Surprise! Silver Spring Transit Costs Up Again

Silver Spring Transit CenterThe costs of the Silver Spring Transit Center are set to rise by significant amounts again in 2014:

The additional expense could be considerable. Since early summer, contractors have drilled and excavated portions of the structure to install additional supporting steel. The “cap ties” are intended to strengthen the building. . . . Dise placed the cost of that work at about $1.6 million.

But more costly fixes are on the way. In coming weeks, workers will apply a two-inch layer of latex-modified concrete to roadways and other surfaces, a task that requires highly specialized equipment. The final major fix will be the addition of 255 strut beams to reinforce interior girders.

The new appropriation request is expected to include other costs, such as continued operation of the interim Silver Spring site for buses and fees for engineering consultant Allyn Kilsheimer, who was hired by the county to oversee the repairs.

This sort of fiasco does not exactly raise confidence in the ability of the County government to handle larger projects.


AFL-CIO Disses MoCo Council Incumbents

MD AFLIn the Democratic primary, the AFL-CIO endorsed incumbent Marc Elrich as well as challengers Beth Daly and Vivian Malloy for the at-large seats. Only Elrich won the nomination. The AFL-CIO did not endorse incumbents Nancy Floreen, George Leventhal, or Hans Riemer. They have now decided not to endorse any of these three (or anyone else) for the general election.

The AFL-CIO have also made no endorsement in District 1 (Roger Berliner), District 2 (Craig Rice), or District 3 (Sidney Katz). They had endorsed unsuccessful candidates Duchy Trachtenberg (District 1) and Ryan Spiegel (District 3).

District 4 Incumbent Democrat Nancy Navarro is their only new endorsed candidate. They had already endorsed Tom Hucker in District 5–their only other Montgomery County Council winner besides Marc Elrich.

So two-thirds of the new Council will have the election without the endorsement of the AFL-CIO in either the primary or the general election–7 out of 9 if you include the primary.


Rapid Transit at the MoCo Fair

Councilmember Roger Berliner: “There is nothing more fundamental to the future of Montgomery County than making this happen. And making it happen during the next four years.”

Councilmember Marc Elrich: “This is the best answer we have to both the need for capacity and the limited dollars available.”

Councilmember Cherri Branson: “I cannot tell you how important a bus-rapid transit system would be for Route 29 not only to alleviate some of the current congestion but even more importantly to help us develop the east part of the county.”  –

County Executive Ike Leggett: “It will happen in Montgomery County. This is the right thing for our future.”


Public Financing in MoCo

PF AtLarge PF DistrictPF Exec

The Cost and Impact of Public Financing

Montgomery County has moved closer to adopting a public financing system for county elections with approval of the bill by the Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee. As the Council packet explained, the bill proposed by retiring Councilmember Phil Andrews would encourage candidates to raise money in small amounts.

A candidate would need to obtain a specific number of small contributions from a County resident of between $5 and $150 in order to qualify for public funding. Each of these qualifying contributions must be received within 365 days before the primary election and at least 45 days before the primary. A candidate for Executive would need to collect at least 500 qualifying contributions and an aggregate total of at least $40,000 to qualify. A candidate for At-Large Councilmember would need 250 qualifying contributions and an aggregate total of at least $20,000. A candidate for District Councilmember must collect at least 125 qualifying contributions and an aggregate total of at least $10,000.

A candidate for Executive certified to receive public funding would be eligible for a matching contribution of $6 for each dollar of a qualifying contribution for the first $50 of the contribution; $4 for each dollar of the second $50; and $2 for each dollar of the third $50. The match for a candidate for Councilmember would be $4 for each dollar of the first $50, $3 for each dollar of the second $50, and $2 for each dollar of the third $50. . . . The maximum public contribution for a candidate for Executive would be $750,000 for the primary and $750,000 for the general election. The maximum public contribution for At-Large Councilmember would be $250,000 and the maximum public contribution for each election for District Councilmember would be $125,000.

A candidate who voluntarily accepts a public contribution must pay for all campaign expenses with the qualifying contributions, the matching public contributions, and a personal loan from the candidate and the candidate’s spouse of no more than $6000 from each.

But the really interesting part–the impact on the candidate funds–was placed at the far end of the report and has been highlighted in the screenshots at the top of the post. A key caveat in any examination of the Council analysis–and indeed, the point of the system–is that some candidates would change their behavior in response to the new incentives. So take these projections of its impact with a dollop of sour cream.

Would the Bill Achieve Its Goals?

The reason that the presidential public financing system died was the ability of candidates to raise far in excess of the amount available through the system. The rise of expenditures by outside groups and their legalization by the Supreme Court has also contributed to the demise of the system.

Not all candidates would necessarily want to participate in the system. The Council Staff report explained that only two district candidates and one executive candidate could have raised more through the proposed system than they raised without it. On the other hand, three of four at-large candidates could have raised more through the public financing system. Over time, the incentive to participate could decline and even disappear as in presidential elections. It will have no impact on candidates who can afford to self-finance their own campaigns.

Another issue that the bill cannot address is the participation of outside groups. Though the incentives to participate in the public financing system could constrain large donations and the total amount spent, it has no impact on expenditures by outside groups from MCGEO to the Koch brothers.

Moreover, it is not fully clear to me that it would necessarily level the playing field for candidates. In some cases, it might increase the advantage of incumbents or the person who has raised the most money. Challengers or less-well funded candidates might still like it because the initial dollars are the most crucial to viability. The marginal impact of expenditures tends to decline as the amount spent rises.

Some final potential quirky effects. First, potential donors might like if they cannot give such large amounts because they would not be asked to write such large checks. Second, candidates may perversely have to spend more time raising money if they have to raise it in small amounts rather than in large chunks from fewer people. The problem will get worse over time unless the limits are adjusted for inflation, like the federal limits in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (a.k.a. McCain-Feingold).


The Next Mayor of Gaithersburg

In October, the Gaithersburg City Council will meet to appoint a new Mayor, as longtime chief executive Sid Katz awaits his uncontested elevation to the County Council.  After reaching out to my vast network of spies the following council members appear to be interested in pursuing the top job.

Jud Ashman – The early favorite would appear to be Councilman and Small Business Owner Jud Ashman (Republican turned Independent turned Democrat). He likely starts out with Cathy Dryzugla’s vote, meaning he needs only one other council member to reach a majority. However, this is made a bit more complex by the fact that everyone else on the Council appears to display at least some interest in running for Mayor.

Henry Maraffa – The last Republican on the Council is Real Estate Developer Henry Maraffa. He’s probably a bit to conservative to be elected Mayor today.

Mike Sesma – The only minority elected official in a rapidly diversifying municipality certainly cuts an appealing profile. He would need to convince Henry (who I suspect would  be more inclined to back ex-Republican Jud if he opts out of the race) and Ryan (who I believe would lean towards Mike naturally) over Ashman.

Ryan Spiegal- Coming off of a hard fought county council primary in District 3, Ryan Spiegal might be more interested in some well-deserved downtime. If not, the Democratic stalwart (despite an impeccable resume) faces a challenging path to the magic number of three votes.

Whomever the appointed Mayor is, I would be truly surprised if they didn’t face a spirited challenge for the seat in November 2015, either from a councilmember who lost on the appointment or from someone else in the community. The strongest contender, in my observant opinion, would be Montgomery County Young Gun Dan Campos. Campos is a dynamic Latino Businessman and ex-Capitol Hill Staffer who would give any councilman appointed Mayor a serious challenge.



MCDCC Ballot Questions Meeting

MCDCC precinct officials who attend the ballot questions meeting on September 17th at 7pm will help decide the Montgomery County Democratic Party’s positions on ballot questions. The information says that hearings were held at an earlier meeting, so I assume that

The procedure for determining the party’s position is somewhat complicated. The precinct officials vote on each question after hearing the recommendations of the ballot questions committee. [UPDATE: The ballot questions advisory committee no longer makes recommendation. This is a positive change as its membership, and thus decisions, can be idiosyncratic. Thanks to Paul Bessel for the correction.] They can vote to take a position for, against, or no position. If a majority of Central Committee members disagree with an affirmative or negative position taken by the precinct officials, they can change the recommendation to no position.

The meeting will be held in the Maryland Room, Clubhouse 1, Leisure World (3700 Rossmoor Blvd, Silver Spring, MD 20906. Click here for Directions to the Meeting.) Note: Leisure World is a gated community so you’ll be stopped and have to explain why you’re going there if you don’t live in Leisure World.

The actual questions should be less heated than the last time around when the MCDCC took a position in favor of giving the police chief more flexibility in the management of police by eliminating effects bargaining. All members of the County Council supported this decision but the FOP and other government employee unions opposed it vehemently.

Click here to download the 2014 Ballot Questions Report
Click here for more information about the Sept. 17th Meeting.


Why Do Light Rail Costs Only Go Up?

The Washington Post reports that cost estimates for the Purple Line in the DC suburbs have risen by $56 million while the Red Line in Baltimore now is estimated to cost another $220 million. Total cost estimates for the Purple Line are now $2.43 billion–more than double the original cost estimates. As with the previous increase, the State must foot the entire bill for the change.

MTA decided not to publicize the cost increase:

Henry Kay, who heads transit project development for the state, said the MTA didn’t publicize the increase because it was considered a “minor adjustment” on such a large, complex project. He said the additional costs came from refined estimates based on more detailed engineering and still-rising real estate prices.

“It doesn’t reflect some faulty approach” to cost estimating, Kay said. “It’s just the nature of a mega-project being developed over a number of years.”

Except that, as recently as March, Henry Kay also claimed that ““We have a high level of confidence” when they released their previous estimates. Moreover, as I pointed out in a previous post, the continual errors in one direction are highly suspicious:

The excuse that cost estimates have risen because the earlier estimates were only rough estimates is suspicious if only because cost estimates have always increased. They never decline. If the estimates are unbiased, the errors shouldn’t be off only in one direction.

Put more bluntly, if MTA is being straight with us, why have the costs continually risen instead of sometimes going down instead of up? And these changes have occurred even as they have tended to take out expensive features, such as the promised continuation of the Capital Crescent Trail through the Purple Line tunnel.

It would be useful to hear the Montgomery and Prince George’s County Councils debate what project they would give up to pay for the latest increase in costs even as they figure out how to pay for their share of the project. The Montgomery County Council still has to figure out how to pay for the trail–whose costs have also doubled to $95 million.

The County Council also to convince the owner of the APEX building in Bethesda to tear down the building so the station can be built there–something the County is rightly working hard to accomplish (it’s the right place) but will also take money.

Will the next increase break $2.5 billion? One question we should’ve asked long ago: at what point does this project in the form of light rail become too expensive, especially since (1) the CCT has already been transmuted from the previously promised light rail into BRT; (2) Montgomery County is planning a countywide BRT system; (3) MTA’s own estimates showed BRT as much more cost effective; and (4) we have many pressing transportation needs, including other public transit investments and the maintenance of existing infrastructure (e.g. Metro and MARC) to make.



The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC) recently made over 70,000 robocalls asking for volunteers and money. Only 400 people pressed a button to respond positively to new MCDCC Chair Kevin Walling’s plea to support state and local candidates.

So far, multiple sources report that they do not know if a single dollar has actually been raised by follow-up calls to the estimated 0.57% who responded positively to this recorded message. Regardless, it looks like that MCDCC will be lucky if they don’t lose money.

The calls came as a surprise to much of the Central Committee, which did not, at least as a whole, approve or learn about them in advance. I have heard the calls described as misleading because they give the impression that the money donated is directly going to support local and state Democratic candidates.

I imagine that MCDCC leaders would argue that monies raised will support their efforts to aid Democratic candidates. Except that it looks as if any money raised will have to be plowed back into paying for the solicitation. The poor response is why most dialing for dollars occurs with a live voice on the phone.

This fizzling fundraising effort follows on a similarly unsuccessful direct mail campaign. MCDCC included return envelopes in the solicitation, which sounds like a good idea. But it also made the mailing more expensive and did not result in a higher return rate than previous efforts with only small amounts raised.

So far, Kevin’s early efforts to increase fundraising by MCDCC–one of his core promises in seeking the chair–have yet to bear fruit. And expanding the broader donor base has to be even more difficult outside the height of election season.


Tea Leaves of MD-03

MD-03 is a tricky district. It has a Jackson Pollock quality in terms of it’s lines that really means no elected official has a true base here. It does take in enough prime political real estate that if John Sarbanes (still a young man) runs for his father’s US Senate seat one day – there should be a hard thought Democratic primary.

From Montgomery County

It would not totally surprise me if Steve Silverman were interested in running for Congress, and he does indeed reside in the third district. He raised well over two million dollars in his bid for Montgomery County Exec in 2006. I doubt he could do half that for a Congressional campaign today. However, he’d have at least half a million at his disposal, and possibly seven or eight or nine hundred thousand.

A few terms in Congress would surely be an enticing capstone to Ike Leggett’s career (And he too lives in MD-03). He could put together 1.5 to 2.5 million dollars and would be a strong candidate. Ike would be a real heavy weigh. . . and don’t we always say he’d be a better legislator?

Anne Kaiser might clear a million dollars, but I’d be surprised. I wouldn’t be shocked if she had at least $700,000. I’d be blown away if she didn’t clear half a million. I suspect she’d get substantial help from national LGBT Donors and interests.

Craig Zucker could do $250,000-$500,000. He’d also be dynamic enough to stretch those dollars. Craig might do well with SEIU (He ran there home care program in Maryland at one point) which could help substantially. Zucker is an incredibly hardworking candidate and could make himself competitive for the seat.

Eric Luedtke is a lackluster fundraiser but could see substantial labor PAC money come to fund him. I’d also be a bit perplexed if the NEA didn’t spend hundreds of thousands in independent expenditure to support him, especially if Bill Ferguson were in the race. The dynamic between  Teacher Union Activist Luedtke and Teach for America Alumnus Ferguson on Education Reform, although they are (from what I understand), quite close in the legislature, might very well make this a proxy fight between powerful labor and reformist interests (similar to the 2013 Boston Mayoral run off between Marty Walsh and Dan Connelly).

Anne Arundel County 

Maybe former Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen. No idea what he could raise. More than 100. . . but who knows how much more? I don’t think he’d be a particularly serious candidate, with little opportunity to expand outside of his base in the City of Annapolis (not big enough to support a real congressional bid). Nice guy, though.

County Councilman Chris Trumbauer might be able to garner substantial backing in IE from the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters. Which is lucky for him because he couldn’t raise more than low six figures on his own. He’d be well positioned to lock down the Anne Arundel County portions of the district (although that’s not a huge base).

Baltimore County

Bobby Zirkin a dynamic, handsome young trial lawyer who happens to be a strong contender to be the next chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. If that happens, his number could be as high as $1.5 million. If not, $650,000-$1,000,000. Senator Zirkin could likely raise very substantial amounts of money from the incredibly tuned in community of Trial Lawyers that finances so many Democratic Stalwarts.

Dan Morhaim – a Delegate and a Doctor makes a powerful combination. Would clear a million easily. Two million might be a stretch. Shares a heavily Jewish Western Baltimore County district with Zirkin. Despite being one of the stronger fundraisers in the house, he lacks enough pizzazz to be a solid congressional contender in my opinion.

Jon Cardin– Would raise a million easily, but not more than $1.2 or 1.3. Would benefit from confusion with his uncle as well. But, I think that Jon is pretty done after the AG Race. However, the Cardin brand is stronger here than it is statewide.

Baltimore City

Brooke Lierman She could raise a million bucks off her last name, and probably another 300K off of her own network. If Hoyer came in to aid his former Chief of Staff’s daughter you could see another quarter million drop in. She’d be competitive against Anne Kaiser for an Emily’s List endorsement. But as we saw with Heather Mizeur in the 2014 Gubernatorial primary they don’t devote a lot of resources to Democratic Primaries in Deep Blue states.

Bill Ferguson – A handsome, white, young Baltimorean State Senator with real education reform credentials. Can he get buy in from national Ed Reform donors and raise mega millions? I’m not sure. A guy to watch, none the less. With a very, very solid base in the rapidly gentrifying, densely Democratic neighborhoods of South Baltimore. Definitely one to watch.

bIn a primary this crowded, with so many disparate bases of support, I have no clue who might come out on top. I’m not going to pretend that I do.




Orange is the New Black: Gubernatorial Edition

Maryland has much more experience with corruption than Virginia, so I thought it might be helpful to offer a few tips to our sister state. After all, we had much of our political class arrested in the 1960s. The Old Line State can speak from experience.

Watch the Future McDonnell Income Taxes
Conviction doesn’t always end corruption or shamelessness. Spiro Agnew became the only person ever to resign the vice presidency after his 1967 tax evasion conviction for unreported income. That didn’t stop him from trying to deduct the bribe money he had to repay Maryland from his California taxes in 1989.

Make Your Marital Problems Convincing
The “I have no idea where the money for this Rolex or my daughter’s wedding reception came from because my wife and I are having marital problems” defense didn’t fly with the jury. Those supplements have stronger effects than realized if they expected them to believe that sad hodgepodge.

In contrast, Gov. Marvin Mandel had believable problems since he divorced the first Mrs. Mandel to marry the second–and won reelection after he left his first wife. Indeed, the source of Mandel’s corruption was his need to pay hotel bills and alimony.

Mandel’s first wife, Barbara or Bootsie, refused to leave the governor’s mansion stating “I will remain Mrs. Mandel” until the former first couple negotiated an alimony settlement. I would have hired her to negotiate for me anytime.

No Need to Grasp for the Smelling Salts, Virginia
The Commonwealth is no doubt worried about its honor and reputation in the wake of its first gubernatorial conviction. But have no fear, you can still look down on Maryland which is waaay ahead in terms of corruption and isn’t even in the race for national leaders. Virginia remains the mother of presidents, while Agnew is the only Marylander to serve as president or vice president–a jinx Martin O’Malley would like to break.

Maryland pols convicted in the same era as Vice President Agnew and Governor Mandel include:

Anne Arundel County Executive Joseph Alton
Baltimore County Executive Dale Anderson
Baltimore County State’s Attoney Samuel Green, Jr.
Congressman William Mills
Speaker A. Gordon Boone
State Senator Clarence Mitchell III
Delegate James “Turk” Scott
U.S. Senator Daniel Brewster

And yet some still seem to think you just aren’t anyone in Maryland unless you’ve been indicted. The lack of Montgomery and Prince Georgians on the list is more testimony to our lack of influence then rather than our probity.

Good Governor, Shame about the Corruption
Ironically, despite the corruption problem that forced him to leave office, Marvin Mandel was considered an excellent, reformist governor. Similarly, McDonnell was well-regarded in Virginia until his Rolex and supplement problem came to light.


Maryland Politics Watch

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