Archive for November, 2008

1st District Faces Winter Without Gilchrest

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

CNS photo by Christopher Weaver

The congressman’s empty office. (CNS photo by Christopher Weaver)

Newspapers and mail still waited outside Rep. Wayne Gilchrest’s office at noon Friday. Inside, boxes and moving dollies had replaced his staff, and the desks in the bullpen were as impersonal as an OfficeMax display. A sign taped to the white board read, “Remember: Mary needs to take boxes in Wayne’s office.”

On Tuesday morning, all offices except Gilchrest’s Centreville headquarters were reported closed by an aide to the Republican from Kennedyville. A voice message there beseeched callers not to leave messages and referred them to Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, both Maryland Democrats.

 “On behalf of Congressman Gilchrest, I would like to thank each of you for your support over the last 18 years,” the message concluded.

 After losing the Republican primary, Gilchrest is packing up early, vacating office space, releasing staffers and sending constituents — and their problems — down the line to the state’s senators. The 1st District’s next congressman, Democrat Frank Kratovil, was in Washington last week for a new members’ orientation, but he won’t take over the office until Jan. 6.

Kratovil has sought advice from Gilchrest, after the two men became friendly on the campaign trail. The veteran congressman said, “Our conversations have centered around what he will experience in his orientation, as simple as where his office might be, how he can bring his family into the process, to the Democratic leadership races,” which were settled, with the party’s leaders retaining their positions unchallenged.

In the meantime, the district will be on its own for the next 43 days. When congressmen aren’t voting on new laws, debating policy in their committees, campaigning for re-election, flattering fundraisers and attending to their various other legislative duties, they help their voters resolve the many problems implicit in dealing with the federal government.

Congress is on recess now, and the elections are over, but residents of the 1st District may still need a push from Washington allies to glide through the bureaucracy.

Congressmen typically offer constituents help with immigration, Medicare, passports, Social Security, veterans’ benefits, federal retirement benefits, the Internal Revenue Service, small business loans, federal housing aid and service academy nominations, to name a few. Many members of Gilchrest’s staff have been on those beats for 18 years, the exiting congressman said. “That’s 18 years of experience with a myriad of state and federal agencies.”

Constituents who relied on the 1st District team all those years will have to look to Mikulski and Cardin to cut through the red tape until Kratovil takes office.

“That’s pretty standard that when a congressman is about to leave office, they start to send their casework to the senators,” said Susan Sullam, a spokeswoman for Cardin.

The office has noticed an increase in constituent requests, though staffers don’t track the thousands of phone calls and letters received each month by district. Many of the complaints and requests — like requests for presidential greetings or congressional page nominations — can wait.

Others can’t, Sullam said. “Say it’s someone who’s totally dependent on their Social Security and their check’s gone missing.”

 - By Capital News Service’s Christopher Weaver

What Does Obama’s Win Mean?

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

Democratic Sen. Barack Obama won nearly 57 percent of the popular vote in Maryland on his way to winning the presidency and making history as the nation’s first African-American president.

What does Obama’s win mean to the country, to Maryland and to you?

–From Maryland Newsline’s Chris Harvey

Deaf Radio Listeners Gather at NPR for Election-Night Event

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

About 30 deaf and hearing-impaired people visited National Public Radio headquarters election night to watch the words of the station’s returns as they scrolled across a screen.

NPR partners with Towson University and Harris Corp. to provide accessible radio for deaf and hearing-impaired people through a high-definition radio and captioning system.

NPR Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Mike Starling said that stations in Baltimore, Boston, Phoenix and Denver,  in addition to American University’s WAMU, broadcast on election night with this technology.

Captioned radio is “an idea for whom the technology was arriving,” Starling said.

A  grant from the U.S. Department of Education helped to make it a reality three years ago, but more financial support is needed from receiver manufacturers, Starling said, to help the stations get the equipment they need. The satellite feed will go to all stations from a caption stenographer, but the stations will control their receivers and will need one of the high-definition radios to broadcast.

Marc Raimondi, spokesman for Harris Corp., said his company provided $50,000 in seed money for the project out of “corporate responsibility.”

“Our role was to provide some financial and technological support to Towson University and NPR to come up with accessible radio,” he said. “The initiative is to make radio more accessible to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.”

Raimondi said adopting this technology was an opportunity for equipment manufacturers to serve millions of people with hearing impairments. “Something that has been off-limits to them their whole lives is now open to them,” he said.

Las Vegas native and Gallaudet University graduate student Rachel Berman says that captioned radio will allow her to share the experience of listening to the radio – and specifically NPR – with her family.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “My family is always talking about NPR, NPR, but I’m not able to respond.”

She feels left out, she said. She gets the transcripts but says it’s difficult to make time to read them. With this technology she’ll be able to catch up with the news more quickly.

Berman’s friend Adrienne Thal, a staff person in the Office of Disability Policy at the United States Department of Labor, is also hearing impaired and excited about the prospect of captioned radio.

She said her boyfriend told her about the new technology more than a year ago, and she’s anxious to use it.

“It’s great that NPR is taking the initiative to open up access in general,” she said. “My family is all hearing. The first thing that happens when we get in the car – they turn on the radio, and I can’t share in that experience.”

–By Maryland Newsline’s Laurie White

Pentagon Memorial Park

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

What you think of the Pentagon Memorial Park–which honors victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack?

Does it have special significance to you?