Robed and Ready: Sitting judges get elected the easy way

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, June 26, 2002

Given the rough-and-tumble nature of job security in elected office, incumbent politicians spend much time and energy crafting strategies for winning elections. Here’s a nearly foolproof scenario: Run on a well-financed slate of incumbents filing in both parties’ primaries, all but guaranteeing slots on the general-election ballot should a challenger emerge. That’s what Baltimore’s sitting Circuit Court judges do, and it’s worked for a generation now. Voters haven’t sent a new judge to the bench since 1982, when they chose Kenneth Lavon Johnson, now retired.

This time, barring an unforeseen challenge mounted before the July 1 filing deadline, five of the court’s 30 judges are running together in an uncontested race. Four of the candidates–Shirley Watts, John Glynn, Lynn Stewart, and John Miller–were appointed to the Circuit Court by the Gov. Parris Glendening within the last 16 months. The fifth, Clifton Gordy, has held his seat since 1985. Judges serve 15-year terms after running in the first election after their initial appointments.

As of last November’s campaign-finance report (the latest available), the Baltimore City Sitting Judges Committee had spent about $60,000 of roughly $105,000 it has raised for this election. The judges themselves aren’t involved in the committee’s activities, says campaign chairperson H. Mark Stichel, a private attorney. But the committee engages in the standard electoral fare, with a couple of twists: Almost all of its money comes from lawyers who appear before the bench, and the judges themselves don’t usually hit the campaign trail.

It’s a “difficult issue,” Stichel acknowledges of the money ties between the bar and the bench, but he maintains that contributing to the committee rather than directly to a particular judge “creates a buffer” that lessens the obvious conflict. Better yet, says James Browning, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause Maryland, would be some form of public financing for judicial elections.

The current system “impugns the independence of the court and gives the appearance that a verdict can be bought,” Browning says. Public financing would relieve the judges committee from having to raise funds from lawyers, he says, and “would go a long way toward shoring up public confidence” in the way money enters judges races. The change would have to be approved by the state legislature, and there are currently no such proposals pending, Browning says.

The judicial code of conduct limits what judges can say in public, so stumping for office is a dull affair. “It’s really hard to say anything that’s meaningful,” Stichel says. “There’s not much a judge can promise” to do if elected. The judges, he adds, “are not used to campaigning” and are “not comfortable doing it.”

Stichel–noting that he is speaking strictly for himself–says he believes judges shouldn’t be directly elected at all. For example, judges could be appointed to lifetime terms, subject to legislative approval; come up for gubernatorial reappointment at the end of set terms; or subjected to retention elections, in which voters would choose only whether a sitting judge should stay on the bench. But given the current system, the judges have to have someone–in this case, Stichel and committee treasurer Frederick Koontz–to “do the fund-raising and help the judges get over the process of having to run for election,” Stichel says.

Most lawyers and law firms listed in the committee’s campaign-finance report donated from $100 to $500, with a few giving $1,000. “It’s pretty much just lawyers giving,” Stichel says, with the rest coming from people with “pre-existing relationships” with a judge–“personal friends and relatives.” The two biggest contributors to this year’s campaign are Finn Casperson, a New Jersey corporate executive with strong ties to Johns Hopkins University, who gave $4,000, and La-Van Hawkins, a politically active fast-food magnate with significant interests in urban areas, including Baltimore ($3,000).

On the spending side, the committee holds fund-raisers, buys campaign advertising, and sprinkles a selection of politicians and pet causes with contributions. It’s your standard Baltimore campaign effort, right down to using the proper printer: Bromwell Press, a company owned by retiring Baltimore County state Sen. Thomas Bromwell’s cousin.

Perhaps the most unconventional aspect of the judges’ approach to elections, though, is the practice of cross-filing–running in both parties’ primaries. “The theory is that the judges are not supposed to be partisan,” Stichel explains, so they participate in both elections rather than choose one party or the other. There also is a practical element to the strategy, he says: “It’s an insurance policy to get all of the sitting judges to the general election.” If they lose in one party’s primary, they can still win the other’s and make the November ballot.

While the sitting judges usually ease quietly to re-election, an element of public critique occasionally creeps into the process. In 1998, city prosecutor Page Croyder entered the race at the last minute and lambasted the judges’ slate, saying not all of the nine jurists running together deserved another term on the bench. Croyder lost, extending a now-20-year drought for challengers seeking to oust Baltimore judges at the polls. But Stichel says that historically the periodic challenges have helped create a more racially diverse judiciary.

“There’s no question about it, judicial elections are good” for diversifying the bench, says Arthur Murphy, a political consultant and 1998 candidate for clerk of the Circuit Court and the son and brother of African-American attorneys who became judges by challenging the incumbents. (Murphy does note that minority appointments have been stepped up on recent years, adding, “Glendening has been busy.”) Hence the outcry that has kept judicial elections intact through periodic efforts to change the system, the most significant in recent years coming in 1996, when a legislative commission proposed abandoning them.

“If they talk about taking politics out of the judicial process,” Murphy says, “they can kiss my ass.”

Making a Magnet: Baltimore’s Fledgling High-Tech Community May Be the Key to Rebuilding the City and Slowing Sprawl

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Sept. 1, 1999

Vice president Al Gore calls it “Building Livable Communities.” Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening calls its “Smart Growth.” But the two Democrats are talking about the same thing: Public policies that emphasize new investment in existing communities rather than in the fast-expanding fringe of metropolitan areas. Opponents say this idea is a Trojan horse for bigger government, but the goal is something many voters support strongly — slowing the spread of what both Gore and Glendening call a “monster”: suburban sprawl.

The vice president and the governor share another prescription for promoting a healthy, balanced economy. Gore’s slogan is “building American prosperity in the Information Age”; Glendening calls it “Maryland’s technology revolution.” Both want to encourage continued expansion of an industry that has spurred an unprecedented creation of wealth in America during the 1990s: high technology, that broad area of economic activity that seeks to harness the fruits of the scientific frontier for commercial use. High-tech is the potent heart of what many have come to call “the new economy.”

What neither leader explicitly acknowledges is that sprawl and the new economy are closely linked — a point first made by Fred Siegel, a history professor and urbanologist at the New York college Cooper Union. (The author of this article worked for Siegel as a researcher earlier this year.) The phenomenal expansion of the suburbs in recent years has been fueled first and foremost by the technology boom. The challenge, if the state and the nation are going to beat back sprawl and encourage the technology revolution, is to induce the new economy to choose cities and older suburbs over the green, cheap fields of exurbia.

That won’t be easy, but there are hints that it may already be happening — albeit in a limited fashion — in Baltimore. Some boosters are touting the city as a budding magnet for the fast-growing, fast-moving high-tech sector, particularly for that corner known as “new media,” which focuses on advertising, selling, and communicating through computers.

Available data about high-tech jobs and businesses show that Baltimore City’s participation in the new economy is lagging significantly behind that of the surrounding counties, where sprawl has become a critical issue. Despite the presence of big medical-research institutions (Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland), which traditionally spin off biotechnology start-ups, the city’s high-tech numbers don’t measure up to those of its neighbors, according to data from state agencies.

But in the fast-moving world of the Information Age, data tends to lag behind reality. A look around the city quickly makes clear that Baltimore is home to a growing and largely unnoticed high-tech sector — not just biotechnology, which the city is already known for, but information and computer technology. The Can Company in Canton, the Bagby Building in Little Italy, and even the Inner Harbor’s Power Plant are home to new or expanding high-tech ventures — evidence that tech types like working in funkily rehabbed industrial artifacts. And Baltimore has plenty of those.

Inner Harbor East and another planned development at a defunct Proctor & Gamble plant in Locust Point are expected to draw more technology tenants to the city. Some business leaders predict that the controversial west-side redevelopment project will also draw high-tech investment that could preserve some of the historic structures currently at risk of being demolished.

To lend techies a sense of community — considered to be of supreme importance in any technology-savvy economic-development strategy — the regional business group the Greater Baltimore Committee spun off a new organization earlier this year: the Greater Baltimore Technology Council, headed by Penny Lewandowski, an exuberant veteran of Washington, D.C.’s successful tech-promotion effort.

Before anyone gets too excited about Baltimore’s high-tech future and making sprawl a thing of the past, it’s important to examine the obstacles — and some unpredictable factors that come into play. Even if individuals and tech enterprises pondering Baltimore overlook the city’s crime statistics and social ills, they still face a labor force ill-prepared to meet the demands of technology jobs. Then there is the issue of regionalism: Baltimore will be competing with surrounding jurisdictions trying to attract companies, and the ‘burbs have more attractive tax structures and more available land to explore for locations. Finally, there are unforeseen circumstances — such as the current drought, which is already causing farmers to put their land on the market for development (and hence sprawl), and the possibility of a downturn in the business cycle, which would lead to economic contraction and less investment everywhere.

Such pitfalls notwithstanding, Smart Growth and high-tech are high priorities in Maryland and on the presidential-campaign trail, and voters and business leaders alike are going to be hearing more and more about them. For Baltimore City, which has failed to hitch its wagon to the economic gravy train that’s been rolling across the country and the region during the last several years, this strategy may be the last chance to rebound for a long time to come. “Shame on us,” developer William Struever says, “if we don’t all come together and recognize this opportunity.”
In June, the Home Builders of Maryland held a conference at the Columbia Hilton to discuss Smart Growth. The keynote speaker was Joel Kotkin, a professor of public policy at Pepperdine University in Southern California and an energetic student of what makes cities tick. Kotkin wholeheartedly embraces the idea that the market, not government, is the best arbiter of prickly issues such as suburban sprawl. The key, he suggests, is to bring cities such as Baltimore back to life, make them competitive in ways that will attract new people and businesses, and let market preferences take care of tempering runaway sprawl.

Home builders and other developers tend to quake at the mention of sprawl. The issue has them in a bind. They claim to be chasing the demand for more and more space farther and farther from urban centers, but the constituency the developers say they are trying to serve has grown resentful of the bulldozers clearing open land and replacing it with cookie-cutter tract housing, office parks, malls, and parking lots. Sprawl was created by suburban migration, but increasingly the migrants are saying enough is enough, as the traffic congestion, pollution, crowded schools, and social ills they left the city to escape have followed them outward. Environmentalists, with good reason, see sprawl’s effects in the poor health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Kotkin’s audience of developers smells the threat of land-use regulation in all the anti-sprawl talk, but they also sense a market-based demand for a fundamental change in the way development is done, and they know the writing is on the wall. “We have to look at the market,” Kotkin tells them. “We have to look at the competition between different kinds of areas as our best way of dealing with the sprawl issue and the growth-management issue.”

In the face of conventional wisdom that the suburbs and exurbs, with their plentiful land, are ground zero for development, Kotkin says cities such as Baltimore have some advantages that can help them compete.

What helped give the suburbs an edge in the first place — what created “the economic conditions for sprawl,” in Kotkin’s words — was the shift to “a knowledge-based society. . . . Knowledge is the primary resource and the traditional factors of production are no longer tied to particular places” — places with a certain kind of infrastructure, or accessibility to a port or raw materials. This new reality created what Kotkin calls “nerdistans: places where nerds like to live. A nerdistan is generally in the outer fringes, and high-tech companies generally are going to go to the nerdistans.”

But high-tech isn’t exclusively attracted to nerdistans, Kotkin continues. “Cities do have a niche in the new economy, [attracting] the group where the single largest disadvantage of cities — the education system — doesn’t matter. Single people, gay, double-income-no-children, empty nesters, Generation Y, the yuppies — these are groups that are increasing in population. One-third of the baby-boomer generation is single, childless, or only has one child. That’s going to be a major factor as we start to see fewer and fewer people who have to live in the suburbs because of family reasons . . . and start to see resettlement of the downtowns. It’s the beginning of a new urban demographic.”

On top of that, Kotkin says, Baltimore has one of the characteristics the new urbanists are looking for: old urban settings. “Baltimore has the environment, it has the architecture, it has the kind of vistas, the kind of cultural institutions which are going to attract them.”

In this light, he says, the question becomes, “What part of this new economy makes sense for Baltimore to go after?” The answer, he suggests, is the so-called “new media” — people focused on harnessing computer technology and the Internet to expand and improve communication and the flow of information, such as Web-site designers and online publishers. The new-media industry is growing, Kotkin says, “and that growth tends toward the cities. It attracts younger people, freelancers, the creatives. They don’t like the very things that the nerds like. The chaos and excitement of the cities attracts the creatives.

“So this is really where I see the future of the cities going, and we might see a much more appropriate dispersion of growth as a result — that kind of strong headlocking of competition [between cities and suburbs] that will see the new economy allocate resources and will make growth take place quite differently than we’ve seen in the last 20 years.”
If any one company in Baltimore typifies the local potential of the high-tech media industry, it is Gr8. Headed by Craig Ziegler, an exuberant businessman whose excitement about the prospects of his industry in Baltimore borders on mania, Gr8 has grown from about 20 employees to close to 100 since its move to the Can Company building last year. He expects to need another 300 or more staffers in the next few years to meet the demand for his services, which include Web-page design, Internet advertising, and other creative computer consulting.

Ziegler is concerned that Baltimore is selling itself short, failing to maximize its potential. “As a combined unit, Baltimore and Washington is the fourth largest in regards to size in the advertising and new-media arena,” he says. “That’s huge. Do we capitalize on it? Not at all. Baltimore needs to start informing people that this market exists here. Go to any one of the outside areas in New York or L.A. or San Francisco, and people say, ‘Baltimore? What’s Baltimore doing in high-tech? They are institutional. They are the biotechs. But they are not creative media.’ We are not on anybody’s radar screen. This community has to come together to rewrite the moniker that we’ve all been stuck with: ‘What the hell’s in Baltimore?'”

The answer to that question may be: not much now, but more and more, sooner and sooner. William Struever — whose firm, Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, increasingly specializes in adapting older buildings for high-tech uses — has perhaps the best sense of what’s here and what’s coming in terms of new media. He says he first noticed the new-media and computer- and info-tech trend in cities a few years ago as he traveled to different urban areas around the country.

“Computer-tech, info-tech is much faster growing than biotech,” Struever says, “and I think on a long-term basis it is much more likely to deliver the wealth and jobs and business development that we are looking for. . . .

“It’s all about having the right idea and making the right alliances and having the right funding to be able to go fast and take advantage of an opportunity,” he continues. “Baltimore’s going to be a central place for Web-page design and e-commerce and a whole bunch of tech stuff, not just with Gr8 but these other businesses.” He cites Sylvan Learning, Caliber, Eisner & Associates, e.magination — new or established businesses in Baltimore that are entering the Internet and electronic-commerce markets.

Ziegler says new-media companies bring with them a certain breed of entrepreneurs and employees who can transform city neighborhoods. “We have the ability to attract not blue-collar, but fairly well-educated white-collar young professionals that are city dwellers,” he says. “You look at the numbers that have been declining in regards to people moving outside the city into the suburbs — it is staggering. And you look at the neighborhoods that are starting to become rundown. And then you look at what happened in Canton. This was a very undesirable area for quite a while. [The Can Company] and some of the other projects up and down the strip here have revitalized this entire area in a very short period of time. I mean, that’s staggering. And there’s a lot of technology focus down here.”

Another boost new media can bring to the city is exposure, Ziegler says. “I can’t tell you how many CEOs and presidents from major companies have come through my office space, which means they come through Baltimore. They’ve never been to Baltimore. ‘What a lovely city,’ they say. I mean, I hear some comments I’m sure the mayor would just love to suck up. You can’t pay for that kind of exposure.”

Ziegler plans to grow Gr8 through acquisitions and other expansion, but he is also starting new ventures such as Guest Tech, which is obtaining contracts with hotel companies to install computer hook-ups in hotel rooms.

“According to the analysts,” he says with heated excitement, “we will be the number-five player in terms of size, worldwide, in the new-media space once we get through this next move. Number five. And we’re in Baltimore. If that’s not newsworthy I don’t know what the hell is. Have I talked to the mayor’s office yet? No. Have I ever gotten any tax incentives? No. Did I get any help? Not that I’m aware of. What we have is a major ability to attract world-class customers and world-class talent. And with the help of the city, I think we can build it — we are going to build it with or without them, by the way, but having their help would sure be nice — because the market is just so fertile.”
What Ziegler and Struever are up to dovetails perfectly with Al Gore’s and Parris Glendening’s agenda: combating sprawl by revitalizing cities through high technology. And it is in keeping with Kotkin’s philosophy of achieving economic outcomes through market decisions rather than government programs. But as the authority that still has ultimate say over how land can be used, government can and will have a significant role.

Ron Young, the deputy director of the state Office of Planning and a former mayor of Frederick, was appointed by the governor to chair the Smart Growth and Neighborhood Conservation Coordinating Subcommittee, which grew out of the Smart Growth legislation passed by the General Assembly in 1997. High-tech “certainly is an expanding area of the economy in Maryland,” Young says, and Smart Growth “is about bringing all of that into established areas. The market forces are there. But we need to have the right public policies to turn the incentives back into these established areas, just as we incentivized moving out [to the suburbs] with poor public policies for years.”

For generations now, as Glendening said when he rolled out his Smart Growth proposal in 1996, “sprawl has been supported by an avalanche of federal, state, and county policies.” School-funding formulas, road-focused transportation spending, and other policies sped the spread to the suburbs. Gore, speaking last fall before the Brookings Institution, a think-tank in Washington, D.C., cited “federal subsidies [that] actually gave handsome financial rewards to communities to extend sewage lines far out into undeveloped areas . . . [and] gave employers big subsidies to offer parking spaces to their employees, but much less help if they wanted to help cover their employees’ mass-transit costs.”

As a key implementer of Maryland’s program to reverse these kinds of sprawl-inducing incentives, it’s part of Young’s job to be bullish on Baltimore’s high-tech potential. But he can cite the specific conditions behind the optimism. For start-up companies, he says, “there is a realization that there’s an availability of reasonable space, reasonable price, and a good standard of living there, and quite often these companies are young people who have discovered cities.” Approximately 60 percent of Maryland adults, he adds, are “empty nesters,” people with no children or none living with them. “So when you look at what the city has to offer, everything is there if a few issues are addressed to bring people back in. The state needs to show people those opportunities, and give them incentives to do it. So, yes, I could very easily see a major boom in Baltimore.”

The Smart Growth program is essentially an attempt to use government funds and policies to change investment behavior and direct development to cities and older suburbs. It has three main components. First, it establishes seven “Priority Funding Areas” — already developed areas (including Baltimore City and the suburbs inside the Baltimore Beltway) — outside of which state investment in growth-related projects is, to quote the statute, “generally prohibited.” Thus, Baltimore will get preferential treatment in state funding for roads, sewers, housing, and other investments in economic growth. Second, the “Rural Legacy” program is designed to fund state acquisition of farms, forests, or natural-resource lands to protect them from future development — sending the market elsewhere for future investment. Finally, there is the “Brownfields” program, which uses incentives to encourage cleanup and reuse of abandoned industrial lands that may be contaminated, many of which are found in the city.

Barriers to the program’s success remain, including circumstances not foreseen when the state legislature debated it last year. The drought has exacerbated financial problems already plaguing Maryland farmers, prompting some to sell off their land, most likely to developers who want to put up homes, malls, or office parks.

Another recent and unforeseen wrinkle for Smart Growth was a transportation-planning fiasco uncovered by The Sun. Tens of millions of dollars of federal funds for building new roads in Maryland may be held up because the political leaders in the Baltimore region failed to accurately report the amount of emissions from cars. There is a “silver lining” in this snafu, Young says: Developers might decide that unfunded road projects nix their plans for rural areas and choose to look at established areas that don’t need new transportation infrastructure.

There is also general uncertainty about the economy. The current boom has been going on for about seven years now, fueled in recent years by what Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan calls “irrational exuberance” in the marketplace, particularly over Internet companies. The Federal Reserve has been bumping interest rates slowly upward to try to cool down the hot times, but at some point, many predict, an economic downturn will hit. This would slow down not only sprawl, but new investment in Baltimore’s nascent high-tech sector.

“I sweat bullets,” Struever says. “We are all dependent on interest rates and the overall momentum in the economy. Things could go wrong, short term or long term. I think very much the ball game is establishing that the opportunity is here today, and to get us as far along as we possibly can while things are good and interests rates are low.”

Struever’s worries are echoed by M.J. “Jay” Brodie, the head of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city’s quasipublic economic-development arm. “Those of us who have lived through recessions . . . tend to believe that this wonderful economy will not go on forever, not at the present rate. It doesn’t mean there will be a depression, but interest rates will probably creep up a bit, investment may cut back a bit. So while interest rates are low, we want to keep pushing for economic-development investment in Baltimore.”

Finally, licking sprawl in the suburbs and powering a high-tech magnet in the city depends in large part on the success or failure of regional approaches to economic development. The Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC) zealously advocates cooperation across city and county lines, and the idea that a strong urban core is key to the health of the region. But Baltimore’s weaker economic condition makes it difficult for city leaders to establish a strong presence at the regional table.

Donald Hutchinson, the former Baltimore County executive who heads GBC, says that despite its weakened condition, the city is still very much the heart and soul of the region. The city, he says, has to use this psychological advantage to extract agreements from its surrounding counties to share prospects for growth.

“You have to understand that 70 percent of all new growth comes from already existing businesses,” he says. “Only 30 percent is start-ups or pulling some other company from outside into the region. So if 70 percent of the movement is internal within the city and the five surrounding counties, they gotta compete for what’s already here, and that’s where the city gets hurt. And that’s why the city has to establish understandings and relationships.

“If I’m the new mayor,” Hutchinson continues, “the first thing I do is say [to the surrounding counties], ‘It is to your advantage for the city core to be strong. If a corporation is looking to move from the city to the county, you’ve got to give me the courtesy of having the first run. Don’t try to take them from me. Don’t try to compete with me for that business. Now, if they decide that they are going to leave and I’m absolutely convinced that they are going to leave, I, the mayor, will do whatever I need to do to make sure they stay in the region, and I’ll work with you to help create the environment to make sure they stay in the region.’ That’s the leadership that you are going to need. Otherwise, the city will fail if it puts itself into a competitive posture with the counties.”

Ultimately, though, the city’s position as a regional player is only as strong as its economic competitiveness, and the high-tech sector may well be key to securing that strength. The first step to attracting high-tech is recognizing its potential and taking steps to capitalize. That’s where Penny Lewandowski, the head of GBC’s newly formed Greater Baltimore Technology Council, comes in.

“Nobody has a clue that this community is growing and thriving right here in the city,” Lewandowski says. “The feeling is that the city is ignoring the tech community and the tech community really could be a very important part of the city’s economy. We have to find these companies, build a community, figure out how we are going to promote this, push their success stories. But then there’s got to be quid pro quo on the other side. There has to be good office space. Bill Struever is doing his part, but what else is going to happen in the city that makes this happen?”

Gr8’s Craig Ziegler thinks he has the answer. “Baltimore has the ability to become a major player in this market,” he says. “We have to help the local government understand the opportunities of what this emerging market could do, what it means to the economy. And it’s huge. Across the board it is a major topic.

“You got to capitalize on it now, because who knows where it’s going to be a year from now. We got to work on Internet time.”

Governor Next? With the Name, the Money, and the Aura of Virtual Incumbency, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is the Odds-On Favorite to be Elected to the State’s Top Job 12 Months From Now. Or Will She Pull a “Steinberg”?

By Van Smith

Published in Baltimore Magazine, Nov. 2001


Remember Lieutenant Governor Melvin “Mickey” Steinberg? Eight years ago, he was a shoo-in for governor in the 1994 election, the man whose race it was to lose. By the July 1994 filing deadline, Steinberg was already dead in the water. He ended up finishing third in the Democratic primary.

And remember City Council President Lawrence Bell? Three years ago, he was far and away the favorite to win Baltimore’s mayoral election. He, too, collapsed down the stretch and came in a distant third in the primary.

So, sometimes, being the early favorite isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

But don’t tell that to Lieutenant Govenor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. She’s sitting pretty in the polls, has tons of money, and enjoys near-universal name recognition in Maryland. As the daughter of Robert Kennedy, a martyred national icon, she also benefits from a nationwide political organization that isn’t shy about getting more Kennedys elected.

Kennedys know what to do in her situation: Clear the field of all potential rivals. Just impress them right out of the race. And, to date, Townsend’s done just that. No one’s announced they’re running against her.


But there’s plenty of time – and several key people who haven’t taken themselves out of the running. In the general election, U.S. Rep. Robert Ehrlich (2nd District) is the only high-profile Republican to express interest in running for governor.

Three Democratic county executives – Wayne Curry of Prince George’s County, Douglas Duncan of Montgomery County, and C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger of Baltimore County – are regularly mentioned as potential Townsend rivals n the primary, as, increasingly, is Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley. Some of these men have more to lose than others by challenging Townsend, but none of them has explicitly ruled out doing so. They’re keeping us guessing.


No guesswork is needed when it comes to Townsend, though. She has been running for governor for years. The expectation that she’ll be a candidate in 2002 to succeed Parris Glendening has been around since at least 1998, when she was showcased during the campaign to shore up eroding support for the governor’s re-election effort. In recognition of her crucial help, Townsend was given an administrative portfolio that, over the past three years, has strengthened her claim to have executive experience, her network of statewide contacts, and her name recognition. In an open-seat governor’s race such as this, she’s as close to an incumbent as you can get, and the power of incumbency is a proven electoral asset.

Right now, this one-candidate race is a guessing game watched mostly by insiders and political junkies. It’s likely to stay an insiders’ game until early next year, when the Governor hands a new electoral map to the General Assembly. That’s when next year’s prospects for candidates across the state will be altered – including for some who are weighing a challenge against Towsend. The voting public isn’t likely to pay close attention until next spring, as jockeying ahead of the July 1 filing deadline raises the debate to a more fevered pitch.

Between now and then, anything could happen – or nothing could happen. The state’s economy could head south with the nation’s – or not. The new war on terrorism could change the state’s mood from relatively liberal to moderately conservative – or not. A strong new contender could capture the public’s imagination, swinging voters away from the early favorite – or not. Nascent criticism of Townsend – that she’s not enough of a heavyweight for gubernatorial contention, that she’s overprivileged with out-of-state money, that she’s mishandled her key administrative assignments – may get the attention of the public – or not.

Whatever happens, the state’s top job is up for grabs next year, and as lobbyist Bruce Bereano, a longtime insider in Maryland politics, says dryly, “There certainly will be a gubernatorial race. … Any time you have a vacancy because the current office-holder is termed out, you are going to have serious people vying to fill that vacancy. So it’s going to be a very exciting year, a race of national attention – the stakes and the dimensions will be that significant.”


Frederick, Md., is only an hour west of downtown Baltimore, but its politics are light years away. Its soul is more rural than urban, and Republicans rule the roost. Still, Democrat Martin O’Malley, Baltimore’s first-term mayor, got a warm receptiopn there in August when he addressed a meeting of the Plowmen and Fishermen Club, a group of local Democrats.

In the brick-walled, tree-shaded courtyard of Tauraso’s Restaurant in the heart of Frederick’s historic district, a white-whiskered Frederick transplant from Baltimore, John Norman, cries out to O’Malley: “Hey, you’re doing a great job with my city!” The mayor beams happily for the cameras, gripping and grinning among 100 or so well-wishers.

Susan Leigh-Nelson, a local cable-television reporter, grills O’Malley about speculation that he might run for governor in 2002 against Townsend, but he refuses to discuss the matter. “I don’t waste any time exploring running for something else,” he says as the camera rolls. “I’m too busy doing what I’m doing.” He praises Glendening and Townsend for having “made a lot of wise investments in Baltimore” and declares he has “a very good relationship” with the administration in Anapolis.

Thomas G. Slater, who chairs Frederick’s Democratic State Central Committee, says O’Malley’s invitation to speak tonight has nothing to do with the 2002 election. “He’s young, he’s new, he’s exciting, and we want to get a look at him – especially early on,” Slater explains as he peruses a table of hors d’oeuvres. He’s an old hand in Western Maryland politics, and he simply doesn’t foresee an O’Malley challenge to Townsend. “It’s too soon” after his 1999 election as mayor of Baltimore. Besides, he says, Kathleen’s “got it.”

Frederick County’s only elected Democrat, State Delegate Sue Hecht, steps up on a low stone wall to introduce Martin O’Malley to the assembled partisans. “This is our star,” she gushes, “our rising star in Baltimore, and we’re going to see him and hear about him for many more years.” O’Malley takes the stage and, in his usual unscripted oratorical style, cajoles his fellow Dems to focus on results-oriented governance, does Bill Clinton impersonations, and ticks off his every-ready list of upbeat trends in Baltimore.

Afterward, the gathering turns informal. The mayor ends up chatting with Jeb Byron, the evening’s host and the son of former U.S. Representative Beverly Byron. With them is Brent Ayer, a sandy-haired long-distance runner and Bevery Byron’s former chief of staff.

Ayer tells O’Malley about big public events in Frederick County that draw large numbers of people – mass gatherings where statewide political candidates can reach a broad audience. He touts Colorfest, an October crafts fair in Thurmont – “You can get to 60,000 at that alone,” Ayer explains. The mayor introduces Ayer to his brother, Peter. “Take one of his business cards,” O’Malley tells Peter. “He’s the numbers guy for Western Maryland.”


O’Malley, like all the undeclared, potential candidates, is interested in numbers – including the 400,000 potential voters in Western Maryland.

The numbers that got the attention of a lot of politicos last May were those turned up in a public opinion poll conducted by Gonzales-Arscott Research & Communications, which showed Townsend leading O’Malley in a head-to-head primary race by only 47 percent to 40 percent – a surprisingly close margin since O’Malley had not been campaigning. What was strikingly embedded in the poll numbers as that O’Malley’s 67-percent name recognition was far below Townsend’s 95 percent, indicating that those who did know his name tended to favor him over Townsend.

Some of the buzz about O’Malley subsided a bit in July when a head-to-head poll by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research showed him trailing Townsend by 49 percent to 28 percent, but Carol Arscott finds “his name recognition creeping up on hers, and his negatives are very, very low.”

So, O’Malley goes to Frederick for a little politicking. As State Senator Barbara Hoffman (D-42nd District) says of the visit, “He’s smart to do that – you build up credits for the future, create a little profile for yourself. It will come in handy some day.”

The question is, “When? There are some who think that next year – while he’s still perceived as a “rising star” and is still relatively unscarred by the years in office any mayor endures – may be O’Malley’s best chance to become governor. But if he runs, he risks losing and becoming damaged goods – a brash youngster who misjudged his moment and shot too high too early in the game.


Opinion, of course, is divided over O’Malley’s 2002 gubernatorial prospects. “It still remains a long shot for him,” says Western Maryland College political science professor and columnist Herb Smith. “He could win, but the chances are he won’t. What does he gain by losing? An enemy in the governor’s mansion and a long-term negative in terms of his ambitions for any other statewide office.”

“If he runs for governor, I think it is his for the taking,” says Anirban Basu, director of Applied Economics at Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute. “I pray, as a Baltimore City resident, that he does not run for governor. We need him much more than the state needs him, but I think it is his – if he wants it.”

Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas Gansler can’t see O’Malley or anyone else beating Townsend. “I don’t think anybody can come close to Kathleen in a race,” he muses, “so I don’t know why the Martin O’Malley thing is out there.”

“I personally don’t think he’s going to run,” former State Senator Julian “Jack” Lapides says of O’Malley. Townsend already has lined up too much of the city’s power structure, he explains. “I don’t see it shifting. First of all, African Americans will be overwhelmingly for her, and she certainly will have a significant percentage of the white vote in the city. So who’s O’Malley going to get from the city? Any votes he does get will be offset by the Kennedy name and mystique” elsewhere in the state.

“There are only so many Irish-American politicians from Maryland that the nation can absorb,” quips Arscott. A showdown between the two – Townsend, a blue-blood Kennedy, versus O’Malley, an in-law of the Curran dynasty of Maryland politicians, who have been dubbed “the brown-bag Kennedys” – could be an eventuality. Maybe not next year, but some day.


Chuck Goldsborough is a race-car driver, a Baltimore boy who’s stayed true to his roots. Since 1999, he’s been the president, owner, and driver for Team Lexus, the luxury-car marker’s only racing team in the country. He’s been running the operation out of a large, immaculate garage with adjacent offices in an industrial complex in Arbutus. On a Tuesday morning in early September, Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger comes over to see Team Lexus firsthand, meet Goldsborough, and offer the county’s help and support.

Rupperberger, a large man, dons a Team Lexus shirt (“You got XXL?” he asks Goldsborough) and manages to squeeze himself into the cramped driver’s seat of one of the Team Lexus race cars. And there he stays for a good 20 minutes or more, asking Goldsborough question after question. How often does Team Lexus race? Who does the body-work on damaged cars? And so on. Finally, what happened to Dale “The Intimidator” Earnhardt?

Earnhardt was the NASCAR driver who died in a fiery crash at the Daytona 500 in February. Goldsborough explains that Earnhardt was a risk-taker in the extreme, habitually refusing to use standard safety gear that probably would have saved his life. But his son, Dale Jr., isn’t as reckless – in fact, he’s a natural and is already showing himself to be a great driver. “There are legacies in every sport,” Goldsborough explains, “including racing – the Earnhardts, the Andrettis.”

“Just like Kennedys in politics,” Ruppersberger interjects.

“That’s right,” Goldsborough agrees, laughing. “Just like Kennedys in politics.”

Ruppersberger laughs, too – masking what must be a certain amount of jealousy. He comes from a family of local meat merchants, far from the Camelot of the Kennedys, and has succeeded in Baltimore County politics the hard way: eight years as a prosecutor and nine years on the County Council before becoming executive in 1994. Now he’s term-limited out of running for a third term. After winning every precinct in 1998 – a reward for his having turned around the county’s once-failing budget and economy during his first term – he was widely considered prime gubernatorial material. But he’s in the shadow of a Kennedy. Now he might run for Congress rather than confront Townsend in the governor’s race.

This is a man in the throes of political agony. He wants to be governor so badly he can taste it, but the Kennedy factor is only part of his problem. His political disability is largely his own doing. It happened in 2000, when he quietly ushered an eminent-domain bill through the General Assembly – and ran headlong into an indigenous dislike for government incursions into private property rights. The reaction started in Essex, which was the bill’s main target for redevelopment, but spread countywide and was defeated by referendum. On top of this, Ruppersberger’s plans to expand the county jail have caused a damaging level of public furor. His political base – the solid ground from which every statewide candidate must launch a campaign – has been badly shaken.

In Team Lexus’ conference room, Ruppersberger settles in to talk about his options. “A lot of people are telling me,” he says, “’Dutch, I know you would be the best governor, but I don’t think you can beat Kathleen, so let’s find another alternative.’” When friends urged him to consider a congressional bid instead, he at first rejected the notion. “I want to be governor,” he says. “I want to do for the state what I did for Baltimore County. I love my state. I’m homegrown. But in the end, they say, ‘We’re telling you as friends, she’s got name recognition everywhere. How are you going to do it? People don’t know who you are. They know Kathleen.’”

Governor Glendening – who controls the redistricting process and therefore has a lot of say over Rupperberger’s congressional aspirations – has asked him to consider a run for Congress, too, he reports. “So, I think at this point I’m keeping those options open because I do love public service and I think I can make a difference wherever I go,” Ruppersberger declares. “But I want to make a difference. I don’t want to be in just for the sake of keeping my name alive. That’s not me. I want to do something. I want to be active, and I want to count for something.”

Since the height of the eminent-domain acrimony, Ruppersberger claims to have recovered a good measure of his support in Essex – but it’s conditional support. “They were even going to have a fundraiser for me,” he says, “until the word got out that I might be looking at Congress. They are all supporters of Ehrlich, and so they said, ‘Well, you run for governor and we’ll do it, but you gotta tell us that you are not running for Congress.’ And I said, ‘I’m not going to say that.’”

Ruppersberger’s hesitation is understandable; he knows the deal. “The voting profile in the Democratic primary goes to Kathleen’s advantage,” he explains. “She comes from a well-respected family, she probably has 100-percent name recognition. She will have a tremendous amount of money, and she will be able to send her message out on a regular basis on TV – in both of Maryland’s media markets, Baltimore and the D.C. suburbs.”

The money disadvantage is difficult, he says, but not insurmountable. “You don’t have to have the same amount of money as her, but you have to have enough money to cover her,” Ruppersberger explains. “In other words, when she has five ads, you need to have one to get your message out. And TV in the D.C. market is so much more expensive, because you also are buying coverage for Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia.

“But that doesn’t mean that you don’t consider running,” he declares hopefully as he changes back into his suit, preparing to head out to lunch with O’Malley. “I mean, Im still keeping all of my options open now. A couple of months from now, we can sit down and talk about issues. It’s just too soon. My first priority right now is running this county.”


Down in the D.C. suburbs, O’Malley and Ruppersberger are largely unknown quantities. This is crucial statewide electoral territory. Political power in Maryland, along with its population and economic clout, has shifted southward over the last 20 years – it’s no mistake that our current governor hails from Prince George’s County. Today, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties together are home to nearly a third of Maryland’s voters. Most are middle-class Democrats. Spawned from this rich territory are two potential players in the governor’s race: Doug Duncan and Wayne Curry, two-term county executives in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, respectively.

Duncan has paid his dues in county politics. He’s been county executive since 1994, and had been Mayor of Rockville, and a Rockville City Councilmember before that. Montgomery County has been booming during his tenure, as the I-270 corridor has become the state’s main high-tech hub and Silver Spring has come back to life. Crime is low and the schools are good. There’s just not much to complain about in Montgomery County.

Except the traffic. “The biggest issue in Montgomery County is transportation,” says State’s Attorney Gansler. “People sit in their cars too long, and they get frustrated and angry and they blame the person in charge for that.” In this case, not Duncan. The Governor instead gets blamed for blocking a popular plan for the Inter-County Connector (ICC), a highway connecting I-270 and I-95. “It’s an incredible hot button of an issue,” says Gansler. “And Doug Duncan is on the right side of that issue.”

Duncan campaign consultant Colleen Martin-Lauer (who also raises funds for Martin O’Malley) agrees that transportation is “a key issue in the Washington suburbs.” Given that Glendening has been defiant in opposing the ICC, she says, “I think people who sit on the Washington Beltway everyday will question the accomplishments” of his administration “when it comes to transportation issues.”

Here, then, is a weak point for Townsend in the D.C. suburbs – some of the anti-Glendening sentiment on transportation issues is bound to rub off on her, giving Duncan and others a stick to poke her with. But Gansler doesn’t see it that way. “She is the Lieutenant Governor,” he explains. “She needs to be loyal to the governor and his position. That’s her job. People understand that.” Later on, closer to the election, she’ll have to take an independent stance, and at that point, says Gansler, “she’s going to be acutely aware of the need to address the transportation issue here.”

Duncan, like every other potential rival, faces an intimidating challenge in taking on Townsend’s already established electoral might. He, like Ruppersberger, suffers from a shaky political base. Key Montgomery County politicians, such as former County Executive Sidney Kramer, say he’s not ready to be governor.

“There’s a perception out there that Doug has drifted away from his base,” explains Gansler. “He has alienated many political people in the Democratic Party in Montgomery County. Unlike [Ruppersberger], there really isn’t anything tangible you can point to with Doug. I think there are those who see it as political arrogance. Its much more of a personality issue than a substantive issue.”


Like Ruppersberger, Wayne Curry can’t run again for county executive. Yet he has eight years under his belt of running the Prince George’s County government. At a fundraiser he held at his home in May, he announced his intention to travel the state and “listen to what people have to say” about a statewide bid for something – governor, attorney general, or comptroller. But his schedule since hasn’t borne out that vow. He’s been busy tending to his police department, which has been jolted with a series of disturbing and embarrassing scandals that have hurt him at home. Few seem to think he’s got the legs for a gubernatorial bid – especially in light of Townsend’s popularity among Curry’s potential base of African-American voters.

John McDonough, a Prince George’s County attorney and political operative, believes Curry is most attractive as a lieutenant governor’s candidate, teaming up with Duncan, Ruppersberger, or O’Malley, should one of them choose to take on Townsend. “If one of the county executives or the Mayor actually does declare – and there’s only room for one opponent – then it will be a competitive primary,” says McDonough, making Curry “somewhat of a wild card” because he “could successfully cut into Townsend’s base among African-American voters.”


One person who appears increasingly willing to match Townsend’s bet in the governor’s stakes is Republican Robert Ehrlich. This fall, the U.S. Congressman announced to supporters that he’ll run if they can raise $2 million for him by the end of the year. Only one other Republican, Prince George’s County Councilwoman Audrey E. Scott, has expressed interest in entering the race, but only if Ehrlich doesn’t. “I know he can raise that money,” Scott told the Washington Post after the September 21 announcement, “so in my mind, Bobby is the candidate, and I’m supporting him.”

Whether he ended up facing Townsend or another Democrat, Ehrlich’s task would be daunting. Among registered voters, Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1. And in the most recent statewide general election – the 2000 presidential race – Maryland voters overwhelmingly preferred the Democrat, Vice President Al Gore. Ehrlich’s poll numbers in a face-off with Townsend are low – in the 30 to 35 percent range, versus about 50 percent for her – and about a third of the voters don’t even know his name, while Townsend enjoys 95 percent name-recognition.

“The odds against Republicans in Maryland are very steep – any Republican,” sums up Carol Arscott. “You begin with a base vote about half the size of your opponent’s base vote. And to chip away that much at someone’s natural base is a very difficult thing to do.”

The last time a Republican made a strong challenge to the Democratic hold on the Governor’s Mansion (Spiro Agnew was the last Republican governor of Maryland, elected in 1966) was in 1994, when then-State Delegate Ellen Sauerbrey came within 6,000 votes of victor Parris Glendening. That was the same year as the Republican takeover of Congress – and also the year 2nd District voters sent Ehrlich to Washington.

But Ehrlich’s 2nd District base, which spans parts of Baltimore, Harford, and Anne Arundel counties, isn’t reflective of Mayland as a whole. If he tosses his hat in the ring, Ehrlich will run up against the political reality that Sauerbrey saw so vividly in the 1994 returns – that without successfully swaying a large number of left-leaning voters in Baltimore City and Prince George’s and Montgomery counties away from the Democratic candidate, a statewide Republican candidate has precious little chance of claiming victory. Voters from those three jurisdictions combined provided Glendening with more than half of his winning statewide vote. Those are tough numbers to crack.

Ehrlich has gradually softened his sharply conservative edge over the years. When he first gained office in 1994, Ehrlich was a freshman in what was hailed at the time, by Republican activist Vin Weber of Empower America, as “the Rush Limbaugh Congress,” a reference to the right-wing radio-talk-show host. In 1995, Ehrlich stood on the Capitol steps with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich to unveil the “Contract With America,” a 10-point conservative agenda the new Congress planned to push.

Since then, Ehrlich has slowly gained a reputation as a more moderate Republican: He doesn’t like gun control and he voted to ban partial-birth abortions, but he generally backs abortion rights, supports stem-cell research, and enjoys a measure of support from labor unions.

Ehrlich’s perceived moderation as an incumbent has helped him win re-election four times in a majority-Democrat district. He could have a safe seat for another term, depending on how Glendening redraws his district’s boundaries this coming winter. But, if he runs for governor instead, he’s going to need Democrats from all over the state to cross party lines and vote for him.

Early indications suggest he’ll use at least three anti-Townsend themes in appealing to voters – incumbency, out-of-state money, and upper-crust privilege. In a Washington Post interview, he called the Glendening/Townsend forces “a dominant and entrenched monopoly, run by the most petty politicians you’re ever going to see,” and flogged Townsend for relying on family connections to garner fundraising support from outside Maryland. “I grew up in a rowhouse, not a castle in Camelot,” he wrote in a fundraising letter.

If Ehrlich enters this race, it’s going to be a bruiser.


Though Townsend’s strengths as an early favorite appear overwhelming, things can change.

Maryland’s economy has been surprisingly resilient to the downturn nationally, but increasingly that is projected to change. “People like how the economy has done” under Glendening, says Basu, and that success is expected to rub off well on Townsend at the polls. But “the economy is not going to be as strong going into the election,” predicts Basu, pointing to various declining indicators and the immediate after-effects of the September terrorist attacks. An increasing number of jobless voters also generally means trouble for incumbents, and Townsend has long been trying to project an image of being partly at the helm of Maryland’s ship.

As the state economy goes, so go state revenues – and if the expected slow-down is bad enough, then the state government could see a budget crisis next year. If that happens, voters will be reminded that the 2002 state budget was extraordinarily generous on the spending side, chewing prodigiously into a much-touted surplus, despite predictions of declining tax collections and calls for fiscal prudence. This, of course, would do further damage to Townsend’s reputation, allowing opponents to charge her with budgetary irresponsibility.

As for wartime politics, that could swing either way for Townsend. The tendency, says Herb Smith, is for voters to “rally ‘round the chief” in times of national crisis – and today that chief is a Republican, President George W. Bush. “It makes it more difficult for a Democrat to criticize Bush as a way of getting at a Republican opponent,” Smith explains. On the hand, adds Basu, because of the crisis, “Townsend can come off as looking prepared, professional, dignified, courageous under fire – she can gain a pulpit that her opponents won’t have.”

Townsend’s opponents, though, will have another sort of pulpit – to criticize her record. Her duties, which under the state constitution are assigned by the governor, have been extended significantly during Glendening’s second term. Economic development, transportation, juvenile justice, the state police, corrections, and parole and probation are all in her portfolio of responsiblities. These are rich territories for political foes to mine for weaknesses. In addition to the Glendening/Townsend administration’s opposition to the Inter-County Connector, voters are likely to be reminded of scandals that erupted during Townsend’s watch involving juvenile justice and parole and probation. With a little of what’s known in the trade as “opposition research,” challengers may turn up other potential embarrassments lurking in the agencies that fall under Townsend’s purview.

“I have been saying all along to her people,” says Baltimore City State Senator Barbara Hoffman, “you have got to be able to address the successes and/or failures in the portfolios to which she’s been assigned.”

Alan Fleishmann, Townsend’s chief of staff, is happy to defend her administrative record. Speaking about the bootcamp scandal – in which The Sun exposed beating of incarcerated juveniles by guards in 1998 – he explains that Townsend reacted to the crisis well. “She does not get ruffled easily,” he says. “She took responsibility for it and she took command.” In particular, he notes, Townsend put in place accountability mechanisms to ensure that bad news travels up so she can correct such problems before they blow up in her face. “What she does when she hears about it is how she wants to be judged.”

Townsend is also likely to be judge by where her political support comes from. As a Kennedy, she’s in a unique position to raise prodigious sums across the country. An analysis of her November 2000 campaign finance report (the most recent available at this writing) shows that less than half of her funds at that point had come from within Maryland, with the rest coming mostly from Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, D.C. Duncan, O’Malley, and Ruppersberger, meanwhile, had each raised between 80 and 90 percent of their money from in-state. This disparity is likely to come back on her during a competitive campaign.

Townsend’s money and her status as a virtual incumbent may appear daunting to challengers at first glance, but they may be double-edged swords. Even her Kennedy name – often considered an unmitigated plus – cuts both ways. “There are people who are just awed by the Kennedy mystique,” explains Hoffman, “and at the same time there are people in the state who hate her because she’s a Kennedy. That’s quite a burden.” Combine this with the uncertainties of the economy and the political impact of the war on terrorism, and Townsend’s seemingly indomitable position starts to look somewhat weaker. Given time, money, and a lot of hard work, a strong challenger could undermine her early lead.

“Right now you have a number of people who have said they might run, and who want to,” Prince George’s John McDonough says. “But basically they don’t want to run into a buzz saw. I think people are sitting around waiting for something bad to happen to Townsend. And that’s always a possibility. All the cards are pretty much turned up, so people are either going to bet on them or fold. Right now, she’s showing four-of-a-kind. Do you want to bet or don’t you?”