Yes: 31%
No: 57%
Not Sure: 12%
Without explicitly naming it, the poll is alluding to the long-gone Fairness Doctrine. This FCC policy required contrasting viewpoints to be presented on matters of public interest over publicly-owned airwaves. The FCC repealed most of the elements of this doctrine in 1987. But after the success of conservative talk radio, various liberals including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senators Dick Durbin and John Kerry have promoted its return. According to the Rasmussen poll, 54% of Democrats agree.

They could not be more wrong.

From a policy perspective, the government should regulate speech – especially political speech – as sparingly as possible. (Some consider campaign contributions to be speech, but I consider them to be exercises of influence – a different thing entirely.) Free speech is the ultimate weapon owned by the citizens to exercise their sovereignty over the government. The content of that speech should be their decision alone.

From a tactical perspective, liberals look intolerant and fearful when they push the Fairness Doctrine. An independent observer would look at their efforts to use government power to muzzle the other side and think, “What are you afraid of?” There is nothing to fear from conservative ideas. Learn from them, steal any of the good ones and oppose the rest of them. The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan forged a great career from doing exactly that.

It will not surprise you that I am particularly displeased that a third of the country wants political blogs to provide equal time. Can you imagine if federal law required me to run a “Big Daddy Knows Best” column every Friday listing all of my errors for the week? The readers might be amused, but we should surely not pile any more work on our much-beloved Senate President.

I have several fairness doctrines. They’re called the remote control, the radio dial, the mouse and the off button. When I use them, no one’s free speech rights are abridged. Alternatively, if you don’t like speech from the other side, there are three constitutional things you can do about it:

1. Ignore it.

2. Debate it.

3. Defeat it at the ballot box.

But to use government power to censor it? Restrict it? Shut it down? That may work in Communist China, but not in the land of the free and the home of the brave.


Where is Subsidized Housing in MoCo? - Part Four

In Part Three, we discounted proximity to Metro stations and community age as predictors for the location of subsidized housing. Today we look at economic factors.

The chart below compares the 15 zip codes with the highest percentages of subsidized housing to the 15 zip codes with the lowest percentages. Two facts jump out immediately: the zip codes with the highest percentages had roughly half the per capita income and half the median home value of the zip codes with the lowest percentages. This is not surprising given the location of the zip codes. The high-percentage zip codes were mostly located in Silver Spring, Gaithersburg and Germantown. The most populated low-percentage zip codes tended to be located in Chevy Chase, Potomac, Bethesda and nearby areas.

Housing costs matter for three reasons. First, they impact the Housing Opportunities Commission’s (HOC) ability to purchase properties. The more expensive the housing units, the fewer of them HOC can buy. Second, they affect the ability of voucher recipients to find units with affordable rents. Third, high housing costs tend to correlate with other high costs of living. Food, parking and retail tend to be more expensive in wealthy neighborhoods than in poor ones, thus screening out many people even if they could afford rents.

But there is another explanation that cannot be dismissed: tensions over race and class. We will conclude with that in Part Five.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Where is Subsidized Housing in MoCo? - Part Three

In Part Two, we revealed the location of all subsidized housing units in the county by zip code and Council District. Today we will begin looking at theories to explain why these units are located where they are.

1. Proximity to Metro Stations
One theory holds that subsidized units tend to be located near Metro stations. Why? Many new developments in recent years have been built near Metro stations, and they have included significant numbers of moderately-priced dwelling units (MPDUs). The Housing Opportunities Commission buys some of these MPDUs and rents them.

This theory does not hold up. In the chart below, we compare zip codes with Metro stations in them to zip codes without stations. Zip codes with Metro stations actually had a lower combined percentage of subsidized units (3.7%) than zip codes without stations (4.3%). But the pattern is more complicated than that. Zip codes on the Silver Spring-Wheaton side of the Red Line had subsidized unit percentages between 5.2% to 6.1% while those on the Bethesda-Rockville side had percentages between 0.7% and 3.0%. Our current subsidized housing policy does not provide enough opportunities for the working poor to live near Metro stations on the western side of the county.

2. New vs. Old Communities
Another theory holds that newer communities are more likely to have subsidized units than older communities because they were constructed after the county’s MPDU program began in the mid-1970s. Accordingly, those MDPUs attracted large numbers of poorer residents and some of them were later bought by HOC.

This theory has little truth to it. In the chart below, we compare the 15 zip codes with the highest percentages of subsidized housing to the 15 zip codes with the lowest percentages. The zip codes with the highest percentages had a median housing unit year built of 1974. The zip codes with the lowest percentages had a median year built of 1969 – only a slight difference.

Furthermore, in the distribution by Council District (reproduced below), District 5 had an earlier median year built (1958) than District 1 (1966). But District 5 has more than three times the number of subsidized units as District 1. There must be a different reason explaining why these units are disproportionately absent from Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Potomac.

Tomorrow, we will examine another theory with more merit.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Where is Subsidized Housing in MoCo? - Part Two

In Part One, we laid out the components of the county’s subsidized housing programs, primarily in ownership and management of units as well as rental subsidies (vouchers). Today we reveal the locations of that subsidized housing.

We obtained a list of Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC) subsidized housing counts by zip code. We added information on total housing units, population by race and ethnicity, 1999 per capita income (in 2007 dollars) and median year built for each zip code from the 2000 census. We assigned each zip code to a County Council district based on where most of the zip code was located. We also included current median home values for each zip code from real estate site Below is a complete list for all of the above data for each zip code ordered by the percentage of total housing units accounted for by subsidized units.

Most of the zip codes that have the highest percentages of subsidized housing are located in Silver Spring, Gaithersburg and Germantown. (The data for Clarksburg is misleading since it has seen a great deal of residential construction since 2000). Most of the zip codes with the lowest percentages of subsidized housing are located in the southwestern parts of the county and in rural areas. Overall, 4.0% of the county’s housing units are subsidized by direct public ownership, public management or vouchers.

There are substantial differences between County Council districts as we demonstrate below. District 4 (East County) had the highest percentage of subsidized housing at 5.6%. District 2 (Upcounty) was a close second at 5.2%. District 1 (Bethesda-Chevy Chase-Potomac) had only 1.3% of its housing units subsidized. District 4 had nearly four times as many subsidized units as District 1. (Note: District 3’s population looks low because it contains minority shares of several zip codes that overlap with other districts.)

What possible factors could account for these patterns? We will begin examining some theories in Part Three.


Monday, August 11, 2008

An Interest in Doug Gansler

By Marc Korman.

PolitickerMD took a great interest in Attorney General Doug Gansler’s political future last week. On Thursday, they ran a story about the AG’s difficulties with the Maryland Farm Bureau. On Friday, they not so subtly speculated that John Edwards’ indiscretions could advance Gansler’s chances of becoming US Attorney General if Barack Obama is elected.

Everyone can agree that the AG should work out his legal issues with the Farm Bureau, which based on the PolitickerMD article may really be limited to a misunderstanding about what information on farm practices is being publicly released. But does the conflict have any bearing on Gansler’s political future? To my surprise, of the sixty candidates I could identify that the Maryland Farm Bureau donated to during the 2006 cycle, half were Democrats and half were Republicans. I was unable to identify the other five candidates’ party affiliation. However, Farm Bureaus around the country tend to lean Republican and Maryland is no exception. The group endorsed Governor Ehrlich in 2002 and 2006. Farm Bureau politics probably have little to do with Gansler’s political future.

As for becoming the next US Attorney General, there is a lot of precedence for Marylanders to hold the office and Gansler was an early supporter of Obama’s. Of the eighty-one AGs in the nation’s history, seven are either Maryland natives or had significant work experience here. The most famous was Roger Taney, who served as Andrew Jackson’s Attorney General before he was appointed to the Supreme Court, where he authored the infamous Dred Scott decision.

Unfortunately for Gansler, only two state AGs since 1901 have gone on to serve as US Attorney General. William Bart Saxbe was one of President Nixon’s four Attorneys General and previously served as the Attorney General in Ohio. John Ashcroft was President George W. Bush’s first AG and had previously been Missouri’s Attorney General. Unfortunately for Mr. Gansler, neither was appointed directly from their state AG post to the Cabinet. But there is a first time for everything.

(Disclosure: Marc Korman and Adam Pagnucco are on a host committee for an upcoming fundraiser for the Attorney General.)


Where is Subsidized Housing in MoCo? - Part One

In June, the Montgomery County Council voted 5-4 to destroy a house located on land purchased for an addition to Hillmead Park in Bethesda rather than use it as subsidized housing. During the contentious debate, a number of Council Members disagreed on a core issue. Some stated that the Hillmead neighborhood, and Bethesda in general, contained more than their fair share of subsidized housing. Other Council Members contended that subsidized housing was concentrated in less wealthy neighborhoods, primarily in Silver Spring, Wheaton, Gaithersburg and Germantown. Who’s right?

Montgomery County’s Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC) administers its subsidized housing programs. HOC’s programs include direct ownership and management of housing units (including units for seniors), rental assistance to homeless and disabled people, and vouchers which are used to pay part of the cost of private housing.

HOC does not administer the county’s Moderately-Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) program, which requires developers to include cheaper units in new developments. As we discussed last January, MPDUs have never been built in sufficient numbers to drive down housing costs in the county. Furthermore, their prices are controlled for limited amounts of time ranging from 10-30 years. After price controls are lifted, the units are bought and sold at market prices. HOC occasionally purchases MPDUs and currently owns over 1,600 of them. While MPDUs are more affordable than market units, those that are privately-owned are not subsidized by the government.

In its fiscal 2008 budget, HOC projected ownership of 4,478 units, management of 2,248 units and assistance to 8,628 units (mostly through vouchers) for a total 13,106 subsidized units. During the Hillmead debate, HOC provided updated figures to the County Council indicating a current total of 13,567 units and revealing unit counts by zip code. We obtained that information and compared it to Census data on each zip code. Where is the county’s subsidized housing located? What are the characteristics of the areas that contain large (and small) numbers of subsidized units? Are there patterns in the location of these units?

We will begin answering those questions in Part Two.


Tuesday, August 05, 2008


I will not be posting for the rest of this week. My next post will be on Monday morning, August 11.


Monday, August 04, 2008

Summer Reading List: Montgomery County Centuries of Change

By Marc Korman.

Still have a little free time this summer? I have one more book recommendation for your summer reading list. My last recommendation, Carl Bode’s Maryland A History, was a bit light on Montgomery County history. To try and make up for it, I recently picked up Montgomery County Centuries of Change from the Bethesda Library. The book was written by Jane Chinn Sween, a lifelong county resident who has worked as the librarian for the Montgomery County Historical Society, and William Offutt, a county native and historian who has worked as a columnist for the Gazette.

The book is primarily a chronological history of the County, from its origins as “Lower Frederick County,” to its establishment as Montgomery County in 1776 (which at the time included Georgetown), through its rapid development with the growth of the federal government, until today. Along the way, the book occasionally stops and focuses on a particular area, such as the County road system, first responders, or religious life. The last chapters of the book profile major entities in the County, such as the National 4-H Conference Center and gives multi-paragraph entries on many of the County’s major towns and municipalities.

Most interesting to readers of this blog will be the County’s fights over growth and the County’s political transformation.

In the 1950s, dealing with massive growth due to the federal government’s expansion, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission began drafting a General Plan. However, before the plan was enacted a group of real estate developers and zoning lawyers formed a political coalition called County Above Party, which swept the County Council and School Board elections and spent four years rezoning and building high density neighborhoods in Bethesda, Friendship Heights, Silver Spring, and other areas before the Planning Commission’s “wedges and corridors” plan became the master plan for the County. Under “wedges and corridors,” development was concentrated along major transportation routes with wedges of green space in between. To me, the concept of County Above Party brought to mind the End Gridlock political slate from 2002. Although the County Above Party actions were controversial, some of their development action may have been necessary to make the County what it is today and jumpstart growth in areas that would go on to be transit hubs.

Politically, Montgomery County had a commissioner structure until the 1940s, when a Charter movement began. The push for a Charter came about in response to the Commissioners making too many decisions behind closed doors with too much special interests influence. The Commission system also kept more power in Annapolis. The new charter, which established increased local rule, failed on its first time on the ballot in 1944, but a rewrite led to its successful enactment in 1948 and the first 7-member County Council in 1949. The County Council was a legislative body, but also acted as executive through an appointed County Manager. As the government grew, a further reform effort called for creating a County Executive so that executive and legislative functions would be separated, which finally occurred in 1968. The office’s first occupant was a Republican, James Gleason, a feat that has not been repeated by any other member of Gleason’s party.

My brief summary cannot do the book’s treatment of the County’s history justice, and I encourage those with the time to flip through it. The book is billed as an illustrated history, so there are also wonderful photos, pictures and maps of the County’s historical figures and places.


Friday, August 01, 2008

Conservatives Circle Wagons, Abandon Principles on Spygate

Spygate is the ultimate example of big, arrogant government seeking power over law-abiding citizens. So we would expect the Free State’s conservatives to condemn it, right? Wrong.

In his column last week, the Gazette’s Blair Lee begins by saying, “...Last week’s revelations of Maryland State Police surveillance and infiltration of peace groups and anti-death penalty organizations should alarm every Marylander. A basic American freedom is our right to assemble and protest without becoming targets of police investigation — no ifs, ands or buts. End of discussion.” Fair enough. But he pivots rapidly to the real villain of Spygate – Martin O’Malley. That’s right, according to Lee, the current Governor is the bad guy because he is telling “the big lie” – namely, that Spygate occurred during the Ehrlich administration. I hope Mr. Lee will write a future column elaborating on how a chronological fact can be considered a “big lie.” (Mr. Lee is up a second time commenting on this blog, claiming, “Ehrlich’s position on Spygate differs little from the O’Malley administration’s.” I beg to differ.)

On Red Maryland, Mark Newgent justifies the spying because the anti-death penalty protestors may have included members of the American Friends Service Committee, a left-wing Quaker-affiliated group. Yes, whenever pacifist Quakers get together with people who think the death penalty and the Iraq War are wrong, there is bound to be violence. And in the middle of the scandal, Red Maryland blogger Last Reporter showcased the “Bring Back Ehrlich” bumper sticker below and promoted it again while cheering on Governor Ehrlich’s self-exonerating radio interview last weekend. Mysteriously, conservative blogger Brian Griffiths has not posted on the issue.

The response from the left has been more complicated. While conservatives have unquestioningly backed a former Republican Governor, liberals have stood up to the Democratic incumbent even though the spying did not happen on his watch. For example, while I have gone after Governor Ehrlich, I have also said about then-Mayor O’Malley, “If the city police used information passed on by the state police to launch their own investigation, then former Mayor O’Malley bears as much responsibility for them as former Governor Ehrlich has for the state police.” Paul Gordon has said that the current Governor “fails civics 101” for not supporting any legislation to prevent another Spygate. Eric Luedtke disagreed with the Governor’s position against legislation, saying “This situation has proven that the current system is vulnerable to abuse. It isn't enough to say sorry, blame it on the last guy, and promise it will never happen again. There needs to be a law, period.” ACLU lawyer David Rocah has also stated a preference for legislation over reliance on promises from the current Governor to prevent future spying.

Spygate is not merely a concern of liberals. In fact, at least three important principles of conservatism have been broken during the scandal:

1. Personal responsibility
Governor Ehrlich has spread the blame to former Attorney General Joe Curran and even former Baltimore Mayor O’Malley for Spygate. He could have said, “Even though I did not know about the investigation, I accept responsibility for all acts committed under my administration and I am as eager to get to the bottom of it as anyone else.” But so far he has not.

2. Government accountability
Governor Ehrlich has also said that the Governor should not monitor the state police and neither should the legislature. This would create an unaccountable state police force – something that would have repulsed our founding fathers.

3. Individual freedom from government control
When asked repeatedly by conservative WBAL talk show host Bruce Elliott whether there was anything wrong with the spying, Governor Ehrlich ducked the issue. Most real conservatives presume that individual freedoms should trump government power except in the most dire of circumstances. Non-violent protestors do not qualify.

So why are these conservatives refusing to stand up for conservative principles? The obvious reason is to protect Governor Ehrlich, whom some on Red Maryland are encouraging to run again. With Governor O’Malley’s poll numbers in the 30s, the economy in difficulty and the General Assembly’s billion-dollar tax hikes now taking effect, Governor Ehrlich is an attractive candidate for the right. Now it appears that he is more attractive than the very principles of conservatism itself.

Red Maryland blogger Brian Griffiths recently said, “...The problem with Republican politics in the 21st century is not the ideology of conservatism, but leadership that itself is not conservative. Once we figure out how to fix that, Republicans will reassume the mantle of ascendancy that we lost when Congressional leadership went native a few years back.” Whether you agree with Griffiths or not, he has a point: politics without principles is an empty pursuit of raw power for its own sake. Conservatives who blindly follow Governor Ehrlich will lose what they believe in.

So what should genuine conservatives do? Perhaps they should start paying their dues to the one organization that stands up for their constitutional rights – the ACLU!