Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ride-On Woes

By Sharon Dooley.

The proposed county budget is suggesting cuts for many current Ride-on routes and outright elimination for others. Current bus riders fear loss of connectivity and bus drivers, who are county employees, face loss of jobs.

At the outset, it must be acknowledged that the county faces significant budget issues and cuts are to be expected across the county in services. This area, however, is one where the impact would be widespread and reconsideration is necessary. The move, suggested to save slightly over a million dollars is not – in the long run – a wise decision. Across the county, neighborhood activists, government workers, societies for disabled children and adults and school communities are speaking out and urging opposition to these changes. From down county to mid county, from Olney to Germantown, buses are being layered in flyers, alerts and petitions. Community groups are meeting, emails are being shared and plans are in place to have a good turnout at the Department of Transportation hearing on Monday February1st. The hearing is open to the public and currently has over 60 speakers scheduled to testify. Available to the Shady Grove Metro Red Line travelers most easily, the hearing is being held in the cafeteria of the Executive Office building at 101 Monroe Street in Rockville at 6:30.

Currently 23 routes (mostly part-time Rush hour only or weekend routes) are scheduled for complete elimination and 6 other routes are scheduled for cut-backs. It is most counter productive in a difficult economy to make commuter travel less accessible to transit and more expensive. It is further short-sighted to directly impact those who cannot or do not travel by cars but still want to be productive members of this community. Finally, if we are to ever be a green community, we must encourage less vehicular traffic.

In a community meeting, shop steward Nelvin Ransome of UFCW Local 1994 said that 20 bus driver positions are currently unfilled and 33 more are slated for elimination if these cuts go through. He said his union is working on creative solutions to maybe create a senior driver force where part-time routes could be served by retirees working limited hours and not requiring benefits. He indicated that his members were thankful for the community support that they have received across the county. Last year many of these same routes were slated for elimination but were saved when the county residents spoke up; this year many are confused since few issues have changed.

In the community of Olney, many areas are far from the town center where Metro buses run. The community is more than 10 miles from both Glenmont and Shady Grove Metro stations and almost as far from the Rockville Metro – the terminal ends of the two Rush Hour only Ride-Ons that serve the community (Routes #52 & #53). These 2 buses travel many miles as they go in and around neighborhood streets then run a circular route between the town and the Metros. Recently riders have kept tallies of the numbers of riders indicating many days when there were standees due to lack of capacity. Others have noted the many times fare boxes were broken or absent entirely. Many complain that the ridership is undercounted. Some indicate that because the community is further out – Olney is only 5 miles from the Howard County line - that numbers are irrelevant. The Ride-on had always been a promised link to the rest of the county and that link should not be severed.

If the county is truly committed to Smart Growth principles, then cutting off rush hour Ride- ons is absolutely the wrong decision. To reinforce this, the mid-county advisory board, (MCAB), Action for Transit (ACT) and the Greater Olney Civic Association (GOCA), among many other groups, have all spoken in opposition to these suggested cuts. In Olney it was thought that another 300 cars would enter the rush hour commutes should rush hour not have options.

Many in the Upcounty live in widely spaced communities. There are fewer apartments where many riders could be served by a single stop; their buses have to travel greater distances with lesser ridership. They also have less access to Metro bus lines; this is seen especially when students stay late at High Schools past activity bus schedules and their schools are off the beaten track. Communities far from the Metro stations such as those in Olney, Damascus, Clarksburg, Poolesville and Germantown also pay taxes and should not be distanced from a transit connectivity just because they are “far out” in a geographic sense. Policies that say we need to car-pool and do not provide commuter lots or Express buses do not jive. Policies that do not serve all of the residents of the county are not reasonable. The Upcounty should not be isolated or dismissed; it should not be forced further into gridlock situations.

Until down county urban areas can benefit from the promised Purple Line, they needs Ride-on buses.

Until areas in the Upcounty can reap the benefits of proposals such as the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) – long on the books - or the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) suggested by Council Member Marc Elrich, they need Ride-on buses. The county must keep its inferred promises to each of the communities in the area, that the old and infirm will not be isolated in their homes, that those without cars will not only be given the options of walking or taxis, that our school children with working parents can get safely back home, that public employees who do a good job will keep that job.

See you at the hearing!

Sharon Dooley is President of GOCA the community civic group which serves the more than 40,000 residents of the greater Olney area – and a frequent MPW contributor.


Reznik Report 2010 Session Week 3


Hunk Dunks Tweets

District 19 Delegate candidate Sam "Hunk of the Hill" Arora loves attention, but he does not love scrutiny of his tweets because he has locked them from public view. Now why wouldn't a politician want to spread his tweets far and wide? We know he is tweeting about this blog since his Twitter site linked to our "King of the Hill" post which raved about his six-digit financing. Why is the Hunk dunking his tweets, Sam?


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Delegate Heather Mizeur Introduces the Maryland Open Government Act


Maryland Arts Day 2010

Following is an announcement for Maryland Arts Day, which is scheduled for February 9, 2010 in Annapolis.

Maryland Arts Day 2010
Many Voices, One Song

On February 9, 2010, Maryland’s statewide arts advocacy organizations, MCA (Maryland Citizens for the Arts) and MCA Foundation, will host the 12th Maryland Arts Day in Annapolis. Nearly 500 arts advocates and leaders from across the state will converge on the state capital to meet with legislators and to celebrate the continuing importance of public support for the arts and its positive effects on the economy of Maryland. Detailed information on the event can be found at

In the morning, attendees will hear from Maryland state political leaders, including Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, and the keynote speaker, Liz Lerman, legendary choreographer and Founder/Artistic Director of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, who speech is entitled “Art Matters: A New Place to Stand.”

Liz Lerman founded the Dance Exchange in 1976 and has since cultivated the company’s unique multi-generational ensemble, with dancers’ ages spanning six decades, into a leading force in contemporary dance. Liz Lerman’s dance theater involves intensive collaboration with other dancers and communities, and her working process emphasizes research and translation between media. In 2002 her work was recognized with a MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship, and she has received numerous other prestigious awards. A writer and frequent guest speaker, Mr. Lerman will be addressing the audience as inspiration for the day’s advocacy activities on the topic of ‘Art Matters: A New Place to Stand.’

Following those remarks, MCA Board Members will address the crowd, providing advocacy training and strategies. Then, each county delegation, led by the local county arts council’s director, will meet with their state representatives. Elected leadership will hear from their constituents about the economic, cultural, educational, and social value of the arts, and these Arts Advocates will ask for their support in funding the Maryland State Arts Council budget allocation.

The afternoon features a newly expanded educational program. Roundtable facilitated conversations during lunch will cover a variety of disciplines from theater to the folk and traditional arts as well as addressing challenges in the arts field such as reaching non-traditional audiences and the need to improve the future of the arts in schools. After an instructive performance by Maryland storytelling group Stoop Stories, combining entertainment with tips on the benefits of being able to convey your own story, the attendees will have the option of several workshops. A session on Cool Collaborations and Mind Melds will be led by Carol Trawick of the Trawick Foundation and Shuan Butcher of the Frederick Arts Council; from Pittsburgh, Kate Sphar from the non-profit consultants of Dewey & Kaye will be leading a session on Surviving Financially in Today’s Economy; and Rebecca Goering, Manager of Digital Media and Social Networking at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts will be presenting Free Marketing: Leveraging Technology.

For the second year, the “Sue Hess Maryland Arts Advocate of the Year Award” will be presented at Maryland Arts Day. Sue Hess has been a leader and staunch defender of the arts in Maryland for over thirty years, becoming Chair of MCA soon after its founding in 1977. Sue is the longest serving member on the Board of Trustees, and over the years, she has been instrumental in driving the tremendous change and growth in MCA/MCAF. On behalf of MCA, Sue will be presenting the award to an individual whose advocacy efforts have significantly increased support for and public recognition of the arts in Maryland. The award recipient for 2010 is Nancy Haragan, founding director of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance and a longtime advocate for the Arts in Maryland.

Nancy Haragan has acted as Executive Director for the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance (GBCA) for the organization’s first decade, after founding the organization in 2001. GBCA is a member-based organization that creates a cohesive cultural community for the Greater Baltimore region, bringing together 81 arts organizations, the City’s arts and culture coalitions, and individual artists. GBCA serves as a unifying voice and bridge-builder, acts as a convener, and provides information and services. One of their most significant initiatives is the Maryland Cultural Data Project which standardized a statewide Web-based data collection system for arts and cultural organizations. It provides information to grant-makers; facilitates benchmarking by arts managers of key performance indicators; creates reliable, objective and comprehensive data about arts and culture in the region and the state; and reduces the burden of application preparation for potential grantees.

Maryland Arts Day is hosted by MCA and MCA Foundation. The principal mission of MCA is to promote adequate funding for the Maryland State Arts Council, and to advocate for the arts at state and federal levels. Since 1977, MCA has pushed for the support of the arts, highlighting its importance to the growing number of artistic communities, schools and cultural organizations from all corners of the state of Maryland.

MCA Foundation is supported by a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency dedicated to cultivating a vibrant cultural community where the arts thrive. An agency of the Department of Business & Economic Development, the MSAC provides financial support and technical assistance to non-profit organizations, units of government, colleges and universities for arts activities.

Maryland Arts Day is also supported by a grant from the Dorothy Wagner Wallis Trust, and a Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts’ NEA/Baltimore City Job Retention Grant, a Recovery Act grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and Baltimore City supporting the Conference Planner position that organizes the educational portion of the program.

What: Maryland Arts Day
Where: Annapolis- Miller Senate Building, President’s Conference Center East
When: Tuesday, February 9, 2010, 8:30am-3:30pm
Contact: Maryland Citizens for the Arts, 410.467.6700


8:50-10:00am: Elected officials address conference at President’s Conference Center East

10:00am-10:30am: Liz Lerman delivers keynote speech.

12:00-1:00pm: County arts advocates meet with legislators in Lowe House Office Building- county delegation rooms

1:45-2:00pm: Presentation of the Sue Hess Maryland Arts Advocate of the Year Award



Friday, January 29, 2010

Senator Rob Garagiola (D-15) Outlines Senate Democratic Legislative Priorities


Top Blog Posts, 5/30/09-1/2/10

Following are our most-viewed blog posts from May 30, 2009 through January 2, 2010, the entire period covered by our premium Statcounter subscription. Those seven months were the busiest in MPW's history and account for 40% of all page views on this blog.

1. Pols Party While Budget Burns
2. Montgomery College President Wanted for Arrest in Arizona
3. Delegate Sheila Hixson's Son Passes Away
4. How to Save Money on Your Electric Bill Right Now
5. A Voice from the Other Half: Montgomery College Part-Time Faculty Member Speaks
6. More Warnings of State Budget Apocalypse
7. MPW Senate Challenger Poll
8. Zina Pierre and the District 30 Dilemma
9. Hunk of the Hill Runs for Delegate
10. People with Developmental Disabilities at Risk of Losing Services
11. Is WMATA Management Starting to Crack?
12. MoCo Primaries to Watch, Part Three
13. The MACO Moment
14. Eli El's Domestic Abuse Record
15. Johnson Arrest Warrant Case Gets Stranger
16. Young Guns of MoCo, Part Two
17. Gazette Makes More Cuts
18. Tighten Your Belts!
19. Funniest Facebook Status of the Day
20. MACO Mushroom Cloud

The most-viewed posts are not necessarily the most consequential. As a set, they tend towards the tabloidesque (MACO), tales of the legally challenged (Brian Johnson, Zina Pierre and Eli El) and those promoted by politicians on Facebook (especially Saqib Ali, Cheryl Kagan and Sam Arora). If we were running this blog solely for the purpose of site traffic, it would resemble the National Enquirer. But while we enjoy gossip as much as anybody, we will continue to research difficult series like Economic Engine of Maryland, Free State GOP Fades to Black and Who are the Real MoCo Progressives in between the occasional Hump-or-Dumps.

MPW now has almost 2,800 posts going back through the summer of 2006. Those posts form an archive that can be accessed by voters through Google and other search engines, and many of them are certain to resurface as campaign material for the next election. One example of this is Tighten Your Belts, which details Council Member Duchy Trachtenberg's call for fiscal austerity after her return from a three-week taxpayer-financed trip during which she missed a substantial amount of council business. That post has been promoted on the home page of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 for months and has received more traffic from visitors to their site than it did when it originally went up. Savvy strategists will be sure to repeat their example with other posts.

We will update the above data every two or three months as the elections approach.


Saqib Strikes Back!

Delegate Saqib Ali (D-39) has mounted a blistering counter-attack to Senator Nancy King's recent comments about him in the Gazette. We reprint his statement, "Fighting the Smears," from his blog.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fighting the Smears

Recently the Montgomery County Gazette Newspaper printed an article in which my State Senator, Nancy King made some unfounded personal attacks against me. You can read that article by clicking here. Below is my response. I expect the Gazette to print an abridged version of this response in their February 5th edition.

I was dismayed to read your recent article about me in which unnamed sources and rival politicians questioned the ethics of my campaign activities. This article was nothing more than baseless charges, political innuendo and anonymous smears. I owe it to your readers to set the record straight.

During my recent listening tour I was consumed with listening to the people of District 39 to gauge what issues they cared about at the onset of this year's legislative session. The state budget is in crisis and the budgets of our households are similarly strained. Every evening I heard from individuals who are struggling to make ends meet. Many had lost their jobs or been furloughed. These were real problems that we in the legislature have a responsibility to address -- not contrived political issues. I held my listening tour to give voice to these every-day struggles. Our idea to hold the raffles mentioned in Allan Brody's article was an afterthought that the Legislative Ethics Council Bill Sommerville had cleared. On December 22, he wrote: "It is my opinion that this presents no problems as a matter of legislative ethics". Still, we ended up eliminating them for unrelated logistical reasons. Unfortunately recent political chatter about this non-issue has distracted attention from the pressing concerns of my community.

The article also carried water for critics who claimed outrage that I recommended a low interest credit card from a non-profit Federal Credit Union on a local blog. Of course there was no personal gain in it for me. I was merely helping constituents escape usurious credit card APRs of 30%. It is remarkable that in these trying economic times some would see fit to criticize my efforts to save money for constituents. I've always considered saving my constituents money to be part of my job.

Formal ethics complaints are always handled by the state Legislative Ethics Commission. This commission has never issued any finding regarding me. However, when smear-peddlers know they have no leg to stand on, they are forced instead to rely on media to get their message out. The truth is that the "ethical questions" the Gazette reported are actually nothing more than a unfounded political accusations that are ridiculous on their face. It is unfortunate that the Gazette has given these accusations any credence at all.

Let me be clear: I have done nothing illegal, unethical or even slightly untoward. These accusations by political opponents are utterly without merit.

I am working very hard to do the business of the people of Maryland. I've introduced bills in the State Legislature to increase legislative transparency, fight against abusive credit card companies and increase road safety. I also continue to seek constructive input and advice from my constituents. For this State Senator Nancy King has launched over-the-top personal attacks on me calling me "crazed" & "desparate". It is unhelpful and unbecoming.

I respect Nancy's service to our community. But she would do well to remember that the seats we occupy in the State Legislature do not belong to me or to her. They belong to the voters. So instead of lobbing nasty personal barbs, lets all roll up our sleeves to solve the problems that Marylanders have sent us to Annapolis to work on.
posted by Saqib Ali at 3:04 PM


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Knapp Proposes Budget Summit

County Council Member Mike Knapp has proposed a "budget summit" for this year's grisly $608 million cut-and-slash fest. Normally, the budget proceeds through a slow and sequential process. The Superintendent of Schools develops his proposal for the Board of Education, which votes on it and forwards it to the council, and the Executive Branch department heads work with the county's Chief Administrative Officer to develop the County Executive's proposal, which also goes to the council. The council then holds hearings, moans in the newspapers, bickers in their offices and plays chicken until the last day or two, whereupon releasing the documents of woe to the cringing outside world. Knapp would instead like to gather the entire council, the school board, the Executive and his department heads, and even the public employee union leaders in one room to work it out all at once. No one would be allowed to leave until a deal is done. Knapp promoted the idea in a Gazette op-ed and issued a press release outlining it that we reprint below.

County Councilmember Mike Knapp Proposes ‘Budget Summit’ to Resolve Montgomery’s Fiscal Year 2011 Shortfall

Key Decision-Makers Should Be Assembled for ‘As Long As It Takes to Complete a County Budget We Can All Agree On’

ROCKVILLE, Md., January 28, 2010—Montgomery County Councilmember Mike Knapp, chair of the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee, has asked his fellow Councilmembers and County Executive Isiah Leggett to consider holding a “budget summit” to help solve the County’s budget shortfall for Fiscal Year 2011, beginning on July 1.

Councilmember Knapp said the key budget decision-makers in the County should gather and not leave for “as long as it takes to complete a County budget we can all agree on.”

The Office of Management and Budget is projecting that the County must close a budget shortfall of approximately $608 million to achieve a balanced budget, required by law. However, Councilmember Knapp said that constantly changing factors have made it difficult, under the current system, to determine how much money will even be available for County government to spend on programs and services.

“As we each begin our work on the FY 2011 budget—struggling with the most significant fiscal challenges that any County Executive or County Council has faced—I think it is important to recognize the limitations of the current budget process,” Councilmember Knapp wrote in a memo to the County’s other elected officials. “Reports from every industry and level of government indicate that the status quo will no longer work and that we must take new approaches to be successful in the future. We have to recognize that while a budget could probably be cobbled together doing the same old thing (which has almost always resulted in more spending than the previous year), it won’t address the broader structural changes that we must address on behalf of our residents.

“I’m proposing instead that we work on the operating budget together, from the beginning, in the same room, working from mutually agreed upon numbers, and then crafting budget alternatives together. In short, I’m proposing a budget summit . . . that lasts as long as it takes to complete a County budget we can all agree on.”

Councilmember Knapp said a successful budget summit would involve all facets of County government; the County Executive, the County Council, the Board of Education, heads of agencies, directors of departments, union representatives and employees.

“Typically, each government element legitimately advocates for the best deal that it can receive and spends most of its time in the budget discourse defending what it has proposed,” wrote Councilmember Knapp. “This year’s crisis demands that everyone first understands the scope of the problem. Reality dictates that there is no ‘best deal’ for anyone out there. All of the choices before us are serious, and we need to select the ‘least bad’ options.”

Saying that, “It is important that no one feel out of place,” Councilmember Knapp proposed that the summit take place at a site away from the County’s offices, perhaps at the Universities at Shady Grove.

The summit would have two major purposes, said Councilmember Knapp. It would “determine and agree upon the specific assumptions that are the basis for the budget, including the amount of revenue and other resources available to fund the operating budget.” He went on to say, “Once we’ve agreed on the magnitude of the problem and those areas that are still not yet known (state aid, for example), we’d work together to craft scenarios that can meet these numbers.”

Councilmember Knapp, who worked in the private biotech industry prior to his election to office, said the collaborative effort could produce solutions that cannot be achieved through traditional budget-process channels. “Our final budget will not be something that is ‘done to’ government departments and agencies, but instead would be ‘done with’ them, with their input. If we all own the process, then we can all own the outcome.”

Councilmember Knapp suggested a scenario that would start with all attendees discussing the overall budget revenue expectations so the group can determine how much of a shortfall must be addressed.

“Once we know the nature of the math problem we’re facing, we can break into smaller groups to work on specific solutions,” he said. “Each group could, for example, develop its own proposal—and each of these proposals would be submitted anonymously back to the full group for consideration.”

Councilmember Knapp said the mechanics of a summit are open to discussion, but he is confident a new approach would produce results.

“I am convinced that a fundamental change in the way we craft our County budget is needed to overcome our current budget crisis,” he said.

# # # #


MoCo PTAs Support MOE Fine Waiver

The Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations (MCCPTA) has written the Montgomery County Delegation Chairs, Delegate Brian Feldman (D-15) and Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18), in support of a local bill that would waive Montgomery County's $46 million Maintenance of Effort (MOE) fine for this year's budget. But MCCPTA was careful to distinguish the narrow issue of the fine from discussion of a broader restructuring of the MOE law, which is currently the subject of a different bill. The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), also known as the "800-pound Gorilla of MoCo Politics," also supports waiving the fine but not altering the underlying MOE law. We reprint MCCPTA's letter below.

Senator Richard S. Madaleno
James Senate Office Building, Room 203
11 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401

Delegate Brian J Feldman
House Office Building, Room 223
6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401

Dear Senator Madaleno and Delegate Feldman,

I am writing on behalf of the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations (MCCPTA) to urge you to support MC 14-10, Montgomery County Maintenance of Effort Waiver. MCCPTA, with a membership of over 50,000 parents, teachers and students associated with Montgomery County Public Schools, adopted the attached resolution expressing support for this bill in our Delegates Assembly on January 26, 2010.

As an advocate for education in Montgomery County, MCCPTA firmly supports the principle of Maintenance of Effort (MOE) funding for Montgomery Public Schools and all public school systems in the State of Maryland. And we have been fortunate to have a County government that routinely supports our schools beyond the MOE level. However, the unique circumstance surrounding funding for MCPS for fiscal year 2010 has posed a special budgetary problem for Montgomery County. A mistake in the calculation of Maryland state aid for MCPS for fiscal year 2009 resulted in Montgomery County government having to provide a higher than usual portion of funding for MCPS in fiscal year 2009. When this mistake was discovered by the State of Maryland in planning for the fiscal year 2010 budget, the missing funds from fiscal year 2009 became available to fund the fiscal year 2010 MCPS operating budget. In addition, unanticipated federal funding became available, while local revenues fell off sharply. Montgomery County requested a waiver of the MOE requirements of fiscal year 2010, and the MCPS fiscal year 2010 operating budget reflects reliance on the reasonableness of this request. We are now half-way through fiscal year 2010. While MCPS has taken extraordinary measures to economize in light of even-worse-than anticipated revenue collections this year, the $46 million fine for the failure to meet the fiscal year 2010 MOE requirements would result in unacceptable gaps in the education funding for Montgomery County students.

I would like to emphasize that our support for this bill is based on the unusual school budget situation facing MCPS for fiscal year 2010. Our organization supports a one-year-only waiver of the MOE fine. MCCPTA appreciates your efforts on behalf of our children, and look forward to working with you in the future to ensure adequate funding of public education in Montgomery County.

Kay Romero, President
Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations

Cc: Ms. Patricia O’Neill, President, Montgomery County Board of Education
Ms. Nancy Floreen, President, Montgomery County Council

Enclosure: Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations Resolution Adopted at the January 26, 2010 Delegates Assembly

Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations Resolution Adopted at the January 26, 2010 Delegates Assembly

MC 14-10, Montgomery County Maintenance of Effort for FY2010 Only

Whereas, Montgomery County is seeking a waiver of Maintenance of Effort provisions for FY2010; and

Whereas, the Maryland General Assembly is considering legislation to authorize the MOE waiver for FY2010; and

Whereas, the need for a waiver was derived from a funding shortage from FY2009 and paid in FY2010; therefore, be it

Resolved that MCCPTA supports MC 14-10, Montgomery County Maintenance of Effort for FY2010 only; and be it further

Resolved that this support is based on the unique circumstances for FY 2010’s funding arrangement, caused by the previous year’s erroneous shortfall in state funding; and be it further

Resolved that MCCPTA supports a stringent MOE policy for school funding based on FY2009 funding levels.


Kagan Releases Website Statistics for 2009

District 17 Senate candidate Cheryl Kagan has released her website statistics for 2009. They show growing interest in her campaign.

The chart above shows Kagan's unique visitors by month starting in April, when her site was relaunched. A unique visitor is one IP address coming into the site with no re-entry for up to 30 minutes. So if a visitor comes in twice during a half-hour, that counts as one visit. But if a visitor comes in once at noon and again at 12:31, that counts as two visits. This is a fairly standard convention for site visit statistics.

Kagan cleared 2,000 unique visitors in three of the last four months in 2009. Her peak month was December, in which she recorded 2,289 unique visitors. That's noteworthy because December is normally a weak month for political websites. Her monthly counts are now in the same ballpark as some of the state's small- or mid-sized political blogs, such as Monoblogue, Maryland on My Mind or PG Politics. If Kagan's site was a political blog, it could very well crack the state's top ten list. Kagan's total unique visit count for 2009 was 13,949.

This is impressive performance considering that the Democratic primary is nine months out, and it's no accident. Kagan drives traffic to her website through constant door-knocking, early literature and repeated promotion from her Facebook page. Once on the site, visitors stay for a mean time of nearly five minutes and look at an average of 1.8 pages. Kagan updates her blog regularly, ensuring new material is usually available for repeat visitors.

Incumbent Senator Jennie Forehand has a campaign website too. We hope that she will also release her visit statistics for the benefit of MPW readers.


The Simmons-Kramer Hump-or-Dump Bill

Delegates Luiz Simmons (D-17) and Ben Kramer (D-19) have filed a bill allowing a divorce to be granted if the parties are not having sex. No, we are not making this up!

Current Maryland family law allows a divorce if the parties “are living separate and apart without cohabitation.” Simmons and Kramer would delete that language and replace it with “are not engaging in sexual relations.” In other words, get it on or get out!

This bill raises all kinds of questions, folks. With due respect to our former President, what does “sexual relations” include? Are we talking about first base? How about second or third base? Or is it just grand slams? Do toys count? What about surrogates? What evidence will be admissible in court? Would it have to be sterilized first?

Let no one accuse Delegates Simmons or Kramer of being chauvinists because their bill is not gender-specific. That means an awful lot of country club husbands with trophy wives should be trembling with performance anxiety. They will have to put out or pay up! This will be a real boon for prenup lawyers with imagination. The pharmaceutical industry will also see a bump-up in profits. Will this guy be testifying for the bill?

What if the spouse who says no to nookie is the one demanding a divorce? Imagine a couple marries way too quickly, and on the wedding night, the bride discovers why her new husband’s college nickname was “Stumpy.” Is she entitled to a quickie divorce? Or just a quickie?

In the event that this bill is passed, we would like to see a Blue Ribbon Commission write the implementing regulations. Here are our nominees.

Tiger Woods
Wilt Chamberlain
Bret Michaels
Narain Dutt Tiwari, the 86-year-old former Indian Governor whose three-girl sex video has had more viewers than the Olympics
And of course, the butt-busting, bubbalicious babes of Cathouse.



Change or Die

The conventional view of politics in Montgomery County is that much depends on the balance of power and the relationships among three groups: business, labor and the civic community. That view may no longer hold because newer groups are elbowing their way to a place at the political table. But regardless of which paradigm you believe, one thing is true: no politically relevant group in the county is facing as much change as the civic world.

Montgomery County has had civic organizations for at least a century. Most of them represent neighborhoods and are largely fraternal in nature. But many of them occasionally become active on issues involving the government. Local issues can be dealt with by individual civic associations or small groups of them. But big issues demand big coalitions. And since 1925, the center of that coalition-building has been the Montgomery County Civic Federation (MCCF), a county-wide umbrella group of civics.

Over the decades, MCCF and allied organizations have fashioned a political ideology rooted in three priorities. First, they advocate for maximizing citizen input on all manner of governmental issues. Second, they consistently advocate for government transparency. These two priorities are often focused on the public schools. MCPS Superintendent and political powerhouse Jerry Weast was tormented for years over his estimates of test scores and relations with parents by legendary former MCCF President Wayne Goldstein. Third and most importantly, they favor limiting development. MCCF does not endorse political candidates, but their activists consistently favor slow-growth politicians who limit or turn away contributions from developers.

This part of the civic community reached a recent zenith in a period lasting from the late 1990s through the mid 2000s. Pro-growth development policies like Pay and Go, the battle over the ICC, the 2002 County Council campaign pitting Doug Duncan’s End Gridlock slate against Blair Ewing’s slow-growth slate and the growing prominence of developer contributions in political campaigns stirred significant civic activism. The era climaxed with the formation of Neighborspac, a group that calculated developer percentages of candidate contributions and endorsed politicians who agreed to limit them. In 2006, Neighborspac-endorsed candidates won a majority of County Council seats, but their ability to govern with a slow-growth agenda was limited by internal conflict and two special elections in District 4. Neighborspac stopped functioning soon after the 2006 election.

The influence of MCCF and its philosophy inside the civic community is now in decline for three reasons. First, the organization’s momentum has slowed with the construction of the ICC and the mismatch of its anti-development ideology with the current ruinous state of the economy. In December 2006, MCCF had 43 member organizations. In December 2007, thirteen were delinquent on dues payments. In December 2008, twenty-two were delinquent. And in October 2009, fifteen were delinquent. It’s possible that MCCF may have no more than a couple dozen active member organizations now.

Second, MCCF’s allies and leadership are falling away with questionable prospects for renewal. Over the last couple of years, friendly politicians like Neal Potter, Blair Ewing and Marilyn and Don Praisner have died. So have two of MCCF’s greatest activists, former President Wayne Goldstein and East County’s Stuart Rochester. The mean age of MCCF’s officers is 65. Six are age 70 or older and none are under 50. Of Blair Ewing’s 2002 council at-large slate, only Marc Elrich currently holds county office.

Third, MCCF is confronted by changing demographics that pose a challenge to its worldview. Consider the following facts about Montgomery County from the Census Bureau’s 2006-2008 American Community Survey.

1. Only 23% of the county’s residents were born in Maryland. Fourteen percent have lived in their current residence for one year or less.

2. The median year in which home-owners moved into their current residence was 1998. The median year in which renters moved into their current residence was 2005 or later. The median year for both groups combined was 2001. This demonstrates a significant churning in neighborhoods.

3. White non-Hispanics account for 54% of the county’s population but only 48% of the county’s population under the age of 20. The county is on the verge of becoming “majority-minority.”

4. Sixty percent of the county’s population works in the county. Ten percent work elsewhere in Maryland and thirty percent work outside the state. That means four in ten Montgomery residents cross the county line every day to work and would be better off if more jobs were available closer to home.

The MCCF’s outlook representing mostly white, long-time homeowners who are close to or past retirement age no longer matches most of Montgomery County. Even as MCCF is not changing, the rest of the county is changing without it. Many neighborhoods are turning over rapidly as retirees are replaced by young people with kids. This new generation is increasingly active in politics and in civic affairs, occasionally revitalizing inactive civic associations. To the extent that they have an evolving agenda, it focuses on job creation, schools and smart growth rather than stopping development.

These trends are starting to have a significant impact on the civic community. Consider these three recent events.

1. The three leading candidates in the 2009 District 4 special election were Board of Education Member Nancy Navarro, District 19 Delegate Ben Kramer and former MCCF President Cary Lamari. The district had been served since 1990 by Marilyn and Don Praisner, whose priorities closely matched those of MCCF and Neighborspac, and was home to a fair number of MCCF activists (like Stuart Rochester). Lamari was a civic veteran and an ally to the Praisner family, but was only able to get 8% of the vote in the Democratic primary. Navarro, who benefitted from the district’s changing demographics, barely edged out Kramer, a developer whose ilk was long opposed by traditional civic activists. Both received five times Lamari’s vote total.

2. The East County Citizens Advisory Board recently wrote to the County Council expressing concerns about the Gaithersburg West Master Plan. They did not do so out of reflexive opposition to new density. Rather, their argument was that East County needed more jobs and they worried that the Gaithersburg West plan would concentrate too many of them in the I-270 corridor. Here is a citizens group crying out for more development, not less. See the letter below.

3. MCCF opposed the White Flint Sector Plan, which would concentrate development around the White Flint Metro Station. But the Randolph Civic Association (RCA), which represents some of the neighborhoods to the east of the plan area and contains a significant number of younger residents, supported much of the plan. Delegates from RCA attended an MCCF meeting to explain their position and were met with great skepticism by the audience. RCA then dropped out of MCCF, sending a blunt letter that said in part:

The MCCF operates in a manner that fails to provide solutions or constructive alternatives to the problems of this county. Saying “NO” to everything is not a sustainable position… The MCCF is no longer representative of Montgomery County citizens. After attending an MCCF meeting it was quickly apparent that the delegates in attendance are not a reflection of Montgomery County. Montgomery County is a thriving, diverse county with many young families and young professionals. MCCF does not embody this.
We print the letter in full below.

RCA’s thirty-something leadership is exactly what MCCF needs to revitalize its organization. But new residents who belong to a younger generation with different priorities will not buy into some elements of MCCF’s anti-development ideology.

Any organization that has been around for decades eventually faces a moment when it must change or die. For the Montgomery County Civic Federation, that moment is now.


Mizeur Builds Massive Support for Open Government Act

Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-20) has amassed 75 House co-sponsors and 30 Senate co-sponsors, a majority in each chamber, for her sweeping Maryland Open Government Act. The bill, which is lead-sponsored by Nancy King (D-39) in the Senate, would enable free public access to the General Assembly's "up-to-the-minute" bill tracking service, which is currently available only for an $800 fee; post General Assembly committee agendas a day in advance; webcast committee hearings; and substantially open up the proceedings of the Board of Public Works, which currently has the power to implement gigantic budget cuts without public input. Mizeur deserves credit for crafting a comprehensive bill and attracting widespread and bi-partisan support for it. We reprint her press release below.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gazette vs. Costco Subsidy

The Gazette issued an editorial questioning the Costco subsidy today, but it was Gazette cartoonist Chris Curtis who really put things in perspective.


Straight Down the Middle?

Recently, Red Maryland’s Mark Newgent went after the new political website Center Maryland for advertising itself as “straight down the middle” when some of its founders are former employees of Governor O’Malley. As it turns out, Newgent’s argument may have more validity than even he believed.

Here are the state and local political contributions of the site’s six founders.

Here are the largest checks written by the founders.

Otis Rolley to Martin O’Malley, 6/20/05: $3,960
Damian O’Doherty to Martin O’Malley, 10/21/07: $3,800
Martin Knott to Jim Smith, 1/13/09: $3,000
Martin Knott to Ken Ulman, 1/9/09: $3,000
Martin Knott to Martin O’Malley, 2/12/05: $2,500

We have no problem with Democrats starting political websites. What do you think MPW is? But when Center Maryland’s founders give 92% of their political contributions to Democrats (including 39% to O’Malley), their claim that they are printing “the news you need straight down the middle” is hard to believe. And it’s not as if these are old contributions that long predated the creation of the site. The six founders have given $10,825 to Democrats and nothing to Republicans since the start of 2009. Former Baltimore Sun reporter and editor Howard Libit, one of Center Maryland’s founders, wrote a $1,000 check to Democratic Attorney General Doug Gansler on 1/11/10, the same day that the site went live.

Our message to Center Maryland is the same as it is to write whatever you wish, but don’t pretend to be something that you are not.


District 18 Delegation Opposes Ride-On Cuts

The District 18 Delegation - Senators Rich Madaleno and Delegates Ana Sol Gutierrez, Jeff Waldstreicher and Al Carr - have joined the District 16 Delegation in opposing the County Executive's cuts to Ride-On service. But the District 18 letter contains a twist - the delegation alleges that the Chevy Chase Land Company, owner of a future development site along the Purple Line alignment, owes the county $1 million in lieu of making intersection improvements at Connecticut Avenue at Jones Bridge Road. The delegation asks that that money be collected from the company and used to subsidize Ride-On. This is the first that your author has heard of this debt and it will be interesting to see the county's response. We reprint the delegation's letter to County Executive Ike Leggett and Council President Nancy Floreen below.

Disclosure: Your author is the Treasurer of the District 18 Democratic Team and had no knowledge of this letter prior to its release.


Hans Riemer Announces At-Large Council Run on Facebook

Former Obama campaign worker and current Action Committee for Transit board member Hans Riemer has just announced his entry into the council at-large race on Facebook.

Riemer's entry changes the contest and we will be reporting more on this. For past coverage, see the opinions of our spies last June, the most recent discussion by Marc Korman and myself on the at-large race, the results of our reader poll a month ago and our comments on his website last night.


On Berliner vs. Hopkins

District 1 County Council Member Roger Berliner is facing a potential Democratic primary challenge from East Bethesda civic leader Ilaya Rome Hopkins. Berliner, a freshman who lost a special election primary for the seat in 2000 but came back to defeat incumbent Republican Howard Denis in 2006, is known for his work on mansionization, energy conservation and re-introducing policy area traffic tests to the county’s growth policy. He was recently denied an opportunity to ascend from the Council Vice-President position to the Council Presidency as almost all previous Vice-Presidents have done. Hopkins is the leader of the Coalition of Military Medical Center Neighbors, a civic group working on the Navy’s expansion of the Walter Reed BRAC site on Wisconsin Avenue and Jones Bridge Road, and is the past President of the East Bethesda Citizens Association.

Here is what four informants in and around the district have to say about this race.

Spy #1:

Roger has weaknesses. No one loves him even if they respect him and plan to vote for him. He won in 2006 because there was a D next to his name. He has managed to tick off lots of individual groups, such as the unions and the Town of Chevy Chase. Although you think the Council Presidency was just inside baseball, it was pretty embarrassing for him among the active and educated constituents of his district and I think an opponent could make a lot of hay out of it. As you know, the unions have been shopping for a candidate and would love to take him on. A generic candidate willing to embrace the Floreen side of the Council and the unions could have lots of advantages if those interests really invest in that candidate.

All that said, Ilaya is probably starting too late and is too unformed to cause him too much trouble. I like Ilaya personally and think she will be a compelling candidate someday. But she has a poor voting record, has not been a registered Democrat for more than a few years, and has worked for at least one Republican candidate in the past. Her husband was a Bush campaign staffer and then administration official. On the policy side, she is all over the place. She is well informed, but it is difficult to get a specific position out of her on any issue like the Purple Line. Is she willing to embrace the unions? If we had to classify which side of the Council divide she is on, could we?

Berliner and Denis spent something like $300,000 between them in 2006. Has Ilaya raised a penny yet? As a first time candidate, is she prepared to raise $100,000, knock on thousands of doors, and attend thousands of events by September? Does she start with a big enough base outside her East Bethesda/BRAC community?

But again, she is very engaging and well informed. She has a lot of personality traits Roger lacks and if she can raise the money and has the energy, she could always surprise me and make it a race.

Overall, I think the incumbent has got to be heavily favored. But Hopkins has a bright future even if it is not in 2010.

Spy #2:

First impression – it will be a tough race for her. Roger has some money, has done what he said he would do, and has been doing lots of town hall meetings.

Second impression – still tough but she can win. She needs to raise lots of money. She has community credibility, maybe more than Roger has. And if there is a throw-the-bums-out mentality, they are all in trouble.

Spy #3:

Ilaya is a serious, viable candidate. She comes across as capable and smart. However, she’s basically known only within her own narrow civic community at this point so we’ll have to see how hard she's willing to work, if she gets in. That’s a critical unknown. Roger’s political problems, real and perceived, are largely the inside baseball kind of stuff that most people don’t follow. In short, right now, based largely on the natural advantages incumbency generally brings, i.e name ID, running around the councilmanic district for 4 years, endorsements, etc. I give a solid edge to Berliner. However, if an anti-incumbent, throw-the-bums-out tsunami mindset overwhelms the electorate (which is entirely possible if you believe everything you read) and she busts her butt off in getting around the district, my sense is she has a shot.

Spy #4:

Off the record, I think it will be a heavy lift. Though many are unhappy with Berliner, I am not sure they will jump behind Ilaya. She certainly has a District 1 profile, but in my view, more people are “against” Roger than “for” someone else.

Our Take:

If Hopkins formally declares, this will likely be a straight-up, one-on-one primary between incumbent and challenger. Each candidate has different tasks that they must accomplish.

Berliner is the incumbent. He ran an aggressive race against Republican Denis largely on the basis of partisan affiliation. He defeated Denis even though Denis had a massive edge in institutional support (including a listing on MCEA’s legendary Apple Ballot). During his term in office, Berliner has occasionally voted against the public employee unions and is not known as an ally of business. But each of those groups has other fish to fry, notably in the council at-large race. Berliner has to show that he has his district absolutely locked down. He must demonstrate that his support is so widespread that no challenger – not Hopkins nor anyone else – has a chance to dislodge him. If he can accomplish that, the unions and the business players may stay out of the district and concentrate their efforts elsewhere. He is off to a good start on this with his giant list of supporters. Berliner is a hard campaigner with good early financing of $98,834.18 and more on the way. But we hear that some of his backing is soft and at least a few people on his supporter list will jump ship if Hopkins gets in.

Hopkins is the challenger. She has two tasks. First, she must persuade the voters that Berliner has committed a firing offense. All challengers must do that. Berliner did that in 2006 by pointing to the big “R” next to Denis’s name. It will not be that easy for Hopkins. Second, she must show that she is a viable candidate with money, in-district support and momentum. If she does that, business and labor may give her a serious look. The ultimate prize for Hopkins would be the Apple Ballot, which is usually decided in June. She must meet a high bar as MCEA looks for strong challengers to take on incumbents, even ones they do not like. If Hopkins does not look strong, MCEA could well sit out the race (as they did in Council Districts 3 and 4 last time).

Both candidates have problems. Several informants have complained about Berliner’s personality while complimenting his staff (especially Chief of Staff Cindy Gibson). His pro-rail position on the Purple Line is a problem in some parts of Chevy Chase, which is close to Hopkins’s home base. And the BRAC neighbors, who have been led by Hopkins for several years, have demonstrated their ability to raise Cain when displeased with the incumbent. (The neighbors need to be careful about separating their legitimate interests from Hopkins’s candidacy. Their needs will remain no matter who wins, and they must preserve their relationship with their County Council Member going forward.) But regardless of his problems, Roger Berliner knows how to use the advantages of incumbency and will not be complacent. He is ready for his opponent.

Hopkins also has problems. She has been a registered independent in the past and has not voted in a Maryland Democratic primary until 2008. She must raise a lot of money and cover a lot of territory in a short period of time against an incumbent who has run in the district twice. But Ilaya Hopkins is smart, likable, informed, and has a little bit of polish but not too much. She could have significant appeal among women, new residents and young families if she can gain exposure.

Berliner is the favorite. But Hopkins has a chance.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Senate Democrats Announce Legislative Priorities, Part One


Senate Democrats Announce Legislative Priorities, Part Two


Senate Democrats Announce Legislative Priorities, Part Three


Hans Riemer Online

Rumored at-large County Council candidate Hans Riemer has a new website up, strongly suggesting that he will soon enter the race.

The picture above is an old one and was probably taken at the 2006 Kensington Labor Day Parade. (Disclosure: your author helped Riemer when he ran in District 5 that year.) The young lady gracing the center of the photograph is Hans's wife Angela, a tremendous asset for his potential campaign. Angela is pretty, gregarious and smarter than you are, and is a former Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus PAC. If Angela ever decided to run for office, she would smoke everyone (including her husband).

Riemer does not make a campaign announcement on his website, but it does include this graphic:

The site's authority line reveals his campaign officers, both of whom are former MCDCC members: Chairman Oscar Ramirez, who has worked in Congress, the U.S. Department of Labor and Barack Obama's presidential campaign, and chaired Nancy Navarro's 2009 council run; and Treasurer Karen Czapanskiy, a University of Maryland law professor. Both are prominent county Democrats and are good catches.

Riemer makes the following statement on his site that we reprint below:

Montgomery County residents young and old are facing some of the most serious challenges we've ever witnessed: layoffs and furloughs, foreclosures and rising property taxes, overcrowded schools and education cuts, & spiraling health care costs amidst massive budget cuts.

If we are going to turn Montgomery County around, we need new voices at the table.

Throughout my life, I've fought for seniors, youths, progressive causes, and President Obama -- and now I want to fight for you. My name is Hans Riemer and I am a Montgomery County Democrat. I live in Silver Spring with my wife, Angela, and we have chosen to raise our toddler, Henry, here in one of the best counties in the world.

I have dedicated myself to engaging people of all backgrounds in the challenges of making public policy:

In my work for the AARP, I help engage AARP members in local service opportunities to connect seniors to their communities.

As the National Youth Vote Director for the Obama campaign, I helped millions of young people raise their voice for change.

In my national advocacy on issues such as Social Security, Medicare, health care, education and voting reform, I have championed the concerns of people from every race and background.

In Montgomery County, I am best known for my advocacy on issues such as the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, Metro (WMATA), RideOn and other transit programs; as well as helping to build the Obama Montgomery County and Maryland grassroots campaigns.

I believe passionately that we have to find a more sustainable way to grow here in the county. We need new jobs, more housing, and a stronger tax base if we are going to maintain our quality of life and progress in our schools. But we have to make wise choices about land use and transportation in order to simultaneously preserve Montgomery County's rural and surburban ways of life. It can be a challenging process, but if we do it right, together, there's a great place to live for everyone here.

In order to get there though, I need you. Sign up now to join the movement, and stay tuned for an important announcement regarding my future.

Sincerely yours,

Hans Riemer
Montgomery County Democrat


I Am Not In… But Also Not Out

By Guled Kassim.

I want to take this opportunity to update my friends and neighbors of my decision regarding the 2010 election year. Thanks to many of you and my family for encouraging me to run for an at-large seat on the Montgomery County Council as well as the publicity from the popular blog “Maryland Politics Watch,” I’ve had the benefit of speaking with many people all around the county regarding the critical issue we are facing as a community and the importance of the 2010 election. It goes without saying that my heart has been in public service ever since my early childhood experiences after immigrating to the United States. I’ve always tried to find ways to be of service to others.

I truly feel that we need to take the “sexy” element of campaigning and political positioning out of the critical issues that must be addressed in this County. We are fortunate to have plenty of talented and yet busy politicians, but we sincerely need busy and thoughtful leaders that are able to break through the cloud of political positioning in order to find solutions.

Still, some “progressives” forget that debating yesterday’s arguments may garner success on Election Day, but masking old arguments is far from progressive leadership. Whether it is dealing with the needed infrastructure and/or development pitted against keeping our county green, yesterday’s arguments have only caused stalemates. We can attain a balanced and efficient use of land that respects our environment and maximizes capacity of space so long as we don’t caricature each other.

Our top-notch school system has been recognized across the country. However, to an extent, you get what you pay for. I am a beneficiary of Montgomery county public schools, having immigrated here not speaking any English and can remember being told to read Shakespeare in seventh grade ESOL! However parents today are concerned about issue like the pervasive performance gap in minority students, overcrowding in our classrooms and the high dropout rate amongst minority students that haven’t been resolved as minority students steadily lag behind. There has to be demonstrated evidence of leadership that takes this to heart because the working mothers and fathers need to rely on the schools to teach their children and position them to be the leaders of tomorrow. Parents with failing students are dismayed and will not fall for the old argument of “Resources vs. management” because they simply want their children to succeed in school.

As for the youth, we will fail our children if we don't discuss the connection between the reduction of after school programs and the rise of teenage gang related crimes. Our kids need a safe, secure and modern 21st century learning environment. They also need afterschool programs that teach important skills outside of the classroom, such as teamwork, community service and extended focus on schoolwork. These skill sets allow our society to grow and, more importantly, give our youth a push in the right direction. Small steps such as the county government partnering with local businesses to increase internships opportunities for our high school students can mean the world to a student that is on the brink, because she may very well be that leader of tomorrow.

Our law enforcement personnel are working hard as residents feel less safe in their neighborhoods and homes. With everything from strong-arm robbery, burglary & home invasions and assaults to even some instances murder, we must collectively work hard to make sure the high school and middle school students understand that they have positive options once they get out into the real world. All of these issues connect to each other as nothing happens in a vacuum.

A better-educated and informed young adult is a better-equipped employee. As we are looking to get our county and region’s economy back on the positive again, we need to recognize the value of investing real energy in our youth. We cannot sit hoping that the federal government’s rising currents will sweep us into greener pastures. Small businesses countywide are hurting and ideas such as partnering with the SBA for specialized incentive programs for our county’s small businesses can help. We must begin to think anew to find solutions that are outside of the “political” box.

It is critically important for our elected leaders to retain the integrity of the offices they hold and replenish the faith of the public. As the taxpayers are paying ever-closer attention to how their tax dollars are being spent, they want to see results and not just political positioning. For our Legislators in Annapolis, we want you to “bring home the bacon!” For our County leaders, we need you to manage our resources, as revenue streams are tight.

I have often read and heard and wondered about candidates who state that they aren’t running for office for personal reasons. I have come to realize since my 2006 campaign that running for office is in itself a very personal decision. I commend anyone who throws his/her hat in the ring. While I remain passionate about these and many other issues within the community, I’ve decided to step aside as a candidate for Montgomery County Council for 2010. Thanks to the many folks who have lent me their time and ear in these past several months. Because of you, I am much more informed and committed.

This being an election year, I will focus my energy and time into assisting candidates whose goals are in line with mine as well as focusing on trying to find ways to increase voter turnout in voter-depressed areas. The future is now and as voters we shouldn’t settle for what sounds good, rather we should seek out clear indications of true leadership that is focused on real progress. The 2010 election cycle will be a seminal year for our growing and diverse community.

By the way if our paths cross, please feel free to pull my ear and tell me what great ideas you have for our community. I am willing to listen and learn.

Thanks for taking the time to read.


Guled Kassim
Derwood, Maryland


Senate Democrats Announce Legislative Agenda

The Senate Democratic Caucus has released its legislative agenda for 2010 in a press release that we reprint below. The agenda includes Delegate Kirill Reznik's (D-39) bill preventing employers from using credit scores in hiring and promotion decisions. Additionally, the Senate will adopt a rule change this week requiring that committee votes be posted on-line within ten days, matching a similar move by the House.


Busch: Committee Votes will be Posted Online

Speaker of the House Mike Busch has directed the House Office of Information systems to post committee votes on the General Assembly website prior to the arrival of bills on the floor starting in this session. This would accomplish the purpose of online committee vote reporting more rapidly than would any legislation. We reprint a memo from the Speaker's Office on this subject below.


MSM Falls Down on Costco Story

Here’s one more element of the Costco story for MPW readers to mull over: the issue has exposed the limitations of the local mainstream media (MSM) in reporting on the internal workings of government.

Consider how this story developed.

Westfield Wheaton has been in negotiation with Costco to move into the space vacated by Hecht’s in 2005 for quite some time. Recently, Westfield approached the county seeking a subsidy to support the cost of construction necessary to prepare the mall for tenancy by Costco. Westfield, of course, had acquired another subsidy for its Macy’s tenant just a few years before. The Executive Branch supplied the following rationale for the new subsidy to the County Council:

From the initial development of Westfield’s financing pro forma, the company has sought the County’s financial assistance to attract Costco to Wheaton. Based on prevailing market conditions, the rate of return Westfield projects from a $28 million investment (of the $58 million project costs, Costco will reimburse $30 million) is insufficient for Westfield’s corporate management to approve the Wheaton project over other competing Westfield projects around the country. Westfield has estimated the financial gap at $4 million plus.
Note the fact that the administration did not identify the rate of return expected by Westfield, the rate of return typical in the retail real estate industry for such projects or the exact reason for the “$4 million plus” needed for the project in contrast to some other amount. No private investor would ever invest millions in any project on the basis of such scanty information.

Accordingly, the County Council reacted with skepticism when the administration presented its case for the subsidy in closed session on January 12. Immediately after the session, administration officials scrambled into action, contacting community members that they believed would be supportive. Some of them began calling and emailing the council within hours. This occurred despite the fact that the issue was supposed to remain secret through the commitment of both branches of government. These contacts alarmed some in the council building because it was an obvious breach of closed session rules by the administration. This proved to be the downfall of the administration’s strategy as MANY hands reached for their cellphones. If they can leak, so can we. Soon enough, the leaks turned into a water sprinkler.

MPW broke the story on January 15 and our initial post remained the only account on the subject for over 48 hours. The first MSM article that contained original reporting on the matter appeared in the Examiner on January 17, which quoted Marchone’s owner Filippo Leo as saying that “we will not survive” if Costco arrived. NBC 4 went up on January 18. The Gazette first reported on the issue late on January 18, almost four days after the story broke. By then, the story had spread as far as India. And in an epic disgrace for the Washington Post, the newspaper has not only failed to report on the Costco story at all, it instead chose to re-write a County Council press release about a new bill on development oversight introduced by Council Member Duchy Trachtenberg.

When the MSM has reported on the Costco issue at all, its coverage has tended to be spare and formulaic. The last Gazette article was typical, offering a bare bones description of the project followed by standard pro and con views. The Washington Business Journal was even worse, quoting only project promoter and Director of Economic Development Steve Silverman. No one delved into the data, the process or the politics of the issue.

In the meantime, events swiftly left the MSM behind. On Sunday, January 17 - a day before the Gazette’s first article - Silverman began the defense of the subsidy on this blog. The next day, Just Up the Pike author Dan Reed – an employee of Council Member George Leventhal – also defended the project and linked to the Gazette article quoting Leventhal’s similar defense without disclosing his employment relationship. That attracted baleful notice in the council building. More importantly, some Council Members struggled with the subsidy in the face of the county’s $608 million budget deficit. “Well, for me it is very hard to justify spending $4 million while we are in the process of budget cuts,” said one. “This is a moral issue for me,” said another. “I don’t want to look my constituents in the eye, cut their services and give away $4 million to a giant retailer.”

As a result of these tensions, a secret straw vote of the County Council scheduled for Tuesday, January 19 was postponed. But the administration did not stop lobbying for the project. In a closed meeting with small businesses in Wheaton that same night, a Westfield representative pleaded poverty in making the case for the subsidy. One attendee at the meeting wrote, “To that end Jim Agliata from Westfield stated that it had been four years since Hechts left the mall and that millions in lost revenue have made the situation for the mall precarious if not dire.” That statement ignores the fact that Wheaton is the second-most profitable mall of the 55 malls owned by Westfield in the U.S. Its modest sales per square foot is more than offset by its relatively low property value, which minimizes its property taxes. Westfield’s aggressive assessment appeal strategy further minimizes its tax liability. And since the assessment of Westfield’s main parcel has just dropped by almost 11%, Westfield’s property taxes will fall even more. Neither the administration (which knows better) nor the MSM have questioned Westfield’s characterization of its finances. Nor have they discussed Westfield’s hypocrisy in seeking a subsidy for itself while opposing tax breaks for its tenants.

On Wednesday, January 20, Council President Nancy Floreen arranged for the nine council Chiefs of Staff to be lectured about “leaks” by a council attorney. This provoked much amusement in the council building, as well as – of course – multiple leaks. With due respect to the Council President, she is missing the point on two counts. First, the “leaks” began with the Executive Branch, which operated in bad faith with the council by launching a selective community lobbying campaign just hours after the supposedly secret closed session. And second, what government officials call “leaks” we call “public information.” This process should never have been closed to begin with.

At the moment, the administration is having problems rounding up majority support for the subsidy on the council. Economic Development Director Steve Silverman, displaying the competitiveness that served him so well in his years on the County Council, is still trying to push the deal through. (We hope he applies the same energy to landing Northrop Grumman.) Anything could happen. The subsidy could be reduced, eliminated or restructured. Or Westfield and Costco could decide to go ahead with the move with no public money, just as Best Buy did successfully in 2006. Costco told the Wheaton small businesses that they have 62,000 members in Central Montgomery County. Are they really going to walk away from those members over a measly $4 million? And in the future, both the Executive Branch and the County Council will be sure to be more cautious about discussing matters like this in secret.

You will read none of the above in the MSM. Its performance on this issue has proved to be just as dismal as its coverage of the 2009 District 4 special election. Make no mistake - the local MSM contains several fine reporters who break stories and turn out good work on a daily basis. But the Costco story reveals several general truths about most members of the local MSM press corps. Very few of them have any investigative research skills. They shy away from financial data. They do not aggressively hunt scoops. They do not have large source networks, especially outside the narrow ranks of government officials. They do not continuously try to expand, develop and diversify their source networks. They do not write with history or perspective. They dispense with creativity in favor of formula. They are complacent with being late, or in not covering issues at all.

And they wonder why we won’t pay for newspapers.


Monday, January 25, 2010

The Curry Birthday Video

Baltimore radio host and blogger Doni Glover recorded this video from Wayne Curry's birthday celebration in which he interviewed Jack Johnson, Doug Duncan and Al Wynn. Check out how Duncan says, "Who knows what will happen?"


What is Michael Steele Doing with his State Account?

RNC Chairman and former Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele is likely out of Maryland state politics. But he continues to spend significant amounts of money out of his state campaign fund. Why?

The Michael Steele for Maryland Committee spent a whopping $176,195.51 on salaries and compensation last year. That's a huge amount for a candidate who is not running for any state office. Here are the fifteen expenditures his state fund reported.

The State Board of Elections (SBE) Summary Guide quotes state election law in discussing the allowable purposes of state campaign account expenditures.

An expenditure is defined as a gift, transfer, disbursement, or promise of money or valuable thing by or on behalf of a campaign finance entity to promote or assist in promoting the success or defeat of any candidate, political party, or a question at an election.

§ 1-101(y) of the Election Law Article

* Expenditures must be election related; that is, they must enhance the candidate's election chances, and one must be able to conclude that they would not have been incurred if there had been no candidacy.

* Expenditures, including loans, may not be for the personal use of the candidate or any other individual.

* Expenditures must be made by the treasurer, by check signed by the treasurer from the campaign bank account.

* Expenditures must be supported by receipts or vouchers, which must be kept with the treasurer's books and records.
Retired candidates often make contributions to other campaign accounts, party accounts or charities. But your author has never heard of a retired candidate spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on salaries and other payments to corporate entities. Given the controversies over Steele's collection of speaking fees and his book tour, we believe this is an appropriate matter for SBE review. And perhaps also for the Attorney General.


Why Should Your Credit Score Prevent You From Getting a Job?

By Delegate Kirill Reznik (D-39).

We have deemed the current economic crisis “The Great Recession.” Unemployment is at staggering levels, as are foreclosures and bankruptcies. As a result, credit scores are suffering.

For those of you who don’t know, your personal credit score is determined by an oligopoly of three national credit rating agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These companies are the sole arbiter of your credit score, and as a result, single-handedly determine whether or not you are able to buy a car, buy a house, and yes, even get a job.

The reason is because they offer to sell your credit report and credit score to employers who want to do background checks on potential new hires or existing employees. The use of these reports by employers is, for a variety of reasons, going up exponentially. Research indicates that as many as 43% of employers purchase credit reports.

Currently, federal law allows this, though they do not directly allow or disallow it for the purposes of hiring and retention. Federal law also requires that the employee or interviewee must give permission to do the check and be given an opportunity to explain any adverse notations on it. Imagine this situation – you go in for an interview and are told “to get this job, we need you to give your permission for us to do a credit check. Here, sign this.” Though completely voluntary, can you imagine someone not signing? And then, that same applicant has to sit before their potential future employer and explain why a divorce, medical bills, or other personal matter caused him or her to have a bad credit score.

Studies show that you have the same chance of picking responsible employees by choosing them at random from a stack of applications as you would using someone’s credit report as a determining factor.

Though we cannot openly ban the practice because of federal law, we can definitely restrict it, and we should. In these times of unemployment, rampant foreclosure and bankruptcy, we need to make every opportunity available to people to get jobs and get their lives back on track.

I have submitted legislation this session to prohibit employers from using a credit score or credit report in hiring or retention, and am working with Senator Mike Lenett of Montgomery County and Senator Catherine Pugh of Baltimore to help me make the case on the Senate side. We have received a very positive response and look forward to this very simple and pragmatic bill becoming law.