Thousands of state and local officials, lobbyists, policymakers, political operatives, vendors and other assorted movers and shakers are descending on Ocean City Wednesday for the annual Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) summer conference.
From the meat locker chill of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center to the hormone-infused waterfront bars of Maryland’s No. 1 tourist destination to the sweaty pavement of the convention center parking lot, where the popular Friday night crab feast takes place, it’s a four-day bacchanalia of policy talk, fundraising and political schmooze.
But for all the powerbrokers who will be showing up, attention in the runup to the event has focused on someone who won’t be there: Benjamin T. Jealous, the Democratic nominee for governor.
Jealous surprised the leaders of MACo – and the political chattering class – by informing them that he would not be participating in a Saturday morning forum that would have put him on the same stage as Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), though not at the same time.
In fact, Jealous is not planning to be in Ocean City at all this week, while Hogan will be making his usual rounds – raising money, walking the boardwalk, pressing the flesh at the crab feast, and basking in the adoration of the largely Republican crowd of county officials.
To political insiders, Jealous’ decision seems like an opportunity lost. He is missing, they believe, a chance to put himself on equal footing with Hogan, and a golden opportunity to chat up, formally and informally, important players who don’t know him that well, if at all.
He could have talked policy and politics, rallied skeptical Democrats, and worked to counter the Republican narrative that he is intemperate and untested – not to mention shown his kids a good time on the boardwalk and beach.
Hogan himself tweaked Jealous in a statement: “MACO is [a] true laboratory of common sense, bipartisan solutions, and any serious candidate for statewide office would make addressing its membership a priority,” he said.
It is highly unlikely that Jealous’ political fortunes will rise and fall on whether he bothered to turn up at MACo – find a single average voter who cares.
But his absence only reinforces the insiders’ talk that the California native doesn’t really “get” Maryland.
The formal MACo conference focuses this year on water: From protecting, preserving and improving the valuable resource to using it as a tool to drive tourism and economic development, to how to respond when there’s a crisis involving water supply, water pollution or flooding.
The topic seems prescient, given the recent sediment dump in the Chesapeake Bay following severe storms upstream in New York and Pennsylvania, the second disastrous flood in two years in historic Ellicott City, and a summer of drought in Maryland followed by intense rains.
As always, there will be dozens of useful sessions for policymakers [see the full program here]. U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D) will hold a forum with county officials on Friday morning, U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D) will participate in a live MACo podcast that afternoon, and the annual reception for the governor’s cabinet will precede the crab feast.
But politics will also be heavy on the agenda, and uppermost on many convention-goers’ minds; a person can eat and drink pretty well just by being on the party and fundraising circuit that overlaps with the four-day convention.
Hogan is having a fundraiser late Thursday afternoon at the Clarion Fontainebleau Hotel. State Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) has one scheduled for the lunch hour Thursday at Fish Tales, a popular eatery.
Two Republican county executives who could be candidates for statewide office in 2022 are also raising money in Ocean City: Harford County’s Barry Glassman, on Wednesday evening at Seacrets, and Howard County’s Allan Kittleman, whose event Thursday is, conveniently, right next door to Hogan’s.
Baltimore-area Democrats are holding a reception Thursday evening to boost their candidates for county executive: Howard County Councilman Calvin Ball, who is challenging Kittleman; horse farmer Steuart Pittman, who is challenging Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh (R); and former Del. John A. “Johnny O” Olszewski Jr., who is running for the vacant seat in Baltimore County.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) and Baltimore City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young (D) are scheduled to attend.
Maryland’s Republican Senate leaders are having a breakfast fundraiser on Friday at the Clarion Fontainebleau, primarily to benefit state Del. Mary Beth Carozza, who is trying to oust state Sen. James N. Mathias Jr. (D), a longtime political fixture on the Lower Shore. Mathias is hosting a fundraiser himself, Friday afternoon at Ropewalk.
Another noteworthy fundraiser will be held Thursday afternoon for Del. Eric M. Bromwell of Baltimore County, one of the few vulnerable House Democrats this election cycle.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) recently announced that Bromwell would take over as vice chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee beginning next year (the current vice chairwoman, Del. Sally Y. Jameson of Charles County, is not seeking reelection).
Because Economic Matters oversees so many moneyed industries – banking, insurance, energy, telecommunications, real estate and more – Bromwell’s new post is a nice perch from which to raise campaign cash and attempt to protect himself in a district that Hogan is likely to carry by 30 points or more.
House Economic Matters Chairman Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), an industry favorite, will be the headline attraction at the Bromwell fundraiser, which takes place at the Satellite Bar.