Volume 12, Issue 7 ~ February 12-18, 2004

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Dock of the Bay

The Race for the White House Goes Pro
Pols step in where grassroots grew

In Maryland, the race to take a Democrat to the White House has shifted from grassroots meetups of Deaniacs to professional pols with a strategy.
Statewide Democratic leaders came to Baltimore February 7 for a pep rally with serious intent.

Congressman Elijah Cummings
“Don’t be mistaken,” Amy Pritchard, political director for the National Democratic Committee, told the crowd of party faithful at the City College of Baltimore. “We are maniacally focused on winning back the White House.”

School halls reflected Pritchard’s tone.

Tables of supporters for each of the candidates lined the hallways usually crowded with students. As in a Turkish bazaar, each hawked their candidate to anyone within earshot.

Parents brought children, who roamed the halls with Dean pins and Kerry hats, while their elders dug through tables full of donuts, coffee and testimonials for their candidate.

One table near the entrance to the auditorium sold Truth: The Anti-Bush T-shirts and bumper stickers. “Whatever we make off these,” said Kyong Shin, who got the idea for the shirts while watching a CNN report on how much money the Bush-Cheney Campaign had raised, “we’re going to donate to whoever the eventual candidate is.”

The carnival atmosphere was a mask for serious business at hand.

Pritchard detailed how the 2000 election broke down geographically, economically, socially and racially.

“We could have won that election,” she urged as the charts posted on the screen over the stage showed the battle states — Ohio, Florida, Michigan Pennsylvania — where a few votes can swing the election either way. “And we can win this one,” she said. “We are engaged, focused, and angry. And we’re ready to fight.”

A restructured Democratic National Committee, she said, should lead the way, followed by a unified party.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski
The White House led this Democratic event, but not far from anyone’s mind was the State House in Annapolis.

Several times, including in a workshop entitled Winning Back the State House in ’06, Gov. Robert Ehrlich was called “the accidental governor.” More than once, the speaker of those words was Baltimore Mayor and Democratic Party poster boy Martin O’Malley.

The same workshop evaluated county by county how Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost her 2002 election. The second lesson was what a big-city candidate — whoever that might be — must do to win in ’06. Part was hit hard on Republican failings.

“Ehrlich,” said O’Malley later in the day, “announced a $10 million grant to help the Bay, hoping you didn’t see that the federal budget cut the same program by $50 million.”

The rally, which was sponsored by the Baltimore City Democratic Central Committee, was both organizing event and campaign rally for Democrats, presidential candidates and, in particular, O’Malley.

Stickers and posters from his campaign were as visible as ones for Kerry, Edwards, Clark, Kucinich and Sharpton.

Afternoon tactics switched to rhetoric as the Democrats worked their way back to the auditorium for the day’s main program: speeches by Baltimore city officials and party leaders Sen. Barbara Mikulski, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings and O’Malley.

“We are fed up and not going to take it anymore,” an impassioned Cummings shouted as the crowd chanted Push Bush Out. “Nine million of our friends and neighbors with no jobs. We’re fed up with 44 million of them with no insurance.”

Cummings rallied the devoted Democrats with a plea to keep working and to bring a friend and a neighbor to the polls on election day.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley
Diminutive powerhouse Sen. Barbara Mikulski reassured the Democrats that they were laying the groundwork to retake the nation. She brought the crowd to its feet with her shout that Democrats needed to be different than Republicans. “Help your neighbor. Don’t screw ’em,” she challenged.

Keeping with the theme of urgency, O’Malley closed the day with a veiled warning. “It is a critical time in this nation’s history to be a Democrat. Our party is united, our mission is clear. We have to elect and popularly support a president.”

Even among the dignitaries gathered, the choice of who he should be was neither clear nor consistent.

Wearing a Dean campaign pin and saying, “I’m not worried,” O’Malley stuck to his early choice of the former Vermont governor.

Mikulski answered the question of who she was supporting: “A Democrat.”

“A Democrat,” she added, “who will clean up the Bay, not pollute it.”

— Louis Llovio
photos by Charles McGovern

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A New Oyster for This Old Bay
If words come, can deeds be far behind?

“I’m Proud to be a Waterman” proclaims Dave Shaner, 43, of Prince Frederick, on his billed cap. As much as the oysters he can no longer catch, Shaner, too, is an endangered species, and it’s his fate, too, under debate at this Asian Oyster Introductory Public Scoping Meeting.

photo by Sandra Martin
“You put a disease-free oyster out there, and by the time it reaches harvest, it dies,” laments waterman Brent Haddaway, rear.
But he and the couple of dozen oystermen speak a different language than do many of the other 100 Marylanders who have oysters on their minds on a February night that reminds you that oystering is foul-weather work. Going to work for these watermen means earning $30 or $40 for a day out on the ice-churning Bay — if they can scrape up a bushel of oysters. So they speak plain English, the sort with every verb an action word.

"”Are we just going to study it and study it and study it?” Shaner asks Breakout Group 1. “How much do we need to study this before we go forward? If we continue to study it, we’re not going to have a Bay.”

That’s language watermen in the other four groups — like Group 3’s Brent Haddaway of Bozman and Guy Spurry of St. Michael’s — can understand. “An oyster that lives, that’s what we’re all looking for,” pleads a waterman.

Might that oyster be the C. ariakensis, a Virginia-bred transplant now many generations removed from its Asian roots?

That’s the question that’s convened both the Maryland Introductory Public Scoping Meeting this night in Annapolis and the Virginia meeting last month in Newport News. In the Federal Register, it’s not even a question. It’s an action.

“Intent,” reads the notice. “Proposed introduction of the oyster species, Crassostrea Ariakensis, into the tidal waters of Maryland and Virginia to establish a naturalized, reproducing, and self-sustaining population of this oyster species.”

But it’s not action on tonight’s agenda.

“We’re not looking for debate,” explained Army Engineer Peter Kube of the hearing’s rules. “We’re looking for comments on what we should consider.”

That’s what the rule-makers call “public input,” and it’s being accepted through February 20. If you missed the meeting, you can e-mail your comments to [email protected]

So that “public input” delivered in person can be sent along to the decision-makers in the Corps of Engineers, the language of experience must be reduced to messages. Messages must be short, so they can be printed on oversized tablets mounted on easels and prioritized by participants, who mark their priorities with sticky green dots.

People in the five groups raise their hands, and, when called on, say what’s on their minds. Then a bureaucrat from the Corps or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or Maryland Department of Natural Resources tries to reduce it to a message. After the rephrasing comes the standard question: Is that what you meant?

The translation might get close. For example, “Will the market in Maryland respond so watermen will benefit?” is a translation of watermen’s worry that ariakensis may thrive and jump into their boats, but Marylanders still may not want to eat them.

photo by Sandra Martin
“I’m buying oysters,” says Karen Oertel, a wholesaler for W.H. Harris Seafood on Kent Island. “This year $4 million was lost to Maryland watermen through our business alone.”
People who go to a lot of these meetings, like Karen Oertel, who buys and sells oysters for W.H. Harris Seafood on Kent Island, get good at compressing their hopes and fears into succinct phrases.

“I’m buying oysters,” she says, “and this year $4 million was lost to Maryland watermen through our business alone.”

Watermen are good at stating their problem, too: a Chesapeake Bay with no oysters to catch.

“We know you put a disease-free oyster out there, and by the time it reaches harvest, it dies,” says Haddaway. So as far as he’s concerned, of the seven alternatives the eventual study will consider, 1, 2 and part of 3 won’t work. Native oyster restoration has been tried and failed.

The Eastern Shore waterman is hoping against hope that Alternative 6, introducing an propagating an alternate species, will work.

Whether it will is anybody’s guess. So the evaluation proceeds. After tonight, the ideas and alternatives will be sifted and compared for a year, until, next March, when a draft Environmental Impact Statement is ready for a new round of public hearings. The final study, due in the summer of 2005, will, answer all questions, or so we guess.

Meanwhile, Shaner is still worried. “If we continue to study, study, study this,” he says, “we’re gone.”


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Now We’ll Never Have Too Much Fun
Guitar king Bill Kirchen heads for Texas

“We’re getting the wagons loaded,” says Bill Kirchen. “When the house gets cleaned out — I’m sorry to say I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff — in a week or two, we’ll take off.”

Kirchen is talking about his imminent departure from his Calvert County home of 17 years for his new home in Buda, Texas, just down the road from Austin.

But regional aficionados need not fear they’ve heard the last of the rockabilly guitar twanger who’s lately led the band Too Much Fun.

“I have a mobile job,” Kirchen assures us. He has gigs lined up in Texas, but he also has engagements in April and May in the D.C. area, where his blend of country, bluegrass, rock and swamp blues is always a cause for celebration.

photo by Amy C. Ellito
See ya next time around, Bill Kirchen.
When Kirchen moved to Calvert County, he was thinking only of family and not of music. “I didn’t know where I was going when I moved here,” he says. “But the doors were flung open for me musically and I got a whole second career.”

Kirchen’s first was as the hot-fingered guitarist who helped pick Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen to fame in the 1970s. Think “Hot Rod Lincoln,” the novelty hit of 1972.

“Though it’s not as notorious because there is no music industry locally,” adds Kirchen, “the Metro D.C. area has a great music scene. I don’t go away lightly.”

The upcoming move to Texas is again motivated by family, not by work.

“As our family ages, we want this opportunity to spend time together. We feel lucky to be able to do all this.” Kirchen and wife Louise will join forces with his father-in-law and sister-in-law after years of taking opportunities that moved them to separate parts of the country. His daughter will join them between college semesters in Florida.

“I’ve explored the West Coast and the East Coast,” says Kirchen. “Now I’m going to the third coast, the Gulf.”

Will Kirchen miss us? It’s not a permanent move, he insists. They’re holding onto their Owings house and a local phone number.

Coming here from Berkeley, California, was a shock, but, Kirchen says, “The very things that make this area difficult and provincial, like the isolation, also make it a great place to live. I’ll miss the look and feel of the people, the things you always miss. Right now, the back alfalfa field is covered in snow and it’s beautiful. There’s a particularly beautiful sight of rolling sandy soil right near Mt. Harmony Elementary School.”

For a guy who’s been around the U.S. and Europe, Calvert County holds its own in terms of beauty.

The thing Kirchen finds most precious, though, has to do with music. “The Washington Area Music Association is fabulous for including all kinds of music, all economic, ethnic and geographical groups,” he says. Plus, WAMMA had the good sense to give Kirchen “zillions of awards,” including Hall of Fame status. He also gives kudos to Hungry for Music, the non-profit that puts musical instruments in the hands of players who can’t afford to buy their own. And to Bay Weekly, where he’s considered a treasure of the Chesapeake.

Good-by, Bill Kirchen. We’ll see you come spring.

Keep up with Kirchen no matter where he hangs his hat at www.billkirchen.com

— Sonia Linebaugh

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It All Begins with a Pond
For Annapolis’ Park Place, the environmental plumbing’s going in

Ask Jeremy Parks when he and his dad are finally going to get started on Park Place, and the young developer hedges. He casts a glance at his father, Jerome, the mastermind of the mixed-use, high-end development long touted as the cornerstone of a classy new Annapolis neighborhood at Westgate Circle. He fingers hardfoam models of the 225-room, four-star hotel; the two office buildings with retail at street level; the condo; and the grand performance space, Maryland Theatre for the Performing Arts. With a final, prayerful calculation, he picks a date: June 1.

Jeremy Parks needn’t have sweated. It’s already started.

For Park Place begins with a pond. Make that has begun, until the deep freeze of recent weeks halted construction.

It’s going to be a pretty pond, sure enough, with everything a wetlands needs — including native wetland plants, birds and a whole ecosystem — plus something humans need, a place to find nature’s solace in the center of a city.

But it isn’t beauty that this February day has gathered a news conference with Parks senior and junior; Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer, with most of the staff of her Public Works Department; and the storm-water retention ranks of Maryland Department of the Environment. It’s utility.

The utility at hand is a “major project to capture all the stormwater that runs pell-mell to College Creek, the river and the Bay,” said a spokesperson for the mayor’s office.

illustration courtesy of The Parks Company
The eventual Park Place development will include a pond, already underway, to help capture and cleanse stormwater.
Drive anywhere as the snow melts, it doesn’t have to be West Street or even Annapolis, and you can see the utility. Water flows downhill, and it’s flowing everywhere nowadays. Across the asphalt and concrete, carrying with it the wastes — from solid down to particulate — of modern life. The harder the surface over which the water flows, the faster the flow.

“Impervious surfaces,” said Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer, “are in our urban areas. This is where we can make a difference.”

When the water finds a depression, it stops. If the water sits long enough, all the gunk settles to the bottom. If the bottom is earth or pebbles, the water slowly percolates through, trickling along to join groundwater.

Today, the Park Place pond is only a hole in the ground behind Loews Annapolis Hotel on the Taylor Street side where urban wasteland approaches College Creek.

By summer, the one-acre pond with the formidable name College Creek Stormwater Retrofit will do all that. And not just for Park Place, but — since water resists boundaries — for 21.3 surrounding acres. Slowly, College Creek — and through it the Severn River and through it the Bay — will be cleaner.

You don’t get such utility for nothing. This is a $500,000 pond. Seventy-five percent of the cost was covered by Maryland Department of the Environment, which was on hand to drum up business. “The state has money to help the local jurisdiction in the retrofitting,” said staffer Stewart Comstock.

The Parks Company bought the pond’s four-acre site — which will include staff parking for the complex — from Baltimore Gas and Electric. Annapolis, which will eventually own the pond, added about $100,000 to the project.

This is utility so organic that perhaps we should call it beauty. Moyer does, saying, “It’s going to be beautiful.”


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Way Downstream …

In Annapolis, Gov. Robert Ehrlich never has hid his disdain for Smart Growth and anti-sprawl efforts. So last week he moved to kill the state’s Office of Smart Growth once and for all by proposing legislation to move its functions into the Department of Planning…

In Virginia, the Farm Bureau and the association of counties last week helped kill a proposal to extend the boundaries of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act west of I-95. As a result, localities won’t have to consider the state’s water quality in their local ordinances governing planning, zoning and new subdivisions…

In Montana, agents of the Department of Livestock continue to kill wild buffalo out of fear that they might be carrying disease. The Buffalo Field Campaign’s Dan Brister e-mailed us after a shooting last week to assert that Montana officials “are especially trigger-happy this winter. They made no effort to haze this bull before shooting him. This will be a very bloody winter for the last wild buffalo in America”…

Our Creature Feature comes from Western Maryland where, if you’re a bear, you’d better lay low later this year. That’s because Maryland has authorized the first black bear hunt in 50 years because of so-called ursine overpopulation.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources surprised critics by determining the specifics of the hunt before the public comment period closed. The state said the season will end when 30 of a population estimated between 300 and 400 are killed. Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey also have bear-hunting seasons now.

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Last updated February 12, 2004 @ 2:21am.