Monday, November 2, 2015

And then it was gone

(Annapolis) Armed with a series of poster boards, the House Appropriations Chairman Maggie McIntosh proclaimed, “We have closed the structural deficit.” It was a victory lap of sort for legislative leaders who had to endure complaints of “business as unusual” from the states Chief Executive.

The structural deficit came from a series of issues. They included overspending, mandates on programmatic activities, an under-funded pension fund and an economic climate where people were tightening their belts. These issues partly laid the ground work for a Republican Governor to win in Maryland in 2014. With one party controlling the Executive branch and another controlling the legislative controls the “kumba-ya moment” which seem to begin this process went “south” quickly.  

 When last we left the Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and the Legislative Leaders (Sen. Thomas V. “Mike” Miller and Speaker Michael Bush) following the 2015 session was in the review mirror with both sides claiming victory. Underneath the pleasantries was an animosity about being up staged.

The Governor provided two supplemental budgets. He was pissed they never got a hearing on either side of the aisle. He went against the wishes of his partners in the legislature by deriding the savings they found. Instead of taking the extra money and use to shore of education funding, he used it to firm up the State Pension program.

The legislative Leaders did do the heavy lifting by cutting and trimming programs to get to a balance budget. They took aim at the Governor Hogan’s cuts to education. They restored the cuts but, also found money to fund the Geographic Index -GCEI (this is part of the Thornton Funding plan which gave large jurisdictions more money).

In the waning days of the 2015 Session the Legislature heard the governor wasn’t going to put in money for GCEI. They in turn put in a measure which said if you don’t fund GCEI this year, going forward it would become a mandate. The irony here is that Democratic and Republican governors have used discretion in funding this program (some have even decided not to fund it in lean years). So as of July 1, 2015 this becomes a mandate.

Spinning the Debate

“Halloween is over,” said Senator Richard Madeleno of Montgomery County as he stood shoulder to shoulder with fellow Democrats crowing there success. The mantra from the legislature has been to add the extra money they found to improve school systems. Despite these calls, the Governor has been reluctant to acquiesce to the request.

Who do you stand for?” President Miller asked rhetorically. In response, Doug Mayer the Deputy Communications for the Governor, had his own questions. “As both Senate President Miller and Speaker Busch know, Maryland is still facing a nearly $1 billion cumulative deficit over the next five years. On top of that, there is a $20 billion hole in the teacher and state employee pension system that the General Assembly has repeatedly failed to address.

Going into the 2016 Session the wars of Budget will continue to be fought. The Hogan Administration often touts its “funding of education at record levels” (because of formulas adjusting for an increase in the number of students – each year will be more than the previous year.). The Democrats crow their ability to make tough choices, find savings, and apply them to areas like education.

These are interesting times for both sides. Are we out of the woods finically? The State Treasurer and the Comptroller will suggest we aren’t. By the way they weren’t spared from being chided by Legislative leaders. Speaker Busch asked, “The Comptroller and the Treasurer to step up to the plate.”

We are two months from the start of the 2016 Legislative Session and budget is just one item to be hotly debated. According to Baltimore County Delegate Adrienne Jones there are some 500 Bills pre-filed, a record.

Del. Maggie McIntosh Announcing End to Structural Deficit

Monday, February 16, 2015

Old School to a T

(Baltimore) I think I became aware of Frank Conway, Sr. in the mid 70’s while waiting at the corner of Liberty Heights and Hilton Avenues for the number 51 bus. There screaming for attention was a
yellow banner with black lettering stretching nearly the entire length of his fence, “Elect Frank Conaway” It was a familiar banner every election season (changing offices he was seeking) and grew to include the entire Conaway clan. If you drove by at the appointed time you might see him waving and asking for your support.  On February 15, 2015 Frank Senior “went silently into that good night” never to emerge again to ask that we do more for the city he loved.

He is remember by his wife, his son and daughter, and extended family as the patriarch of a political family that rivaled the Mitchell’s. Their linkage to charm city was homegrown. Coming of age during a time when political power was denied to a Blacks.

The Emergence of Black Political Power in Baltimore

Frank Conaway, like many men of his time served in the military and took advantage of the GI Bill to get a degree from Morgan State College in 1960. He becomes a Math teacher at Booker T. Washington Junior High School.

These are heady times. The right vote in Baltimore comes in with a bang. Milton Allen becomes the cities first elected leader securing the position of State’s Attorney. The next big push is city council and the state house. Under the tutelage of William “Little Willie” and Victorine Adams they showed Conaway the ways of Metro Democratic Organization.  

The Metro Democratic Organization was different from the “Goon Squad.” Formed by Rev. Vernon Dobson, Larry Gibson, Clarence (Sr.) and Parren Mitchell, and several other community leaders this group was about planning Black political strategy. They used churches, the NAACP, Afro and a homogenized community centered near the Druid Hill Community.

Conversely, the Metro Democratic Organization was into patronage and helping those get jobs in city government. The group was about making change on the ground/street. No need for college degree to make change. For the high minded individuals Adams connection to unsavory characters was questioned. Make no mistake both groups were about bring change.

By 1970, Conaway used his connection to win a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates and eventually leading the Legislative Black Caucus. He would leave in 1975 but, returned in 1979.
During this period of inactivity he watched Harold Washington become Mayor of Chicago and that gave him "a renewed confidence in the political process." He would challenge Mayor William Donald Schaffer for his post. Conaway would drop out of the race.

During the 80’s Conaway seemed to constantly be under legal scrutiny. He beat back charges that his handing out of smoke detectors before an election was illegal. The Baltimore State Attorney also investigated charges about his skimming of insurance premiums turnout to be false.

Public service was a calling for the West Baltimore native. By 1988 he became the clerk of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. He would serve five terms. Between those terms he would run for Mayor of Baltimore.

Running for Mayor

Conaway would often boast he garnered more votes in the city than anyone else. He would put that to a test. In 2007, he challenged Mayor Martin O’Malley’s self-appointed successor Shelia Dixon. It was a crowded field (eight candidates)

Leading up to the primary (the de facto election for Mayor) there was talk of whittling the field. The top two candidates were Dixon and Councilman Keiffer Mitchell. According to reports Conaway initiated phone calls to convince some candidates to withdraw instead of splitting the vote. He was unsuccessful but, was convinced to support Mitchell. The date of the only televised debate was August 27, 2007 at Maryland Public Television.

I was on the panel with Jane Miller of WBAL TV to question the participants. Prior to the event, we go over areas we’d like to cover so we don’t repeat subjects. It was during this process we learned that Conaway may use this opportunity to endorse Mitchell. We were perplexed how it would be handled.

Jeff Salkin, the moderator, asked for opening statements from each candidate. When it was Conaway’s turn, he asked to make a statement. During his time he threw his support to Mitchell. Salkin then ask Conaway to step away from the podium and asked the other candidate to move over. The former candidate asked, “Are you throwing me off the debate?” “No, Mr. Conaway, you threw yourself off the debate,” says the moderator. It was a bizarre beginning to a debate.

This would not be the last time we would hear from Conaway as a Mayoral Candidate he reprises this role again in 2011. I ran into him during a radio interview and the guy who was dressed to the “nines” call me Mr. Robinson. I told him that wasn’t necessary. He pulled me to the side and wondered aloud, “Why the city would keep electing leaders who didn’t care about the city.” I couldn’t answer the question.

In December, I received word Frank Conaway was abandoning the Democratic Party. It seemed out of character but, as I looked back the issues surrounding him and the investigations of his family would make you question why stay in the Democratic Party. According to the political icon all I got "was a cold shoulder and the door." He would become the only Republican in a democratically controlled infra-structure in Baltimore.

Frank Conaway Sr. came of age during a time when some African-Americans were called “salt of earth.” They made their way when there were few options. He served his country and community in an honorable way. A true public servant in every sense of the work. “Rest well humble servant.”

Charles Robinson, III