Friday, January 18, 2019

Opening Week in the MDGA 2019

(Annapolis) – The first week of the Maryland General Assembly is always filled with anticipation. There are 61 new members, it’s the largest class of women lawmakers, one of the most diverse groups and new leadership. The selection of leadership was never been in question. Delegate Michael Bush was re-elected by the House and the Senate choose Senator Thomas V. “Mike” Miller to be President of the body. Both men are in their 70’s and with so many new members the standard both men have set should not be taken likely. Some of the freshmen campaign on the idea “shaking up the status quo.”

The legislative body has laid out several issues Baltimore Crime, School Funding, Minimum Wage, Marijuana, and Sports Gambling. To sort it all with me is Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters. We breakdown what we saw and its varied impacts. I also hope you read his take on Sen. Miller.

Josh Kurtz joins me for Live from the Pit.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Beale Street Talkin’

(Baltimore, MD) There are times when you realize you are witnessing something that is special. So when I received an invite to see a screening of “If Beale Street Could Talk” on January 10, 2019; I was especially excited by the question and answer session with writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Barry Jenkins, the Director of the film.

First for the disclaimer, I have not read the James Baldwin book but I am a big fan of his writing and his takes on American culture and how “Black Folks” inhabit its unique space. The book written in 1974 (the year I graduate from high school) comes after a successful writing career (Notes on Native Son, Go Tell It On the Mountain and others). Baldwin, the contemporary writer, wants to tap into the angst of the period. He already has dealt with several racial conflicts. This book comes at a time following the height of the Civil Rights Movement. In urban America, the strife of inner city life is tied up with crime and what it does to families. The vehicle he uses is the arrest of a young Black man framed for a rape. The dynamic of becoming a father behind bars adds to the tension. This is a love story in all of its complexities.

Barry Jenkins, the Director of Moonlight, won Best Picture at the Oscars in 2017 (in the strangest   The answer is on the screen.
presentation on live television – they lost, then were told they won.) I was thrilled Jenkins would tackle a James Baldwin book. It’s not easy; people have read the story and have preconceived notions about how it should work. Would it be true to Baldwin’s prose or would it need a contemporary twist to reach an audience 45 years, removed from the period?

Coates’ upbringing in Baltimore has informed much of his writing. The same can be said of Jenkins who grew up in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami during the “Crack Epidemic.” The invite to come to Baltimore is both intriguing and brings an air of expectation that few can imagine. Both men are at the top of their game… This is like having Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, or Countee Cullen and Ralph Ellison compare notes.

They are friends and you find out following the screening this is the “mutual admiration” club. It becomes clear when Jenkins stops the Q and A. He reminds Coates of their first meeting in a San Francisco bar 14 years ago. Over drinks, Jenkins says “You stopped me and said, ‘you need to get out.’” (FYI, this is not a reference to the recent movie.) Stunned, Jenkins is literally told he “needs to leave the country.” Following the conversation, Jenkins says he took the writer up on his suggestion and moved to Paris. While in Paris, he writes a pair of screen plays, Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk. The movie director says, “Thank you.” (Crowd goes “Awww!!”) The audience begins to realize they are in for a conversation, which will be remembered. Coates acknowledges the gesture and then tells the filmmaker, “You know, I didn’t have a passport during that time.” There are chuckles. Like Baldwin, Coates and Jenkins have lived in Paris. Is it coincidence? There is time honored of tradition of expatriates finding that unique Black Voice in Europe...hmm?

There are some 700 people hanging on every word these two men say. The early part of the conversation is about the usage of close ups of the actors' faces and the ability bring out the details of Blackness and Black love. The overwhelming African-American crowd knows it’s not something you see on the screen often. “This movie is about the personal stories” of the characters laid out by Baldwin. The lead actress, Kiki Lane (who plays Clementine), “it’s her first movie,” according to the Director. Later, Jenkins tells the story of a screening in Paris and how the French are taken with Clementine’s’ hair style. “How did you do it (in a French accent)?” “It’s just her natural hair,” as the movie director shrugs his shoulders.  

As I watched the movie, I had lot of questions. Coates, who’s seen the movie before, had many of the same questions. “I’ve got questions about how you ended the movie...?”  “Well, as Jenkins sighs, “There is alternate ending to the movie.” I don’t want to give away about how it ends, but let’s just say, you’ll want to get the DVD when it comes out.

There is a lot of trauma in this movie and the Director addresses it this way, “How you deal with trauma can make you go crazy.” He lets the movie goers in on a scene he thoroughly enjoys. It involves the character Fonny (Stephan James) and his friend Henry (played by Brian “Paper Boi” Tyree). It is a twelve minute sequence of the two men talking about Henry’s time in jail. Initially, the Director uses two cameras, but decides to use only one. The layering makes this scene work. It starts with “Where you been?” What did you do? Whatca been doin?” It’s like peeling an onion, something is revealed with each layer. It is a foreboding sense that you never want to be there - jail.

Another scene I was personally interested in was the announcement of Clementine’s impending pregnancy. Both families are invited to come over to the River household. “A life is coming,” Sharon Rivers (Regina King) tells the family of Fonny. The females of the Fonny family aren’t pleased to hear a child is coming into this world and one of his sisters responds accordingly, “Who is going to take care this baby? Fonny, ain’t got no job and he’s in jail.” These kind of confrontations play out in Black families…with a sense of "we will find a way." The Baldwin treatment of religion and Blackness is on full display.

Lastly, Regina King who plays Sharon Rivers gives an unbelievable performance. As I watched her on the screen, I’m reminded she began her acting career on a TV a sitcom as a young girl. Her breakthrough performance came opposite of Janet Jackson in Poetic Justice and numerous other parts (Ray). We have watched her turn into an actress worth watching and crafting believable characters.

One of the “out of the blue” questions came during a section where Coates tries to get at Jenkins motivations about his film making. Coates asks, “Were there any TV/films you saw growing up that had an impact or influenced you?” Jenkins begins to think and rolls back the idea of influence. “I believe after I saw Spike Lee’s, School Daze…I said, ‘Hmm, that’s different.’” He goes on to say he never knew that world existed. This leads to questions about education and the role of teachers for both men. On the topic of post-secondary education, Jenkins talks about attending Florida State University. His major was creative writing. Things change via the football team. Several of his friends use the stadium cafeteria because of the food. It’s also where the film school is located. On one occasion, there is an open house and he attends. He changes his major.  It wasn’t smooth sailing. His first short film was a disaster because he didn’t know about cameras, exposures and film. He takes off a year and comes back with renewed vigor.

The conversation between the two men goes on for more than 30 minutes. I would have been okay with them continuing the conversation allowing the audience to listen in. It was nuanced, it was measured, it was all over the place, and it was Black folks thinking like Black folks without the filters. A welcomed break from some heavy issues I often cover in Black Politics.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Maryland Stories of the Year 2018

Maryland and it’s a proximity to Washington, DC means were are inevitably in the national spotlight. This year the Attorney General sued the Trump administration on several occasions. The violence of urban areas also consumed the state. We continue to buck trends by re-electing a Republican for Governor. I wrote earlier about how “Maryland is Different.” I am happy to note the opening of  the Harriet Tubman Trail. Was shocked when the UMBC Basketball Team a  #16 seed knocked off a #1 seed. On the horizon are the challenges everywhere. So now for the annual disclaimer, you don’t have to agree with my list, so make your own. As always comments are welcomed.

Rev. Jamal Bryant with Sen. Bernie Saunders in Baltimore
10. Rev. Jamal Bryant Leaves Empowerment Temple – Clergy in Baltimore not only preach to their “flock,” but also have a broader message to society. Reverend Bryant of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore used his position to champion the cause of Black men dying at the hands of police (Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Freddie Gray). He preached at the funeral of Gray and that same day an “uprising” occurred on Pennsylvania and North Avenues. Leaving a CVS and other businesses torched at the hands of protesters.  Rev. Bryant joined with civic leaders the next day to call for calm. He even names a community center for Gray. His famed parishioners include former Raven football player, Ray Lewis and was a spiritual advisor to Omarosa Manigualt. So when word comes he’s leaving Baltimore a number of people were puzzled. He’s headed to New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta to take over the church once presided over by Bishop Eddie Long.

9. Opioids – When Governor Larry Hogan called the opioid crisis a statewide emergency four years ago, the focus was on pain pills like Oxycontin.  As their supplies were scrutinized users replaced the legal drug with heroin. Today heroin is being replaced by a drug called fentanyl. Its ramifications are deadly. There are more fentanyl deaths in the state and they are outpacing heroin overdoses. Naloxone which is used to revive overdose victims has been a godsend. The price however is growing and may put this drug out of the reach of those who need it most.

8. Baltimore Police Chiefs – Over this year Baltimore had three Police Commissioners. They include Kevin Davis, Darryl De Sousa, and Joe Tuggle. This isn’t a good look no matter how you spin it. The city has challenges, problems, financial issues and is a under a consent decree. So next up is Joel Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, is the former Chief of Police in Fort Worth, Texas, His selection was kept under wraps until a Fort Worth Councilman leaked it to a Dallas Newspaper. His confirmation starts in January. Here’s what he faces not enough officers, record breaking overtime, murder rate over 300 people and a consent decree that still leaves the community distrusting the police.

7. Det. Sean Suiters death – There is something that just doesn’t feel right about this Detective’s death. He dies a day before he was supposed to testify in the Gun Trace Taskforce federal grand jury case 2017. The shooting happen in the Harlem Park neighborhood of Baltimore. Detective Suiter was investigating a cold case when he was allegedly shot by an unknown assailant. Police shutdown the neighborhood for a week, a $215,000 reward was offered, and conflicting statements from police. An independent panel of police from outside the city said, it appears he died from a “self-inflicted wound.” His widow is not buying the story.

6. The Gun Trace Task Force – people in Baltimore were not surprised when eight members of this elite force were indicted and found guilty of federal racketeering. It was as if they were a gang, robbing drug dealers, keeping money collected in raids, setting up people for illegal arrest and reselling the drugs. The stories told on the witness stand were unbelievable. It has allowed a number of people who were convicted by this group to go free. The irony, no one in the command staff knew it was occurring.

5. Women in Power – When the Maryland Legislature convenes in January there will be more female legislators than ever before. Many of these ladies are new comers who ran not because they are of a different gender but because they are looking to make change. Once again there is this irony, the entire United States Congressional delegation is made up of men. What’s wrong with this picture?

4. Election Results 2018 – While Governor Hogan was able to remain in office, the same cannot be said for members of the GOP who thought they may succeed him. In County Executive races, several large jurisdictions Baltimore, Howard, and Anne Arundel Counties were able to beat back Republican candidates. In Prince Georges and Howard Counties there were first. Prince Georges County elected its first Black female leader, Angela Alsobrooks and Howard County elected its first African-American chief executive Calvin Ball.

3. Governor Larry Hogan – “Aw Shucks,” is how I have described the current Maryland Governor’s demeanor. There was never any doubt Governor Hogan was going to re-elected (an average of polls showed he had between 60-70% approval ratings). He amassed campaign contributions, understood the Presidents lack of popularity in the state, and getting a candidate he could easily define. I actually think he enjoys being Governor (at least for the next four years). The Governor hoped to bring in additional Republican legislators to help with governing, but it didn’t happen. He is the first Republican Governor to be re-elected since the 1960’s

2. Ellicott City Flooding – It started as a bright sunny afternoon on May 27, 2018 at Patapsco State Park celebrating my son’s dual graduations (one from Tennessee State University – B.S., and Wagner College – Masters). The sky darkened, rain and lightning came. We were lucky, we continued under a shelter. An hour before things ended a ranger came to the shelter. She suggested we might want to end early because a bridge across the Patapsco River was washed out and there was flash flooding. When we arrived home we watched in horror as flooding from the Patapsco River and its tributaries washed out large parts of the Ellicott City Main Street and Oella. A former military officer who was trying to save a woman from the raging waters was sweep away and drowned. This wasn’t supposed to happen a second according to County Executive Alan Kittleman. One person died and it’s likely what cause Kittleman to lose re-election.

1. Capital Gazette Shooting – Time Magazine chose the Journalist who were killed and those who survived at the Annapolis newspaper as their Person(s) of the Year. I concur. As a journalist, I look over my shoulder often. The President has given license to those whose mental capacities may be diminished. I hope as you read this, and you assess what do to make ends meet you never have to wonder if someone will take your life away.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Maryland is Different

(Owings Mills, MD) “I’m going to vote for Jealous, but I know he is going to lose,” is a sentiment I heard often while covering the Maryland Gubernatorial election of 2018. But after that, the people who would tell me who they voted for made this admission, “I want to send a message,” that’s what I heard.

This was a message election which spilled into the state. It manifested itself with early voting, was it enough? Trump’s name wasn’t on the ballot, but he was on their minds. I jokingly said, “Will Maryland have an Ocean City Wave, a Blue Wave or a Tsunami.” Turnout was the key. Democratic nominee Ben Jealous said as much when he came to Maryland Public Television prior to General Election.  “If we (Jealous Campaign) can have a million voter’s turnout for the election I have a chance.”

Wishful thinking or shrewd strategy? Looking back at the Jealous and Gov. Larry Hogan campaigns they had different goals. For Governor Hogan, it was about not expending more cash or energy than necessary, limit debate opportunities, play to strengths, and have a closing argument which could have coattails.

For Jealous it was about nationalizing the race, maximizing voter turnout in the democratic strongholds and paint the governor as an extremist.

Each man used different methods to reach their goals, but there can only be one winner.

Governor Hogan had to expend little energy during the Republican primary. He ran ads touting his accomplishments and laying the foundation for a second term. The Governor thought his Democratic challenger would be Prince Georges County Executive Rushern Baker. Baker was the choice of the establishment Democratic Party in the state. The Prince George’s County candidates name recognition was limited to the Washington suburbs, so he spent an inordinate time in the Baltimore metro area. What he was unprepared for was the Jealous’ ground game. Jealous also defined himself via TV ads. The Republican Governors Association wasted no time airing ads right after his nomination in the general election. Jealous had no money left to counter being defined as “extreme and a socialist.”

What Larry Hogan Got Right

Governor Hogan’s rise to the top came at time when Maryland voters were tired of democratic control of state. The political novice was and is shrewd. In a two to one democratic state Hogan knew using a national Republican playbook was not going to work. While surrounding states (Virginia, New Jersey, West Virginia and Pennsylvania) had trended to the GOP, he knew it wasn’t going to work. Instead his idea was to appeal to the “every-man” idea. What I am talking about is Hogan was the kind of guy who you might have a beer with in a bar. I like to call him, the “Aw shucks Governor.” He also rejected Republican touchstone issues (abortion, school choice etc…) to prove it, he bucked the national party and only embrace New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s model. Governor Christie’s tactic of lowering taxes, ending bureaucracy, and becoming business friendly. The catch phrase of his first campaign was “ending the rain tax.” A populist move that few could disagree with.

Once in office he found his perfect foil, the Maryland Legislature. With super majorities he could run against them calling them obstructionist. But what put Hogan over the top, was sympathy he received after being diagnosed with cancer. Despite being in the hospital receiving chemotherapy Hogan spent hours doing work from his hospital bed. This lead to a nearly 60 percent approval rating in a “blue state.”

He also found an issue which crossed party lines, the opioid crisis. Look, heroin addiction has been in Maryland since the 1920’s. It was confined to inner city Baltimore. Hundreds were hooked on the drug and help fuel a crime wave to feed a habit from the 60’s through the 70’s.

When the drug came to the suburbs in the 80’s and 90’s killing white kids and adults it was serious for this politician. It was a dirty little secret no was paying attention to and wasn’t just affecting major population areas but was an epidemic in places like Cumberland, Hagerstown, and Frederick, Washington, Carroll, Cecil and Queen Anne’s Counties. These jurisdictions saw people turn to the heroin because they were unable to keep up with their OxyContin dependencies. I was initially suspect. It changed when Governor Hogan, said he was personally affected when a cousin overdosed after years of addiction.

Under the radar Governor Hogan through his Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford cultivated something the Maryland Democratic Party never embraced, Black Business. Despite years of “lip service,” minority set asides had gone from hard targets to simply goals. The whole idea of the state having minority vendors had become a mess. This entrepreneurial class has embraced anyone who would listen to their plight and actually make a difference. Enter the Maryland GOP. The governor’s embrace of a “business first mentality” was perfect for this group. African-American entrepreneurs are lukewarm to embrace the party’s social policies, but they are “all in” on getting a seat at the table. They ended up having this group to themselves.
So why are 30 percent of African-American voters drawn to Governor Hogan? This group was half this size in his first run. They are collection of voters who are discussed at the idea "Democrats have Black people’s interest at heart." You saw this at the end of the O’Malley administration, when the idea of locking people up (mostly African-Americans) for nuisance crimes was policy in Baltimore. Add to this disinvestment in communities of color. The “Baltimore Uprising” was literally the last straw and how former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake was nowhere to be found during at its height. They may have whispered their support in the past, but now you see it. The Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle sided with Hogan in his first run. The closing political ad featuring Bmore News founder, Doni Glover, saying “Governor Hogan showed up and it wasn’t his first time.” The ad laid bare and full view of an anti-establishment critic endorsement.

Shhh, Ben Jealous is Running for Maryland Governor.

In a crowded primary field Ben Jealous was the perfect “I’m not a politician candidate.” The problem is this type of candidacy would have worked four years ago, but was an anathema in an era which gave us President Donald Trump. Was he qualified? His turnaround of the national office of the NAACP was laudable, but no one had ever voted for him for anything. It is true all politics are local. 

So a surrogate for Presidential candidate Bernie Saunders national campaign saw a clear path to victory by nationalizing a gubernatorial race and its disgust with Washington, DC. It worked in the primary enabling Jealous to raise money outside the state. This allowed him to be the first up with television with ads, allowing him to define himself.

What Maryland politicians saw and understood from this, “he didn’t need them.” Great for an insurgent campaign but not for coalescing the state’s power brokers to embrace your run.  Its manifestation came in what can be best described as “non-endorsements.” Hogan trotted out a number of former Democratic leaders to endorse his campaign (most were people who were beyond their expiration date). You know it’s telling when the states Comptroller Peter Franchot says, he “will not endorse you, but not campaign against you.” (What the hell?).

Even more telling after the primary, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker delays embracing your campaign and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggit questions your platform of “Medicaid for All.” Leggit asks, "How will pay for it?  Stop. These are two leading African-American leaders in the state (Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is the other) and they are already questioning your policies in the state (In my ESPN voice “C’mon Man!).

Race is a delicate issue. Some politicians use it to their advantage, others discount it and lay claim to being the best candidate in the race. Jealous is a product of a bi-racial marriage. His parents were forced to move to California where he grew up but spent his summers in Baltimore with his grandparents (Hogan suggested he didn’t live in the state but he does).His time at the NAACP has gave him a close up look at the "mean and nasty" regarding race. Nowhere did he ever embrace the notion of being the first African-American governor of the state of Maryland and what it would mean. It was understood internally it would turn off white voters embracing his campaign.

Crying you’re "being treated unfairly" is not a political strategy. The Jealous organization to counter being out spent tried to go around the ads defining him to the public. News organizations love an underdog story.  So we often want to hear your thoughts about scurrilous claims. On August 8, 2018, Washington Post Political Reporter Erin Cox asked Jealous “Whether he identified with the term “socialist,” as his political opponent, Gov. Larry Hogan (R), has labeled him. ‘Are you f---ing kidding me?,’ Jealous responded.” This was an endorsement event, and left those in attendance with mouths open.

Look these are challenges a traditional campaign would have thought through. This is big boy politics where your narrative is key and people have to see themselves in you. During this campaign I did not see an air of “desperation.” Politicians who I’ve seen be successful have this sense they are losing and must talk to everyone who will listen. Those who won’t listen to you still reach out them because you can believe you can persuade them. If you don’t persuade them they must come away with an idea that you are competent.

The Debates

Fast forward to the debate/s. My office Maryland Public Television MPT has a stellar reputation as being the host for statewide debates. I was fortunate to be selected to be a part of the Democrat Primary debate at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. During this session I got candidate Jealous to admit how he was going to pay for “Free College Tuition.” “I’m going to tax the highest ten percent tax payers in the state.”

As we awaited word on the General Election debate Governor Hogan announced he would do two debates in September. Jealous countered with having five in October. In the end we were left with just one debate at MPT on September 24, 2018. The planning for the debate was coordinated by the two campaigns (sitting or standing, how close the podiums will be, opening/closing statements). It was agreed there would be five panelist. Both camps were given a single veto over who could be a questioner. This is where things get tricky.   Both camps were concerned about previous questioners in the primary (including yours truly, Jane Miller – WBAL-TV, and Clarence Mitchell IV WBAL Radio). We were out. It was agreed to have two the leading newspapers in the state participate but the Hogan camp insisted that there be a reporter from the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland. Earlier during the campaign it didn’t help that Jealous had to retract several debate decisions.

He suggested that Tamela Baker of the Herald-Mail in Hagerstown should be remove. He ended up retracting the idea. Not a good look. He also suggested Maryland was a right-wing website. Hmmm! That’s a stretch.

So where do we go from here? My quick assessment is this will be the last time Democrats in Maryland nominate a Black candidate. The failure to deliver in two elections cycles is telling. I don’t think this will be the right choice but it will send the message.

Lastly, for the next four years the GOP will expand the landscape in Maryland. Here’s the rub, "who is waiting in the wings."


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Restlessness

(Baltimore, MD) The wave of voter restlessness struck Maryland by rejecting a well-respected Prince George’s County Executive in favor of a former Civil Rights leader. Say what you will about a crowded Democratic field but Ben Jealous, the former NAACP Leader, was able to mobilize his base and found much needed campaign funds outside of Maryland to get out the gate first and get up on television before he could be defined.  The "wave election" has sweep in progressives and candidates with political pedigrees are out. Jealous touted his leadership credentials at the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, efforts to remove the death penalty and approved gay marriage in the state.

The victory was almost overshadowed by election problems in Baltimore City where several polling locations didn’t open on time. An emergency order by a judge allowed polls to stay open until 9 pm. The other major snafu was the Department of Motor Vehicle Department (MVA) not updating its system to the Board of Elections. It’s estimated this may affected as many as 80,000 voters. “The leadership of the Motor Vehicle Administration and the Board of Elections must immediately demonstrate that they have the capacity to accurately explain the size and impact of the problem and fix this violation of the public trust or they must make room for leaders who are able to restore confidence in Maryland elections,” said Rev. Kobi Little, a spokesman for the NAACP's Maryland State Conference President, Gerald Stansbury.” The investigation is expected to begin next week ensuring there isn’t a re-occurrence during the General Election.

The story of this election was about the rejection of those who have served to long. Not only did it affect the governor’s race but it spilled into the Maryland Senate race in Baltimore and other parts of the state. Out are Maryland Senators Nathaniel McFadden, Barbara Robinson, and Joan Carter Conway to name some in the upper chamber. In the lower chamber, the House of Delegates, longtime Judiciary Chairman Joseph Vallerio was defeated in Southern Maryland. 

Jealous, if he wins, would become the first Black governor of the state of Maryland. Appealing to racial solidarity in the “old line state,” has its positives and dangers. For the positive, it would send a unique signal that old style politics in the state have outlived its usefulness. Party bosses will not dictate this elections outcome. It is likely to energize young voters who want a seat at the table. Lastly, there will not be a lethargic electorate which helped to suppress voting totals in traditional strongholds for Democrats. I already know that Sundays will be spent in churches, a place where Jealous is very comfortable.

The danger for the Civil Rights leader is being defined by Governor Larry Hogan who easily won his primary because he had no challenger. “It isn’t about them…it’s about a referendum on the job we’re doing,” said Hogan. It didn’t take long for the Governor’s supporters to begin to strike back. It began with a press release from the Republican Governor’s Association.

“Ben Jealous’ radical views make him unfit to serve as governor,” said RGA Communications Director Jon Thompson. “Ben Jealous is promising to systematically undo all of the progress Maryland has made over the past four years by hiking taxes to never-before-seen levels in order to fund his radical pie-in-the-sky spending plans. Voters will reject Jealous’ ill-conceived plans this November and keep Maryland on its current path of more jobs, a stronger economy and better schools.”

A second press release came from a former Democratic Committee Chairman.

Democratic Party Chairman Nate Landow in response to Ben Jealous winning the Democratic primary election for governor:
“It is imperative that Democratic voters who value moderation, fiscal responsibility and functional government support Governor Larry Hogan in the general election. His record of sensible, bipartisan reform and his genuine decency is the antidote for what ails our politics today. He stands in stark contrast to the irresponsible and extreme ideas of Ben Jealous.”

These are coded words and issues. The Root writer, Damon Young, who writes under the section of “VerySmartBrothas,” pointed this out in his recent column called, “30 Ways White People Say Black People Without Actually Saying Black People..” Here are a couple of observations we’re likely to hear; “high crime neighborhood, gang related, and depressed neighborhood/school/people/population.

“We talked with the people,” said Jealous who held his victory celebration at the Reginald Lewis Museum of Maryland of African-American History and Culture. He continued to point out his difference with the governor and welcomed the opportunity to litigate his case to the voters of Maryland.  “I’m running to the people of Maryland.”

The Next Steps

Raising Money, is paramount. Governor Hogan has at least 9 million dollars in cash on hand for the general election. Conversely, Jealous is reportedly down to about $100,000. To reverse this trend there are several unity events scheduled to coalesce the losers with the Democratic Gubernatorial Nominee. It includes the arrival of former Vice President Joe Biden this weekend for a fundraiser. Like the primary, I’m expecting to see a number of early supporters for Jealous. Including U.S. Senators Corey Booker (NJ), Sen. Kamala Harris (California), and Sen. Bernie Saunders (VT). They’ve already made their presence known and I expect them to double down on this early bet. Celebrity wise, comedian, Dave Chappelle has appeared and he is likely to convince others to get on the train.

I don’t know how many debates we’re likely to see but it should be spirited. I can tell you having only two people on a stage will allow questioners to drill down on issues you can’t get with a large field.  As a fly on the wall, I'd love to hear both candidates working on their one liners and sharpen their attack.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

What Maryland Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates Aren’t Talking About?

(Arlington, VA) – “Your Voice, Your Future,” was theme for the second Maryland Democratic Gubernatorial Debate. Held at the WJLA Channel 7/ News Channel 8, the Sinclair Broadcasting Groups, location in the Rosslyn section of Arlington (Wait, this debate for the Governor of Maryland is being held in Virginia?).

Unlike the previous debate which I personally participated in, this included Ralph Jaffe, a perennial candidate. Kia Jackson. the moderator, held a close grip on time with this large group. The candidates had a one minute opening statement but not a closing statement. A new twist was a 30 second rebuttal.  

Before I get into the quotes and arguments it is clear the televised the debates have focused a majority of time on Baltimore/Baltimore County issues. Left by the wayside are the varied pressing issues in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore. Democrats have abandoned the party because of this and a number of them are supporting the Republican Governor (it’s borne out in polls).

Now for the lines and the attacks:

·         Once again Governor Larry Hogan is main focus of all the candidates.
  • Racial tensions were the line of questioning from two of the panelist. How to solve this problem was varied. Memorable lines came from state Sen. Richard Madaleno, “hurt people, hurt.” Jim Shea, “we’ve allowed the extremes on both sides to take over conversations.” Alec Ross, “Before the justice system failed, the education system failed.”

·         The recent flooding in Ellicott City was a subject everyone coalesced around. Rebuilding the historic city was high on all the candidates’ agenda.

·         The attacks against the governor centered on education funding and how Governor Hogan went after jurisdictions lead by Democrats (Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Montgomery, and Prince Georges’ County).

·         A question about how much is spent on educating kids in Baltimore shifted the discussion. Quotes were all over the place. Valeria Erving, “We are not going to spend our way out of this problem.” Ben Jealous on the lack of funding, “Till we fully fund our schools…we will not be able see improvements.” Rushern Baker cut to the real issue, “When they say it’s not about money, it is.”

Here are couple of observations. Valerie Ervin says she has filed suit in Annapolis Circuit Court to get her name on the ballot. She received support from Alec Ross, Richard Jaffe, and a surprised endorsement from Ben Jealous. Ervin has accused Jealous of causing her to lose a job, and stopping Ervin from become a Lt. Governor candidate. 

Was pleasantly surprise to see Ervin looking more gubernatorial (dark rimmed glasses, white blazer, Black blouse and no “Black Girls Rock” button)?

At the time of the debate airing, the Washington Capitals will be playing the Golden Knights of Las Vegas. Pandering to that audience Senator Madaleno said he was a Capitals fan (no one else picked up on the idea).

Now back to this idea the debates have been Baltimore centric. Senator Madaleno, “I’ve tried to answer the questions from a statewide perspective.” “There is a reason for it,” says Baker, “Baltimore is the most important city in the state…no governor has approached Baltimore City the way Governor Hogan has. He acts like it doesn’t exist.”

Connecting to voters is key, some believe if we can solve Baltimore’s problems they will transfer to the state. Jealous suggests, “We have to solve the tough kitchen table issues affecting families.”

The large panels clearly aren’t allowing anyone to distinguish themselves. Those with the financial wherewithal are defining themselves via radio and television ads in the Baltimore metro area. It’s more expensive to do so in the Washington metro area.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Shifting Politics: DC Suburbs

Annapolis, MD - The center of Maryland Politics has been shifting for years. The DC suburbs of Prince Georges and Montgomery Counties want to flex their muscles. Its tough but the numbers of voters bear out that the pair of counties which trend Democratic want a say. It's also one of the most diverse portions of the state with large minorities of African-Americans, Latino's, Muslim, and Asian communities. The former power structure still wants a say on who can lead and who should be chosen. Some voters are having any of it. Its pitting the old guard against a group of upstarts which keep asking/telling anyone, "its my turn."
Who better to ask about this other than Bruce DePuyt of Maryland Matters ( The new website has a cagey bunch of veterans including founder Josh Kurtz (formerly of the Maryland Gazette), Bill Zorzi (formerly of the Baltimore Sun).

In this edition of Live from the Pit we talk about the emergence of the DC suburbs. We also delve into the hotly contested races for County Executive in both jurisdictions. If you're fan please follow and don't be afraid to suggest guest.