By Sam Smith
For some young boys, the only research they want to conduct is reading the stats on the back of a baseball card. But as a child growing up in Greencastle, Pa., St. Mary’s College political science professor Todd Eberly didn’t care about batting averages or strikeouts -- he cared about politics and policy.
Now Eberly has become the go-to guy for political punditry in Maryland. He’s quoted in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Gazette, the Washington Times, on WYPR and WBAL, even the Voice of Russia and, of course, MarylandReporter.com.
At an early age, Eberly was politically active in helping his uncle Robert Eberly during his campaign for court clerk in Franklin County, Pa. Todd Eberly always had the knack for analyzing numbers. He was put to work analyzing results at polling locations to gauge how well his uncle was doing in the election. Although most children would find that kind of work to be tedious and boring, Eberly relished the experience.
Politics was his game of choice
“Other kids liked sports or what have you. I just never did,” Eberly said. “I cared about politics. I followed that the way other folks would follow a football season or a baseball season. ... I am curious to see who’s winning, who’s losing and what strategy they are employing.”
After graduating from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, Eberly began working as a research analyst for health care firms in D.C. and Maryland. He was hired at Hilltop Institute, based out of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, where he also earned his Ph.D. in Public Policy in 2006. Eberly also taught classes at UMBC as an adjunct professor but most of his time was focused on state Medicaid research, proving racial disparities in health care entitlements, which won him the 2006 Annual Dissertation Award from the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration.
In the fall of 2007, Eberly was hired as a full-time professor at St. Mary’s College. It didn't take long for his presence to become widely known in Maryland political circles. He became a favorite source for the media to turn to for a non-partisan perspective on a plethora of statewide issues. In May of 2011, Eberly was listed as one of the top influencers of Maryland politics by Campaigns and Elections Magazine.
How he evolved into punditry
“There is a part of me a few years back that would have never imagined that I would be somebody that people would go to on Maryland politics,” he said. “But I find it to be interesting, and I like it. So I am happy to be in that situation.”
The first time Eberly was asked to give his perspective for a news article was shortly after he began working at St. Mary’s. The Calvert Recorder asked him what students thought about a number of political issues.
Once Eberly was quoted by one journalist, his phone started ringing frequently with reporters asking for his insight into whatever topic they were covering.
“[Reporters] are in the newsroom and someone else is working on a story and they say, ‘Hey, I was talking with this professor at St. Mary’s and he was helpful for me and you might want to give him a call,’ ” Eberly said. “Then this person calls me, and then someone else somewhere else is reading a story and they see this and they see me and then they call about this other issue. It really just snowballs from there and it did sort of steadily build that way.”
Eberly said receiving a couple of phone calls a week from reporters is the norm. However, the flow is dependent upon political events. During the elections and General Assembly sessions, he said he receives daily phone calls, sometimes twice a day.
Eberly’s willing embrace of reporters and his ability to give analysis based on facts plays a large part in his increasing role with the media.
“He’s very responsive and that is a reporter’s best friend. Either he is going to answer their phone call or going to return their call fairly regularly,” said Alan Brody, a former reporter with the Gazette of Politics and Business and current deputy communications director for Attorney General Doug Gansler.
Brody said that Eberly’s rise to prominence in the media can be associated with his position in a political science department that has developed an objectively insightful reputation through Eberly’s predecessor, Zach Messitte, and current director of St. Mary’s Center for the Study of Democracy, Michael Cain.
“People know that when they are calling a political science professor at St. Mary’s College they are getting an educated and insightful analysis, a fact-based assessment of the political scene,” Brody said.
Annie Linskey, a State House reporter for the Baltimore Sun, said that Eberly’s broad range of expertise and nonpartisan insight makes him an ideal source for background information and for ideas that may not be directly reflected with a quote but are instrumental in the planning phases of a news article.
“I probably touch base with Todd ... once every other week, maybe more when stories that are in his area of expertise are coming up,” Linskey said.
Some opinions stir criticism
Although he is known by many to be an objective teacher and observer of politics, he still has opinions, which led to criticism during the past election when he tweeted his support of independent Rob Sobhani for U.S. Senate.
Eberly said he didn’t mean it as an endorsement, but rather a sign of respect. He said he regrets the tweet but not his vote because he agrees with Sobhani’s position that the two-party system has failed.
“The tweet took on a life of its own,” Eberly said. “I was quickly criticized by [Dan] Bongino supporters and Bongino himself on Twitter. I have no idea why, as Bongino was never in the running for my vote.”
Eberly started The Freestater Blog when he had no place to publish a poll analysis he wrote on the 2010 gubernatorial election. He said that post created more media attention than he could have imagined since the Baltimore Sun asked him to write an op-ed summarizing the piece.
Eberly maintains the blog to publish his opinions but doesn’t force his students to read it. A September blog about the Senate race included praise for incumbent Ben Cardin.
Eberly, the opionated citizen and the professor
“What's important is that there is Todd Eberly, citizen, who writes and opines,” Eberly said. “And there is Todd Eberly, professor, who maintains high standards for fairness and respect for differing perspectives and opinions in a classroom.”
Eberly updates the blog sporadically with posts offering his independent analysis and opinion on a wide variety of issues. It has gained a larger following than he expected, and is now linked to the websites of the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post.
Not everyone will agree with Eberly’s opinions. Eberly said he has received critical emails, calls and letters and has been called “a right wing shill and a socialist bent on destroying the traditional family.”
Many of the ideas for the new book “American Government and Popular Discontent: Stability Without Success,” which was co-authored by Eberly and is being released in January, are based on ideas that Eberly posted on his blog.
“In his blog posts or editorials that I've read ... he seems to be able to give insight on a political topic or issue without making it appear to be too opinionated, and I think this is due to his ability to back up his thoughts with the evidence,” said Darren Leu, a senior at St. Mary’s College. “The way he writes seems very similar to the way he teaches his classes.”