Supporters of Martin O'Malley's campaign for governor held a news conference yesterday to promote his five-point plan to reform Maryland's troubled juvenile services system.
Key elements include building smaller residential centers with better treatment programs, hiring more staff and decentralizing services so different regions can decide what approach works best for them.
In detailing O'Malley's plans for reform, Del. Bobby A. Zirkin and former Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Peter N. Beilenson said such changes are long overdue. Both Democrats acknowledged that Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. inherited a "dysfunctional" juvenile justice system when he took office. But they said he has done little to change it despite promises of reform.
"It's become more dysfunctional over the last four years," Beilenson said.
Zirkin said the administration cut residential programs without creating new ones and has been sending juvenile offenders home without needed rehabilitation services.
Edward Hopkins, a spokesman for the Department of Juvenile Services, disputed the criticisms. "Governor Ehrlich did what he said he was going to do," Hopkins said. "He has made significant strides in reforming the juvenile justice system compared to where it was four years ago."
Zirkin and Beilenson spoke outside the state-run Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center, the subject of a scathing report recently by the U.S. Justice Department. The report, based on inspections done a year ago, said youths held there "suffer significant harm and risk of harm" from violence because there isn't enough staff and behavior management and treatment plans are inadequate.
Juvenile services officials dispute those findings. After the news conference yesterday, they took a television news crew on an impromptu tour of the facility to demonstrate that the center was operating in an orderly fashion.
Callahan endorses Leopold
Democrat George F. Johnson IV's vanquished primary opponent for Anne Arundel County executive has endorsed the Republican nominee, pointing to close relationship between Johnson and longtime lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano.
Dennis Callahan, a former Annapolis mayor who lost to Johnson last month, said he was moved to endorse Republican Del. John R. Leopold after learning that Bereano, a convicted felon, held a fundraiser after the September primary at his Annapolis home for Johnson.
"That relationship should send chills down everyone's spine," Callahan said.
Callahan also criticized the endorsement that Johnson received last week from five former county executives -- including three Republicans. Callahan, the county's chief of recreation and parks until last spring, said he worried that Johnson's ties to the "good old boy network" would hurt the county.
Bereano was considered the most powerful lobbyist at the State House before he was convicted in 1994 on federal mail fraud charges. The state's highest court disbarred him in 2000, but he still works as a lobbyist for the liquor and tobacco industries.
Johnson's campaign said the event, while held at Bereano's home, was hosted by former Gov. Marvin Mandel and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer. Mike Rendina, a Johnson spokesman, dismissed Callahan's comments as a ploy to scare voters.
Leopold, a five-term delegate from Pasadena, could not immediately be reached for comment yesterday evening.
Callahan praised Leopold for being "hard-working and articulate. And he has an independent streak, and I like that."
Abseentee ballots balloon
The number of Marylanders requesting absentee ballots already exceeds the number cast in the last gubernatorial election, and requests are still coming in at a rapid rate, with three weeks left until the Nov. 7 general election.
A new law that took effect this year removed all restrictions on the use of absentee ballots, which were previously available only to people who could not make it to the polls on Election Day.
That new availability, fallout from problems on primary day and questions about the reliability of the state's voting system from some political leaders -- especially Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. -- have created a new level of interest in voting absentee this year.
Four years ago, when Ehrlich was elected governor, 65,824 absentee ballots were counted. In the 2004 presidential election, the number more than doubled, to 137,953. As of yesterday afternoon, election boards in Baltimore and the 23 counties had reported receiving 87,588 requests, including 40,565 Democrats and 38,161 Republicans, with the rest independents or members of minor parties.
If the flood of requests continues, it could swamp election officials with extra work and delay the outcome of closely contested elections next month.
"It certainly increases the workload. There's a lot of processing that takes place," said Ross Goldstein, deputy state elections administrator.
Marylanders have until Oct. 31 to mail or fax requests to local boards, although emergency requests for absentee ballots can be submitted in person up to Election Day.