Monthly Archives: January 2014

Rainy Day in Annapolis Towne

(Note: This article appeared in the inaugural issue of Center Maryland Magazine.)

By Barry Rascovar

It is often true that legislative reforms require a second round of revisions to make them workable. That’s the case with the misnamed “rain tax.”

Passed in 2012, this stormwater remediation measure attacks a troubling problem – pollution of the Chesapeake Bay from pet waste, sediment, fertilizers, pesticides and auto fluids. Storms wash this scum off urban and suburban streets, parking lots and rooftops. It winds up in the bay.

Impervious surface

Impervious Surface

This is a huge concern for those who treasure Maryland’s most precious resource.

For instance, stormwater pollutants account for 37 percent of nitrogen in the Magothy River, 94 percent of excess phosphorus, and virtually all sediment and bacterial contaminants.

Fifteen percent of the bay’s nitrogen stems from urban and suburban storm runoff.

The 2012 statute requires Baltimore City and nine counties to enact a fee for stormwater improvements. It’s part of the state’s compliance with Washington’s “pollution diet” for the bay.

Permeable Surface

Permeable Surface

Little controversy surrounded the 2012 bill, but as implementation day neared in mid-2013, Republicans raised a ruckus. In a slick PR move, they started calling it the “rain tax.”

Frederick County Commissioners set their stormwater fee at a symbolic penny. Carroll County Commissioners defied the state entirely.

Other Republicans played politics, too. Laura Neuman, the new Anne Arundel executive, vetoed a stormwater fee (it was overridden by the council). She is in a tough race to win a full term.

David Craig, the Harford County executive running for governor, wants to abolish his county’s stormwater tax – though he introduced the bill and signed it into law. He also wants to wipe out the state law, a sine qua non for GOP candidates this year.

Like it or not, legislators find this issue before them in the current session.

No politician wants to endorse an unpopular tax in an election year but Democrats are in a bind. Environmentalism is a key part of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s national campaign and Democratic lawmakers won’t renege on their commitment to the bay.

The trick is making the law more palatable.

Republicans will have a field day protesting Democratic amendments, yet they know it’s all sound and fury.

Revisions could lead to a uniform stormwater fee in the 10 jurisdictions – such as a surcharge on the state property tax – or making the counties and Baltimore responsible for contributing a set amount to remediation projects but letting local officials decide how to raise the money.

In the end, a less incendiary version of the “rain tax” will pass. There’s too much at stake for O’Malley and Democratic lawmakers to back down.

Barry Rascovar, formerly a columnist for The Baltimore Sun and the Gazette Newspapers, writes regularly at www.politicalmaryland.com

 

 

O’Malley’s Boring Valedictory

By Barry Rascovar

Jan. 27, 2014 — YES, THERE ARE TIMES when a picture is worth a thousand words — and more. Such was the case in Annapolis on Thursday when Gov. Martin O’Malley turned in an all-too predictable, stilted and boring valedictory in his concluding State of the State Address.

Judge for yourself in the photo below.

The facial expressions of Senate President Mike Miller, House Speaker Mike Busch, Attorney General Doug Gansler, Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown speak volumes.

Gov. Martin O'Malley's final State of the State Address

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s final State of the State Address fails to excite his State House audience.

“Who’s that over there?”

“When is this going to end?”

“What’s next on my schedule?”

“What do I want for lunch?”

“Why can’t I stay awake?”

There’s a reason for the tepid legislative response. They’d heard nearly every bit of O’Malley’s speech before. There was nothing new in his text, no surprises, no informal, heartfelt ad libs.

The one exception: A cryptic line from an Irish writer O’Malley dangled for listeners but never explained.

“The only things worth doing are the things that might possibly break your heart.”

Go figure.

Put O’Malley before a large audience in a formal setting and he delivers a stilted, overly theatrical speech. Yet this same politician, placed in front of a campaign crowd, turns dynamic.

O’Malley’s Place in Maryland History

He missed a golden opportunity last week to sum up his time as governor the way historians are likely to judge it.

O’Malley served during the worst economic times in 70 years. He kept Maryland’s ship of state afloat and in good shape during the Great Recession.

He did it by slowing, rather than reversing, the rate of government growth.

He shrank employee ranks, but did it through attrition rather than layoffs.

He used budgeting gimmicks and fund-shifting to keep things together in lean years.

He raised taxes often — maybe too often — to avert massive state and local cutbacks.

Now Maryland is gradually emerging as a state with a solid foundation, an educated work force and an optimistic future.

What Lies Ahead

Are there big problems O’Malley will leave behind a year from now?

Yes, indeed.

  • A hostility in Annapolis toward the private sector (“tax the rich”) that could cost Maryland jobs and businesses.
  • A deeply flawed health care insurance program that may unravel.
  • A progressive agenda that relies too heavily on taxation and government mandates to solve basic social woes.
  • An ineffective and weak economic development program given a low priority.
  • A belated effort to improve transportation options that was placed on a back burner.
  • A tax system lacking in equilibrium and fairness.
  • Structural budget gaps that will handicap future governors.
  • A bitter split between conservative rural and newer suburban areas and the liberal population core in Central Maryland.

O’Malley, meanwhile, has turned his focus to a far larger political objective on the national scene. He does have an interesting tale to tell, even if he stretches the truth about the Maryland story.

What he didn’t do in his valedictory was to lay out a “way forward” for his successor.

Yes, he brought us through the Great Recession in surprisingly sound shape.

But governing in a time of gathering prosperity, while facing a bitter political divide, requires a different mindset.

O’Malley left us in the dark on that one.

O'Malley at State of the State

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Ditched by Dutch

By Barry Rascovar

Jan. 23, 2014 — DUTCH RUPPERSBERGER’s gubernatorial ambitions wound up in the political ditch this week. We shouldn’t be surprised.

The six-term Central Maryland congressman and two-term Baltimore County Executive isn’t a gambler. He likes a sure thing. In politics that means a race in which he is the heavy favorite.

Dutch Ruppersberger

Dutch Ruppersberger

That wasn’t the case in the governor’s campaign, where two Democrats already have $13 million on hand and likely will dominate this race.

Yet neither Attorney General Doug Gansler nor Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown has sparked excitement from the voting public.  Neither man has come across as anything more than a plastic politician.

That left the door open for the garrulous and personable Ruppersberger, who is never at a loss for words and loves the “people” part of politics.

He’s also the only Maryland politician widely known just by his first name — a sure sign of connection with Jane and John Q. Citizen.

Drawbacks to Consider

But raising $5 million in a short time frame looked daunting. Many of his supporters among the political elite have already endorsed Brown. His polls showed him running well in the Baltimore region, but  he had work to do elsewhere in the state.

Moreover, Ruppersberger, 68, may not have the energy for a statewide campaign where he isn’t the front-runner. He’s also not up to date on in the details of state issues, having focused on congressional matters for the past 13 years.

Leaving a safe seat in Congress isn’t the norm.

On top of that, Ruppersberger is the ranking Democrat for another year on the House Intelligence Committee, which makes him a VIP entitled to special insider briefings, White House invitations and overseas trips.

But he concludes his stay on the intelligence panel after this year, returning to his status as a non-VIP minority member of the House. That unappealing prospect prompted Ruppersberger to consider running for governor.

Now it won’t happen. He’s decided to remain in Congress, even with lower visibility and diminished importance.

Who Else Might Run?

Will another member of the Maryland delegation now jump into the gubernatorial campaign?

John Delaney, a freshman congressman representing parts of Western Maryland and Montgomery County — it’s the state’s “odd couple” district — is staking out ground as a maverick Democrat promoting outside-the-box solutions and tweaking the political powers that be.

John Delaney

John Delaney

Still, a run for governor doesn’t seem likely.

It’s late to start from scratch. Yes, the wealthy Delaney could self-fund his campaign but he has no track record in public office, isn’t well-versed in Annapolis matters and is a total unknown outside of his district.

But Delaney understands that clashing over health care insurance with Gov. Martin O’Malley plays well in Western Maryland and that being out front on raising the minimum wage helps in Montgomery County.

So Delaney’s outspoken jabs serve an important purpose for his reelection bid and for other possible races later. We can expect more of this sort of headline-grabbing from him in the future.

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Brown’s Healthcare Albatross

By Barry Rascovar for MarylandReporter.com

January 20, 2014 — MARYLAND’S LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR, Anthony Brown, has a problem that won’t go away — his still unexplained leadership role in the state’s disastrous Obamacare rollout.

This is the biggest sticking point in Brown’s run for governor. It could become an insurmountable obstacle if public attention remains focused on those computer glitches and poor sign-up results.

Week One of the General Assembly session brought no relief.

Brown testified before two panels on a Band-Aid measure to rescue perhaps thousands of Marylanders who couldn’t sign up for health insurance because of the state’s horribly dysfunctional software product.

Lt. Gov. Brown testifies on healthcare bill

Lt. Gov. Brown testifies on health care bill

Reading from a prepared text is one of his strong points. Answering questions isn’t. Brown ducked the few hard queries tossed his way and headed for the door without fully admitting his responsibility for Maryland’s $170 million embarrassment.

He left Health Secretary Josh Sharfstein behind to make a heartfelt apology, give an explanation of what went wrong and take the heat.

What Wasn’t Asked

This left a number of key questions hanging:

  • Was Brown a figurehead leader of the health care insurance rollout?
  • What did Brown know about the behind-the-scenes fiasco that was building over the past year?
  • When did he know it?
  • Why didn’t he roll up his sleeves and get fully engaged in the administration’s most important project for which he was the designated point man?
  • Why was he left out of the loop?

We may never get complete answers.

While a few legislative committees will poke around in the state’s Obamacare closet, this won’t be a Watergate-style investigation.

Too many Democrats already have endorsed Brown for governor. They will take care not to make the lieutenant governor look bad.

Questions Won’t Go Away

Yet unless the sign-up numbers improve dramatically — not likely — the public will receive constant reminders of Maryland’s health care belly-flop during the General Assembly session.

And once the legislature goes home, the governor’s race will heat up, with Brown the center of attention.

Attorney General Doug Gansler, his chief rival, will spend most of his $6.3 million treasury reminding voters of Brown’s leadership role in the state’s biggest disaster since the savings and loan collapse in the 1980s.

Televised debates between the gubernatorial candidates could provide a flashpoint. It may be the only time Gansler gets to directly point a finger at Brown for his culpability in the health care disaster and demand an answer.

Thanks to the Washington Post, we have a picture of the chaos and astounding incompetence that surrounded Maryland’s ill-fated launch of its health insurance exchange. (A grand total of four people signed up that first day.)

And thanks to the Baltimore Sun, we have a reminder of how screwed up the health care debacle remains. (Inadvertently directing people trying to sign up to call a Seattle pottery shop. The snafu continued for four months. A day after The Sun alerted state officials, the poor Seattle shop owner was still getting calls from frustrated Marylanders.)

Then today, the Post and  The Sun reported another screw-up. Up to 1,078 informational packets, containing the new Medicaid sign-up’s name, date of birth and Medicaid ID number, were mailed by the state to the wrong addresses — exposing those people to possible identity theft and delays in receiving medical care. The state blamed it on a “programming error.”

If people’s health weren’t at risk, these human absurdities would make a hilarious “Seinfeld” episode.

Brown’s Dilemma

The self-identified leader of this healthcare reform, Anthony Brown, remains all but invisible as the situation unravels.

How is he going to explain all of this?

At last week’s legislative hearings, he refused to apologize for what happened. He pretty much pointed an accusatory finger at everyone else for hiding the cold, hard truth from him.

Still, Brown appears well positioned to capture the governorship.

He’s got the establishment’s political endorsements. He’s got Gov. Martin O’Malley doing everything he can to ease his path to victory. He’s got more money to spend on his campaign than Gansler.

Yet it might not be enough if Anthony Brown continues to wear that conspicuous health care albatross around his neck.Albatross hung around his neck

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When Duty Is An Honor

By Barry Rascovar for Maryland Reporter.com

Jan. 13, 2014 — John Hanson Briscoe and Bishop Robinson, who died this past week at ages 79 and 86 respectively, understood the meaning of public service.

They grasped the meaning of acting responsibly and honorably. Their lives remind us what running government is all about.

Portrait of Speaker John Hanson Briscoe

Official Portrait of House of Delegates Speaker John Hanson Briscoe

Briscoe was a calming antidote during the Mandel years in Annapolis.

He was the quintessential Southern Marylander, and came by this honestly.

John Hanson was a direct descendant of his namesake, a native of Charles County who was the first to serve a full term as President of the United States in Congress Assembled under the Articles of Confederation (1781-1782).

You can look it up.

Briscoe fought the old Dorsey family machine in St. Mary’s County, and won. His polite and gentlemanly demeanor, combined with the patience of Job and a sly, biting humor made him an ideal Speaker of the House of Delegates.

He proved good at herding political cats.

Briscoe presided with optimism, dignity and grace, his Southern Maryland drawl providing a soothing tonic during heated debates.

John Hanson, 1st U.S. President under the Articles of Confederation

John Hanson, 1st U.S. President under the Articles of Confederation

Most of us knew him as John or John Hanson, the latter reference proving a competitive irritant to his Senate counterpart, President Steny H. Hoyer, who suddenly started referring to himself as Steny Hamilton Hoyer. Touche!

Statewide Outlook

His honesty and integrity came in handy during the shady Mandel years. He wasn’t parochial, either, understanding that in Annapolis you often have to go the extra mile for other parts of the state.

Thus, he alertly steered subway legislation for Baltimore through the House as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. He also championed property tax reform, civil rights legislation and environmental protection laws.

He was a persuader and a mediator, but when required Briscoe could be firm and stern as a judge.

So it was no surprise when John Hanson Briscoe proved equally adept and conscientious as a Circuit Court judge in St. Mary’s County for 16 years. He was an exemplar of judicial temperament, fairness and human understanding.

Overcoming Segregated Times

Briscoe’s service never intersected with that of Bishop Robinson’s, which is a shame. They had much in common.

Robinson didn’t claim a genealogical link to the nation’s founders.

Instead, he grew up in segregated Baltimore, graduating from segregated schools, enlisting in the segregated Army and joining a segregated Baltimore parks department and then its police department.

But like rich cream, Robinson rose to the top.

He had the smarts to acquire a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in his spare time while taking on just about every important post in the city police agency.

Schaefer’s Influence

He caught the eye of William Donald Schaefer, who became a mentor and made him Baltimore’s first African-American police commissioner.

When Schaefer left the mayor’s office for Annapolis, he took Robinson with him as corrections secretary.

Bishop L. Robinson

Bishop L. Robinson

Later, Gov. Parris Glendening recruited Robinson to run the Department of Juvenile Services.

Robinson proved an able manager who didn’t hesitate to make command decisions but also understood the importance of delegating authority to aides he trusted. No wonder so many people loved working for him.

Robinson’s demeanor demanded respect. Tall, imposing and ramrod straight, he maintained a regal bearing at hearings and executive meetings. When he spoke, people listened.

It was no accident that those who knew him started calling Robinson “the archbishop.”

Contributions to Maryland

Robinson helped expand and modernize the state’s prisons, giving guards better training and seeking ways to cut recidivism. He proved an ideal fit for  juvenile offenders in need of  “tough love.”

Both Bishop Robinson and John Hanson Briscoe approached government service as an honor. They dedicated their lives to making Maryland better for its citizens.

For today’s legislators and public officials, there are no better examples of how to do it — if you want to leave a lasting legacy.

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Dwyer, Bail, O’Malley & Bob Gates

By Barry Rascovar

January 9, 2014–QUICK THOUGHTS as the 2014 Maryland General Assembly session gets going and pols speak out, both in Annapolis and in Washington.

Dwyer’s Legislative Purgatory

Anne Arundel Del. Don Dwyer, a weekend jailbird, deserves no mercy.

He’s got a serious alcohol addiction that nearly resulted in multiple deaths on the road and on the water. He has forfeited the right to represent citizens in the state legislature.

Del. Donald Dwyer

Delegate Donald Dwyer

House Speaker Mike Busch removed Dwyer from all committee assignments today. He still can vote on bills and participate in floor debates, but he’ll have no role shaping these bills in committee.

That’s strong disciplinary action, and Busch deserves credit for cracking down on a disreputable legislator. But more may be required.

Why does the disgraced Dwyer, who is doing jail time on weekends, remain in office, collecting his state salary? (Hint: He needs the money to pay his lawyer.)

The man’s a mess and needs to get out of the public spotlight.

He” remain embarrassment to the House of Delegates every time he casts a vote or speaks on the floor. Expulsion might be in order if Dwyer persists in sticking around.

O’Malley and Mary Jane

No one has put it better than Gov. Martin O’Malley in explaining why legalizing marijuana in Maryland is a very bad idea.

Use of this drug can be “a gateway to even worse behavior,” O’Malley says. Getting stoned on “Mary Jane” is no different from getting drunk. Adding another legal intoxicant is a great way to increase lethal driving and dangerous psychological and physical behavior.

Marijuana Plants

Marijuana Plants

After all, marijuana use can lead to memory loss, impact your motor skills, alter your ability to think clearly, increase your pulse rate, lower your blood pressure and harm your liver, lungs and heart.

With O’Malley and Speaker Busch skeptical of recreational marijuana use, you can forget about this issue this session — though gubernatorial candidate Del. Heather Mizeur already is trying to win the youth vote by touting the alleged benefits of legalization.

Weekend Work for Judges?

How nice of Chief District Judge Ben Clyburn to recommend more judges be added to handle an onslaught of bail review hearings in place of court commissioners. Let’s name it the “Judicial Full Employment Act of 2014.”

But Judge Clyburn didn’t call for his fellow District Court judges to extend themselves too much. Under his task force’s plan, no judge would have to work weekends to handle bail reviews. Commissioners would still assume that job.

District Court of Maryland

District Court

So people arrested on weekdays would go before a judge for bail review, accompanied by a lawyer, but on Saturdays and Sundays a lower-level hire, a court commissioner, would decide the temporary fate of inmates.

It’s an absurd idea.

If judges are going to take over bail review, it’s got to be an all-or-nothing plan.

When I started as a reporter at The Baltimore Sun, I worked weekends covering police and fire stories, including Saturday and Sunday morning District Court hearings presided over by a judge, not a commissioner.

It’s time for the judges to take the appropriate step and reinstitute weekend court not only for bail review cases but for other matters, too.

No other solution works — even if it inconveniences those who applied in the first place to become members of the judiciary.

Million-Dollar Babies  

Want to look like a million? Work as a Maryland lobbyist.

Last year, lobbying in Annapolis resulted in payments to “legislative representatives” of $32 million. Indeed, the Top Ten lobbyists averaged over $1.1 million apiece.

Not bad, considering that in my reporting years in Annapolis the “King of the Lobbyists,” the white-maned, expensively suited Jimmy Doyle, gained headlines when he cracked the $100,000 barrier.

James J. Doyle, Jr.

James J. Doyle, Jr.

Doyle was a classy professional. He had integrity. His presentations before committees were marvels of legal and practical logic, couched in terms the densest legislator could grasp. He was one of the best at wining and dining lawmakers, too.

Are today’s lobbyists ten or 20 times better than James J. Doyle Jr.? Or is it a matter of inflation lifting all lobbyists’ boats?

I opt for the latter explanation.

Bob Gates’ Gaff

Turning to the Nation’s Capital, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates stirred a hornet’s nest with his tell-all book about working with White House occupants.

Gates didn’t hold back in excoriating President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden for distrusting the military and thinking too often like politicians instead of statesmen.

Yet when Gates felt the two had gone too far in their comments, he stifled his anger.

In the process, he committed the greatest sin of all.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Think how history might have been altered if Gates had the courage to “speak truth to power.”

What if he had privately counseled Obama to show greater confidence in his country’s military leaders?

What if Gates had taken Biden aside and given him a well-deserved dressing-down?

Instead, Gates held his tongue.

By doing so, he forfeited his chance to make a difference. Sometimes the correct course is to tell the emperor he has no clothes.

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O’Malley’s Final Budget Choices

By Barry Rascovar

January 6, 2014 — THE NEW YEAR began on a positive note for Gov. Martin O’Malley. After years of depressing budget shortfalls and an achingly slow economic recovery, the governor received good news from the Board of Revenue Estimates and the state’s Spending Affordability Committee.

The bottom line: Maryland’s budget picture is brightening just as O’Malley prepares in another week to unveil his final spending plan as governor.

But there are cautionary notes attached to those reports warning of risks ahead, especially the unpredictable gridlock in Congress that could lead to a massive financial crisis over raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

Still, the BRE reported “a rising possibility of stronger, more sustainable growth in 2014 and beyond.”

Projections for 2014

The state’s unemployment rate has dropped to 6.4 percent and is expected to continue inching downward. Housing starts are projected to rise 14 percent this year and 26 percent in 2015. Casino revenues should grow 28 percent to over $1 billion, thanks to the fall opening of the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore.

All this led the revenue board to predict a 4.6 percent increase in state receipts. This, in turn, prompted the spending commission to recommend 4 percent growth in Maryland’s general fund budget.

But will O’Malley use this good news to launch a massive spending spree that cements his liberal legacy — and helps his national ambitions?

O'Malley Budget Briefing

O’Malley’s Budget Briefing

Or will he heed the warning signs and plot an incremental course that doesn’t handicap the next governor?

How Other Governors Acted

There are precedents for O’Malley to study.

Gov. Parris Glendening ignored urgent appeals in 2002 from Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend to curb spending in his final budget and start closing a projected $1.8 billion deficit.

“Leaving the deficit unsolved further complicated the charge that this government was fiscally irresponsible,” noted Del. Pete Rawlings, the late House Appropriations Committee chairman. It was a major factor in Townsend’s electoral defeat that fall.

On the other hand, Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich accumulated a $2 billion surplus in the last budget of his term, hoping to use this as a cushion against the looming Great Recession in his second term.

Of course Ehrlich ended up losing to O’Malley in 2006, giving the new Democratic governor a windfall he used for a major spending blitz.

Years later, it is clear that it would have been better to conserve that money for later use as state revenues plunged off the fiscal cliff.

Reasons for Caution

Here’s why O’Malley and legislators would be wise to take a “go slow” approach in the next budget.

Even with all the good news, state analysts are predicting a $188 million deficit by this July and a nearly $400 million deficit the following fiscal year.

Most troubling: ballooning, unbudgeted Medicaid costs ($200 million) could grow further due to unexpected fallout from the disastrous start of Obamacare in Maryland.

MD Healthcare Connection

MD Healthcare Connection

The state also must contend with soaring debt costs ($150 million) as the governor pushes for a higher borrowing capacity and delayed salary increases ($190 million).

O’Malley also should recognize that his chosen successor, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown has made a string of costly campaign promises that cannot be met if the state budget spins out of control by next January.

Will he follow Glendening’s example and choose reputation-building over responsible budgeting?

Or will O’Malley look to Ehrlich’s example and moderate his spending plans so as to leave a manageable budget situation for the next governor?

The governor’s fiscal decisions will tell us a lot about O’Malley’s leadership qualities as he concludes his term and prepares to enter the national political campaign scene.

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Puzzling Choice in Baltimore City

By Barry Rascovar

Jan. 2, 2014 — WHY IN THE WORLD would Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake pick a small-town official to run the city’s 3,700-member Fire Department, an agency that has been beset by tensions and controversies?

The new fire chief, Niles Ford, may turn out to be a great choice but his resume suggests otherwise.

He’s only run one, 300-member fire department — in Lincoln, Nebraska, a college town that doubles as the state capital. Lincoln is less than half the size of Baltimore. He did win praise for his budgeting skills and bringing calm to a troubled department.

City Manager in Georgia

Ford left his last post as city manager of Chamblee, Georgia (population: 15,500) under political pressure. The town’s African American population is just 7 percent (Hispanics constitute 60 percent of residents). Chamblee’s median household income is $55,000 — versus $40,800 in Baltimore.

Niles Ford, new Baltimore Fire Chief

Niles Ford, new Baltimore Fire Chief

The entire budget for running Chamblee, a suburb of Atlanta, came to $14 million. Baltimore’s Fire Department budget alone is $223 million.

Ford’s doctorate in management comes from an online, for-profit institute. He gained his master’s degree from a Christian university in the Deep South. His bachelor’s degree is from an upper-level state institution in Alabama.

All that may become irrelevant if Ford has the smarts and people skills to navigate the dangerous shoals of Baltimore’s City Hall and its Fire Department. He did it in Lincoln but not in Chamblee.

About the only thing that seems apparent is that Rawlings-Blake got what she wanted in picking an African American for the post.

But she is placing Ford in a difficult situation.

What Awaits Ford

Two of the rejected candidates are deputies in the Fire Department. That’s not going to make for calm seas.

The last fire chief, james Clack, ran into a storm of controversy when he sought to initiate reforms and was forced to impose budget cuts.

Clack didn’t understand the dynamics of this large East Coast fire department with long-standing racial and labor-union issues.

Even worse, the department is in the midst of painful downsizing and a king-sized pension fight with the mayor.

Clack hailed from Minneapolis, which doesn’t have much in common with Baltimore. The Upper Midwest ethos is quite different from Balmer’s, hon.

Fire Chief Ford at Lincoln, NE, blaze

Fire Chief Ford at Lincoln, NE, blaze

Charm City’s unique ethos is even more foreign for someone like Ford, who is coming from jobs in a Plains State community like Lincoln and then a Southern town like Chamblee, where three folks conversing on the street is a crowd.

Running a large fire and EMS department in an aging but dense Eastern urban city differs dramatically from the fire-fighting demands of a community in the middle of the nation’s sparsely populated  Farm Belt.

Mayor Favors Outsiders

Rawlings-Blake apparently is persuaded that outsiders do a better job running Baltimore than insiders. She consistently has ignored internal candidates in favor of national searches.

That doesn’t always turn out well.

Indeed, the best mayoral selection of recent vintage for a top post was a home-grown product — Fred Bealefeld, who understood how to pull the right strings to bring about reforms and a lower crime rate as police commissioner.

Clack left Baltimore with a mixed record. Ford already is under suspicion as a small-town official from outside the region with a modest record.

He has much to prove, which doesn’t say a lot for the mayor’s insistence on filling key posts with people who know little about the way things work in Baltimore.

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