Sunday, February 28, 2010

Madaleno's Letter to Northrop Grumman

Following is the letter from Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18) to Northrop Grumman that was referenced in an article yesterday by the Post. In the letter, Madaleno asks the company to not move to Virginia based on its recent steps backward on protections for LGBTs.


County Council to Hold Town Hall Meeting in Kensington

Following is the press release from the County Council.

Montgomery County Council to Host Kensington / Garrett Park Area Town Hall Meeting on Wednesday, March 24

Residents Invited to Express Their Views on Issues, Ask Questions of Councilmembers at HOC Office Building

ROCKVILLE, Md., February 26, 2010—The Montgomery County Council will continue its efforts to find out what issues most concern residents when it hosts a Town Hall Meeting for the Kensington / Garrett Park area on Wednesday, March 24. The meeting at the Housing Opportunities Commission Office Building will start at 8 p.m. A pre-meeting reception will begin at 7:30 p.m.

This will be the second Town Hall Meeting hosted by the Council in 2010. The Council is composed of President Nancy Floreen, Vice President Valerie Ervin and Councilmembers Phil Andrews, Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich, Mike Knapp, George Leventhal, Nancy Navarro and Duchy Trachtenberg. On Feb. 3, at the Council’s first-ever Town Hall Meeting for students, more than 400 people attended in Rockville.

The Housing Opportunities Commission Office Building is located at 10400 Detrick Avenue in Kensington.

The meeting will allow residents to voice their opinions on specific issues and will allow them to ask questions of the Councilmembers in an organized, but informal, setting.

Topics expected to be of interest include the proposed White Flint Sector Plan, schools, public safety, traffic, growth, the County budget and taxes.

“As the County approaches the Fiscal Year 2011 budget, we are facing an unprecedented $761 million shortfall due to decreasing revenues. We must all work together to produce a balanced budget, but it is clear that we will be making very difficult decisions that will impact every resident of this County,” said Council President Floreen. “The timing of this meeting allows us to hear from residents about their priorities and their concerns. It also gives us the opportunity to explain some of the issues that are before us.”

Council President Floreen said Town Hall Meetings are one of the avenues the Council has pursued to keep residents better informed.

“This Council has made a priority of having better direct communication with residents, and Town Hall Meetings have proven to be an excellent way to do just that,” she said. “For the citizens, these meetings provide a forum where they can see their elected officials in a different format than a televised meeting or through a news release.”

The meeting will be taped for later broadcast on County Cable Montgomery (CCM—cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon). Susan Kenedy, a producer for the county station, will moderate the meeting.

For more information about the Town Hall Meeting or about the broadcast times, call 240-777-7931.

# # #


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Rushern Baker on the Spot, Part Six

Prince George’s County Executive candidate Rushern Baker has taken tens of thousands of dollars from a GOP candidate for U.S. Senate who is a birther, even more money from an obscure entity operated by his campaign Treasurer and at least three-quarters of a million dollars from one apartment building owner. All of the above is legal. But what about his slate account?

Baker’s acceptance of $206,000 in contributions from the “County 1 Now” slate triggered significant coverage from the Post and the Gazette as well as this investigative series. The slate account was established on 1/5/10. Under state law, slate accounts can transfer unlimited amounts of money to candidates who are members. The Post reported that the slate account was established too recently to be required to file a January report and did not have to disclose its donors until August. That may be true, but there is a hitch.

As of this writing, the County 1 Now slate has only one member: Rushern Baker.

State law says that slates must be formed by more than one candidate. After all, if single candidates could form slates, they could easily get around contribution limits.

The State Board of Elections’ summary guide goes even further by stating, “A slate account is required to have 2 candidate members at all times. If there are less than 2 members, the slate is required to close the committee and file a final report.”

At the time that the County 1 Now slate transferred $206,000 to Baker, it was not in compliance with state law. The State Board of Elections has a responsibility to compel Baker to return that payment.

But there are bigger issues here. Rushern Baker’s serial use of the LLC loophole, big loans steered through an entity controlled by his treasurer and additional money from a one-person slate amounts to a deliberate strategy to circumvent the state’s campaign finance rules. That strategy could well be copied by other candidates. If it is, the state’s already-fragile system for regulating political contributions will become wholly irrelevant. And if that happens, the losers will be the very working people that candidates like Baker say they are running in order to help.

Update: The Post has since reported that the slate has three members. When your author contacted the State Board of Elections to verify this, they did not respond to our request.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Blair Lee Protests Barve Response to Power Outages

Gazette columnist Blair Lee, one of MoCo's most ardent defenders, is crying foul on House Majority Leader Kumar Barve's call for an examination of disproportionate power outages in MoCo during the recent blizzards. In his letter to the Public Service Commission (PSC), Barve noted that Pepco suffered 78,000 outages in MoCo against just 7,700 in Prince George's County and asked the PSC to find out why. That rubbed Lee the wrong way, and he sent the following email to Barve.

From: Blair Lee
Sent: Friday, February 26, 2010 12:34 PM
To: 'Majority Leader Kumar Barve'
Cc: ''
Subject: RE: Barve calls for investigation of power outages in Montgomery County


I am surprised at your selfish, parochial response to the power outage disparity between MoCo and P.G. Montgomery is a wealthy, privileged community with a progressive world view. Demanding Pepco service at the expense of our less-fortunate neighbors flies in the face of Montgomery’s core principal of adopting a statewide perspective when confronting state issues.

Historically, when others have a need (education funding, teacher pensions, tax increases) we have been the first to sacrifice for the greater good. That’s “The Montgomery Way.” Surely, wealthy Montgomery has the financial ability to pay for its own Pepco service upgrades with local taxpayer funds so more money is available to help our neighboring Prince Georges customers and ratepayers. I am confident that Prince Georges would do the same for us under reversed circumstances.

Finally, I expect that your near-sighted parochialism will hurt you in this year’s elections. Our voters don’t take kindly to politicians who put Montgomery’s self-interests ahead of the state’s other jurisdictions and residents. Perhaps you have forgotten that Montgomery’s mission is to help lift up Maryland’s less fortunate and less enlightened citizens no matter where they live. Again, that’s the “Montgomery Way” for which we are widely known, respected and admired by the rest of Maryland.

Blair Lee


Stud of the Statehouse

We have never seen their like before. They are legion, the faceless fans who swarm into this blog looking for information on the object of their desire. And what is that object? He is the answer to their dreams, owner of their lonely hearts and the undisputed Stud of the Statehouse:

Delegate Bill Frick (D-16).

Let us share a dark secret previously unknown to the anonymous amorous. We know what people look at when they come to this blog. We also know how they arrive here. Nearly one-fifth of our readers come in because they find one of our posts through a search engine, usually Google. And when they search, we know which search terms lead them here.

Here are some of the search terms that have been used to access information on Delegate Frick from this blog.

bill frick
bill frick maryland
“Bill frick”
Delegate Bill Frick
bill frick purple line
bILL Frick + Purple Line
Frick 2007
bill frick issues
bill frick maryland sligo
Bill Frick and election Maryland
bill frick mcdcc

What’s your secret, Bill?

So far this is not unusual. Frick is one of the most-searched politicians on this blog, usually trailing just Saqib Ali, Martin O’Malley, Cheryl Kagan and Eli El, but these terms are not standouts.

Then there are these search terms, all of which have been used to seek information on Frick since August:

Delegate Bill Frick sexy
Delegate Bill Frick hot
Handsome Delegate Bill Frick
Delegate Bill Frick awesome
bill frick smartest
bill frick hot

Now this IS unusual! No other Maryland politician arouses such thoughts in cyberspace. That is because few of them provide arousal of any kind. But the 34-year-old Frick is different. He possesses the silver tongue that enchanted the Central Committee into appointing him to Marilyn Goldwater’s old Delegate seat over better-known contenders in 2007. He possesses one of the best smiles and wittiest patters in Annapolis. And while other politicians fundraise, he seduces supporters into ponying up with such events as his “Politics and Pinot” lush-fest in Bethesda.

I wish I knew how he does it... sigh...

Here are another couple search terms that have been used to access information on Frick:

Democrat Bill Frick holds what political office?
Democrat Bill Frick holds what political office in 2009?

Do you see? Some of his admirers don’t even know what office he holds! Nor do they care.

The Stud holds court.

We pity Frick’s fevered fans. The Delegate is happily married and has two kids who are, predictably, cuter than anyone else’s kids. And so he is not available.

But as any one of the love-struck knows, unattainable dreams can be all the sweeter.


Sharon Dooley Announces Campaign Kickoff

Council District 2 candidate Sharon Dooley has announced a campaign kickoff event on Facebook. We reprint the notice below. Also, the Gazette profiled Dooley on Wednesday.

Sharon Dooley for County Council Kickoff/fundraiser

Type: Causes - Fundraiser
Date: Sunday, March 14, 2010
Time: 2:00pm - 4:00pm
Location: Cafe Mileto 8059 Mateny Road Germantown MD


Come join Sharon Dooley and friends as she kicks off her campaign for the County Council seat in District 2.

It is a kick off and fund raiser so contributions will be appreciated as this is a grass roots effort which will need the support of you and your friends.

We'll have food and entertainment.

Help bring an attitude change to the council - elect a council member who cares about her District and the community.

Sharon Dooley will get the job done!

Website up soon!

Citizens for Sharon Dooley Jim Haddow Treas.


Rushern Baker on the Spot, Part Five

Powerful people usually have powerful enemies. Southern Management Corporation (SMC) boss David Hillman and Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson proved that axiom true with a bitter feud that eventually benefited Rushern Baker in a VERY big way.

It was early 2005. Prince George’s County was suffering through a brutal crime wave that was monumental even by its standards. County Executive Jack Johnson, who was about to run for a second term, needed a scapegoat. He found about two dozen of them: specifically, a group of apartment complexes that generated disproportionate levels of calls to police. Johnson said he was ready to “use the power of eminent domain to tear down some of these complexes” if they did not install better lighting and hire private security guards. Some of the complexes were owned by SMC.

Hillman was furious. In 1998, he and other apartment owners agreed to pay a $25 per unit bi-annual tax that would be used to hire police officers to improve safety at the apartments. But the apartment managers claimed that their calls for more police patrols went unanswered. Now the County Executive was blaming the apartment owners themselves for crime. So SMC filed an $18 million federal lawsuit in March 2005 against the county alleging that because of Johnson’s statements, “potential lessees would not execute leases with plaintiffs, plaintiffs’ creditors would discontinue extending plaintiffs credit, and ... those individuals who already have leased agreements with plaintiffs would vacate the property ... [which] would lead to a diminution in value to plaintiffs’ properties, making it more ripe for contemplated condemnation.” SMC also alleged that the county’s failure to hire more police officers despite the per-unit tax amounted to a breach of contract. A month later, Johnson held a meeting with SMC President Ron Frank that ended badly. Frank told the Post, “Our next step, I guess, is, ‘See you in court.’”

But David Hillman did not merely get mad – he set out to get even. Former Delegate Rushern Baker, who finished fourth of five candidates in the 2002 County Executive primary despite mortgaging his house, was running again. Hillman knew Baker back when he was in Annapolis. Hillman, his wife and his companies contributed $2,500 to Baker between 2000 and 2004, hardly an unusual amount given that Hillman contributes to lots of Maryland politicians. But after Hillman sued the county, he became a MAJOR benefactor of Baker.

Hillman’s tool of choice was Maryland’s LLC loophole, which allows groups of corporate entities to contribute the maximum amount of $4,000 each per cycle to a candidate even if they have common ownership. MPW has posted case studies of racetrack owner William Rickman and developer Ronald Lipscomb using this loophole to send hundreds of thousands of dollars to state and local politicians. (Lipscomb’s relationship with Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon would lead to the events that would ultimately drive her from office.) Real estate owners are particularly well-suited to exploit the LLC loophole because their properties are typically held by LLCs. Large real estate owners like Hillman own lots of properties and therefore control lots of LLCs. That means they can spend BIG money on political candidates.

Over many hours of research, we have painstakingly assembled a list of dozens of SMC-related entities associated with its property holdings. Almost all of these entities are based at addresses matching SMC’s corporate headquarters or its many apartment buildings. Hillman’s pattern since 2005 has been to send bundled checks of identical amounts to Baker that arrive on the same day. He has interspersed those checks with large loans to Baker that have collectively amounted to a colossal sum of money.

Consider this timeline.

March, 2005
SMC sues Prince George’s County in federal court because of the derogatory remarks made by Jack Johnson.

July 13, 2005
Renter’s Finance Corporation, an SMC subsidiary in Silver Spring, loans Baker $10,000.

November 15, 2005
Fifty SMC affiliates send Baker $500 checks for a total contribution of $25,000.

February 6, 2006
Twenty-four SMC affiliates send Baker $1,000 checks for a total contribution of $24,000.

April 28, 2006
Twenty-six SMC affiliates send Baker $500 checks for a total contribution of $13,000.

July 5, 2006
Twenty-five SMC affiliates send Baker $2,000 checks for a total contribution of $50,000.

August 16, 2006
Renter’s Finance Corporation loans Baker $200,000.

September 8, 2006
Renter’s Finance Corporation loans Baker $100,000.

Baker lost his 2006 rematch against Jack Johnson by five points, but there was a silver lining. Johnson’s second term would be his last because of term limits. Baker, who had now run countywide twice in a row and had come close to beating Johnson the second time, would be the clear favorite in 2010. And so David Hillman chose to double down. Consider these payments.

November 27, 2007
Fifty-five SMC affiliates send Baker $4,000 checks for a total contribution of $220,000.

January 13, 2009
Ten SMC affiliates, all from Virginia, send Baker $2,600 checks. Another SMC affiliate from Maryland contributes $4,000 for a grand total of $30,000.

January 14, 2009
Fifteen SMC affiliates send Baker $4,000 checks for a total contribution of $60,000.

Our calculation of the total in loans and contributions made by entities associated with David Hillman to Rushern Baker over the last ten years is $751,756. And because we have not conducted a complete asset search on Hillman or obtained a complete employee list for SMC and its affiliates, our total is likely understated. The maximum amount that an individual or corporation can contribute to a Maryland politician over one election cycle is $4,000, but because of the LLC loophole, the above contributions are entirely legal.

The State Board of Elections reports that Baker has received $2.1 million in contributions over the last ten years. He has additionally received $865,960 in loans, making his total receipts close to $3 million even. We calculate that one-quarter of all of Baker’s campaign funds over the last decade have come from entities connected to Hillman. That share would be close to a third if Baker’s secret slate account transfer also came from Hillman.

It is entirely possible that in Maryland’s modern era, no serious County Executive candidate has ever owed more to one contributor than Rushern Baker owes to David Hillman.

We will conclude in Part Six.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Berliner Hiring Campaign Staff

One of our spies intercepted the following message from a Google group.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: HMILLS3 [email withheld]
Date: Wed, Feb 24, 2010 at 12:12 AM
Subject: [jobsthatareLEFT] Campaign Staff & Interns needed for Local Montgomery Count MD race
To: JobsthatareLEFT

Paid and unpaid positions available on local District County Council race in Montgomery County, MD. Field Director, Canvass Organizers needed. Contact Heather Mills, Campaign Manager, at [email withheld] for more information.
Heather Mills is, of course, Council Member Roger Berliner's campaign manager.

In our overview of the District 1 race, we concluded that Roger Berliner was the favorite but challenger Ilaya Hopkins had a chance. The fact that Berliner is hiring people while Hopkins is just getting started is a useful reminder of exactly why Berliner is favored. First, he is the incumbent. Second, he has lots of money. Third, this will be the third time he has run in District 1, so he knows the local players better than almost any challenger would. And fourth, he is anything but complacent.


Lenett Weighs in on the Post's War vs. MCEA

Senator Mike Lenett (D-19) sent the following email to his constituents regarding the Washington Post’s war on MCEA Monday.

Dear Friends:

Over the past four years, the partnership between the Maryland General Assembly and Maryland’s public school teachers has brought about tremendous progress for students around the state. Nowhere is that progress more measurable than right here in Montgomery County.

As a member of the Maryland Senate, I am a strong supporter of public education. I have fought for Montgomery County's fair share of education funding and school construction projects to ensure that our students are learning in modern and safe classrooms. Moreover, in a year when the legislature must make severe cuts from the state budget, I am committed to protecting state funds that support our public schools in Montgomery County.

I advocate strongly for public education because I believe it is the bedrock of our society as a whole and each child's potential as an individual. The high priority we accord to our education system yields results. The record speaks for itself. Maryland’s public schools have been ranked best in the nation for two consecutive years by Education Week magazine and Montgomery County’s schools are the best in the state. Our high school students rank best in the country on AP test scores. Test scores are rising, and dropout rates are falling.

We owe much of this success to the hard work and dedication of our public school teachers. That’s why I was particularly disappointed when I read the Washington Post’s repeated attacks on the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) this month. The Post’s editorials are flat out unfair to the men and women who have committed themselves to educating our children.

In particular, the Post takes issue with MCEA’s involvement in State and local politics. The editorials conjure up images of abusive union leaders pressuring candidates into making financial contributions to secure the union's endorsement. Nothing could be further from the truth. After MCEA endorses a candidate, the organization and the candidate work cooperatively to inform the public of the endorsement. Some candidates make contributions to MCEA to defray the cost of endorsement mailings. Others don’t. It’s as simple and harmless as that.

In my experience, when MCEA helps a candidate win, its members are committed to holding that person accountable as an elected official. Teachers’ efforts have kept public education at the top of our agenda, and their persistence has helped us get our fair share from Annapolis and secure the tools our students need to succeed. Working together, we have made public education a top priority in the State budget, and our schools are making real progress.

So I think it is fair to ask why the Post is making these attacks and where it is getting the inaccurate information upon which they are based? The unfair and misleading views expressed by the Post in this instance risk weakening our ability to maintain a top-notch education for our children.



What It Takes: Montgomery County Planning Board Chairs from Hanson to Hanson

By Marc Korman.

Montgomery County Planning Board Chair Royce Hanson is not seeking reappointment and the Council has begun advertising the vacancy. Before looking forward, it might be helpful to look backwards at some Planning Board Chairs.

Hanson has served three terms as chair, with two from 1972 to 1981 and the current term. He has accomplished much in that time. In his initial stint, he helped establish the Agricultural Reserve. He was brought back in 2002 partly to get the County past the problems associated with Clarksburg. Under his leadership, the County is well on its way to moving White Flint, Gaithersburg West, and the Purple Line forward. But his successor will need to keep these on track, deal with the Policy Area Mobility Review that has been one of the centerpieces of the last two growth policies, and continue to navigate the tricky politics of growth.

There have been a few names in the running so far including Kensington Mayor Pete Fosselman, former Planning Board member John Robinson, former Chair Gus Bauman, and a now debunked rumor about Councilman Mike Knapp.

To get a better idea of what the Council might be looking for, let’s take a look at the backgrounds of the recent Planning Chairs during what I will call the Hanson period, covering his first period as chairman until now.

Royce Hanson (1972-1981) - Before his first tour as Chairman, Hanson had an extensive political and academic background. Hanson ran for Congress in 1966 and 1968, managed a Judge’s campaign, and was a Democratic convention delegate. He was President of the Washington Center for Metropolitan Studies and a Professor at American University. He also served as a Board member for a year before becoming chair.

Norman Christeller (1981-1989) - Christeller was appointed to fill a vacancy on the County Council in 1972 and then elected in his own right in 1974. He resigned from the Council in 1978 for a presidential appointment to the Department of Agriculture which never occurred. He also served on the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee. Following his time as Chair, Christeller went on to organize and chair a nonprofit dedicated to promoting low income housing. He passed away in 1999 at 75.

Gus Bauman (1989-1993) - Bauman served as legal counsel to the Planning Board for four years in the 1970s. He went on to serve as litigation counsel for the National Association of Home Builders. He also worked at law firm Beveridge & Diamond in the 1980s, where he returned after his time as planning board chair and an unsuccessful campaign for County Executive.

William Hussman (1994-2001) - When Montgomery County elected James Gleason as its first County Executive in 1970, William Hussmann became the first Deputy Chief Administrative Officer. Hussman became CAO from 1972 to 1978. He held the position again in the early 1990s under County Executive Neal Potter. Hussman also served as Rockville City planning director and was, according to one Washington Post article, a developer at some point in his career.

Arthur Holmes (2001-2002) - Holmes had already served on the Planning Board for seven years when he was appointed Chairman. He was a retired Two Star Army General. He had been chief executive of a business in Silver Spring until 1995. He was also the Planning Board’s first, and so far only, African American Chair. Holmes currently serves as Director of the County Transportation Department.

Derick Berlage (2002-2006) - Berlage was elected to the County Council in 1990 and reelected in 1994 and 1998, where he chaired the Land Use Committee and the National Capital Transportation Planning Board. He also worked in the private sector as a real estate attorney. Berlage now serves as St. Mary’s County’s Director for the Department of Land Use and Growth Management.

Royce Hanson (2006-2010) - After his first two terms as Chairman, Hanson directed the Committee on National Urban Policy of the National Research Council. He was a professor at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and Dean of the School of Social Sciences at the University of Texas. He returned to Montgomery County in 1998 and taught at the University of Maryland and George Washington University.

The experience has been varied, with several having political experience and a mix of public and private job experience. They have also all been men, which based on the current rumors is a streak likely to continue. At least two of them, three if you count Hanson twice, previously served on the Planning Board.

Many MPW readers have long memories so if you think I’ve missed an important part of someone’s background or made another error, please post it in the comments.


Barve Calls for Examination of MoCo Power Outages

House Majority Leader Kumar Barve (D-17) has called on the Public Service Commission (PSC) to examine why Montgomery County suffered disproportionate power outages during the recent blizzards. Barve cited the experience of his 83-year-old mother, who had to be evacuated to Virginia, and noted the much lower rates of outage in neighboring jurisdictions. We reprint Barve's press release and his letter to the PSC below.


February 25, 2010

Mary Scholl
301 858 3464
410 841 3464


Annapolis – Majority Leader Kumar Barve has asked the Public Service Commission to determine what actions are needed to prevent a repeat of the massive numbers of electric outages that took place in Montgomery County during the recent storms.

In a letter to Chairman Douglas Nazarian, Del. Barve expressed concern about the enormous number of outages in the county, especially when compared with neighboring jurisdictions. PEPCO outages cited in the Washington Post as of 10 PM the Saturday night after the first storm included 78,000 in Montgomery County, 7,700 in Prince George’s County and 2,200 in the District. Baltimore Gas and Electric said about 11,000 customers in Prince George’s, Howard and Anne Arundel were without power at that time.

“The storm did not stop at the county line,” said Del. Barve. “We need to look at what other counties are doing and copy them because we cannot afford to put so many of Montgomery’s residents in harm’s way. Public safety issues of this magnitude must be immediately addressed.”

One problem cited by Del. Barve was the enormous number of trees planted by the county directly under neighborhood power lines that have been allowed to grow over and around the utility wires.

“The prior policy of pruning county trees on a regular basis was changed and many neighborhoods now have trees crisscrossing utility lines,” continued Del. Barve. “While I don’t know if there were other contributing factors to Montgomery’s loss of power, I know that when you have 1000 lines down, a major tree trimming effort must become a top priority.”

“The good news is that there are many jurisdictions with an excellent track record of protecting their electric infrastructure in adverse weather conditions. If everyone works together, there is no reason why we can’t do the same.”


Following is Barve's letter to the PSC.


County Contractors Ask for Relief from Living Wage Law

At least three Montgomery County janitorial contractors are asking the county to waive its living wage law so that they can reduce employee wages. Otherwise, they are predicting that county budget cuts could put 150 janitors out of work.

On January 28, three janitorial contractors wrote the following letter to the County Executive stating that they have been informed by the county that the remaining billable hours in their contracts will be cut by about 75% as of February 1. They predict this would be “disastrous for health and safety reasons” since their workers stock restrooms and empty trash. If the cuts take effect, the companies claim they would have to lay off 150 workers who currently clean 125 buildings. To prevent this, one of the contractors wrote:

Our proposal is simple. We propose reducing the cost to the County for our services so that jobs will be saved and the level of cleaning maintained for the good of the County, County employees and County facilities.

The savings would be achieved by reducing the wage paid to our employees and our company’s margin and overhead. This would reduce our billing rate from $17.25 to $14.15, saving an average of $31,000.00 per month (based on 10,000 hours worked per month) for our company alone. Similar cost reductions for the other contractor, if they were to adopt the same plan, would push the savings to about $550,000.00 annually.

We have polled our employees and they are overwhelmingly in favor of the proposal we are making. A copy of the employee agreement and waiver is attached.

The county’s living wage law was the product of a long struggle waged between 1999 and 2002, with Council Members Phil Andrews and Blair Ewing along with labor in support and parts of the business and non-profit communities opposed. The living wage is currently set at $12.95 per hour, but the law has a big loophole: it does not apply to non-profits. Since the law does not contain a provision allowing the Executive Branch to waive its requirements by itself, we believe action by the County Council will be necessary to suspend or otherwise modify it.

On its face, the contractors’ proposal creates some questions. If the workers’ wages will be cut, are the company executives willing to cut their own compensation by an equal amount? How can the county be sure that any wage concessions will not just go to the companies’ bottom line rather than solely back to the county in savings? Can the companies’ characterization of their workers’ views be trusted? (Your author knows through long experience that workers who lack union representation can be easy to scare when times are tough.) Most importantly, under what circumstances – if any - should the county be willing to relax labor protections that were won with great effort?

In their letter, the contractors claim that Director of Procurement David Dise “was in favor of the plan and was willing to take it up the chain of command for consideration.” Dise is one of the Executive Branch’s most respected managers, but this is not a done deal. We hear that the Executive has not yet established a hard and fast position on this issue. The administration has been reaching out to County Council Members for at least a week, but no consensus has emerged. We do not expect the county’s labor movement to support the proposal, especially since they had to fight for four years to get living wage passed. So anything could happen.

Do we really need yet another budget-related item to fight about?


Rushern Baker on the Spot, Part Four

Meet David H. Hillman. He’s a 67-year-old, self-made white billionaire. He once lived in Bethesda, but now lives in an 11,809-square-foot, $6.3 million mansion in McLean. He is one of the biggest apartment building owners in the Washington metro area. He has given thousands of dollars to Republican politicians including George W. Bush, John McCain, George Allen, Michael Steele, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in addition to thousands more to the Republican National Committee. And a year from now, he could be the second-most powerful man in Prince George’s County without even living there.

Why? Because after spending over three-quarters of a million dollars, he may finally get Rushern Baker elected County Executive.

David Hillman could write an encyclopedia on hard work, success and power. Gazette columnist Blair Lee profiled him in 2005, writing, “Hillman, the son of a grocer, was an accountant back in the 1960s when one of his clients offered to sell him a mismanaged apartment building. Hillman, who knew nothing about real estate, took the offer and began building a real estate company, Southern Management, that today owns 70 apartment buildings (23,000 units including 890 units in Prince George’s), employs 1,200 people and is worth more than $2 billion.”

Hillman’s Southern Management Corporation (SMC) is one of the Washington-Baltimore area’s most prominent companies, and Hillman is one of the area’s most famous businessmen. Hillman is a member of the University of Maryland-Baltimore Foundation’s Board of Trustees and gave $1.7 million to establish the Hillman Entrepreneurs Program for students at Prince George’s Community College and the University of Maryland. Hillman has been a major player in the revival of Downtown Baltimore, renovating and leasing 1,800 luxury housing units there since the late 1990s. Hillman has also been involved with Baltimore’s massive “Superblock” development on the west side of downtown, at one point suing the city over the block’s parcel composition.

Successful people often become successful by overcoming big problems. So it has been with Hillman and SMC. Consider the following.

1. United States of America vs. SMC, 1992
This case concerns the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, which cares for drug and alcohol addicts who at first live in its residential facility and later are placed in housing rented by the board. In 1989, the board approached SMC to arrange for housing for its clients and was unable to lease any units. The federal government then sued SMC under the Fair Housing Act alleging that SMC’s failure to accept the board’s clients constituted illegal discrimination against handicapped individuals. A federal jury did not find discrimination, but did find that SMC violated the rights of the board’s clients and imposed $36,280 in damages. The trial court imposed an additional $50,000 and enjoined SMC against discriminating against handicapped people in the future. SMC appealed the verdict to the U.S. Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit. The appeals court said, “With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that there is no question that SMC denied housing to the Board on the basis of the substance abuser status of the prospective tenants and the perception that they would be undesirable tenants; the jury verdict puts this issue beyond dispute.” The appeals court vacated the monetary damages but upheld the injunction.

2. Racial Discrimination Lawsuit, 1998-2000
Sharon Reeves, a black property manager working for SMC in the 1990s, alleged that SMC President Ron Frank promised to promote her if she lowered the vacancy rates in the apartments she was running. Reeves claimed she did so, but that Frank (who is white) fired her anyway. After Reeves accused the company of racism, Frank brought her back but assigned her to a white supervisor who (according to Reeves) threatened to fire her “black ass.” Reeves quit in 1996 and sued for discrimination in 1998. During the trial, Reeves’s lawyer discovered that Frank had stated during a deposition in an unrelated case that calling an employee a “black baboon” did not violate SMC’s anti-discrimination policy. SMC settled the lawsuit on confidential terms and would not talk about it with the Washington City Paper.

3. FTC Investigation, 2001
In 2001, staffers at the Federal Trade Commission investigated whether SMC violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act “by furnishing derogatory information – I-9 credit ratings, which denote debts that have been charged off to profit or loss – to a consumer reporting agency while knowing or consciously avoiding knowing that the information was inaccurate.”

The agency wrote:

Staff has serious concerns about whether SMC’s practices violated the FCRA. From our investigation, it appears that SMC, upon a renter’s termination of a lease with an outstanding debt, automatically reported an I-9 rating within approximately 30 days (and sometimes fewer) of the renter’s move-out date. In many instances, it appears that SMC failed to determine that the debt was uncollectible – the accounting basis for charging it off – before using the I-9 rating, even though less derogatory ratings indicating that the debt was overdue but not yet uncollectible were available and may have been more accurate. The I-9 rating is the most adverse rating available, and its presence on a credit report can contribute to a creditor’s decision to deny credit to a consumer.
However, the agency decided to close its investigation because SMC only engaged in these practices for “a very short period of time.”

4. David Hillman and Suzanne Hillman vs. Internal Revenue Service, 2001
In an epic battle that had to happen, David Hillman – one of the Washington area’s most powerful real estate owners – once squared off against one of the country’s most powerful federal agencies, the IRS.

In 1997, the IRS sent written notice to Hillman and his wife that they owed “$294,556.00 in federal income taxes for taxable year 1993 and $309,696.00 in federal income taxes for taxable year 1994.” The issue was the Hillmans’ treatment of management expenses charged by SMC to a number of their real estate partnerships characterized by the IRS as “passthrough entities.” The Hillmans deducted fees charged by SMC to the passthrough entities from their income and the IRS objected, taking them to federal Tax Court. The Tax Court initially found in favor of the Hillmans, but the IRS appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit. The Appeals Court found that the Hillmans could not legally deduct the fees and decided in favor of the IRS. The case established a precedent for the real estate industry and is still cited by the IRS in its advice memoranda.

5. Lawsuits Involving Renters
Maryland courts have recorded so many lawsuits involving SMC that they may be literally uncountable. The Maryland Judiciary Case Search website reports that “Southern Management” has been a party in more than 500 lawsuits in Prince George’s County.

And the site reports that “Southern Management” has been a party in more than 500 lawsuits in Montgomery County.

The majority of these lawsuits are probably claims for unpaid rent or damaged property. That does not necessarily reflect badly on SMC as evictions and rent claims are an unfortunate part of the apartment rental business. But is SMC’s staggering volume of litigation truly necessary?

So what does David Hillman and SMC have to do with Rushern Baker? Plenty, because Hillman is BY FAR Baker’s biggest financial supporter. We’ll get into that tomorrow.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Nancy Navarro: "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs"

Council Member Nancy Navarro's newest newsletter starts with an obligatory photo featuring Leisure World residents - a natural given the retirement community's big role in her district - but is really all about the economy. For heaven's sake, it mentions the word "job" twenty-two times! Navarro talks about "jobs and investment for East County residents," attracting bio-tech jobs to the Route 29 corridor, more transit options to help residents get to (you guessed it) jobs, bringing jobs to Burtonsville, protecting libraries since residents use them to find (say it with me) jobs, expanding *job* opportunities for disabled residents, and so on. If you didn't get the message, the words, "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs" appear in bright red letters right in the middle of the newsletter. Sheesh, folks, it's quite a job to keep up with all these mentions of jobs!

But we believe that Navarro, who will be the only candidate who has gone to the voters for three straight years(!) by the end of this cycle, has a point. In 2006, debate over the pace of development was a big part of the county elections. 2010 looks like it could be very different.


Sierra Club to Score Gaithersburg West

In a recent email to Council Members, the Sierra Club states that it will score candidates' positions on Gaithersburg West in determining its endorsement. We reprint the email below.

-----Original Message-----
From: David Hauck
Sent: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 10:40 AM
To: Floreen's Office, Councilmember; Knapp's Office, Councilmember; Leventhal's Office, Councilmember; Andrews' Office, Councilmember; Elrich's Office, Councilmember; Trachtenberg's Office, Councilmember; Navarro's Office, Councilmember; Berliner's Office, Councilmember; Ervin's Office, Councilmember
Subject: Sierra Club adds Gaithersburg West to its voting scorecard

Dear Council members:

The Montgomery County Group of the Sierra Club is developing a scorecard of Council votes over the last four years. This scorecard will be an important element as we decide on our endorsements for Council in the 2010 elections.

The scorecard is unfinished but we want to alert you to one issue that will weigh heavily on our endorsements. This issue, the Life Sciences Center within the Gaithersburg West master plan, will come to you for decisions within the next few months.

The Countys development pattern and the associated transportation investments are the most environmentally consequential decisions that officials make. If balanced urban growth around our Metro stations reflects our hopes for a more sustainable future, then sprawl-inducing, car-demanding, unbalanced growth on our suburban fringes embodies the worst of our fears. The damage is compounded when the plan allows sprawl development at urban densities, proposes an uncertain and inadequate transit system to serve the development, and calls the result smart growth. Worst of all is creating de novo a large, dense center far from any Metro station, at the request of an ambitious land owner.

As we have said many times, our issue is not with a Life Sciences Center as such. There are proposals on the table to enhance the Life Sciences Center(s) without creating such havoc with sustainability.

We will watch closely the outcome of Council decisions on this plan. We expect the Council to agree on a plan that, to paraphrase the late Council member Betty Ann Krahnke, represents not a compromise but a solution, that promotes prosperity and sustainability.


David Hauck

Sierra Club, Montgomery County Group
Our Take:

In the past, the ICC was the number one issue for MoCo environmentalists. But the Sierra Club's opposition to the project was largely washed out by the Washington Post's support for it and when their endorsements clashed, they at least partially neutralized each other. So both ICC supporters (like Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal) and ICC opponents (like Phil Andrews and Marc Elrich) - all of whom were strong candidates in other respects - got elected. Now that the ICC is headed for completion, the Sierra Club and the Post will have to move on to other criteria for endorsements.

If the Sierra Club is serious about shrinking and/or altering Gaithersburg West, one possible result is that a decision on the project's master plan could be put off until after the election. The issue could also affect the at-large County Council race. The District Council Member who represents Gaithersburg is Phil Andrews, who opposes the significant increase in density contained in the plan and would like to spread jobs to other parts of the county. If both Andrews and the Sierra Club wind up basing their support for at-large candidates on their positions on Gaithersburg West, that will make this issue a weighty one in the election.


Lessons from a South American Bus Rapid Transit System

(Or, What I Did on my Winter Vacation)
By Council Member George Leventhal.

Councilmember George Leventhal enters a bi-articulated express bus in Curitiba.

Curitiba, a city of 1.8 million people, is the capital of the state of ParanĂ¡ in Brazil. In late December, I visited Curitiba at my own expense and was briefed on its Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, one of the world’s first and most highly-regarded. Because Montgomery County is studying BRT as an option for its residents, I wanted to find out how it is working in other communities. I found many positive aspects and some less positive.

My sincere thanks to Silvia Mara Dos Santos Ramos of URBS (Urbanizacao de Curitiba, S/A), the city’s transit agency, and AndrĂ© Vinicius Marchezetti of transportation consulting firm Logitrans, who were the guides for my visit. Officials at EMBARQ, a project of the World Resources Institute, and its Brazilian Center for Sustainable Transport were also extremely helpful in helping me make contact with the guides in Curitiba.

Positive Aspects of the System

Curitiba’s system is respected around the world and has inspired other BRT systems in Latin American cities including Bogota, Mexico City and Guatemala City, as well as U.S. cities including Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles. Click here to see a good overview of the system in Portuguese, but with easy-to-understand graphics. Click here to see a map of bus routes.

The genius of the city’s plan is that on primary streets, the center two lanes of traffic have been reserved for buses. This enables the buses to avoid automobile traffic and move smoothly, with minimal interruption. “Tube” stations are placed every 500 meters along primary routes. A city law states that no resident may live more than 500 meters from a bus stop, so the primary and collector routes cover the entire residential area.

Inside a tube station.

On the main bus line, the 351 tube stations are sleek and modern. Passengers pay when they enter the station, avoiding a delay when entering the bus. The buses are long, with several doors allowing passengers to enter and the bus doors correspond with several doors at each station, enabling speedy entrance to and egress from the buses. Buses on primary express routes are “bi-articulated,” containing three cars with accordion-style dividers that enable them to navigate tight turns quickly and efficiently.

This video demonstrates a biarticulated bus navigating a tight turn.

Within the stations, bus stops are identified with a clear map similar to the Metro route map. A tourist like myself can easily navigate most of the city by following the bus route on a map. Unfortunately, because the buses are used on multiple routes and because the bus network covers so much territory, complete routes are not shown inside every bus.

A single fare of R$2.20 Brazilian Reals (U.S. $1.22) enables a rider to take a single bus as far as it travels, even from Curitiba’s furthest suburbs into the city center. Fare revenue accounts for 100 percent of Curitiba’s operating budget. (Its capital budget – the cost of building the system – came from international investment including the World Bank and French Development Agency.)

Property values adjacent to the bus line have shown consistent increases when new express routes are constructed, increasing tax revenues to local governments. Buses utilize 20% Biodiesel to minimize emissions of carbon and other pollutants.

Less Positive Aspects of the System

My son Daniel Leventhal rides the bus.

Because the current system dates to 1974, the 29 primary bus terminals that facilitate transfers between collector and primary bus routes are aging. The two I visited were not especially attractive, and abundantly covered with graffiti.

Ms. Dos Santos told me that “the rich do not use the system much.” Those who have access to the comfort and privacy of their automobiles opt out of using the BRT system. In general, I did not find the BRT experience comparable to fixed-rail systems in terms of comfort. Curitiba does not have a Metro rail system, although there are plans to construct a rail line in time for the 2014 World Cup.

Lessons for Montgomery County, Maryland

Taken from inside an express bus, this photo shows the division of the BRT lanes from automobile lanes.

According to Ms. Dos Santos, the rate of automobile ownership in Curitiba is 22%, while transit usage is 40% and the balance of commuters travel by motorcycle or motor scooter, or walk. This helps to explain why ridership of the BRT system is so high and why farebox revenues cover operating costs.

By contrast, in Montgomery County, 66% of workers drive to work alone while only 14.9% commute by rail or bus, according to the 2008 American Community Survey.

Another important difference is the price of gasoline, which is substantially more expensive in Brazil (R$2.49 Brazilian Reals per liter, or approximately U.S. $5.20 per gallon, while I was there) than in the U.S., making automobile travel substantially less affordable for working Brazilians.

The critical question is whether increased frequency, speed and convenience would persuade enough Montgomery County residents to ride the bus to make the system financially sustainable. Even in Curitiba, where per capita income was R$17,977 Brazilian Reals (U.S. $10,005) in 2006, upscale people do not ride the bus – and there are far more upscale people in Montgomery County, where per capita income is U.S. $35,684.

The county’s current Ride-On bus system generates only approximately 15% of its revenue from fares, with the remainder subsidized from general tax revenues. The current budget crisis has highlighted the Ride-On system’s significant expense to taxpayers, although the County Council has so far resisted cuts in Ride-On service proposed by the County Executive. How much more can we afford to expand the bus system even if the current 85% subsidy from all taxpayers decreased to a subsidy of 80%, 75% or lower?

Also relevant is that the county’s bus storage and maintenance facility is at its absolute limit of available space, and a new storage and maintenance facility proposed for Clarksburg has been delayed because of concerns over runoff into Ten Mile Creek, so there is currently no place to store additional buses in the county.

An express bus departs from tube stations.

Curitiba has a long history of transit service, dating back to horse-drawn trolleys in 1887. Planning for 20 primary express bus routes began in 1966 and the system opened in 1974. For more than 35 years, primary roads have been designed to accommodate the BRT system. Municipalities in the Curitiba region served by URBS delegate management of the transit system to URBS, whose board members are appointed by the Mayor of Curitiba.

In Montgomery County, however, major roads would need to be redesigned to accomodate bus rapid transit. The state of Maryland’s recent reconstruction of Route 29 represented a critical missed opportunity to develop express bus lanes in the middle.

Our county’s primary roads (Route 29, New Hampshire Avenue, Georgia Avenue, Connecticut Avenue, Routes 28 & 198, Veirs Mill Road, University Boulevard, Wisconsin Avenue/Rockville Pike, and I-270) are owned, designed and maintained by the State Highway Administration. Close coordination between the county, the state and possibly the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) would be necessary to accomplish the BRT vision. Ridership will be a very important criterion for winning federal funding – and ridership is the key question regarding whether the system can succeed here.

Accommodating through automobile traffic on primary roads will be another key issue. Because the buses travel on a dedicated route, automobiles may not cross primary streets at every intersection. In Montgomery County, this will affect many neighborhood streets whose residents are accustomed to being able to cross major streets or make left and right turns to exit their neighborhoods – all of which could be restricted with rapid bus routes down the center of major streets.

My visit to Curitiba was a great experience and there is no question that I would love to see similar technology employed in Montgomery County. In the near term, I will advocate for BRT on Veirs Mill Road, which along with University Boulevard has just received a federal grant for bus transit improvements, and Georgia Avenue. I am also optimistic about prospects for BRT on the Inter County Connector and the proposal for BRT on Rockville Pike contained in the White Flint Sector Plan, now pending before the County Council.

On the other hand, my visit to Curitiba did not persuade me that BRT compares favorably to fixed-rail systems as an effective inducement for riders to leave their automobiles at home. I will continue to advocate strongly for light rail on the Purple Line and, while I understand that cost factors may ultimately persuade Governor O’Malley to select BRT for the Corridor Cities Transitway, my preference remains light rail for that system as well.

George Leventhal is an at-large member of the Montgomery County Council. He serves on the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee.


Gansler Opinion on Same-Sex Marriage

Many media outlets are reporting on Attorney General Doug Gansler's opinion that same-sex marriages originating in other states can be recognized in Maryland. Those who wish to see the opinion itself can find it here. We reproduce the concluding language below.


Our opinion is as follows:

The Court of Appeals would start from the general principle that a marriage that is valid in the place of celebration remains valid in Maryland. There is an exception to that rule if the particular marriage is contrary to a strong State public policy. A statute that limits marriage in Maryland to opposite-sex couples could be said to embody a policy against same-sex marriage. However, there are many restrictions in the State’s marriage statutes and the Court of Appeals has not construed the public policy exception to encompass all those restrictions. For example, it has recognized common law marriages from other states, although there is no common law marriage in Maryland, and has recognized a Rhode Island marriage between an uncle and a niece, although a statute prohibits marriage between an uncle and a niece in Maryland. Indeed, the public policy exception is a very limited one that the Court has seldom invoked.

While the matter is not free from all doubt, in our view, the Court is likely to respect the law of other states and recognize a same-sex marriage contracted validly in another jurisdiction. In light of Maryland’s developing public policy concerning intimate samesex relationships, the Court would not readily invoke the public policy exception to the usual rule of recognition. You have posed the question in the abstract, but, of course, context matters. For example, to the extent that a particular matter is governed by federal law, the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which limits marriage for federal purposes to opposite-sex couples, would prevent recognition of the marriage for that particular purpose.

Finally, with respect to your question concerning the Governor’s authority to issue an executive order, the Governor cannot legislate through an executive order. An executive order of the Governor must be consistent with existing Maryland law, as enacted by the General Assembly and construed by the courts. While the State Constitution and statutes accord the Governor broad powers in certain areas – for example, in matters concerning executive branch employees – many questions concerning recognition of out-of-state marriages arise in the courts and cannot be addressed in an executive order. The action of the New York Governor’s office in 2008 is not entirely analogous. In New York, the Governor’s counsel issued a memorandum to various agencies in that state directing them to comply with a state court decision concerning recognition of out-of-state marriages; there is no similar court decision in Maryland.


Ilaya Hopkins Announces Campaign Kickoff (Updated)

Ilaya Hopkins, who announced her exploratory committee for the Council District 1 seat currently occupied by Roger Berliner last month, is now formally launching her campaign. We reproduce her kickoff announcement below.

Update: Hopkins's website is up and running.

It's Official - Ilaya Hopkins is Running for County Council!

Dear [Name of Voter],

Join us Saturday, March 6th as Ilaya launches her campaign for the County Council!

Ilaya has spent the past few months meeting with people from all across District 1 - from Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Friendship Heights to Potomac Village and North Bethesda. She's listened to friends, neighbors, community and business leaders and colleagues and has decided that we need strong leadership to move us forward. She is excited by this opportunity and looks forward to bringing everybody together to make District 1 the best it can be for our families and businesses.

Bring a friend. We'll need all the help we can gather to make this campaign a success. Bring future voters too - the kickoff will be kid-friendly.

When and Where

The campaign kickoff will be Saturday, March 6 from 4:00-6:00 p.m. in downtown Bethesda at the PeriPoint Building, 5001 Wilson Lane, Bethesda's first LEED certified building.

A detailed invitation will follow. Please pass on word to friends, family and neighbors.

Thanks! See you on March 6th!


Chris Gill, Campaign Manager
Friends of Ilaya Rome Hopkins

By the Authority of Friends of Ilaya Rome Hopkins, Victoria H. Hall, Treasurer, Dana Wright, Chair


Rushern Baker on the Spot, Part Three (Updated)

Meet Bradford L. Seamon. He is the President, CEO and founder of B.L. Seamon Corporation, a minority business enterprise (MBE) government contractor based in Greenbelt with offices in Atlanta and Bedminster, New Jersey. He is also very, very close to Rushern Baker.

Bradford Seamon is a self-made man with smarts, savvy and guts. The District Chronicles has written of his struggles as a young black entrepreneur:

It’s been almost 18 years since Bradford Seamon rounded the corner on his block heading towards his house only to discover the “repo man” sitting in his front yard, waiting to take his car.

As a young entrepreneur in his late twenties, he was able to pay everyone on his payroll - everyone except for himself. He took another look at his yard and kept driving.

“That’s one of the risks that you take as an entrepreneur,” Seamon said. “It’s all about being an individual and being willing to take risks. The more risks, the higher the reward.”
Seamon founded his company in 1989 and has had great success working as a contractor for the federal government and private companies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the National Cancer Institute and the Department of Labor. His firm was named as one of the area’s top 100 MBEs in November. According to the company’s website, “BLS orchestrates meetings and events, designs communication materials and Web sites, and executes program services using advanced technology, expert staff, and unparalleled client service standards. We have built our reputation by providing top-notch service and designing seamless support that allow us to work in unison with our clients and their partners.”

Minority contracting is the mother’s milk of Prince George’s County politics. The county government is saturated with minority contractors who win public consulting, vending and construction contracts and then use part of their profits to contribute to the politicians in power. All of this creates a “pay-to-play” culture that exceeds anything that has ever been seen in Montgomery County. WSSC has been nearly paralyzed for years by the relentless focus of its Prince George’s County commissioners on minority contracting requirements. Many minority contractors spray their campaign contributions liberally across the county’s political establishment and beyond. But Bradford Seamon is different. He has contributed to only four political accounts: Barack Obama ($4,550), DNC Services Corporation ($1,250), State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey ($1,250) and Rushern Baker.

B.L. Seamon Corporation has made three loans to Baker: $693 on 10/18/99, $1,192 on 11/10/99 and $1,426.69 on 8/1/02. This is the period during which Baker, who served as a Delegate from 1995 through 2003, was preparing for and running in his first race for County Executive. Seamon, his company and his wife also made 21 different contributions to Baker worth $10,613.63 from 2000 through 2008. Many of these contributions reflect Seamon’s closeness to Baker: forgiveness of interest on loans, sale of office furniture, food for a fundraising event and even a $100 generator rental. There’s nothing unusual here. Loyal political supporters often make these kinds of contributions to their candidates.

What is unusual is the behavior of a company called MStream Inc. Founded on 4/23/02 by Seamon and his wife, the company’s purpose according to its Articles of Incorporation was, “to engage in investment management and other business ventures as the officers of the corporation may decide.” The company’s business address matched the Seamons’ home address in Upper Marlboro.

On 8/2/02, less than four months after its creation, MStream made a $100,000 loan to Baker. On 8/8/06, right before Baker’s second County Executive primary loss to Jack Johnson, MStream made another $65,000 loan to Baker. On 5/8/07, MStream made a final $1,000 loan to Baker. MStream forfeited its Maryland corporate registration on 10/5/07 for “failure to file property return for 2006.”

We cannot find any record of an MStream Inc. based in Upper Marlboro undertaking any actual business activities in Maryland or anywhere else. Furthermore, Baker was the only candidate recipient in Maryland of any contributions from MStream. The Baker campaign has repaid all of MStream’s loans, but we can find no record of any interest paid to the firm.

What was MStream’s scope of business? How did it get hold of $100,000 to loan to Baker after less than four months of existence? If MStream’s money came from Seamon, why would he not loan it under his own name? Did it come from somewhere else? Will we ever know the answers?

The traditional excuse used by candidates for transactions like these is that they cannot know everything about all of their donors. That is often true, but the excuse would fail in this case for two reasons.

1. All candidates know exactly where five- and six-digit loan checks come from.

2. Bradford Seamon has been Rushern Baker’s campaign Treasurer since 1992.

The story of Seamon, Baker and MStream’s money may never be known because it has never been investigated and perhaps never will be. But as generous as Seamon has been, he is not Baker’s biggest benefactor. We will reveal that person’s identity tomorrow.

Update: All contribution and loan data may be verified at the State Board of Elections campaign finance website.


Josh Kurtz on Political Pulse on Ch. 16 TV‏

Josh Kurtz, Senior Editor for Roll Call Newspaper, columnist for the CenterMaryland blog ( and former Gazette reporter in Annapolis will be on the "Political Pulse" TV Show on:

Thurs (Feb 25th) at 9 p.m.
Fri-Sun (Feb 26th-28th) at 6 p.m. and
Tues (March 2nd) at 9:30 p.m.

Federal, Maryland and County political races and issues will be discussed.

Political Pulse is on Channel 16 TV in Montgomery County.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rushern Republican is a Birther

Let's be fair: Prince George's County Executive candidate Rushern Baker may not have much control over his GOP contributor Eric Wargotz, but this tidbit is too wild to ignore. Courtesy of blogger Mike Stark and the Examiner, here is video of Wargotz saying that he does not believe Barack Obama was born in the United States. Those remarks come in the first two minutes of the video.


Lenett Sends out New Mailer

District 19 Senator Mike Lenett has sent out a new full-color 9 x 17 mailer to his constituents touting his priorities and asking for their input. Given the unpredictable politics in the district, every mailer must be evaluated from an electoral perspective. We reproduce it below.

This mailer demonstrates the qualities that would make Lenett tough to beat for any challenger: smarts, aggressiveness, a willingness to spend money and progressive priorities. And don't think that the Senator does not know how this will look to potential rivals!


My Response to the Washington Post

By Eric Luedtke.

Over the weekend, a couple of political acquaintances asked me why I haven’t blogged anything in response to the Post’s editorials attacking my colleagues and me. Truth is, I don’t really believe in responding to attacks like these. For the third time in as many weeks, the Post’s Lee Hockstader has used innuendo and hyperbole, schoolyard taunts and selective reporting to try to paint our involvement in elections as somehow nefarious. I could sit here and type a point-by-point response, but I doubt there’s much to gain. Hockstader will continue writing what he wants, true or not. The guy is, after all a pretty good rhetorician, managing in the same three editorials to say that our teachers should be paid well and that we make too much, to argue that public servants shouldn’t make their opinions known to the public, and a host of other logical contortions worthy of the best of classical sophists. In any case, I have better things to do than write a point by point; like digging through this bottomless pile of grading I just brought home with me. But one of Hockstader’s claims deserves a clear response: his insistence that Montgomery County’s teachers are thugs.

Here’s what we really are:

We are 12,000 people who have dedicated our professional lives to helping the children of our community achieve. We are the elementary school teachers who take your child’s hand on their first day of kindergarten, and the high school teachers who shake it as they walk across the stage at graduation. We are the special educators who meet the often profound needs of our students with disabilities, the ESOL teachers who guide children through an entirely new language, and the speech pathologists who help kids navigate one of the most important worlds they will encounter, the world of the spoken word. We are occupational and physical therapists who work with toddlers with special needs before they even reach school, so they’ll be ready to learn, and counselors who walk children through some of the most painful moments imaginable, so the vagaries of life don’t keep them from their education.

We inspire. We challenge. We lend an ear to listen, offer a helping hand, and, when necessary, give a shoulder to cry on.

Because we know that what we do is teamwork, not the work of individuals, we are strong believers in improving our profession. We’ve created a peer assistance and review program which offers support to new and under-performing teachers, a program which is now a national model. We’ve worked to embed professional development in everything we do, with staff developers at every school, because we expect ourselves to continuously improve. We’re fighting, as we speak, to develop new models of school leadership and collaborative planning that will lead to better results for our kids.

And because we know our students have wider needs, because we know our kids need more than what we can offer in our classrooms, we don’t let our work stop at the schoolhouse door. We are advocates. We fight to make sure every kid has the resources they need to learn. We work with civil rights and equity groups to fight the achievement gap, and with parents groups to ensure that families have a voice in our schools. We’ve struggled against a political culture and a mainstream media that think schools can be improved with sound bites, and offer simplistic one-word solutions like testing and vouchers and charters that don’t address the fundamental challenges of American education. And because our schools don’t exist in a vacuum, we work for better housing, health care, and nutrition programs.

But we haven’t done it alone. In this work, our 12,000 have been joined by hundreds of thousands of parents, students, and average Montgomery County residents who believe deeply in the work we do. They’ve supported us in myriad ways. Most profoundly, many have placed their trust in our ability to recommend strong pro-education candidates for office. And, because that is quite a responsibility to bear, we have created the most substantive, open, and democratic endorsement process I’ve ever heard of. Unlike, say, the Washington Post, we publicly release our endorsement criteria on our website and are posting our questionnaire as soon as it’s finalized. Our decision is made not by a small group of journalists who live outside the county and work in a downtown office, but by a democratically-elected body of hundreds of educators that meets monthly in Rockville.

Lee Hockstader seems to think that public servants don’t deserve the right and privilege of participation in a democratic society. We disagree. We will continue to speak out, continue to advocate for the children in our classrooms, for their parents, for our schools. We will continue to elect excellent leaders to public office, people for whom support for schools is a reality and not just a campaign slogan. Once elected, we will continue to hold them to account for their actions. And, when re-election time comes, we will support those who upheld their promises and unseat those who abandoned campaign pledges at the first shift in political winds.

Montgomery County’s children deserve the best, and whatever we have to do to give it to them, from the locker-lined hallways of our schools to the marble-lined hallways of Annapolis, we will do it.

Lee Hockstader can think what he wants. For my part, I count myself blessed to have as my colleagues and friends thousands of the best educators in America. And I am proud to be a member of and an activist for the Montgomery County Education Association.

Put that in an editorial, Lee.

Eric Luedtke is a social studies teacher at Loiederman Middle School, a board member of the Montgomery County Education Association, and co-chair of the MCEA Political and Legislative Services Committee.