Author Archives: Ebony Brown

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Down to the Wire

For Larry Hogan, it’s all about the economy (Provided)

For Larry Hogan, it’s all about the economy (Provided)

In less than one week, Marylanders will pick a new top executive for the first time in almost a decade. Both Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Republican candidate Larry Hogan have spent the past month making their final push to for the Nov. 4 election.

Although Maryland is historically a blue state, predictions say this race will be a close one — within 10 points.

“It’s not the most exciting campaign,” said John Bullock, an assistant professor of political science at Towson University. “There’s a lot of lukewarm approval of Brown among some Democrats. It’s not this awe-inspiring movement some hoped it would be.” He added that Hogan, a real estate executive positioning himself as a moderate, hasn’t excited the more conservative Republican base either.

Much of the campaigning has highlighted the candidates’ approaches to revamping the economy, with discussions about taxes, public-private partnerships, the regulatory environment and small businesses; education, with a focus on the achievement gap and pre-kindergarten; and crime, with Brown drawing attention to Hogan’s gun-friendly past, among other issues.Even the campaigning itself has become a bit of a campaign issue, with notably negative attack ads coming from the Brown campaign and its affiliated groups focusing on Hogan’s past in regard to gun control and women’s reproductive rights.

“I think it has probably turned off some voters,” Bullock said of the negative campaigning. “One of the things interesting about negative ads is that it can drive the other person’s numbers down, but it can also drive your numbers down too.”

For Anthony Brown, the state’s infrastructure is a top priority. (Provided)

For Anthony Brown, the state’s infrastructure is a top priority. (Provided)

He suspects some who may have supported Brown moved to Hogan’s side because of those ads but added that Brown probably saw success in tying Hogan to national platforms that are not popular in Maryland. Hogan’s recent endorsement by the National Rifle Association, Bullock said, may have upped support from some voters, but hurt his numbers elsewhere. Although Hogan said he doesn’t plan to roll back gun control measures, Brown has used the NRA endorsement, as well as Hogan’s previous opposition to gun control reform, as ammunition.

Max Hilaire, chair of Morgan State University’s political science department, thinks the race could be swung by turnout. Heavily Democratic Montgomery County saw an extremely low turnout in June’s primary election, he said, and in a state where the central counties — Montgomery, Baltimore and Prince George’s — largely determine elections, that could be dangerous for the Democrats.

“Brown has not proven to be a very charismatic candidate,” said Hilaire. He pointed to the recent push Brown has made to reach black voters, a base some may have predicted months ago would have been securely in Brown’s camp. Should Brown be elected, he’d become the state’s first black governor and only the third African-American to be elected to the top executive office of a U.S. state.

Neither Brown nor Hogan, continued Hilaire, has proven to be a candidate many Marylanders are excited to support.

Economy

Hogan has bet his campaign on Maryland’s economy. Citing numerous tax increases under the O’Malley administration, he has repeatedly promised that he will cut government spending and reduce the tax burden on both Maryland residents and businesses.

A vocal critic of Maryland’s recovery from the 2008 recession, Hogan said his plan to reduce the rate of unemployment in the state — Maryland ranks 29th in unemployment in the U.S. — is to focus his attention on making the state more attractive to businesses.

“Job creation is the No. 1 issue,” Hogan said in an interview. “In our economy, 80 percent of the jobs come from small businesses, and we’ve killed 8,688 of them, which is why we’ve lost 200,000 jobs and people are suffering.”

By reducing the financial strain on businesses in the state, he continued, a Hogan administration would bring more businesses to Maryland and, consequently, more jobs. While some of the programs that tax revenues fund are vital to state residents, he said, he plans to find places where funds could be better used and taxes can be reduced on corporations and individuals.

“We believe that targeted tax relief will help put more money into the economy and help bring more revenue in,” said Hogan. “Immediately, we’re going to call for independent, outside audits of every single state agency and department. If we can find where tax dollars are being wasted, we can actually put some more money into the programs where people need it the most.”

Brown hopes to spur the economy through infrastructure investments, general business and industry-specific tax incentives, improving the regulatory environment and public-private partnerships.

Brown announced a $1.5 billion savings plan that includes collective purchasing agreements among state, county and local governments, public-private partnerships, more efficiency in Medicaid and other savings measures.

“My focus would be on things like infrastructure that would include roads and rail, like the purple line and red line, but it would also include infrastructure like schools and data networks,” Brown said in an interview.

Democrat Anthony Brown addressed a campaign rally in Prince George’s County on Oct. 19. (The Brown Campaign/Jay L Baker)

Democrat Anthony Brown addressed a campaign rally in Prince George’s County on Oct. 19. (The Brown Campaign/Jay L Baker)

He added that the business climate could be strengthened through improving the regulatory and licensing environment, which some industries feel is cumbersome.

“We’ve got to work with the private sector to make sure that while we are protecting the environment, and while we are protecting consumers and while we are protecting the workforce, we’re doing it in a way that businesses — in a very cost-effective … efficient way — can comply with whatever regulations need to be in place,” he said.

Regardless of who is elected Maryland’s next governor, there is a finite amount of change the governor’s office can effect on state taxes, said Morgan State’s Hilaire.

“We’ve heard tax promises in the past,” Hilaire said of both candidate’s promises to not raise taxes. The director of public works and the comptroller both have a say in taxes and fees state residents face, he explained, so there is little chance either Brown or Hogan has the silver bullet to fix the problems caused by the recession.

Bullock said Hogan has been right to attack Brown on his promise not to raise taxes — a promise Hogan has also made — when taxes have gone up under Gov. Martin O’Malley’s watch.

“I always cringe whenever I hear a candidate say they’re not going to raise taxes because you just don’t know what the economy is going to be,”Bullock said. “It would be a great promise to make, but probably the best thing a candidate can say is that they’re going to trim inefficiencies and not saying where, because that puts them in a box.”

Education

Legislators in the General Assembly’s 2014 session passed a law expanding access to free pre-kindergarten to more underprivileged children in the state. The move was billed as a step toward closing the vast achievement gap between affluent students and school districts and underprivileged students in low-income areas; an ensuing debate surrounded the goal of eventually affording all Maryland children a free pre-K education.

Republican Larry Hogan visited  Goldberg’s Bagels during a campaign swing through Pikesville on Oct. 26. (Marc Shapiro)

Republican Larry Hogan visited
Goldberg’s Bagels during a campaign swing through Pikesville on Oct. 26.
(Marc Shapiro)

“Pre-K is significant and considered one of the best practices by educators from kindergarten teachers to college presidents,” Brown, who testified on behalf of the most recent legislation, said during the interview. “We know that with a solid early childhood education, kids start kindergarten much more ready to learn.”

His plan includes rolling out a voluntary half-day of pre-K by 2018, which he said can be done with existing resources as well as revenue from expanded gaming in the state, something he expects to increase when MGM National Harbor opens in 2016.

Bullock had reservations about gambling revenue since the new Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore was bringing in less than expected, but either way, universal pre-K will be costly and most likely have to be implemented in phases, he said.

“It can be a challenge when you hang your hat on potential revenue,” he said. “I believe it will pay off in the long run, but how to implement it, that’s a part of the question.”

For his part, Hogan has said that he supports the idea of universal pre-K but doesn’t believe that it is a realistic promise to make. The achievement gap problem, he said, is deep-rooted in the state.

“It’s not just a money problem,” said Hogan. “We doubled spending [on schools] during the [former Gov. Robert] Ehrlich administration, we’ve doubled spending during the O’Malley administration.”

To even the playing field, Hogan said, Marylanders need to embrace things like charter schools. Many people don’t like the concept of quasi-public institutions, he said, but they help.

Another major talking point in the Hogan campaign has been the Common Core educational standards adopted by states across the country, including Maryland. Hogan has repeatedly promised that he would “hit the pause button” on the implementation of the countrywide academic standards that have been a subject of contention since their introduction years ago.

“We can’t be experimenting that rapidly with our children’s education,” he said, calling the launch of Common Core in Maryland — which began last fall — an “unmitigated disaster.”

Though he said he was unsure about what his immediate plan would be after ending Common Core, he pointed out that SAT scores in the state last year were the lowest in years, marking the first time the state fell below the national average in scoring.

The most effective role the governor’s office can take in closing the achievement gap in Maryland’s schools, said Hilaire, is addressing the issues many  struggling children face at home. By focusing on reducing poverty and making resources available to low-income children, the next governor can increase the odds of children making the most of their education, but much of the details are up to the local school districts, said Hilaire, even with the Common Core standards adopted in Maryland.

“Education is a local, jurisdictional matter,” he said. “It’s based strictly of property taxes and it’s up to the county executive and the mayor to appoint someone who is an effective leader to change the focus.”.

Also, read “Cardin, Franchot Endorse Jalisi.

Crime

Linking much of the state’s crime problem to a larger drug problem in Maryland, Hogan declared that he would, upon election, immediately declare a statewide state of emergency in order to address the heroin situation.

Another portion of Hogan’s plan to address crime in Maryland is to reorganize Maryland’s gun laws. When pushed on his stance on gun control earlier this month, he said that he believed Maryland’s laws passed in 2013 didn’t address the problem from the right angle. While the Firearms Safety Act of 2013 mandates fingerprinting, licensing and a background check before anyone can walk out of a Maryland store with a gun, Hogan wants instant point of sale background checks and for the state to connect with a national database that tracks those with a history of mental health problems.

The 2013 bill sounded good, said Hogan, but it didn’t go far enough in addressing criminal history and mental health history.

Brown said there are two areas the governor can focus on to address crime. One of those pieces is implementing law enforcement strategies that have local municipalities partnering with state police in information sharing, but also having uniformed state troopers helping local police forces.

He would also like to take steps to further reduce recidivism in Maryland, which was reduced from 50 percent to 40 percent in the last four years, but still lags behind the 20 percent rate other states have achieved.

Brown plans to introduce new initiatives to reduce recidivism “that includes things like greater skills training for our inmate population, greater drug and alcohol addiction counseling and treatment, both in the institution and in the community, and some transitional services like housing, like employment,” he said.

mshapiro@jewishtimes.com
hnorris@jewishtimes.com

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Just Like Adam and Eve

(©iStockphoto.com/bhofack2 )

(©iStockphoto.com/bhofack2)

TEL AVIV — The music pounded, the liquor flowed, dancers filled the floor and khinkali meat dumplings and kababi skewers — staples of traditional Georgian cuisines — sat on almost every table.

That was back in February, before Nana Shrier, the owner of the hip Tel Aviv bar and restaurant Nanuchka, saw a television news report about factory farming. Then everything changed.

Abhorred by how animals are treated in industrial meat and dairy production, Shrier stripped all the animal products from the menu — from cheese to eggs to chicken and steak — and made the restaurant entirely vegan.

It wasn’t an easy shift. Retaining the restaurant’s Georgian character has forced Shrier to get creative, finding meat substitutes and trying new dishes. She has also noticed that customers order less hard alcohol when they don’t eat meat. But none of that matters to her.

“We understood that there’s no price worth paying to create animal products, to see, to sell, to produce or to buy them,” she said. “The atmosphere is pleasant, but I would have paid any price. I would have lost half my business for this.”

According to the activist group Vegan-Friendly, Shrier is one of approximately 300,000 vegans in Israel. At nearly 4 percent of the country, activists say Israel has the highest per capita vegan population of anywhere in the world. And the trend appears to be accelerating.

A survey conducted in January found that 8 percent of Israelis are vegetarian and nearly 5 percent are vegan. Four years ago, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reported that just 2.6 percent of Israelis were vegetarian or vegan.

Some 7,000 Israelis have accepted the Challenge 22 to go vegan for 22 days since the initiative was launched in May by the animal rights group Anonymous. About 250 Israeli restaurants are now certified “vegan friendly” by the group of the same name, meaning that at least one-quarter of their dishes contain no animal products.

Israel is also frequently included on lists of the world’s most vegan-friendly nations, thanks in part to the fact that national staples such as falafel and hummus contain no animal products. And on Oct. 13, Tel Aviv’s second annual Vegan-Fest drew more than 10,000 attendees to a festival of food, crafts and music that organizers claim is the world’s largest.

“The makeup of the community is the biggest change,” said Omri Paz, founder of Vegan-Friendly, which organized the festival. “In the past, maybe they were more spiritual, or people society viewed as a little different, a little strange. A lot of the new vegans are mainstream — vegan lawyers, vegan teachers. Everyone can be vegan.”

The alternative and the mainstream mingled freely at the festival, where people wearing baggy tie-dyed pants and shirts reading “Proud To Be Vegan” mixed with families enjoying picnics. The food stands lining the park offered everything from vegan cakes and ice cream to vegan shwarma, Israel’s trademark spiced lamb dish.

Even Domino’s Pizza had a booth showcasing its vegan pies — first sold in Israel. Ido Fridman, the vice president of marketing for Domino’s Israel, said the company has sold about 300,000 vegan pizzas since launching the pie last year.

Israel’s vegan boom comes at a time of heightened awareness of animal welfare on factory farms.

A Hebrew-subtitled lecture on veganism has garnered nearly a million views on YouTube in a country of just 8 million people. One-fifth of the country tuned in to see a vegan activist win the latest season of the Israeli version of the “Big Brother” reality television show. And a popular investigative news show has broadcast six segments exposing the mistreatment of animals in Israel’s meat and dairy industries.

The heightened consciousness around animal welfare has bolstered vegan activists. Founded just two years ago, Vegan-Friendly has seen attendance at its festival jump 25 percent this year. Another animal rights group founded two years ago, Free 269, recently opened Israel’s first sanctuary for animals from factory farms and has spawned dozens of offshoots in other countries.

“There’s the virality of Facebook and YouTube, so the messages and the pictures and videos are exposed to tons of people,” Paz said. “It helps that people are used to eating falafel and Israeli salad.”

Israeli veganism took root in secular liberal circles, but religious Israelis are joining the movement, too. Many note that the biblical Adam and Eve were vegetarians in the Garden of Eden.

Yehuda Shein, the chairman of Behemla, a religious organization that advocates against animal cruelty, says he is undeterred by the time-honored custom of eating meat on Shabbat and holidays.

“There’s no commandment to eat meat,” Shein said. “People make their own adjustments. They stop eating meat, they do something else. But our goal is to bring the information to the public.”

Veganism is not entirely a new development in Israel. The African Hebrew Israelites have abstained from animal products for decades. But while activists have cheered the recent growth in vegan awareness, veteran vegans fear it may be a passing fad.

Arie Rave, who started the vegan Buddha Burgers restaurant in Tel Aviv eight years ago and is about to open his sixth franchise, said he hopes new adherents take it seriously.

“People don’t become vegan in one day,” said Rave, whose restaurants are filled with posters touting veganism’s moral, health and ecological benefits. “It’s not one day or one conversation. It’s not just a menu. It’s an ideology.”

‘Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue’

103114_cover_oped_FroshMost of us first hear this title phrase in the book of Deuteronomy. No words better capture the work I have strived to do as a legislator in the Maryland General Assembly or the legacy I hope to leave as your next attorney general.

As a child, I watched my father stand up to Joe McCarthy and defend government employees during the Red Scare. I saw him fight to end racial discrimination as a member of the Montgomery County Council. I learned from him the importance of fighting for justice for everyone, especially those who have nowhere to turn for protection. It ignited my lifelong passion for justice rooted in values of tikkun olam (repairing the world).

I have spent the past 20 years in the Maryland Senate fighting for justice and working to make Maryland safer. I led the fight to pass the landmark legislation that bans assault weapons and keeps guns out of the hands of criminals, the law that increases protections for victims of domestic violence, laws that protect children from abuse and laws that protect the Chesapeake Bay and our precious natural resources.

I plan to continue this work as attorney general, focusing on justice for every Marylander in every corner of our state. I will enforce Maryland’s common sense gun law and defend it all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary because it makes communities safer. I will do all I can to make sure that Marylanders are safe at home, at school and online. That is why the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police has endorsed me. I will stand up for consumers and working families. That is why the AFL-CIO has endorsed me. I will work hard to ensure that every child in our state gets a quality education. That is why the Maryland State Education Association has endorsed me. I will protect the rights of women to make their own health care decisions. That is why the National Organization for Women has endorsed me. And I will use the full force of the office to make sure that every man, woman and child in our state has clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. That is why the Maryland Sierra Club and the Maryland League of Conservation Voters have endorsed me.

As a native of Montgomery County and member of the General Assembly since 1986, I am deeply proud of our longtime partnership together. I grew up in Bethesda, graduated from Walter Johnson High School and raised my family in Montgomery County. We belong to Adat Shalom Congregation. I have served on the boards of directors of the Jewish Community Center and the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington; I have partnered in the General Assembly with the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Baltimore Jewish Council on projects and policy; and I have won support for the communal institutions of the Jewish community, career services, educational programs, in-home support, nursing care and volunteer assistance. I am eager to continue our close collaboration in the future

I first heard the term “justice, justice you shall pursue” at a young age in synagogue. I was educated on its importance watching my father at work in the 1950s. And I have spent my entire career working to fulfill it as a citizen, father, legislator, attorney and candidate. I am eager to continue the pursuit of justice as your attorney general, putting the law on the side of the people to protect every Maryland family. I hope to earn your vote on Election Day, Nov. 4.

Brian Frosh is the Democratic candidate for attorney general. He is a state senator (D-Montgomery) and chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in the Maryland General Assembly.

Let’s Bring ‘Common Sense’ Back to Maryland

103114_cover_oped_Pritzer-JeffreyAs a candidate for Maryland attorney general, I believe the voters should have an opportunity to know more about me as well as to understand why I am running for this office, and to gain a perspective in what can and will be accomplished during my term.

I was raised in Baltimore City and attended public schools. I graduated from Milford Mill High School, Franklin and Marshall College and the University of Maryland Law School, where I was a staff member of The Maryland Law Review. I have been recommended for a judgeship by the Judicial Nominating Commission for Baltimore County.

I am the former president of the Save-A-Heart Foundation, which raised millions of dollars for Baltimore and Maryland hospitals and volunteer fire companies, and I am the past president of the Valley Heights Improvement Association in the Greenspring Valley area. I have been an active member of Beth El Congregation in Pikesville and am a past member of its board of trustees and executive board.

I have practiced law for 40 years, and I am a member of the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. My practice, of which I am managing partner, represents numerous business entities, particularly in the automotive and construction industries, as well as numerous small businesses, professionals and individuals.

My decision to run was prompted by the failure of the Maryland attorney general to investigate the failed affordable health care website rollout and the failure to attempt to recoup the waste of approximately $250 million of Maryland taxpayer money. I was shocked that our current attorney general took no steps to that end, despite my attempts to prompt him to do so. This was a primary motivating factor, but the reality is that I saw too many of my friends and clients leaving our beautiful state.

Maryland is a great place to live with attributes few states can match. A state such as Maryland should be attracting and retaining businesses and should be flourishing economically. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.

A primary reason for the Maryland malaise is the effect of one-party rule. This has led not only to high taxes, but regulations that are so excessive and burdensome that businesses don’t want to locate here. From a business standpoint, Maryland is losing out. From an individual standpoint, Maryland also is losing many residents, including numerous retirees who had made significant contributions to our tax base.

While I cannot change the tax structure, as attorney general I intend to appoint a task force to begin examining onerous and overly burdensome rules and regulations promulgated by various agencies and to “prune away” those regulations that make little sense. I will meet with business leaders to review the regulatory situation and work with business to improve same, without jeopardizing consumer rights. Maryland must once again be known as a business-friendly state.

I will also expand greatly the arbitration and mediation services of the Office of Attorney General, giving residents another venue to arbitrate differences with businesses thus saving the time, trouble and expense of the court system.

Finally, I will attempt to bring common sense back to Maryland. The Office of Attorney General provides legal advice to every Maryland agency, and common sense will be the byword of any new rules and regulations to assure that the benefits outweigh the costs.

I want our state to be great again. None of us, who live here and love this state, desire to see the continued exodus of friends, clients and businesses who are leaving for greener pastures.

My opponent has been part of the Annapolis power structure for 28 years. The last several years have been troublesome at best and terrible at worst. It’s time to have an independent attorney general who has not been part of that power structure, which has actually caused Maryland to have a higher unemployment rate than the national average.

Let’s help bring independence to the Office of Attorney General and balance to state government.

Jeffrey N. Pritzker is the Republican candidate for attorney general. He has been a practicing attorney in Maryland for almost 40 years. He previously ran for attorney general in 2002.

Cardin, Franchot Endorse Jalisi

This time, the endorsements are real.

Unlike a flurry of so-called endorsements of District 10 delegate candidate Hasan “Jay” Jalisi in the days leading up to the June 24 Democratic primary that were quickly denied by the politicians supposedly making them, high-ranking officials are now backing the Democrat despite lingering questions over his residency.

Jalisi’s campaign announced an endorsement from U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin last week. He has also been endorsed by Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot and boasts statements of support from U.S. Reps. Elijah Cummings and John Sarbanes and Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Micheal Busch.

In the days before the primary, Jalisi’s endorsements and statements of support on his website made him the subject of some negative press when Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond and state Del. Dan Morhaim released a joint statement clarifying their support for three of the other candidates in the race. The statement was in response to quotes attributed to the pair praising Jalisi’s work in the community.

Del. Dana Stein also released a statement clairfying that he had not endorsed Jalisi.

Recent campaigning by the only Republican candidate in the race, William Newton, has put the resident agent of Jalisi’s real estate company in the spotlight. Aaron Seltzer was named HMJ 1411 Division, LLC’s resident agent in late July. Seltzer, a former lawyer, was disbarred in 2011 after being found in violation of the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers. He was indicted in 2013 on nine counts of wire fraud in connection with a real estate investment scheme in which it was alleged he stole $747,860 from potential investors for his own personal use. The case is ongoing.