Thursday, December 31, 2009

Will Valerie Get a Licensing Fee?

Nancy Floreen's new website is up and it has a prominent guest star featured right on the home page: Valerie Ervin! Now we are big fans of the rapidly ascending Ms. Ervin and so are our readers, but we wonder whether a) she was asked about appearing on the site, and b) if she will be collecting a licensing fee for her appearance. Hey people, Andres works for baby food!


MoCo General Election 2008: Ficker Amendment

Click on the image below for a closer view of the 2008 general election Ficker Amendment vote in Montgomery County by Congressional District, state legislative district, council district and local area.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Montgomery College Adjunct Professors Vote in Favor of New Contract

Montgomery College adjunct professors have voted in favor of their new contract by an overwhelming margin. Provided that the college's Board of Trustees approves it, this will conclude the biggest union organizing campaign in recent county history. Following is the announcement from the faculty's bargaining committee.

We are happy to announce that our first-ever collective bargaining agreement with Montgomery College has been approved by the part-time faculty.

Part-time faculty voted 3-to-1 (213 to 70) in favor of the contract. The final vote count had been delayed two weeks, to allow faculty members inadvertently left off the voter eligibility list by the college to receive ballots and vote.

The final step now is for the Board of Trustees to vote to ratify, which we expect will take place at their January 19th meeting. Our contract will then be signed and go into effect.

As a reminder, the agreement calls for all part-time faculty members who taught in the fall semester to receive a lump sum bonus equal to 2.37 percent of their earnings for that semester. The college has committed to having the bonus paid to you within 30 days of ratification by the Trustees. A 2.37 percent salary adjustment will go into effect with the spring semester. Also, because of the delay in completing the ratification process, the ESH limit increase to 11.5 per semester that we achieved in our agreement goes into effect immediately.

The agreement is available online at Printed copies will also be available soon.

With our contract nearly in place, we have a busy spring semester ahead. We will move to implement the agreement. Negotiations will also begin next month for salary levels in the 2010-11 academic year, and we'll begin the critical work of addressing the pay disparities between full-time and part-time faculty.

With these and other challenges before us, it's more important than ever to come together to build a strong union. We'll be in touch in the new year with ways you can help build our part-time faculty union and win results in the months and years ahead!

On behalf of the officers and staff of SEIU Local 500 and our entire bargaining team, we wish all of you our best for a happy, healthy 2010.


Your Montgomery College Part-Time Faculty Bargaining Committee

Victoria Baldassano, English Professor
Richard Foster, English Professor
Jean Freedman, History and Women's Studies Professor
Dan Moskowitz, Mathematics Professor
Alan Stover, Business Professor
Lynn White, Mathematics Professor


Nancy King Proposes Easier Access to Committee Votes

Senator Nancy King (D-39) has written Senate President Mike Miller asking that Senate committee votes be made more accessible to the public. King points out that committee votes began appearing in the Senate Journal in 2009, but they are not linked to the General Assembly's searchable floor vote database. The House Journal does not contain committee votes. King's proposal falls in line with the opinions of some, including Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18), that online committee vote reporting could be implemented through administrative changes rather than through legislation such as that proposed by Delegate Saqib Ali (D-39).

We reproduce Senator King's letter below.


Becky Wagner Online

County Council at-large challenger Becky Wagner has her website up, and it's a nice piece of work. Our spies picked Wagner as one of the county's most formidable potential challengers way back in June and she is ramping up her campaign. We reprint her blog entry "Imagine," which gives the rationale for her candidacy, below.


Posted by Becky Wagner on December 18th, 2009

My decision to run for County Council comes after working on behalf of Montgomery County for nearly 40 years. Many of you know me from your different and our sometimes separate worlds. Perhaps we met at the Rockville Cooperative nursery school; or when we created Rainbow Place Shelter for women, or at the Georgian Forest Elementary School PTA 30 years ago where we held international potlucks and created a newsletter in three different languages (yes, so long ago!). Do we know each other from the many soccer fields around the county, where my boys played and I managed the Wheaton Kickers in the National Capital Soccer League?

Or maybe you met me when I served on the staff of Senator Paul Sarbanes, where Montgomery, Prince Georges and Howard Counties, and the needs of those communities, became my prime concern and that of the Senator. Perhaps you know me as a member and Elder at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church. It may be that you know me, or met me as the Executive Director of Interfaith Works. Are you a member at one of the more than 165 congregations working together to meet the needs of the low income community here in Montgomery County? If that is so, then you know me as a parent, friend, volunteer, advocate and leader.

During these past ten years I have served as Executive Director of one of the County’s most important organizations, Interfaith Works, providing critical services to our community. In my ten years at Interfaith Works we have grown from an annual budget of $800,000 to $4.5 million, from five programs to ten, and from 90 congregations to 165. With our mission always in mind, I have faced the same struggles of every small business—meeting payroll, providing benefits and healthy work environments, and assuring that an investment in Interfaith Works is money well spent.

It is because of my life’s work of building partnerships and coalitions that strengthen communities, that I know we can meet the challenges of the day, because I know we are better together. It is the responsibility of our elected officials to model both civility and commitment to constructive problem solving. We need to begin working together to solve the important issues of the day. In my almost 40 years living and working in this County, I know that when it comes to what matters, regardless of socio-economic status, race, ethnicity or educational background, we are more alike than different. We care about our families, access to opportunity, education, and safe and healthy communities.

For that reason, we have to make this next election about what matters:

We must grow jobs in our county—good jobs that build the revenue base for needed services. We cannot tax our way out of the loss of revenues that we face. We must create a vibrant economic environment that helps our businesses thrive. Montgomery County must be open for business, and we have to do more than just say so. What is preventing national, medium and small businesses from choosing to establish their headquarters here? Where is the incentive for new businesses and green jobs to settle in strategic areas of our county, near transportation and homes? When business is robust, everything I care about is funded. We cannot talk about access and opportunity if we are unwilling to generate jobs that lead to self-sustaining families.

We must tackle our transportation stalemate. We have to get moving; it isn’t either/or, but both: transit and roads. We must implement our smart growth plans to enable families and individuals to live, work, walk and play in our own neighborhoods. We need transportation systems that help move children to daycare and school, and us to work and home. This goal is not at the expense of our environment. We have strong safeguards in place to protect our natural resources. Our Agriculture Reserve serves as the green lungs for our County. With that as a priority, we must accept that our nearly one million neighbors need to live and work in two-thirds of our land. That does require accommodation. We do not get to be the last people through the door!

We must create classrooms where teachers can accomplish education goals with flexibility in the classroom curriculum. We recognize that our children come to school with many different experiences and backgrounds. If we truly want children to learn and have access to every education and employment opportunity, we must allow flexibility for our teachers to achieve those educational goals while assuring that children are not simply promoted to achieve data targets. Further, we need to encourage students who have interests in the trades to graduate with an education that allows them to make career choices to assure life-long success in their chosen occupations. Truly well-educated children become our well-educated workforce, and strengthen and stabilize our community.

If we want that educated workforce to remain in Montgomery County, or return to Montgomery County, we must implement our stated priorities for workforce and affordable housing in a way that actually creates affordable housing. Building is at a stand still, not only because of the recession, but because current law does not promote growth in affordable and workforce housing. We have lost affordable housing, and recent legislation literally has reduced production of enough affordable housing for our nurses, firefighters, police officers and teachers to live in the communities where they work. The White Flint sector plan shows the potential for an exciting, livable, walkable community. We must agree to move forward with this urban vision in mind for new growth in our housing stock. Affordable housing gets us off the roads and closer to our schools and our workplace.

I am running for Montgomery County Council because we need leadership to make courageous decisions about what matters, and better choices to move us forward. Over the coming months, I want to listen and learn from you. I want to talk with you about what matters, and I want this election to be about what matters.

Perhaps you know the song “Imagine” by John Lennon?

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

I do hope you will join me. We will move this County forward, and we will make progress, because we know we are Better Together. Imagine.


MoCo General Election 2008: Slots Amendment

Click on the image below for a closer view of the 2008 general election slots amendment vote in Montgomery County by Congressional District, state legislative district, council district and local area.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Hello? This is the Saqib Ali Campaign Calling"

Delegate Saqib Ali (D-39) has initiated phone banking operations. And because he is Saqib Ali, he wants everybody to know about it!

Here’s a few photos of Ali volunteers working out of his basement posted on Facebook.

Do you see this last fellow? If you don’t know who he is, you should. This is former Valerie Ervin campaign volunteer Adam Yalowitz, who along with fellow Ervinite Avi Edelman and Young Gun Ben Moskowitz is a member of MoCo’s underage political Brat Pack. Don’t be fooled by their need for fake IDs, people – chances are, they know more about running political campaigns than you do. All three are in college, but one or more of them will be either running for office or stealing campaign business from David Moon upon graduation.

Moskowitz is known to be close to Ali. A possible Moskowitz-Yalowitz-Ali collaboration is certainly an interesting string of words to type on a keyboard, but it would also be a sign of a big campaign by Ali. Let the tongues wag!


MoCo General Election 2008: Presidential Vote

Click on the image below for a closer view of the 2008 general election presidential vote in Montgomery County by Congressional District, state legislative district, council district and local area.


Monday, December 28, 2009

ACT Slams MoCo Department of Transportation as "Anti-Transit" (Updated)

There's nothing unusual about Action Committee for Transit (ACT) protesting the policies set by the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) as "anti-transit." The organization has discussed each of its specific complaints before. What is unusual is that ACT's press release quotes both veteran leader Ben Ross as well as potential County Council candidate Hans Riemer. Following is the press release.

For Immediate Release, Monday, Dec. 28, 2009
Source: Action Committee for Transit

ACT Slams Montgomery County DOT's Anti-Transit Policies

The Montgomery County Dept. of Transportation has become systematically hostile to transit riders and pedestrians, charges a front-page article in the January 2010 issue of the Action Committee for Transit's quarterly newsletter, Transit Times. "The county's traffic engineering philosophy," commented ACT president Ben Ross, "is to push pedestrians, bicycles, and buses out of the way so that there are more cars on the road.”

The 600-member advocacy group backed its charge with a five-point bill of particulars:

MCDOT forced a four-month halt in the Maryland Transit Administration's work to design a new Metro entrance in Bethesda which will also serve as the future Red Line - Purple Line connection.

MCDOT opposes provisions of the White Flint master plan that would make Rockville Pike more friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists. It insists that the road's overriding function is to carry high-speed traffic into D.C.

MCDOT is trying to divert $40 million that has been designated for improved pedestrian access to the Medical Center Metro station and use the money to build an automobile underpass. The underpass is part of a larger highway-building scheme whose full extent is being kept secret from the public.

MCDOT plans to waste $80 million by building an overpriced $80,000-per-space garage in Bethesda, even though the garage across the street isn't full.

More than a year has gone by since ACT made specific suggestions of cost-free ways to speed up bus movement, and the county still has not responded.

"That's not even the end of it," added ACT vice-president Hans Riemer. He pointed out that the county DOT has stalled completion of the Metropolitan Branch bicycle trail through Silver Spring and insists that local streets should be built with wide lanes that encourage cars to move at unsafe speeds.

Riemer observed that MCDOT's policies undermine the county's efforts to promote smart growth and non-automobile transportation. "Our Transportation Department is years behind the times," he said. "The kinds of places their policies create--like today's Rockville Pike--are often the most difficult and unpleasant places for people to live, to visit, to commute. These policies destroy community life, and they are less and less effective at promoting economic growth. The path we are on is unsustainable."


Update: A MCDOT official sent this reply acknowledging delay at the Bethesda South Entrance but denying it is deliberate.

There has been no deliberate call for a delay in the project by DOT or anybody. According to our project manager, there have been coordination issues that needed to be resolved concerning the number of elevators (4 or5), the configuration of the same and the effect of such configuration on the Elm Street right of way, and therefore, the impact on the futuretraffic flow on Elm Street (two-way or one-way).

Mr. Erenrich also points out that the final design of the elevators need to be closely coordinated with the design of the Purple Line Station. Construction of the elevators will be an integral part of the construction of the station. Like with many other projects coordination of the different elements anddifferent interests make for a slower process than many of us desire.

But certainly, there are not any efforts on DOT's part to delay this or anyother project associated with the Purple Line, one of the two highest state transit priorities in the County.


MoCo General Election 2008: Turnout

OK, let's be honest: odds are, you're kicking back, drinking egg nog and not doing a whole lot this week, right? So that means you are ready for the same thing we are: data! All this week, we will be presenting the results of our exclusive 2008 MoCo general election database. We have painstakingly assembled statistics on turnout, presidential vote, the slots amendment and the Ficker amendment built from the precinct level up. This kind of political intelligence could prove valuable next year, and as usual, only MPW readers are eligible to access it! Today, we present turnout by Congressional District, state legislative district, council district and local area. Click on the image for a larger view. There are a few surprises in here, so enjoy!

Update: One of our readers asked if these numbers include absentees and provisionals. They do not since they were constructed by assembling precinct counts.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Montgomery County 2009: What Will 2010 Bring?

A verse and a challenge by Sharon Dooley.

Twas the night before New Years and all was still
The offices were closed; in the air was a chill.

The county was broke; the blogs did moan
However ratings still held; could we get a loan?

Positions were fluid, then suddenly hard
Who it appears would hold the top card?

As unions, and non-profits did their cash dance
Each hoped fervently that their cause would advance;

Council members were wooed and vilified as all
Tried for their attention and waited for their call.

The County Exec over across the street,
Re-did the numbers on his balance sheet;

He furrowed his brow, shook his tired head
How do these figures stay in the red?

He hoped for a miracle to surely change
The numbers that stubbornly seemed so strange.

What should Montgomery County do?
Where was the answer to this budgetary stew?

The new council Pres shook her blonde head
Since Budget cuts she had hoped to shed.

As she took office she wanted to grow
And help the county promise to show

So what is the answer, dear voter please try
Give us the answers; the new course to fly

Help the county to again be on track
Assist in keeping our mission intact.

What should you, what would you cut out
If the decision was yours, no don’t just pout

Answer right now, what is an excess load?

Is it the ICC – that Lexus road (nope, that is the state)

Could it be snow plowing – it never snows here – guess not!

How about the Purple line and the CCT – never will happen – nor should it!

Education – no, that is a sacred cow – even without maintenance of effort

Jobs and salaries – should they be decreased – but we need jobs and workers, how could that be?

Funding for non-profits – but the needs are so great – see this is not easy!

So tell me please – MPW - folks – if you were an elected county official - what could be dismissed from our budget of over 4 Billion dollars; it is easy to criticize, but now let’s see how creative you each can be.

Come up with your list of the top three (we know how Adam loves lists) the top three to keep and the top three to cut. Do let us know before the New Year!


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Let Your Inner Turtle Glow


Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from Big Daddy


Growth Policy Follies IV

The debate in Chevy Chase provided a great airing of the issues surrounding the proposed changes to the growth policy. The Montgomery County Council ultimately did not adopt most of the controversial ideas regarding changes to the traffic formula, or school capacity. However, it has yet to debate the CR zone, probably the key issue.

Many have told me that the CR zone idea has been rushed forward as part of the effort to incorporate it into the revision of the White Flint Master Plan. The CR zone would allow much denser development in areas that combine commercial and residential development in proportions approved by the Planning Board.

The idea is naturally controversial because it would have the effect of blowing away existing capacity controls built into the existing Master Plans that have shaped Montgomery County development for decades. Opponents fear that instead of transit-oriented development that we'll just get more traffic and no transit. They point out that the zone could also be applied to shopping centers like the one at Cabin John or Westbard located far away from any Metro stop.

Holland and Knight Attorney Pat Harris argued that we need the CR zone so we get more development like Bethesda Lane and the Kentlands. Unquestionably, her clients have buily popular developments in both cases. Bethesda Lane is a positive addition to the Bethesda area that integrates rental apartments above retail and a parking garage.

However, both developments occurred within the existing development process, and--as Pat Harris has often said about similar development projects in which she and I have both been interested--the final outcome was improved greatly through the public input mandated by the process.

Like many, I very much like the idea of mixing more residential and commercial development but would like to hear more about why exactly this zone is needed and its implications for traffic and infrastructure needs and costs before the County makes such an important change.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Berliner Raising Money

District 1 County Council Member Roger Berliner is actively raising money for 2010. We do not print every fundraising solicitation we receive, but this is significant because we are hearing rumors of growing intensity that Berliner will have a primary challenger. We will be discussing that race, as well as conditions in the other districts, soon enough.


Growth Policy Follies III

I got to ask one of the few questions at the growth policy forum and asked about why the Planning Board had recommended that the solution to the B-CC cluster being out of attainment (that's overcrowded in the vernacular) was simply to eliminate the standard that required developers to pay a surcharge for any new development until the district met the standard.

To me, eliminating the standard is much like me telling my students that the solution to their having failed the test is just that I need to raise all the grades. While that approach might raise my teaching evaluations, it's not exactly the lesson we want to teach.

Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson didn't really answer the question but simply repeated the existing standard as far as I could tell to fill his time. Holland and Knight Attorney Pat Harris argued that much of the new development was in condos that generally didn't have that many kids so it was unfair to place a surcharge on developers.

An interesting and perhaps good point. However, it also utterly contradicted Royce's earlier assertion that higher density was about providing housing for "working families" and that people wanted increasingly to live in high density developments (read: apartments) instead of suburban housing (see Part II of this series).

Of course, the surcharge on development only gets applied to new development that has not yet been approved. In the case of B-CC, Pat Harris explained that the problem had been addressed so that B-CC would fall below the standard. Ironically, this comment showed the value of the standard as Pat obliquely made the point that the potential freeze on development stimulated sufficient political pressure to address a real need.

Not mentioned at all was that the County Council adopted the standard only a couple of years earlier at the recommendation of the Planning Board. At the time, it seemed that the recommended standards were put into place so that no district would fail the test but I guess this turned out to be wrong--perhaps unintentially.

If the standard is such a bad idea, it does, however, raise the question of why the Planning Board recommended it so recently and why they were so badly wrong.

Part IV discussed the outcome of the debate and the CR zone.


Is There A Lawyer in the House (or Senate)?

By Marc Korman.

Every year before the legislative session, the Maryland State Bar Association Legislative Preview lists the lawyers in the General Assembly. Let’s have a look.

Based on the Bar Association’s numbers, just 22% of the General Assembly is made up of attorneys. There are 10 in the State Senate, with half of that total coming from Montgomery County: Rona Kramer, Rob Garagiola, Brian Frosh, Jamie Raskin, and Mike Lenett. In the House of Delegates, there are 31 attorneys with 8 coming from Montgomery County: Kathleen Dumais, Brian Feldman, Bill Frick, Susan Lee, Luiz Simmons, Jeff Waldstreicher, Roger Manno, and Kirill Reznik. However, the Bar Association does not distinguish between attorneys who have practiced or those who just have a J.D.

According to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Virginia’s total is much higher. 30% of Virginia legislators are attorneys. They are second among the percentage of lawyers in the state legislature only to Texas, where 33.3% of legislators are lawyers. Delaware has the lowest percentage of attorneys in their state legislature, just 3.2%. Nationwide, 15.2% of state legislators are attorneys according to NCSL (the data is from 2007 so might be slightly off due to intervening elections).

The percentage of lawyers in Congress is much higher, with 40% made up of attorneys according to the ABA. 55 Senators and 161 House Members are attorneys, including Senator Ben Cardin and all of Maryland’s Representatives except Roscoe Bartlett.

The low number of lawyers in the General Assembly is somewhat surprising. Lawyers are naturally associated with politicians in many minds. It is also a profession that, in many cases, allows the flexibility for a legislator to be in Annapolis three months of the year.

There are benefits to having lawyers in the legislature. One Maryland legislator/lawyer told me two reasons he thought having lawyers in the General Assembly was a good thing. First, he found lawyers better at honing in on the key, relevant issues in a bill and got less bogged down in extraneous issues. Second, he thought lawyers were more comfortable dealing with statutory language, making sure it is consistent with a bill’s intent, and avoiding unintended consequences of certain language.

This is not really surprising. Legislators deal with policy issues from across the spectrum, Thomas Jefferson said “there is no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.” But the way in which they interact with those issues is through statutory language.

Despite the need for attorneys who can speak, read, and understand the language of the law, at least four subcommittees in the State Senate and thirteen in the House of Delegates do not have a single attorney as a member. The House Appropriations Committee appears to have only one attorney among its 26 members. 15 of the House attorneys, a bit less than half, are stacked on the Judiciary Committee, accounting for the vast majority of its 22 members. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee has 4 attorneys among its 11 members.

That said, there are also great benefits to diversity in the legislature of all kinds, including professional. According to the NCSL data, 10.6% of Maryland’s legislators are business owners, 4.8% are in the medical field, and 3.7% are K-12 educators. 11.7% were listed as full-time legislators, though there may be some overlap between this number and the 4.8% identified as retired. Nationally, 16.4% were identified as full-time legislators, 11.7% as retired, 3.9% as K-12 educators, and 3.6% as medical professionals.

More attorneys might be useful for the General Assembly. But even without that, they could also be distributed a bit more evenly among the committees. Lawyers have skills that apply across the committees, not just those most closely aligned with their profession.

Disclosure: With any luck, I will be graduating law school in May and taking the Maryland Bar Exam in July.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Westin Buys the Washington Post - Again

After just eight days, the Washington Post sells nearly half its home page to Westin again. Who do their corporate bosses care about more - the readers or the advertisers?


MPW Poll: Ehrlich vs. O'Malley


Season's Greetings from the Herd

Ever wonder what kind of greeting cards the County Council gets during the holidays? Wonder no more! Here's one from a concerned constituent asking them to pass a 32-page zoning text amendment proposed by the County Executive that would "prevent stockpiling of cars on properties in residential neighborhoods." Just one question: was the card mailed to London and Brazil?


Growth Policy Follies II

Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson won the Oscar for best performance in a residential forum when he said that he we needed higher density in Bethesda so that there would be housing for "working families." I guess Lionsgate in Bethesda decided not to target the working family market and build condos starting at $800,000 with a view of the inside of a parking garage (yes, really) because they couldn't get higher density. You can't make this stuff up.

Royce also mentioned an oft-repeated (and, I assume, true) statistic on how only 4 percent of the land zoned for developed in Montgomery County has not yet been developed. Royce then quickly moved to the conclusion that we had to allow higher density in order to have further growth in Montgomery, and we wouldn't want to take the Agricultural Reserve.

I am certain that Royce cares genuinely about the Ag Reserve. After all, he played a critical role in its creation and has consistently worked to protect it. However, implying that the Ag Reserve was threatened was just a local version of the Park Service's old Washington Monument gambit. They'd propose reducing visiting hours for the Monument every time someone wanted to cut their budget in an effort to wring more money out of the feds.

Leaving aside the acerbic comment whispered to your gentle corespondent that "Frederick County is our real Ag Reserve" (folks, I don't make the news, I just type it), no one has proposed touching the Ag Reserve. I'd say at least Royce didn't say "Won't somebody please think of the children!" but he did get a bit passionate about kids and locally grown apples.

The whole "Approve the growth policy or the economy and the Ag Reserve get it" approach seems a tad neglectful of the fact that plenty of development can occur under the existing zoning laws and master plans through redevelopment of already developed properties. Anyone else remember the scads of white planning board signs in downtown Bethesda before the bubble burst?

Moreover, certain areas of the County retain a lot of room for transit-oriented development. Not far away from Bethesda, the area around the Wheaton metro still has a lot of room under existing plans and laws for much denser development. None of the metro stations in Prince George's have replicated the growth around Bethesda or Ballston. Allowing more density in existing boom areas like Bethesda may merely serve to further concentrate economic growth in areas that already have it.

Part III looks at the discussion about schools.


MPW Poll Round-Up

We’ve had four reader polls up recently that are worth looking back on. Yes, yes, we know they don’t mean a whole lot. But YOU disagree because they were incredibly popular! Several of them will appear in our top ten most-visited posts of the month. So what did you have to say?

Council President Poll

Who’s right on the Council President dispute?

Berliner’s side. This was just a naked power grab: 114 votes (44%)
Floreen’s side. Elections have consequences and the other guys are crybabies: 98 votes (37.8%)
Nobody. Who gives a rat’s behind about this anyway: 47 votes (18.1%)
Total votes: 259

There’s not much to read into this except that Berliner’s supporters were quicker to come online despite certain ballot-stuffing efforts. The correct answer (because your author voted for it) is the rat’s behind. NOBODY is going to care about this in 2010 except for the Drama Queens.

Senate Challenger Poll

Which potential Senate challenger has the best chance to win?

Cheryl Kagan over Jennie Forehand: 415 votes (30.3%)
Saqib Ali over Nancy King: 395 votes (28.9%)
None of the above. All three incumbents would win: 338 votes (24.7%)
Roger Manno over Mike Lenett: 221 votes (16.1%)
Total votes: 1369

This was the most-stuffed MPW poll since the infamous 2007 District 18 appointment poll, which was not set up to block multiple votes from the same IP address. Your author was convinced that MoCo Cyber-King Saqib Ali would blow away everyone, but he was barely nipped out by Cheryl Kagan. It’s easy to forget that Kagan last ran for office in 1998, back when Facebook and blogs did not exist and websites and emails played relatively minor roles in campaigns. Now Kagan has a frequently updated blog, possesses more Facebook friends than Ali(!) and even releases her website statistics to psyche out her opponent. No one has made a quicker transition to 21st Century Campaigning than MoCo’s hungriest challenger.

But the big winner here may be Delegate Roger Manno (D-19). He made no visible effort to drive his followers to the poll, and yet he held the early lead and finished with 221 votes. How many of these votes came from District 19? That’s something that Senator Mike Lenett should be thinking about.

County Council At-Large Challenger Poll

Which potential County Council At-Large challenger has the best chance to win?

Hans Riemer: 244 votes (33.8%)
Robin Ficker: 120 votes (16.6%)
Ben Kramer: 77 votes (10.7%)
None of the above. All the incumbents will win: 74 votes (10.3%)
Roz Pelles: 74 votes (10.3%)
Jane de Winter: 53 votes (7.4%)
Becky Wagner: 51 votes (7.1%)
Pete Fosselman: 11 votes (1.5%)
Cary Lamari: 7 votes (1%)
Ida Ruben: 5 votes (0.7%)
Guled Kassim: 3 votes (0.4%)
Chris Paladino: 2 votes (0.3%)
Total votes: 721

Folks, the at-large race has only three declared challengers: Jane de Winter, Becky Wagner and Guled Kassim. They combined to get just 14.9% of this poll’s votes. The top three Democratic finishers are not (yet) in the race. And “all the incumbents will win” finished ahead of each of the three challengers now in the contest. This is a big, big buzz-kill.

This poll was Hans Riemer’s coming-out party. MPW was first to report the rumors of a “Draft Riemer” movement and it proved to be especially resourceful – even co-opting one of our spies! As for Ficker, you have to hand it to him: he can stuff a ballot box as well as any man half his age. Perhaps that skill will serve him well after he gets his term limits initiative on the ballot.

County Council At-Large Incumbent Poll

Which County Council incumbent is most likely to lose?

Duchy Trachtenberg: 232 votes (49.7%)
Marc Elrich: 103 votes (22.1%)
Nancy Floreen: 80 votes (17.1%)
George Leventhal: 28 votes (6%)
None of the above. All the incumbents will win: 24 votes (5.1%)
Total votes: 467

The most interesting result here is that 95% of the readers expect one of the incumbents to lose. Your author believes that greatly exceeds the real probability of an incumbent loss, but we should note that an incumbent lost an at-large race in both 2002 (Blair Ewing) and 2006 (Mike Subin).

As for the ordering of incumbent loss potential, we believe the readers got this right. Way back in February, we picked Duchy Trachtenberg as the most vulnerable incumbent, followed by Marc Elrich, Nancy Floreen and the relatively safe George Leventhal. Everything that has occurred since then convinces us that both our earlier prediction and our poll-participating readers are right.

And so you have spoken. In a few months, we may run some of these questions again to see if you have changed your minds!


$teele Cashes In

The Washington Times has reported that RNC Chairman Michael Steele is cashing in on his position by giving speeches at five digits a pop. Even Republicans are outraged. But if you are willing to overlook Steele's ethical issues and want to hire him, here are the details.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ice Hills of Silver Spring

The county is claiming that snow clearing is completed. Tell it to the people who live in my neighborhood, now known as the "Ice Hills of Silver Spring."

Here is the county's snow removal map claiming that every precinct is cleared as of this evening.

And here are pictures of the intersections of Dameron Drive with Sherwood Road, Sanford Road, Tilton Drive and Belvedere Boulevard in Silver Spring, just north of Holy Cross Hospital, taken only minutes before the county's report. All of these roads lie on hills, and Sherwood is particularly steep. Since the snow tapered off late Saturday night, these pictures show the progress made by the county over a three-day period.

This is your author's neighborhood. A plow may have come by on Sunday, but since then, the roads appear untouched. The white areas are not so much snowy as they are icy. They are dangerous for both cars and pedestrians. The only bare areas are the spots once occupied by cars that were dug out by their owners. Are these roads "clear?"

We hope that the County Council's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee discusses this when they convene next month.


Valerie Ervin Calls for Review of Snow Removal Operations

In response to many complaints from constituents, Council Member Valerie Ervin is requesting that the council's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment (T&E) Committee hold a work session to review snow removal operations. Following is Ervin's memo to T&E Chair and Council President Nancy Floreen.


To: Council President Nancy Floreen, Chair, Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T&E) Committee
From: Council Vice President Valerie Ervin
Date: December 22, 2009
Subject: Snow Removal Operations

On December 19 and 20, the Washington, DC region received 16 to 24 inches of snowfall. During the snowfall, the County implemented snow removal operations on main County roadways and emergency routes. According to standard procedure, the County began neighborhood plowing once the snowfall ended.

However, I received many calls from residents regarding snow removal operations and the condition of their neighborhood streets days after the storm. I am concerned that down-county residents had to wait longer than other areas of the County for roads to be cleared. As you know, many seniors and residents with health issues live in District 5, and it is critical for many of these residents to have their streets cleared as soon as possible.

As the representative for District 5 and the Council s representative to the Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Advisory Committee, I would like to request the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T&E) Committee take up snow removal operations at an upcoming worksession. Specifically, I would like the Committee to review how snow removal equipment is deployed. I know that the crews worked extremely diligently to perform their jobs during this snow emergency, and I salute their efforts. I simply want to ensure that the processes and procedures related to their deployment are equitable.

Further, I am proud to hear that many residents are willing to step forward and help shovel the driveways and sidewalks of those residents unable to do so. However, I was notified that, contrary to public information on the County s website, the County s Volunteer Center will not be coordinating volunteers, as it had done in previous years. I would like to request the Committee also discuss the removal of snow on walkways throughout the County, as well as the utilization of volunteers in this effort.

Please feel free to contact my office with any questions.


Valerie Ervin
Councilmember District 5

c: Councilmembers
Timothy Firestine, Chief Administrative Officer
Arthur Holmes, Jr., Director, Department of Transportation
Glenn Orlin, Deputy Director, Montgomery County Council


Growth Policy Follies I

The Growth Policy Forum was a glittering night in the Chevy Chase Town Hall as supporters and opponents of changes to the growth policy and the new CR zone squared off in front of the kleig lights of public access television.

Unknowingly, I took my seat next to Dan Reed, formerly independent blogger who now works for Councilman George Levanthal who did not attend. Dan was taking such copious notes that I asked if he was a reporter. In snyc with the views of his boss, Dan at times appeared as frustrated with the views of opponents as I did with supporters.

Planning Board Chair Royce Hanson had three personalities, alternating between your avuncular uncle who always has a charming anecdote ready to divert your attention, angry Dad a.k.a. John McCain, and B-Actor William Shatner who has relied heavily on pregnant pauses to emphasize the pseudo-gravitas of his points from Star Trek to Priceline.

Joining him in support of the new policies was Holland and Knight's Pat Harris--the most effective advocate of the evening in my opinion. Easily having the best stage presence and a nimble mind, Pat argued effectively for the policy but never forgot for a moment her clients. In other words, she defended developers passionately even when they weren't mentioned.

East Bethesda Civic Association Chair Ilaya Hopkins, a former candidate for the Planning Board, sat next to Pat and critiqued the proposals. At times, Ilaya appeared to take the strategic decision not to argue with Royce, possibly because he was doing more damage to his position than she could.

I guess other observers will have to judge whether Ilaya wisely followed the rule of not getting in the way of someone destroying themselves or let Royce dominate the discussion. Royce shamelessly overrode moderator Charles Duffy's efforts to keep him remotely within time. He repeatedly cut off Charles' futile efforts to get him to wind up by saying that this was important and insisting on being allowed to continue.

Former Planning Board Member Meredith Wellington's more direct critiques of the proposals provoked angry Dad to interrupt and to snap at her. They disagreed vehemently on the future implications of the proposed changes to the growth policy and CR zone with Meredith seeing no need to rush to adopt these changes now.

More on the debate in Part II of this series.


Brian Johnson Resigns from Montgomery College

The terms of Johnson's departure are being kept confidential. Following is the press release from the college.

Statement by Montgomery College Board of Trustees Chair Dr. Michael C. Lin to the Montgomery College Community

Memorandum Concerning the Resignation of Dr. Brian K. Johnson
December 22, 2009


To: The Montgomery College Community
From: Dr. Michael C. Lin, Board of Trustees Chair
Subject: Resignation of Dr. Brian K. Johnson

The Board of Trustees would like to announce that, as we begin a new year, Montgomery College will also begin a new chapter in its history. I wish to report that Dr. Brian K. Johnson has resigned his employment as president of the College.

Earlier this semester, your thoughtful input was valuable to the Board of Trustees when we decided a change in presidential leadership was in the best interest of the College and the community we serve. On September 3, 2009, after careful review and thoughtful deliberations, the Board voted not to renew the contract of Dr. Johnson and placed him on administrative leave with pay.

The Board, with the help of College officials, has conducted a review of Dr. Johnson’s expenditures and worked with Dr. Johnson to resolve to the Board’s satisfaction any questions or issues the Board had about the expenditures. The details of the resolution, as well as the terms of Dr. Johnson’s resignation, are confidential and the Board cannot provide any further information.

The Board of Trustees owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to you—the faculty and staff of Montgomery College. During this tumultuous and difficult time you did your jobs with great diligence and dedication, ensuring that the academic excellence of Montgomery College and our students never wavered. On behalf of the entire Board of Trustees, thank you for keeping this institution focused on its mission of changing lives.

The Board of Trustees would also like to acknowledge the efforts of Dr. Hercules Pinkney. When we asked Dr. Pinkney to come out of retirement to take the role of interim president, we charged him with three priorities: to restore stability to the College, renew confidence in College leadership, and prepare the institution for the next president. Dr. Pinkney’s leadership, combined with today’s announcement and plans for the presidential search, gives the entire Board confidence that these goals will be met.

In closing, I want to assure you that the Board of Trustees is committed to working together on behalf of this wonderful College and to serving as engaged stewards of Montgomery College. You have the assurances of the Board that the presidential search process is of the upmost priority for all of us. For we owe all of you not only a debt of gratitude, but also the selection of a new president who is as committed to the College’s mission as you are.


Weast Blasts Elrich

In a wide-ranging interview with the Montgomery County Sentinel, MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast singled out County Council Member Marc Elrich, a former fifth grade public school teacher, for special scorn. And the Weast War continues!

In a November 9 statement on this blog, Elrich noted that the state's Maintenance of Effort law made no exceptions for savings from labor concessions or administrative efficiencies. Weast took exception to that in the Sentinel's interview. Here is the entire text of the relevant question and answer.

The Sentinel:
Some of the county council members disagreed with your actions to ask the state attorney general if the alternative solution to the MOE waiver denial was the right thing to do. What is your response to that?

The problem with that is that they don't have to sign an official document to the state certifying that it is legal.

I think if they did, they would have taken a different approach to it.

I guess it depends on whom is signing the check. I have to legally sign that what they did was accurate and since there was a question, I had to check the legality of it.

As soon as I checked the legality of it - because had I signed it without checking it out, I would have been signing an illegal document.

What I am baffled by is that what one of the Council members, Marc Elrich, posted on the [Maryland Politics Watch] blog that I should have just ignored it and pretended the law didn't exist.

I've never heard of an elected official wanting to ignore the law. I mean, if you want to write some controversy in your paper then there's your controversy right there.

My goodness. Just quote that blog posting. It's one elected official telling another to ignore the law on a form that carries a $46 million penalty. Hello? Houston we have a problem. I've never like confined spaces with bars in front of them.
Weast is understandably frustrated because the school system is facing tens of millions of dollars in penalties due to an accounting maneuver that he did not commit. But in re-reading Elrich's statement, we cannot find evidence that Elrich advised Weast to break the law. Furthermore, when Weast refers to "one elected official telling another to break the law," we should note that Jerry Weast is a contract employee hired by the Board of Education and not an elected office holder.


Taken for a Ride on the ICC

Imagine that you bring an item marked at $100 up to a store counter. The cashier takes your credit card, rings it up and says, “That will be $200.” Surprised, you ask, “What happened to the price?” The cashier replies, “We had a last-minute adjustment and since I am holding your credit card, I know you will pay for it.”

What was that? You say that has never happened to you? But it will, dear reader, as soon as you drive on the ICC.

Recently approved toll rates for the ICC are among the highest in the country, maxing out at 25-35 cents per mile during peak hours. Those rates are higher than stated by the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), which assumed a baseline peak rate of 17 cents per mile and did not study any peak rates above 25 cents. Seven state legislators, most of whom ran on anti-ICC platforms in 2006, picked up on that fact and asked the Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) to extend the comment period, but to no avail.

Why did the peak toll rate double in three years? It’s not because the project cost doubled. When contract costs increased a year ago, the state reacted by indefinitely postponing service road work near I-95. That kept the project on budget. Instead, the state is relying on a consultant’s report stating that the high tolls will result in “near maximum toll revenue potential.” That’s a change in course from the FEIS, which acknowledged the need to raise money but stated that in setting tolls “consideration would also be given to the desire to maximize use of the ICC so as to decrease traffic on alternative routes.”

Perhaps even worse than the tolls themselves is all the political demagoguery surrounding them. It is one thing for anti-ICC politicians like Council Member Phil Andrews to criticize the tolls. Andrews has opposed the ICC for many years on multiple grounds and his slamming of the tolls is perfectly consistent with his past positions. But the entire County Council, which has several ICC supporters, opposes the tolls too. Nancy Floreen, perhaps the county’s biggest ICC backer, calls the tolls “highway robbery.” We are not inclined to give ICC-boosting politicians a pass on the tolls. How can a politician be pro-ICC and anti-toll when it has been known since at least 1997 that the multi-billion dollar project would be financed with tolls? And is it really a surprise that a very expensive road project paid for by tolls would charge very high tolls?

Then there are state legislators like House Majority Leader Kumar Barve (D-17) and former Delegate Cheryl Kagan (D-17), who backed the ICC but now protest the tolls. Both of them were in office in 1997, when Delegates Dana Dembrow (D-20), Henry Heller (D-19), Adrienne Mandel (D-19), Patricia Faulkner (R-14B) and Raymond Beck (R-39) introduced a local bill prohibiting the ICC from becoming a toll road without the permission of the county’s state legislators. That bill would have given the delegation leverage to block onerous tolls. But neither Barve nor Kagan supported it and the bill died. Now both of them are shocked, shocked by the tolls! Other current state legislators who were in office at the time but did not co-sponsor this bill include Senators Brian Frosh (D-16) and Jennie Forehand (D-17) and Delegate Sheila Hixson (D-20).

Finally, all of these politicians are missing a key point. MdTA has sole authority to set toll rates. It does not answer to the General Assembly and does whatever it wants. It unilaterally decided to charge fees for E-ZPasses last winter, claims it is not subject to state laws like the Public Information Act and now ignores its own FEIS by doubling the peak toll rate. While the politicians are quick to condemn the tolls, none of them present a plan to make this agency accountable to the public.

And what are the results of the agency’s unaccountability? MdTA’s rationale for high tolls is that they are needed to avoid diverting lots of toll revenue from the rest of the state and/or Transportation Trust Fund money to pay off the ICC’s bonds. But the ICC tolls that they have approved are so unreasonably high that drivers may avoid the road altogether. Then MdTA would have to jack up tolls from the rest of the state or seek trust fund money to pay the bonds – which is exactly what they say they are trying to avoid. And the General Assembly has little power to review their actions or stop them.

Where is the outrage over that?


Monday, December 21, 2009

Are Down County and East County Getting Fair Snow Plowing Service?

Maybe not. One of our readers took this screen shot of the county's snow-clearing progress site at 3:04 PM today. Chevy Chase, Silver Spring, Takoma Park and East County were still snow-covered at that time while most of the rest of the county was clear.

Update: You gotta love the county's spelling of "Snow Clearning."


Royce Hanson is Stepping Down, Council Seeks Replacement

Following is the press release from the County Council.

The Montgomery County Council is seeking applicants to fill a position on the Montgomery County Planning Board for the expiring term of Royce Hanson (Democrat). His term will expire on June 14, 2010. Dr. Hanson has indicated that he will not apply for reappointment. The Council expects to designate the appointee as chairman. In appointing a chairman for the board, the Council will establish the salary for the chairman within a range of $160,000 to $180,000. Applications must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Monday, March 8.

FOR INFORMATION: Justina Ferber 240-777-7938

Montgomery County Council Seeks Applicants for the Position of Chairman of Montgomery County Planning Board

Deadline for Applications Is 5 p.m., Monday, March 8

ROCKVILLE, Md., December 21, 2009—The Montgomery County Council is seeking applicants to fill a position on the Montgomery County Planning Board for the expiring term of Royce Hanson (Democrat). His term will expire on June 14, 2010. Dr. Hanson has indicated that he will not apply for reappointment.

The Council expects to designate the appointee as chairman. In appointing a chairman for the board, the Council will establish the salary for the chairman within a range of $160,000 to $180,000. Applications must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Monday, March 8.

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 position can be filled by a Democrat, 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.

In addition to Dr. Hanson, current board members are Joseph Alfandre, a Democrat; Amy Presley, a Republican and Marye Wells-Harley, a Democrat. Annual compensation for Board members is currently $30,000 (The deadline for applying for the vacancy created by the passing of board member Jean Cryor, a Republican, is 5 p.m., on Wednesday, Jan. 13.)

The Planning Board serves as the Council’s principal adviser on land use planning and community planning. Planning Board members also serve as Commissioners of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

The Planning Board’s responsibilities with regard to planning include preparation and amendment of County General Plan; preparation and amendment of Master Plans and functional plans; formulation of subdivision regulations; preparation of or recommendations on text amendments to the County Zoning Ordinance; implementation of the subdivision process by reviewing and approving all preliminary plans, site plans and other plans for development; advice on the planning implication of capital facilities and programs of the County government, Montgomery College, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and Montgomery County Public Schools; commenting, under its Mandatory Referral authority, on plans for public facilities of local, state and federal agencies; and approval of the work program and the annual operating budget for the Planning Department and the Commission’s bi-county offices.

The Planning Board sits as the Park Commission and approves the annual Parks Department operating budget and Capital Improvements Program (CIP) budget; land acquisition contracts and major development contracts for parks; development plans for individual park facilities; policies for park operations; and park user fees.

The Montgomery County Planning Board meets all day every Thursday and often meets on one other evening a week. The entire Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission meets the third Wednesday of every month. On average, a Planning Board member can expect to spend at least two full days a week in scheduled and informal meetings. Additionally, substantial time is required for preparatory work and other activities related to Planning Board responsibilities.

Letters expressing interest, including a resume listing professional and civic experience, should be addressed to: Council President Nancy Floreen, County Council Office, Stella B. Werner Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, Maryland 20850. Letters must be received no later than 5 p.m., Monday, March 8. It is the Council’s policy not to consider applications received after the deadline. After the March 8 closing date, Councilmembers will review the letters of application and select applicants for interviews to be held April 8 or soon thereafter.

Letters of application are made public as part of the appointment process. The names of all applicants are published and available for public review and interviews are conducted in public. A resume of professional and civic experience should be included with letters of application. A financial statement of assets, debts, income and family property interests will be required of all applicants. Council staff will contact applicants about the details of the financial statement. Only the candidate appointed will be required to make the financial statement available to the public.

# # #


Montgomery College Breaks State Law, Ignores TWO Public Information Act Requests

Montgomery College has broken Maryland's Public Information Act (PIA), refusing to answer two PIA requests submitted by MPW concerning former President Brian Johnson's expenses.

Last summer, your author sent this PIA request to President Brian Johnson. Under state law, the college had 30 days to respond to this request.

August 26, 2009

Brian K. Johnson, Ed.D.
President, Montgomery College
900 Hungerford Drive, Suite 300
Rockville, MD 20850

Dear President Johnson:

This is a request under the Maryland Public Information Act, State Government Article § § 10-611 to 628. I wish to inspect all records in your custody and control pertaining to the following:

All itemized expenses, charges and reimbursement requests submitted by or on behalf of President Brian K. Johnson, including the disposition of any allowances.

If all or any part of this request is denied, I request that I be provided with a written statement of the grounds for the denial. If you determine that some portions of the requested records are exempt from disclosure, please provide me with the portions that can be disclosed.

I also anticipate that I will want copies of some or all of the records sought. Therefore, please advise me as to the cost, if any, for obtaining a copy of the records and the total cost, if any, for all the records described above. If you have adopted a fee schedule for obtaining copies of records and other rules or regulations implementing the Act, please send me a copy.

I look forward to receiving disclosable records promptly and, in any event, to a decision about all of the requested records within 30 days. Thank you for your cooperation. If you have any questions regarding this request, please telephone me at 301-XXX-XXXX.


Adam Pagnucco
Author, Maryland Politics Watch
President Johnson never responded to our request. Your author sent a follow-up request to the college's new Interim President, Hercules Pinkney.

November 6, 2009

Hercules Pinkney
President, Montgomery College
900 Hungerford Drive, Suite 300
Rockville, MD 20850

Dear President Pinkney:

Enclosed is my request under the Maryland Public Information Act, State Government Article § § 10-611 to 628, dated August 26, 2009. Over two months have passed since I mailed the request, far beyond the 30-day deadline imposed by state law. I am writing to ask you to respond.

I am copying Attorney General Doug Gansler’s office to ensure compliance.


Adam Pagnucco
Author, Maryland Politics Watch
Once again, more than 30 days have passed. The Washington Post apparently submitted a similar request and received at least some records. But the college has never responded to MPW.

Montgomery College has twice violated the Public Information Act. The second violation occurred under the administration of Interim President Hercules Pinkney, who allegedly brought a "calming spirit" to the college after Johnson's departure but provoked a declaration of impasse from adjunct professors before settling their first contract. This institution will receive over $200 million in taxpayer funding in Fiscal Year 2010. It is imperative that the college obey state law in order to receive its taxpayer appropriations. On behalf of our thousands of regular readers, we demand that the college answer our Public Information Act requests.



Sunday, December 20, 2009

Phil Andrews Asks Governor to Lower ICC Tolls

Council Member Phil Andrews has written Governor Martin O'Malley to ask him to lower the tolls planned for the ICC. Andrews has been an ICC opponent throughout his political career and protested ICC tolls back in 2005, when they were to be set at 17 cents per mile at peak hours. Now they are planned for 25-35 cents. The Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) does not report directly to the Governor, but he does appoint its nine-member board, which his chaired by the Secretary of Transportation, to three year staggered terms. Following is the Council Member's letter.

December 18, 2009

Honorable Martin O’Malley
Governor, State of Maryland
Annapolis MD 21401

Dear Governor O’Malley,

Yesterday, the Maryland Transportation Authority, whose members you appointed, approved unaffordably high tolls for the Inter-County Connector (ICC). These tolls will cost $3,000 per year for ICC commuters who travel daily end-to-end during peak hours. For many workers who earn $50,000 per year, that will be six percent of their pre-tax salary. Even if the economy were healthy, six percent of someone’s salary is too much to ask.

I am writing to request that you use the full power of your office to reverse this decision. If unchanged, the high tolls will prohibit drivers from using the road, thereby ensuring that the $3 billion ICC fails to take significant traffic off local roads.

During the 2002 election, the ICC was sold to the public as the best way to provide widespread traffic relief. No one mentioned high tolls that make the road unaffordable to many people with limited incomes. I don’t recall you mentioning them in your 2006 gubernatorial campaign. Asking the public to finance a road that many can’t afford to use amounts to a “bait and switch.”

You alone among state officials had the power to stop the ICC, and you have been noticeably silent on the now-approved ICC tolls. Whether the ICC becomes an historic boondoggle because of chronic under use is up to you. Whether the ICC becomes the embodiment of regressive public policy is up to you. The ICC will be your legacy.

Please apprise me of your views on the approved ICC tolls and what you intend to do if you disagree with the high tolls approved by the Maryland Transportation Authority.


Phil Andrews
Montgomery County Council


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Leventhal, Elrich Gloat as Constituents Get Snowed In

Breaking your back as you shovel your driveway? Have you taken a tumble down icy stairs? Well, two local politicians have absolutely no sympathy for you and they have proclaimed such on Facebook!

Here's Council Member George Leventhal bragging about his trip to Brazil, where it is 97 degrees.

And here's Council Member Marc Elrich hoping that his flight back from London is canceled because of the snow.

Why are these two merry gentlemen so merry? Why, of course, they are in the midst of one of the two month-long vacations the County Council Members get every year. (Even that much time is not enough for some of them.)

These two had better watch out as their snow-shoveling constituents may have little care for gloating politicians. They should take heed or they may be sent to Brazil for good!


Friday, December 18, 2009

Can Ehrlich Defeat O’Malley? Part Five

How would a 2010 matchup between former Governor Bob Ehrlich and current Governor Martin O’Malley play out? Our prediction is that it will look like the 2002 and 2006 races with small changes determining the outcome.

The Democratic recipe for winning a statewide race is to maximize Democratic turnout, especially in their Big Three strongholds (Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties), while keeping net losses in the rest of the state to a minimum. The Republican recipe for success is to maximize GOP turnout, get a decisive edge among independents and flip enough moderate and conservative Democrats to overwhelm their opponents’ Big Three. Here’s how those strategies played out for Bob Ehrlich in 2002 and 2006.

Ehrlich won the 2002 election by 66,170 votes and lost the 2006 election by 116,815 votes, a swing of 182,985. What accounts for that swing? The Democrats piled up margins of 253,862 votes for Townsend and 279,769 votes O’Malley over Ehrlich in their Big Three, a net change of just 25,907 votes. So the Big Three did not change the outcome. The deciding jurisdictions were Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford Counties. Ehrlich won them by 160,247 votes over Townsend, but won them by just 61,783 votes over O’Malley. That net change of 98,464 votes was by itself enough to hand the election to O’Malley. The rest of the state contributed a net swing of 23,128 votes to the Democrats, a smaller contribution than the Big Three.

We believe that Ehrlich’s performance in Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford Counties will be somewhere between his 2002 and 2006 margins, probably closer to 2002 because of the poor state of the economy. That argues for a close election except for one thing: the increased Democratic registration advantage. Since the 2002 general election, the Democrats have added 126,739 registrants in Prince George’s County, 70,186 registrants in Montgomery County and 47,780 registrants in Baltimore City. The GOP has added just 73,479 registrants statewide. If just 40% of these new Big Three Democrats turn out to vote for O’Malley, that gives the Democrats an extra 100,000 votes – a bulwark against any modest improvement over 2006 by Ehrlich in the Baltimore suburbs.

Bob Ehrlich needs a historic turnout edge by the GOP, significant anti-O’Malley turnout by independents, an awful governing and campaign performance by the incumbent, a disappearance by newly registered Obama Democrats and lots of money to win. Of those factors, only the money is likely to happen. That means Martin O’Malley, even with all of his problems, is the favorite to defeat Ehrlich for a second time. Let’s be conservative and call it a mid-to-low single digits victory.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

What I Watched for in 2009, Part Two

By Marc Korman.

In Part One, I took a look at the first three questions of “What to Watch for in 2009.” In Part Two, I will discuss questions 4 and 5.

4. How Testy Are Those Board of Public Works Meetings?

The issue was really about whether Comptroller Peter Franchot would be challenging Governor O’Malley and/or whether Jim Smith, County Executive of Baltimore County, would be challenging Franchot. We now know that Franchot is running for reelection and Smith is a likely candidate for the State Senate seat currently held by Congressional candidate Andy Harris.

My own theory is that part of the reason Governor O’Malley put his differences with the Comptroller aside is because he has needed the Board of Public Works to make approximately $1.1 billion in cuts in three rounds during the fiscal year and will likely need more cuts going forward. Some of these cuts have been controversial and have even raised legal questions as to whether BPW can cut 25% of specific programs or 25% of an entire agency. I think Governor O’Malley wisely realized it was important for him to have a stable relationship with the other BPW members during these turbulent budgetary times, which is why he kept his ally Jim Smith out of the race. As for Franchot, he likely realized that a challenge against a sitting member of his own party was an uphill battle.

5. Is There Any Progress on Transportation?

The results are mixed. The County Council unanimously approved the Purple Line mode and alignment. In a series of votes, the Council unanimously approved two new reversible lanes for I-270, approved light rail for the Corridor Cities Transitway by 6-3, and selected an alignment by a vote of 8-1. An ambitious proposal by Councilman Marc Elrich to create a countywide Bus Rapid Transit system also moved forward with approval of a $500,000 feasibility study.

Unfortunately, the state has had to cut transportation funding to help deal with the budget deficit. The state has also submitted both the Purple Line and Baltimore’s Red Line to the Federal Transit Administration, with the Corridor Cities Transitway a possible third project. Winning federal support for two projects, let alone, three, is an uphill battle.

But the news is better from Washington. At the federal level, $525 million has been obligated for transportation projects from the federal stimulus. A recent appropriations bill passed by Congress included $4.4 million for BRAC intersection improvements in Bethesda. The same bill included $150 million for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, with the funding prioritized for safety projects.

What Did I Miss?

Not surprisingly, my five questions failed to take into account a lot of what has transpired in 2009 politically. I never would have predicted a serious challenge to Congresswoman Donna Edwards developing. Prior to Nancy Navarro’s election, I do not think anyone predicted Nancy Floreen’s elevation to Council President. I was slow to recognize the many State Senate challenges forming in Districts 17, 19, and 39. The District 14 challenge, which I also did not expect, fizzled out early. On policy matters, it was no surprise that the budget has been the dominant issue and likely will be again in 2010.

As always, thanks for reading my posts and those of the other MPW contributors all year.


Can Ehrlich Defeat O’Malley? Part Four

Bob Ehrlich became Governor in 2002 partly because of good Republican turnout, support from independent voters and a monetary advantage. But there were other reasons for his win.

Unpopular Incumbent

Parris Glendening, who was about to leave office due to term limits, was lucky to not be on the ballot in 2002 because Ehrlich would have creamed him. Glendening barely defeated Ellen Sauerbrey – a far more conservative Republican than Ehrlich – in a hotly contested election in 1994, had a mostly sour relationship with the press, engaged in a bitter feud with then-Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and dumped his wife to marry a much younger (and pregnant) staffer in his last year in office. A Potomac Inc. tracking poll chronicles Glendening’s free-falling approval rating during his second term, which ultimately bottomed out at 37% approve/48% disapprove in October 2002.

In that same poll, 51% of the respondents agreed with this statement: “Kathleen Kennedy Townsend would just continue the policies of the Glendening administration. It’s time for a change.” Thirty-eight percent disagreed. Glendening was clearly a drag on his Lieutenant Governor’s candidacy against Ehrlich.

Could it happen today?
Governor O’Malley is not as unpopular as Glendening. Here is the history of his approval rating in office from Gonzales.

Interestingly, O’Malley’s low point in March 2008 (37% approve/48% disapprove), which came after the tax-hiking special session, was identical to Glendening’s ratings in October 2002. But O’Malley has recovered since then even though the economy has headed south. Could O’Malley’s approval ratings fall again? Sure, but he is lacking one key component of Glendening’s unpopularity: personal failings. O’Malley has no problems resembling Glendening’s marital drama, his war with Schaefer or his iciness with the press. That will offer him some protection from the negative effects of a bad economy.

Weak Democratic Candidate

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was the weakest Democratic candidate for Governor since George P. Mahoney, a segregationist who lost to Spiro Agnew in 1966. She was born in Connecticut and grew up in Virginia. She moved to Annapolis in 1984 and lost a Congressional race to Helen Delich Bentley two years later by a whopping 18 points. Glendening picked her as his running mate in 1994 to help him raise money against Lieutenant Governor, and former Senate President, Melvin Steinberg in the primary.

Townsend had no base in the state and no successful solo campaign experience when she ran for Governor in 2002. Townsend’s worst mistake was picking Charles Larson, a retired white Admiral who had very recently been a Republican, as her running mate. That decision alienated African Americans and liberals and converted no Republicans or conservative Democrats. A Gonzales poll in October 2002 found that Ehrlich was supported by 25% of Democrats(!), a key factor in Townsend’s four-point defeat caused by her weakness and ineptitude. Glendening piled on after the election, calling Townsend’s effort “one of the worst-run campaigns in the country.”

Could it happen today?
Absolutely not. Even O’Malley’s enemies must concede that he is an able competitor who bears no resemblance to the hapless Townsend. Love him or hate him, he has an interesting duality that serves him well in politics. O’Malley presents a pleasant, charismatic and vigorous face to the public that conceals a shrewd ruthlessness focused on taking down opponents. That formula helped him prosper in the seething hothouse of Maryland politics: the City of Baltimore. O’Malley has won two City Council elections, two mayoral elections, one gubernatorial victory (over Ehrlich) and even served as Barbara Mikulski’s field director in her first U.S. Senate win in 1986.

Additionally, O’Malley is sure to do one thing with gusto that Townsend did ineffectively: go negative. Congressman Ehrlich ran as a fiscal conservative and a social moderate in 2002. The main part of his record that the Democrats attacked at that time was his pro-gun positions, which they unsuccessfully attempted to link to the D.C. sniper shootings. O’Malley has a gigantic treasure trove of opposition research on Ehrlich’s term as Governor bequeathed to him by menacing former Democratic Press Secretary David Paulson. And that stash has only swelled with the addition of last year’s State Police spying scandal, a debacle for which Ehrlich has been unapologetic. Ehrlich is, in turn, bound to go negative against O’Malley, guaranteeing that a rematch will be one of the muddiest races in Maryland’s history.

How would it play out? We’ll predict the outcome in Part Five.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why We Need Health Care Reform

A neighbor of mine dealing with serious health issues encapsulated the answer in one short paragraph on his Facebook page:

The pharmacist handed me a small box of pills and said, "That'll be $6,000 for the rest of this month's co-pay." The Oxaliplatin, Tarceva and Xeloda this replaces had been costing $20,000 per month. My out-of-pocket was actually just $10 since I am fortunate enough to have a top health plan, but can you imagine how inancially devastating a serious disease is to those with a merely better-than-average health plan?