All posts by David Lublin

Incumbent turns aside former ally’s challenge in Kensington mayoral race

from a correspondent:

Tracey C. Furman won a third term as Kensington mayor on Monday, easily turning back a vigorous challenge from her immediate predecessor and onetime ally, Peter Fosselman.

In the town’s first contested mayoral election in eight years, Furman won 420 votes to Fosselman’s 368 – a six percent margin.

The race scrambled Kensington’s recent tradition of mostly sedate local politics. Campaign-related advocacy became intense enough on Kensington’s private listserv that Furman posted a call to participants to “find a way to stick to the more mundane topics like bears, plumbers and give aways on the listserv at least until” the election was over.

Running for local office, Furman added, “should not be a blood sport.”

Given the restrictions imposed to counter the Covid-19 pandemic, residents voted by mail with the option to deposit ballots at a drop-box at Town Hall. Participation soared by 42 percent over the contested mayoral election in 2012.

Most remarkable in this year’s voting was the electoral clout demonstrated by the winning candidates for Kensington’s part-time Town Council. Bridget Hill-Zayat, a first-term incumbent, rolled up 549 votes and her campaign ally, Nate Engle, a newcomer to Town politics, won 511 votes. They easily outdistanced the third candidate, Jon A. Gerson, a longtime Kensington resident and former Council member who received 356 votes.

Hill-Zayat and Engle were allied against the controversial Knowles Manor Senior Housing project, which was the subject of a neighbors’ lawsuit challenging parking plans and traffic patterns. The litigation has been settled.

Furman’s relatively easy victory came as a mild surprise, given Fosselman’s local prominence. He previously served 10 years as mayor before stepping down in 2016 — and encouraging Furman to seek the position. She ran, and won without opposition. She was unopposed for reelection in 2018.

Furman has lived in Kensington 40 years and her supporters include many townspeople who attend the local Methodist church, where she works as facilities manager. She also is popular with members of the K’town Ladies Guild, a social club for women.

Furman ran an aggressive campaign, sharply challenging Fosselman in their lone debate nine days before the election.

At one point during the debate, which was conducted on the Zoom video conferencing platform, Furman accused Fosselman of “making this stuff up” — a testy response to his criticism that incivility and disrespect had intruded into Kensington’s official life.

Also during the debate, Furman took issue with Fosselman’s call for close enforcement of regulations on graffiti, signage, and parking, saying he preferred “to live more in a gated-type community.”

For Fosselman, defeat may mark the close of a once-promising career in electoral politics. The loss was his second in row: In 2018, Fosselman sought the Democratic party nomination for the District One seat on the Montgomery County Council, finishing a distant fifth to Andrew Friedson.

Shortly before the mayoral election, unflattering material about Fosselman, a master plan ombudsman for the county, was circulated anonymously through the mail. Fosselman said in an email to supporters that he had been called a liar, anti-Semitic, racist, and unfit to run. He also said the County Attorney “was contacted by someone making the case I have too many conflicts of interest to run … If anyone believes this is coming from some crazy person outside of Town, as has been suggested, think again. I know who some of these people are and you would be shocked.”

He did not go into specific detail, however.

Furman’s call for restraint was posted at the listserv three days before the election. She said she was not intending “to infringe on anyones [sic] right to free speech” but added, “could we possibly find a way to stick to the more mundane topics like bears, plumbers and give aways on the listserv at least until Monday June 1 at 9 p.m.,” when voting closed.

Furman, who likes to be called “Mayor Tracey,” claimed during her campaign to have brought nearly 20 businesses to Kensington. She also noted that her terms in office coincided with movement on development projects, including two senior-living complexes, one of them Knowles Manor.

She characterized herself in campaign literature as an active and engaged mayor, which is a part-time position.

“Under my leadership,” she declared, “the Town has stepped up fast and furious providing information both on our website and through bi-weekly eblasts. The Town created a COVID-19 webpage with links to important resources, virtual classes, shopping and take-out dining guides. The Town also sponsored a webinar for our small businesses to help them in applying for SBA loans.

“Keeping the [town’s] Farmers Market open every Saturday has been a priority,” she said, adding that “I’ve worked with the county to ensure our market met the requirements of the health department in order to remain operating.”

Mail voting was a departure from Kensington’s practice in local elections of voting at Town Hall during three hours in the evening on Election Day — and this year participation surged. In all, 790 votes were cast, not counting 27 ballots that were disqualified.

In the contested mayoral election in 2012, 556 ballots were submitted.

The winners begin their terms next month.


Why Was Your Ballot Late?

Ballots arrived at an irregular pace this year. Then, when they came, the ballots had the original primary date of April 28th printed on them. What happened?

Late Ballots

Snafus with SeaChange, the vendor used to print and to mail the ballots, explain many of the problems. According to Deputy State Administrator Nikki Charleson at the Maryland State Board of Elections, “the vendor did not meet the schedule for Montgomery or Baltimore City” and ballots were “mailed out later than planned.”

Ballots for Baltimore City, the locale with a number of hot local contests, were supposed to have been mailed on May 8 but SeaChange did not start posting them until significantly later. In a press release, the State Board blamed SeaChange explicitly not only for missing the deadline but misleading Maryland election officials:

On May 7, SeaChange informed SBE that ballots for Baltimore City were printed and would be mailed on May 8 and confirmed on May 11 that some Baltimore City ballots had been mailed. SBE relied on this incorrect information when communicating with the public, advocacy organizations and candidates. While some files were late, it was the misleading information provided by SeaChange that led to the unmet expectations and the confusion over the ballot delivery process.

Will there be a lawsuit? Refund? Unquestionably, this should be investigated by the General Assembly. Mistakes happen, especially during a crisis but the state shouldn’t be misled by its vendors. Lying isn’t a symptom of coronavirus.

Similarly, ballots for Montgomery did not get sent until after the scheduled date. In many households, a ballot arrived for one adult but not for another. The mailing of ballots for a single local jurisdiction on different dates probably explains this strange pattern.

When I communicated with the Montgomery County Board of Elections, I also learned that there was a problem with absentee ballots. Although, everyone was effectively an absentee voter due to the adoption of universal vote-by-mail, voters who requested absentee ballots were on a separate electronic list and were not mailed ballots simultaneously with other voters.

Charlson explained that the vendor, SeaChange, had served as a subcontractor for printing ballots in 2018 as well as the special primary and general election in the Seventh Congressional District this year. She said that the state did not experience any problems that warranted not engaging SeaChange again at that time.

Why Did the Ballots Say April 28th?

The original primary was scheduled for April 28th. Given the timing of the Governor’s executive order mandating both the change of election date and vote by mail, the ballots were already finalized with many already printed. As a result, the State Board did not deem it feasible to reprint ballots with the new date, though notices were included to highlight that they remained valid notwithstanding the later date.

Who Should Receive Ballots?

Although it’s a primary, you should still receive a ballot if there is a school board race in your jurisdiction even if you’re not registered with a party. All school boards in Maryland are nonpartisan, so voters who are not affiliated with a party can participate in the primaries for these contests.

All active registered voters should receive ballots. Active is defined quite broadly and may include people who haven’t voted for a number of elections. People who have moved or died may still be considered “active voters” unless the Board discovered that they were no longer eligible because their mail was returned or through a number of other checks undertaken by the Board. In short, the state errs heavily on the side of keeping someone on the rolls and it is unlikely that you have been wrongly purged from the voter rolls.

If you didn’t receive a ballot, you should contact your local Board of Elections and consider voting at one of the open polling places on Election Day, June 2nd, as time is short for another ballot to get mailed and arrive. Remember that all ballots postmarked by June 2nd will be counted as long as they arrive before 10am on June 12.


Added Suspense to this Year’s Vote Count

Counting the votes for this year’s election will be different. Voters will need to exercise patience in awaiting the final results. Both politicians and voters need to understand it and that the delay is due to the changes made and are not per se evidence of fraud or incompetence.

The delayed primary election will occur primarily by mail. All active registered voters have been sent a ballot. A limited number of polling places will be open on June 2nd but the State is heavily encouraging Marylanders to cast their ballot by mail during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

As Donna Duncan at the State Administrative Board of Elections explained to me, counties have not only begun to receive ballots back from votes but also to count them. Each county has a live feed where you can watch the canvass room. Baltimore City has the hottest primaries in the state this year, and you can watch the count live or previous recordings if you find C-SPAN too fast paced for your taste.

After opening the ballot and making sure it complies with the legal requirements, including that the oath on the envelope has been signed, canvassers feed the ballots into machines. Many counties use the normal electronic machines that voters feed the same ballots into on election day. Some of the populous counties have machines that can read ballots much more quickly.

People in each county who have signed non-disclosure agreements have the results but may not legally reveal them until the appropriate time. The State Board of Elections plans to authorize the release of results from all ballots counted as of Sunday, May 31st when the polls close on June 2nd at 8pm, or very shortly thereafter. Recall that in the last general election results were delayed for several hours due to a court order that required keeping some polling places open beyond the normal scheduled closing time.

That same evening, counties should also report the votes cast at the polls. There are fewer polling places, so maybe it will go more quickly. On the other hand, anyone who is in line by 8pm can still vote, so any (hopefully socially distanced) lines will cause delay.

Normally, by the end of election night, we await the absentee vote count to finalize the results. Marylanders have been more prone to vote early instead of absentee, but this year will obviously be different, and the uncounted ballots weigh far more heavily. People tend to mail or to drop off their ballots close to the day, so a blizzard of ballots will still require counting. Any ballot postmarked on or before primary day and received by 10am on June 12th will be tallied.

Think of it as an extended and much larger absentee count. All of those envelopes will need to be opened, checked and counted. Each county will likely need to provide updates on the count as it proceeds. I would expect final counts to occur on June 12th at the very earliest and it could be later for jurisdictions depending on the number of ballots that need processing.

In short, patience is a required virtue this election season.


Former allies spar in Kensington mayoral debate

from a correspondent:

Subdued it was not.

Candidates in Kensington’s June 1 mayoral election met in a virtual debate over the weekend and clashed about the quality of development in town, enforcement of town regulations, and civility in Town government.

The debate took place on the Zoom videoconferencing platform and revealed sharp differences between the two candidates — the two-term incumbent, Tracey Furman, and her immediate predecessor, Peter Fosselman.

They are erstwhile allies and both said at the outset of the 70-minute debate that they agreed on many subjects.

It didn’t take long for disagreements to become apparent, however.

The mayor was notably pointed in her criticism. At one point, she accused Fosselman of “making this stuff up” — a reference to his criticism about a lack of civility in Kensington’s official life. Furman also took issue with Fosselman’s emphasis on enforcing Town regulations on such matters as graffiti and illegal signage, saying she thought he “would like to live more in a gated-type community.”

The candidates disagreed at some length about the type and quality of development in Kensington, which has about 2,500 residents and a recent tradition of mostly sedate local politics.

Fosselman asserted that “we are on our way to becoming a senior center” for Montgomery County, noting that two housing projects for older people have been approved and another is under preliminary review (but may not be exclusively for seniors).

“We can do better than what we’re getting,” Fosselman said, adding that the Town should seek out developers and encourage them to take on attractive projects. He noted a section of town familiarly known as “Gasoline Alley,” behind the volunteer fire department on Connecticut Avenue, “is long overdue for redevelopment. It would be perfect place to establish a brewery, a distillery, a restaurant-incubator with condos on upper floors.”

Another prospective project he mentioned was a community center with a pool, perhaps with a secondary use such an education center. “We need to put a plan in place and make these things happen,” said Fosselman, who was Kensington mayor for 10 years until stepping down in 2016. He added it is essential that proposed projects be reviewed by the Town’s advisory development review board before they reach the mayor and council.

Furman, who is in her first competitive race for mayor, responded by saying Fosselman’s comments about Kensington’s becoming senior center for the county were “a little bit misleading.” She noted that one of the projects, the 135-unit Modena Reserve on Metropolitan Avenue, hard by CSX Transportation railway tracks, will be “a luxury senior facility” and that two 1930s buildings nearby will be rehabilitated as part of the project’s amenities.

Another, more controversial senior housing project on Knowles Avenue, near the congested intersection with Connecticut, will be for people aged 62 and older. “These will be vibrant people that move in,” Furman said, noting that a retail or mixed-use project at the site would create even more vehicular traffic than senior housing.

Furman said the Modena and Knowles projects “are just going to be great additions to our town and they will fit within our sector plan.”

She also noted the Town’s sector plan, which was revised and updated in 2012 after considerable controversy, imposes building-height restrictions that render some prospective projects “not economically viable.” She said she supports height limitations but noted they “make some of the projects that people want more difficult to get.”

Furman’s “gated-type community” remark came in response to Fosselman’s comments that enforcement of Town code provisions has been wanting. He said he advocates enforcing regulations, which Townspeople backed, to “make the town look better than ever. I don’t find cars parked on grass, overflowing trash cans, and graffiti a nice-looking place to live.”

To such criticism, Furman said, “I know from Pete’s perspective, he would like to live more in a gated-type community where you tell everybody what you should be doing and what you shouldn’t be doing. … I find our residents don’t want that type of code enforcement. They want things to look nice but they’re not interested in the heavy hand of government. And so I try to find that balance.”

She added: “Pete has definitely been my biggest critic. I hear it all the time. But I also hear that we’re doing a great job and that the town looks terrific.”

The candidates also disagreed whether discourtesy and incivility have intruded into Town government.

“I don’t think we have a civility issue,” Furman said. “I was kind of taken by surprise by that because I think our Council meetings have been quite polite. … I don’t see what Pete sees.”

In reply, Fosselman said, “Absolutely, we do” have a civility problem. “People are dismissed, they’re disregarded, they are cut off, interrupted — that’s apparent if you watch videos of Council meetings,” where the mayor presides.

“It has to do with the way people are treated,” Fosselman added, “and there are a number of people who can attest to being treated very poorly, either at Council meetings, [in] making calls to the Town staff, or in any number of situations where they’ve requested things and have been dismissed. And that’s not something I can make up.” He said he often heard such complaints when he went door-to-door early in the year, informing Townspeople he was planning another run for mayor.

Furman disputed Fosselman’s complaints.

“When Pete says, ‘I’m not making this stuff up,’ he is making this stuff up because I have not received those calls. People are not treated that way,” she said and cited complaints about graffiti on a county bridge in town.

“I have seen the graffiti on the bridge and it has been reported to the county, and the county will get to it. We are in a pandemic where it is difficult to get people out to do things right now. And that’s one thing that Pete doesn’t have, is patience. He doesn’t understand when other people have other work that they have to do. And it will get done. But I, for so long, I’ve heard ‘a lot of people are saying.’ Well those people are not saying it to me. And I have suggested that he refer them to me and he never does. Those people don’t exist.”

The debate was moderated by Sean McMullen, a former Town Council member who posed questions based on queries townspeople submitted in advance. On most questions, the candidates were permitted no more than 60 seconds to reply.

Not counting Town staff and others associated with producing the debate, about 65 people logged in to follow the encounter on Zoom. The mayoral debate was followed by a virtual forum for the three candidates for two seats on Kensington’s Town Council. They are: Brigid Hill-Zayat, a one-term incumbent; Nate Engle, a newcomer to Town politics, and Jon Gerson, who served a term on the council in the 1980s.

The elected positions are part-time and non-partisan. Kensington’s day-to-day activities are overseen by a town manager and his staff.


Three Vie for Two Seats on Kensington Council

by a correspondent in Kensington

Local politics in Kensington typically is a sedate pursuit and contested elections tend to be the exception. This year, not only has the mayor’s race attracted competition but three candidates are seeking to fill two seats on the nonpartisan Town Council.

Incumbent Duane Rollins, mayoral candidate Peter Fosselman’s husband, is stepping down but Bridget Hill-Zayat is seeking reelection to a second term. She won a seat on the Council in 2018, after having lived in town just three years.

Councilmember Hill-Zayat and Mayor Tracey Furman clashed in 2018 over the Knowles Manor Senior Housing project. In letters to planning staff, Hill-Zayat noted inadequate parking and “our town’s intense dislike of this project” while Furman expressed support on behalf of the Town Council.

A group of Kensington residents appealed the Planning Board’s approval but settled after improvements made regarding parking and the traffic pattern. Nate Engle, a senior climate change specialist for the World Bank who has lived in Kensington since 2011 and active in that group, is now seeking election to the Town Council.

Also running is Jon A. Gerson, a former director of economic development in Montgomery County and longtime town resident. Gerson regularly attends town meetings and helped support the creation of a town dog park. He served on the Town Council in the early 1980s but remains best known as the former political director for the county’s teachers union (MCEA).

The Washington Post editorial board was then a fierce critic, accusing Gerson of demanding that endorsed candidates donate to MCEA’s campaign and that he “threatened to withhold the group’s political support” from anyone backing an MCEA-opposed school board candidate.

Others might simply place Gerson’s actions under the rubric of “politics” and point out that he was an effective advocate. Locally, he played a significant role in trying to clear a path for now Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher when he first ran for delegate in District 18 in 2006.

The last contested Council race in Kensington was in 2017.

Voting this year will be conducted by mail, but ballots also may be deposited at a drop-box at Town Hall, 3710 Mitchell Street. This represents a marked shift from the Town’s normal practice of voting in person during the evening on election day. The impact on turnout is unknown, especially among the town’s apartment residents who usually vote at low rates.


Primary Election Results Will Be Reported by Ballot Style and Party

Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-17) has been following election issues closely. Today, she reports on her twitter feed that Montgomery County Board of Elections Director Margaret Jurgenson has agreed to report election results from the June primary by ballot style and party.

For Montgomery County, this means that election results should be reported for each party for each of our three congressional districts. All of the other contests for president, judges and school board will be countywide.

The Maryland State Board of Elections is leaving the reporting of primary results below the county level up to each county. It is a pity that they say that they cannot produce precinct results for the primary. Having failed this go-around, both the state and the county ought to take the steps necessary to produce them for the November general election.


Former allies now opponents in race for Kensington mayor

by a correspondent in Kensington

Two former political allies — Kensington’s top elected official and her immediate predecessor — are facing off in the Town’s nonpartisan mayoral election June 1.

The incumbent, Tracey C. Furman, is seeking a third two-year term against Peter Fosselman, who served 10 years as mayor before stepping down in 2016. At the time, Fosselman said he was excited that Furman, then a council member, was succeeding him. He said he had encouraged her to run for mayor, a part-time post.

Since then, their political friendship has soured over the conduct of Town affairs, including the pace and character of development in Kensington.

In a statement posted at the Town’s website, Furman takes credit for having “helped to attract nearly 20 new businesses” to Kensington. She also touts development activity in town that has coincided with her two terms, stating:

“When I took office, we were four years into a new Sector Plan without a single redevelopment to show for it.” Kensington’s sector plan was updated in 2012 after considerable wrangling. Furman has been closely allied with Councilmembers Darin Bartram and Conor Crimmins, whom she appointed to the Town’s development committee. Their terms expire next year.

Fosselman, as mayor, spearheaded approval of the sector plan. In a position statement at his campaign website, Fosselman pledges to adhere to the sector plan, “hold developers to their responsibilities for providing proper public amenities,” and “attract projects we envisioned,” as well as “seek fitting developers for our key intersection of Connecticut Avenue and Plyers Mill Road.”

A self-storage facility proposed at the southeast corner of that intersection drew considerable opposition in Kensington, which is bisected by the six north-south lanes of Connecticut Avenue. The Town government and the Montgomery County planning commission came out against the facility.

The candidates in Kensington’s first contested mayoral election since 2012 are long-established town residents. Furman has lived in Kensington 40 years and is facilities manager at the Methodist church in town. She likes to be called “Mayor Tracey” and often speaks about the importance of encouraging sense of small-town community in a densely populated area.

Fosselman, who ran unsuccessfully for state delegate in 2002 before winning election as mayor in 2006, began rising to local prominence years ago by operating a dog-walking service and gym in town. More recently, he has been a master plan ombudsman for the county. He is a past president of the Maryland Mayors’ Association and a former Maryland deputy secretary of state.

In 2018, Fosselman sought the Democratic nomination for the County Council’s District One seat but finished a distant fifth in an eight-candidate field.

Tomorrow: Kensington’s Council Race


Reznik Demands to Know Why Korea Tests Haven’t Been Deployed

Like many, I was impressed and lauded Gov. Larry Hogan’s importation of 500,000 COVID-19 test kits from Korea. It looked like he had really filled the yawning leadership gap from the federal government. Unfortunately, there are rising concerns that the tests may not be useful. Indeed, they may have been widely available and Maryland may have overpaid for them.

In a letter reprinted below to the Health Secretary Robert Neall, Del. Kirill Reznik (D-39) asks a number of pointed questions about why they are not being used widely around the state. Reznik quotes Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich explaining “without things like reagants, they are sort of like paperweights.”

Other legislators are similarly concerned. Del. Marc Korman (D-16) said on Twitter, “A great frustration I have heard is that 10 days after the Governor ordered testing at all nursing homes, these nursing homes have not received tests. . . . No timeline or schedule has been provided.”

Similarly, up in Baltimore, Del. Brooke Lierman reports that “My mother’s facility has tests only because they individually purchased them privately-the state provided nothing. I have talked to several people whose loved ones are in facilities who did not – this is a tragic unacceptable situation.”


Council Adds Staff

The Montgomery County Council voted 8-1 to fund additional staffing for councilmember offices. Councilmember Andrew Friedson (D-1) was the lone vote against. According to the official council staff recommendation, additional staffing is needed “to enable staff to provide services required to respond to COVID-19 issues and implement recently-approved legislation.”

Increasing spending on staff is not especially popular with the public even in good times. I tend to take a somewhat less jaundiced view than many members of the public of spending on staff as it can help create more professional legislatures and better legislation.

But with so many needs now begging for each public dollar, this simply boggles the mind and makes me wonder what on earth they are thinking. It strikes me as having extreme potential to become a symbol of a council uniquely out of touch with the extraordinary struggles faced by county residents in these very difficult times.


Gov. Hogan Vetoes Kirwan, HBCU Funding & Many Other Bills

I’m posting Governor Larry Hogan’s veto messages below. The big ones are his veto of (1) the implementation of the Kirwan Commission recommendations for new spending on education and (2) funding for HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities). Both set up epic battles with Democrats in the General Assembly that will show the ability of new Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson to unite their caucuses behind key pieces of their agenda.

The governor vetoed a slew of other spending measures, justifying them based on the current COVID-19 crisis:

He also vetoed new taxes and fees:

Sponsored by Sen. Feldman and Del. Korman, the following vetoed bill made it easier for WMATA to spend more without losing the state’s contribution.

In his veto of a ban on pesticides sponsored by Sen. Lam and Del. Stein, the Governor claims he has accomplished essentially the same through more sensitive regulation:

Gov. Hogan vetoed legislation sponsored by Sen. Young and Del. Healey that would have limited the power of the Board of Public Works regarding land acquisition:

Gov. Hogan also vetoed this bill sponsored by first-term Del. Solomon that would have piloted MARC service between Union Station and Alexandria as well as between Perryville and Newark, DE:

Gov. Hogan vetoed a bill sponsored by Sen. Waldstreicher that would have banned certain outdoor signs along or near expressways.