Friday, November 30, 2012

Pull My Chord

A month ago I spotted this bell in front of 10211 Wincopin Circle in downtown Columbia. The cord was laid out in such a way as to invite passersby to ring it.

I pulled the cord. It made a nice gong sound.

I thought to myself that this was a pretty cool piece of public art and my immediate thought was that the building owners had put it there.

It turns out that the building owners only allowed it to be placed there but the Howard County Arts Council actually put it there. “Temple Bell” by Ed Kidera is part of ARTsites 2012, a year long public art public art exhibit spread around 12 locations all around HoCo including Columbia, Ellicott City, Elkridge, Cooksville and Laurel.

“The goal of ARTsites is to place sculpture throughout Howard County in order to generate interest in public art and make art more accessible to the community.”

It’s a great program but it also means the art is only temporary. At the end of the year the exhibit comes down ARTsites 2013 will begin. Then again, I suppose a building owner could always decide they like having a temple bell in front of their building and just buy the thing.

Or you could buy it for your own temple.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Moon Shot

Earlier today, when I read this post by Scott Dance on the Maryland Weather blog in The Sun, I chuckled at the sexual connotation in the name of this evening’s full moon. I had heard of a blue moon and a harvest moon but until today I never knew there was such a thing as a “full beaver moon.”

All kidding aside, it’s more than just a full moon. If you looked closely you saw Jupiter in the background just above the moon.

I tried taking a picture but it was way beyond my little cameras comfort zone so I lifted this image from Astro Bob.
Very cool.

Special thanks and a big wag of the wordbones tail goes out to Theresa Stark Pines and her friend Carol Cisler Carter for bringing this my attention.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Are Drive Thru Lanes a Gender Issue?

Yesterday, in the county council work session on a developers request to permit drive thru lanes in a Transit Oriented District, Marsha McLaughlin pointed out that the Planning Board voted along gender lines in rejecting the change. Jacqueline Easley, the sole female member of the five member board, pointed out that drive thrus are helpful when you have three kids in the car. She cast the only vote in support of the change.

The three women on the council seemed to empathize, though Calvin Ball and Greg Fox both pointed out that they were dads and therefore not unsympathetic to the challenge of dealing with three kids in the car. Greg appeared to support the Planning Boards decision.

The bottom line is that drive-through lanes, particularly for fast food, are bad. According to this post on the Sierra Club blog, cars idling in drive thru lanes are a big waste of energy.

“Taking the fast-food industry as an example, and taking into account that the average McDonald's drive-through wait is 159 seconds, we can calculate that the company's consumers burn some 7.25 million gallons of gas each year. The figure for the entire U.S. fast-food industry? Roughly 50 million gallons.”

There is also the health issue. It seems to me that getting those three kids out of the car and moving around is a good way to negate the impact of eating fast food.

Then again, I am a man…and a dad.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Clover or Wildflower

At the last Second Sunday Market, I stopped by the Apex Bee Company booth. With the onset of cold weather, we tend to go through honey quicker than in the warmer months. If you've ever warmed your pipes with tea, whiskey and honey you’ll know what I’m talking about.

“Would you like clover or wildflower,” the beekeeper asked.

I didn't know there was a difference. I thought honey was honey. I’m not very well versed in apiculture. She offered a taste of both. They were different. I thought the clover was a little less interesting than the wildflower. I went with the wildflower.

Honey isn't just for whiskey either. In this post by James Byrne on the Scientific American blog I learned that it “has some pretty amazing properties, it’s broadly antimicrobial and seemingly able to promote healing.”

“While only preliminary, it seems honey and its various components might have more secrets to unveil which will further develop our understanding of the anti-microbial nature of this environmental product and at the same time its pro-immune responses elicited when we use it.”

Byrne suggests that you “should rub honey on your everywhere." 


According to a tag affixed to the jar, my wildflower honey came from Honey Bee Restoration Project Hive #2 located in Freeland, MD.

That’s good stuff.

Toy Story

Despite intense competition from big box retailers and online shopping, small independent toy stores continue to thrive. According to this story by Lorraine Mirabella in The Sun, “more than three-quarters of independent business owners said they believed consumers are more aware of the value of locally owned businesses.”

The best independent toy store for my money is Mumbles and Squeaks on Main Street in Ellicott City. The twenty year old toy store has established a regional reputation for having unique and hard to find toys.

“The shop, which is spread out over four rooms on two floors on Ellicott City's Main Street, competes by focusing on quality, customer service and "trying to stay cutting-edge,…" 

It's a strategy that works. I've been shopping there for years.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Friday afternoon my sister asked me if I had an American Express card.

I do.

“Did you get your free money?” she asked. I had no idea what she was talking about.

“If you have an American Express card you can get a $25.00 credit if you use the card to patronize any of their small business clients on Small Business Saturday.”

I didn't get that memo. Fortunately, it wasn't too late so I went to the website and signed up. Last night, after I got home, I picked up a six pack of New Belgium 1554 from Kelly’s Liquors in Ellicott City, realizing a net gain of about fifteen bucks.

That’s the good.

Last night Mama Wordbones and I decided to catch the eight o’clock showing of Lincoln at the AMC Theatres in downtown Columbia. I purchased the tickets around six o’clock on Fandango. Unlike the Regal Cinemas at Snowden, the AMC Theatres do not allow you to print out the actual ticket at home. For AMC you need to pick up at the box office or at one of their automated ticket stations outside the entrance. At the downtown AMC Theatres  there are five of these. Last night only one was functioning. The line for remaining machine rivaled that of the box office. We decided to split up to cover both in the event that one turned out to move faster.

They both moved slowed. After a time, a gentleman in an AMC shirt stepped out of the doors of the theatre and started talking into a microphone. The sound quality was on par with that a subway car announcement and nobody around me at least could make out a single word he said. Someone yelled out and asked him if the customer service window was open. He nodded, briefly, before retreating back inside.

That was the bad. You’d think that the theatre would gear up for the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, but apparently no one at AMC got that memo either.

About a month ago I started experiencing problems with Disqus, the commenting widget that I employ here at To2C. I thought that I could fix the issue by simply upgrading to the latest version. I thought incorrectly.

Several readers and a couple of regular commenter’s have told me that they continue to have problems posting comments.  I’m sorry. Please bear with me. I realize that the fix is beyond my limited technology skills. For all I know I might have made a bad situation worse with the upgrade.

That’s the ugly. Hopefully the offer of help from my friend Jamie Howard is still valid and a solution to this problem will soon be found. I hope he get’s this memo.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Postcard from the Road

Yesterday we were among those 883,000 Marylander's on the move for the Thanksgiving holiday. Yesterday afternoon Peanut and I flew out of BWI airport for our annual trek to my sisters home in St. Augustine Beach. According to this story by Candy Thomson in The Sun, approximately one in six Free Stater's is on the move for a feast with friends and family this year. Unlike us, most are driving.
“Driving remains the way to go here in Maryland," said AAA spokeswoman Ragina Averella. "We're in a really good location on the East Coast, with many destinations two to four hours away. For a family with two or three children, it's cheaper to drive than fly."

I can attest to that. Even with taking advantage of early discounts, the round trip cost for Peanut and I to fly south was almost a thousand bucks.

It’s worth it though. We’ll spend a few days here with family and head back home before we've had a chance to do too much damage. As my mother used to say, “after three days, out of town guests and fish start to stink.”

Happy Thanksgiving. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Because it’s Sooner

Preston Sheffenacker Properties is trying to tweak the commercial component in the Oxford Square project in Elkridge. The TOD zoning that they successfully attained for the 120 acre development two years ago allows for a variety of commercial uses including apartments. Now they want to add town homes into the mix. They also want to be able to have stand alone fast food restaurants complete with drive thru lanes.

Both of these are significant changes to the TOD zone. This is supposedly a pedestrian orientated zoning district and there is nothing pedestrian oriented about a drive thru lane.

Last night Councilperson Greg Fox asked David Sheffenacker, if there was some reason for doing this now since we are just getting ready to embark on comprehensive rezoning in which we’ll be dealing with issues like this throughout the county.

“It’s sooner,” he replied

Greg pressed him further, “What’s compelling as to why this needs to be done now?”

“Because it’s sooner” he said flatly.

With that attitude, sooner may be later.

No Bull on Bullying

Last night, during a marathon legislative public hearing, Christine McComas, the mother of Grace McComas,  testified during the consideration of Council Resolution 169-2012, an anti-bullying initiative introduced by Courtney Watson. The bill calls for “encouraging” the General Assembly “to provide the necessary resources to appropriate agencies to implement the use of multidisciplinary teams to address bullying, harassment, and intimidation among students.”

Christine told the council that the system is a big part of the problem. In scathing testimony she indicted the states attorney, the police and especially the school system for failing to help her save her daughter.

When she was finished Courtney asked her if she was in favor of the resolution.

‘When I wrote my statement last night my intention was to fully support Resolution 169. However, as I went to bed and thought about it more…the very groups that are supposed to help, the police, the states attorney, and the courts, didn't.”

She never did say whether or not she supported the resolution.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World

Count me among those who believe that The Rolling Stones are the greatest rock and roll band in the world…still.

In recognition of their 50th anniversary, in a series of four individual interviews, NPR’s Melissa Block and Audi Cornish asked Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ron Wood and Mick Jagger to pick a song out of their archives to talk about. Keith talked about Street Fighting Man, Charlie’s pick was Satisfaction and Mick went with Gimme Shelter.

I liked Ron Woods pick best. He went with Dance Part 1. It's a song that gets you moving...

"I stuck up for myself, 'cause I picked a song that I wrote," Wood says. "I thought, 'No one's gonna mention that.' But I think people, when they hear that song, they love it — because it's really up, and it gets everyone dancing."

Melissa Block said her favorite was Wild Horses.

Great stuff.

Redistricting Humor

A To2C reader named Anna sent me this cartoon today. She said she “ is affected (effected?) by the BOE's new redistricting plan.”

“I asked my neighbor David Justice who is an illustrator to create a cartoon that was living in my head that sums up life in HoCo for parents with kids in the HCPSS.”

Thanks for sharing.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Come Along

We did not escape Frankenstorm unmolested. The morning after, a fifteen foot Leland Cypress was listing starboard at a 45 degree angle against our fence. It hadn't toppled over…yet.

After Mama Wordbones and I conducted an amateur arborist triage we determined we needed a rope and a sturdy stake to stabilize the patient. We had rope but nothing in our stake inventory was suitable for a tree this size. We went to Home Depot…and then Lowes…neither of which carried the serious business stake we were looking for. Mama Wordbones suggested Southern States would have what we needed. They did. Mama Wordbones is a former country girl and country people know all about Southern States.

The stake and rope were sufficient to shore up the tree but to straighten her out we needed more muscle. At this point, my early life as a groundskeeper at Merriweather Post Pavilion came back into focus. It was in that point in my life that I learned about a tool called a come-along. “We need a come-along,” I declared.

At first I thought we could rent one. I mean this isn't a tool you use everyday. It could be years before we’ll have a need for it again.

Well, I found out yesterday that you can’t rent one, not at ABC Rental in Columbia anyway. I headed over to Home Depot.

“I’m looking for a come-along,” I said to the guy in the tool department. He looked at me like I had two heads. I gave him a decidedly non technical description of the device and he told me to wait while he found an older guy to deal with me. As I awaited his return I played around with this Rigid heavy duty boom box. A guy wearing a black Rigid jacket comes up and asks if I have any questions about the boom box. “No really, what I really want is a come-along.”

He took me right to them. A one ton come-along cost $31.76. That seemed very reasonable to me.

It worked like a charm too. Once we got it properly rigged to the tree it was easy street to an upright tree. I just cranked that big boy right back into place.

It turns that the proper name for this tool is also called a cable puller. To me it will forever be a come-along, one of the best tools around.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Teacher on Special Assignment

After pointing out that she was at the helm of an operation with a budget approaching a billion dollars, 50,000 students, 8,000 employees and 82 buildings, Renee Foose responded that she “is just a teacher on special assignment.”

She probably knows a thing or two about special assignments. She’s a former state trooper too.

Dr. Renee A. Foose is the first female superintendent of the Howard County Public School System and if I had to pick one word to describe her I’d go with genuine. There is something that seems very grounded and honest with her and that made conversation and discussion easy.

We talked about redistricting, grant monies, testing and the apology that the system made for promoting segregation ten years after the Supreme Court outlawed the practice in public schools. HCPSS may be the first school system in the country to apologize for what was then a pretty widespread practice. According to this story by Joe Burris in The Sun, “a historian with the Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, said he recalls many apologies for slavery and segregation, but he could not think of one that specifically addressed segregated schools.”

Dr. Foose told us that school board member Allen Dyer was particularly passionate about this. Is it just me or does anyone else notice that Allen is becoming more agreeable now that his board days are numbered?

In the loco news recap we discussed speed cams, zoning issues, parking and Twinkies.

So if you are looking for something to listen while driving to Alice's Restaurant for a Thanksgiving dinner, you can download the 78th episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Coffee Around the Clock

Earlier this year, when Starbucks announced that they were moving the Dobbin Road store across the street and adding a drive-thru window, I asked the manager if they were planning to become a 24 hour Starbucks. “Not at this time,” she told me.
Times change. The Dobbin Road Starbucks will now be open 24 hours a day. It will just be on the weekends and only for drive-thru service but you can kind of see where this is heading.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

In This Months Business Monthly

I first began writing a column in The Business Monthly in the very first issue back in the earlier nineties. We were in the midst of an earlier recession and that first column focused on the changed landscape of HoCo loco commercial development. Almost everyone in the business was handing at least one of their properties back to a lender. For the up and comer developers like Peter Issel, Chris Kurz, Pete McGill and Fred Glassberg, the down turn took them down.

That’s what I should have written this month.

Instead I banged out a pretty weak effort at the absolute latest deadline of deadlines. I wrote about how next year, 2013, nothing much is going to happen except building towards 2014. 2014 is when everything happens: Whole Foods, the Metropolitan, Mall expansion and the gubernatorial election.

I’m not proud of it.

A better story would have included some historical perspective like the story of the office building that the county government owns in Columbia Gateway, 6751 Columbia Gateway Drive. It was built by Peter Issel in 1990 when the Gateway Corporate Park was the hottest business campus between DC and Baltimore.

And then, just as the building was completed, that no longer meant anything. Even a great building in a great location is powerless against a retrenching economy. That’s the greatest risk in the development business and a highly leveraged developer doesn't stand a chance when financing constricts.

And perhaps that would help create some appreciation for the exposure that at least at five developers are now taking on as they begin the creation of a real Columbia downtown. They have the right product and location but other forces, beyond their control, could alter their outcomes. I might have even thrown in something about another term limited county exec back in the nineties who had gubernatorial aspirations .

Unfortunately, that’s not the column I wrote. Now that I've warned you, if you still care to, you can find this month’s column here.

Five Thursdays

I am trying to adjust to the fact that Thanksgiving is only a week from today. By law, the holiday is always observed on the fourth Thursday of the month and this year November has five Thursdays. In my mind that makes Thanksgiving a week early.

I realize that it’s not. It’s been the fourth Thursday in November since 1941. The last time November had five Thursdays was 2007. I can’t recall if the holiday felt early that year, maybe that’s because I was too preoccupied with the poinsettia tree saga. Five years ago the poinsettia tree was removed from The Mall for the first time since 1972. It came back the following year and has returned every year since.


It’s now upon us. By Tuesday next week the wheels of commerce will have ground to a halt for just about everyone who isn't involved in the retail trades and, of course, those whose work knows no holiday.

The upside of the early holiday is that it provides a little breathing room between Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Open Mic in EC

On my way home last night I decided to drop into The Judge's Bench for a beer. Earlier in the evening I was in Baltimore at an art opening and talking to Rick Bloemke, a guy who seemed to be quite knowledgeable about the Baltimore beer scene. He singled out The Judges Bench for high praise so good beer was on my mind as I rolled back down Main Street.

As I sat at the bar enjoying a Sierra Nevada Narwhal Imperial Stout, I witnessed a progression of musicians arriving with their instruments. Before long, the little pub was packed. It was Open Mic with Mike night and musicians were rolling in from as far away as Annapolis to participate.

The music covered a pretty broad spectrum too. Last night, by 9:30 PM, fourteen musicians had already signed up to perform a twenty minute set. Mike Vance, the impresario of the evening told me that the bar has been holding this Tuesday night gathering for over five years and it is always busy. “The bartender loves us,” he added.

I wish I could have stayed longer and maybe caught these guys.

And speaking of music, last night on All Things Considered, Melissa Block interviewed Keith Richards. The Rolling Stones are celebrating their 50th anniversary and all week the NPR reporters are talking to the individual band members. When asked his favorite Rolling Stone song Keith replied “Street Fighting Man.

"Street Fighting Man" was banned by some U.S. stations. It was called "subversive," but Richards says it wasn't meant to be provocative.”

He then added, “You could count on somebody in America to find something offensive about something — you still can.”

Amen to that brother Keith.

Monday, November 12, 2012

March of the Meters

Despite the efforts of some merchants to stop or delay implementation, the new metered parking system in the Ellicott City historic district is ready to launch, as planned, on January 1st. A couple of weeks ago I ran into Steve Lafferty at the Wine Bin and he told me you can already download the Parker app for your smartphone or tablet. Steve has been the county’s point guy on this project, which hasn't always been fun.

Spaced at intervals along Main Street, new pay stations have been installed, covered by black garbage bags awaiting their 2013 debut. All parking spaces are now numbered and the ones along Main Street have been clearly defined with fresh lines and markings, an improvement that has already helped the parking situation.
Some historic district residents are lobbying county officials to establish some sort of residential permit program and there is meeting on November 27th with county officials to discuss that and other areas of concern. Other residents are exploring alternative parking strategies.
I’m not sure what a residential permit program would look like but I’d hope it would make more sense than these permitted spaces on Church Street.

Hidden Memorials

Yesterday, on the real Veterans Day (11th hour, 11th day and so on…), Mama Wordbones and went for a walk around the hills of Ellicott City. At the top of Court Avenue we stopped at the Circuit Court courthouse facing what was originally the main entrance when the building was built in 1843. It remained the front door until a major renovation and expansion in 1986 moved the “court house steps” to the rear of the building.

It occurred to me that I had never stood at the original entrance so I bounded up the old granite steps to take a look. It was there that we discovered this memorial to the veterans of World War I, World War II, and the Korean “Conflict.”

This wasn't the only memorial we found up there. To the left of the entrance we discovered this memorial to the “brave men who fought so courageously in the Confederate Army.”
I was intrigued by the listing of a General James R. Herbert since I hadn't heard of any HoCo citizen that served as a general in the Confederate Army. A little research revealed that General Herbert was a Colonel in the Confederate Army but after the war became a Brigadier General commanding the Maryland National Guard in 1874. 

Happy Veterans Day (observed).

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Unrest in the West

The rural west of HoCo was the subject of two stories in The Sun this past week. Last Thursday Arthur Hirsch reported on the neighborhood opposition to the proposed Dar-us-Salaam mosque in Cooksville and yesterday Timothy B. Wheeler wrote this piece about the Mullinix brothers in Dayton, who want out of the state’s agricultural land preservation program.

A little flexibility on all sides would go a long way towards settling things down.

In Cooksville, Dar-us-Salaam wants to purchase the former Woodmont Academy for a new mosque to serve their growing congregation in the region. They have outgrown their current facility in College Park.  The 66 acre former Catholic school, “with buildings already in place and plenty of undeveloped land for parking and a new mosque to accommodate thousands of worshipers in the decades to come…” The site is located within a mile of the interchange of I-70 and MD Route 97.

The neighborhood isn't exactly rolling out the welcome mat.

"That's not what rural, country land on wells and septic was created for," says David Yungmann, who lives in the Carriage Mill Farms community in Woodbine, about a mile west of the Woodmont site. "We're constantly defending the rural environment, the rural zoning, which is in law."

I get that but this is place of worship, not a big box retailer, and it was previously a Catholic school not a farm. I hope the community and the mosque can come together on this.

Over in Dayton the Mullinix boys, who sold the development rights for their 490 acre farm to the state in 1984 for $450,000, are having second thoughts. In recent years they've tested the limits of the program.

“The Mullinixes have run afoul of the program a few times over the years with activities deemed non-agricultural. In 1999, they were denied a request to have a commercial landscaping business on their property, and two years ago they were forced to remove a topsoil screening machine, according to West. Last year, the foundation threatened to fine them up to $50,000 unless they shut down a second landscaping business operating from leased land on one of the farms.”

Now they've decided they want out but that’s not going to be easy. Not only do they have to prove that operating a farm on the property is not profitable, they would have to pay back the money they got from the state in today’s dollars. "Repayment is based on what the land is worth now — substantially more than it was in the 1980s — minus the value of the farming operation.“

The problem seems to the lack of flexibility in the state program versus a similar program run by the county. Howie Feaga, the head of the HoCo Farm Bureau suggested “said the state farmland preservation program could perhaps be made more flexible.”

Again, as with Dar-us-Salaam, it seems that there should be a way to accommodate the Mullinix boys and keep them in the program. The Mullinixes may be the first to rebel but unless some changes are allowed they are unlikely to be the last.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Where’s the Fire?

If you see an American flag flying upside down outside of a home you should call 911...immediately. According to Title 36 of the US Flag Code, “The flag should never be displayed with union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.”

Despite what some Republicans may believe, losing an election does not qualify as “dire distress.”  

This distress signal was found outside the HoCo home of a former member of the HoCo Republican Central Committee. I just hope they have the decency to display it properly before Veterans Day.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Finding the Fun in Dysfunction

The first time I ever heard of Jeannette Walls was this summer when we committed to this years Baltimore Speakers Series. She was the October 30th speaker, which ended up being postponed until last night because of Frankenstorm. Mama Wordbones had never heard of her either

Obviously we didn't buy the subscription series because of Jeannette Walls.

Two weeks before her appearance, I found myself between books. Her bio in the program said that her book “The Glass Castle” had been a New York Times best-seller for over four years so I figured I'd check it out. I mean, it had to be good, right?

Those To2C readers who've already read this book know the answer to that. I couldn't put it down. I finished the book in less than ten days.

The Glass Castle is Jeannette Walls real life memoir of an absurdly chaotic childhood with absurdly dysfunctional parents. That alone wouldn't necessarily distinguish this book from thousands of others with similar themes but the way Jeannette spins her tale with humor, grace, grit, and hope is masterful.

In other words, I liked the book, a lot. Last night I had the opportunity to hear her talk about her life, then and now. She was terrific. Chalk up another reason I've come to love the Baltimore Speaker Series.

The next writer in the series is Peter Warren. Singer on January 15th.  Peter is described as a “leading expert on changes in 21st century warfare." I've started reading his “Wired for War” but I have to admit, it’s a lot slower going than The Glass Castle.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

What’s It All Mean?

The question on many minds today is what does it all mean?

The lengthy and contentious presidential campaign bought us right back where we started, Dem President, Dem Senate and Repub House, despite billions spent trying to convince us to try something new. New York Times columnist Gail Collins wonders, “if we've moved into a post-political-consultant America.”

“You know, the last time I was in Ohio I found the people had heard so many ads they were numb. And they’d been called by so many people, and visited by so many party workers, that I began to think they had transcended all the wonders of modern election science and were just going to do whatever they would have done if they’d been left in peace from the beginning.”

Gail and fellow columnist David Brooks coauthored this column today with their thoughts on what it all means.

David believes the “election was mostly about demographics or more precisely about the way demographic shifts lead to cultural and political shifts.”

 “Ronald Reagan won with an electorate that was nearly 90 percent white. Now the electorate is around 72 percent white. And the white population is different — more educated, more centered in college towns, more socially diverse, more likely to live in single-person households.”

“That means they are less likely to subscribe to the cowboy ethos of the rugged individual. It doesn't mean they want to return to the New Deal, but it does mean that the old Republican narrative can no longer win a majority.”

It’s a fun read, if you like this sort of stuff, even with its scary ending.

The Afternoon After

I slept in this morning. I was among the last to leave the Isle of Sanity last night and it was well after midnight before I climbed into bed. By design I did not have any appointments scheduled for this morning.

First of all, I want to thank Matt Milani for hosting our nonpartisan election party. All through the evening he bought out special appetizers for the dozen or so attendees and even took the time to share the story of the ghost that inhabits his restaurant. Second of all I’d like to acknowledge Tom Coale, Mickey Gomez, Jesse Newburn and Dave Bittner for keeping the election night tradition going. All four were part of the original group in 2010 at Clyde’s. I also want to thank the folks who joined us for the first time. It seemed like everyone was having a good time and there was more laughter than heated political discussion. It was my kind of election night party.

I would also be remiss if I did not acknowledge the Twitter feeds of Sara Toth (@SaraAToth) , Luke Lavoie (@LukeHoCoTimes) and Andrew Metcalf (@ColumbiaPatch). The old stone walls at The Rumor Mill made the wi-fi signal spotty at best but thanks to Sara, Luke and Andrew we were able to stay on top of the school board race. Local news coverage was alive and well last night.

I was a little disappointed in the school board results. Since the primary I got to know David Gertler pretty well. He is the type of person you want in elective office, smart, insightful and funny. On the other hand, David doesn't possess a “take no prisoners” political instinct and that probably hurt him in this race. I sincerely hope he stays involved in some capacity. He has much to offer to our community.

Now it’s time to get back to reality

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Election Night Survival Tips

Okay, it’s going to be a long night, especially on facebook. As a public service to the readers of To2C, I offer the following helpful tips from The Onion.

Warning: They use adult language like a Democrat.

Election Day 2012

I love my voting precinct. It is one of the smaller HoCo polling locations which makes voting a pretty low key affair. This morning, at nine o’clock, there wasn't even a line.

“We were busy earlier,” the election judge told me. That makes sense, folks in my neighborhood seem to prefer voting on their way to work. This morning I opted to work a little at home before heading into the office.

Still, it’s such a voting backwater that there were no campaign volunteers outside this morning. None. Not even a paid poll worker for Question 7.

After voting, as I drove to Columbia, I listened to Don Gonyea report from a polling site just outside Columbus, Ohio. He said he spoke earlier with an eighteen year old man who was voting for the first time. After voting, the new voter told the reporter that “No matter who wins, that’s my president and I’ll pray for him and wish him well.”

That made me smile.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Political Safe Harbor

The problem with election night parties organized by parties is that they are just so dam partisan. That’s a little too jingoistic for my election night tastes. On election night I like to be around people who can appreciate the flaws in all political camps because all political camps have flaws, no matter how good or righteous they proclaim to be. I just don’t relate well with the “my candidate/issue right or wrong” types, particularly on election night.

But I do like being around fellow political wonks on the big night. At my home, by the time eight o'clock rolls around, Mama Wordbones is done with all of it. She is perfectly happy to go to bed as usual without knowing who or what won or who or what was winning. She’s content to wait until the morning news…or later…

Not me.

One of the great rewards I've gotten from six years of blogging about local stuff is meeting other loco political wonks who share my appreciation for bipartisan flaws. In 2010 a group us gathered together at Clyde’s on election night to have our own little “Isle of Sanity” party on election night. With the exception of not having a wi-fi connection, we had a pretty good time and new friendships were formed.  Tom Coale says we started a tradition.

Traditions are important.

So, in case you had not heard already, we are having another Isle of Sanity election night gathering tomorrow night at the Rumor Mill in Ellicott City. They have wi-fi, so it’s already an improvement over two years ago. Everyone is welcome but sharp elbows and closed minds must be checked at the door.

You can RSVP here

Something We Can All Agree On

This past weekend CG pulled off a surprise 24th birthday party for Waterboy centered on the Maryland Georgia Tech game. The game started at noon which meant the tailgate had to begin early and that the real party would naturally continue afterwards…at our house. In other words, I spent all day Saturday drinking beer with about thirty other people, most of whom were under 25.

I had a blast. I spoke with most, if not all of them throughout the day, often about the elections. From my own informal, beer influenced survey, the majority of the younger contingent were in favor of Question 7 (Gaming Expansion). They largely dismissed the dirty politics and deception associated with the legislation as if to say that is to be expected. I shared our recent conversation with Peter Franchot but I don’t think I changed any minds.

The twentysomethings also heavily favored Question 6 (Civil Marriage Protection), without question.

Question 4 (Public Institutions of Higher Education-Tuition Rates) was more problematic for this seemingly libertarian group. I found that many were not aware of all the provisions of this bill, also known as the "Dream Act," and the many hurdles it places in front of the undocumented immigrants its meant to help. After explaining it I may have influenced a vote or two. On the other hand, one young woman wanted to know that, if it passes, who was going to police this act to see that it wasn't abused.

Good question.

It was Question 5 however where everyone found common ground. Each individual I spoke with seemed to understand what was going on here and they weren't happy about it. Many even expressed disgust for the deceitful way the question is worded, “Establishes the boundaries for the State’s eight United States Congressional Districts, based on recent census figures, as required by the United States Constitution.”

It makes it sound as if voting “for the referred law” is simply a formality.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Maryland congressional district map, drawn up by our Dem controlled General Assembly, is the laughingstock of the nation. It is comforting to know that, in spite of virtually no advertising campaign to vote against this measure, a surprising number of people seem to have gotten the message that this is a bad map.

I’ll drink to that.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Various Stuff

To2C regularly receives suggestions and/or requests to write about this or publicize that. Some folks even send in stuff with instructions to “please post this to your blog” as if To2C were some kind of community bulletin board.

It’s not.

That being said I get sent good stuff too like yesterday when David Gertler contacted me about giving an assist to the victims of Hurricane Sandy.

“My family and friends are still without power and the relief efforts are painfully slow (over half of LI residents are still without power).  I grew-up in Long Beach and Lido Beach NY (a small barrier island) and Long Beach is still without water and sewer services.  Gasoline is scarce (for generators) and it's hard for people to get around (also, in some areas, cellphone service is out so there is almost no way to reach people).”

It is getting a little desperate in some areas with shortages of gasoline only exacerbating an already bad situation. Donations are being accepted accepted by the American Red Cross and other local charities.

And speaking of desperate... I've also become aware of a new blog in HoCo, ukdesperatehousewifeusa, “a little taste of America through my UK eyes.” She’s a British expat, now living in Clarksville, with a wry sense of humor and an easy writing style.

"It’s a little bit adventure, little bit stream of consciousness, little bit Bill Bryson."

Check her out.

Recently I received a letter from an attorney claiming to represent school board member Brian Meshkin. The letter informed me that he had reviewed my blog and determined, in his opinion, that “many statements and insinuations made by you , and also by some of your correspondents, in the blog are clearly defamatory…” He has demanded I “remove all of the defamatory discussions concerning Mr. Meshkin, “Salugen”, and Proove Biosciences, Inc. from your blog site."

He did not specify which posts he found objectionable but I suspect they may have included this one, this one and this one.

Obviously I disagree

Our Contrarian Comptroller

Last year when Peter Franchot joined us on “and then there’s that…” for the first time, he was decidedly more formal. It was obvious that the Comptroller was uncertain of, not only what to expect, but also of what exactly our show was all about. He had a healthy skepticism of who would actually listen to us. Even his physical appearance telegraphed caution. He wore a suit and tie.

On the other hand, so did Paul and I, but mostly out of respect. In Maryland, our comptrollers are legendary political figures. In all my years in the Free State we've had ten different people serve as governors but only three comptrollers. Actually there were four but one guy, Robert Swann only served for five months following the death of Louis Goldstein who held the office for thirty nine years. Peter succeeded William Donald Schaefer who held the job for eight years after first serving two terms as governor and sixteen years as Mayor of Baltimore.

It kind of makes you wonder why he’d want to be governor, but that’s something Peter Franchot is seriously considering which is why he’s willing to once again spend a little time with an unproven media outlet like a hyper local news podcast in Howard County. Governor’s races in Maryland are won in the stretch of counties along I-95 from Washington to Baltimore and we’re right smack dab in the middle of that mix.

This time around, we got a much more relaxed Peter. In fact he seemed energized by being a leading voice in the opposition to Question 7, relishing his role in bucking the Dem establishment. It’s not that he opposes gambling it’s the backroom deals that crafted this legislation that he finds abhorrent. While you might expect the states chief revenue collector to welcome the purported millions that will flow into the state with expanded gambling, he sees it as detrimental. Expanded gambling will not fix the structural deficit problem with our state budget. Maryland simply spends more than it takes in and that is not sustainable. New revenues from gambling he posits, will only allow state lawmakers to kick the can further down the road.

When asked about other three big statewide questions he didn't hesitate, “Yes on four (undocumented immigrant tuition measure), no on five (congressional redistricting) and yes on six (marriage equality).”

“In five years people will be wondering why Question 6 was ever an issue.”

You can listen to the 77th episode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Voting Early...Or Not

I didn't vote early today. I didn't really need to do it today, but I thought I’d check out the scene anyway. I had heard that there were long lines and I wanted to see that for myself. The last time I voted early I breezed in and out.
There was no breezing in and out this afternoon at the Ellicott City Senior Center. The line snaked out the door and into the parking lot. Even on a bad day at my regular polling site the line has never gone outside. I’ll wait and vote in my hood next Tuesday.

If I had voted this afternoon I had intended to share my votes here. Even though I didn't vote, I decided to share with you how I intended to, on some of the loco stuff anyway.  After all, it's not like I'm going to change my mind before Tuesday.  On the other hand, the presidential race is so divisive I’m not so sure I want to share that vote. I will say that won't vote for Santa Claus. The line between politics and fantasy is blurry enough already.

Here’s the local stuff.

Board of Education

Question 3: For the Constitutional Amendment
Question 4: For the Constitutional Amendment
Question 5: Against the Referred Law
Question 6: For the Referred Law
Question 7:  Against the Additional Forms and Expansion of Commercial Gaming
Question A: For the Charter Amendment
Question B: For the Charter Amendment
Question C: For the Charter Amendment
Question D: For the Charter Amendment
Question E: For the Charter Amendment

If you’d like to educate yourself about the local charter amendments (A,B,C,D, & E) I recommend this excellent post by Tom Coale on HoCo Rising and, of course, this helpful guide from the Howard County Leaque of Women Voters.

Since I’m not voting on the big picture stuff today maybe I’ll drop into the Mobbies and put in a vote or two for a fellow HoCo blogger.

Poll Dancing

As much as I disdain Question 7, I grudgingly appreciate the amount of money it has poured into the Maryland economy this fall. The ballot question to expand gambling may be the most egregious example legislative shenanigans to ever befall our state but it has been a windfall for the local advertising and public relations industry. Both sides of the issue have poured millions into various media outlets to try and sway voters.

It’s even giving people jobs. A friend who is working an early polling site for one of the better school board candidates (Gertler,Giles, Siddiqui, Scott) told me that MGM is paying people a hundred bucks a day to ask voters to vote “yes” on Question 7 while Penn National is paying people to ask voters to vote “no.”

“The folks are dropped off by a van, photographed periodically to make sure they are there working hard, and picked up at the end of the evening.”

Imagine if that kind of money were available for the really important stuff like the HoCo charter issues.


The other day I asked Waterboy how he was planning to vote on Question 7. Waterboy is a 2010 college grad with a good job. He recently bought his first home.  “I’m voting for it,” he replied. He told me his reason was that he supports adding table games in Maryland.

I do too but the bill that is being put in front of the voters is about much more than table games. It’s about Maryland politics at its lowest. Our legislators can easily add table games to the current casinos without adding a new one in National Harbor. The way I see it, voting against Question 7 is a chance for voters to send a message to Annapolis that you’re tired of those who put personal politics ahead of the common good. 

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Sign Bandits

HoCo’s tolerance for illegal campaign signs has broken. Last week independent senate candidate Rob Sobhani blanketed HoCo roadways with multiple campaign signs in single locations. That apparently was the straw that broke the camels back. Up until now the county had tolerated campaign signs placed illegally in county right of ways and a few school board candidates took advantage of this. Last week all illegal campaign signs were caught up in a sweep by HoCo road crews. Loco candidates can thank Rob Sobhani for this change of heart.

Yesterday Mr. Sobhani made a brief campaign appearance at the Bain Senior Center early voting location accompanied by his own film crew. Council chair Mary Kay Sigaty was working the polling site on behalf of school board candidate EllenFlynn Giles when Rob, with crew in tow, approached her. After introducing herself, Mary Kay took the opportunity to upbraid the candidate for his illegal HoCo loco sign saturation. Rob tried brushing off the criticism by laying the blame on “overzealous” campaign workers.

Mary Kay wasn't having any of that. “"That's the excuse we all use,” she responded, “but ultimately, those illegal signs are your responsibility."

Well said.

A witness tells me that at this point the camera crew stopped filming.