On parking tickets, speeding tickets and O'Malley's politics

Nobody asked me but ... Joe Flacco not meeting expectations

December 03, 2012|Dan Rodricks

Nobody asked me but ... if one is urged to support small retailers during the holiday shopping season, one might expect the municipalities in which they are located to take a holiday on parking tickets. Consider what happened to Debbie Bakalich when she went shopping in Ellicott City, with its new parking meters, on Saturday, Nov. 24.

"My girlfriends and I have started a yearly tradition of supporting small-business holiday shopping days and each year go to Ellicott City to support local merchants," she says. "We start early and have a full day, eat lunch, drop $200 to $300 each.

"And this year, I get to my car and there is a $35 ticket for exceeding two hours. All of Ellicott City is small business, so don't you think, on Small Business Saturday, they would not give out tickets?"

I feel your pain, Debbie. Did I tell you and the other readers of this column about the $32 ticket I got for being two minutes late getting back to a meter on Calvert Street? (Oh, sorry, I think I did already.)

Nobody asked him but ... Dale Kelberman, the retired Baltimore attorney and expert in white-collar crime, has an idea about speed cameras and the problems arising from their less-than-perfect accuracy:

"The contract with the company that provides the cameras gives the company a percentage of the money received from the tickets issued and paid. But nothing happens when a ticket is issued and the person goes to court and is found not guilty (as I have been). The city should revise the contract so that the company is debited twice the amount of the ticket when someone is charged but acquitted. That will give it an incentive to be more careful, and for its machines to be more accurate."

Mr. Kelberman obviously has gained insight into humans, motives and incentives during his time as a criminal defense attorney. I like his idea. As my friend Bush Hog James used to say: Let's pour it in a saucer and see if the cat licks it up.

Nobody asked me but ... reporter Annie Linskey's Sunday article in The Baltimore Sun laid out beautifully the Maryland governor's formula for political success: Present yourself as a moderate progressive, get on television as much as possible, keep expectations low and declare victories even if your claim to them is a stretch.

As Martin O'Malley's two-year tenure as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association comes to an end, Republicans have a 3-to-2 edge in governorships across the land. We're told that "holding the line" at 19 governorships was the best O'Malley and the DGA could hope for — even with a big Election Day for Democrats nationwide.

That's the politics of low expectations: Set the bar low, avoid bold initiatives, bide your time and, minus scandal, you could end up looking great anyway.

O'Malley was "fairly ambivalent" about casino gambling until, suddenly last summer, he decided Maryland urgently needed it.

A supporter of civil unions, he didn't endorse same-sex marriage until New York's Andrew Cuomo, one of his gubernatorial peers — and a potential rival for the Democratic presidential nomination — pulled it off in Albany. Now O'Malley looks like the marriage-equality hero here.

Other than guiding one of the wealthiest states in the country through tough fiscal times, it's hard to say what O'Malley stands for. As a politician doing all the right things to set up a run for the presidency, he looks superb. But what else is there?

Even his effort a couple of years ago to abolish the death penalty fell short; capital punishment remains on the books. It would make sense to try and finish it off in the coming year. Controversial laws passed by the General Assembly — the Dream Act, same-sex marriage, gambling expansion — garnered impressive voter approval on November's ballot. So it's not as if legislators should be feeling burned by voter backlash. In fact, they should feel emboldened.

Democrats control both the Senate and House; they don't have to stand for re-election for nearly two years, and O'Malley is in his second and final term.

Yet despite all that, the chances for death penalty abolition in the 2013 General Assembly are considered remote, which gets us to another example of the politics of low expectations.

"I think the general feeling is that we are exhausted," said Kumar Barve, the Montgomery County delegate and Democratic leader of the House. "I don't think we have anything earth-shattering this year."

What a thing to say. If they feel that way about it, Barve and other Democrats of the low-expectations persuasion should resign and give someone else a shot.

Nobody asked me but ... if you're a Ravens fan but disappointed in the skills of quarterback Joe Flacco — you think he lacks fire and leadership, that his performances are less than consistent — you are forced to be nice and silent. Joe might be a not-meeting-expectations quarterback, but he's our not-meeting-expectations quarterback, and that's that.


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