Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts

Monday, May 20, 2024

Montgomery County has 2nd-biggest increase in homeless in Washington, D.C. region

Montgomery County is finally near the top of a list again - but it's not one you want to be high on. The County experienced the second-biggest increase in homeless population in the entire Washington, D.C. region since 2023, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Washington, D.C. itself was number one on the list. COG reported that Montgomery County's arch rival, Fairfax County, was the only jurisdiction in the area to enjoy a decrease in unhoused residents.

Of course, Fairfax County has many more high-wage jobs than Montgomery County, which helps one to afford housing. Politicians often tout MoCo's low unemployment numbers, without mentioning that most of the jobs our residents are employed at are not located within Montgomery County. Fairfax also has a lower total tax burden and cost-of-living than Montgomery County. Property taxes are set to rise again in the FY-2025 budget nearing approval by the Montgomery County Council, in a jurisdiction where property taxes are becoming a second mortgage for many residents as it is. And that's just one part of the total tax and fee burden for MoCo residents.

Rents and home prices, despite relentless construction and delivery of new housing units, only continue to skyrocket in Montgomery County. And thousands of existing affordable housing units are being demolished to clear the way for more overpriced "luxury" housing. A ridiculously-high cost-of-living combined with some of the lowest job creation and job growth numbers in the region are a recipe for increasing poverty and homelessness. Montgomery County has failed to attract a single major corporate headquarters in a quarter century, as company after company has chosen to locate or flee to Northern Virginia over that long, dry period of moribundity. As a result, more jobs, and more high-wage jobs, are created every year in Fairfax County than in Montgomery County - in fact, the numbers aren't even close.

Montgomery County has dropped off of so many top ten lists - Forbes' Top Ten Richest Counties in America, Top School Systems in America, etc. - that it's almost a positive feeling to be on any top ten list. Almost. Perhaps the Montgomery County cartel can create some new slogans: "Montgomery County: We're Number Two in Unhoused Population - We Try Harder (To Make It More Expensive to Live Here)." Or, "The Number of Montgomery County's Unhoused - Rising Almost as Fast as County Councilmembers' Salaries!"

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Hogan launches Democrats for Hogan in Maryland Senate race; Alsobrooks responds with video, Clinton endorsement

Former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) formalized his outreach to Democratic voters in the blue state, a day after winning the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat of the retiring Ben Cardin (D). He turned to former Democratic State Senator Bobby Zirkin (MD-11) to lead "Democrats for Hogan," a coalition voters can join that will spearhead the popular former governor's effort to win with bipartisan support in November. 

Hogan enjoyed such support during his two terms as governor, and with his attacks on Donald Trump, reporters and pundits pointed out that polling showed him more popular with Democrats than in his own party at times. Some Republicans took to calling Hogan "Lockdown Larry" for his response to the pandemic, but he received high marks for his handling of the Covid-19 crisis from a majority of voters.

"I’ve been a lifelong Democrat, and as a Democrat, I’m excited to vote and support and work for Larry Hogan for the United States Senate. He is exactly the leader we need," Zirkin said in a video released by the Hogan for Maryland campaign. "I encourage all of my fellow Democrats to really review the record of Governor Hogan, to look at things like fracking and criminal justice reform and cyberbullying, and the way that he was able to hold the line on taxes and still invest in things that are important like education and the Chesapeake Bay. Maybe most importantly, for those of you who believe like me from both parties - but I’m talking to the Democrats right now - that the hyper-partisanship in Washington is not what we should expect from our leaders. That we should expect them to work together. And if you believe that like I do, then I would encourage you to come out and support Larry Hogan for the United States Senate."

Not so fast, Hogan's Democratic opponent, Angela Alsobrooks said with her postings on social media today. Alsobrooks tweeted a video in which she emphasizes Hogan's identity as Republican rather than bipartisan. She retweeted an endorsement from Hillary Clinton, in which the former U.S. Senator wrote of the current Prince George's County Executive, "Maryland, help this extraordinary public servant become your next Senator!" Not surprisingly, the overarching theme of Alsobrooks' output today was abortion. So far, the campaign and all of its surrogates are laser-focused on the pro-choice message, which Democrats have found to be a winning one since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

The topic was also on Hogan's agenda today. Referring to his record at the state level, he tweeted, "As governor, I protected the rights of Maryland women to make their own reproductive health decisions. I will do the same in the Senate by restoring Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. No one should come between a woman and her doctor."

He followed up his Democrats for Hogan announcement with a new video of prominent Democrats praising him compiled from TV and radio reports broadcast in recent years, featuring current Governor Wes Moore, former president Bill Clinton, President Joe Biden, Senator Chris Van Hollen and...Angela Alsobrooks.

"To my Democratic and Independent friends, you know me and you know my proven track record of reaching across the aisle to find common ground for the common good," Hogan said in a statement. "I will continue to be the same strong independent leader for Maryland that I always have been. You know that I have the courage to put people over politics and to put country over party. If you are completely fed up with the divisiveness and dysfunction and want a strong, independent leader who will stand-up and fight to clean up the mess in Washington—then join our cause."

Photos courtesy Hogan for Maryland (top), Alsobrooks for Senate (bottom)

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Alsobrooks to take on Hogan this fall, Parrott surprises to face Delaney in Maryland primary election results

Democrat David Trone's wallet is a lot lighter this morning, as Angela Alsobrooks brought an expensive end to the multimillionaire's political career by securing the Democratic nomination for the Maryland U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Ben Cardin (D). Alsobrooks, who currently serves as Prince George's County Executive, would be the first Black person to represent her state in the U.S. Senate if she wins in November. Standing between her and victory is popular former governor Larry Hogan (R), who also won his primary last night. 

While the victory of Alsobrooks followed the trends of her party in the state's recent elections, the favoring of younger and more-progressive candidates did not extend to the 6th Congressional District race, as April McClain Delaney defeated fellow Democrat Joe Vogel. The McClain Delaney-David Trone-John Delaney arc begs the question: has this seat simply become the plaything of the rich? One has to be wistful for the days of farmer Roscoe Bartlett (R), who - God bless him - is still living his best life at the age of 97 after being gerrymandered out of the seat in 2012. A congressperson who thought it was wrong for the government to spy on its own citizens - imagine that!

The surprise of the night in the 6th was the decisive victory of Neil Parrott on the Republican side of that contest. Former gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox was expected to win, or at least come close, after his high-profile endorsement by Donald Trump two years ago. Now spending most of his days in a Manhattan courtroom, and without his nemesis Hogan facing Cox this time, Trump did not weigh in on the 6th District race.

Cox has a strong and loyal following among his supporters, establishing a real movement among Christian conservatives and America First Republicans, even if downsized from 2022. While Tuesday's loss may add to doubts about his future statewide potential, it's unlikely you've heard the last of the attorney and former delegate on the political stage. Parrott will now need to maintain his momentum - and money, money and more money - to stay competitive with McClain Delaney this fall. The 6th District remains severely gerrymandered in strong favor of Democrats. A majority on the U.S. Supreme Court seem to be fine with that, as long as they don't have to undo the red state gerrymandering that has helped Republicans win more seats in Congress than they otherwise would have in recent years.

In the 8th Congressional District, Cheryl Riley defeated Michael Yadeta in a blowout victory. She will face incumbent Jamie Raskin (D) in November.

Can Alsobrooks beat Hogan? Absolutely, if all of the Democrats, independents and Republican women fired up about Roe v. Wade turn out like they did nationally in 2022 and 2023. Out-of-state groups supporting abortion rights were already engaged on her behalf in the primary, and those cash spigots will almost surely be fully-opened after Labor Day. You will hear the word "abortion" coming out of your TV speakers non-stop starting around that time, and lasting through Election Day in November. 

With Black voters holding real power in Maryland, Alsobrooks' potential history-making win is another point in her favor. And she clearly has keen political senses and organizational skills, having just run one of the biggest upset campaigns in recent Maryland history.

At the same time, Hogan has to like the result last night. Alsobrooks doesn't have the Trone fortune at her disposal, while Hogan will have a bounty of GOP dark money flowing in from out of state. Trone had much more appeal to older, moderate and independent voters than Alsobrooks will; those demographics are now in Hogan's corner again. 

Hogan enjoyed strong bipartisan support during his time as governor; Alsobrooks has not in her time as executive or state's attorney. She also doesn't have the statewide name recognition Hogan has. And because she has served in an executive role, Alsobrooks has a record with some weak spots that Hogan or his surrogates can target to a greater extent than Trone's would have provided.

Hogan was limited in what he could do while governor, as his power was greatly restricted by the Democratic legislature. But the things he did do, such as stopping tax hikes or reducing tolls, helped everyone, and voters across a diverse spectrum are likely to remember that at a time when wallets are being crushed by inflation. Barring a Roy McGrath October Surprise, Hogan is going to run a competitive race, and it will be the most-watched contest in the nation outside of Trump vs. Biden.

The most closely-watched races in Montgomery County were for the Board of Education. With the school system, student safety, and student performance continuing to trend downward, and a contentious debate over parents' ability to have their kids opt-out of some curriculum content, a number of insurgent candidates entered the contests to take on the establishment. Election results are so far showing none of the "opt-out" candidates prevailing, and two out of the three teacher's union Apple Ballot candidates are currently winning. 

Apple Ballot choice Rita Montoya is in a tight At-Large race with incumbent Lynne Harris, as ballots continue to arrive and be counted. Election results show Montoya seemed to perform best with voters who cast their ballots in person, while Harris excelled among those voting by mail. Mailed-in votes will continue to be delivered to the Board of Elections in the days ahead.

But David Trone spending $60 million of his own fortune and losing is probably the biggest headline this morning. The private jets, the Ferraris, the lavish mansions that the rest of us could have bought if we had that money... Or the sick who could have been cured, the homeless that could have housed, and the children who could have been educated... Our political system is totally corrupt, and our bank vault-busting election spending is only one of the notable symptoms. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Marc Elrich is right again on COG's developer-funded housing targets flimflam

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has weighed in again on the latest revival of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government's zombie housing targets plan, and once again, he is correct in seeing through COG's developer-funded flimflam job. Elrich told The Washington Post that COG's math is "faulty," and that's probably being generous. He criticized COG for trying to gin up "a sense of panic" about housing.

COG's housing targets plan is a bald-faced attempt to juice developer profits by using that false "panic" to loosen zoning restrictions, severely reduce public input on zoning and development proposals, override responsible growth policies, and generate more taxpayer subsidies for development companies that are already profitable private concerns. The people behind the COG curtain count on two things to achieve success with their housing targets scheme: the local media functioning in their role as stenographers more than journalists, in repeating COG's message verbatim with no scrutiny or criticism, and readers and viewers accepting these parroted talking points at face value.

Alas, when one studies the details, the COG scheme immediately falls apart. In a highly-educated area like this, it's not surprising that COG's plan still hasn't caught on, despite five years of relentless propaganda about it.

First of all, COG's math is wildly off-target. In order to meet the COG targets, "87 units per day" would have to be constructed in the region. To put that in real terms, that would mean a garden apartment complex being delivered each day in the DC Metro area. That doesn't even happen in a city like New York. China at the height of its real estate boom might be the only place on earth to approach such construction numbers, and it wound up demolishing many of those buildings, which ultimately stood vacant. In short, the target is not even achievable without overriding most regulations, approval processes and public engagement at a level that would severely compromise local budgets and quality of life, and by ignoring the fact that there is little demand for overpriced luxury apartments. Many of the new apartments in Bethesda, for example, are vacant and are being operated as illegal Airbnb hotel rooms. Whoops!

Second, COG describes "affordable" housing as costing the renter or homeowner $2300 a month. That is preposterous, and not affordable by any real-world measure. The $2300-$5000 apartment rents in the area are the problem, not the solution. And despite building thousands of new housing units every year, rents in Montgomery County only continue to skyrocket, proving that the real estate sector is no longer governed by market forces of supply and demand.

Third, COG itself, and the other entities trying to force its plan onto local jurisdictions, are funded by developers and developer lobbying organizations. Among those funding COG are entities connected to the Cafritz Interest real estate development firm, and Connected DMV, a development lobbying and advocacy firm. The Urban Institute is funded by development interests, big banks who profit from mortgage loans on real estate, and even BlackRock(!!), the massive international investment firm that has actually made housing more costly by snapping up homes. 

Nothing makes Wall Street-lapdog fact-checkers' heads explode faster than pointing out the BlackRock connection to inflated home prices. Those "reporters" will claim that it's Blackstone, Inc. that is buying up homes, while trying to downplay the fact that BlackRock is a part owner of Blackstone, holding an astronomical 45.99 million shares in the firm as of December 31, 2023. Blackstone snapped up 38,000 homes across America in one January 2024 transaction alone.

I've monitored home prices in the D.C. region, and across the country, for many years. Home prices have not only surged in our expensive area in recent times, but also in some of the most undesirable Podunk Junction towns in the middle of nowhere. Being funded by BlackRock, and then trying to be a credible voice on affordable housing, is quite an acrobatic feat to say the least.

Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University? Its advisory board is stacked with leaders from the real estate development industry. Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers (HAND)? As a very smart person once said, "They call it a non-profit, but somebody profits." Not only do non-profit or public housing entities often partner with private developers on projects that generate windfall profits for the latter, but - as we've seen in Montgomery County - non-profit leaders often draw and increase large salaries from taxpayer funds, and then write political campaign checks to the same elected officials who voted for those grants of taxpayer funds.

And let's not be surprised that the Post gives favorable coverage to COG's plan and all other pro-development and upzoning initiatives. The paper not only derives significant revenue from real estate advertising, but has been a major real estate player in the region itself, selling its former D.C. headquarters for $159 million and its Alexandria warehouses to developers for an estimated $30 million. The latter became the kind of dense development being advocated for by the COG housing targets.

The Post story on COG's housing targets also aligned with many of the attempts to leverage the race card into developer private profits we've seen in recent years. It's a shameful tactic by the development industry, which has historically leveraged race in this way from blockbusting, to the reversal of blockbusting by driving people of color out of those same neighborhoods decades later via gentrification. "Equity" is not a $2300-a-month rent.

This latest effort by COG and the Post to revive the zombie housing target scheme makes clear they intend to let no obstacle stand in the way of developer profits at taxpayer expense. The article explicitly calls for removing public input from zoning and development decisions, resident stakeholder communications the article complains "account for 40% of a housing development's budget." We're familiar with this effort in Montgomery County, whether hearing developer lobbyists urge the County Council to ignore public input because it is coming from "old people who have nothing better to do than testify at public hearings," or the Council's full-court press to continue to block restoration of the Office of the People's Counsel, an attorney who can provide free advice to residents and represent their interests in administrative hearings."

Elrich supports restoring the Office of the People's Counsel. He should continue to correctly oppose COG's housing target scheme.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Larry Hogan sets fundraising record for a Maryland U.S. Senate candidate

The unexpected chance to flip a U.S. Senate seat was expected to boost the inflow of campaign cash into the Maryland this year, but former Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has exceeded expectations, by setting a fundraising record for a U.S. Senate race in the heavily-Democratic state. Hogan has raised more than $3.1 million since his surprise last-minute entry into the contest on February 9, his campaign announced yesterday. That total marks the most raised by a Senate candidate in any quarter in state history, and outpaced the campaign of Democrat Angela Alsobrooks by $1 million in half the time. Alsobrooks is locked in a contentious Democratic primary race with billionaire David Trone, who is self-funding his campaign, and spending big on advertising.

Hogan greets a voter in
Leonardtown, Maryland yesterday

“Our team is incredibly humbled and grateful for the overwhelming amount of support and positive reception we have received across the state since announcing mid-February, and we are just getting started,” Hogan said in a statement Thursday. “In a race where we are likely to face either the billionaire trying to buy the election or the candidate of the Democratic machine, there is no doubt we are the financial underdog too. Every day, our focus is on getting our message out to Marylanders who are fed up and frustrated with politics as usual. It’s time to get back to work, fix the broken politics, and send a message to Washington!”

Hogan delivers fresh Dunkin' Donuts
to volunteer firefighters in
Prince Frederick, Maryland yesterday

Hogan is in the middle of a ten-day bus tour of the state. The tour coincides with the start of mail-in balloting in Maryland, as voters begin to receive their primary ballots in the mail this week.

Photos courtesy Hogan for Maryland, Inc.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Poll finds Maryland voters nostalgic for the Larry Hogan era

A new poll conducted by the University of Maryland and The Washington Post had good news for U.S. Senate candidate Larry Hogan (R). The results indicated that registered Maryland voters were much more pleased with the direction of the state under former Gov. Hogan than they are during the current term of his successor, Gov. Wes Moore (D). At the end of Hogan's first four-year term in 2018, 63% of Maryland voters thought the state was moving in the right direction. Only 46% believe Maryland is moving in the right direction as of March 2024. 

In 2018 under Hogan, 29% of voters said Maryland was "on the wrong track." In 2024, 44% now believe the state is moving in the wrong direction. The poll was conducted between March 5 and 12, 2024, and surveyed 1004 registered Maryland voters. Legislators returning to their pre-Hogan ways of raising taxes, along with ongoing inflation pressures and suddenly-shaky state finances, may explain some of the nostalgia for the former Republican governor's era. A FY-2025 budget proposal from the Maryland General Assembly has proposed $350-$450 million in new taxes and fees, which Hogan contrasted on Twitter with his record of cutting taxes in each of his eight years in office, totaling $4.7 billion in tax relief.

The poll results shed more light on why Hogan is currently leading Democratic frontrunners David Trone and Angela Alsobrooks in polling for the U.S. Senate race. Hogan's late entry into the contest, and his lead in the polls, have moved Maryland from the irrelevant column nationally into one of the most-watched states as the November election approaches. Maryland could well determine whether Democrats or the GOP control the U.S. Senate in 2025. 

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Montgomery County's moribund economy just needs...more cowbell, Planning Dept. says

Montgomery County's moribund economy isn't a new problem. I've been writing about it for over a decade. In more recent years, The Washington Post editorial board has finally acknowledged that MoCo, once the economic engine of the Washington, D.C. region, has become stagnant - - though only in the service of their Ahab-like crusade against their chief nemesis, Marc Elrich. Even a handful of politicians have begun admitting it, from Elrich himself, to his twice-vanquished opponent David Blair, and even Maryland Gov. Wes Moore. But despite the arrival of more-powerful voices at the table, Montgomery County and Maryland's policies have yet to change. In fact, the Montgomery County Planning Department is now arguing that the solution is to double down on the failed path we've been on: "More cowbell!"

In a recent series on the department's relentlessly pro-developer blog, The Third Place, we find the latest example of the Montgomery County cartel phenomenon we might call, "Now more than ever..." Whatever the latest crisis to befall a sector, demographic or geographic area of the County, their solution is always the same: Build more luxury housing. Whether it's the moribund economy, failing schools, increasing poverty, or the decline of an area like Friendship Heights, our elected officials tell us the answer - "now more than ever" - is to build more luxury apartments.

The Third Place series is just the latest example of this "More cowbell!" argument. 

It is ostensibly a deep dive into the stagnation of the Montgomery County economy. But as the series advances beyond a deceptive twisting of statistics that aren't actually the root cause of the stagnation, it eventually arrives at a familiar conclusion - we need to build more luxury housing.

More cowbell!

Most residents will never read this blog series, but you the taxpayer are not the target audience, anyway. Like most reports generated by the Planning Department, the purpose is to provide Astroturf data and analysis our developer-funded elected officials can point to as justification for upzoning greater and greater areas of the County. But if a resident of one of the most highly-educated jurisdictions in America were to read this blog series, they would quickly sense that something is amiss.

For example, Part I classifies Montgomery County residents who make $138,750 and above as "high-income" residents. In the real world, that's called "barely-keeping-your-head-above-water" in Montgomery County. Many County residents skating by on maxed-out credit, the bank-of-Mom-and-Dad, and assorted other survival tactics would be shocked to learn that they are "rich." 

The reason for this low wealth bar becomes clear as you continue reading. It is a way to make it seem that the "rich" portion of the population has merely remained constant. In reality, the flight of the rich from Montgomery County has been well-documented, down to the amount of tax revenue in millions that those wealthy expats have taken with them to lower-tax jurisdictions in the area. 

Were we to classify "high-income" more accurately, we would see that those numbers have declined significantly. The exodus has been most clearly seen in Montgomery County plummeting entirely off of the Forbes Top Ten Richest Counties list last decade, and in the collapse of "Montgomery County's Rodeo Drive" in Friendship Heights, which in recent years has become a stretch of aging apartment buildings and vacant storefronts.

As the rich have fled, they have been replaced - and then some - by low-income residents. The Third Place acknowledges this. "Specifically, our analysis shows that between 2005 and 2022, Montgomery County’s low-income population grew faster than the other groups. Montgomery County’s middle-income population shrank." Charles, Frederick, Howard, Loudoun, and Prince William counties can surely attest to the latter, as they've welcomed those cash-strapped, taxed-to-death MoCo refugees, along with the Virginia exurbs.

While that tax revenue has flowed outward, our business growth has dropped to the lowest in the region. Our job creation numbers have collapsed, and even fallen behind Prince George's County in recent years. And Montgomery County hasn't attracted a single major corporate headquarters in over a quarter century, a time frame that neatly dovetails with the MoCo cartel's seizure of the County Council in 2002 with the "End Gridlock" slate. As does the shift of population growth to the bottom of the income scale.

What urgent strategic and policy changes does The Third Place recommend to turn the tide, and attract the business and commercial revenue we need?

"The main, actionable takeaway from this research is to encourage the production of market-rate infill housing."

We know, of course, that "market-rate" housing in Montgomery County is expensive. There's no shortage of expensive housing in the County. We also know, from hard experience since 2002, that massive construction of new luxury housing does not reduce rents or home prices. Period. And because new residential housing generates more costs in County services than it does in tax revenue, building more won't solve our structural budget deficit. Much less restore our moribund economy.

Did the rich flee Montgomery County because home prices were too cheap? Not quite. Would middle class residents return en masse from the exurbs if we produced more $1 million townhomes and $2 million duplexes? Nope.

What would actually make Montgomery County a booming jurisdiction, make it possible for more residents to afford living here, and fill the County's revenue coffers? High-wage jobs from major corporate employers. 

The Third Place worries that currently, "there will be nowhere for affordable-housing residents to go once they are ready to upgrade." But it doesn't explain how janitors, cooks and grocery store bakers will suddenly be flush with the cash needed to buy that luxury housing that The Third Place wants to overdevelop even more than today. 

Here's a hint: Jobs. Good jobs. The kind we haven't been attracting to Montgomery County for a couple of decades now.

Gov. Wes Moore seems to understand this, noting that Maryland's economy today simply can't provide the revenue to fund his ambitious agenda. This year's legislative session in Annapolis seems to indicate that his message fell on deaf ears among his General Assembly colleagues. Likewise, Elrich has come around to the idea that the County should be attracting high-wage jobs. But his legislative colleagues on the County Council haven't joined him yet. 

The cumulative impact of elected officials who write the laws remaining stubborn in their ways - and loyal to the real estate developers who elected them - will only hasten the exit of wealth and revenue from Montgomery County. In addition to the massive property and recordation tax hikes passed last year, low and middle-income workers will soon be paying several hundred dollars to register their work trucks and soccer mom minivans. A 75-cent tax on every Uber ride. Even a $1.25 more on each pack of smokes. All of these are extremely regressive taxes.

A quick look at the press release pages of Gov. Moore and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin gives just a small sense of the problem. Both men have Rolodexes stuffed with Wall Street and corporate connections. Surprisingly, Moore has so far failed to convince any of his friends in the Hamptons or Martha's Vineyard to relocate their Fortune 500 companies to Maryland. And that's even amid a downward trend for Virginia under Youngkin. The GOP 2028 aspirant's announcements of new, major corporate headquarters relocating to the Old Dominion have come at a much more sporadic pace than under his two Democratic predecessors.

But even as Virginia begins to flounder a bit, and budget woes creep up on legislators in Arlington and Fairfax counties who have begun to follow the big-spending ways of MoCo, we have not been able to seize any momentary advantage.

Not only has Youngkin failed to tee up many big wins, but when he does, he now has a legislature that is more like the one in Annapolis to block him. That's partly his own fault, for bizarrely making the last state election about abortion, a sure losing crusade even in red states - much less a blue one like Virginia. And he even turned away a Ford electric vehicle battery plant. Tired of winning, perhaps?

Yet, even as Virginia slips into a lower economic gear, 2024 has brought another major corporate HQ to Virginia. CoStar - which once was headquartered in Bethesda(!!), before fleeing to the District in 2010 - purchased the 1201 Wilson Boulevard office tower in Rosslyn for its new global HQ. It will bring its existing 500 jobs, and add 150 additional jobs in its new Virginia home. 

CoStar joins Northrup Grumman, Capital One, Hilton Hotels, Volkswagen, Lidl, Intelsat, Gannett, General Dynamics, Blackboard, Corporate Executive Board, Nestle, Gerber, Lego, and the rest of a truly-headspinning list of household-name companies to select Northern Virginia over Montgomery County in recent times.

During the same Q1 period in Maryland, Gov. Moore was only able to announce the relocation of Blink Charging Co. from Florida to Bowie. That's certainly a positive and welcome development, but it's not a major or Fortune 500 company. The number of existing corporate expansions in Maryland so far this year has also been dwarfed by the number in Virginia. 

Over the first three months of 2024, Gov. Youngkin issued press releases announcing 9 other new or expanding businesses adding jobs to the state. During the same period, Maryland only had 2, another resounding defeat in regional competition.

It was encouraging news that when Moore received the phone call about the Key Bridge collapse, he was on an unannounced business trip to Boston. This at least shows he may currently be working on something big behind the scenes.

Montgomery County was once the place where such big economic development news was made in the DC region. What I've argued for over a decade has been further vindicated by the collapse of the office market after the pandemic rise of working-from-home. 

We need to be attracting major corporate headquarters, and research and manufacturing facilities, from the aerospace, defense and tech sectors. These are the sectors that need large, secure campuses in suburban office parks, the kind we - thankfully, for now - still have plenty of. And room to build plenty more. The anonymous apologists for the County Council said I was a fool, and that companies wanted to be in traditional office buildings by Metro stations in urban areas. 

It turns out I was right. "Now more than ever," you might say.

Currently, the ever-increasing and regressive tax burden caused by our elected officials' profligate spending is falling almost entirely on residents. We are leaving all of the commercial, business tax revenue - and income revenue from high-wage jobs, on the table for our rivals in Virginia, for whom we've become a bedroom community. 

By adopting more-competitive business policies, adding missing infrastructure like a new Potomac River crossing to provide direct access to Dulles International Airport, and being aggressive in attracting the evergreen industries that provide high-income employment in good times and bad, we can ease the tax and fee burden on residents. 

Friday, April 5, 2024

WSSC seeks public comment on proposed new Damascus Town Center Wastewater Pumping Station

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission is moving forward with a plan to replace the Damascus Town Center Wastewater Pumping Station, and is receiving public comment on the proposal between now and May 4, 2024. As planned, the existing pumping station would be demolished, and a new one would be constructed about 1500 linear feet north of that location at 26701 Woodfield Road. The existing pumping station is now outmoded, the utility said.

The replacement facility would be a wet well and valve vault-style pumping station. It would include an electrical and control building, paving and fencing with an access gate, landscaping, a gravity sewer, a low-pressure sewer force main, a water main, and associated infrastructure to "pump sewage out of the proposed pump station and into the collection system.

Alas, the project plans are not provided online for the public. Instead, they are available for public review in-person at the WSSC at 14501 Sweitzer Lane, Laurel, Maryland 20707 from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM, Monday through Friday. Public comment is only accepted in written form, and can be mailed to Tanweer Baig, 14501 Sweitzer Lane, Laurel, Maryland 20707, or emailed to

Monday, April 1, 2024

Maryland officials knew for decades that a ship could cause Baltimore's Key Bridge to collapse

The only thing more shocking than the total collapse of the Key Bridge in Baltimore last week was the number of speculative conjectures stated by elected and appointed officials in the hours after it was struck by a container ship. Federal and state officials almost immediately declared it had not been a terrorist attack. While there has so far been no evidence whatsoever showing the crash was intentional, there had not been adequate time to investigate sufficiently to entirely rule it out at the time they made that declaration. More importantly, the claim was made - and then repeated ad nauseum by the media - that any type of bridge would have completely collapsed in this scenario. An investigative report published by The Washington Post this past Saturday has determined that claim to be false. 

A collapse of a similar bridge over Tampa Bay in Florida following a ship collision in 1980 resulted in federal authorities alerting highway agencies to review all bridges, to find out how many might have the same vulnerability, the Post learned. An engineer with the Maryland Department of Transportation confirmed to The Baltimore Sun that year that the Key Bridge was one of the state's bridges that fell into that category. "I'm talking about the main supports, a direct hit - it would knock it down," he told the Sun. 

Despite learning this in 1980, state and federal officials took no action to construct barriers or islands around the Key Bridge's support columns. "They had all this time to realize the danger, and it appears to me they did nothing about it," Florida attorney Steve Yerrid told the Post. Yerrid was a lawyer for the pilot of the ship that struck the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay. "Maryland officials should have moved aggressively to protect their bridges from collisions, despite the costs," the Post cited Yerrid as saying.

National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy also put to rest the idea that "no bridge could have survived this crash." She said the bridge designs of today have "redundancy" built in, so that the loss of one pier doesn't cause a total collapse. In contrast, Maryland officials knew that the Key Bridge was among the thousands of "fracture critical" bridges in America. "Fracture critical" means that "if one key piece fails, part or all of the bridge would likely collapse," the Post reported.

America's crumbling infrastructure is often in the news, but rarely in state and federal budgets. We know that trillions of dollars that could have been spent on new bridges and highway maintenance, high speed rail, utility networks, healthcare, poverty, housing for the homeless and other essential needs have instead gone to costly wars overseas, as just one example of nonsensical spending priorities.

Senator Chuck Schumer is reportedly having difficulty finding $10 million to correct major infrastructure issues at the National Institute of Standards and Technology campus right here in Gaithersburg, deficiencies that are currently threatening national security and the health of NIST employees. But the U.S. government had no difficulty finding $75 billion for the Ukraine War, at least $3 trillion for the Iraq War, $2.3 trillion for the Afghanistan War, $2.2 billion of weapons for rebels against the government of Syria, $17 billion on a military adventure in the former Yugoslavia, a $100 million drone base in Niger...the list goes on and on, and most of the money goes into the private profit pockets of the military-industrial complex. None of those outlays has resulted in a successful geopolitical victory for the United States.

At the same time, Maryland elected officials have spent big and repeatedly raised taxes since 1980. The completely-preventable collapse of the Key Bridge forces us to now evaluate just which frivolous things - and campaign donors - our representatives have spent all that tax revenue on instead.

In many photo-ops over the last week, our elected officials have striven to give us the impression they are here to save us from an economic catastrophe that also cost at least six human lives. As the Post report proves, they were actually the problem in the first place, having failed to act to modify or replace the Key Bridge for 44 years.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Ficker: David Trone's racial slur shows word was "on the tip of his tongue"

Maryland U.S. Senate candidate
David Trone (D)

Maryland U.S. Senate candidate David Trone (D), in his current role as representative for the state's 6th Congressional District, used a racial slur when speaking to a Black woman during a committee hearing on Thursday. Trone later issued a statement apologizing for using the word, claiming he had meant to use the term "bugaboo" instead. "That word has a long, dark, terrible history," Trone said of the slur in his statement. "It should never be used any time, anywhere, in any conversation." While Trone characterized his language as a mere gaffe, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Robin Ficker suggested it was more of a Freudian slip.

“I am appalled by David Trone’s use of this vile word, especially when addressing a black woman," Ficker said in a statement Friday. "That terrible word does not simply slip out of someone’s mouth unless it is constantly on the tip of their tongue. Trone’s attempt to pass this off as a harmless mistake is an affront to the voters’ intelligence."

Trone's unforced error couldn't have come at a worse time. Days earlier, a poll showed that former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) was far ahead of Trone and Democratic rival Angela Alsobrooks in the contest for outgoing U.S. Senator Ben Cardin's seat. The poll also showed that despite months of relentless, unskippable YouTube ads, Trone is not a a familiar name to most registered voters statewide.

Yet, the poll had only underlined the fact that the Democratic National Committee badly needs Trone and his personal wealth to defeat Hogan this fall. The entry into the race by popular former governor Hogan, who still enjoys bipartisan support and goodwill, means Republican donations and dark money will be pouring into a state that now represents a flippable seat in the Senate. But by the end of the week, Trone had wounded himself badly with his out-of-left-field use of a racial slur.

Trone now finds himself in a similar predicament as two of his Democratic colleagues in Virginia, as well as former Virginia Gov. George Allen (R). In 2019, then-Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and then-Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) were revealed to have worn blackface as adults. Northam was also accused of being one of two men in a yearbook photograph, whose identities were hidden by Ku Klux Klan robes and blackface. Northam initially admitted he was one of the two men in the photo, without identifying which one, but later retracted his confession. 

Allen used a racial slur when addressing a tracker from a rival campaign who was videotaping him at a campaign event in 2006. Despite yeoman's work by The Washington Post to revive Northam and Herring's prospects - and Northam's bizarre framing of collective penance by the state for his personal racist acts - Virginia voters had the last word, firing Herring during the 2021 election. The political careers of all three Virginians were ended by the episodes. But they gave voters a window into the world of politicians who profess one thing in daylight, but hold contrasting mores and values privately.

Those lessons show the real political hot water Trone is now in. The woman he was addressing when a racial slur came to his mind was Black. His leading Democratic primary opponent is Black. And Maryland is one of the American states where Black voters have decisive power. No one can win a statewide election here if they are strongly opposed by African-American voters.

Hogan has not yet issued a public statement on Trone's use of the slur. Ficker, in his statement, recapped his political record on civil rights, including his participation in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. "Aside from marching with Dr. [Martin Luther] King, last year, I was asked to be on the hospitality committee for the 60th Reunion of the March led by Martin Luther King, III," Ficker recounted. "In 1976, I was appointed by Rosa Parks to be the first general counsel for the National Caucus on Black Aging."

"Unlike Congressman Trone, I have a track record of supporting the black community, instead of just giving them lip service," Ficker said. "I’m incredibly proud of my work to advance racial equality, and I will always be a friend to the Black community in the Senate.”

Monday, March 18, 2024

Rockville residents asking Mayor & Council to boost funding for police as Montgomery County retreats

A downward spiral that began when the Montgomery County Council made a modest effort to "defund the police" in 2021 by cutting 30 positions picked up speed on November 1, 2023, when the Montgomery County Police Department announced it would no longer respond to 911 calls in the municipalities of Rockville and Gaithersburg, unless their respective City police departments had no units available or needed backup assistance. The pull-out was due to a shortage of officers, which is forecast to grow to 239 vacancies by July 2025. Montgomery County currently has 176 police officer vacancies, as former County Council staff member Adam Pagnucco reported last fall. Rockville residents concerned about the greater responsibility now being shouldered by its municipal police officers plan to press the Mayor and Council to boost funding for the Rockville City Police Department outside of City Hall tonight, March 18, 2024 at 6:45 PM.

Residents want to "let the City Council know that public safety, funding and support for the Rockville Police Department is important, especially given the increasing crime throughout Rockville and the County, as a whole," rally organizer Brigitta Mullican said in a press release about tonight's effort. The Mayor and Council will be holding a hearing on the city's FY-2025 budget during their meeting tonight. 

Last month, Rockville City Police Chief Victor Brito told the Mayor and Council that his department is now handling 88% of emergency calls within the city limits. That's up from 71% in 2018. Mullican said that she will be testifying during tonight's public hearing for an increase in police funding and salaries. 

Recruitment has become a challenge nationwide, as officers in many jurisdictions where elected officials have disparaged or criticized police - including Montgomery County - have either retired early, or moved to other departments around the region or country that are perceived as being more supportive of police officers. The competition for the reduced number of people choosing to enter the law enforcement field has become intense as a result. Rockville must remain competitive with officer salaries and benefits to attract enough officers to handle its increased responsibilities.

Brito's presentation last month showed the impact of the City's greater call load - exacerbated by a persistent crime wave in the County since 2020 - on officer response time. He noted the national statistics that indicate that for every additional 1000 emergency calls, another 9 minutes are added to response time, on average. 

Participants in tonight's rally outside City Hall, located at 111 Maryland Avenue, are asked to bring signs showing support for Rockville City police. A group photo will be taken to show the size of support from residents for City officers.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Demolition of Rockville home proposed (Photos)

The owners of the home at 115 North Van Buren Street in Rockville would like to demolish it to make room for a new house on the property. They have asked the City of Rockville for a review to determine if the 1961 brick house qualifies for historic designation or not. Their application has been reviewed by City staff, and will be taken up by the Historic District Commission at their next scheduled meeting on Thursday, March 21, 2024 at 7:00 PM. City Preservation Planner Sheila Bashiri has reviewed the house and its history in relation to the criteria for preservation, and has determined that the home does not merit historic designation.

115 North Van Buren Street is actually a quite nice home. Its construction is all-brick and solid. It has some small architectural details that modestly aspire toward a mansion. There's even a full tennis court in the backyard! 

All of the fine details are less surprising when you learn that the home was built for the son of the prominent Judge Charles W. Woodward. Judge Woodward was first appointed to the bench by - arguably - Maryland's greatest and most-famous governor, Albert Ritchie, in 1932. 

Four years later, Judge Woodward and his wife Clarice moved into a new home at 111 North Van Buren Street. During the 1950s, the Woodwards purchased adjacent lots. In 1960, the Woodwards' son Arthur and his wife Elizabeth bought the lot at 115 North Van Buren from them. Their home, complete with a one-story office for Dr. Arthur Woodward's medical practice, was built the next year.

Dr. Woodward passed away in 2006. Elizabeth Woodward continued to live in the home until her recent death in 2021. The current owners acquired the property from her estate in 2022, and a family member of theirs has been living in the house since. Now, as residents of Rockville for over 25 years, they would like to build a new "forever home" in its place.

Many people might look at the pictures and say that, with a little fixing up, this would be a wonderful place to live. However, the owners note that the home's interior and basic systems are in poor condition, although livable for the present. There is a significant amount of termite damage. One of the bedrooms has a floor that is structurally unsound. And the medical office, which the owners say appears to not have been used for a very long time, is an unusable space.

Also in the owners' favor, they have gathered a great deal of community support against historic designation of the property from other longtime Rockville residents. Letters representing 17 residents have been submitted with their application, all opposing historic designation. 

Any resident will have the option to voice their opinion on the application during the HDC meeting, by submitting their name and email address to the Historic District Commission, (by email at no later than 9:00 AM on the day of the hearing (March 21, 2024) to be placed on the testimony list. Written testimony can be submitted to the same email address by 4:00 PM on March 20, the day before the meeting.

Photos courtesy City of Rockville

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Rockville Catholic school students meet Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh

Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh hosted students from a Rockville Catholic school at the court Monday. Eighth graders from St. Elizabeth Catholic School were given the grand tour of the Court building by Kavanaugh, a Catholic and native of Montgomery County. Kavanaugh is well-known for volunteering his time as a basketball coach. His tour brought the students to what the school termed "the highest court in the land," a basketball court located above the courtroom. Kavanaugh also participated in a question-and-answer session with the students. 

Photos courtesy St. Elizabeth Catholic School

Monday, March 4, 2024

Gaithersburg to rule on updated signage for Walnut Hill Shopping Center

The venerable Walnut Hill Shopping Center sign is a landmark in itself for drivers traveling through Gaithersburg on MD 355. But like other design features at the center, it is now considered past its prime as the property's owners are amidst a major renovation to update it. There is one other problem - as Walnut Hill was annexed into the City of Gaithersburg to facilitate the addition of a Sheetz convenience store, it is now subject to that city's zoning codes. And those codes say that Walnut Hill's existing signage is not compliant.

Proposed locations of new
monument signs (in red) and
freestanding tenant signage (green)

The Gaithersburg Planning Commission will attempt to resolve all of these issues by reviewing, and potentially voting to approve a comprehensive sign package submitted by Walnut Hill at its March 6, 2024 meeting. Walnut Hill's proposed signage is still not in compliance with city code, but Planning staff are still recommending approval of the package. They note that the new signs will be in the same locations, will assist in safer wayfinding for drivers and pedestrians, and will not be visually obstructive. 

One condition placed on the release of final sign permits from the City is the removal of two Montgomery County stormwater easements at the property. Some of the current and new signs are located within those easements. The City says it is currently working with Montgomery County to have those easements terminated.

Corner monument sign - note the
Sheetz gas station canopy visible in 
the background

Saturday, March 2, 2024

11 Maryland sheriffs endorse MDGOP crime agenda

Harford County, Maryland
Sheriff Jeff Gahler

Sheriffs from 11 counties across Maryland have endorsed an anti-crime agenda proposed by the Joint Republican Caucus in the Maryland General Assembly, and are calling on Democrats in Annapolis to back the five-point plan. The agenda would increase penalties for violent criminals and extend their prison sentences, deny bail for repeat offenders, make the theft of a firearm a felony, reverse the ban on traffic stop searches when officers smell marijuana in the vehicle, and "correct recent misguided laws" to restore accountability for juvenile offenders who commit serious crimes. Passage of the plan was endorsed yesterday by the elected sheriffs of Allegheny County, Caroline County, Carroll County, Cecil County, Frederick County, Harford County, Queen Anne's County, Talbot County, Washington County, Wicomico County and Worcester County.

"Maryland is in a crime crisis," Maryland Republican Party Chair Nicole Beus Harris said in a statement.  "While Governor Wes Moore and the rest of the Democrat Leadership deny this fact, pass laws that make the problem worse, or propose modest changes that won’t make a difference, the Republican lawmakers in Annapolis have a comprehensive plan to make Maryland safer. No one understands this crime crisis or the need for statutory changes better than our state’s law enforcement, and that is reflected in the support these top Sheriffs have given to the GOP Public Safety Agenda."

"Whether misinformed or willfully ignorant to the consequences legislated over the last few years, law-abiding citizens, the overwhelming majority of Marylanders, do not support the cruelty they have had to endure due to our elected officials granting clemency to the guilty," Harford County Sheriff Jeff Gahler said Friday. "Their political correctness does not make us safer; it only generates intolerance and hatred. Those legislators seeking to delegitimize the rule of law, and tear down law enforcement, have recklessly and deliberately caused avoidable harm to all Maryland citizens. Now is the time to shield and protect our communities from the very few among us who seek to cause us harm."

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Bethesda Black cemetery advocates to protest at Jamie Raskin campaign event tonight

The Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition will hold a protest rally outside of a campaign event for Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin (D) tonight, February 22, 2024, at 7:00 PM at the Silver Spring Civic Building. Advocates for the desecrated Moses African Cemetery in Bethesda have been seeking Raskin's help in getting federal action on the historic gravesite, which is hidden under parking lots behind the Westwood Tower apartments. BACC President Marsha Coleman-Adebayo says that the cemetery is in Raskin's district, but that he "refuses to condemn the desecration and flooding" of the burial ground.

Those interesting in participating in tonight's protest are asked to meet up at Ben and Jerry's at 903 Ellsworth Drive in Silver Spring (across from the Civic Building) at 6:00 PM tonight. But if you can't get there that early, just head to the Civic Building at 7:00.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Rockville Mayor & Council to be briefed on plan to replace church with townhomes

Rockville's Mayor and Council will receive a briefing on a proposal to demolish a church in the Twinbrook area of the city, and replace it with a new townhome development, at their meeting tonight, February 12, 2024 at 7:00 PM. Developer Pulte has proposed redeveloping the church property at 5906 Halpine Road with 36 "two-over-two" townhomes. No decision will be made tonight; the briefing is for information purposes only, and to allow the Mayor and Council to comment or provide feedback and suggestions to Pulte.  

At a future date to be determined, the Mayor and Council will hold a public hearing to allow residents and other stakeholders to comment. Then they would schedule a future vote on a resolution for rezoning the property, approving the Project Plan, and authorizing the necessary waivers for a side yard setback and layback slope for the project. 

Nearby residents have raised concerns about overflow parking, and the potential reduction of the setback required. The grade of the church property has also led to worries about drainage impacts from the future townhome site. Some residents of the adjacent townhome community are concerned that the contemporary design of the new townhomes could cast shadows onto their shorter homes. Many who have contacted City staff have also advocated for leaving the trees on the church property in place. Pulte's current plan would do that, and also plant additional trees as part of the new development's landscaping.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Larry Hogan announces run for U.S. Senate in Maryland

Larry Hogan, with wife Yumi,
files for U.S. Senate race at the
Maryland Board of Elections office in
Annapolis Friday

Former Maryland Larry Hogan (R) has finally come to his senses, and is running for the one office he might have a chance to win in 2024, the Maryland U.S. Senate seat of the retiring Ben Cardin (D). The question that will be answered in November: Did Hogan's decision come too late? Hogan announced his entry into the race Friday afternoon. Since leaving office in January 2023, the former governor has been exploring a potential run for U.S. President - - initially as a Republican, then as part of a bipartisan ticket under the No Labels platform.

Hogan is the strongest candidate for the U.S. Senate the Maryland GOP has been able to muster in decades. He might have even been the favorite in the race, had he segued directly from being a popular governor with bipartisan support to the Senate campaign. But Hogan's presidential ambitions have enraged both the Donald Trump-loving base of the GOP, and Democrats and independent voters who fear a No Labels ticket will end up sending Trump back to the White House in 2025. 

Once praised by Democrats for his willingness to trash Trump on the national stage, Hogan has received more jeers than cheers on social media for his No Labels adventure and U.S. Senate announcement. And Trump supporters, who still remember Hogan verbally pummeling Republican gubernatorial nominee Dan Cox throughout the 2022 election season, were already lashing "Lockdown Larry" online within minutes of his announcement Friday.

The initial raw feelings will likely give way to a suddenly serious race for the U.S. Senate in Maryland. One big winner after Hogan's announcement: local broadcasters, who are going to enjoy an infusion of cash from the Republican National Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee and GOP dark money groups. MAGA Republicans may not be enthused to vote for Hogan, but the multinational corporations behind various superPACs suddenly see a Senate seat that could be flipped from blue to red by an establishment Reagan Republican.

The biggest losers from Hogan's entry? Democratic candidate Angela Alsobrooks, as national and Maryland Democratic strategists grapple with the fact that only David Trone will be able to dominate the money race in a contest with Hogan. And Republican Robin Ficker, who was the frontrunner in the GOP primary race until yesterday afternoon. Ficker had the most money, and greatest name recognition, among the GOP candidates prior to Hogan's announcement.

Trone vs. Hogan would likely be a premier matchup this fall, with money and national surrogates pouring into the state. The advantage has to go to Trone at the moment. He not only has unlimited funds from his own pocket, but his friends include Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. Trone has even hosted fundraisers with Obama and Bill Clinton -- in person -- at his home.

Another big problem for Hogan: abortion. The word you will hear the most from summer to fall in 2024: Abortion, abortion, abortion. It will be coming from your television speakers during every commercial break. The abortion issue could provide Democrats with a clean sweep of the White House, U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate in November. It's been a winning issue for Democrats in blue and red states alike, since Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. It's an issue Hogan will have to skillfully navigate, as in that context, few Democrats will want to help tip the Senate back to the GOP by voting for Larry Hogan.

Still, even Trone hasn't been able to buy a seat in Congress every time he's run, losing his first primary contest to Jamie Raskin. Trone doesn't have much support among Republicans, except when compared to more-progressive candidates in his party. On balance, Hogan is remembered by independent and moderate voters in both major parties as a popular governor who ran the state well for eight years. He has much more name recognition statewide than Trone. But he doesn't have the razor-thin advantage he might have had, if he had gone directly into the race from Government House in 2023.

Photo courtesy Hogan for Maryland

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

MD Retailers Association revives effort to allow beer, wine sales in Maryland grocery stores

MRA poster inside Harris Teeter

One of the biggest shocks to the system many new residents of Montgomery County experience, is the moment they learn they cannot purchase beer or wine at their local grocery store or convenience store. They quickly become familiar with Montgomery County's government monopoly on alcohol sales, and the archaic liquor laws of MoCo and Maryland. Restaurateurs and retailers frustrated with the status quo that reduces the profit margins of their businesses - and puts them at a disadvantage when competing against their rivals in Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia - made a push to change these laws in the last decade. The effort ran out of steam when no significant media campaign or financial contributions were employed to directly boost the candidates for office who would vote to overturn the Prohibition-style system.

Now the Maryland Retailers Association is reviving the campaign with a new website, and posters such as the one seen above this week in County supermarkets. There is a lot of information and data on the website. It has an easy way to contact your elected officials to encourage them to modernize our liquor laws. Whether the effort will be any more successful than the last remains to be seen.

If the MRA and business owners don't write fat checks to the candidates who will vote to change the laws, and won't publicly endorse those candidates and send glossy mailers with a list of their names to every voter, the campaign will fail again. Most of the articles linked to on the website are from media outlets who strongly support the incumbents and candidates who favor and will preserve the ossified government liquor monopoly we have now. That's not exactly a smart way to propagandize the public in favor of liquor reform, folks.

Former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich was prophetic about many things. He was savagely pilloried by local officials and the media during his time in office for supporting casinos and bus rapid transit. Both later became policy cornerstones of the Montgomery County and Maryland political machines of his most-venomous opponents. One other thing he used to say that has aged very well: Until business owners "get dangerous," and actually back candidates - Democratic, Republican, Green, independent - who will vote their way, nothing will change. The MRA has a nice website. But their campaign doesn't sound very "dangerous" yet.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Another attempt to restore Office of the People's Counsel in Montgomery County

Montgomery County's government bodies - Board of Education, Montgomery Parks, the Montgomery County Planning Board, to name three recent examples - are in disarray, and have been embroiled in scandals. Incredibly, while holding oversight power, the County Council has actively chosen to not restore funding for a position that can help hold the County's planning authorities (including the Council itself) more accountable to residents and taxpayers: The Office of the People's Counsel. Never a popular position among the developers who have funded most or all of the councilmembers' campaigns this century, depending upon which Council term is under discussion, the OPC was axed in 2010 when the Council finally had an excuse to do so: a budget crisis of their own making. But in 2023, more than a decade after the "Great Recession" ended, the current Council still voted against restoring funding for the OPC.

Fed-up residents and responsible growth advocates are launching a new attempt to persuade councilmembers - some of whom vowed to fund the OPC, but then betrayed the voters and organizations they made the vow to, once in office - to restore the OPC in the FY-2025 budget. The Montgomery Countryside Alliance, which works to protect rural areas, open space and streams from impacts of overdevelopment, is taking a leadership role by creating an easy form to send a brief message to the County Council in support of funding for the OPC.

For those not familiar, the OPC is (or was!) a land-use attorney who provides free advice and technical information to residents regarding development and land-use issues. Residents, most of whom cannot afford the kind of powerhouse legal representation that developers and the County itself have at their disposal, can therefore be better prepared to defend their interests before the Planning Board, County Council and hearing examiners. The OPC can also point out when the Board or Council is in violation of the rules or breaking the law, which non-land-use-attorney citizens may not be able to recognize their own. Perhaps most importantly, the People's Counsel can represent residents' interests in administrative hearings.

Boosting hopes for the return of this critical County government position is Bill PG/MC 112-24 at the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis, which is sponsored by Senator Ben Kramer of Montgomery County. Senator Kramer has also been a leading voice to make the planning process in the County more directly accountable to residents, such as considering proposals to move some aspects of planning under the executive branch of County government. Kramer's bill would fully fund the Office of the People's Counsel in Montgomery County, just as other jurisdictions like Prince George's County have. In other words, Kramer is saying to the Council, "if you won't do it, we will." But, if you don't use this form to send a message to the Council and the full Montgomery County delegation to Annapolis in favor of funding the OPC, they might not!