- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 16, 2005

A Montgomery County Council member is threatening to withdraw his support from building-code legislation that he crafted and submitted himself.

Howard Denis, Potomac Republican, says he designed his plan to close loopholes and ambiguities in law that have allowed some builders to exceed height limits.

But he said a committee headed by council member Steven Silverman has delayed and weakened the measure to the point that it would do little to limit heights of new houses in older neighborhoods.

The bill will expire if the council doesn’t act on it by the end of the year.

To be reconsidered, the measure would have to be reintroduced next year, as local election campaigns heat up.

• Change-up

Organizers of an online effort to re-elect D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams are considering endorsing another candidate. Mr. Williams, a Democrat, has said he will not seek a third term.

“Obviously, we have heard the mayor’s announcement, and we are trying to get a consensus of what our next move should be,” said lobbyist Tracy Hammond, 29, who is in charge of Web-based organizing for www.runtonyrun.com.

“Whether it’s campaigning or endorsing someone else at this point, we just don’t know.”

Mr. Hammond and two others created the site in August. He said the group’s “site will stay up,” regardless of whom they endorse.

• Still in it

H. Russell Potts Jr., the independent candidate for Virginia governor, has disputed a rumor that he will drop out of the race and throw his support behind Democrat Timothy M. Kaine.

Mr. Potts, a Republican state senator from Winchester, said there is no substance to the rumor, and he has zero plans to stop his bid to fill Gov. Mark Warner’s shoes.

He said most Virginians haven’t started to pay attention to the governor’s race, and he will benefit when they see both Mr. Kaine and Republican Jerry W. Kilgore acting like children fighting in a sandbox.

• Birthday boy

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan celebrated his 50th birthday a little early with an announcement about his plans to run for governor of Maryland. He told supporters at a birthday party yesterday that he will make it official Thursday.

The Democrat revealed his plans at his annual birthday party — he turns 50 on Oct. 25 — and barbecue that was attended by several hundred supporters at Smokey Glen Farm in Gaithersburg.

Mr. Duncan will join Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley in the race for the Democratic nomination to challenge Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, in the general election next year.

• Distracted

D.C. Council member Marion Barry last week said that “personal matters” have cut into his time for dealing with constituents’ needs. Mr. Barry, Ward 8 Democrat and former mayor, has been dogged by charges that he has failed to file federal tax returns since 1998.

“There are things I’ve got to take care of,” Mr. Barry told reporters before heading into council chambers.

He also said he has been unable to work on legislation that would help keep a nonprofit mental health services agency open.

• Men with plans

R. Creigh Deeds, the Democratic candidate for Virginia attorney general, last week presented a plan to combat gang violence, while his Republican opponent, Robert F. McDonnell, announced proposals to curb frivolous lawsuits by prison inmates.

Mr. Deeds proposed a mandatory life prison term for anyone convicted of a third gang-related crime.

The “three strikes, you’re out” law would apply to property offenses as well as violent crimes, the state senator from Bath County said.

Meanwhile, Mr. McDonnell offered a four-point plan aimed at discouraging or quickly tossing out inmate lawsuits over matters such as food selection, clothing requirements and grooming policies.

He said reducing frivolous lawsuits would give the attorney general’s office more time to deal with more important issues.

• Wait a minute

D.C. Council member Jack Evans says he is postponing plans to run for council chairman until the city completes an audit of his political action committee.

The Ward 2 Democrat told WRC-TV (Channel 4) last week that he doesn’t want to make any decisions while officials are investigating expenses reimbursed by the committee, formerly known as the “Jack PAC.”

The Office of Campaign Finance is investigating whether the committee illegally reimbursed him for personal and political expenses.

Mr. Evans said he has turned over all receipts and expense reports and denies any charges that he acted improperly. He said he intends to close the committee when the audit is complete.

• In absentia

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner says the state’s Emergency Military Absentee Voting Program has been expanded to include Virginians on the Gulf Coast helping victims of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. Under the program, absentee ballots are e-mailed or faxed to the voter.

Mr. Warner, a Democrat, estimates that the change will help hundreds of state voters, although he is not sure of the exact number.

Under the expanded program, qualified Virginia voters may e-mail or fax their request for an absentee ballot to their local registrar’s office and receive the ballot and return envelope by e-mail or fax. Voters will fill out the ballot and return it by mail or commercial delivery service to their local registrar’s office in Virginia.

Virginia must receive absentee ballot applications by 5 p.m. Nov. 3.

• Taking a stand

D.C. mayoral candidate Marie Johns announced Friday that proposals for the National Capital Medical Center should not bypass the city’s certificate-of-need process.

Mrs. Johns, who also serves as a trustee of Howard University Hospital, has recused herself from board deliberations on the medical center because of her mayoral bid.

The National Capital Medical Center would create a $400 million, 250-bed trauma center on the grounds of the former D.C. General Hospital. Howard University Hospital would operate the facility.

Certificates of need allow health care providers to set up services and make certain capital expenditures.

• Taxes to spend

Commissioners for Carroll County, Md., met last week to talk more about what they will do with revenue raised by the county’s new hotel tax.

Budget Director Ted Zaleski wants the money set aside in a tourism grant fund. Under his proposal, a committee representing the tourism industry, businesses and local governments would recommend which organizations deserve the grants.

The General Assembly passed a bill this year that allows the county to impose a tax of up to 5 percent on hotel stays. The tax could bring in $300,000 to $400,000 a year.

• Hot topic?

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner has asked state agencies overseeing everything from mining to social services to develop a plan to blunt anticipated steep increases in winter heating costs. The governor gave them a Nov. 1 deadline to respond, Mr. Warner’s office said.

Heating bills are expected to rise an average 50 percent this winter for homes that use natural gas.

Mr. Warner said he also will ask utility executives to do what they can to assist customers who may be unable to pay higher bills. Utility officials said they expect to have plenty of natural gas despite disruptions from two hurricanes, but the utilities have been paying substantially more for the fuel they have been putting into storage and are likely to face even higher costs this winter.

Mr. Warner noted that natural gas suppliers in Virginia already have asked regulators to approve rate increases of more than 50 percent.

Mr. Warner urged residents who do not qualify for winter heating assistance to see if they can work out a payment plan with their fuel provider.

• Housing crunch

Montgomery County lawmakers are considering a proposal that would increase the amount of affordable housing for middle-class families who have difficulty buying homes.

The legislation, sponsored by council member Steven Silverman, would set aside 10 percent of housing in new developments near Metro stations for people who earn 80 percent to 120 percent of the area’s median income. It essentially would cover families with annual incomes of $50,000 to $100,000.

In Montgomery, the median income is $89,000 for a family of four and $71,000 for a family of two.

Mr. Silverman said the change would allow teachers, firefighters and other middle-class workers to live in the county where they work.

Last year, the median sales price of a single-family detached home was $666,450. For a new condominium, the figure was $318,985.

• Voter rolls

More than half of Norfolk’s new voter applications have been incomplete or rejected, which has prompted the registrar’s office and a social action group to call for intervention by the Virginia State Board of Elections.

Lawyers from the Washington-based Advancement Project got involved at the request of Project Vote, which has submitted 5,000 voter applications in Norfolk this year.

State election officials were in town last week at the request of General Registrar Elisa Long, who says they are expected to issue a report sometime this week.

Andrew Rivera of the Advancement Project asked the state elections board for a similar review. He has asked repeatedly to see the voter applications that could not be processed, but Miss Long has refused, citing election law and privacy concerns.

• Raising money

Lise Van Susteren, a Democrat seeking to succeed U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland, announced Friday that she has raised more then $250,000 for her campaign.

Mrs. Van Susteren’s quarterly campaign report puts her at the No. 3 fundraising spot, behind Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat who reported raising $900,000 in the third quarter, for a total above $2 million. Alan Lichtman, an American University professor and television political commentator, has raised about $272,000. He contributed $250,000 of that to his own campaign.

Mrs. Van Susteren, a Montgomery County psychiatrist and the sister of cable television personality Greta Van Susteren, announced her candidacy Sept. 1, so the $251,000 mark is her total for the campaign and includes $98,257 from the candidate.

In addition to Mr. Cardin and Mr. Lichtman, Mrs. Van Susteren faces Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman and former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in the race for the Democratic nomination to succeed Mr. Sarbanes, who is retiring after five terms. Mr. Mfume’s campaign said last week that he has raised about $100,000 since June. Also running is political activist A. Robert Kaufman.

On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele has not formally announced as a candidate but has set up an exploratory committee.

• Robert Redding Jr. contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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