Monday, December 30, 2013

Top Ten Maryland Stories 2013

(Baltimore, MD) - A lot items on this list I've written about on this blog. Other items came up and I just couldn't turn my head away. I want to thank all of my colleagues who are literally on the ground chasing the facts, the comings and goings, and the ridiculousness of some items. 
As we embark on the New Year things will get interesting and I'll try and add a little insight on why. Keep reading and passing along.

10. The re-emergence of Julius Henson as a candidate for State Senate. Henson’s checkered past has not thwarted him (found guilty of not identifying  the origin of robo call on behalf of candidate Governor Robert Erhlich) . Some analysts say he has a better than average chance to win.

9.  Gay Marriage – At the beginning of 2013 same sex couples were legally allowed to be married. The coalition which enabled it move ahead has flexed its muscle establishing precedent by tightening gun regulations and giving the governor a win on help cleaning up the bay.

8. I’ve had Enough – Del. Pat McDonough stopped me on the last day of the legislature and told me more than half of the House of Delegates was going to change. So what has that meant? New leadership in the GOP, conservative Democrats leaving, challenges to Senators with years of experience, and  potentially a resistive legislative session. A number of members of the legislature are also seeking high office.

7. MD GOP Coup De Tat- There has been a schism that has been brewing in the Maryland GOP. 
It showed its head on the Eastern Shore with the appointment for Senator E.J Pipken’s seat. It went full bore with Calvert County Delegate Anthony O’Donnell ousted as Minority Leader and replaced by Anne Arundel County Delegate Nicholaus Kipke. It continued with Larry Hogan, Founder of Change Maryland deciding to contest Harford County Executive David Craig as the standard bearer for the GOP in the Governor’s race. Did I mention Dan Bongino a candidate for congress wants nothing to do with this group.

6. 300 Man March – This summer Baltimore became a killing field. Over a single weekend 20 residents were hit by gunfire.  In reaction a March was organized to dramatize this violence had to stop. I broadcast live from the corner of North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenues with Doni Glover of We may report news but, we are not immune from it’s affects.

5. Don Dwyer – Dwyer, a Delegate from Anne Arundel County, was under investigation for driving a boat under the influence (his boat slammed into another). This year he was also charged for DUI in his own vehicle. He was found guilty on the boating charge and is serving weekends for the offense. He plans to attend the legislative session (there is a move afoot to have him removed). I know he needs professional help.

4.  The Black Guerrilla Family – If there was a “Wire” sequel it should be based around this takeover of the  Baltimore City Jail by inmates. Despite being incarcerated the inmates were running the facility. A federal probe indicted 48 suspects most them corrections officers.,0,7483161.htmlstory
Tavon White and Derius Ducan
The leader of the prison gang Tavon White impregnated four female guards (and one of them twice). This indictment and the subsequent convictions forced Gary Maynard the head the corrections system to leave.

3. Taxes – It’s not a secret in the state, we are taxed to the hilt. It used to be you could just raise fees, but those fees wouldn’t make a dent in the state’s structural deficit. Not to mention how to pay for some ambitious programs the governor wants to implement. Add to this a tax to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, commonly known as the “rain tax.” I’m not in the prediction business but, would tax relief work if you’re running for let’s say, President of the United States?

2. Rollout of Maryland Healthcare Website – depending who you ask it’s working well, it’s had some hiccups, it’s a work in progress, and yes we’ve had problems. Each week I get an update on the numbers of Maryland sign-ups. Let me say Maryland was supposed to be model for the rest of the country. It’s anything but that. The person in charge of the rollout, Lt. Governor Anthony Brown has been quiet accept for official pronouncements like this; “We’re fixing the problems.” To the rescue, Governor O’Malley. With charts and power points he couldn’t explain away the problems.  You’ll hear a lot more about this during the session.

1. The Maryland Governor’s Race – with no incumbent this race was expected to be wide open.  It will be historic because for the first time an African-American has a legitimate chance to lead the state. We are long way from the finish line and there will be a lot of twist and turns. We have a number of first, the first openly gay candidate (D – Heather Mizeur): a candidate who has used social media to build a following (R- Larry Hogan). Here’s the rest of the field  D-Doug Gansler, R-David Craig, R-Ron George, and R-Charles Lollar. The primary is early this year, June 24, 2014.

It was brought to my attention the removal of John Leopold as Anne Arundel County was not on my list. It was a very difficult to fit everything in. Another item Gambling was also not included. It's the nature of the beast. So many items not enough space. I do want to let you know I will be announcing my person of the year on Donnie Glover's Show on WPB Radio on Thursday, 5-7 pm.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Rage Against A Machine

(Rockville, MD) After months of letting everyone know he’d join the race for governor of Maryland on his own time, Maryland State’s Attorney Douglas Gansler announced his intention to enter the crowded field of candidates vying to become the head of the Free State. Gansler admitted he has always face long odds whenever he has run for office. To showcase his campaign the State’s Attorney embarked on a 17 city tour starting in his home base of Rockville.

The crowd was peppered with family and friends who’ve supported him. Speaking on his behalf was State Senator Richard Madaleno of Montgomery County who reminded the crowd of Gansler often has gone against the grain. He cited the candidate’s early support of same sex marriage. Senator Madaleno went on to reminded the crowd, it was the State’s Attorney who supported Barack Obama for President while most of the established Democrats in the state were backing Hillary Clinton for President (expect to hear more about this in the next nine months).

The nominee was introduced to the crowd by his son. The vision was about being “Maryland Proud.” The theme under his administration will be to create jobs and provide for a fairer economy for the middle class according to his campaign literature.

In trying to change the conversation from what his two opponents (Lt. Governor Anthony Brown and Del. Heather Mizeur) have been talking about, the Rockville native questioned aspects of the so call “machine.” “I’m not your candidate if you just want the status quo. I’ve never just gone along merely to get along.” He also referred to “them” as the establishment –“My service as governor will be built on meeting the needs of people. Not the establishment. Not the special interests.”

This reoccurring theme has some legitimacy if you look at how his main opponent candidate Anthony Brown has been racking up endorsements. There are few high profile Democratic supporters left to get (Isaiah Leggett, Rushern Baker, and Peter Franchot). Just as Brown convinced Ken Ullman of Howard County to drop out of the race and support his ticket; is it time Gansler made an entrée to Del. Mizeur to give up her campaign to support him?

“So John, (Wagner –Washington Post) which one of the two candidates will go negative first,” I ask of my colleague who covers politics. John gives a wry smile, but we both know it could get very nasty. That’s always a risk in primary. It points out the weakness in your rival and makes you vulnerable in the general election, but wait this is Maryland. The last time we had a truly contested race was when Robert Erhlich, a Republican, beat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a Democrat, for Governor. The party powers in the Democratic Party are not about to let that happen.

The Scene

In looking at the announcement for Gansler and that for Brown there were some striking contrast…Energy. The crowd in Rockville for the most part was subdued. The event for Gansler was called an “Ice Cream Social.” Maybe that’s okay for Rockville, but in Prince George’s County where Brown kicked off his campaign there was a barbeque with a marching band.

Gansler held his kick off in a park in the middle of an urban landscape buffered by several thoroughfares with loud trucks, and blaring car radio’s (where I was standing I kept turning around to see who was making all the noise).

There has never been a Governor from Montgomery County. Gansler made reference to this and if anyone in the county has a potential shot, it’s him. However, a number of my colleagues made reference to candidate runs for Governor who launched their campaigns from Rockville. They include Martin O’Malley and Robert Erhlich. Let’s just say the last guy didn’t do so well.

Look I’m not a campaign manager, but you might want acknowledge some of the elected officials who showed up for the kick-off. I spotted several delegates and a state senator in the crowd. Heck even spoke to State Comptroller Peter Franchot who attended the event. He remains neutral in the race. He told me he has attended the kick-offs for Brown, Mizeur, and now Gansler. “I offer up my consultation to all them,” says Franchot. What will make him get off the sideline from being a spectator? “The fiscal issues in the state,” says the Comptroller, “we got get this state back to being business friendly.”

I was trying to figure out while standing at this event what this campaign reminded me of, and then it hit me, Stephen Sachs campaign against William Donald Schaffer. Sachs and Gansler were State’s Attorney’s. Sach’s was trying to seize upon the angst that people had about a “machine politician.” His pick for a running mate was supposed to change to election. I can go on and on…but you remember how that went.

At campaign events in order to get the crowd fired up they usually play music from various artist. Okay, I’m listening, there’s a tune from Kayne West, Billy Joel, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. If this is someone’s playlist/candidate playlist I guess it can be described as “all over the place.”

If there is an irony to this event Gansler can’t file paper work yet to appear on a ballot, the reason he doesn’t have a running mate. It’s the big unanswered question to the candidate. According to a staff member the announcement won’t be made until October. So what’s the criterion for the pick? A campaign source says they have vetted through a number of candidates and it’s come down to two jurisdictions Baltimore and Prince George’s County. Let me suggest that the running mate will not look like Gansler.

Five Questions the Candidate Needs to Answer

I did this with Anthony Brown and you can review them to see if he has sufficiently answered them. So here goes for Doug Gansler.

1.       Can the money you have in the bank (its estimate at $5 million) bring you energy and votes?
2.       Selection of a running mate can be a game changer will your selection be enough?  Let me suggest no one ever votes for the second name on the ticket, but in this case any change in narrative can’t hurt.
3.       You will have to answer the question about why you said “I mean, right now his campaign slogan is, ‘Vote for me, I want to be the first African American governor of Maryland,’ ” Gansler (D) told the group. “That’s a laudable goal, but you need a second sentence: ‘Because here’s what I’ve done, and here’s why I’ve done it.’ ” (from the Washington Post 8-12-13). FYI, saying it was a slip of the tongue won’t cut it.
4.       Here’s another one of those question which will haunt you, “Why aren’t politico’s in this state not endorsing/willing to stand with you?”
5.       The key to any campaign is tightening you base (Montgomery County) and marrying it with another jurisdiction/constituency that you can count on Election Day. I’m trying to figure out who your other is?


Saturday, May 11, 2013

For All the Marbles

(Largo, MD) On a sweltering Friday afternoon in May, Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown surrounded by family, friends, and supporters stepped out of the Governor’s shadow and had the spotlight.  Brown, the former member of the House of Delegates, announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for Governor.

Using Prince George’s County Community College as his backdrop Brown had nearly 300 people on hand to validate his support.  Holding "Brown for Governor" signs, it was a cross section of the county. There were young and old, Blacks, Whites, those from the Asian, African, and Indian Diaspora in the crowd.  There were a number of members of the legislature including State Senators Thomas V. “Mike” Miller and Ulysses Currie, Delegates Veronica Turner, James Proctor, and Darren Swain and Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards (MIA, Prince George's Co. Exe. Rushern Baker). 

Representative Edwards is under no pretense on appealing to constituencies outside of your comfort zone. She was with Brown several weeks ago in Western Maryland when he came in first place in a straw poll. It’s an unlikely place to go looking for voters, “look there are Democrats in Western Maryland.”

Expected to join Brown in the race for the Democratic nominee may be as many three other politicians. They may include current Attorney General Douglass Gansler, Howard County Executive, Ken Ulman, Delegate Heather Mizeur, and Congressman C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger. The winner of the Democratic primary normally has an easy path in the General Election with Democrats holding nearly a two to one margin over Republicans.

With his early announcement the Lieutenant Governor has the opportunity to shape this race.  Brown hit on accomplishments. He talked about his signature achievement of creating the health insurance exchange. Despite this, the crowd really wanted to know “What can you do for me now?”  He pointed to states school system being rank number one in the nation, but that accomplishment fails to win fans in the Washington suburb. Why because Prince George’s is either in last place or next to last place in state school jurisdictions.  “It’s not enough to have best school system in county unless every child in Maryland whether they are from Capital Heights or Chevy Chase gets a world class education. “ The crowd showed their approval with applause.

The Base

Taking care of your base is key. You must start with the folks you know. Delegate Swain who was appointed to a seat vacated by Delegate Justin Ready reaffirmed why he was supporting Brown, “he knows the issues.” Swain understands why coming out early is important. It's about the fundraising (Gansler has $5.2 mil in the bank) and getting people to endorse your candidacy. According to Swain, Brown has to answer a simple question for supporters ”Am I worthy of an investment?" The Prince George’s delegate is part of a unique cadre of supporters who know about long odds. Several of his friends reminded him of the campaign to get Wayne Curry to be the first African American County Executive; they equated that campaign to this campaign.  

Although Senate President Miller was in attendance to support a fellow Prince Georgian this was not an endorsement as several Brown aides reminded me. This however was a “stamp of approval and qualification” according to them.

Problems and Potential Hiccups

It was impressive to see the number of supporters in the crowd at the Community College. There were several key constituencies missing at this rally. Where were Baltimore City, Howard and Montgomery County politicians? Where were the Business leaders of the state? Maybe they are waiting until he shows up in their backyards to stand with the candidate. You would think some of them would be with him every step of the way.

Is the state ready to elect its first Black governor?  There are still portions of Maryland that find the concept both foreign and unacceptable. Others will question why that subject is on the table to begin with. The number of conservative Democrats in the state is diminishing. You really can’t worry about those who will not vote for you, but you must maximize your voters. I’m hoping the ugliness of racism is buried, but I doubt it.

Living on the legacy of your predecessor is good way to start. Members of the GOP have been hammering the governor on his varied programs from the last legislative session (repeal of the death penalty, gun registration, gas tax increase and other initiatives). The governor has been confident that he’s right and won the day. I’m not certain if he’s awoke a sleeping giant, but he’s definitely got a lot of them “fired up.”(I saw them daily in Annapolis.) The numbers don’t bode well for an attempt to change the political narrative.

I personally discounted the rumor of a Brown/Ulman ticket. My sources tell me the Howard County Executive has setup an extensive campaign group which believes it has a better than average chance of becoming the Democratic gubernatorial nominee. Observers acknowledge however that a pairing of this nature would be "a slam dunk," In talking with Brown observers they smiled at the suggestion. One even suggested the early poll numbers show Ulman has little chance of gaining ground because of name recognition. This puts Brown and Ulman in the same quandary, name recognition. You can change the formula by buying name recognition or being at the right place at the right time (coming out first definitely benefits, but is it sustainable). 

Brown is as squeaky clean as they come. He wasn't a party to the varied politicians in the county who were linked to scandal (Jack Johnson). His closest brush with any impropriety came in his divorce to his first wife. It happened during his first term as Lieutenant Governor. It was quietly done without the ugly innuendos which  have plagued other politicians. He has since remarried and takes care of his own children and the son of his current wife.


The Black political power center in the state has always been Baltimore. The largest urban district in the state began laying the foundation for this in the 50’s with the Mitchell’s and others. Prince Georges came to the party in the 70's after a sizable portion of the county had been invaded by transplanted Washingtonians. Those from the Washington suburb often talk about election of County Executive Wayne Curry as changing the tide.

If you asked seasoned politic veterans where the first Black Gubernatorial candidate would emerge I think they would have point to “Bmore/Charm City.” But that’s not the case with Brown. Brown’s resume has a number of pluses including his time in the Iraq, and being selected by then Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley to be his running mate. Brown has one major problem he isn't home grown. He grew up in Long Island, NY. Does that disqualify you?

So why didn’t the political operatives in Baltimore groom someone for the state’s highest office? If you ask Anthony White, a member of the Governor’s cabinet and working on the Brown campaign; he talks about “power.” “Clarence Blount and Howard “Pete” Rawlings,” both of Baltimore, knew they would never be able to be governor, but because of the way the Governor has to submit his budget to the legislature that’s where the real power is.” They became chairmen of the committee’s, appointed members of the Baltimore delegation to committees, and became indispensable to anyone wanting to win the region statewide. “Jealousy! Oh yeah, there will be some,” says White, but he knows those are few and supporters of Brown will fall inline.

There are  at least five questions the Lieutenant Governor needs to answer. I don't want be a presumptuous enough to tell him how to answer the questions.

1.       Will his early jump out the gate provide dividends i.e. money and support when he really needs it?
2.       Can he build a core of supporters outside of Prince George’s County?
3.       Is he a living legacy of Martin O’Malley or is he his own man that will chart a different path?
4.       Will the state power brokers see him as the leader of the state/party and endorse him prior to the primary?
5.       Can he break curse that no Lieutenant Governor has ever succeed to become Governor.  

“Get ready to make Maryland better,” said the Gubernatorial candidate to the applause of the crowd. Then with what has become standard fare for politicians he waded into the crowd to shake hands.  The candidate will make stops in Baltimore City, and Howard and Montgomery Counties over the weekend and with that the race to become Maryland’s governor has begun.