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First Click, Maryland -- All rise for slots

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Monday, July 19, 2010:

The Agenda

WagnerOn Tuesday, the battle over Maryland's largest planned slots casino -- which could be its most lucrative by far -- will land squarely in front of Maryland's highest court.

On the surface, the issue before the Court of Appeals is whether Anne Arundel County citizens should have the ability to second-guess their County Council in November on a zoning law required for the 4,750-machine casino at Arundel Mills mall to move forward. Lawyers for the casino's developers, Baltimore-based Cordish Cos., successfully argued in Circuit Court that the zoning measure should be seen as part of an appropriations package and therefore not subject to a public referendum under relevant laws.

Slots $.jpgWe'll leave the legal merits of the case to the lawyers -- and touch briefly today on the political ramifications for the governor's race. There are some interesting crosscurrents, to say the least.

First of all, the vote tally in Anne Arundel could be key to the governor's race. It was one of those counties where Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) racked up a staggering margin in 2002 -- but fared less well in 2006 against Martin O'Malley (D). A return to 2002 form would be a big boost in helping Ehrlich win statewide in 2010.

The conventional wisdom at this point seems to be that a slots measure on the ballot would help O'Malley and hurt Ehrlich, at least on the margins. The enthusiasm that the measure would generate among anti-slots voters would translate into more votes for the Democratic incumbent than the Republican challenger, the thinking goes -- even though O'Malley championed the slots legislation that has enabled the possibility of a casino at the mall.

O'Malley certainly seems to believe this, based on recent statements sympathizing with homeowners around the mall who pushed for a public vote on the zoning measure. And O'Malley has continued to state publicly that all slots parlors would be placed at horse tracks if he had his druthers. If the measure does find its way to the ballot, we're also sure to hear plenty more about the fact that Ehrlich's law firm did some public affairs work for Cordish while the zoning measure was pending before the Anne Arundel County Council. There's a mention of that in one of O'Malley's negative radio ads that has aired on Baltimore-area stations.

All that said, there are also some valid political and policy reasons why O'Malley would be better off without a public vote on slots in Anne Arundel.

Ehrlich has joined the chorus of those seeking to portray Maryland's slots program as a series of setbacks and delays. (It appears likely that only one of the five sites authorized by voters in 2008 -- in Cecil County -- will be operating before the election.) A public vote on the Anne Arundel site only adds to that storyline. Conversely, if there is no referendum, O'Malley can point to the fact that the state's largest casino is moving forward.

From a policy perspective, the state could clearly use the hundreds of millions in proceeds the Anne Arundel site is expected to generate. The sooner those dollars start flowing, the better. Cordish representatives won't acknowledge this, but there's a real chance the ballot measure passes if it gets on the Anne Arundel ballot. Voting against the casino gives citizens another way to lash out at their government in a year when they seem to be looking for ways to lash out. A successful ballot measure would almost certainly mean the Maryland budget would be deprived of major slots revenue for some time to come, regardless of where an Anne Arundel slots facility is ultimately located.

That's an unwelcome prospect for whichever candidate wins in November -- O'Malley or Ehrlich.

-- John Wagner

News You Should Know

John Kane seeks to keep company out of Mary Kane's spotlight
Thumbnail image for Kane unveiling.jpg"For years, the family business has been a source of respect and wealth for the Kanes. As a leader in the commercial moving industry, John M. Kane nurtured business and political connections in Montgomery County and Annapolis, and led the Maryland Republican Party during Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s tenure as governor," The Sun's Gus G. Sentementes writes in the paper's first major piece focused solely on the controversy. "But as his wife, Mary D. Kane, runs for lieutenant governor with Ehrlich, John Kane is trying to keep himself and the Kane Co. out of the political crossfire. That's because Kane is defending the business in a lawsuit that alleges federal contract fraud." Meanwhile, Kevin James Shay tallies the fallout this way in the Gazette: "Political analysts disagree over whether a federal contracting fraud lawsuit against her husband's company -- where Republican lieutenant governor candidate Mary D. Kane was a director for six years -- will have much impact on this year's governor's race."

Montgomery contract comes under scrutiny
"The walls were painted, the office space spruced up, computers purchased and new carpeting laid down. When the bills came due, Montgomery County gave Centro Familia $51,000 to pay for the work done at the nonprofit's offices at First Baptist Church of Wheaton. But there were some problems," writes The Post's Miranda S. Spivack. "County officials say its contract with Centro Familia required that the work be done at another Wheaton site, on Amherst Avenue, and that computers were not part of the deal. Not to mention, the church where the work was done is slated to be torn down."

Johnson sued by homeowner's association
Jack B. Johnson.jpg"A homeowner's association in Kettering is suing Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) and his wife for allegedly failing to pay assessments to the HOA," reports The Post's Jonathan Mummolo. "In court papers filed in Prince George's County District Court, the Kettering Community Association is asking for about $1,500 in late assessments and legal fees. The property, in the 10800 block of Bennington Drive, has been owned by the Johnsons and rented out for decades, the county executive said. Johnson said the lawsuit is unfounded."

Obama voters could be key to 2010 outcomes
obama mug.jpeg"The success of Democrats at the polls this fall could boil down to two key constituencies that helped propel President Barack Obama to victory in 2008," writes Alan Brody in The Gazette. "If young and minority voters turn out in similarly large numbers to two years ago, when Obama was on the ballot, Democrats likely will be rejoicing. If not, Republicans might be doing the celebrating."

Partisans are increasingly behind the numbers
Recent claims by Maryland's two leading candidates for governor "reflect the growing role of partisan pollsters in political campaigning," writes The Sun's Julie Bykowicz. "While financially struggling news organizations are less inclined to lay out money for the detailed independent surveys that once helped to set the campaign narrative, operations such as the conservative Magellan Strategies and its liberal counterpart, Public Policy Polling, are stepping in to fill the void."


"It's personally embarrassing because it's an affront to my reputation. I am not going to settle [the lawsuit]. I would rather go down financially bankrupt than admit to being morally bankrupt. I'll fight to the end."
-- John M. Kane, on the federal lawsuit dogging the lieutenant governor bid of his wife, Mary D. Kane (R)

"Because you're the county executive, people feel like you're going to pay just to avoid being embarrassed. ... I paid the lawyer more than the claim is for. Sometimes you just have to stand up."
-- Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), on why he is fighting a lawsuit by his homeowner's association


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By John Wagner  |  July 19, 2010; 6:25 AM ET
Categories:  First Click , John Wagner  
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Next: State to seek more bidders for W. Md. slots site

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