Friday, December 30, 2016

Top Ten Maryland Stories of 2016

There were a lot of holdovers from 2015 and the biggest players in the state, got bigger. The national political climate had little effect on local politicians. As a simple disclaimer you are welcome to disagree. In fact I encourage you to create your own list.

10. The loss of political power by women in Maryland. The Maryland Congressional Delegation has no women and there are no female County Executives. The top two women in the state are Nancy Kopp, the State Treasurer and Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh. What’s really a lost Sen. Barbara Milkulski is leaving the US Senate. Her feistiness enabled more women to enter politics and she was seen as the Dean of Women Politicians. It’s even worst on the GOP side. While Del. Kathy Szeliga (R) of Baltimore and Harford Counties challenged for the US Senate. She ended up losing. The bench on the Republican side isn’t deep. If there is a silver lining, women are becoming a larger share of the Maryland Electorate.

9.  Political Power Shift to Washington Suburbs. We saw this coming. The draining of population from Baltimore City and its overall influence on Maryland is waning. The interesting part is Baltimore is still the state’s economic engine. You can’t discount this. However, places like Montgomery County (the state’s wealthiest district) and Howard County are demanding more for their tax dollars. I would caution those who live around DC, be careful of flexing your political muscle.

8. Devastation of Ellicott City. We know how powerful water can be and its potential destruction. We saw on July 30, 2016 what the neglect of infrastructure can mean for a commercial district. I will not forget water pushing cars down Main Street and the number of human rescues. County Executive Alan Kittleman vowed to rebuild and has done it with the help of the state.

7. Rejecting Candidate Trump. Early on Governor Larry Hogan was a supporter of New Jersey Governor Christ Christie's run for President of the United States. When Governor Christie dropped out and endorsed Donald Trump, Governor Hogan did not follow suit. Maryland’s Governor also skipped the GOP Convention in Cleveland. What did Hogan gain? A 70 percent approval rating. Those numbers will be used to squash any Democratic challenger as he runs for a second term.

6. Chesapeake Bay – After years of doom and gloom the Bay got a report card that was encouraging. The crab population increase by 35 %. Bay grasses expanded by 21%. The numbers provided by Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) gave the movement to “save the bay” momentum. I watched as CBF moved its oyster recovery project to Baltimore City. The foundation was able to bring science to the conversation without being preachy.

5. Under Armour – Kevin Plank. Under Armour’s worldwide headquarters is based in Baltimore. With investment resources and a large staff the apparel maker solidified its position as a major economic player in the city. They doubled down in asking the cash strapped city for a 760 million dollars in tax abatements to take over an industrial area called Port Covington. Critics suggest the city gave away too much. The deal was modified to accommodate job training, infrastructure, and the state kicked in some additional money. It was the only train leaving the station and the city punch its ticket. 

4.    Transportation – This is tricky. The Beltways, the Interstates, and well-traveled roads are in need of repair. Philosophically, Gov. Larry Hogan decides what priorities to push. For years it was about public transit. For the people who elected the governor, they didn’t see the cost benefit in public transportation. New gas taxes provide money to make either one of these transportation ideas possible (the governor wanted to reduce the gas tax but couldn’t). At the beginning of the last legislative session the Governor laid out a plan to provide road construction money to rural areas and a conditionally green light to the Purple line in the Washington suburbs. He summarily rejected the Red line in Baltimore calling it a “boondoggle.” It angered the Baltimore delegation. The delegation help push through a scoring plan for all road projects. It passed without the governor’s signature (This year he’s made the repeal of the law his legislative priority). To squash the anger surrounding the rejection of the Red Line, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) says it was going to redesign bus lines for Baltimore.

3. Fallout from Freddie Gray – The six Baltimore Police Officers who were charged with Gray’s death dodged a bullet. Three were acquitted of charges and the remaining three officers had their cases dismissed. Weeks after the trial the US Justice Department who had been investigating the Baltimore Police Department released a devastating report detailing civil rights violations and a culture of indifference between the Police Department and Black communities they serve. What we await is a consent decree which will fix these problems.

2. Governor’s Race 2018 – Two years into his term, Governor Larry Hogan has solidified his political footing in the state. As the second Republican Governor in the modern era, he has confounded his critics and posted the best approval numbers (70%) of any governor. He has chided potential challengers (Kevin Kamenetz) and found an ally in Comptroller Peter Franchot. Being a Republican in a Democratic state has not boded well for second terms. If you ask me right now, Hogan is likely to win re-election.

1. Dysfunction in Annapolis – The rhetoric has ratcheted up with name calling from the Legislative branch to the Executive Branch. While the Governor sets the agenda, the Legislature sifts through the debris. The Appropriations Committees in both chambers has found money cut from the budget to fund additional educational funding which the governor has rejected. This year the Governor wanted something the legislature had control over, tax incentives. In return for giving Northrup Gruman/Marriott Hotels favorable tax relief, the Governor released more money to school districts. Sen. Mike Miller and Delegate Michael Bush are cautious and they would like to make sure Governor Larry Hogan doesn’t get a second term.

Person of the Year

P. Kenneth Burns

First I am mentor of P. Kenneth Burns. I have watched his career and know he is a solid a reporter at WYPR-FM. When I received word he was banned from Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's briefing in a conference room, I was stunned. I asked, “Are we talking about P. Kenneth Burns?” Then I hear the reasons: “He appears threatening; he types loudly; and is rude.” Then I saw the video of the press conference in question. He presses the Mayor on asking for additional money to fund the Police Department and asked who was in control of the police force? She says, "we’ll get back to you later." We later learned the Police is controlled by the state and the city did ask for a supplemental budget to implement changes in the BPD, which he reported.

I’ve been through banning a reporter at the Annapolis State House. The resolution always makes the accuser look bad. I wrote in open letter to the Mayor (signed by my colleagues) asking her to rescind the order. I appeared on radio to talk about this injustice. I also asked for “better angels” to intercede to correct this wrong. Sadly, Mayor Rawlings-Blake charged the media with “circling the wagons” to protect Burns. Far from the truth. Truth is the only currency reporters have and we value it. There were no facts. Burns spent a two months away from the briefings. He returned with the swearing-in of Mayor Catherine Pugh.  

Burns didn’t stop reporting because of this incident and that for me makes him the perfect “Person of the Year.”