Scraping the bottom

Earlier this week the Tax Foundation released its annual State Business Tax Climate Index. Despite Governor Hogan’s insistence on improving business climate and efforts to adopt some of the Augustine Commission’s reforms, Maryland once again has the dubious distinction of being a bottom-10 state.

Yes, that sickening orange color tags us as a state to avoid insofar as business taxes are concerned. In truth, we’ve only dropped one spot from the 2015 index so while we could have made a few minor improvements other states are improving at a faster pace. (Maryland seems to tread water – over the last four years we have oscillated between #40 and #41.) Moreover, we still lag behind all of our neighbors with Delaware again leading the region. The First State maintained its #14 ranking.

There is one important caveat to Maryland’s decline which could push them out of the bottom 10 next year. Late last month Governor Hogan announced a significant cut in the unemployment insurance tax, which is one of the factors (albeit the least-weighted) the Tax Foundation uses to determine its rank order. But other states are trying to push the envelope more quickly by reducing corporate and individual tax rates, something Maryland has talked about but not acted upon. (The Tax Foundation’s weighting process is explained on page 16 of their full report.)

While reducing regulations doesn’t always require legislative approval, the tax nut is a harder one to crack. The requirement to balance the budget means that revenue no longer extracted from corporations and small businesses alike can’t be used for profligate spending. At a time when government getting an increase that’s less than expected brings screams about draconian cuts from the left side of the aisle, heads truly explode when less real money is allocated. Even if you get 97 cents when you used to get a dollar, liberals act as if you just shot their unicorn with a scary-looking AR-15.

There’s a reason I bring up 97 cents as a particular figure. According to the state’s FY2016 budget, the corporate income tax accounts for 3% of the revenue; thus, eliminating it entirely would mean a corresponding budget cut. (We’ll leave aside the obvious competitive benefit to the state, which would eventually attract more business and increase revenue via other means such as income and sales taxes.) While it’s true that having a poor corporate tax ranking doesn’t completely eliminate the good – Delaware’s #50 ranking in corporate taxes only drags its overall rank to #14 – eliminating the tax would make it plain that Maryland is indeed “open for business.”

Eliminating the tax would also eliminate what’s become an annual debate about combined reporting. Proponents of its adoption, mainly Democrats, claim large businesses are not paying their fair share because they use the accounting trick of claiming their income arises from low-tax states. They may make actual profit in Maryland but don’t report it because they have operations in other. more tax-friendly states. The most recent iteration of the idea came last year, with the tradeoff that would have eliminated filing fees for small (less than 10 employee) businesses. In that respect it was a money-loser for the state; however, the research showed in better economic times the effect would be beneficial to state coffers.

Interestingly, Salisbury has a new mayor that epitomizes the opposite end of the chicken-and-egg approach: last week in the Salisbury Independent, Jake Day was quoted as noting:

“Economic development isn’t what it used to be,” he said. “It includes more activities. It’s now about culture. About quality of life issues. The arts and people. Parks, bike trails, bike lanes. And if you don’t get those right, don’t even talk about workforce development and industry and business development efforts, because you have to have those things to attract anyone.”

This portion of Delmarva boasts a lot of natural beauty along its rivers and coastlines, a well-regarded university, and a proportionate share of arts and culture. Perhaps the traditional bricks-and-mortar manufacturing or legacy service industries won’t come to Salisbury, but it’s been obvious over the last ten years that the beauty, academics, and culture isn’t exactly making this a hotbed of economic activity either. There needs to be a more balanced approach to development because it takes a fair amount of money to create and maintain parks, bike trails, and bike lanes – particularly if the money is granted from the state as it often is. We may be competitors to certain other urban areas around the state, but development somewhere else in the state or even another state, depending on the grant source, is paying the lion’s share for the bike lanes to be installed here. (In some cases, local gifts have helped.) Funding will also be required to maintain parks and develop new ones like Pirate’s Wharf along the Wicomico River.

There are thousands who have moved here over the decades as adults, and for the most part they came here for one of two reasons: they came to school or they came for a job. And if they came for school, there’s no guarantee they will stay if jobs or entrepreneurial opportunities aren’t available.

Simply put, Maryland has a long way to go in overcoming the poor reputation they have for growing and attracting businesses. It’s a lot easier for those on the Western Shore to prosper when there’s a ready-made source of confiscated wealth in close proximity. (If all those people had to find honest work Maryland would be just like West Virginia, with high unemployment. Because it’s well away from that honey pot of confiscated largess, the lower Eastern Shore already is in that same high-joblessness boat.)

I learned the other day that the Augustine Commission determined 1/4 of Maryland’s GDP comes from the federal government. If we can rightsize the federal government over the coming decades, Maryland will be negatively affected in what would be of overall benefit to the nation. It’s time to wean our state off the opioid of living off the federal employees and make strides in diversifying our economy. For that reason, making our state more business-friendly simply has to occur.

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!

The domino effect

Without doing a full rehash of Election 2015, there is a further observation I have about the recent election here in Salisbury and the effect it will have on local politics at the club level. It also gives me the excuse to work something else in while I’m at it.

Second only to Jake Day, the story of Tuesday’s election seems to be Muir Boda. He’s the epitome of perseverance, having run four previous times for office yet never winning (even though I voted for him most of the time.) But at the same time, City Council’s gain will be the Wicomico County Republican Club’s loss, since he’s the second-in-command there and both bodies meet on the fourth Monday of the month. He wasn’t elected by District 2 residents to run our meetings when the president is away.

It brings me to a point I think it’s time to make.

There are a lot of Republicans and GOP elected officials in Wicomico County, and we’re graced by the presence of many of them each month at the WCRC meetings. Over the last decade, though, it seems to me that the number of elected officials getting out to the WCRC monthly meetings has increased but the number of overall attendees has decreased. Our meetings generally attract between 20 and 30 people, which is only about 1/10th of 1% of the total number of Republicans in the county. (As of September, that number is 20,943.)

While the faces at the top have changed (two members of County Council are recent past WCRC presidents, along with the woman who managed Boda’s campaign) there are others who have been in a leadership role for years (myself included.) It sounds like that is also the case for the Republican Women of Wicomico (RWOW), which has dwindled down to a few members and is in serious need of a reboot – which some enterprising women are trying to provide before the group loses its charter.

Leadership of our club seems to be a springboard to future political success, but aside from the diehards who come to the meeting each month it seems like we aren’t registering with Republicans at-large in the county.

2016 will be an important year for local Republicans in just one area. We have no local races and it’s rather likely we will continue a nearly 30-year streak of voting GOP at the top of the ticket, so the suspense may well be whether we get the referendum we have sought in order to elect our school board.

But just as the RWOW group needs some new blood, so does the WCRC. It’s a classic chicken-and-egg problem, though – how do you recruit new members to expand events and outreach without burning out the ones you have? Ideally there would be 20 to 30 people instrumental in growing the WCRC, not just a handful. We just seem to keep losing them to elected office, as now we will need to replace Muir Boda.

It seems to me the time has come to discuss where we are as a group. Sure, we raise a lot of money at some of our events but what are we doing to advance other conservative causes? Do we just continue to slog along, meeting once a month, holding an annual Crab Feast, and bemoaning our fate otherwise? Or do we try some different activities, get into more issue advocacy, and try to embed ourselves into the community more?

It wouldn’t shock me if a lot of our current members are fine with the status quo. There have been various ideas tried from time to time, but they don’t seem to catch on very well among the group. Maybe all we will ever be is what we are now, particularly as political discussion often runs afoul of tolerance.

While the WCRC certainly has had staying power, there is nothing necessarily permanent about it. Perhaps it will slip into the dustbin of history as a relic of a bygone age when being social meant actually getting up from your chair and out from behind your iPad to actually converse with real live humans. Who knows – we may be eventually morphing into a simple Facebook discussion group. (As an example, do you remember Meetups? When was the last one you participated in?)

In life, nothing lasts forever. (My faith allows me to believe otherwise afterward, but I’m discussing worldly things at the moment.) If you ask me, next year is a make-or-break year for the Wicomico County Republican Club.

Republicans in Wicomico County have an advocacy group, but like Benjamin Franklin once said about our republic it’s only around as long as we can keep it. What I wish for the group is a team of leaders and idea people who want to take on the challenge of making ourselves relevant again, not just being the conduit for campaign funds.

I’ve lost track of how many WCRC meetings I’ve reported on but I would guess it’s been at least 80. At some point, though, we all have to move on so when that last meeting I cover comes and goes I want to leave things in better shape than when I arrived.

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 

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?

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 

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.

Rent stabilization shot down in flames

Well, that went over like a lead balloon.

Susan Canfora at the Salisbury Independent did a nice job wrapping up what seems like a one-sided hearing on the rent stabilization matter.

But the question from Councilman Tim Spies deserves an answer – why did this come up weeks before the election? I have a couple theories on this, one involving the immediate future election and one three years hence.

In the immediate election, he needs to make sure he has turnout among his base. A significant portion of Ireton’s district is either in minority areas or lives in rental housing so he has an issue he can bring up on the campaign trail.

But the real payoff, I feel, is in 2018. Jim needs to stand behind a progressive agenda to contrast him with his likely opponent, Delegate Carl Anderton. I’m not saying the agenda has to be enacted, just proposed.

And Jim’s now in a good position to blame failures on someone else while taking credit for successes. For example, if downtown revitalization continues under the Day administration, he’ll be quick to say he got the ball rolling but if things go south Jim can toss the new mayor under the bus. (This also holds true if Jim decides to square off with County Executive Bob Culver, but I think Delegate is the more likely play.) I think this is the best explanation why Jim didn’t seek another mayoral term – if he thought he had the record to beat Jake Day he would have.

There were a lot of holes in Ireton’s rental plan; for starters it only affected single dwelling units and not multi-family complexes. It would also put landlords in the perverse position of arguing for a higher assessment in order to be able to charge more rent.

So now this goes on the “mayor’s list.” That is interesting because that’s Ireton’s list for another few weeks before Day gets it. I’m not sure how long of a list he has, but let’s not cross that one off as an accomplishment anytime soon.

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 

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.

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.

An anticlimactic November

August 19, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2015 - Salisbury, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off 

One reason the Salisbury city elections were changed beginning this year was the abysmal turnout they usually had in the spring. Sadly, turnout will likely be lower still thanks to the lack of a mayor’s race. The deadline came and went today and Jake Day is the only candidate who filed for mayor.

Voters in District 5, on the city’s far east side, will have even less reason to show up because incumbent Council member Laura Mitchell was the only one bothering to run in her district.

On the other hand, there are old-fashioned shootouts in the other four Council districts. Two incumbents lumped together in District 3 will tangle as both Tim Spies, who won in his second try in 2011, and 2014 appointee Jack Heath will both battle for that seat along with Kevin Lindsay, who was one of 11 unsuccessful applicants to succeed Terry Cohen when she resigned last year – it was the seat Heath won appointment to. It’s a district that takes in the Camden neighborhood by Salisbury University and hops across the Wicomico River to take in areas along Pemberton Drive.

There are two others who tried for the Cohen chair that are running for election this year: Sarah Halcott in District 1 and Muir Boda in District 2. Halcott faces two foes who are familiar with each other: incumbent Shanie Shields and 2013 opponent April Jackson in this inner-city and near west side district. Boda, who is in a district with no incumbent, has three fellow challengers in Keyvan Aarabi, Marvin Ames, and Justin Gregoli. Ames ran for the District 1 County Council seat last year but lost in the Democratic primary. District 2 covers the close-in neighborhoods on the north and east sides of Salisbury (and is my home district.)

Instead of running again for mayor, Jim Ireton opted to run for City Council in District 4. He will face two others vying for the seat: Kenneth Vickers III and Roger Mazzullo. That district is perhaps the largest in geography as it takes in most of the commercial center along the northern fringes of town before veering toward downtown Salisbury.

And downtown will have a friend in Day, who has to be pinching himself and wondering how he was fortunate enough not to have an opponent in his run for mayor. It’s very possible, though, that he may just switch roles with Ireton as he would likely seek to be Council president after being put on the Council as Day did after the 2013 election. (Ireton has served on City Council before, though. He was on it for about a year before leaving – as the story goes it was to take a job out of town.)

With no incumbent in District 2, that will be an interesting race as the victor may be the only newcomer to city government. Boda has run for City Council twice before, losing to incumbent Debbie Campbell in 2009 and finishing fourth behind Mitchell, Cohen, and Spies in 2011.

Out of the 16 total candidates, there are six incumbents (one by appointment), four who have sought election at least once before and lost (including the appointee), four who tried for appointment (one apiece being also in the previous two categories), and five who are apparently political neophytes. Some have steeper learning curves than others.

Interestingly to me, the lack of a primary election means financial disclosure statements will not be due until a week before the election – so no one will know just how the money supply is for candidates until the last minute. (Had the primary remained in place, it would have been held in early September for voters in all but District 5 as the three or four candidates otherwise would have been whittled down to two in each race.) One can ask the legitimate question of who, if anyone, Jake Day will ask his donors to give to now that he is in the clear. (They can also ask about Laura Mitchell.) As two incumbents who got a free ride, their backing could make a difference.

So the first hurdle is crossed, eleven weeks before we actually vote. For a candidate, 77 days can seem like an eternity until they get to mid-October and wonder how they will get through the next few weeks with all they need to do. I look forward to hearing some new and good ideas for the city of Salisbury from this group.

WCRC meeting – July 2015

July 27, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off 

Sometimes we make the best advance plans and they go for naught. It happened to the Wicomico County Republican Club tonight when not just one, but both of their scheduled speakers had to send their regrets thanks to Uncle Sam and an Annapolis meeting. So we heard from neither Jake Day nor Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio tonight.

But we did get some business done and firmed up a number of dates for future reference.

Alison Pulcher filled in for Jake Day a little bit as his campaign manager, officially sending his regrets by noting he was “really sad” that he couldn’t be there. One question which was asked is why the onetime Republican switched parties, with Pulcher responding her belief that he has “ideologies on both sides of the plate.” She herself was impressed with the passion on both sides of the aisle here, as she isn’t a native to the region.

In his Central Committee report, Mark McIver confirmed the Lincoln Day Dinner is slated for November 7 and will feature Andy Harris. But he also asked for a moment of silence for longtime WCRCC member Blan Harcum, whose farm was the scene of an incident today that left Mark “devastated.”

After that silence, McIver was asked whether the Central Committee had any involvement with the local liquor board, which they do not. But it was a point that we should check into as appointments were allegedly made at the behest of one of our local Senators, and not the one who is of our party.

The conversation then turned to the elected school board as McIver was one of those chosen to testify in an open work session before County Council. Intentionally or not, it was somewhat stacked with Democrats and opponents of an elected board.

Marc Kilmer chimed in, announcing public hearings were scheduled for September 10, 22, and 29, and October 15. They would be distributed between the Pittsville/Parsonsburg area, Delmar, the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, and First Baptist Church in Salisbury. The only confirmed date/location so far is September 22 at the WYCC.

Kilmer conceded, though, that things may be beyond our control. When it comes to getting the legislation necessary for the transition, “the only person that matters is Jim Mathias.” Custom requires that all Senators representing a county should be on board with legislation affecting it, and Mathias shares representation with Addie Eckardt, who supports the elected board.

Since the two newest school board members were there, it was asked if they could make the point to the incoming superintendent that this was something they may have to work with. The process will begin soon, but one thing I didn’t know is that the new administrator has to win state approval as well. I suspect we may not get the school board’s first choice.

Because we lost an officer when Joe Collins was selected for the Board of Elections, we had to select a new 2nd vice-president and Dave Snyder stepped forward. He was elected by acclamation.

The next announcement was that the Wicomico County Fair was coming up August 14-16. I had a signup sheet out for fine Republicans to work at our table, and I’m pleased with the response. Ann Suthowski suggested we let the elected and appointed officials know we would be there.

Another event on the horizon is the Crab Feast, which is coming together. We should have the liquor license this week, so “our biggest fundraiser” was just in need of volunteers to help with setup, cooking, takedown, and the silent auction. We are set for September 12 otherwise, and the tickets are just $30.

That was pretty much the extent of a tidy meeting which came in under an hour. Next month we hope to reschedule Jake Day (and maybe Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio) – regardless we will reconvene on August 24.

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