Laslo Boyd — Searching for Superman: The Future of Baltimore City Schools

By Laslo Boyd

After six years as the Superintendent of the Baltimore City Schools—a title that is still more descriptive than CEO—Andres Alonso has announced his resignation. The early reviews—please don’t call them a Report Card—are almost universally positive even as the many challenges ahead are also noted.

It’s clear that Alonso has made a real difference. The quality, real and perceived, of the school system is one of the key indicators of the health of Baltimore City and, although it gets less attention, of the economic competitiveness of the entire region.

That quality indicator can be thought of in positive terms—Are graduates of the City schools equipped to work in the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century? Are employers able to hire well educated and prepared workers? On the other side of the equation are the negative questions: Are the city, the region, and the state saddled with uneducated citizens who need more services and assistance? Is innovation and economic growth avoiding the area because of shortages in the skilled workforce?

However you evaluate the specifics of his time here, Alonso has moved the school system in the right direction. He brought a level of stability by the length of his service, twice the national average for a big city superintendent. He has successfully tackled some long festering problems, including resolving a federal lawsuit on special education that dates back to 1984; getting the Maryland General Assembly to support a 10-year school construction program that will, from all sources, total almost $1 billion; and increasing public confidence by instituting accountability measures that were long overdue.

Progress has been evident on a number of other measures, including the one that Alonso stressed when he first took the job: graduation rates. Suspensions are down and enrollments are up. Test scores have improved, although that’s a more controversial item. Some doubt the validity of the tests while others point to problems at times with cheating. More national test results are due soon and will undoubtedly impact this particular discussion about Alonso’s legacy.

One key elements of Alonso’s approach has been his emphasis on decentralization. Central office staff was significantly reduced and principals were empowered to be real educational leaders at their schools. Alonso ended the practice of moving ineffective principals from one school to another, a decision that led to tension with the Principal’s Union but won him lots of praise from the outside.

The relative merits of decentralization have been argued as long as public school systems have been around. The risk with decentralization, and one of the most persistent criticisms of Alonso’s tenure, is the lack of a consistent curriculum as well as being disconnected from national and international education standards. And in a city like Baltimore where students frequently move during the course of a school year, that inconsistency can be a real detriment to learning.

Another concern is that, even while measurable improvements have been made, Baltimore schools still lag behind the rest of the state. The impact of concentrated poverty has been hard to overcome, but if your belief is that all children can learn and must be given an opportunity, that’s not a sufficient explanation.

Alonso was, by all accounts, a forceful, even as one long time school system observer put it, a “dictatorial” leader. He initially negotiated a contract that kept the School Board largely off his back, but that total freedom was reduced as membership on the board changed over his six years.

The job he had will never really be completed, but he deserves thanks and credit for the advances that he put into place.

The next superintendent has got to build on what Andres Alonso has accomplished, not start all over again and tear down the changes that Alonso put into place. The next stage will also require much more attention to curriculum than Alonso has given it. Still, the pieces are in place for his successor to continue moving the Baltimore City schools forward.

The immediate challenge is for the school board to engage in a thoughtful and deliberate process that starts with the recognition of where Alonso has brought the school system and identification of the top priorities going forward. Having an interim superintendent for the coming year gives them the opportunity to avoid rushing into a decision. Hopefully, that time will be used wisely.

The next superintendent has to have a vision, as Alonso did, an understanding of key issues, the skill and ability to work with a vast and often conflicting array of stakeholders, and a forceful personality. The pressures on the job are relentless and often unfair. Alonso apparently brought considerable pressure on the board to name his chief of staff as the interim, but the board now needs to exercise its independent judgment on who the permanent successor will be. It’s the most important job they have.

Laslo Boyd writes and consults about public policy, government, and politics. He is a regulator contributor to Center Maryland. His email is lvboyd@gmail.com.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Laslo Boyd:

Is Help Coming From Annapolis?

Center Maryland: Inside Out – Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger — VIDEO

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Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger talks with Center Maryland about the importance of passing the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act to help protect against the significant amount of cyber attacks our nation faces on a daily basis.

Center Maryland: Inside Out is a video politicast featured on Center Maryland. Lisa Harris Jones joins Damian O’Doherty to discuss Maryland’s growth, investment and infrastructure policies with various political insiders and elected officials. Center Maryland: Inside Out brings political realities to the forefront of the discussion, advancing reasonable and responsible ideas.

Having trouble seeing the above video? Click here to go directly to it.

Lisa Harris Jones is an Attorney at Law and Lobbyist, Member and Founder of Harris Jones & Malone, LLC. Damian O’Doherty is a Corporate Communications Strategist, a Principal of KO Public Affairs LLC, and Co-Founder of Center Maryland.

Josh Kurtz: Conviction Politics

By Josh Kurtz

Admirers of Anthony Brown are frequently pointing out what an asset his wife, Karmen Walker Brown, is going to be in his campaign for governor.

Warm, vivacious, beautiful and poised, great at a podium and in one-on-one situations, she’s someone who humanizes this rigid lieutenant governor with the military background, the theory goes. They had a sweet mid-life courtship that they enjoy talking about, and they look GQ-perfect together.

But based on Brown’s announcement event in Largo Friday night and his swing through Silver Spring Saturday morning, there’s another woman poised to play just as big a role in Brown’s campaign. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone else making his case as forcefully and effectively.

We’re talking about Congresswoman Donna Edwards, who was the warm-up act to Brown in both Largo and Silver Spring. To put it mildly, Edwards blew the roof off at both events.

“He cares about the things we care about,” Edwards said Friday night. “He just knows how to get stuff done.”

Edwards continues to be a phenomenon in Maryland politics. I’ve been at a handful of Democratic events in the past nine months where she’s gotten far and away the loudest applause of any elected official, whether she’s speaking or merely being introduced. It seems the more her fellow politicians grumble about her behind her back — her office is too disorganized, she doesn’t work or play well with others, she’s too focused on national liberal causes and not on the home front, etc. etc. — the more popular she becomes with party activists and key constituent groups.

Edwards’ full-throated endorsement of Brown, at a time when most Maryland pols, with the notable exception of Gov. Martin O’Malley, are sitting on the sidelines and watching the Democratic race develop, is noteworthy.

“I lay my cards on the table,” she told the crowd unapologetically on Saturday morning.

Contrast Edwards’ commitment to Brown’s campaign with those of African-American leaders like Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and members of the Legislative Black Caucus. Baker will almost certainly publicly come out for Brown at some point, and Rawlings-Blake probably will, too — even if it’s only as a favor to O’Malley.

You’d think black caucus members would be rushing to the side of the man who has a very good chance of making history as the state’s first African-American governor. But it hasn’t happened yet.

To be sure, many African-American legislators from Prince George’s County were on hand Friday night and are presumably Brown supporters to one degree or another (the overall crowd was heavily black). In fact, it’s fair to say that just about every black and Latino legislator from Prince George’s who doesn’t have a shot of winding up on Attorney General Doug Gansler’s ticket was there, with a couple of notable exceptions.

At Brown’s announcement event Saturday afternoon in Baltimore, where Gansler undoubtedly is also casting an eye for an African-American running mate, the turnout included three black state senators, half a dozen black delegates, and three black members of the City Council. Of course, one’s mere presence at an event doesn’t equate support.

Most black caucus members will “probably step up for” Brown eventually, state Sen. Joanne Benson told me Friday night. But does it look bad for Brown that he hasn’t locked in support from the whole caucus? I asked her. Are members holding out for promises from the candidate, or trying to cut deals?

“That’s the way they do,” Benson replied dryly.

Which makes Edwards’ all-in advocacy for Brown at this early stage a grown-up play seldom seen in Maryland politics these days.

———————————————————–

When I’ve been asked over the past several days what I think of the decision by Montgomery County public employee unions to picket the county Democratic Party’s annual spring ball the other night, all I can say is, “A plague on all their houses.”

In a way you have to admire the unions’ chutzpah, and their success in disrupting the spring ball, which nevertheless was about three-quarters full.

But you also have to wonder what they really accomplished, other than confirming their ability to be churlish. After all, “effects bargaining,” which was the central point of the protest, has already been stripped away in Montgomery County, twice — first by the County Council in a unanimous vote, then by voters, by a 20-point margin.

So it’s not as if the unions were trying to extract concessions from county leaders at this point in time. In fact, many county workers just got a pretty decent contract out of Rockville.

The solidarity with organized labor that many Democratic officeholders put on display was touching. A picket line is a red line that many Democrats, admirably enough, refuse to cross. But one wonders how many of the Montgomery pols who walked the line on Saturday night or stayed away from the spring ball actually voted to ban effects bargaining in the privacy of the voting booth. Their fellow Democrats — and The Washington Post – had told them that it was a perfectly acceptable thing to do. Did Brown or Sen. Ben Cardin make a peep about the county government’s move while it was taking place?

On the other hand, the self-righteous indignation of some of the Democratic stalwarts who decided to make a show of crossing the picket line was also a little stomach turning – along with their warnings that the sky was falling due to the labor-county party schism.

It took County Councilman George Leventhal, a former county Democratic chairman, to strike as close to the right tone as you could find in this unfortunate situation. The unions, he wrote in a Facebook post, “have the right to mount a protest but no right to decide for others who may attend the event.”

Leventhal also made this interesting, relevant and unreported point about the protest: “Young Democrats,” he wrote, “are protesting longtime officeholders who treat their seats as an entitlement.”

Perhaps the most unfortunate consequence of the brouhaha was that Dave Kunes did not get his moment in the sun. Kunes, the president of the Montgomery County Young Democrats, was supposed to be presented with the “Democrat of the Year” award at the dinner. But he did not hesitate to pull the Young Dems’ sponsorship of the spring ball when the unions cranked up their protest.

If you hang around politics for any amount of time, you meet no shortage of young, eager beavers — who may have some passion for public service, but are mostly slick careerists waiting to make their next move.

Kunes is the antithesis. He’s in politics for all the right reasons. And he’s soft-spoken and methodical and slightly roly-poly, not the blow-dried and showy aspiring young pol who you meet so often.

Just 24, Kunes dropped out of high school in upstate New York to work on Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. He’s moved from one activist gig to another since then.

Kunes, who works as an aide to Del. Tom Hucker (D) during legislative sessions in Annapolis, doesn’t rule out a political career someday. But in his mind, there are more important battles to fight.

So here’s to Dave Kunes, like Donna Edwards, a conviction politician. It’s a pity that there aren’t more like them in the political game.

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:

Union Powerbroker Taking New Role

Why the Rush (Hour)?

House Cleaning

Reality Check (in Four Parts)

Winners and Losers

Filing Deadline Quietly Changed to Early January

Josh Kurtz: Union Powerbroker Taking New Role

By Josh Kurtz

A major power in Montgomery County politics is stepping aside this campaign season.

Jon Gerson, the longtime – and controversial – political director of the county teachers’ union is no longer serving in that capacity. While he remains employed by the union, serving on its School Assistance Team, focusing on new teachers, he will no longer be part of the political operation.

In an email Thursday to Center Maryland, Tom Israel, the executive director of the 12,000-member Montgomery County Education Association, said Gerson’s reassignment is part of a broad staff reorganization, prompted in part by the departure of two veteran staff members.

“I know there are folks out there in the MoCo political class who are asserting that Jon was ‘forced out’ of the position by politicians who complained to MCEA about him,” Israel said. “That is simply not true.”

In an interview Thursday, Gerson – who, like most of his colleagues at the union, wears many hats – said he sought the change because he had grown tired of the “transactional relationships” in politics and was deriving more satisfaction from working with teachers.

“I love the authentic interaction with those who work in our classrooms,” he said.

But for longtime Montgomery County politicians and political observers, it is hard to imagine an election cycle without Gerson playing a critical role. He’s been on the scene for more than 30 years, the past dozen as the union’s political director. He was the political gatekeeper for union officials, crafting their endorsement strategy and campaign tactics and helping chart their political and legislative course in Rockville and Annapolis.

The county’s public employee unions are very much in the spotlight this week, as they organize a politically explosive picket of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee’s annual spring ball on Saturday night.

A shrewd political operator, Gerson, 55, knows where all the political bodies are buried in Montgomery County and how to work the levers of power. He was a top aide to the late Montgomery County Executive Neal Potter (D), and was also associated with other county political reformers like Norman Christeller, Don Robertson and Lucy Mauer. Gerson has served as executive director of the Gaithersburg-Upper Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce and as public affairs director for Washington Gas as well.

But Gerson became an increasingly divisive figure during his time at the union, with an enemies list topped by, but not limited to, the editorial writers at The Washington Post, which has a long history of hostility to organized labor – and to public employee unions especially.

Despite MCEA’s occasional hardball tactics, a recommendation on the union’s “Apple Ballot,” which Gerson trademarked, remains highly coveted in Montgomery County races – rivaled only by the Post’s endorsement – and the union’s preferred candidates always prevail at an admirable rate (44 of 47 endorsed candidates won their primaries in 2010).

Israel said any enmity toward Gerson was institutional, not personal.

“When certain elected officials pledge their support for teachers when they want our votes, but then act against the interests of public education after the election – it is our job to hold them accountable,” Israel wrote in his email to Center Maryland. “Clearly some folks are unhappy about that – and they were unhappy with Jon because he often was the messenger.”

Israel said that as MCEA leaders work to fill the union’s staff vacancies they will also devise a plan for retooling the political operation in Gerson’s absence.

Gerson said he’s confident he’s helped build a well-oiled political operation that will thrive no matter who is in charge.

“It’s somebody else’s turn,” he said.

But Gerson won’t be getting out of politics completely. He remains, as he has been for 30 years, a Democratic precinct chairman in his hometown of Kensington.

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:

Why the Rush (Hour)?

House Cleaning

Reality Check (in Four Parts)

Winners and Losers

Filing Deadline Quietly Changed to Early January

Stations of the Cross and the Station That’s Become a Cross to Bear

Donald Fry: Closing the ‘disconnect’ with elected officials over competitiveness

By Donald C. Fry

On Wednesday, Greater Baltimore Committee Chairman Brian C. Rogers put his finger on the nature of the disconnect between state lawmakers and business advocates on the issue of Maryland’s competitiveness for business location and growth.

Major issues at the center of the disconnect are Maryland’s tax and regulatory policies, Rogers suggested in his remarks to more than 800 business and civic leaders gathered in the Hyatt Regency Baltimore’s ballroom for the Greater Baltimore Committee’s annual meeting.

Maryland can, and should, do better when it comes to business growth and job creation, says Rogers, who is chairman and chief investment officer at T. Rowe Price Group, Inc.

Maryland has many significant strengths, including a well-educated and skilled workforce, major research and technology resources, and a high quality of life. But largely because of tax and regulatory policies, our state is perceived by economic development professionals and business leaders as being “middle of the pack” or worse when it comes to competitiveness, says Rogers.

The GBC has launched a new initiative to develop a specific policy strategy agenda for improving Maryland’s business climate that is based on eight core pillars for economic growth and job creation outlined in the GBC report “Gaining a Competitive Edge.” The report, issued two years ago, was compiled from a year-long series of focus groups and feedback sessions in which business leaders and economic development experts from around the state participated.

This year, the GBC has been conducting a comprehensive information-gathering process to collect ideas from CEOs on policies that are needed to strengthen Maryland’s business competitiveness.

On June 12, the GBC will host a day-long conference of CEOs to begin distilling the core pillars into specific legislative public policy action items for business advocates to propose to lawmakers.

Based on feedback the GBC is receiving so far, tax policy is likely to be a key issue up for discussion at the CEO conference.

Here’s how Rogers arrives at tax policy as a big part of Maryland’s competitiveness challenge.

Maryland boasts a highly impressive array of qualities that businesses covet. We have a top-notch public education system, globally-ranked universities, a highly-skilled work force, a major concentration of research activity, great potential for innovation in the areas of health sciences, technology and cyber security and a tremendous geographic location and quality of life.

“Many elected leaders in Maryland believe that these are sufficient and that companies will start up, expand or relocate here based on these strengths alone,” says Rogers.

However, a number of widely-read, nationally-published business rankings point to issues that require attention if we want to be recognized as an outstanding environment for business.

“While we rank highly in terms of the environment for entrepreneurial activity and technological innovation,” says Rogers, “we often fall to the middle or bottom of the pack when it comes to our tax system and regulatory environment.”

This raises a fundamental question that Maryland policy makers must ask themselves, says Rogers: “How can a state with the advantages we possess possibly be perceived as a “middle of the pack” place to do business?”

That’s a compelling question that should be the starting point for any serious discussion about competitiveness.

It’s one that’s difficult to be explained away by elected leaders who enthusiastically embrace rankings that place Maryland at the top in innovation and entrepreneurship in some business climate surveys but then choose to totally dismiss the validity of low rankings for taxes and regulations by the same body of surveys.

However, it’s not enough for business advocates to simply point and wail at such low rankings. We need to come up with specifics – constructive, achievable suggestions to policy makers for improving Maryland’s competitive position as a business location.

It’s an exercise that is well worth the effort.

As Rogers points out, the benefit of successfully developing and implementing a specific strategy that improves our state’s competitiveness is huge: a faster rate of job creation, jobs at all education levels that will stimulate economic growth, an expanded tax base to provide support for essential government services and opportunities for future generations.

This is a task that only private-sector advocates are in a position to take the lead on. Our advocacy for competitiveness is needed more than ever to position Baltimore and the state of Maryland for the future.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Donald C. Fry:

City takes constructive step toward strategy for job growth

Federal fiscal uncertainty could erode states’ infrastructure funding options

Business issues rose to the top of State House priority lists in 2013 session

O’Malley deserves better grade for affordable college in Maryland

Hire One Youth: connecting Baltimore’s youth with private-sector opportunity

Maryland’s transportation funding crisis is real, not contrived

Center Maryland: Inside Out — Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz — VIDEO

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Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz returns to Center Maryland to outline his tax neutral $2.8 billion operating budget for 2014. He discusses his proposed investments in Baltimore County’s growing school population, cost-saving public safety technology, county park improvements, and social services.

Center Maryland: Inside Out is a video politicast featured on Center Maryland. Lisa Harris Jones joins Damian O’Doherty to discuss Maryland’s growth, investment and infrastructure policies with various political insiders and elected officials. Center Maryland: Inside Out brings political realities to the forefront of the discussion, advancing reasonable and responsible ideas.

Having trouble seeing the above video? Click here to go directly to it.

Lisa Harris Jones is an Attorney at Law and Lobbyist, Member and Founder of Harris Jones & Malone, LLC. Damian O’Doherty is a Corporate Communications Strategist, a Principal of KO Public Affairs LLC, and Co-Founder of Center Maryland.

Josh Kurtz: Why the Rush (Hour)?

By Josh Kurtz

If nothing else, Anthony Brown will learn just how many truly committed supporters he has when he announces his candidacy for governor late this Friday afternoon at Prince George’s Community College.

After all, it’s asking a lot of people to navigate D.C.’s rush hour on the Friday before Mother‘s Day, when there will be the usual pre-weekend traffic along with motorists heading out of town to visit Mom. So it’ll be instructive to see who turns up in Largo (Brown will also have events Saturday in Silver Spring, Frederick and Baltimore).

The timing of Brown’s announcement is just one of the puzzling things his campaign has done recently. So too was the apparent decision to leak word that Brown and Ken Ulman were in preliminary discussions over Ulman joining Brown’s ticket. It begs the question: Who’s in charge over there?

All that said, Brown enters the campaign as the frontrunner to succeed Martin O’Malley. Polls say it’s so, and so do many of the fundamentals of the Democratic race. Brown is a disciplined, determined campaigner, with a sterling resume, an obvious appeal to key blocs of the electorate, and the ability to benefit from all the groundwork O’Malley has laid for him during the past seven years. It’s clear he’s putting campaign infrastructure in place in every part of the state.

Which doesn’t mean victory is guaranteed. Frontrunners, after all, lose all the time — and there are elements to Brown’s personality and his campaign that make you think he is capable of blowing it.

But are Brown’s Democratic opponents — Doug Gansler, Heather Mizeur and, for now, Ulman — capable of taking advantage if he stumbles?

All three seem formidable in their own ways. But all have obvious flaws.

Mizeur is running an energetic and smart grass-roots campaign. She’s got a small but effective campaign team in place, and a vocal and committed corps of supporters — not just in her home base, but all over the state.

Mizeur’s second-place showing in the straw poll at last week’s Western Maryland Democratic summit should be a wake-up call for her opponents. She has an impressive array of national political contacts and potential donors — far more than any typical two-term state legislator.

But at this early stage it’s still hard to see a path to victory for a lesbian from left-wing Takoma Park whose campaign, the last time anybody checked, was badly underfunded. However committed her supporters, however strategic her campaign, that does not necessarily translate into widespread appeal. Was her showing at the Western Maryland confab a harbinger of things to come, or akin to Michele Bachmann winning the Ames, Iowa, GOP straw poll in 2011?

Gansler continues to sit on more than $5 million in his campaign account — and continues to be a one-man political band, traveling the state, shaking hands, and urging elected officials and Democratic stalwarts in that cocky way of his to hop on his victory train before it leaves the station, because he’s planning to win every jurisdiction in the primary except for one (Prince George’s County).

Gansler also continues to insist that it’s too early to be ramping up a campaign. With Mizeur firing on all cylinders, with Brown about to be, that seems like a calculated risk. Brown, Mizeur and Ulman may never top Gansler on the fundraising front given his huge head start, but they will catch up some, so Gansler’s cash bulge fades as a strategic advantage if he doesn’t deploy at least some of it sooner rather than later.

It will also be interesting to see how Gansler begins to tackle the issues every candidate for governor needs to address. His job as attorney general has, depending on your perspective, either inoculated him or cocooned him from some of the biggest political controversies of the past few years, where other officeholders have been required to take leadership positions (and risks).

It has been assumed that Gansler would try to play in left field in the run-up to the primary, that he’d talk about his support for gay marriage and the environment and political reform. Instead, he may be tacking right, restating his support for the death penalty and telling The Washington Post recently that he opposes the new tax hikes designed to replenish the state’s transportation trust fund.

With Mizeur planted on the left, with Brown the choice of much of the Democratic establishment and the inheritor of O’Malley’s liberal legacy, we may be witnessing Doug Gansler morph into Peter Franchot before our very eyes, because that may be where he finds the most space to roam (Franchot, of course, morphed into his current Joe Sixpack anti-tax persona from something not unlike Mizeur’s not so long ago).

Gansler is witty and has a forceful personality — he definitely surpasses Brown in the “Would you like to have a beer with this guy?” test. But his opponents see him as potentially gaffe-prone, and if they haven’t already begun sending trackers to his public appearances, it’s only a matter of time.

As for Ulman? Insiders like and respect him. He’s got a strong record as Howard County executive and by virtue of his position is the only one of the Democratic candidates who has actually run a government. He’s trying to claim to be the only Baltimore candidate in the race, and has proven to be a solid fundraiser.

But Ulman has been hurt by the recent loud talk that he could wind up as Brown’s running mate. It may eventually happen, and it‘s not a bad option for a promising young pol like Ulman. The Brown-Ulman marriage makes a lot of sense and could be a game-changing ticket — eventually.

But it seems unwise for them to be publicly discussing it so soon. Ulman’s star and fundraising ability are automatically diminished just by talk of it. It’s not like the other Democrats are going to be chased from the race by the prospect of a Brown-Ulman alliance at this stage. And it’s disingenuous for Ulman to continue collecting money if he’s going to team up with Brown.

So how can Brown lose?

Let us count the ways: He’s stiff and comes off as arrogant. He has admirers and allies, but not many close political friends. In the activist community, no one is jumping out of bed in the morning thinking, “I’ve got to work to elect Anthony Brown governor today,” the way Mizeur’s supporters are.

If there is any kind of “O’Malley Fatigue” in the electorate, Brown will pay the price. Gansler is going to remind voters that he was an early supporter of Barack Obama’s during the 2008 presidential race, while Brown, despite being a law school classmate of the president’s, followed O’Malley’s lead and endorsed Hillary Clinton.

And a frontrunner’s campaign always has a unique set of challenges: Too much money going out the door, too many VIP’s and know-it-all’s offering their opinions without really helping, an air of inevitably that dampens volunteers‘ enthusiasm, and an inability to adapt quickly when things start to go awry. Just ask…Hillary Clinton!

But if the gubernatorial primary were like the Preakness, Brown would be Orb in the early line, and based on prior performances and handicappers’ intuition, it would be hard not to bet the chalk.

If he’s able to inspire African-American voters and gets even three-quarters of the black vote, he starts the primary with a base of about 35 percent. Remember, the black turnout exceeded the white turnout in last year’s presidential election for the first time in history — and now Brown is poised to make history. He has assiduously courted his fellow veterans — and about one-fifth of Maryland households are military households. He has reached out to the business community in ways O’Malley hasn’t, and seems uniquely equipped among the Democratic candidates to talk about jobs and economic development. He can speak about all aspects of state government fluently.

And if history is any guide, expect Bill Clinton to be campaigning for Brown at some strategic moment. He has stumped for many candidates in contested Democratic primaries who endorsed his wife in 2008 (see John Delaney), and a clear majority of them have won.

So enjoy your first moment in the sun this week, Lt. Gov. Brown. Let’s see what you do with it.

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:

House Cleaning

Reality Check (in Four Parts)

Winners and Losers

Filing Deadline Quietly Changed to Early January

Stations of the Cross and the Station That’s Become a Cross to Bear

Fools Rushern In

A Sense of the Senate

Donald Fry: City takes constructive step toward strategy for job growth

By Donald C. Fry

An axiom about life is: in order to know how to get somewhere, you need to know where you are in the first place.

The Baltimore Development Corporation, Baltimore City’s economic development agency, is seeking a consultant to help it do just that in order to craft a much-needed strategic plan for strengthening the city’s business climate and economic development.

BDC President & CEO Brenda McKenzie issued an RFP last Tuesday seeking a consultant to develop a “fact base” of the city’s economic development landscape and resources. The consultant will be expected to ultimately produce a comprehensive analysis of business climate strengths, challenges and opportunities and to make recommendations to grow the city’s economy.

The successful consultant should also focus on developing a strategic plan with key priorities, options for growing the city’s economy and metrics by which to measure the success of initiatives for job growth and private sector investment in the city.

Ultimately, the strategic plan developed through the current BDC initiative will serve as a guide for growing the city’s economy – a “key determiner” in reaching Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s goal of attracting 10,000 new families to the city in the next 10 years, according to the RFP.

This project signals a significant and constructive new focus on strategy for the BDC, which has been viewed by many as being driven more by tactics than by a bigger overarching plan.

“BDC is overwhelmingly more project based rather than strategic based,” the Transition Team for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake reported in March 2010. Among other things, the Transition Team recommended a greater emphasis on the business development aspect of the BDC, called for a “value-analysis” of impactful opportunities for economic growth, and suggested the development of metrics to measure the success of BDC initiatives.

The findings and recommendations from this BDC project will be integrated with the ongoing update of a larger Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy being managed by the city’s Planning Department.

One of the basic needs the consultant will be asked to address is to develop a wide range of economic and business-climate data that pertains just to the city. “Baltimore has struggled to identify City-centric data, as most analyses of economic activity are done on a regional scale,” according to the RFP.

Data to be sought will include demographic and socioeconomic trends, industry sectors, and current trends and forecasts for employment and job-growth, workforce, income, population and diversity.

In analyzing city business climate assets and opportunities, BDC is seeking a specific focus on how to accelerate the pace of job creation and the potential to attract new residents through enhanced retail and commercial assets.

Other deliverables the BDC is seeking from a consultant include identification of successful economic development models elsewhere that could potentially be adopted by the city. The BDC is also seeking recommendations for strengthening small business growth, engaging the city’s corporate and civic institutions in developing strategies, analyzing the city’s competitiveness for business growth, and an overview of public and private funding options that could support business and real estate development in the city.

Copies of the RFP for this project can be obtained online from the BDC. The deadline for proposals is June 10, while a pre-proposal conference will be held on May 15.

This is only one project, but it’s good to see the city focusing on the issue of its competitiveness for business expansion and growth. The ability of cities and states to embrace the notion of competitiveness and to craft business development strategies around it will play a decisive role in their future economic growth and job creation.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He co-chaired the Mayor’s Transition Team’s committee on economic development and jobs. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Donald C. Fry:

Federal fiscal uncertainty could erode states’ infrastructure funding options

Business issues rose to the top of State House priority lists in 2013 session

O’Malley deserves better grade for affordable college in Maryland

Hire One Youth: connecting Baltimore’s youth with private-sector opportunity

Maryland’s transportation funding crisis is real, not contrived

Laslo Boyd: Is Help Coming From Annapolis?

By Laslo Boyd

This past General Assembly session was by almost any measure a monumental one. Maryland underscored its standing as one of the most progressive states in the nation by passing a strong gun regulation law, abolishing the death penalty, and deciding to stop kicking the can down the road on transportation infrastructure funding. Following the previous year’s enactment of Marriage Equality and the Dream Act, there’s no doubt that you’re not in Kansas.

While the state’s economy is still caught in the tangle of a slow national recovery, bold actions by the Governor and legislative leadership seem to have resolved the structural budget deficit that plagued Maryland for more than a decade. The fruits of those earlier efforts were seen in a relatively easy budget year for the Governor and General Assembly this time around.

We won’t see another session like this one for quite a while. Certainly not next year when everyone’s focus will be on the 2014 election and a June primary that will seem like it came out of nowhere on the heels of Sine Die. Meanwhile, Martin O’Malley is publicly contemplating a run for president in 2016—if it were a Broadway play, the title would be “Waiting for Hillary”—and large numbers of the legislature are either running for higher office or for the hills.

There are enough storylines in the races for statewide office to keep observers and columnists fully occupied between now and next year’s primary. Before that takes over all conversation, however, it’s worth going back to look at a development in this year’s session that received far less attention than the headline items.

House Speaker Mike Busch, whose tenure as that body’s presiding officer surely ranks among the most significant ever, created the “Baltimore Revitalization Work Group” at the beginning of 2013. It’s not a standing legislative committee. It has the rather open-ended charge to look into how the state can help the Baltimore region. The Speaker has not given the Work Group any deadlines or timetables.

Thus far, it’s held a series of briefings rather than hearings. The Governor’s supplemental budget included $3.5 million to support the Task Force’s objective of stimulating revitalization projects. This coming summer, the members of the Work Group will be meeting with local officials and others in the Baltimore region to collect ideas and examine ways in which the State might be more supportive or regional revitalization.

At one level, it’s hard to know what to make of this initiative. For years, there have been discussions in Maryland as well as other parts of the country about how to bring about greater regional collaboration between center cities and their suburbs. The Greater Baltimore Committee, which defines its own role in regional economic development terms, engaged in a formal effort in the late 1990s that failed to get much support from elected officials in the area.

Mayors and county executives are willing to work together when the outcome seems like a win-win with no political downsides, but those kinds of initiatives are few and far between. Much more often, they compete for scarce resources, focus on challenges within their own jurisdictions, and know that their political lives are dependent on keeping voters in their city or county happy.

That one of the three most powerful individuals in Maryland has decided to lend his support to Baltimore area revitalization can’t be brushed aside as having no significance. Busch is the rather unusual presiding officer who is deeply interested in policy issues rather than in just keeping peace in his legislative body.

He knows that the Baltimore area is steadily losing influence in the General Assembly, that the next governor will not be from this region—unless Dutch Ruppersberger surprises everyone—and that Baltimore’s problems impact the entire state.

One very interesting decision that Busch has already made was to appoint Keiffer Mitchell as the chair of the Work Group. Mitchell is clearly a rising star in the House of Delegates but whether he is there after 2014 is an open question. There’s lots of speculation that he may end up as the Lt. Governor candidate on Doug Gansler’s ticket or that he may run for the State Senate. Given the history of that first office, he might well have a more important role to play on Mike Busch’s Work Group, but he’ll have to sort that out.

In essence, the Speaker has signaled that he is concerned about the future of the Baltimore region. Whether he is also making implicit observations about the current leadership that he sees can only be a matter of speculation. Nevertheless, his interest in this topic has the potential to provoke a serious policy discussion about how to move the Baltimore region forward. That’s a discussion worth having.

Laslo Boyd writes and consults about public policy, government, and politics. He begins today as a regulator contributor to Center Maryland. His email is lvboyd@gmail.com.

Center Maryland: Inside Out — Lawrence Twele — VIDEO

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President and CEO of the Howard County Economic Development Authority Larry Twele announces 100 businesses will be visited during the week of May 6 as part of Howard County’s Business Appreciation Week. Twele also discusses the arrival of new business and the different ways Howard County is working to attract and help companies expand.

Center Maryland: Inside Out is a video politicast featured on Center Maryland. Lisa Harris Jones joins Damian O’Doherty to discuss Maryland’s growth, investment and infrastructure policies with various political insiders and elected officials. Center Maryland: Inside Out brings political realities to the forefront of the discussion, advancing reasonable and responsible ideas.

Having trouble seeing the above video? Click here to go directly to it.

Lisa Harris Jones is an Attorney at Law and Lobbyist, Member and Founder of Harris Jones & Malone, LLC. Damian O’Doherty is a Corporate Communications Strategist, a Principal of KO Public Affairs LLC, and Co-Founder of Center Maryland.