Looks Like We Have a Governor’s Race

Though we tend to assume that Maryland is a rollover for the Democrats, and often is, gubernatorial elections have been surprisingly competitive since Gov. William Donald Schaefer, whose goal was to win all the votes rather than only most of them, left the Mansion in 1994.

Gov. Parris Glendening barely beat Del. Ellen Sauerbrey, who earned the sobriquet Ellen Sourgrapes when she refused to concede defeat after seeing her claims of fraud evaporate, in 1994. Glendening won by a more convincing 10% in their 1998 rematch.

Republican Rep. Bob Ehrlich had his revenge on the Democrats for redistricting him out of his congressional seat when he ran for governor in 2002 and beat Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. But Ehrlich, memorably nicknamed “Bobby Haircut” by Marc Fisher of the Washington Post, was a one-term wonder.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley defeated Ehrlich in for reelection in 2006 by over 6 points. Even though it was great year for Democrats, Ehrlich was the only Republican governor to lose. Ehrlich came back for a rematch but it was no “Return of the King.” O’Malley defeated him by an even greater 14%, although 2010 was a terrible year for Democrats.

In short, though the Democrats have dominated gubernatorial contests–Ehrlich was the first GOP governor since Agnew became the accidental governor–Republicans have run good candidates and viable gubernatorial campaigns even as the state has trended inexorably towards the Democrats in virtually all other elections.

Lieutenant Governor has not been a great launching pad for gubernatorial campaigns since the office was created in 1970. Blair Lee III lost the Democratic primary to Harry Hughes in 1978. Melvin Steinberg lost the Democratic primary to Glendening in 1994. Townsend lost the general election in 2002. (Michael Steele has not run for governor but lost his bid for the U.S. Senate in 2006.)

This year, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown hopes to break the curse by becoming the first Lieutenant Governor to become governor since the office was created in 1970. Certainly, Brown won the primary convincingly in the face of serious opposition.

Despite expectations of a relatively easy campaign, Maryland has a real contest this year. Larry Hogan is serious politico if only because he says “I am not a professional politician” despite having been Ehrlich’s appointments secretary and founding “Change Maryland” as a vehicle for his gubernatorial ambitions. (Sidenote: Would you hire a doctor or plumber who put up a shingle proclaiming “I am not a professional” to get your business?)

Another inkling of a real campaign and that the internal polls may be closer than the recent 9 points reported in the Washington Post is that Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown felt it necessary to make a startling promise not to raise taxes even as Hogan faces his own problems regarding “error riddled” identification of government waste that he plans to eliminate.

Next up: an examination of the claims and promises of both the Hogan and Brown campaigns.

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It Doesn’t Get Better

Richard_MadalenoSen. Rich Madaleno comes out to a friend as a Capitals fan

The It Doesn’t Get Better Project’s mission is to communicate to Washington sports fans around the world that it doesn’t get better, and to inspire support for these brave individuals coping with the ongoing disappointment provided by Washington sports teams and the mockery that their fans endure.

This heartrending situation is faced by people in all walks of life. “It was harder for me to come out as a Caps fan than as gay” said Sen. Rich Madaleno in an interview earlier today. “I buy my son Ravens jerseys so people won’t think I’m trying to make him ‘that way.'”

Another fan would not be identified on the record but told 7S: “Between the name and their [bleep] team, I was just too ashamed to go see Washington play football on Monday. And I couldn’t even sell the tickets on StubHub. I had to give them away.”

Stalwart Nationals fan Jonathan Sachs says he has not deleted all of his Nats Ballpark pictures on Facebook but that it’s difficult: “I want to be open and not live a lie about who I am. I believe the Nats can go all the way but it’s hard when they crash in the first round of the playoffs, especially during the High Holidays.”

But the majority just doesn’t always understand their plight.

One partner of a Washington sports fan reported: “Normally, my husband is a mild-mannered guy but I stay away from his man cave when he starts yelling and pounding at the furniture that the Nats failed to score a basket. Again.”

Some are even less sympathetic. Former Chevy Chase Mayor David Lublin argued: “Why did Sen. Madaleno come out of the closet? Why can’t he keep that he is one of those people to himself?” Del. Neil Parrott agreed and has started a petition demanding that fans of DC sports teams “keep their cooties to themselves” in order to protect the children of the State of Maryland.

If you wish to donate to the It Doesn’t Get Better Fund, just send $250, $100, or even $25 to Dan Snyder. Every contribution helps make sure that It Doesn’t Get Better.

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Housing Initiative Partnership Responds

HIP Logo

Last week, I published a blog post on the conundrums facing the Purple Line Compact effort to preserving affordable housing and commercial rents in areas around new Purple Line stations. At the end of the piece, I wrote that I’d welcome hearing more from Compact proponents about “creative ideas to ease the collision of fundamental economic forces with real social needs.” I appreciate that Maryann Dillon, Executive Director of the Housing Initiative Partnership, took up this public invitation. Here are her thoughts:

In his article on October 2, “Fair Development Compact Pipe Dream”, David Lublin rightly argues that a “central goal of the Purple Line is to improve transportation connections” and that, as a result, “the land around the stations should become more desirable and valuable”.

He cites Bethesda, Silver Spring, Ballston and Clarendon as successful examples of places that have become more desirable given their access to transportation including Metro. These places boast stronger tax bases that help local governments provide better services. I think we all can agree that these are four of the most desirable and attractive destinations in the DC metro area, and that, as a result, they naturally have increased in value.

What David fails to note, however, is that all four of these locations are beneficiaries of progressive housing policies by the Montgomery and Arlington County governments put in place well before revitalization occurred.

Forty years ago, Montgomery County pioneered the concept of “inclusionary zoning”. Called Moderately Priced Dwelling Units (MPDUs), Montgomery County’s program requires developers of over 20 residential units to include 12.5% of the units as affordable to working families earning less than 80% area median income ($85,600 for a family of four). The MPDU program has created thousands of homes affordable to moderate income renters and homebuyers scattered in every neighborhood of the County. In this way, a broader range of residents can live near transportation and jobs, reducing the burdens on our roads from long-distance commutes. A mix of housing types makes it easier for employers to find workers for their restaurants, hotels, offices and local services that make these communities special, let alone the teachers, fire and police personnel necessary to maintain their high quality of life. Montgomery County commits around $50 million annually from its own general revenue to support affordable housing development in its most desirable communities.

Likewise, the Arlington County Affordable Housing Ordinance offers developers seeking additional density in the site plan process the choice of providing affordable units or contributing to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund. The Special Affordable Housing Protection District (SAHPD) as outlined in the General Land Use Plan identifies existing affordable housing sites within the County’s two Metro Corridors that are planned for site plan projects of 3.24 FAR or higher. Existing affordable housing units are to be replaced on a one-for-one basis, again with the goal of protecting and preserving the mix of housing types and prices that can help keep these corridors dynamic and diverse. Arlington has committed $13 million in the current fiscal year to support its Affordable Housing Investment Fund.

Last year, the Prince George’s County Council passed inclusionary zoning legislation and charged the County Executive with recommending areas of the County in which this zoning would apply. While the recommendations have been made, County Council has not yet taken any action on them. Unlike its neighbors, Prince George’s County does not dedicate any of its own resources to develop or renovate affordable housing.

On August 30, 2014, the Washington Post published a story, “Affordable rents fading away in DC’s housing picture” which described the imbalance between the overbuilt “luxury” rental market and the continued loss of more affordable and moderately prices apartments. Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties share the distinction of having 50% of their renters “cost burdened”, where they spend more than 50% of their gross income on rent. Another surprise… both the District and Montgomery County have a higher number of households earning less than 50% of the area median income than does Prince George’s County, despite perceptions to the contrary.

Surely we all understand that the Purple Line will be an economic boost for the neighborhoods along its way. But, as higher density is introduced into some of these redevelopment corridors, our State and Counties should take measures to protect the residents and small businesses that have kept many of these areas thriving, despite the lack of investment in properties for so many years. These residents kept the faith in the bad years. They should share in the rewards once the good years finally come.

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WABA Launches Petition to Save Tunnel

From the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) blog:

Plans have fallen through for a Capital Crescent Trail tunnel underneath Wisconsin Ave in downtown Bethesda. Montgomery County attempted to facilitate a redevelopment of the Apex Building that would have allowed a large and more efficient Purple Line light rail station and trail tunnel. In a closed session several weeks ago the County Council, at the recommendation of County Executive Ike Leggett, decided not to move forward with this attempt.

WABA is disappointed that the county has abandoned these plans. The Capital Crescent Trail is one of the most traveled multi-use trails in the county, and the Purple Line transit project is a once-in-a-lifetime investment in better trail infrastructure. Redevelopment of the Apex Building would have allowed for the best possible station and trail. . . .

WABA has been working for more than two decades on the Capital Crescent Trail. The trail is a well loved community resource which provides an important recreation, fitness and transportation benefit to visitors and residents of all ages. The vision has always been a seamless trail from Georgetown to Silver Spring. While the Purple Line will complete a major gap in the trail, it leaves behind a new one.

We are disappointed by this loss of an tunnel option and hope that County officials exhausted all options before making this decision. We expect a safe, grade-separated crossing of the trail at Wisconsin Avenue to be the long-term solution.

WABA Petition

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Fair Development Compact Pipe Dream?

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The rally for a compact to promote fair development in relation to the Purple Line will occur on October 6th. What is the compact according to its promoters?

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In essence, the key purposes of the compact are to prevent the displacement of affordable housing and small businesses currently located near Purple Line stops.

I look forward to seeing how they plan to square this circle.

Obviously, a central goal of the Purple Line is to improve transportation connections. And if people can more easily get from one place to another, the land around the stations should become more desirable and valuable, which will make it harder to afford to live and more expensive to operate a business near the stations as rents for housing and commercial space rise.

Indeed, proponents claim that the Purple Line will propel economic development around the stations. If successful, the spike in land prices will be far stronger than caused by faster transportation alone. It should also cycle in a positive way.

Think about places like Bethesda, Silver Spring, Ballston and Clarendon. As more businesses open and more people travel to the area, it becomes more desirable to locate businesses there. Similarly, more people will want to live near jobs and the commercial establishments in the area.

Just as improvements to the educational system or reductions in crimes make a place more attractive to open a business or establish a residence, ease of access both in terms of transportation and customers has the same effect.

Land prices will rise, as will rents for housing and businesses. Of course, the State and the County want this to happen. It’s not just a side effect but the point of spending $2.5 billion to build the Purple Line.

And hardly for nefarious reasons. As Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal has often explained correctly, economic growth generates jobs–not to mention the taxes that pay for services.

Local and state governments are always looking for ways to increase the tax base because the demand for services naturally exceeds the monies available. Moreover, if growth doesn’t occur, the demand for services rises even as funds dry up.

[And let’s avoid for now the political dynamite surrounding the benefits to the County’s budget balance–if not moral deficit–of attracting wealthy residents or displacing poorer ones to other jurisdictions. For our purposes, we’ll just assume that they stay in the County even if they have to move.]

In short, the proposed compact is likely to have success only to the extent that it tilts against the economic goals of the Purple Line. Some stations may attract much less growth than others–just compare the Metro stops in Prince George’s to those in Montgomery. In these areas, prices will rise comparatively less and they will remain more affordable.

Squaring the circle of displacement and growth seems all but impossible. If the County somehow prohibits or slows rents from rising on housing or businesses, it inhibits the growth of its tax base and undermines a central rationale for building the Purple Line.

To an extent, the inevitable concentration of growth around some stations but not others may provide some relief. But probably not in some areas that deeply concern Casa de Maryland like Langley Park, which is a natural prime target for redevelopment as middle-class residents get displaced from other more expensive areas.

It will not all be bad. Economically rising residents who have managed to acquire properties will benefit if they end up making a tidy profit if and when they decide to sell their land. Small businesses who have longer terms leases will see their customer base rise. And many will relocate successfully, though others will not.

And perhaps the proponents of the Compact have creative ideas to ease the collision of fundamental economic forces with real social needs that development around the Purple Line will not address.

If so, I look forward to hearing more about them. Engagement of an interested public and government on the problem may provide real benefits. But it’s not going to be easy.

 

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Changes to MoCo’s Public Financing Law

Many thanks to Common Cause Executive Director Jennifer Bevan-Dangel for letting me know about the major changes made to the public financing bill by the full County Council before its passage. You can find a description of the bill here.

The major change was the repeal of Hans Riemer’s amendment that passed in committee, which allowed donations made outside the County to be matched by public funds. Instead, recipients of public funds can receive donations from outside the County up to the $150 limit but they will not be matched.

Bevan-Dangel also explained: “The bill was amended to allow candidates to declare their intent to be publicly funded and start raising donations at the beginning of the four year election cycle, instead of waiting to the last year of the cycle. (This is critical because otherwise candidates would have had an incentive to raise funds into those old, non-public funded accounts in the ‘off’ years.)” This amendment was sponsored by Hans Riemer.

A motion to add expenditure limits to the bill died for lack of a second. Due to the potential for self-funded candidates to spend enormous amounts, this was probably a good decision by the Council. It is impossible to limit expenditures by people who opt out of the public financing system, as the Supreme Court declared them equivalent to constitutionally protected free speech in Buckley v. Valeo (1976)

Outgoing Councilmember Phil Andrews must be enormously pleased with the unanimous passage of the bill he sponsored. Common Cause Maryland should also take great satisfaction in the passage of this bill, though I notice that they have been very careful to share credit with other members of the Fair Elections Maryland Coalition, such as Progressive Maryland, that worked for the bill.

 

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MoCo Passes Public Financing Law

Common Cause MD has issued a press release that the Montgomery County Council has approved public financing for County elections. I’ll let you know of any major changes to the bill as I find out. But for now here is Common Cause’s statement:

Rockville, MD – The Montgomery County Council today took a huge step forward for fair elections by passing with a unanimous vote Bill 16-14, creating a program for county council and executive campaigns that would fight big money interests by empowering small donors in County elections.

“Voters expect public officials to make decisions that advance the public interest. But the hard truth is that special interests too often get special attention from candidates and officeholders,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, Executive Director of Common Cause Maryland. “Voluntary small donor, public financing systems like the one before the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday put big ideas, not big money, at the center of our elections and make it possible for people of modest means and lacking connections to established power structures to run and win elections. We are thrilled that Montgomery County is leading Maryland forward. The amendments added today only strengthened the bill, and this is truly a model piece of legislation for other jurisdictions to follow.”

“Montgomery County is the most populated jurisdiction in the state, home to one million people. Its total budget is nearly the same size as Los Angeles. Because of the County’s influence in Maryland and proximity to Washington, D.C., the passage of public financing here will reverberate across the state and the country!” said Kate Planco Waybright, Executive Director of Progressive Maryland.

Nick Nyhart, President & CEO of Public Campaign, said “Today, the Montgomery County Council stood up to big money politics. Their vote to raise up the voices of everyday people in politics is part of a growing movement of millions of Americans fighting for a democracy that’s truly of, by, and for the people.”

“In our democracy, the depth of your pocket should not determine the volume of your voice,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr, “In the face of ever increasing election spending by mega-donors and corporations, the Montgomery County Council took a big step today by tilting the balance of power back to ordinary citizens.  More of our counties should quickly follow suit.”

Under the Fair Elections program, candidates for County Council or County Executive who agree to limit their fundraising by accepting only low-dollar donations from individual donors in their districts will qualify for matching funds.In jurisdictions from Hawaii to Connecticut, such small donor-based Fair Elections reform have improved the election process. The programs encourage prospective candidates traditionally shut out of the political process, including people of color and of modest means or those who lack connections to established sources of political power, to run for office. They make politics more competititv and stimulate more substantive legislative debates.

The Fair Elections Maryland Coalition is working to implement this important reform in other counties and in contests for the state legislature.

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Mediocre Bethesda Terminus

The Bethesda Master Plan Appendix provided a blunt assessment of the need to redevelop the Apex Building beyond the desirability of the tunnel under Wisconsin Ave and the substantially reduced likelihood of the Apex Building ever being redeveloped:

Ventilation Tower in Bethesda’s Heart
The area in front of Barnes and Noble at Woodmont and Bethesda Ave. is the epicenter of Bethesda. Without redeveloping the Apex Building, there will need to be a ventilation tower right across the street in Woodmont Plaza that will be “40 feet wide by 18 feet long by 90 feet high.” But it could be incorporated into a redeveloped Apex building.

Longer Tail Track in Bethesda’s Heart
In his responses to my questions about the tail track, Mike Madden did not mention that the failure to tear down the Apex Building will result in a much longer tail track. According to the Master Plan Appendix, “the Purple Line tracks would extend 100 feet into the plaza.”

These tail tracks would be right next to Mon Ami Gabi, the movie theaters, and the restaurants in the new development. But if the Apex building is redeveloped, the tail tracks “would extend only about 30 feet into the plaza.”

It’s hard to see how a ventilation tower and tail tracks right smack dab in the middle of Bethesda comport with the desire to promote new development–a major Purple Line goal. It also will hardly aid the County’s effort to promote a vibrant nightlife.

Worse Purple Line Platform
Purple Line Project Manger Mike Madden says that the platform will now have 7 columns but the Master Plan Appendix indicates that “12 support columns for the Apex Building would be located on the platform” unless the building is redeveloped. I don’t know whose information is accurate. It gets worse:

The platform is on a slight curve so there would be small gap between the train and the platform. The estimated pedestrian level of service at this station is the lowest along the alignment under current plans.

No Bicycle Storage
As the Bethesda Master Plan Appendix explains:

With the redevelopment of the Apex Building site it is possible to reserve space for a full-service bicycle storage facility that is adjacent to the Capital Crescent Trail, the Red Line station entrance, and the Purple Line platform. A bicycle storage facility . . . is important to provide access to and from transit and for commuters to Bethesda.

Worse Red Line Entrance and Pedestrian Access
Mike Madden says sidewalk space will be preserved by eating further into Elm Street where the elevators will be installed. But the Master Plan Appendix states:

These elevators have a visual presence on Elm Street and provide a circulation area that is adequate but not ideal. . . . The elevators could be incorporated into the redeveloped Apex Building with additional space for pedestrian circulation. This would reduce the cost of the high-speed elevators by approximately $10 million (emphasis added).

Vision Fail
The failure of vision and to provide infrastructure needed to support a project designed to aid the County’s economic development and long-term growth is an increasingly typical mistake in Montgomery County. It also seems part of a bait-and-switch tactic that Bethesda residents should expect as the Council moves forward with its current Master Plan review.

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