In the giving spirit

December 23, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2015 - Salisbury, Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on In the giving spirit 

One nice thing about Salisbury elections is that money unspent in the campaigns is not carried over to the next election but is required to either be returned to contributors or given to another entity, normally a charity. (There are exceptions, though – stick with me, it’s called foreshadowing.) With the release of the final financial statements earlier this week, I was curious to see where all the money went.

I’ll begin with the City Council races and District 1, where defeated incumbent Shanie Shields distributed $959.48 to a number of organizations around her neighborhood. $500 went to the Chipman Foundation while smaller amounts were received by the Wesley Temple, Operation We Care, and two local elementary schools, West Salisbury and Pemberton. Meanwhile, the winner April Jackson donated her modest leftover sum of $26.82 to the Salisbury Advisory Council while Sarah Halcott closed out her books by donating $96.13 to the Art Institute and Gallery. That made sense given Halcott’s line of business as an artisan.

There wasn’t a lot of money left in District 2, as the only candidate to file a final statement was victor Muir Boda. Boda gave $39.61 to Salisbury Neighborhood Housing Services.

District 3 winner Jack Heath had much more unspent, as he distributed $1,495.80 among four recipients: Lower Shore Enterprises, Operation We Care, the Salisbury Zoo, and the Joseph House. Amounts ranged from $325 to $500 for each. Neither of the other candidates had leftover funds at the end of the campaign.

Lots of money flowed into District 4, but not all of it was spent campaigning. Jim Ireton split the $399.96 remaining balance equally between the Wicomico High softball team, Tri-Community Mediation, and the Wicomico Public Library Homework Help Center. On the other hand, Roger Mazzullo had no money remaining.

Finally among the Council members, Laura Mitchell did not need to file a report. She was the lone unopposed Council candidate, as was Mayor Jake Day for his post. And that’s where the story gets interesting.

First of all, Day was two days late in filing his report because he has a discrepancy between his records and accounts of $764.85. I make no accusations as to funny business; most likely someone put a number in the wrong column or the bank messed up. There are any number of logical reasons for the error.

More importantly, though, Day had over $10,000 to distribute – getting contributions when running unopposed will tend to do that – and he chose to make two disbursements. Instead of charitable contributions, though, as of this week we have two brand new state political entities:

  • Jake Day for Maryland had an initial contribution of $6,000. Day serves as the chairman and his campaign treasurer Jordan Gilmore retains that role for the new entity.
  • The New Day for Maryland PAC got the remaining $4,075.89, with Day’s campaign manager Alison Pulcher serving as chair and Gilmore as treasurer.

Note that the PAC is not to be confused with the New Day MD PAC that former gubernatorial candidate Charles Lollar began in 2009. Lollar’s PAC, as of its 2015 report filed in January, has less than $250 to its name.

Naturally these new campaign finance entities make me wonder if Day is going to serve a full term unhindered by political aspirations or perhaps challenge Bob Culver in 2018. Heck, even Jim Ireton – who has strongly hinted about a Congressional run – didn’t move his city money to create a federal account. (Ireton’s had a state account for a few years, with just over $1,000 in it at last report back in January.) But the campaign entity can also serve as a warchest to stave off challengers in the next city election, too.

In the meantime, we should be proud that much of the leftover campaign cash will be doing good in the community. With the elections now set for November, the contributions came as a nice Christmas gift to several local entities. It will have to tide them over through 2019, though.

Update: Day responds:

The start of something good?

November 16, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2015 - Salisbury, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on The start of something good? 

Tonight the City of Salisbury embarked on a new chapter in its government as its City Council changed hands. Ironically, the person running the meeting at the beginning would shortly become the city’s mayor – Jake Day wielded the gavel for the last time, departing slightly from the agenda to ask for a moment of silence for the people of Paris.

But the first to make comments was outgoing mayor Jim Ireton, who credited the “unsung heroes” who voted for him twice as mayor but “await(s) the incredible things we’ll do together” during the next four years. Ireton also noted later that changing just one person on council can make a profound difference in the body.

Jack Heath, who won election to a full term, noted he “came to know the power of the city and the goodness of its workers.” The man he defeated, Tim Spies, said the last 4 1/2 years were “good for me” and believed the city had a terrific future, with high expectations. He encouraged more people to make a Monday night of getting to Council meetings, adding afterward it was half-price burger night at the Irish Penny to cap off the evening. Public service for him was “fulfilling” with no end to opportunities, Spies said later.

Outgoing Mayor Ireton noted on Spies, “We would be well to have 33,000 Tim Spieses in the city.”

The other Council member leaving, Shanie Shields, vowed “I’m not going anywhere.” Not only would she be there for her successors, she planned on using her newfound time to make County Council meetings. In speaking of Shields, Ireton noted that the Salisbury he grew up in was a “place of 1,000 moms” and Shields was one of them. Shields, he added, reminded him never to forget our best work is ahead of us.

Noting the overflow crowd in the garage of Station 16, Laura Mitchell also hoped they would stay involved. “I would love to see more of this.” Day wrapped up that portion of the evening to noting Council had “exceeded my expectations.”

Ireton and Day, with help from Delegates Christopher Adams, Carl Anderton, and Sherrie Sample-Hughes, and Senator Jim Mathias, presented certificates to Shields and Spies. Anderton also revealed to the audience that Governor Larry Hogan had come through his cancer treatment successfully and was deemed cancer-free, which brought rousing applause from the gathering.

Once those who were leaving were honored, it was time to turn the page and swear in the new members. The Council went first, then Jake Day, with his wife and daughter by his side.

Our featured speaker was Comptroller Peter Franchot, who let us know “I’m a huge fan of Jake Day.”

In his relatively brief remarks, he praised Salisbury as “a city on the rise” with “fresh talent (and) new energy.” We were crucial to the state’s economic fabric, concluded Franchot.

The Council did have a little work to do, though: electing officers. In what turned out to be uncontested votes by acclamation, Jim Ireton nominated Jack Heath to be Council president and Muir Boda nominated Laura Mitchell to its vice-president.

Once again, we heard remarks from the new Mayor and Council. Day made a laundry list of promises, concluding with a vow “we will give you a Salisbury we can be proud of.”

It was noted that Muir Boda had won after multiple tries for office, to which he responded, “I’m finally here.” Even though it was a long process for Boda, he was nowhere near as emotional as April Jackson, who choked up when she said, “I wish my dad could be here.” A well-known community leader, Billy Gene Jackson died earlier this year. Once she regained her composure, she told the crowd, “I’m ready to go. Not to go home, but to get to work!”

As the new Council President, Jack Heath said mutual respect and inclusion was “his pledge.” Once he spoke, he rapped the gavel and declared the meeting to be adjourned.

Because it comes on board at this point in the year, the Council will get to ease into its duties a little bit – the city’s budget isn’t due for a few months. But we will have crime and economic development to deal with, and that’s a pretty full plate as well.

I think they’ll do just fine. To wrap up, here’s a guy I’m proud to call friend, Muir Boda, and his wife Briggit.

It took six years, but I’m pleased my support finally helped make him a winner. My advice to him? Get used to having your picture taken.

To borrow a phrase from Delegate Carl,Anderton, let’s get to work!

A new Day for Salisbury, and a Council to match

November 3, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2015 - Salisbury, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on A new Day for Salisbury, and a Council to match 

We knew awhile back that Jake Day would Salisbury’s next mayor several months ago when the filing deadline came and went with him as the only candidate in the field. The only question was whether he would get a City Council friendly to his interests, and the answer is somewhat mixed.

With the redistricting set up as it was, it was possible somewhere between one and three incumbents would be elected, as well as the possibility the outgoing mayor would hang around as a Council member. When the smoke cleared tonight, we got the old mayor and two incumbents – one of them, though, is incumbent only a few months as he was appointed to a vacancy last year.

The previous (outgoing) edition of City Council was Day as president, Laura Mitchell as vice-president, and Jack Heath, Shanie Shields, and Tim Spies. We know Day advanced to mayor, while Mitchell was unopposed for her District 5 seat – the only two getting a free pass.

Redistricting lumped Heath and Spies into the same District 3, with Heath getting the victory tonight. Meanwhile, District 1 incumbent Shanie Shields lost her rematch from 2013 with April Jackson, who got 48% of a three-way vote.

In District 4, Jim Ireton prevailed by 53 votes over newcomer Roger Mazzullo, but Muir Boda blew out the field in District 2 – he only got 80 votes but everyone else combined for just 57. Yes, turnout was terrible – initial totals indicate just 1,414 voters bothered to show out of 13,455 registered. Of course, the lack of a mayor’s race – or any race in District 5, which is the largest district in terms of voters – did the most to dampen turnout on what was otherwise a gorgeous day to go to the polls.

With the exception of District 4 I think the Council will be an improvement. Interestingly enough, the newly elected Councilman announced on WBOC-TV he’s already considering another race, perhaps seeking the Democratic nomination for Congress next year. Honestly, for his sake I hope Jim Ireton is kidding because I think the rest of Council is willing to be the work horses rather than the show horse.

A couple other things about the changeover – the composition of the body gets a shade younger because Boda’s relative youth outweighs the age increase between Day and Ireton, who is a dozen years older, and Jackson being a few years younger than Shields. Boda also marks the first elected Republican since Louise Smith served from 2007-11.

So if there’s anything I foresee among City Council, I suspect there will be some tension between former mayor Ireton and new mayor Day. I’m sure there is precedent for former Salisbury mayors returning to government; however, my limited experience with the city means Day is only the third mayor I’ve lived under in 11 years. Previous mayor Barrie Parsons Tilghman has largely avoided the spotlight since she left office in 2009. Whether it’s Ireton’s atrocious rent control idea, his high-strung personality, or his jihad against those who invest in the city as landlords, Jim may be the sand in the gears when it comes to moving Salisbury forward.

With the new rules, the city is now set until 2019 – no more alternating elections in the spring of odd-numbered years. It will make 2017 rather quiet around these parts until the latter half when state campaigns get going.

On a personal note, those who advertised with me went 1-for-2, and while Muir Boda lapped the field I would say getting 44% as a novice candidate against an incumbent mayor with built-in name recognition as Roger Mazzullo did counts as a moral victory. So if you want to increase your market share, you may consider giving this website a try.

The end of many roads

November 2, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2015 - Salisbury, Delmarva items, Politics · Comments Off on The end of many roads 

I was struck today by a Facebook post from an old friend of mine, a former co-worker from Ohio who I credit with introducing me to Rush Limbaugh. (We had the original “Rush room” at our office. It’s a long story.) He and his wife are both running for office in their little town, with him running for City Council and her seeking a seat on the local school board. (Yes, like probably 90% of other Americans, they have an elected school board.)

One thing I had to gently chastise him about is that the campaign didn’t end today like he said – it ends tomorrow when the last vote is cast. Regardless, he and his wife are among the many thousands who are trying for everything from township trustee to governor (Kentucky and Mississippi have gubernatorial elections tomorrow.) We talk a lot about the Presidential horse race, but those tiny races that involve just a few dozen voters mean the world to those local candidates. The vast majority of them have no desire to be on the debate stage with Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton, et. al. – they just believe they can bring new and improved ideas for making their towns or cities great again, perhaps saving the idea of America in the process.

Years ago, I was one of those who stood out in the cold all day for a municipal candidate or two, whether for my Council district or for mayor, or some other office. The memories start to blur after awhile, although it was always an uphill battle supporting Republicans in Toledo and Lucas County – that much I remember. It seemed like the teachers’ union, Teamsters, or UAW always had people working polls while the GOP had – me. (They worked shifts, I was there all day. I was precinct chair, so I considered it my job.)

In this day and age, running for office can be a lot of work. Perhaps the toughest part of seeking an elected position is getting enough buy-in from people to become volunteers. While thousands run for office, and many more thousands make a living (or at least some small paycheck) working in politics as a profession, the fact is voters in this country exist in the millions. It’s a tremendous task to contact all of them for a national campaign, arduous at a state level, but once you reach the county and local levels retail politics is possible. I don’t think Ben Carson is going to knock on my door, but both Keyvan Aarabi and Muir Boda did this year, as did Josh Hastings last year and Jake Day the year before. (Alas, I was home for neither this year. I just know they were here by the literature they left.)

Just to use Salisbury as an example, there will only be six winners tomorrow while eight others will see their dreams dashed. In that latter number will be at least one incumbent member of City Council as redistricting put them together; on the other hand, the incoming mayor and one incumbent Council member will win the moment they vote for themselves. It’s the other twelve who will be sweating it out tomorrow night.

I really have a vested interest in only two races. I live in District 2 and was pleased my friend Muir Boda lived in the same district, so if you do I encourage you to vote for him.

Literally across the street from me is District 4. One has to wonder why current mayor Jim Ireton – who vowed that “help is on the way” in his initial campaign – is retreating from the mayor’s office where he can best provide said help to run for City Council. My guess is that he knew rather quickly Jake Day would crush him if he ran for another term, and at the speed which Day not only racked up support over the incumbent Debbie Campbell in 2013 but became Council president upon taking office it was likely Jim tried to shape his district to his advantage, figuring he would have an easy ride onto Council to keep his hand in the game.

But the recent push by Ireton to punish landlords via rent control isn’t about empowering renters, but beating up political opponents and dividing the city between haves and have-nots. Otherwise why exempt multi-family residences? On the other hand, I was impressed enough by Roger Mazzullo that I crossed the aisle to take his ad. I doubt I would agree with him on every single issue, but he wants the city to be more business-friendly and so do I. The soon-to-be-former mayor may argue he’s for business too, but he seems to have it in for a group who invests in the city and we’re tired of the drama. The citizens of Salisbury should make a clean break from the Ireton era and elect Roger Mazzullo.

By this time tomorrow night we should know who will be working with Jake Day to move Salisbury forward. Feel free to ask me for suggestions.

And after the campaigns are over, win or lose, take a few moments to appreciate those who sacrificed many evenings, weekends, and family events to present themselves for serving you as an elected official. They’re not always the most popular lot but at this local level they’re doing it for their hometowns rather than personal gain. Even if they lose, I hope they stay involved.

Where will Salisbury go after Tuesday?

November 1, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2015 - Salisbury, Delmarva items, Politics · Comments Off on Where will Salisbury go after Tuesday? 

Unless there’s a write-in campaign I’m unaware of, Tuesday will be the coronation for Jake Day as Salisbury mayor. But the question is what sort of City Council will he work with?

With the revamped five-district Council map,  the deck was shuffled for the composition of City Council. Two incumbents were placed in the same district, while two of the new districts have no incumbent. Thus, City Council will have no more than three holdovers but it is possible that only one incumbent could survive, and that’s only because she is unopposed.

Publicly I’m sure Jake would be tight-lipped about who he would prefer from each district. Obviously he has worked with the incumbents but there may be some challengers who more align with his economic plan. (I had to look up just what “place-based economic development” was, though.)

It seems to me that Day will be able to lead effectively, but I suspect if Jim Ireton is elected to City Council it may result in more butting of heads between a mayor and former mayor, particularly on issues Ireton has advocated like rent control. Will Ireton try to promote his own failed agenda from a Council seat?

In the next few years, assuming current trends continue, Salisbury will be the county seat of the Eastern Shore’s largest county. We are gaining on the current leader, Cecil County.

For the longest time Salisbury has billed itself as the “crossroads of Delmarva.” But the city is at a crossroads itself – as Day himself points out, “we have been slow to recover from the recent recession.” Perhaps we have assets to leverage, but the other thing we need is a leader to tell Annapolis we could use a little help in some areas and to back off in others.

Regardless of who is elected to City Council, Day continues a generational turnover in county leadership positions. With the exception of Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, all of our county’s representative Delegates were born in the 1970s and all of them are in their first terms in Annapolis. If you want change in Salisbury, well, we are going to get it.

Campaign finance, Salisbury style

October 28, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2015 - Salisbury, Delmarva items, Politics · Comments Off on Campaign finance, Salisbury style 

With just a week to go before the election, we finally learned who was giving and receiving the most money of the dozen-plus candidates running for office in the city of Salisbury. (Thanks to the Salisbury Independent for sharing the city’s information in their summary.)

After reading through the various reports, one thing is clear: Jake Day is great at raising money. Despite the fact we learned weeks ago he would be unopposed, contributors have still dropped nearly $25,000 in his campaign coffers. (As I recall, there are options to wind down a campaign account once the cycle is through, so Day may have the opportunity to select from a number of willing groups and share the wealth.)

Last time around in the former District 1, Shanie Shields outraised and outspent her two opponents, one of which was the current office seeker April Jackson. The same is holding true this time, as Shields holds a roughly 3-to-1 fundraising advantage over her two opponents combined. Newcomer Sarah Halcott is the third person in the race.

The advantage is even more pronounced in District 2, with Muir Boda miles ahead of his three opponents. Before I go on, I will disclose that I am a recipient of advertising money from Boda, but two things jumped out at me from his opposition.

First, Keyvan Aarabi only lists $200 in contributions but nearly $900 in spending, so the question is whether they failed to report candidate loans. (Perhaps they made that oversight.) But that’s better than not reporting at all, which Marvin Ames failed to do. The third aspirant, Justin Gregoli, reported his activity did not meet the threshold for itemizing.

In District 3, where two incumbents are battling it out, Jack Heath has raised money while Tim Spies is funding his own efforts, vowing to return contributions. Compared to Heath, newcomer Kevin Lindsay barely registers, having raised just $370 for his bid.

After I disclose that District 4’s Roger Mazzullo is also an advertiser, let me point out that he is by far the most successful political newcomer when it comes to fundraising, raising $3,450 so far compared to outgoing Mayor Jim Ireton’s $870. (In an effort to portray himself as the little guy, Ireton is limiting contributions to $20 – of course, he has the advantage of name recognition that Mazzullo has to spend money to build.)

Finally, since Laura Mitchell is unopposed in District 5 she filed the report stating she had raised and spent less than $600. Given that District 5 voters have no choices on the ballot I would be surprised if more than 100 show up. Turnout in city elections is already abysmal, so 200 to 250 votes in any district may be plenty.

(A total of 2,775 voters participated in the 2013 election, which was citywide and had all contested races. With the lack of a mayor’s race and no contest in one district, I think we’ll be hard-pressed to see 2,000 votes total. Hope they surprise me.)

As we enter the home stretch, we will see what the candidates do to maximize their positions. If money equals votes, City Council could be very receptive to the pro-business side of Jake Day’s agenda.

WCRC meeting – October 2015

October 26, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2015 - Salisbury, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on WCRC meeting – October 2015 

After a delay of a month caused by a trial that resulted in a conviction, we got to hear from Matt Maciarello tonight as our featured speaker. So we did the usual Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and roster of distinguished guests before received the treasurer’s report.

Matt went over the two key issues we’re having – juvenile crime and the opioid epidemic. Most of his time was spent talking about the latter, although he noted specific information on overdoses was hard to come by due to HIPAA restrictions. It was possible to deduce this information from other factors, though.

Noting that “you can’t arrest your way out of the problem,”  Maciarello pointed out that the county had what he described as an “opioid reduction officer,” who was tasked with, among other things, figuring out what other states were doing. One example Matt used was the TROSA program in North Carolina, where rehabbing addicts were both treated and taught one of five trades.

Closer to home Matt wanted to see a 24-hour call center established so those in need could be connected to resources like available treatment beds. He also wanted to differentiate the legal approach to those who sold heroin for profit as opposed to those who sold it to feed their habits, although the idea was to get both off the streets. He also advocated for better coordination of treatment, explaining that support shouldn’t end when a patient leaves the center. Many people need methadone treatment for months or even years afterward, he added.

Yet there was a compassionate side to the approach. Matt believed we needed to “take away the shame from opioid addiction” because it’s touched a lot of lives and people shouldn’t be discouraged from getting help. Many times the problem began with over-prescription of legal drugs or kids accessing their parents’ medication, Eventually this can lead to heroin addiction, which is dangerous because of how the drug is “cut” with other compounds.

Juveniles were also a concern for Maciarello, who noted we have “a critical mass of anti-social teens.”  Matt seemed a little frustrated with the current juvenile system, which he had “broad philosophical issues” with. A different path he spent some time encouraging was that of mentoring, for which there is a critical need based on a lengthy waiting list of youth looking for one. Even an hour a week can make a difference, said Matt! and he encouraged the club to be a leader in that regard. We were pleased to learn County Executive Bob Culver was on board with this idea, as Culver revealed some employee policy changes to accommodate the need were in the works.

Opioids accounted for about 70 percent of the crime problem, but overall Matt’s goal was “to set the model for the state” on reversing the problem.

All that was a tough act for City Council candidate Roger Mazzullo to follow, so he stuck more to his pro-business agenda. He wanted to work with the new mayor on bringing jobs and industry to the city through incentives; however, he also mentioned the desire to address youth crime through more activities for the youth. As a neophyte politician, Roger was “impressed” with the cooperation between law enforcement and the community; in turn, Maciarello praised Mazzullo for being the one candidate to meet with him and raise “thoughtful questions.”

One thing I asked, based on the marketing experience he touted, was what strengths he could use to sell Salisbury. He emphasized the rural feel of the area, but the subject somehow came atound to specific stores like Harris Teeter or Redner’s, specifically to fill the old Giant/Super Fresh location near the north Walmart. (Personally I think Redner’s would be the better fit there but I could envision either.) And you can count Mazzullo among those who want a Cracker Barrel. Still, he added “I believe in local (business),” adding he was less than impressed with his opponent’s business record as mayor.

After all that, the reports were fairly anti-climactic. On behalf of the Central Committee, Mark McIver reminded us the Lincoln Day Dinner was in less than two weeks, and we were looking for silent auction items. Thus, we secured a one-hour tennis lesson courtesy of Delegate Mary Beth Carozza (who as I recall played collegiately) and a surfing lesson from Matt Maciarello. Delegate Carl Anderton didn’t have a lesson to give, but a guided tour of the State House was a good substitute.

Alison Pulcher spoke on behalf of HERO Day, which will also occur on November 7. The main events are a 5k run and dog walk, but other events and speakers would also liven up the festivities.

I gave a brief synopsis of the fall festivals, taking the time to thank my volunteers, and also reminded the group we will need to establish a Nominations Committee by next month to select possible officers for next year. Finally, Joe Ollingrr asked if we could resume getting registration reports from the Board of Elections.

Truly, it was one of our more informative meetings of the year. The next one is slated for November 23, the Monday before Thanksgiving. It will be the final WCRC meeting of 2015.

Is the rent really too damn high in Salisbury?

Facing his final few months as Salisbury’s mayor, Jim Ireton decided to be Santa Claus. You know the old adage about a democracy lasting until the people figuring out how they can vote themselves a piece of the treasury? This is really a proposal for the 2018 Ireton campaign.

In a Facebook posting, the mayor explained his reasoning.

Today I announced that I will forward to the City Council a Rent Stabilization Initiative aimed at bringing rents in Salisbury into line with national averages. This is a common sense step which will have very real results for residents who find themselves living paycheck-to-paycheck, struggling to make unnecessarily exorbitant rent payments. I was asked by someone earlier today “Why now?”

Here’s why:

  • 59% of renting households are cost burdened, and 36% of households are severely cost burdened, i.e. paying 50% or more. This means that over 1,600 Salisbury households are paying between 30% and 50% of their income for rental housing costs, and an additional 2,700 households are paying over 50% of their income for rental costs.
  • The lack of affordable housing in Salisbury has a quantifiable negative impact on our local economy. High cost burden means households are spending less on food, transportation, health care, and apparel, while accruing little-to-no wealth. If housing was affordable for all renting households, an additional eight million dollars a year would make its way back into the local economy.
  • From 2000-2008 rents rose dramatically, over taking the national average, as a result of increased energy costs and a doubling of the average home price.

If we want and expect to do better for the people in this City who are hurting the most, then we cannot shrink from this tough discussion -and I can tell you that I won’t. Our residents pay far too much for the quality of the rentals that they live in, and far too many of them are severely cost-burdened. In the end, renters know when they are paying too much in rent; it’s when there’s no money left on the 2nd of the month. We have tried endlessly for 30 years to address the problem of the greed of the rental industry in Salisbury. This Rent Stabilization Program is good for our residents, good for the local economy, and will allow the City to get a return on the investment it makes in its citizens.

It’s small wonder that there’s a chorus of renters who agree. They think they are getting something for nothing but what they will get are fewer choices or more substandard dwellings.

But let’s look at some of these claims. Ireton says that a large percentage of renting households are overburdened. However, his proposal only addresses individual houses, not multi-family dwellings, so only some portion of the population would benefit. We aren’t given the number who would actually be affected.

And I still can’t quite wrap my head around how additional money makes it into the local economy, because it’s not really additional money. The renters aren’t making any additional money on the deal. Granted, they may gain some choice on where to spend it but this is pretty much a zero-sum game.

Ireton is playing the old class envy card here, pitting poor, struggling renters against a class of businesses his allies derisively refer to as “slumlords.” It’s a convenient target to evoke sympathy, but one tends to forget that these businesses and individual homeowners are also investors in the community. The $8 million the renters save isn’t just sitting in their pockets – they are paying workers to oversee their properties, spending money on upkeep, or, as individual homeowners who depend on rental income, they buy food, transportation, health care, and apparel too.

Let’s imagine for a moment that this initiative passes – and given the current composition of City Council I could see three votes to make it happen. What incentive is there for people to invest in housing if the return is arbitrarily limited by the assessed value of the house, something that’s determined on a triennial basis? Once a house is maxed out on rent, in effect the price is frozen for the remainder of the three years unless the city benevolently changes the formula.

In the meantime, the decrease in money coming in makes investment less worthwhile, so housing prices will sag. Arguably that’s good for renters who may want to purchase a house, but the house they get may not be in as good of repair as it could have been because less money came in to make repairs, just the essentials to keep it up to code. It’s the small mom-and-pop investor businesses which would be hurt the most by this law because the rental companies can increase the rent on those dwellings they own outside the city limits.

The solution for homeowners may be that of subdividing larger houses into apartments where possible. Certainly that’s not an elegant solution and I suspect the various housing boards may look a lot more severely at these efforts because it’s a way of skirting a bad law.

It’s just the latest chapter in the Ireton war on landlords. He may think he can bring Salisbury up from poverty but instead it will just change the distribution of wealth slightly, eventually make affordable housing more scarce, and discourage investment – or, as Ireton calls it, “greed.”

My friend Muir Boda has his own thoughts on the process, and notes that College Park dropped its program a couple years ago. I agree with his main point, though: instead of using government to bring one class down in the attempt to raise another, why not try to add value by attracting the kind of economic development which can make fewer households “cost burdened.”

Perhaps that should have been Ireton’s plan all along.

Third Friday September 2015 in pictures and text

September 18, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2015 - Salisbury, Delmarva items, Personal stuff, Politics · Comments Off on Third Friday September 2015 in pictures and text 

Tonight I had a choice: expand once again on a topic I wrote about for today’s Patriot Post or go to Third Friday and see the sights. Our military prowess is important, but this one was more fun.

Hundreds of people agreed with me. The first photo was taken looking west from Division Street while the second was from within the Plaza. They were taken perhaps 20 minutes apart.

I hadn’t taken ten steps into the Plaza when I saw City Council member Laura Mitchell and husband Miguel heading out. Seems like Third Friday is the place for people I know. But I wasn’t really expecting this guy, who’s about 30 miles from being “downy o’shun.”

Yes, that’s former Delegate Don Murphy hanging out with current Delegate Carl Anderton and Jackie Wellfonder, at whose behest I took the photo.

But there were two people looking for votes at tables. One was mayoral candidate Jake Day, who has no one on the ballot against him, and the other was Muir Boda.

He had a well-stocked table, but then Muir’s been a Third Friday fan for a long time.

One element which contributes to its success is the music. This month The Larks were playing on the Plaza.

That photo came out pretty well for being taken in the twilight. The earlier sunset made the event finish after dark.

And as it was winding down, it was plain to see that a block of Division Street was one giant sidewalk chalk canvas. They probably had 200 boxes scattered around Third Friday; fortunately, there’s not much chance of rain although there is a 100% chance of traffic rolling over the colorful street.

Tonight was the second-to-last outdoor Third Friday of the year, although there will be outdoor events associated with it from time to time over the winter months. Throughout this year, it seems the crowds have been excellent and the city is trying to expand on the success with First Saturday and the trolley between Salisbury University and downtown which runs on weekend nights.

With all that is going on this weekend around the region, Third Friday seems to be holding its own. Salisbury’s had its share of bad news over the last decade, but this golden goose continues to produce each warm-weather month.

Time to get serious

While the pace of a political campaign is often frenetic, the passage of Labor Day has long been understood as the point people begin to pay attention. For a normal middle-class family it means the kids are back in school, vacations are memories, and the routine is back underway. Most people have some sort of election in the fall, and while it’s a statewide election year in a handful of states, the general rule for odd-numbered years such as this is that municipal and local elections are contested.

So years ago, when I first got my start in politics, I helped out local campaigns for several different offices, from mayor and city council to municipal judge and clerk of courts. Similarly, here in Salisbury where I live there is a municipal election, although about 1/5 of residents won’t have much of a reason to turn out because their particular district has an uncontested race just as the mayor’s race does. Otherwise, there are 2 to 4 people seeking City Council seats from each district.

In looking at the field, it is comprised mainly of those who have ran before, whether successfully or not. But there are a  few who haven’t ran and they are finding out the hard way what it takes to compete. Theoretically, however, there could be four political newcomers elected to City Council although the odds of a complete “throw the bums out” mentality aren’t that great. You may not like the system at large but your person isn’t necessarily the scoundrel everyone else makes the group out to be. Quite honestly, there are people who walk into the polling place and vote for the name they know without any clue about what that person stands for. I’m trying to decrease that number but it’s a slow process.

In the next few weeks, though, there is another electoral battle shaping up – just not in the traditional sense. Thursday will be the first of four public hearings concerning the adoption of an elected board of education here in Wicomico County – round one will be held at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center beginning at 6 p.m. Out of Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City, Wicomico is one of just three without an elected school board and, unless the rules are changed locally, will become the only one where the process is handled completely outside the county’s jurisdiction. (The other two counties have – or are in the process of creating – local nominating commissions for their appointed boards.)

It’s a local issue that bears watching, particularly as the Wicomico County Board of Education handles more money than the county’s overall budget yet is rigidly controlled as to its partisanship and often has the situation where a member of one party is appointed by the administration of the opposite. Those who aren’t aware of the situation should be willing to listen beginning Thusday night. It’s time to get serious.

Tales of a community barbecue

August 30, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2015 - Salisbury, Delmarva items, Politics · Comments Off on Tales of a community barbecue 

Yesterday was a pleasant day for a barbecue, and as it turned out City Council candidate Muir Boda had one. In the space of a half-hour Doverdale Park went from abandoned to buzzing with activity – and I’m not just talking about other candidates who dropped by to engage with that working-class neighborhood. Once the DJ got going, people began to show.

Boda is running in City Council District 2, but as the map is drawn many areas are a short walk from the adjacent District 4. It is the district where outgoing Mayor Jim Ireton is running for City Council, but opponent Roger Mazzullo was there meeting and greeting voters. Doverdale Park is actually in that district, with Boda’s on the other side of Decatur Street.

Mazzullo had a table full of items with his name on them, but very little further information. This display was there for the cuteness factor.

In talking to Roger, I gathered his concern was economic development and jobs, as both he and his wife operate businesses. Ironically, both do most of their business outside Salisbury on a regional and national level.

As the event went on, I noticed there were three types of people. Some came for the free food and left, while the kids naturally ate and drank while playing basketball or riding their bikes. But a select few stayed and chatted with others there in the park’s modest picnic pavilion.

Those who did stick around found a number of fellow City Council candidates and others who wanted to hear this neighborhood’s concerns. Boda and Muzzullo stuck around for the whole thing, but Delegate Carl Anderton was there as were April Jackson from District 1 and Laura Mitchell from District 5. Barring a write-in campaign, she is unopposed for re-election but was there for a good hour or so hearing from folks.

I’m not a great judge of crowds, but I would guess 75 to 100 people came by. Of course, not all of them were voters – and in hindsight, speaking as a Central Committee member, there should have been someone to register voters there – but it created a good impression and Boda has to because he lives just down the street from there. So those are his neighbors he hosted.

While we contemplate how many billions – yes, billions with a “b” – the Presidential candidates will spend on mass media, it’s nice to get a reminder that Tip O’Neill’s adage that “all politics is local” still rings true.

WCRC meeting – August 2015

It was via a roundabout route, but we finally heard from the man who’s presumptively Salisbury’s next mayor, Jake Day. Because Jake had another place to be this evening – the Salisbury City Council meeting that he ran as their president – we had a succession of speakers to fill the time. It was interesting to note that several of these speakers dropped in as our meeting was going on, which told me they were looking forward to hearing what Jake had to say.

But we began as we always do, with the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and introduction of distinguished guests, all done by our first vice-president Muir Boda, who filled in for our under-the-weather president Shawn Jester. We then did the swearing in of new second vice-president Dave Snyder, who pledged to be “a very good listener” and work to recruit 100 new GOP voters and new club members.

I took a little time to thank people for helping out at the Wicomico County Fair, as did Dave. My one suggestion was to perhaps look into a spot for outside next year.

In a Central Committee report, Mark McIver called the elected school board “one of the biggest things on our plate.” He added there was a new initiative called “We Decide” that was a non-partisan group to back an all-elected school board, and related the urging from County Council that we should participate in these hearings. It was going to be “an 8-week push.”

Mark Edney added his two cents, informing us that there will be an initiative this fall to address the issue of vacancies in the General Assembly through the state party’s bylaws. Noting the issues faced by Carroll County, Edney intoned that it was “important that we get this right” because members of both parties in the General Assembly sought to take away the power local Central Committees had to choose successors.

Joe Ollinger updated us on the Crab Feast, which had most of the items in place except a silent auction coordinator. It’s still on schedule for September 12 at Schumaker Park.

Speaking of food, Muir Boda announced his own, more modest event this Saturday at Doverdale Park. His community barbecue was slated for 3-5 p.m. but volunteers could show up at 2:00. Boda remarked he had three opponents in the election, so getting out the vote was paramount.

He also commented that the proposed city curfew was a “big issue” but questioned whether it would be enforceable given current resources and the spread-out geography of Salisbury. By itself, a curfew “won’t solve youth crime,” Muir said.

Senator Addie Eckardt, who had arrived after we began, spoke briefly about her upcoming annual bike ride through the district that will cover Wicomico County on Thursday. She also praised Governor Hogan, who has “put a great team together.” It would help government become, as she put it, more responsive and cost-effective.

Delegate Christopher Adams remarked about his attendance at the defund Planned Parenthood rally in Easton as well as a stop last week at Wallops Island in Virginia. They were expecting to resume launches at the pad damaged in an explosion last fall by March, he said.

Looking forward, though, he wanted to concentrate on regulatory reform, as some needed changes could be done more easily through that avenue than through the legislative process.

Fellow Delegate Johnny Mautz predicted “a really busy session” next year but expressed his disappointment in getting a low 25% score from the League of Conservation Voters. I looked up the floor votes they scored: two were anti-fracking measures and the other was the “repeal” of the rain tax sponsored by Mike Miller. So pro-business was not going to meet pro-environmnet with the LCV.

Bunky Luffman stood in for Delegate Carl Anderton, commenting to an earlier point made about regulation by bringing up the sprinkler mandate that is halting construction locally. One local developer lost a builder who refused to build more dwellings – they weren’t able to make money with the mandate and additional costs.

Most of the legislators had come late to hear Jake Day, who spoke for about 15 minutes and answered questions for another 20. Apologizing both for being late and a lack of sleep as a new dad, Day told us he was “very excited” about becoming mayor. As a Council member he was pursuing a pro-business agenda, but noted “I have found a roadblock in the current administration.” Like the state of Maryland, his effort would be to attract business: “I want us to be competitive,” said Day, citing Delaware under Jack Markell as a “more friendly and welcoming environment.” Perdue’s decision to move some of its corporate operations to Delaware “sent a message,” said Jake. “The economy will be first and foremost on my mind each day.” His idea was to grow jobs “locally and organically,”

One area he saw as a job creator was downtown, for which revitalization was important to Jake. It’s “part of the renaissance” of Salisbury, said Day. He criticized the “lack of active leadership from the top” and sought a City Council that was cordial, but aggressive. He also announced the intention to continue divesting the city’s surface parking lots, believing successful downtowns do better with infill rather than surface parking.

Crime was another top issue. Day observed that criminal activity was starting at a younger and younger age, so the city could have to “pick up where the parents left off.”

It was an enlightening address, but the questions were good, too. The first one out of the chute was about the “rain tax.” Jake disagreed with the state mandate, but believed it was necessary for a city which had ignored the issue for over a century. He was willing, though, to reduce property tax rates and scrap the city’s inventory tax to help even things out.

And when I asked why the city couldn’t use its water and sewer fund surplus, Day said the surplus was being depleted too quickly. Basically the relief would be short-term at best.

Corollary to that initial question was a discussion about the closing of Labinal, which will cost the city hundreds of jobs. While the popular opinion was that the state’s difficult business climate drove them away, Day said the answer was more simple: Texas (and Mexico) were closer to their main customer base, and Salisbury mainly served military clients whose contracts were winding down.

A second concern was the issue with fire service. Rather than the “big mistake” of giving ultimatums through the media, Jake was working closely with county officials in coming up with a long-term solution. He conceded it probably wouldn’t be all the city wanted, but noted that he and County Executive Bob Culver were “working well together.” The key was making things more fair in a way that doesn’t alienate non-city residents.

Our wastewater treatment plant was the subject of a question. Calling its saga “a scar on Salisbury’s history,” Day announced the next phase of renovations would begin in October. Bunky Luffman, who formerly worked at the plant, pointed out it had reduced the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorou, but not enough to meet more stringent state standards that changed midstream.

A final questioner tested Day on his “number one challenge – is my (business) location safe?” Crime was a concern for local businesses, and “a lot of solutions to our challenges are economic,” Jake said. He vowed to show leadership and compile more data on the current conditions.

We finally let Jake go, so that Boda could announce our next meeting would be September 28. Hopefully it will be as chock-full of information as this one was.

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