All posts by David Lublin

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

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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How Can You Help? Webinar on Charitable Giving Tomorrow

Title: The COVID Crisis: Where and How You Can Help Our Community
Date & Time: Friday, May 8th, 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM

Participants:

  • Mark Bergel, Founder and Executive Director, A Wider Circle
  • Diego Uriburu, Executive Director & Co-Founder, Identity, Inc
  • Jackie DeCarlo, Chief Executive Officer, Manna Food Center
  • George Escobar, Chief of Programs and Services, CASA
  • Councilmember Gabe Albornoz – Update on County Emergency Assistance

If you’re interested in volunteering or looking for places to donate? The webinar will provide information on food assistance efforts, mask making opportunities, virtual tutoring, diaper and formula drives, grocery card collections, virtual job training, and future volunteer opportunities.

To Register: https://bit.ly/HelpingOurCommunity

h/t: @jaredssolomon.

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Help Fight Hunger

Normally, I avoid making my blog a place to make charitable appeals, but these aren’t normal times.

Even at the best of times, too many people in America wonder how they will pay for their next meal. The mass unemployment resulting from the COVID-19 crisis, exacerbated by the federal government’s poor, dithering response, has only made matters worse.

State and local authorities in Maryland are working to rise to the occasion. Here in Montgomery, I know our local government is doing its best to protect the most vulnerable in this nerve wracking time.

But it’s not enough when faced with such overwhelming need.

If you want to help bring just a little more peace of mind to parents trying to figure out how to feed their children or themselves, consider donating to a local food pantry.

In Montgomery County, Manna Food Center has long done outstanding work feeding the hungry. To combat rising hunger during the crisis, for example, they have set up 11 sites around the county where people can pickup food bags to help people stay put and fed. They are also providing meals for children at more than 40 sites around the county.

If you’re fortunate enough to still have your job or riding out the stay-at-home order in relative comfort, I hope you’ll consider a gift to Manna or another organization doing similar work.

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The State Must Produce Precinct Election Results

It’s tempting to dispense with precinct election results when a jurisdiction switches to vote by mail (VBM). But Maryland shouldn’t do it.

Voting Rights Act Compliance

The most important reason by far is to assure that redistricting plans around the state comply with the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA). Some mistakenly think that the VRA is longer in force since the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby v Holder (2013) suspended federal preclearance of new voting and election laws previously required under Section 5 of the VRA for covered jurisdictions.

Section 2 nevertheless remains in force and continues to prohibit discriminatory redistricting practices. In any case, Maryland has never been a covered jurisdiction that had to submit its election practices to federal scrutiny under Section 5.

Precinct election results are critical evidence for both bringing and defending redistricting cases under Section 2 of the VRA. Matching race and ethicity data with precincts election results allows the application of statistical methods to estimate turnout rates and candidate support levels by race and ethnicity. These estimates are critical for both bringing and defending challenges under Section 2.

There is really no substitute for this approach. Polling data is unavailable for all but statewide contests and even then it cannot be broken down reliably to legislative or county council district levels. Consequently, precinct election data remains vital to make it possible for courts to adjudicate Section 2 cases properly.

In order to win a redistricting challenge under Section 2, plaintiffs must satisfy a three-prong test outlined by the U.S. Supreme Court in Thornburg v Gingles (1986). The minority must be: (1) sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district; (2) politically cohesive; and (3) racial-bloc voting usually defeats the minority’s preferred candidate.

The last two prongs rely on having estimates of voting behavior by race. In the absence of precinct election results, these will be impossible to generate. While results from earlier years will remain available, results from the most recent elections are considered the most valuable since they are closest to the current situation.

State defense attorneys might welcome making it more difficult to bring voting rights challenges. But it hardly seems the right approach for a state committed to racial equality and compliance with federal law. Choosing not to produce precinct election results for this reason could even become evidence of racially discriminatory intent.

Fortunately, VBM is not a barrier to producing precinct election results. It is little different than distributing early vote back to precincts. Undoubtedly, it takes more effort but longstanding VBM states do it. Maryland can look to these models for guidance as they continue to prepare for a different Fall election than expected.

The state claims that it cannot produce them for June – a claim that deserves close scrutiny. Lawmakers must continue to press them to change this decision for June and November and to make sure that our elections remain safe and top notch.

Preventing and Finding Fraud

Beyond the Voting Rights Act issues, precinct election results remain extremely valuable for fraud detection. Political scientists and statisticians have developed methods to sniff out outcomes that are highly unlikely absent fraud. They are equally useful for undercutting irresponsible and baseless fraud claims from the Left or the Right.

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Coronavirus Mortality Severely Underestimated in Maryland.

The New York Times has the data and the story. Bottom line is that from March 8 through April, 207 people were reported to have died of COVID-19 in the state. But the total death rate for the same period was 700 in excess of normal, suggesting that roughly an additional net 500 people died of COVID-19 or as a result of changes due to the pandemic.

The response to the pandemic has a mixed impact on mortality. After all, fewer people on the roads has resulted in fewer road deaths. On the other hand, some have likely died because they avoided going to the hospital out of fear of catching COVID-19.

The additional 500 deaths includes all of these sorts of effects as well as COVID-19. Nevertheless, it also reflects many unreported COVID-19 deaths of people who were never tested and gives a good rough gauge of its real impact beyond that in the reported deaths statistics.

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Time to Bag Jawando’s Rent Control Bill?

Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando (D-At Large) introduced legislation to temporarily suspend the county bag tax and enact rent control to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The first has already bit the dust and it looks increasingly like the second should too.

Bag Bill Bagged

Councilmember Jawando introduced a bill to suspend the county bag tax during the health crisis. Though cosponsored by all of his colleagues, except Councilmembers Evan Glass (D-At Large) and Tom Hucker (D-District 5), the bill received a lot of pushback.

Much like Councilmember Hans Riemer’s (D-At-Large) bill to allow businesses to suspend payments for alcohol to the county monopoly, it faced the problem that bonds are tied to the revenues. Additionally, the environmentally-focused Sierra Club was not happy.

In a rare story for a bill sponsored by seven of nine members, it was on the fast track to defeat instead of passage. Most would have let the bill die quietly at this point. Mystifyingly, Jawando chose instead to announce a full retreat by declaring victory:

Councilmember Will Jawando plans to withdraw Expedited Bill 17-20, Carryout Bag Tax Suspension after working collaboratively with members of the community. . .

County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles recommends “a number of strategies for using reusable bags including washing them between use, customers packing their own reusable bags at check out and frequently cleaning surfaces in baggage areas.”

In addition, the Department of Environmental Protection has agreed to work on a campaign and resources to remind consumers to wash their reusable bags that can be posted at grocery stores and retail establishments.

Jawando can trumpet his success in finding an “alternative solution” but it sure sounds suspiciously like the status quo.

Rent Control: A Solution in Search of a Problem?

Now, Councilmember Jawando is pressing ahead with a rent control bill that is scheduled to have a hearing on April 21 (tomorrow) and a full council vote on April 23 (Thursday).

Jawando has explained to the media that his office has received “multiple reports” of rent going up 20, 30, 40 percent. He also expressed concern that at the end of the crisis that “You’re going to see people try to raise rents to get out people who can’t pay. And then you’re going to see a spike in evictions and then you’re going to try to bring people in at higher rents to recoup the loss.”

As Adam Pagnucco previously reported, the chambers of commerce have pushed back very hard on these claims:

We were deeply disappointed by the reckless statements you made. . . claim[ing] that landlords were instituting 20 – 40 percent rent increases during COVID-19.

The most offensive premise of the interview was the impression that rent gouging was a rampant and widespread issue. We were taken aback by these allegations and reached out to our landlord members to determine if any of them had implemented of that magnitude. To the contrary, we learned that none of our members reported any rent increase, let alone a 20 – 40 percent increase.

The claim that widespread rent hikes are now happening makes no sense.

No landlord wants to lose a regularly paying tenant now even if they have to make some adjustments and take some losses. There is no guarantee you can fill the vacancy and you certainly won’t be able to do so until this crisis ends.

If anything, rents may fall as demand declines due to mass unemployment. So much for recouping losses by jacking up rents, which is just not how rental markets work. Landlords can only charge what the market will pay.

If a landlord tries to raise rents now, tenants can just not pay due to the moratorium. Such a mean and stupid landlord may well be out even more rent as well as all of the time and expense of evicting someone once that is again legal. The landlord then also loses yet more rent due to the time it takes to fix the place up again, if needed, and to find a new tenant.

Jawando’s specific claim that landlords will raise rents in order to evict non-paying tenants makes even less sense as that will not allow a landlord to evict their tenant any more quickly. If anything, the tenant will appear even more sympathetic to landlord-tenant court judges who will be very disinclined to evict anyone during the immediate aftermath of this crisis anyway. Remember that evictions are a lengthy legal process.

In short, if it doesn’t make any sense even from an amoral greed perspective, is this really happening on a widespread basis? It might be better to explore specific situations and address any bad actors on an individual basis. I wouldn’t think landlords would want to be publicly exposed as raising rents right now.

In an email response to my request for specific information, Jawando stated that his bill “supports” landlords and tenants alike:

Some landlords have thankfully already decided not to impose the burden of a rent increase on their tenants during this time . . . The intention of Bill 18-20 supports the action of these landlords while protecting other tenants whose landlords have not made a similar decision.

The idea that his bill “supports” the vast majority of landlords who have not increased rent is bizarre in light of the response of the chambers of commerce pushing back on this bill as a broad smear of how landlords have responded to the crisis.

Despite repeated requests, Jawando has not produced an iota of concrete evidence that this has occurred let alone a widespread problem that requires fast-track legislation:

Some of the tenants who have contacted our office are nervous about coming forward to the media as you might imagine, however when I introduced the bill, I did share several cases with increases ranging from 9% – 60%.  

Except big claims and major legislation require hard evidence that should be made public. At the very least, Jawando could have by now produced redacted letters if such notices of rent increases are being distributed widely in some buildings. Regardless, any documents he has are public as he received them in his capacity as a councilmember.

Jawando’s bill has already been through several iterations, first excluding then including then excluding again commercial properties from the bill. These changes further suggest that the facts regarding the problem it is intended to solve are not known. At the very least, they aren’t being made public. Right now, all we have are unsupported anecdotes from the bill sponsor.

If this is a widespread problem, Jawando’s bill may be an appropriate response. If not, the Council should move along to address may of the other pressing problems that the county will face during and after this crisis.

The Council’s unanimous effort to fund the production of cloth masks to make sure all county residents have access to them is a much better example of good use of their time. My applause to all councilmembers for supporting this effort. More please.

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Good News on Maryland Coronavirus Projections

On April 6th, I posted the University of Washington coronavirus projections for our state They have updated their projections and the news, as throughout the country, is very good in terms of reduced cases and demands on our resources. Today, April 18th, was the day they projected to be our peak resource day back on April 6th, so now seems a good time to revisit.

All ICU beds needed and available:

The total number of ICU beds still exceeds the state’s normal capacity based on the pre-corona number of beds and their use. The good news is that the state has expanded the number of beds and the projected peak need has declined from 1224 beds to 430 beds. Still a high rate of use but more manageable.

All hospital beds needed and available:

On April 6th, UW projected that we’d need a maximum of 6443 hospital beds, way more than the state’s normal availability of 3961. The projection has now declined to 2405, which is within the state’s capacity.

All ventilators needed and available.

UW expected that we’d need 1040 ventilators in their April 6th projections. Now, Maryland should need 373.

Projected deaths per day:

The maximum projected deaths per day has declined to 46 pm April 20th, two days from now. Previously, UW had projected a maximum of 138 that on April 19th, tomorrow.

Projected total deaths:

The new projected total of 914 COVID-19 deaths in Maryland is a 61% drop from the projection on April 6th of 2326.

An increasingly vocal minority believes that the much improved projections mean that COVID-19 was much ado about nothing. Except that as epidemiologists have tried to explain, the better the outcome, the less it will appear it was necessary because an improved job will have been done at stopping the infection in its track. The improved projections are due to extensive social distancing, not a random event.

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