At 69, with two surgically replaced shoulders and a stent near his heart, former Howard County police chief, county executive and now state Sen. James N. Robey could be forgiven for skipping his 14-year practice of jumping into the Chesapeake Bay each winter and just sending a check to Maryland Special Olympics instead.
But as last weekend's snow approached Friday and temperatures hovered in the low 20s, Robey jumped in again - 24 times in 24 hours. He was one of about 15,000 people participating in the annual Polar Bear Plunge to benefit the Special Olympics. The event, which drew about 50,000 people to Sandy Point State Park, was expected to raise about $3 million. A second dip scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon for one-time plungers was canceled because of the snow.
When Robey finished Saturday, he said, he drove home, took a shower, drove his son to the airport to catch a flight to Florida and finally went to sleep about 7 p.m. "I wasn't tired," he said.
"It was cold," he conceded. "I can't say it's painful, but it's something close to painful," fully submerging oneself in the frigid water time after time. Why did he do it?
"I've always done the regular plunge," he said, recalling his first time, when a mere 300 people turned out. "It's something I wanted to do."
Will Robey try again next year? Let's wait and see, he said.
"I think it's wonderful," said fellow state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, 51, hearing Robey describe the experience. Kittleman didn't commit to join in the fun, though. "Maybe if we're both here next year, maybe we'll go in together," he said, immediately adding that he might regret that last comment. Kittleman, a Republican, is backing Kyle Lorton for Democrat Robey's Senate seat.
Liquor law changes
Howard's state legislators quickly approved two liquor law changes at their meeting Wednesday. One would give local restaurants the right to sell food patrons wine or beer to take home, and the other bolsters the county's Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board's authority to deny a liquor store license if there are already too many in the area. Del. Shane Pendergrass amended the latter bill to eliminate a population test of 2,600 people per license in favor of more general language requiring the board to spell out in writing the "public need and desire" and "the number and location of existing licensees and the potential effect on existing licensees." The bill was co-sponsored by Dels. Guy Guzzone and Warren E. Miller.
Del. Elizabeth Bobo was the only opposing vote on the restaurant bill, explaining later that "on balance, it didn't seem like a good idea to me," though the county's liquor licensees did not object. Patrons may already take home a partially empty bottle of wine ordered with dinner, if they stow it in the trunk of the vehicle.
Both bills must now win full General Assembly approval, though that's usually granted for bills affecting only one county.
On the trail, in the snow
Howard County's former Ehrlich administration notables are speeding preparations for an effort to run a few Democrats out of local office in November.
Trent Kittleman is to formally announce her candidacy for county executive Feb. 15 at her family compound in West Friendship, followed two days later by a fundraiser featuring former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Their intentions are hardly subtle.
"Take Back Our Government," was the slogan used by former state delegate and Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan at his snow-sabotaged fundraiser Saturday at Savage Mills' Great Room. Although Flanagan hasn't formally announced, his big red campaign signs, loads of catered food and his remarks to the 18 tried-and-true Republican stalwarts who attended made his intentions clear.
"We have one of, if not the best, team running in Howard County or around the state overall," Flanagan told the group. "People will have what they are entitled to - real choice. People are pretty upset about what's happening," he said.
The local GOP hope is that Ehrlich will run for governor and lead a strong statewide ticket.
Flanagan is also hoping Dennis R. Schrader, Ehrlich's former homeland security secretary who also served one term on the Howard County Council, will run again for the District 3 council seat covering the southeast county. Democrat Jen Terrasa now holds that seat.
Schrader, who attended the Flanagan event, said, "I'm farther along than I was three months ago" in exploring a campaign. "I'm working on the mechanics," he said, which has included some sign-waving in North Laurel and Columbia. "I've got milestones, and I'm moving along," he said, with a formal announcement of his plans likely in mid- to late March.
Flanagan feels that with his dozen years on General Assembly budget committees, and his experience as a lawyer and as transportation secretary, he's well-qualified to be county councilman from District 1, which includes Ellicott City and Elkridge.