- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 27, 2005

Sounding like a candidate for governor of Maryland, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan on Wednesday went on the offensive, criticizing Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley for expressing even conditional support for legalizing slot machines in Maryland.

Mr. Duncan, who vehemently opposes the expansion of gambling, accused Mr. O’Malley of going along with a policy he has acknowledged as “morally bankrupt.”

“I don’t understand how someone could stand up and say, ‘This is morally bankrupt, but we need to do it,’” Mr. Duncan said at a press conference in a Baltimore church with pastors from the city and Prince George’s County.

Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Duncan, both Democrats, are considering a run for governor in 2006 against Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

The mayor has voiced wary support for slots, saying the machines are “not my silver-bullet solution to what ails our state.”

Mr. O’Malley has expressed a willingness to compromise as a way of keeping the Preakness Stakes race in Baltimore. The city gets a huge financial lift every year from the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown.

Major players in Maryland’s horse-racing industry support bringing slot machines to the state’s racetracks to boost sagging interest at aging tracks.

Pimlico, which is home to the Preakness, was bought in 2002 by a Canadian company, which put off plans for renovations at the deteriorating track after slots legislation fell through once before. That delay has fueled some speculation that the company could move the Preakness to another track.

“My position has been, I don’t want to lose the Preakness,” Mr. O’Malley said. “I don’t want to lose the jobs from racing. I’ve thought that a reasonable compromise would be a very limited number of slots, limited to the track.”

Mr. O’Malley said his position hasn’t changed since the idea of legalizing slot machines first was proposed, and he was reluctant to discuss the issue in depth at a press conference Wednesday at City Hall. The mayor said the issue has consumed too much legislative energy at a time when the state needs to focus on other problems.

Slot machines have been a top issue in the General Assembly for the past three years.

“Frankly, I find it to be a big distraction from other things that are broken and need getting fixed,” he said.

Mr. Duncan said approving slots legislation will open the door to more gambling expansion in the future.

“We’re not paying attention to real long-term economic growth for our state because everybody is fixated on the short-term fix of gambling,” he said.

Although Mr. Ehrlich has pushed to legalize slots, Mr. Duncan accused Mr. O’Malley of being irresponsible and inconsistent in his statements on the matter.

“He’s all over the map on this, and it’s harmful,” Mr. Duncan said.

• Still undecided

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams is still mum on whether he plans to run for re-election.

Mr. Williams told WTOP Radio last week that he is really “weighing it.”

The mayor said the job is a strain on his family with the constant bombardment of issues from sunup to sundown. Mr. Williams said he feels like he’s on an episode of TV’s “M*A*S*H,” waking up each day to another “incoming” problem.

Mr. Williams said he doesn’t think any mayor governs without some people being unhappy with the job he’s doing. He added that a person must have the energy level and the drive.

The mayor said he doesn’t know what he would do if he wasn’t mayor. He says maybe he’ll be a gardener — like his uncle.

• Time for a change

One week after a memo detailing security lapses at the Port of Baltimore came to light, Maryland’s transportation secretary announced on Thursday a nationwide search for a new executive director of the port.

James White is stepping down to pursue other opportunities, said Transportation Secretary Robert Flanagan. Mr. White’s departure is not in response to reports that the security company at the port was replaced after U.S. Coast Guard officials found guards violating federal security regulations, Mr. Flanagan said.

“We had a very positive conversation,” he said. “He said he was interested in moving forward on a number of good prospects for him.”

Still, security is a major issue for the port.

“It’s more of an issue than it’s ever been,” Mr. Flanagan said.

In Mr. White’s six years in the position, the port has met deadlines for adopting port-security plans mandated by the Coast Guard that many other ports missed, Mr. Flanagan said.

Port advocate and former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who will lead the search committee, applauded Mr. White’s work.

“In his six years, he has accomplished more than any other East Coast port director,” she said. “He has put Baltimore on the international maritime map.”

Mr. Flanagan said he asked the committee, which includes members of the private-sector port community, to come up with short list of candidates by April 15. Mr. White will work with the department to ensure the transition is smooth, Mr. Flanagan said.

• Lowering taxes?

The property-tax rate in Frederick County, Md., could be headed lower.

County Commissioner Michael Cady says he will push for at least a 4 percent rate reduction this year to help homeowners cope with spiraling assessments.

The current tax rate is $1 per $100 of assessed value.

The average value of Frederick County homes reassessed last year was 56 percent higher than it was in 2001.

• Slots? No, thanks

Lawmakers in Frederick County, Md., say they want no part of a General Assembly bill that would legalize slot-machine gambling.

The commissioners Thursday approved a position statement opposing slot machines. The board is concerned about “taxes that exploit the weaknesses of some” people and funding government services through “this morally objectionable premise.”

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has said Frederick County is not an appropriate location for slots, but a House bill would put 2,500 machines in the county.

Board President Lennie Thompson said the bills being considered in Annapolis say nothing about the pre-emption of local zoning laws. He said that means a county or municipality may not have the authority to restrict or ban slots.

• On the way out

Maurice Jones, who ushered in stricter regulations for Virginia child care centers, will resign next month as commissioner of the Virginia Department of Social Services. Mr. Jones is expected to take another job, though he declined to provide much detail.

He will remain commissioner through mid-March, when a replacement is expected to be chosen, a department spokeswoman said Thursday.

Though the department has struggled with its mission to regulate foster care, child care and adult homes, advocates did not blame Mr. Jones. Instead, they cited the department’s lack of resources.

Suzanne Clark Johnson, president of Voices for Virginia’s Children, called Mr. Jones a “spectacular leader,” who had helped advocates cut through bureaucracy to solve problems in social-service programs.

“He’s a person of impeccable integrity,” she told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which reported Mr. Jones’ resignation Thursday.

A former corporate lawyer and foundation executive, Mr. Jones became commissioner in October 2002 and helped push changes to regulations governing the state’s 2,587 licensed child care centers. The regulations, which involve staffing and other requirements, are scheduled to take effect in June.

He also oversaw the continuing inquiry into charges of food-stamp fraud by dozens of state social-services employees who received disaster food stamps after Hurricane Isabel struck Virginia in September 2003. The investigation has led to the prosecution and termination of several dozen employees.

• Goodbye

Virginia Delegate Viola O. Baskerville on Friday became the fifth delegate to announce her departure this year from the General Assembly. Mrs. Baskerville, a Democrat from Richmond, is leaving to run for lieutenant governor.

In her farewell speech, she said she would fondly remember her four terms in the House, but didn’t plan to be far away.

“I hope to be down the hall,” she said, referring to the lieutenant governor’s duty of presiding over the Senate.

• This column is based in part on wire service reports.

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