Political notes: When Harry met Parris — in Senegal. Plus, personnel news.
The death this week of Harry Belafonte, the iconic singer, actor and civil rights leader, brought a wealth of memories for everyone who has known or admired the man and his work.
For former Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening (D), the news of Belafonte’s passing at the age of 96, recalled a time when Glendening, then Prince George’s County executive, traveled to Senegal in the late 1980’s and ran into Belafonte on a couple of occasions. Each time, the meetings were fortuitous.
Glendening was leading a delegation of about a dozen or so Prince Georgians, including three or four members of the county council, to Ziguinchor, a region of Senegal at the mouth of the Casamance River that had recently become connected to Prince George’s through the international “Sister Cities” program. Glendening said Wednesday that Belafonte made a surprise appearance at a reception for the visitors sponsored by the Sister Cities International foundation and the U.S. State Department.
It turned out that Belafonte, who became a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, kept a home in Dakar, Senegal’s capital.
“He liked the idea that we were establishing this relationship,” Glendening said.
During the soiree, Belafonte advised Glendening to visit the island of Gorée, near Dakar, the largest slave-trading center on the African Coast that has since become a UNESCO World Heritage site.
“It was so phenomenal, so moving,” Glendening recalled. “And it was Harry Belafonte who said, ‘don’t leave Dakar without seeing it.’ So I did. And it really had an impact on me.”
Later, the Prince Georgians were taken on a trip along the Senegal River in a ceremonial canoe that held 25 people — a ride, they later learned, that was arranged for them by Belafonte, who used his connections with his friend Léopold Sédar Senghor, a world-renowned poet and cultural theorist who became Senegal’s first elected president, to set it up.
But Belafonte’s generosity didn’t end there: At the end of their visit to Senegal, when the traveling party from Prince George’s was waiting at the airport for their flight home, they ran into the singer again. Glendening said Belafonte was surprised to find the elected officials and civic leaders sitting in the main terminal of the airport, not using the VIP lounge and planning to fly home on coach. Glendening explained to Belafonte that they did not have the means or desire to travel in luxury.
“You want a front-page story that we’re traveling that way?” Glendening asked Belafonte.
The performer disappeared for a while, Glendening said, but later returned with passes for the VIP lounge. And while they were there, the Prince Georgians discovered that Belafonte had paid to upgrade their plane tickets to business class.
“I was so pleased,” Glendening said. “I was so infatuated. I was such a big fan of his music.”
Years later, Glendening had an opportunity to greet and thank Belafonte when the singer came to Baltimore to give a concert. And, he said, he was also able to welcome Senghor to Prince George’s County when the former Senegalese president came to Washington, D.C., but decided to stay at the Marriott in Greenbelt because the idea of setting up headquarters for his visit in a majority-Black jurisdiction appealed to him.
“There’s a little known connection between Harry Belafonte and the state of Maryland,” Glendening mused, “and that connection is me. It’s funny to think about now.”
New Homeland Security chief
Gov. Wes Moore (D) announced this week that he has appointed Brig. Gen. Adam R. Flasch to serve as the director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security.
Flasch is, like Moore, a U.S. Army veteran, and he has 20 years of defense acquisition experience and 10 years of executive leadership experience. He most recently served for five years as the joint staff director at the Joint Force Headquarters of the Maryland National Guard, where he directed the administration, coordination, development, and supervision of all joint programs that prepare the state for contingency operations in either federal or state emergencies and federal military mobilizations.
Flasch also served as the Army Staff Element’s chief of staff within the Maryland Army National Guard. He managed Maryland Army National Guard programs and was responsible for an annual budget of $240 million and $900 million in real estate. He also oversaw the combat deployment readiness of more than 4,500 soldiers and civilians.
From 2010 to 2012, Flasch worked in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan as the deputy commander for the 1100th Theater Aviation Sustainment Maintenance Group, directing the operations of 350 soldiers and 415 contractors across three countries, managing aviation repair parts, maintaining rotary wing phase, assessing battle damage and specialized repair activities for all major aviation systems.
“Brigadier General Adam Flasch is a seasoned leader whose experience speaks for itself,” Moore said in a statement. “He is a man of service whose dedicated work with the Maryland National Guard has prepared him to lead the Office of Homeland Security.”
Flasch said he was committed to ensuring that “local, state and federal resources are engaged to protect the life and property of Maryland citizens.”
Kopp on board
Former state Treasurer Nancy Kopp (D) has been appointed to serve on the Board of Visitors for the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the research and graduate university that advises state and national leaders on environmental management and prepares future scientists to meet the global challenges of the 21st century.
Kopp served as treasurer from 2002 to 2021, following 27 years as a member of the House of Delegates. She was a member of Maryland’s Climate Change Commission and a leader in state climate change mitigation and adaptation. Serving on the Board of Public Works with the governor and comptroller, Kopp frequently lobbied for climate change impact to be included in all major state building and development projects.
“We are delighted to welcome Nancy Kopp to our Board of Visitors,” said University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science President Peter Goodwin. “As Treasurer, Nancy was an active member of Maryland’s Climate Change Commission and a leader in the state’s efforts in climate change mitigation and adaptation, with a special focus on reducing inequities and supporting vulnerable communities.”