Tag Archives: Andy Harris

Furniture, Iran & Mandel

By Barry Rascovar

Sept. 11, 2015 — Odds and ends covering Government House furniture, the Iran odd couple and Marvin Mandel miscellany:

‘Junk’ Mansion Furniture

How quickly they forget!

Gov. Larry Hogan Jr.’s criticism of the bargain-basement deal outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley got on distressed Government House furniture (beds, lamps, mirrors, chairs, desks, a couch) is a great political sound-bite but distorts the facts — and ignores history.

Furniture, Iran & Mandel

Government House, Annapolis

Hogan’s minions penned words for him about O’Malley’s unseemly stripping from the governor’s mansion of “expensive, beautifully used furniture.”

The stuff cost $62,000 new and after being appraised and declared “excess property” and “distressed” by a veteran Department of General Services employee, it was bought by O’Malley for $9,638.

Hogan thought that was an outrageously cheap grab of mansion furniture he could have used in his private quarters.

Fair enough.

But the check the state got from the ex-governor represents 15 percent of the furnishings’ original value.

My wife, who has done interior decorating and interior design for a living, tells me the going rate for furniture drops dramatically once it leaves the showroom. She says used furniture sells for about 10 percent of its original value, especially if it has some age on it.

Most of the O’Malley pieces were eight years old.

So maybe the state actually got a good deal.

It’s also worth remembering — which Hogan didn’t for obvious political reasons — that when fellow Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich left the mansion, he purchased nearly $10,000 worth of furniture for a mere $992 — 10 percent of the original price.

That’s still a fair deal for the state, but not nearly as good a deal as the state got from O’Malley.

Mansion furniture

One of the used pieces of furniture the O’Malleys purchased from the governor’s mansion.

Funny, but Hogan never saw it that way.

Either transaction pales compared with the biggest mansion furniture heist — the emptying of private-quarters furnishings by the late Marvin Mandel.

It was engineered by his second wife, Jeanne, and included removal of 57 items (including two wing chairs, a dresser, a leather sofa, a roll-top desk, Waterford lamps, Chippendale chairs, Lenox china, Waterford crystal champagne glasses, 350 liquor and wine bottles and $489 worth of dog food).

Here’s how the son and namesake of Mandel’s temporary successor, Acting Gov. Blair Lee III, recently described the appearance of the mansion’s private quarters after Marvin and Jeanne departed — “our family moved into the Governor’s Mansion and found it stripped bare. . .  the Mandels even took the frozen food and the fire wood!”

After the 1978 elections, Mandel tried to make amends with a check for $3,187, but Gov. Harry Hughes refused to accept it. A five-year legal battle ensued with Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs writing a 327-page report on Mandel’s moving-van loot.

Eventually, Marvin and Jeanne Mandel forked over $10,000 — more than triple what he had originally offered to pay.

According to O’Malley, though, two historic door panels taken by the Mandels remain missing.

Is any of this kosher? That’s the key question.

Technically, the sales violate government policy about not giving state employees preferential treatment.

But the Ehrlichs, the O’Malleys and the Mandels were just barely government officials at the time they paid for state furnishings their family had used in the mansion.

For instance, the appraisal of furniture O’Malley wanted to purchase was made the day the family moved out of the mansion and just six days before O’Malley became a private citizen. Mandel had been convicted and legally removed from office when his moving van pulled away from the mansion.

It’s a grey area in need of clarification.

The State Ethics Commission might provide Hogan with some guidance, but departing governors don’t easily fit under regulations covering state employees. For one thing, they are constitutionally elected officers and exempt from ethics commission rulings.

At the least, common courtesy should have been in play.

O’Malley needed to ask Hogan if it would be OK to buy items in the mansion’s private quarters. Ehrlich should have done the same with O’Malley. Mandel should have requested approval from Acting Governor Lee.

It’s a minor brouhaha reporters are exploiting as though it were an armored-car heist.

The Board of Public Works should establish a new policy: If about-to-become ex-governors wish to buy used private-quarters furniture, the stuff must be appraised by private-sector professionals and the incoming governor must formally approve.

That would clarify matters and set in place a procedure for future ex-governors, which one day will include Hogan.

Iran Odd Couple

Who would have guessed that in the Maryland congressional delegation, just two members would come out in opposition to the president’s Iran nuclear deal, and that they would be polar opposites.

Liberal Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin has linked arms with ultra-conservative Republican Rep. Andy Harris to say “no” to the president’s negotiated agreement to slow, if not block, Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.

It may be the first and last time this odd couple sings from the same hymn book on a major, highly politicized issue.

Harris’ opposition was expected. He’s a knee-jerk, anti-Obama, anti-Democratic politician. If the president says the sky is blue, Harris sees grey skies.

Cardin, though, is a left-leaning Democratic loyalist. This time, he was under enormous pressure from Jewish lobbying groups in Maryland, especially within his own synagogue. He’s also up for reelection soon, which played into his thinking.

It also helped that his vote wasn’t needed to ensure that Democrats blocked Congress from rejecting the Iran accord.

Still, it’s rare when Harris and Cardin have something in common. Voters on both extremes of the political spectrum might find this Iran union hard to stomach.

Mandel Miscellany

Readers responded mainly with positive reviews of the two-part assessment of the late Governor Mandel. Here is a sampling:

Gov. Marvin Mandel

Former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel

Blair Lee IV (now a resident of Hilton Head, S.C.): “a wonderful trip down memory lane.”

Former Baltimore Sun reporter Bob Erlandson:  “That’s as good a concise exposition of the Mandel case as there could be. It’s been so long that I’ve forgotten many of the details you wrote. Very well done!!”

Attorney and former Assistant Attorney General Tom Lingan: “Congratulations on finally setting the record straight. I believe you captured well the ambiguity of Governor Mandel which was lost in the deification following his passing. There are still a few of us around who remember.  Thanks for not giving him a pass.”

Attorney and Lobbyist Bruce Bereano: “You really should be ashamed of yourself that at Governor Mandel’s passing you wrote such an unnecessary, nasty and despicable piece in your Part 2 of the Mandel legacy. The sad thing is that you have no shame and you have no [conscience] about this.”

Former Sun reporter and Care First executive Jeff Valentine: “This was the best explanation of that convoluted transaction that I ever read. For the first time, I understand what happened.”

Former environmental lobbyist Ajax Eastman: “You really covered the essence of the man, the good and the bad in depth. Thanks.”

Former Sun reporter Skip Isaacs: “The two Mandel columns were terrific. I knew him much better as speaker than governor, but the contradictions you describe sound exactly right to me.”

Former television reporter Patrick McGrath: “Mandel’s extraordinary achievements that you reminded us of in the first piece, contrasted with the details of his downfall in the second piece  . . . paint a truly balanced picture of the complicated man.”

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MD’s Quarter-Billion Dollar Healthcare Fiasco

By Barry Rascovar

Feb. 16, 2014 — ACCOUNTABILITY is sorely lacking when it comes to Maryland’s botched rollout of Obamacare. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown  is nowhere to be found when tough questions are asked. Gov. Martin O’Malley deflects “who’s at fault” inquiries, focusing instead on getting the deeply flawed software partly operable.

The computer system’s main contractor, Noridian Healthcare Solutions, blames its prime subcontractor, who in turn accuses Noridian — a healthcare services company, not an IT firm — of incompetence and conning the state. Given that Noridian has received $65 million to construct a failed system, the subcontractor may have a point.

No Probe Planned

Perhaps Health Secretary Josh Sharfstein will decide in April or May to pull the plug on this IT horror show and start all over with a proven system from another state or join the federal healthcare sign-up exchange. That will cost a pretty penny.

But no one seems in a hurry to find out who screwed up.

Governor O'Malley explains IT fixes to Maryland's healthcare rollout.

Governor O’Malley explains IT fixes to Maryland’s healthcare computer rollout.

Democratic state lawmakers have put off till the summer a Department of Legislative Services analysis of what went wrong. That fits nicely with their support of Brown’s campaign to succeed O’Malley. It will be a long time after the June 24 primary before that DLS report surfaces.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Those same lawmakers tried to ignore the ongoing scandal during the current General Assembly session, but public pressure led to a series of hearings that deal with fixing the system rather than assessing blame. This helps Brown immensely, since he’s most likely to be fingered as the state official who was asleep at the switch.

First District Rep. Andy Harris wants the Department of Health and Human Services to probe Maryland’s waste of a quarter-billion federal dollars on a nearly inoperable system but that’s a political stunt by a tea party Republican who is becoming a nattering nabob of negativism.

U.S. Rep. Andy Harris

U.S. Rep. Andy Harris

Meanwhile, the O’Malley-Brown healthcare exchange continues to limp along with 29,000 Marylanders enrolled in private health plans — just one-sixth of the way to Brown’s previously stated goal of 180,000 and one-fifth of the way toward O’Malley’s 150,000 sign-up goal.

It’s a mess, the worst waste of taxpayer dollars in memory. Yet no one is launching a probe. It’s all being handled with kid gloves and diplomacy so as not to hurt Brown’s election bid or O’Malley’s longshot run for the White House.

Impartial Report

What’s needed is the equivalent of the Preston Report. Back in 1985, Maryland suffered a calamitous collapse of its privately insured savings and loan industry. It cost the state and S&L depositors hundreds of millions of dollars.

Gov. Harry Hughes and lawmakers created the Office of Special Counsel to probe “all aspects of the events” leading up to the S&L crisis. A prestigious Baltimore attorney, Wilbur (Woody) Preston, and a small team of his associates produced a package of legislative reforms and a 450-page report that detailed what went wrong and why. It was a honest and thorough assessment.

Special Counsel Wilbur Preston delivers his S&L report in 1986 (Baltimore Sun)

Special Counsel Wilbur Preston delivers his S&L report in 1986 (Baltimore Sun)

That’s what’s required now — an impartial dissection of this costly embarrassment by someone willing to lay out the facts without worrying about whether the blame falls on the lieutenant governor, the governor, the health secretary or the IT vendors.

How much of the blame belongs to O’Malley, who ultimately is responsible for what goes on in his administration? This was, after all, the most important initiative the state has undertaken in ages.

How much of the blame for this healthcare fiasco sits on Brown’s shoulders?

e’s made a big deal of his leadership on this reform, though he’s recently tried to weasel out by claiming he was only in charge of the legislation (also severely flawed) setting up the exchange.

Brown clearly was a figurehead leader — a general who showed up for the public meetings but left everything to his underlings. Even when he said he learned of the computer snafus, he apparently failed to sound the alarm.

Bleak Outlook  

Since Democratic lawmakers aren’t willing to ask the tough questions before the gubernatorial primary, and the governor has shown no eagerness to create a special panel to probe this scandal, we may never learn enough to reach a conclusion.

Even the DLS report is likely to be scrubbed of any finger-pointing at state leaders. That’s especially true if Brown wins the June 24 Democratic primary. Top Democrats in the legislature will circle the protective wagons around the presumptive governor.

What a mess.

We will glean quite a bit about the exchange’s IT failures from the competing lawsuits filed by Noridian and its prime subcontractor, EngagePoint. But that won’t lift the fog surrounding actions of healthcare exchange leaders, the governor and the lieutenant governor.

Sadly, this is one mystery that may never be solved.