Josh Kurtz: The Influencers, Part I

By Josh Kurtz

In-flu-ence: the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways.
– Merriam-Webster

Today and next week, Center Maryland brings you a highly subjective list of 50 very influential people in Maryland politics.

These are, in many cases, people who largely wield their influence behind the scenes. The few elected officials who are on this list are here, and are more influential, for the things they do outside of public office.

We don’t pretend that this is the definitive list of the most influential people in state politics today. And as we said, it’s highly subjective. But it is a pretty good cross-section of people, from the Eastern Shore to Western Maryland, who influence the public discourse and the political process one way or another.

Some of these names will be very familiar to readers — in essence, because of the jobs some people hold, there’s no way to keep them off the list. But we hope some will be new or surprising to you.

Obviously, there will be glaring omissions. We assure you, there was no malice of forethought. After the column appears this week and next, we’ll invite readers to submit their own suggestions for Maryland “influencers,” to keep the dialogue going — and we’ll publish as many of your names as we can.

Some influencers have been big-time players here forever. Others are fairly new to the game. A list like this is obviously transitory. If we had done this a few years ago, you might have seen names like Curt Clifton, Edgar Silver, Frank Reid (though some people will argue, with plenty of justification, that he belongs on the list today), John Davey, Dorothy Davidson (RIP), Mike Davis (ditto), Chip DiPaula, Karyn Strickler, John Pica and Lou Grasmick here.

Two other things: in a few cases, for the sake of convenience and with at least a small dose of logic, we’ve grouped people together into a single category, like Annapolis lobbyists. And lastly, we had a hard time comparing African-American ministers. The ministers on this list are very influential, without a doubt. But we didn’t intend to create a pecking order. If we’ve overlooked anyone, let me apologize in advance.

Now, without further ado, the first 25 “influencers,” in alphabetical order:

Annapolis lobbyists: Highly compensated and highly skilled, contract lobbyists largely run the show in Annapolis. And any number rate consideration as influencers. Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan and Silver is perhaps the top firm, but Alan Rifkin himself, while a powerhouse by any measurement, isn’t much of a presence in Annapolis any more, so we’ll nominate Joel Rozner, the firm’s top earner, and Josh White, young, energetic and politically attuned, for this list. Tim Perry, since he left the Senate president’s office, is as elite an advocate as you can find, and it would surprise no one to see him at the very top of the earnings list soon. Sean Malone, thanks to his contacts in the O’Malley administration, is an incredible asset to his clients, and Lisa Harris Jones has established herself as the top female lobbyist in Annapolis. And Nick Manis, building on his father’s work, has put together a firm that’s become a force to be reckoned with and will see its influence grow in the years ahead (helped this past session with the smart hiring of one of the Speaker’s former top aides, John Favazza).

Will Baker: There are many active and important environmental groups in Maryland, with highly skilled and dedicated staffers, but none is the juggernaut that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is. Part advocacy group, part educational organization, with its unusual “green” building in the Eastport neighborhood of Annapolis, the foundation has unique political juice and estimable bipartisan support. As its president, who started with the group as an intern in 1976 and has been running the show for 30 years, Baker presides over a $22 million operation with great diplomacy and enthusiasm.

Peter Baron and Terry Cavanagh: Though the labor movement here takes its occasional lumps, Maryland is still a union stronghold. As the legislative director and executive director of the Service Employees International Union Maryland/D.C. State Council, arguably the most progressive union in the state, Baron and Cavanagh are in the trenches every day, promoting SEIU’s broad agenda.

Rick Berndt: The insider’s insider, a Baltimore lawyer with unparalleled access to Martin O’Malley, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and both of the state’s U.S. senators, among many others. He’s a valued adviser to all, and has been the secret ingredient in every major Baltimore accomplishment – from Harborplace to Harbor East. With his role in helping to secure a new stadium for Loyola University – thereby upping the quality of the school’s recruits – he even deserves some credit for Loyola’s recent national lacrosse championship that Catholics across the land expected to land in South Bend not North Baltimore.

Daphne Bloomberg: It seemed like a given that Doug Gansler was going to endorse his old friend John Delaney in the recent Democratic primary in the 6th congressional district. But he remained on the sidelines, even as Delaney was storming to an upset over the establishment favorite, state Sen. Rob Garagiola. Why? Word on the street was that Gansler “was afraid of Daphne Bloomberg,” a prominent Garagiola supporter. So who is Daphne Bloomberg? A fixture in legislative district 15 in Montgomery County, a moneyed Democratic insider and strategist from Potomac who will write checks, but also isn’t afraid to twist arms and do the grunt work, a formidable presence who you want on your side.

Karen Britto: The former longtime Montgomery County Democratic chairwoman and interim state legislator has launched a new and important coalition designed to elect more minorities to the County Council and the Montgomery legislative delegation. A quiet but forceful operator who will make a difference in 2014 and beyond. By day, she’s a lobbyist in Washington for DTE, the utility company in Detroit, dealing every day with the likes of John Dingell and John Conyers. So you know she’s not afraid of anybody.

Rev. Jamal Bryant: Young (41), charismatic and media savvy, the pastor of Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore has 7,500 members in his church, but include people following him through social media and the number increases five-fold. His sermons and other inspirational messages are all other the Internet. In addition to his power and influence at the local level, he’s now one of several faith leaders advising the family of Trayvon Martin.

Joe Bryce: The best of the best, the legislative liaison for Gov. O’Malley, a role he also played for Gov. Parris Glendening and the University of Maryland System after a few years as Senate President Mike Miller’s right hand man. He is way more popular with legislators than either of the governors he’s worked for and he’s saved their hides countless times. Watch for a huge bidding war for his services whenever he decides to leave state government — it could happen sooner than you think.

Caves Valley Partners: From the top floors of the recently redeveloped Towson City Center, this real estate investment partnership’s key developers and thought leaders Arthur Adler and Steve Sibel loom over county government and politics after being major cogs in Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamanetz’s political operation in 2010.

Dan Clements: He’s no longer on the frontlines the way he was when he headed the state trial lawyers association or was chairman of the board of Maryland Planned Parenthood. But this talented and much sought after attorney remains a player in state politics, someone aspiring pols regularly turn to for advice and financial support. He was an early and influential Maryland supporter of President Obama’s and will be working hard to elect Gansler governor in 2014. A witty raconteur but a no-nonsense old lefty with an array of contacts who knows how to get things done.

Rev. Delman Coates: The pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton broke with many powerful ministers in Prince George’s County by coming out in favor of same sex marriage. You can be sure he’ll be a vital part of the movement to defeat the ballot question to overturn the gay marriage law in the fall.

Michael Collins: The wily ex-Baltimore County senator remains on the fringes of the game as a member of the state Board of Contract Appeals and the Baltimore County school board. But there’s no denying his influence when he chooses to wade more deeply into state and local politics, and without having to worry about his own campaigns he’s not afraid to call ‘em as he sees ‘em. His early endorsement of Kevin Kamenetz in the 2010 Democratic primary for Baltimore County executive was a signal that Kamenetz could have countywide appeal.

Richard Cross: There are a lot of characters in Maryland GOP politics these days — which unfortunately for Republicans doesn’t mean that the party is anywhere close to becoming the effective opposition force it needs to be. And Cross is nothing if not a character, with his near-constant online musings on popular culture, super models — and himself. But this former Bob Ehrlich and Helen Bentley operative knows politics, and his cogent analysis of the Maryland scene, through his blog Cross Purposes, is usually dead-on. Recently, he was a major player in the race for Republican National Committeewoman, relentlessly exposing the flaws of the old guard while advocating for his preferred candidate, Nicolee Ambrose, who pulled an upset. He isn’t afraid to call out the bigots and charlatans in his own party and even with his history with Ehrlich, he recognizes that the GOP desperately needs new blood.

Michael Cryor: He had the distinction of being the only African-American chairman of a state Democratic party when Barack Obama was nominated for president in 2008. But Marylanders have for a long time known this Baltimore PR whiz with a Masters degree in psychology to be a major player in myriad ways – most recently as one of the architects of the Constellation-Exelon merger.

Max Curran: When energy companies look at business deals involving Maryland, analysts refer to “Maryland risk” – the uncertainty over how the state’s Public Service Commission might treat the deal. The Saul Ewing attorney (and former PSC Commissioner) has become the go-to lawyer to shepherd major energy deals through the regulatory process, including the FirstEnergy-Allegheny Power and Exelon-Constellation Energy deals. And his family ties (son for the former Attorney General, brother-in-law of the Governor) don’t hurt, either.

Wayne Curry: The trailblazing former Prince George’s County executive has gotten the band back together again, now in the service of his successor once-removed, Rushern Baker. Curry is a key Baker adviser with a lot of his top people now in important positions in the Baker administration. The wealthy former development attorney also works as a rainmaker for Billy Murphy’s Baltimore law firm. Influential as he is, we hope we won’t be seeing any more “Curry May Run For…” headlines. Frankly, we don’t buy them.

Vinny DeMarco: The No. 1 nudge in Annapolis, but enormously effective, stitching together potent coalitions to pass gun control, higher tobacco taxes and health care reform. Maryland wouldn’t have half the progressive reputation it does if DeMarco weren’t around.

Jay Falstad: In Queen Anne’s County, where growth issues are pre-eminent, Falstad, an environmentalist — and a Republican — who is executive director of the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association has enormous sway. It’s tough to get any project through there without Falstad’s assent.

Len Foxwell: There are plenty of operatives out there who are talented and indispensable to their principals. But only Foxwell has actually changed the trajectory of Maryland politics. Peter Franchot had raw talent and a lot of ambition, but Foxwell channeled and molded it, making Franchot the leading voice of liberal opposition when Bob Ehrlich was governor, and helping him turn into the Democratic voice of fiscal sanity as state comptroller. Now Franchot is a leading candidate for governor in 2014 — and to his credit, he credits Foxwell, his chief of staff and political consigliere, for his success. But Foxwell’s influence extends beyond Franchot-world: He’s quietly become a political and civic player on his native Eastern Shore and has also helped, pro bono, candidates he likes through the years, like Galen Clagett and Tom Perez.

Howard Friedman: Washington Life magazine called Friedman, a top dog at AIPAC, one of the 100 most powerful people in Washington not too long ago, but he’s just as powerful back home in Baltimore. The founding partner of Lanx Capital, an enormously successful hedge fund outfit, Friedman is involved with an array of Jewish and charitable causes in Maryland, including serving as a member of the health advisory board at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. His wife, District Judge Karen Cheya Friedman, is a power and philanthropist in her own right.

Andre Gingles: Deeply connected land use attorney in Prince George’s County whose political ties date back to the days when Parris Glendening was county executive. Name a big project in Prince George’s and he’s involved, whether it’s National Harbor or Konterra or Metroview at New Carrollton.

J.P. Grant III: This top funder and adviser to Stephanie Rawlings-Blake shuns the limelight, but his Grant Capital Management has financed $1.2 billion worth of deals with the city of Baltimore dating back to the days when O’Malley was mayor (and many billions more in municipal financing deals across the country). Now he’s taken over management of the struggling Baltimore Grand Prix, ensuring at least that the priorities of the race will dovetail nicely with those of the mayor’s.

Health Facilities Association of Maryland: The nursing home operators are as powerful an entity as you can find in state politics, and several of its top executives — among them Clif Porter, the assistant vice president for government relations at HCR Manor Care, Eric Shope, senior vice president for business development at Stella Maris, Gary Attman, president and CEO of FutureCare Health & Management, and Steve Allen, a health care entrepreneur and a two-term chairman of HFAM — are players in their own right. Collectively they’re an unstoppable force.

Lee Hockstader/Andy Green: Hockstader writes the lion’s share of the Maryland editorials for The Washington Post while Green does the same for The Baltimore Sun. ‘Nuff said. Anyone who thinks the Post doesn’t pay a lot of attention to Maryland on its editorial page may be on to something. Hockstader, who was a Post foreign correspondent for years and later stationed in Texas is also often responsible for the paper’s editorials on immigration and foreign affairs. But it seems like all he really cares about in Maryland is running down the public employee unions. Green, a former State House and Baltimore County reporter who came to the paper from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is more immersed in Maryland affairs. But the Sun’s influence on state politics isn’t what it used to be, is it?

Rob Hoffman: The head of state and local affairs for the venerable law firm Venable LLP quietly runs the go-to operation for land use in Baltimore County from his Towson office. Peter O’Malley’s recent arrival at the firm increases its muscle in city and county affairs.

NEXT WEEK: The Influencers, Part II

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at joshkurtz92@gmail.com.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Left, Right and Center

Road to Succeed Pelosi May Run Through Maryland

A Change Is Gonna Come (And The Audacity of Nope)

Say Cheese

Taxman

Generally Speaking (Part 2)

Generally Speaking (Part 1)

Charm Offensive

Bad Karma in Annapolis II — Limbo Edition

Heather Mizeur, Superstar