State Roundup, October 7, 2019

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STRONACH, CITY STRIKE PIMLICO DEAL: The city of Baltimore and the owners of the historic but dilapidated Pimlico Race Course have come up with a way to keep the prestigious Preakness Stakes at the 149-year-old track in Northwest Baltimore. The Stronach Group has pledged to donate the land to the city or an entity created by the city for development in and around the track. Pimlico’s grandstand and clubhouse would be demolished. A new clubhouse would be built and the track rotated 30 degrees to the northeast to create nine parcels of land that could be sold for private development. In all, Pimlico would receive $199 million as part of the project, Jeff Barker and Pamela Wood of the Sun report.

HOW DEAL CAME ABOUT: Luke Broadwater of the Sun writes that at one point it looked like the Preakness in Baltimore was doomed, “The city’s then-mayor had been sending insulting letters to the Stronachs, the Canadian family that owns Pimlico Race Course. The city and the track owner were embroiled in a lawsuit featuring yet more insults and allegations. Stronach executives were talking openly of moving the Preakness to their other Maryland racetrack … Then in May, on Preakness Day, new Mayor Jack Young stepped in.”

QUESTIONS REMAIN: Josh Kurtz and Danielle Gaines of Maryland Matters write that however tidy the deal appears at first glance, several questions remain. Among them: How will this “agreement in principle” be finalized? Under what terms is Stronach dedicating the Pimlico land to the city of Baltimore? What would be the city’s responsibilities as a landlord? Who will operate Pimlico and whatever gets developed at the site? Will a new entity be set up? And many more…

OPINIONS: PREAKNESS VICTORY FOR BALTIMORE: The editorial board of the Sun opines that, “For those with only a casual interest in horse racing, the idea that Baltimore might one day claim victory in its race to save the Preakness must seem hard to believe. When last we heard, the city’s efforts were looking like a long shot, its lawsuit against The Stronach Group withdrawn in June, the matter left in the hands of negotiators.”

  • In a column for the Sun, Dan Rodricks writes that “For as much progress as we’ve seen in certain parts of the city, there are still vast stretches of Baltimore that need new ideas, visionary leadership and fresh investment. Pimlico Race Course and Park Heights is right there in the long list of places that have been waiting for renewal. Now, there’s a plan, and it looks like a good one, to transform Pimlico and keep the Preakness in Baltimore while making Laurel Park the center of horse racing the rest of the year.”

OPINION: EVEN MORE ED MONEY DIVERTED: In a column for Red Maryland, Mark Uncapher opines that, “Less than a year after Maryland voters overwhelmingly passed “Question 1: The Gambling Revenue Dedicated to Education Lockbox Amendment,” Baltimore politicians are proposing to divert money from it to pay for the reconstruction of the Pimlico Racetrack. … Yet, from 2010 through 2018, Maryland’s horse racing industry, including breeders and the harness racing tracks, have already received $415 million in state financial support.  Of that about $66 million has gone to racetrack facilities.”

POT PANEL CHAIR ‘OPTIMISTIC’ ON MINORITY OWNERSHIP: The chairman of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission said he is optimistic that a new round of license approvals for growers and dispensaries will include awards to businesses owned by minorities, Bryan Sears of the Daily Record reports. Brian Lopez, chairman of the commission that will eventually award four grower and 10 processor licenses, told a gathering of cannabis entrepreneurs on Thursday that concerns among minority-led business groups that they’ll be shut out are based on rumors and a lack of information.

MAJORITY IN GENERAL ASSEMBLY GET A+ FROM CONSERVATION GROUP: An overwhelming majority of lawmakers in both chambers of the General Assembly racked up perfect scores in the latest annual report card of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. The report card, released Thursday, used nine votes on the floor of the state Senate and nine floor votes in the House of Delegates, along with committee votes, to grade legislators on their commitment to the environment in this year’s General Assembly session, Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters reports.

STATE GETS $867,370 FEDERAL HIV GRANT: Jason Whong of the Daily Record reports that a federal agency has awarded $867,370 to the Maryland to conduct state and local planning and begin community involvement for a proposed federal initiative to reduce new HIV infections in America by 90% by 2030. Health and Human Services gave the money to 32 CDC-funded state and local health departments to develop comprehensive plans for the 50 geographic areas where more than half of new American HIV infections originate and to seven states that have a substantial rural burden. In Maryland, the federal government is targeting Baltimore city and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

CONOWINGO POLLUTANT REDUCTION: The Environmental Protection Agency has announced awards totaling nearly $600,000 for three projects to further a joint Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan to compensate for the loss of pollutant trapping capacity in the Conowingo Dam reservoir, the Cecil Whig reports.

GRANTS AID SYNAGOGUE SECURITY: Just in time for the Jewish high holidays, religious institutions across Maryland recently received grants toward security improvements – and a majority of the recipients are synagogues, Elliott Davis of the Capital News Service reports. The Maryland Emergency Management Agency announced last month $1.7 million in federal Non-Profit Security Grants, many of which went to religious organizations.

OPINION: HOWARD REDISTRICTING NOT IF, BUT HOW? In an op-ed for the Sun, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball opines that “there is a lot of understandable passion in the community conversation around Howard County Public School System Superintendent Michael Martirano’s proposed school redistricting plan. As the redistricting process moves forward, change is an uncomfortable fact of life. However, the truth is, we need to address school overcrowding in Howard County. The question of redistricting is not a question of ‘Will we redistrict?’ It is a question of ‘How will we redistrict?’”

HOW REDISTRICTING CAME ABOUT: Erin Hardy and Jess Nocera of the Howard County Times offer a timeline of the entire Howard County redistricting process.

FREDERICK SITE OF IMMIGRATION FIGHT: A storm is brewing on the brick-paved sidewalks of historic county seat Frederick — and local officials say Washington politics are to blame, Rebecca Tan of the Post reports. Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins (R) in May canceled a public meeting about his office’s longtime practice of cooperating with federal immigration agents, saying attendees had grown “disruptive.” In July, the sheriff’s office was sued for allegedly racially profiling an undocumented Latina grandmother. On Sunday, dueling rallies involving national organizations were set blocks away from each other in typically quiet downtown Frederick.

ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVISTS SEEK TO END PG’s PIT BULL BAN: Pit bulls have been illegal in Prince George’s County since 1997, but enforcement of the ban is spotty. Animal rights activists are pushing to overturn the law, the latest step in a national campaign to eliminate a prohibition that critics say is unfair, ill-informed and ineffective, writes Rachel Chason for the Post.

POLICE OFFICERS ARE HIGHEST PAID CITY EMPLOYEES: In a special report, Mark Reutter for Baltimore Brew writes that, propelled by lavish overtime, Baltimore Police Department officers continue to take home the biggest paychecks in city government. Seventeen of the city’s 23 best paid employees – each collecting more than $200,000 in FY2019 – were sworn members of the BPD. None of the police members of the “$200,000 Club”  are top commanders, who are salaried and cannot file for overtime.

PEREZ STUMPS IN FREDERICK: Danielle Gaines of Maryland Matters writes that Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez arrived fashionably late to a backyard soiree in Frederick on Thursday night. He’d been on a call about how the party could help Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear (D) in his race to unseat Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in the Bluegrass State. “At the end of the day, if we want to govern, we must first win. We cannot allow the perfect to be the enemy of the very, very good,” Perez said.