All posts by David Lublin

Altered Map: Cases Per 100k by County

From the New York Times. The map has changed. Doesn’t look like opening up Ocean City was such a great idea. Montgomery and Frederick have moved down the list. Many rural and outer suburban places no longer much different from inner suburbs.

  • Baltimore City, 29.
  • Worcester, 24.
  • Baltimore County, 22.
  • Talbot, 22.
  • Prince George’s, 19.
  • Dorchester, 15.
  • Anne Arundel, 14.
  • Calvert, 13.
  • Charles, 13.
  • Howard, 13.
  • Caroline, 12.
  • Harford, 12.
  • St. Mary’s, 11.
  • Montgomery, 10.
  • Washington, 10.
  • Carroll, 9.5.
  • Kent, 9.4.
  • Queen Anne’s, 8.8.
  • Wicomico, 7.6.
  • Cecil, 6.9.
  • Frederick, 6.5.
  • Somerset, 5.0.
  • Garrett, 4.1.
  • Allegany, 4.0.


MoCo Republicans Embrace Trump’s Views But Avoid the Name

Below is an email blast that I received from incoming MCRCC Chair Dennis Melby. I realize that email blasts tend to be shrill and designed to appeal to party militants but I was still struck by (1) how closely he embraces Trump’s views tightly even as (2) he refuses to say his name, an emerging trope among some Republicans who recognize that the President is just a dead political weight.

Even more striking is his caricature of the Black Lives Matter movement and its supporters, especially when juxtaposed with his vociferous defense of the police. There is no mention of George Floyd’s murder or of it being part of a long pattern of far too many Black people dying or suffering injuries in police custody. The police have an exceedingly tough job, made more difficult by weapons being so widespread in our society, but we must acknowledge and then figure out how to stop these killings of our neighbors and fellow citizens.

In contrast to Melby’s scaremongering language, the demonstrations in MoCo have been incredibly peaceful with broad based support. Indeed, the most noted case of violence was the man on the Capital Crescent Trail who assaulted the kids putting up pro-Black Lives Matter flyers. While I share his concern about crowds, demonstrations are outside and fortunately seem to have been related to relatively little transmission spread.

Moreover, it’s not like the man is a supporter of measures to contain COVID-19. Instead, he complains about every form of it. Everyone would love for kids to go back to school but it just isn’t safe now. For a start, there is simply no way to keep teachers apart from young kids or young kids from each other. Can you imagine a teacher trying to comfort a crying kid from six feet away? Older kids are hardly likely to use better judgement when leaders like this mock social distancing.

Here is the email:

Last week the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee elected me as Party Chairman for the remainder of the year, and I thank them for their support. We have such an important election in less than three months.

In the United States, in Maryland and in even in Montgomery county there’s a deepening feeling of frustration. Something’s just not right. No kids in school for the foreseeable future, work from home as much as you can, cut back on social activity for as long as it takes, but watch massive demonstrations and even violence as if it is acceptable.  It is not.

Although the police are our neighbors and family members there’s a small segment of the population on the far left bent on dismantling them and turning our defense against violence and threats over to social workers.  We need to continue the struggle for racial justice and against antisemitism, but under the guise of that struggle many people are fueling hatred and intolerance against “the others”, which can only lead to a lack of trust and understanding.

Just over the weekend the far left and many in the teachers unions have coordinated with the government to ban opening all in-person education in Montgomery county, public and private. Only a screen in front of a student is acceptable. This is not acceptable. We need an elected county government with common sense to check actions like this.

Yet we’re standing up. We say do everything you can to move on, safely and with sanity. Open the schools when you can, stop the violence and intimidation, support the cops who are vastly good, decent folks who want to do the right thing. While we all admit there’re wrong things in the world we know our American society strives to correct wrongs, to lift people up, and remain a place the world wants to come to.

So we stand with our first responders and laud them. We back the blue and hold their selfless works in admiration and respect. And we’re 100 percent sure that our great, perhaps the greatest medical establishment the world has ever seen will conquer this pestilence we’re faced with soon, not only for us, but for the world.

Believe me – both parties want to get back to boom times – one party to collect great taxes and the other party to provide great wealth. And yes, there are plenty of folks in between too! Even though the media portrays it differently we’re moving together as one united country, over the bumps in the road, fighting for family, community, freedom and justice.

Our November elections will reject the far-left extremists on the national level and move us closer to true representation on the local level. And the future will be bright, I know it.


The Squeaky Wheel and Inequities Hiding in Plain Sight

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post from Laura Stewart:

This past week there was a disturbing story that WTOP News covered that detailed the overcrowded, inadequate conditions at South Lake Elementary School, which is a Title 1 higher poverty school.

I have been to South Lake ES before, and they have an amazing community who is passionate about improving their school. I have seen the community engage at every level of local government and I have sat next to them in Annapolis testifying for more construction funds. They did make it into the FY21-26 Capital Improvement Program (CIP), but had their project delayed due to scarcity of funds. The County Council was given the choice of keeping the Northwood HS project on time or keeping South Lake ES on schedule. Northwood HS is a school with higher rates of poverty and also has inadequate facilities. Hopefully, they will find a third way, and keep both important projects (and others) on time.  When Walt Whitman HS’s addition was announced two years ago and stayed on schedule, some people FELT like it was inequitable. Whitman is in District 1 where the average Free and Reduced Meals (FARMS) rate, a proxy for poverty, is less than a quarter of any other district. But is our county’s spending actually inequitable? Has the wealthier part of the county gotten more attention?

A few months ago, I saw some analysis that over the last decade, District 1 (which includes Bethesda, Potomac, and Poolesville) had indeed received an outsized portion of major building projects like additions or new schools. But I noticed that major renovation projects were missing from the list. So I decided to dig into the CIPs over 10 years, from FY2011-FY2020. I only counted major school projects that finished in those years, or had a shovel in the ground. Too many scheduled projects get delayed, just like they did this year.  Because the CIP uses one line item for all Major Capital Projects (major renovations and expansions,) I had to go to the state table in the CIP, where the county reports to the state what each project costs, and how much they are requesting from the state. All the data was available, but it was NOT easy to “see” unless you knew what to look for. So what did I find? Shockingly, District 1 had received twice the amount of money than three other districts over the 10 year period. But did they grow faster than the other parts of the county? The answer is no. Three other districts grew faster than District 1.

Dist.Total Dollars ($1000)% of Total DollarsMean FARMS2009-10
(not including special schools)

If this data had been easier to “see” would we have stood for the inequities that continued for a whole decade? If we had open data in MCPS, would it have taken me several weekends to compile all of the data from the online CIP books? Others have tried to point out the issues surrounding our planning, but it is frustratingly “hidden in plain sight” in PDFs. This is one of the reasons why BOE instructed MCPS to hire a contractor, WXY, to look at how we plan our distribution of approximately 166,000 students.

Instead of planning in an equitable fashion, every year the Squeaky Wheel gets the most attention. Currently, South Lake is squeaking, because that is what they need to do to be heard. In fact, community groups like Action in Montgomery have amplified their concerns. Many who have economic or racial privilege also have more resources available to their school, including monetary and political capital. (See the latest OLO report.) I know many advocates that have direct lines of communication with decision makers. I have learned from these amazing advocates throughout the years, but I argue that dollars should be spent based on the state of the facilities, not whether you have a savvy advocacy campaign. I do believe MCPS is moving in the right direction, but they need to build trust by doing the following.

1. First, move to Open Data as soon as possible. Even releasing their next CIP and appendices in a machine readable data format, as well as their typical “book” format would go a long way in building good will in the community.

2. Look at every CIP through an equity lens. This does not mean ignoring facilities in well off districts. All kids need a healthy building in order to learn. Remember that the wealthiest districts received significantly more attention over the last decade and this cannot continue. During the COVID crises, shifting resources to improving HVAC where possible would be a great strategy, and I understand that MCPS is looking at just that.

3. Next, make sure the Key Facility Indicators are accurate. They should guide the system to improve the schools that need it the most.

3. Use the WXY report data to guide the efficient AND equitable use of MCPS facilities.

4. And lastly, our County and State Delegation needs to make sure that more Federal and State dollars go to our school facilities which have been underfunded for the last decade. The County Council also needs to pass a Growth Policy that ensures that our developers continue to fund the impact (only their impact, not more) that they have on our school population.
I want to make clear that I am writing this as an education advocate and not in any official capacity in which I serve.   I have volunteered for several organizations, and because of that, I have seen MANY schools and I do know that MANY schools needed updating years ago, in all 5 districts. I sincerely hope that those schools get the improvements that are needed, but not because they are in a particular district, or could pull off a media campaign, but because they are indeed the most in need

Laura Stewart serves as the MCCPTA Vice President of Advocacy, Women’s Democratic Club Education Advocacy Subcommittee Chair, incoming At Large Board Member for Committee for Montgomery and a Democratic Precinct chair in District 18.


Explaining County COVID-19 Infection Rates

What factors are linked to high COVID-19 infection rates in Maryland counties? Is it race? Is it income? Is it population density? Is it political affiliation? Today, I look at the impact of all of these factors both individually and collectively.

One word of caution: forming conclusions about individuals from countywide data is perilous. Nevertheless, it’s a useful exercise to gain a greater sense of what is happening in our state.

The Big Impact of Race and Ethnicity

Let’s start with race. The share of non-Hispanic Whites is negatively related to COVID-19 case rates. Increasing the White share of the population by 10% is associated with a decrease in 190 COVID-19 cases per 100k.

Conversely, there are strong positive relationships between the share of Non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanics with higher COVID-19 case rates. Here are the charts:

A model that controls for both simultaneously indicates that increasing the Black share of the population by 10% is associated with an increase of 125 COVID-19 cases per 100k. For Latinos, a similar increase is associated with an astonishing increase of 470 cases per 100k.

There is no significant positive or negative relationship between the share of non-Hispanic Asians and COVID-19 rates. Bear in mind that only Howard and Montgomery Counties are more than 7% Asian.

Population and Density

The following chart shows the relationship between the number of people in a county and COVID-19 rates. Interestingly, the relationship is stronger than if one uses population density instead.

However, if one controls for the share of Blacks and Latinos, neither total population nor density has a statistically significant effect on COVID-19 case rates across Maryland counties.

Trumpiness Doesn’t Matter

Voting for President Trump in 2016 might be associated with lower infection rates because his voters were overwhelmingly white and also are more likely to live in low population, rural areas. At the same time, Trump’s followers are more likely to believe coronavirus is a hoax and to shun lifesaving behaviors, like wearing masks.

An initial look at the simple relationship between Trumpiness and COVID-19 rates suggests that the racial effect predominates:

Conducting a multivariate analysis that controls for multiple factors simultaneously confirms this conclusion. Once one controls for race, there is no statistically significant relationship between the share of the vote for Trump in 2016 and COVID-19 case rates. Of course, one should be careful at extrapolating from this county level data to the impact of individual-level behaviors related to voting choices.

I also looked at median household income. As I expected, this didn’t matter much. I don’t set much store in this result, however, because median household income varies far less across large aggregate units like counties than between individuals and often has little impact in these sorts of analyses in my experience.

One more caveat: these are the relationships based on the data as of today. As infection spreads to different parts of the state–portions of the Eastern Shore are getting hit now–they could change over time.


Lucrative Waiver to Chevy Chase Land Company Scrutinized

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post from Del. Al Carr (D-18) on an issue that the Planning Board is taking up today.

The Montgomery County Council approved the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan in 2013 after a lengthy process of gathering public input.

The plan contains environmental provisions requiring developers to restore the local tree canopy which has been ravaged over the years by road construction, development, Pepco, and clear cutting for the Purple Line. It requires that utility wires be buried allowing for the planting of large overstory trees. A healthy tree canopy is vital to protecting water quality in Rock Creek and its tributaries.

Unfortunately, the Montgomery County Planning Board quietly waived these environmental provisions for the well-connected developer in 2017. The developer successfully lobbied to be released from the requirement to bury the wires on the east side of Connecticut Ave. As a result, the developer is not planting tall overstory street trees on Connecticut Ave and Manor Rd to maximize the restoration of the tree canopy.

In the 2017 staff report, planning staff used the following rationale when recommending the waiver: “Although undergrounding of utilities is typically required for site plan applications in Chevy Chase  Lake Sector Plan area, this application is not required to do so because the electrical utilities along the property frontage are high-voltage transmission lines that are not routinely buried.”

However the exact same “high-voltage transmission line” was recently buried immediately to the south where the purple line bridge will cross Connecticut Ave. Identical lines are routinely being buried in the county including in Silver Spring (Linden to Sligo project) and in White Flint (new substation).

There is a long-shot opportunity to correct this mistake when that same developer returns to the Planning Board on July 23rd for amendments to their plan. The Planning Board has the opportunity at that meeting to mandate that the wires be buried at the developer’s expense and that tall overstory trees be planted where possible along the site frontage on Connecticut Ave and Manor Rd.


Navarro Demands Respect and Then She and Rice Attack Constituents

As Adam Pagnucco showed today, councilmembers are in high dudgeon over County Executive Marc Elrich’s hot mic comments. Councilmember Nancy Navarro blasted Elrich, ending her Facebook post with a demand for respect and stating (in Spanish) “Enough already! What a shame!”

Our diverse community has unsurprisingly had a diverse response. Navarro received supportive comments from people who were also appalled at Elrich’s remarks and appreciate Navarro’s efforts. Others were more temperate but also thought Elrich needs to apologize. But, as they are wont to do, some constituents were critical.

A critical comment quickly degenerated into the sort of Facebook discussion that didn’t exactly cover anyone with glory. Attacks by Navarro and Councilmember Craig Rice juxtapose incongruously with Navarro’s call for respect in the original post and her criticism of Elrich for a lack of it. (Screenshots of the exchange are at the bottom of the post so you can judge for yourselves.)

Two constituents, Chip Py and Helen Elizabeth, express a desire for the Council and the Executive to work better together. This is a common thought from constituents even if some tension between the two bodies can be healthy. During the current crisis, impressions of squabbling by either the Executive or the Council play very poorly.

Navarro’s response presenting concrete facts about how she tries to work with Elrich is basically a good one. Except then she and Rice go after their constituents, which is almost never a good look on a politician. Just ask George Leventhal who became infamous for attacking constituents (often more strongly than either Navarro or Rice here). His campaign for county executive suffered greatly from this well-earned reputation.

A big part of the job of all elected officials is to listen respectfully to their constituents, regardless of what they think of their views. Navarro and Rice know this as I have lauded them for it on other occasions. But here, there isn’t a lot of respect for the constituents despite the original post being about the executive not showing respect to constituents.

Both councilmembers get obviously annoyed at the idea that they are acting politically. It can be frustrating, as constituents tend to think everything is political. At the same time, the idea that both of these term-limited officials might want to run for higher office is far from bizarre.

It’s also well-known that there is quite a bit of tension between the Exec and the Council. Navarro’s original statement that “some of use have been working around the clock” (but implying Elrich has not) along with her literally claiming credit here for all major initiatives on this issue by the CE certainly does nothing to dispel it.

The idea that Navarro or Rice might want to run for higher office is not only perfectly fine but normal–no one owns their elected office and ambition is as natural in politics as any other profession. Consequently, the notion that there might be a weensy bit of political hay making going on here hardly shocks. I doubt that any councilmember’s office is a snark-free environment–if only because Adam Pagnucco used to work there!

That doesn’t really matter because it is the public presentation that counts, which is why Elrich landed in the soup here. It’s also why Navarro and Rice haven’t helped themselves on Facebook.

Navarro’s most unfortunate statement is her claim that “As a woman of color, I don’t owe you or anyone an explanation, my record speaks for itself.” The idea that she is a strong and proud Latina, who sees an important role for herself in standing up for the needs of the Latino community, is great. But all councilmembers are accountable to their constituents who have every right to criticize them regardless of their gender or ethnicity.

This sort of argument makes all involved look smaller. Councilmembers who have said the least have probably gained the most, demonstrating that saying nothing publicly can often be the best option. County Executive Ike Leggett won a record-tying three terms in part because he was better than anyone at exercising this self-discipline.

Councilmember Gabe Albornoz’s statement works somewhat better than Navarro’s because the emphasis is less on credit claiming, though it’s there, but more about problems and working with others. Which at the end of the day is what we all need.

My bottom line: Elrich should apologize because it’s the right and gracious thing to do. The Council should accept and express that we can all do better to serve our community. A little humility can go a long way. Most important, this fight to protect everyone is our community is far from over. Doing our collective best is owed to everyone, including more focus on helping the disproportionately hit Black and Brown communities.


Why Marc Elrich Might Think the Council is Fact Proof

Yesterday, County Executive Marc Elrich got dinged by Adam Pagnucco and the Montgomery County Council for joking snarkily that the County Council is “fact proof” on a hot mic. However, Councilmember Hans Riemer has been busy proving him right by trumpeting terribly inaccurate information regarding positive test rates among Latinos in Montgomery on Facebook:

Except that it’s not true. Riemer later put out an update to explain that it is incorrect that 70% of Latinos test positive. Instead, 70% of new cases in June were of Latinos. Oops.

As Adam Pagnucco correctly documented, Latinos unquestionably disproportionately suffer from COVID-19. But this gross error on a very basic fact undercuts Riemer’s ability to take offense at the impolitique remarks by the county executive he regularly criticizes and plans to challenge in the Democratic primary in 2022.


Hough Rails Against Renaming DC’s Football Team

Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll) has gone on a Twitter tear on the decision to rename the Washington Redskins something else. I guess it goes with his repeated Trumpian bashing of Montgomery and Frederick Counties for not opening more quickly. He also derides NBC4 for no longer using the former team name.

Notwithstanding his ritualized attack on liberals, I don’t see anything especially conservative in choosing to follow a leader who believes against all evidence that he can will the pandemic away and who embraces racist white identity politics as part of his desperate attempt to change the subject. One shouldn’t confuse a personality cult with ideology.