- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 23, 2004

The Maryland Democratic Party has snubbed state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer by leaving him out of the delegates chosen to vote at the Democratic National Convention, Mr. Schaefer’s spokesman said.

The outspoken and quirky comptroller has drawn headlines over the past few weeks, after he complained at a public meeting about slow service he received from a Spanish-speaking fast-food worker. Mr. Schaefer said he doesn’t want to adjust to other cultures, and that immigrants should learn English.

About 150 members of the state Democratic Central Committee, the governing body of the state party, met Wednesday night and approved a list of 30 delegates that was submitted by the presidential campaigns of John Kerry and John Edwards, said Josh White, executive director of the Democratic Party in Maryland.

The list included Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson, Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan, state Sen. Lisa Gladden of Baltimore, Delegate Susan Lee of Montgomery County and Baltimore City Council President Sheila Dixon.

Mr. Schaefer, the highest-ranking elected Democrat in state government, was left out.

“It’s obviously a purposeful slight. He doesn’t hew to the leftist leanings of the Maryland state Democratic Party,” said Mike Golden, Mr. Schaefer’s spokesman.

Mr. White said Mr. Schaefer never asked for a spot at the convention and he didn’t endorse a candidate for president — both requirements for convention attendees.

• Travelin’ man

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams says he doesn’t travel half as much as he would if he went everywhere he is invited.

Mr. Williams says he works to keep most of his trips short, or over weekends, to keep from being away from the District during workweeks. The mayor says the city reaps benefits from his speaking engagements.

He says he has had the chance to promote full voting rights for the District by educating audiences on the lack of congressional representation for city residents. The mayor also says he has spoken out on homelessness, AIDS and other urban issues.

Mr. Williams also says the city’s economy has improved because he has been able to promote business development on the trips.

This month alone, the mayor has been to Paris and Rome.

• A little road music

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, with Grammy Award-winning mountain music artist Ralph Stanley at his side, signed legislation last week designating 224 miles on several mountain highways as “Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail: The Crooked Road.”

About 100 people clustered under umbrellas in a driving rain as Mr. Warner signed the bill on the steps of a house in the business district of Clintwood, Va., that will become a museum to Mr. Stanley’s music.

The Bluegrass Brothers, a southwest Virginia band that became part of Mr. Warner’s successful 2001 election strategy to reach out to rural voters, played a song titled “The Old Crooked Trail” written by country music star Tom T. Hall.

Also, Mr. Stanley finished brief remarks by singing a verse from his 2000 Grammy-winning song “O Death,” made famous by the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou?”

Mr. Warner said the designation of U.S. Routes 221, 58 and 23 and state Routes 83 and 40 through the craggy terrain of Virginia’s coalfields could bring in millions of additional dollars from tourism.

“By creating this trail, people will not only see the Ralph Stanley Museum in Clintwood, but all these venues throughout Southwest Virginia,” Mr. Warner said.

Other attractions on the music trail include the Floyd Country Store, the Old Fiddler’s Convention and Rex Theater in Galax, Grayson County’s Blue Ridge Music Center and the hometown of country music’s famous Carter family in Hiltons.

• Taxes coming

Residents of Frederick, Md., will be paying higher property taxes in the coming year.

The Board of Aldermen voted last week to approve a 5-cent rate increase — bringing the total levy to 69 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

The increase will help fund the $52.5 million city budget for the coming year.

The city will hold the line on trash-hauling fees for the coming year.

• Second effort

Baltimore’s fire department, embarrassed last month when it graduated its first all-white recruitment class since the days of segregation, has begun a new recruitment drive.

This time, officials said, they will make a stronger effort to get the word out to the black community.

There will be a shorter gap between the date the recruiting test is administered and the start of the first training class.

And the department will use a test endorsed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs and vetted by the city Department of Human Resources and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“The objective is to widen the net of applicants to be more reflective of the community we serve,” said fire spokesman James Gardner.

Mayor Martin O’Malley was more blunt: “This is about us in city government, getting our act together.”

The city will test 1,500 applicants June 12 to fill 50 positions. Applications were available starting Wednesday at all fire stations and at the headquarters of the Vulcan Blazers, a black firefighters’ organization.

The changes come on the heels of March’s all-white 30-member recruit class — the first since the department was integrated in 1953. The class was chosen from a list of those who passed a test administered in November 2002. More than 800 people took the test, with 434 passing, 70 of whom were black.

Last year, the same test produced a class of 40 recruits, including 12 blacks.

Insisting that an all-white class should not happen in a city where two-thirds of the residents are black, the mayor formed a recruiting and hiring committee with members from the NAACP, two local unions and the mayor’s office of employment development.

• Paper trail

About 100 Maryland voters who requested paper ballots for the March primary because they did not trust the state’s new touch-screen voting machines may never have their votes counted.

The provisional ballots they filled out during the primary election have been rejected by local elections boards, which determined that they could not be used for that purpose. State officials told the Baltimore Sun that county election judges erred in offering the paper alternative.

Twenty-one of the disputed ballots came from Howard County, and angry residents there are demanding that the votes be tallied.

They should not be disenfranchised, several argued last week at an administrative hearing in Annapolis, just because they question the technology behind the contentious touch-screen system that was unveiled statewide in March.

“I was not told that my vote would not be counted. That is just plain wrong,” said Helen K. Kolbe, a retired U.N. official who is challenging the Howard County Board of Elections to get her vote counted. “By any logic, my vote should be accepted or, quite simply, it is fraud and a stain on our electoral procedures.”

Miss Kolbe and 20 other Howard residents were victims of a communications breakdown that prevented last-minute instructions from the state about the use of paper ballots from reaching hundreds of election judges in precincts throughout the county, the hearing revealed.

The hearing also showed that an effort by an advocacy group questioning the integrity of electronic voting machines might have backfired in some cases.

The Campaign for Verifiable Voting had urged thousands of its supporters to request paper ballots to create a verifiable paper trail. Under state law, the requests should have been denied — as they were in many cases.

But in some instances they were honored by election judges with incorrect information, producing the opposite result from that the group was seeking. Instead of helping to ensure the validity of the election outcome by creating a paper trail, the votes are sitting uncounted, preventing those who cast them from participating in the electoral process.

“That is not what we were planning to do,” said Linda Schade, a co-director with the campaign. “We are not happy about it.”

This column is based in part on wire service reports.

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