Saturday, March 28, 2015

An Early “First 120 Days” Update

A long-time reader passed along two recent “First 100 Days” news articles. One was focused on Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, the other on Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner.  While the former presented a list of hits and misses, the latter tended to be a rather glowing review.  Captain Incremental vs. Action Executive. 

Recognizing that media coverage and reality don’t always align perfectly, and that the pieces were quite different in structure, length, and tone, there were some notable themes that emerged in the Kittleman piece:

Thus far, Kittleman seems to be practicing the politics of articulation.  He recognizes the fundamental resiliency of the Ulman Administration, and the electoral realities of Howard County.  This means tempering conservative instincts with moves with populist appeal (the sugar water order) and/or “good-government” technocratic initiatives (flood mitigation program funding).*

Of course, there have been missteps. 

Kittleman appears to be engaged in a modified waffle when it comes to his communications efforts relating to the storm-water fee…vocal in opposition to it when in Annapolis, more willing to articulate a nuanced wait-and-see-what-can-be-done-about-it stance when in HoCo.  Perhaps it is a question of time, place, and manner but he isn’t exactly elevating his leadership profile on this issue.

And while every CE is, and should be, empowered to bring in their own team, he might have ousted too much institutional memory and experienced talent from the previous Administration too quickly. 

His proposed reorganization of the Human Rights Commission seems to have been handled clumsily, as a rush to act resulted in the failure to obtain input from some key stakeholders.  This, in turn, led to the County Council tabling his bill. Not a shining moment for a new Administration that pledged to emphasize collaboration.

Over the next four years (minus @ 120 days), it will be interesting to see how his right-of-center ideological predilections manifest themselves in terms of policy.   Will he attempt to shift to the center and triangulate between a Democratic-majority Council and his Tea Party friends? Would voters perceive such an approach as Authentic Kittleman or merely calculated political positioning? Will his support of Governor Hogan tarnish his brand?  Where is La Isla Bonita? 

Too many unknowns at this point, but we will all have a much better sense of the answer to the question, “Who is the Real Allan Kittleman?” by 2018.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.    

* In a conciliatory state of mind, this author feels compelled to acknowledge that he supports the two specific actions mentioned in that sentence.  The time is now 4:33 in the a.m. and you are watching “Perspectives” with your host, Lionel Osbourne. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Waxing Crescent

The plan outline for Parcel A of Columbia’s Crescent property (the patch of land located near the corner of Little Patuxent and Broken Land; north and west of Merriweather) has been unveiled, via renderings, by Howard Hughes.  News coverage can be found here.
Overall, I am encouraged by the proposals.  There is a commitment to reforestation in the general vicinity, which is very important.  I have seen developments (Alexandria, Virginia’s West End comes to mind readily) where little to no attempt was made to restore the natural beauty of the lands surrounding new multi-story buildings.  The Crescent plans appear to be consistent with Columbia’s values, of finding a way to create something that exists harmoniously within the larger environment.   

Will that particular swath of Columbia be recognizable in 2020?  No but that is a good thing. While some might wax nostalgic for a certain time and place, there is a way to move forward that is far more beneficial to our residents and those who visit our community. 

For example, while the Wilde Lake Village Center looks much different than it did a few years back, the ongoing revitalization effort is producing a development that still retains a Wilde Lake-ness; a familiar and improved village center that will attract more residents, businesses and customers.  To not embrace change would have resulted in continued decline, followed by a failed center. Foresight, a thoughtful and respectful vision, and hard work are helping recreate Wilde Lake…and it seems as though the same general approach is guiding the process for that which will become Columbia’s Crescent neighborhood.  At least I hope that is, and will remain, the case.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Vital Neighborhoods

The Mrs. and I are considering moving into another house.  We would very much like to remain Wilde Lake residents.  The challenge, our village’s housing stock being what it is, is that a sizable percentage of the potential options on the market could use some upgrades.  There are fantastic properties in great neighborhoods, but some home improvement investments would be required.

This is not merely the whinging of one prospective buyer.  It reflects a broader problem. Columbia’s older villages include many such properties and those sellers are at a competitive disadvantage compared to those who reside in villages and other communities with newer housing.  It makes it more difficult for sellers to move their properties, and thus creates obstacles for new families who wish to move into established neighborhoods.  This, in turn, impacts our tax base, our schools, local traffic patterns, etc…

Which is why it is unfortunate that Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman opted to hold back $2 million in funding for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.  This program is designed to help buyers make improvements in houses that need them.  By making such upgrades, property values are enhanced, which grows our tax base.  It allows sellers in older communities to compete on a more level playing field.  And it provides another mechanism to bring new life into our older villages. 

Dr. Calvin Ball, Howard County Councilman, recognized the need for such incentives to keep our neighborhoods vibrant, and worked collaboratively with the Council and previous Administration to create such a program for Howard County.

At best, Kittleman’s decision could be described as “penny wise, pound foolish.”  The reality is that this attempt at fiscal prudence, this nod in the direction of austerity, is extremely short-sighted and will end up costing Howard County far more than the $2 million dollar investment.  It is already more than $2 million.  As the Department of Housing and Community Development Director’s Report from August 2014 notes, with a $2 million dollar County appropriation, “it is anticipated that this level of funding will be sufficient to induce a private lender or lenders to contribute loan funds of as much as $20 million to the loan program.”  That is a great deal of revitalization money that has been taken off the tables of many would-be local homebuyers.  

Efforts to assist in the renewal of our established communities should not be hindered.  I believe that the funding should be restored for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.  If you believe likewise, perhaps it is time to reach out to your County Councilperson and County Executive Kittleman.  Let them know what you think.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Senate & House (Buddy Cop Show?)

Back from strolling around New York City on what appears to be a wintry December afternoon.  Yet the calendar reveals that it is March…it is hard to believe that Lá Fhéile Pádraig is a mere 12 days away.

In light of the fast moving political developments back home, I thought I would check out the must-read blogs, which of course includes The 53. 

Whilst reading The Cummings Path (note: Ludlum title alert), I noticed a reference to one of my latest posts, “Sparty sez that there should be a Howard County connection to our next US Senator.” 

I would say that “could be” is more in line with my current thinking.  The fields are evolving.  Many players are in deep deliberation mode. I don’t have favorites. Not yet. Not for the U.S. Senate seat, not for the 8th Congressional District, not for any other open seat – at whatever level – that might arise as a result of Senator Mikulski’s decision to not seek re-election.

As a general preference, I would like to see a candidate with a Howard County connection in the U.S. Senate field, which could include one (or more) of the five that I singled out, and/or one (or more) of the three U.S. Representatives with HoCo constituents.   Bear in mind that I enjoy multi-candidate primaries that feature several serious contenders.

I would imagine there are a fair number of progressives who would like to have an open and candid discussion regarding the Democratic Party’s vision and values.  Who knows, this might not occur in the presidential primary this cycle. I hope it does, but that remains to be seen.  So I would definitely favor a U.S. Senate primary in Maryland that allows for such a conversation.

If the Seventh Congressional District were to be an open seat in the 2016 cycle, well, that could be a fascinating opportunity for some local politicos.  We can talk about such a campaign at the appropriate time.

In the meantime, I look forward to the announcements that are certain to be made in the days and weeks ahead.  

Cassie Senate and Rebecca House.  Set in ‘70s Cleveland.  Might be time to work up a spec script.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Senator from Howard County?

I had planned on writing an article entitled “Lurching Towards Decrepitude” but it was about my 2001 Honda. 

Senator Barbara Mikulski is undeniably made of far sterner stuff.

Mikulski has been raising principled heck for decades.  She has entered the pantheon of Maryland institutions.  Elected and returned to the U.S. Senate five times by the voters, she has served the nation and state honorably.  While her vim clearly remains of the high-octane variety, she knew when it was time to begin the denouement.  Nicely done, Senator.

Over the coming days and weeks, there will be numerous pieces that extol – in detail – her considerable legislative accomplishments, trailblazing career, impact on American politics, etc…

There will also be many articles evaluating potential successors, both Democrats and Republicans, with the latter considering the opportunities for an upset of even greater proportions than the Hogan 2014 victory.  There will be plenty of occasions to read and ponder wisdom – conventional and otherwise.

I will turn my attention, today, to Howard County.  I believe our talent-rich corner of Maryland has, within its borders, multiple potential 2016 U.S. Senate candidates.  And no, I am not referring to the obvious possible contenders who represent parts of our County in the United States Congress…Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, and Elijah Cummings.   The five I have in mind all reside in HoCo and include three Democrats and two Republicans. 

In no particular order, they are:

Former County Executive Ken Ulman.  A CE whose term of office was so productive that both of the candidates who ran to succeed him pledged to “continue the progress” made in Howard County over the past several years.  That is quite the testament to his record.  And while he is not universally loved throughout the land, he is widely respected.  He was a solid LG candidate in a tough election cycle and would be formidable as a statewide candidate at the helm of his own campaign. 

State Senator Guy Guzzone.  A thoughtful policy wonk, he has made his mark in local and state government.  While Ulman has more of a hard-charging approach, Guzzone’s more affable style could be an even greater plus with voters across the whole of Maryland.   Given that he has just been elected to the State Senate, the question remains if he, at this juncture, would want to shift from Annapolis to Washington D.C.

Former County Councilmember Courtney Watson.  A dedicated public servant with a solid resume for higher office, she encountered decidedly unfavorable political winds in 2014.   That said, Watson demonstrated an admirable tenacity and, importantly, impressive fundraising abilities. Like Guzzone, she would have to be considered a relative long-shot for the nomination, but she has the skills to be a fine U.S. Senator.

County Executive Allan Kittleman.  In all likelihood, he would be the Maryland Republican with the best profile for a statewide effort in ‘16.  One would have to assume Kittleman will be focused on his current job, with an eye on a re-election bid in 2018, but the National Republican Senatorial Committee and other heavy-hitting GOPers might push for him to consider the open seat…if they truly believe that Maryland could be competitive in a presidential election year (an unlikely proposition). 

Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford.  Why not?  He was a decent LG candidate with non-shabby credentials in the public and private sectors.   The Republicans could certainly field far worse candidates than Rutherford. Put that on a bumper sticker.

Am I omitting the names of a couple of accomplished Howard County individuals who could run a credible campaign for the United States Senate?  Sure.  Why? Because some are wrapping up their careers in public service while others appear to be quite focused on other offices, challenges and/or pursuits.  

Stay tuned, as more will follow.