Lawmakers say politics not behind scheduling of separate receptions

Howard Politics

February 27, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County's Democrats and Republicans are nearly always polite and cordial to each other, but their competitive streak is always there - sometimes just below the surface.

Take the separate legislative receptions held in Annapolis by Howard's District 13 Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, a Republican, and the three delegates, all Democrats, who also represent the same southeastern county district.

Tomorrow night, curious constituents, who want to see the General Assembly in action, sip a bit of punch and have a cookie with Dels. Neil F. Quinter, Frank S. Turner and Shane Pendergrass, are invited to a Community Night reception from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Room 161 of the Lowe House Office Building in Annapolis.

Next month, on March 21, Schrader is hosting a similar event, but in the newer Miller Senate Building across the street. Schrader recently mailed a big newspaper-style piece of campaign literature to constituents.

Some elected officials are a bit coy about why they don't get together for a joint event, but the fact that one of the delegates is likely to run against Schrader for her Senate seat next year could play a role.

"I can't comment on that," Schrader said about why there is no joint reception. Every member of the General Assembly is invited to her event, she said.

Turner, who with Pendergrass has served in the House for a decade, said, "We've done our community nights long before Sandy was elected. We always extend an invitation to Sandy to come."

Quinter, this year's House delegation chairman, said political differences play no role. In fact, he attended Schrader's reception last year. It is more of a House versus Senate thing than a political thing, he said.

Visitors are advised to park at Navy-Marine Corps stadium and take a shuttle bus into central Annapolis.

Bush cuts hit low-income families

For those who doubt the old maxim that all politics is local, consider the effect on Howard County of Bush administration decisions to limit spending on low-income housing programs.

"There are some tremendous cuts we're facing in Section 8" rental subsidies, said Neil Gaffney, Howard's deputy housing director.

Already squeezed by higher home prices that are forcing middle-income families out of the market, the county is facing equally painful federal budget pressures on low-income families.

Howard lost $845,000 in Section 8 rental subsidy vouchers and administrative fees this calendar year - about 10 percent of the total, at a time when the waiting list is closed because of demand.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials cut another $70,120 in Community Development Block Grant funds and $41,000 from other low-income home ownership programs.

Nationally, President Bush is proposing to remove the $4.1 billion CDBG program from HUD, cut funding to $3.7 billion and put the programs in the Department of Commerce.

Block grants give the county needed flexibility to help people, Gaffney said.

"The gap between the well-to-do and the people we serve is growing by leaps and bounds. The bridge we have to span that gap is the block grant program," Gaffney said.

Social services job shifts

Howard County Executive James N. Robey, a Democrat, and state Human Resources Secretary Christopher J. McCabe, a former Republican state senator, clashed last summer over an interim replacement for retiring county social services Director Sam Marshall. But the arrival this month of the new director, Charlene R. Gallion, ended the episode - almost.

With hopes for new stability at the agency after years of staff cuts - including the sudden firing in June of Assistant Director Kathi Heslin - word came that McCabe is removing Deputy Director Cynthia C. Story and Assistant Director Doris S. Mason, the former interim director.

Both women may end up working in Baltimore for Floyd R. Blair, deputy secretary for operations under McCabe.

"It's a tremendous loss to Howard County that [Story] got moved," said social services board Chairman Melody Higgins. "What you lose is the institutional memory."

McCabe refused to talk about personnel moves at a recent Columbia reception marking Gallion's arrival, but department spokesman Norris West said Story "will be working in a very critical policy-making role" helping to improve child welfare services in Baltimore.

Contact the writer at larry.carson@balt sun.com.

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