Dear readers, this will be my last post on Seventh State for the foreseeable future. That’s because I am joining David Blair’s campaign for county executive. I can’t work for a campaign and simultaneously write about it, or issues connected to it, for the public. So it’s time for me to go, at least for now.
To our readers: thank you. In my early days of writing more than a decade ago, it felt like I was throwing messages in bottles out to sea. Off the bottle would go into the deep waters, and who knew if anything would return. But that began to change as more and more of you contacted me to discuss our content. You showed me that MoCo residents are the smartest, most thoughtful and most interesting people on Planet Earth. Sure, I produced the content, but you educated me, challenged me and ultimately improved my work in return. YOU are responsible for the success of Seventh State.
And now to the founder of Seventh State, David Lublin. It’s not easy to be my partner. I am sure David has heard many, MANY complaints about me over the years. He is just too nice to say so! David, thank you for giving me an opportunity to contribute to this county. Thank you for putting up with me and offering me the wisest of counsel over the years. Most of all, thank you for being my friend.
That’s all for now. See you on the campaign trail!
The post about the Capitol insurrection by Julie Tagen, who is Congressman Jamie Raskin’s Chief of Staff, is the first one to lead our list two months in a row. After a strong run in January, this article took off again starting February 9 when Raskin told this story to the U.S. Senate in his opening argument at the impeachment trial. It remains one of the most riveting items we have ever posted on Seventh State.
The article about White Flint is the first item to appear on our list three months in a row. This one won’t go away. It’s about more than politics; it’s about whether our county can build appealing new communities that can compete with the rest of the region. There is a real hunger for that in MoCo and it will resume prominence after the COVID pandemic winds down.
Then there are the stories about solar in the agricultural reserve. They reveal a split not just among politicians but also inside the county’s environmental community. Some see environmentalism as concerned with the preservation of nature. Others see environmentalism’s biggest priority as preventing climate change from making Earth inhospitable to humans. Both sides are right, of course, but in the case of solar in the ag reserve, their short-term prescriptions for action were at odds. This is not the first sign of an enviro split in MoCo. The Sierra Club’s endorsement of Roger Berliner over Marc Elrich in the 2018 county executive primary was extremely controversial. We may be headed for more internal conflicts in the environmental community in the future.
This is a pretty concise list of what has been on the minds of MoCo’s political community: the attack on the Capitol, Jamie Raskin, vaccines and the movement to throw out Andy Harris. The story on the solar zoning text amendment reflects a split among environmentalists that is bound to resurface on future issues. As for White Flint, which was also the top story in December, that article demonstrates a major challenge that MoCo will face as it emerges from the pandemic: how to rebuild its economy and not lose any more ground to the rest of the region. Economic competitiveness was a big issue before COVID and it will return to that pedestal as the next election approaches.
In the wake of former Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Andrew Kleine’s admitted ethics violations, County Executive Marc Elrich wanted him to stay in his job. But the county council was outraged by the scandal and exploded in public fury. The council’s anger wound up forcing Kleine out and opened the door to the ascension of the new CAO, former county budget director and state senator Rich Madaleno.
The problems with the 2020 primary election prompted this historical post summarizing why the state has a law protecting its elections administrator, Linda Lamone, from accountability. Comptroller Peter Franchot and Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford called for Lamone’s resignation but she survived for the thousandth time. Thankfully, the general election was a smoother affair than the primary.
It’s fitting that these three posts finished back-to-back-to-back because they all concern the nastiest judicial election in recent MoCo history: the challenge by attorney Marylin Pierre to four sitting judges. This one had a LOT going on: partisanship, charges of racism, charges of lying and even a temporary restraining order. The whole thing cast a foul odor over the ballot box and led me to conclude that judicial elections should mostly be abolished.
School board elections are mostly sleepy affairs in which candidates agree at least 90% of the time and the only difference between them is which ones are endorsed by the Apple Ballot and the Post. Not this year! MCPS’s boundary study dominated the primary and school reopening took the spotlight in the general, with Lynne Harris (the Post’s candidate) blasting the teachers union for allegedly resisting reopening. Harris told Blair High School’s Silver Chips newspaper that the teachers “were obstructionist, inflammatory, and just said ‘no’ to everything.” That provoked a furious response and the teachers are unlikely to forget it.
Early in the COVID crisis, Governor Larry Hogan gave counties discretion to allow restaurants to offer takeout and delivery of mixed drinks. Many other states and the City of Baltimore allowed it, but MoCo’s liquor monopoly did not. The issue prompted a mass revolt by restaurants and consumers and the county ultimately allowed it.
County Inspector General Megan Davey Limarzi blew the lid off county government with her landmark report on an overtime scam in the fire department. The scandal involved more than $900,000 of overtime which exceeded limits set by the fire chief and was scheduled outside of the system usually used by county public safety agencies. Readers were all over this but I have not heard of anyone being disciplined for it. As of this writing, this is the sixth most-read post in the history of Seventh State measured by page views.
Last July, The Grille at Flower Hill in Gaithersburg posted this on Facebook: “Let me be very clear…my staff will not wear face masks while working here at the Grille. If that bothers you then please dine elsewhere and please try to find something more important to occupy your time such as volunteer at a nursing home or soup kitchen. Whoever you are that filed the complaint, you need to take a good look in the mirror and try to find some real meaning in your life.” The post provoked a huge firestorm from irate customers resulting in the permanent closure of the restaurant four days later. As of this writing, this is the fifth most-read post in the history of Seventh State measured by page views.
This post reprinted the Montgomery County Democratic Party’s statement on the four ballot questions. It was originally published on September 17 and initially attracted little site traffic. But it started to pop in early and mid-October and dominated page views in the latter part of the month. Most of the traffic was generated by Google searches. This provided valuable intel: thousands of people were seeking out what the Democratic Party had to say about a group of arcane and confusing ballot questions. And if they were coming to Seventh State, they were no doubt also visiting other sites with similar information like news outlets and the party’s own site. In the end, it seems likely that the party was the dominant force in driving voter reaction to the ballot questions as its positions carried the election by double digits. It was also a huge boon to us as this post ranks third in page views in the history of Seventh State.
The year 2020 was hugely eventful for the entire world and MoCo was no exception. In our county, 2020 saw a public health crisis, a resulting economic crash and huge challenges to our quality of life. In political terms, it also saw unusually contentious elections for school board and circuit court judge, four historic ballot questions and numerous fights inside county government. We wrote about it all on Seventh State. Here are the top twenty posts measured by page views from the people who count the most – YOU, our readers.
This was a poorly organized public event gone wrong, culminating with an unmasked protestor getting within spitting distance of the county executive. For those who question the need for the executive to have a security detail, this is Exhibit A for why it can be necessary.
County Executive Marc Elrich’s first veto, this one targeting a council-passed bill giving Metro station developers 15-year property tax breaks, set off a fight on corporate welfare that has not ended by a long shot. That will prove especially true if a proposal by the planning staff to grant tax abatements to other properties near Metro stations advances.
In early November, MCPS told the public that it was planning a phased-in reopening of schools for some in-person instruction. But the winter surge of COVID quickly overtook that plan and cast the timing of reopening in doubt. The issue is still unsettled.
Back in the summer, MCPS’s original reopening plan was drenched in controversy, ultimately resulting in a pitched battle with the county teachers’ union (MCEA). MCPS wound up going with virtual learning for the fall, like most other large school systems in the region, but the mechanics and safety of reopening are still subjects of debate.
Jobs, jobs, JOBS. According to White Flint developers, MoCo’s slow rate of job growth was one reason that they could not get financing to proceed on the county’s preeminent development plan. The chart below says it all. And when the COVID pandemic finally ends, county leaders must dedicate themselves to creating jobs, Jobs, JOBS or MoCo’s stagnation will continue.
Back in June, incumbent Baltimore City Council Member Zeke Cohen, who had a big lead in money and endorsements over his challenger, appeared on election night to be getting just 2% of the vote. That was the first sign of a primary gone wrong, which led to many misgivings about the state’s processes with mail ballots and the performance of its long-time election administrator Linda Lamone.
2020 was a year of surprises, and one of the bigger surprises was the emergence from political retirement of former County Executive Ike Leggett. Question B (Robin Ficker’s latest anti-tax charter amendment) and Question D (nine council districts) disturbed Leggett enough that he started a ballot issue committee to defeat them. This post was Leggett’s guest column on why they were bad ideas and it got a big reaction from our readers.
After school board candidate Lynne Harris blamed MCEA for allegedly resisting school reopening (a post that also appears on our top 20 list), a group of rank-and-file teachers pushed back in this guest post. It achieved wide readership that was probably concentrated among teachers as the general election approached.
In non-COVID news, 2020 was the year that the county’s police department (along with departments around the country) became a political football. This post describes how the executive, the county council and Annapolis all jumped into the issue of policing with little coordination. Lost in the debate was the central fact that crime in MoCo is at its lowest level in decades. Policing will continue to be a hot topic in 2021.
Tomorrow we will list the top ten Seventh State posts for the year!
The top three stories fit together and have meaning for the new year and beyond. The Day of Reckoning is Near summarizes the county’s dire fiscal picture as it heads into a challenging FY22 budget discussion in the spring. Jawando Calls for a Tax Hike kicks off an inevitable dialogue about taxes, one which will only get hotter before the executive makes his budget recommendation on March 15. And What Happened to White Flint? – December’s runaway winner – lays out the story of how the county’s premier development plan has been held back by our slow rate of job growth. Budget headaches, taxes and economic problems are about to collide.
Three of these stories were leftovers from the election and dominated the first week. Of the rest, two of the top three relate to whether and how MCPS will reopen – a huge issue that has yet to be resolved. Parents may disagree on exactly what MCPS should do, but all of us (I’m one of them!) are intensely interested in the outcome.
Wow. You’ve really been reading. Since the reboot of Maryland Politics Watch as Seventh State in February, readership has increased dramatically.
When I started Maryland Politics Watch, I got really excited when daily unique hits reached over 300. This past week, that number jumped well over 1000 for the first time since the relaunch. And that excludes the 130 of you who have signed up to receive every post via email not to mention followers on Facebook and Twitter.
Thanks to those who have shared news, information, stories, and given helpful feedback on posts. I learn a lot by doing this blog and appreciate these interactions.
I’ll keep doing my best to provide opinion, news, and analysis. You can keep following 7S here and also follow on Twitter @theseventhstate or on our Facebook page–besides reading, it’s one of the best ways you can say thanks to us. Just click the floating buttons on the lower right to follow or to like.