Archive for October, 2010

Social Media Tools Being Tested for 2012

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Get-out-the-vote organizations like Rock the Vote are experimenting this year with social media innovations that will serve as a test run for the 2012 presidential elections — especially as a way to reach out to the youth vote.

Rock the Vote, teaming with Google, the Pew Research Center and others, recently came up with a way to track where people vote by having them “check in” online on Foursquare to indicate their polling station. Those who do so receive an “I Voted” badge on Foursquare, a social media forum where users can find out other users’ locations and give their own. The data for this voting information project shows up on a map so users can see where other people have voted and when, although not with individuals’ names attached.

“Location data is an important social media tool that is currently in early-adopter phase, but that will likely play a major role in 2012,” said Rock the Vote spokeswoman Maegan Carberry. “We’re excited to see how it comes together in 2010 and learn from that going forward.”

Mindy Finn, a partner at the D.C.-based company Engage, which is working with Foursquare, said they’re looking to see if the “bandwagon effect” will help to increase voter turnout. “When someone checks in [on Foursquare], many people push that to Facebook and Twitter,” she said, explaining how information shared on one social media network can spread to others.

The tools could carry increased importance, as at least one national poll seems to indicate enthusiasm among young voters has waned. The Harvard Institute of Politics released a national poll last week of 18- to 24- year-olds. The poll, conducted Sept. 24 to Oct. 4, showed that while enthusiasm normally tends to ramp up as an election draws nearer, the percentage of millennials who say they will “definitely” vote in this election has fallen over the past 11 months, from 36 percent to 27 percent.

In addition, those who said they were politically active or engaged also dipped, from 24 percent who answered positively in November 2009 and February 2010 polls to 18 percent.

Politico and Facebook sponsored a panel discussion Oct. 25 at George Washington University to discuss the ways campaigns are using social media in the midterm elections. “Very few congressional candidates are doing a good job using these tools,” said panelist Matthew Hindman, an assistant professor of media and public affairs at GWU. “The most important thing in these social media is that they have to be updated constantly, and so many candidates just use them as window dressing.”

Finn, a panelist, noted that in 2008, generally only candidates who wanted to reach young voters used social media. “Now, in 2009, and particularly in 2010, it’s just the default. As a candidate or campaign you have to have a Facebook profile,” she said.

In 2008, online tools played a role in Barack Obama’s successful run for the presidency. The Washington Post reported after he won the election that Obama had raised more than $500 million online, most of it in small donations. Political analysts observed that Obama had far more Facebook friends and Twitter followers than Republican nominee John McCain.

Campaigns continue to use Twitter and Facebook, but some are doubtful of their effectiveness in delivering votes on Election Day. “I don’t believe that Facebook can win an election,” said Jake Weissmann, the 25-year-old president of Young Democrats of Maryland. Weissmann said he does find Facebook useful for organizing volunteers and reminding people about early voting.

One Facebook application that is generating a lot of interest (and opposition) is Obama’s “Commit to Vote” challenge, which lets users share why they’re voting by posting on their friends’ walls. Bloggers who say that the application collects an invasive amount of private information are spreading the word about blocking and avoiding it.

Facebook was also used to get out the word about two big rallies Oct. 30 in Washington, D.C., hosted by comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. The largest Facebook event pages for the “Rally to Restore Sanity” and the “March to Keep Fear Alive” had reached 224,492 and 91,585 members respectively two days before the event, although smaller spin-off groups exist.

“Rock the Vote works with many organizations to get out the vote, and Comedy Central is an entertainment network that young people watch,” Carberry said, about the natural synergy between the two. Rock the Vote wants to encourage young people to show up on Election Day.

“We want to connect with them at an event they are interested in, just as we attend Ohio State football games and Lady Gaga concerts,” Carberry said.

Old-fashioned star power never dies as a get-out-the-vote tactic. But is it effective?

“It obviously helps when someone like Jay-Z comes out and talks about enfranchisement,” said Dan Hochman, 21, a senior at Johns Hopkins University. “But in the end, they can’t drag you to the polls. You have to feel something.”

When it comes to more practical matters like voter registration, Rock the Vote has an online tool that it’s used since 2004, updating and redeveloping it every election cycle. It seems to be working.

“In 2006, we registered 50,000 young people, and this cycle we’re at almost 300,000 registrations in person or via our downloadable tool online,” Carberry said.

–By Maryland Newsline’s Esther French

Hearings to Determine Fate of Thirsty Turtle’s Liquor License

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

HYATTSVILLE, Md. – The Thirsty Turtle could face the Prince George’s County Liquor Control Board twice in upcoming weeks in the wake of incidents in which it is alleged to have served alcohol to minors.

Either of the two hearings, scheduled for Nov. 3 and 10, could lead to the downtown College Park bar being fined or having its liquor license suspended or revoked, officials said.

At a Tuesday morning meeting, county Chief Liquor Inspector Norma Lindsay and the county Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to schedule the second hearing in the interest of “peace and safety of the community.”

Linda Carter, a lawyer for the Thirsty Turtle, said the bar’s owner, Alan Wanuck, would be present at both hearings.

“We don’t believe that what is being represented by a few people is an accurate description of what the Thirsty Turtle is,” he said.

Concerns about the bar heightened after an Oct. 11 incident in which five men, including three underage University of Maryland students, were ejected from the bar after an altercation. The fight spilled out into the street, where four of the men were stabbed.

University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell sharply criticized the Thirsty Turtle in the days after the stabbing, calling for its closure.

“We’ll be at the hearing next week to make sure that we’re on the record, letting the operators of the Thirsty Turtle know that they’re not being a good partner with the university,” said Maj. Chris Jagoe, who represented University Police at Tuesday’s meeting.

The Nov. 3 hearing was scheduled after Mitchell said two underage police aides were allowed into the Thirsty Turtle and served beer despite producing identification at the door that showed they were underage.

Carter said the Thirsty Turtle has always employed active security measures to ensure that its abiding by county laws and codes.

“We take any violation seriously, but most of my clients, including Alan Wanuck, really try to abide by the law,” Carter said.

The Thirsty Turtle has already been fined $8,000 for two citations since receiving its liquor license in November 2007, a Maryland Newsline document search revealed.

The bar was fined $3,000 in November 2008 for refilling expensive liquor bottles with cheaper alcohol and $5,000 in August 2009 for selling alcohol to a minor.

–by Maryland Newsline’s Justin Karp

Voters in Maryland Urged to Cast Tallies Early

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Maryland voters can skip the long lines of Election Day and vote early.

“We recommend it to anyone who may not be available on Election Day or who might not want the hassle of waiting in lines on Election Day,” said Daneen Banks, deputy elections administrator of the Prince George’s County Board of Elections.

Early voting centers are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day through Thursday, Oct. 28. Voting began on Friday.

There will be 46 centers spread across the state, with five centers apiece in Anne Arundel, Baltimore City, Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

On Nov. 2, 223 polling places will be available.

The state first experimented with early voting in September for the primary elections. Turnout was lower than expected; organizers planned for a turnout of about 95,000, and more than 77,000 voted early. But “it went very smoothly,” said Donna Duncan, the election management director for the Maryland Board of Elections.

Almost 2.5 percent of the state’s more than 3 million registered voters voted early in the primary.

“We’re expecting similar, if not greater turnout, as word spreads,” Banks said.

Prince George’s County had the greatest number of people who voted early in the primary, with more than 14,500, almost 3 percent of the county’s registered voters, turning out. Kent County had the highest percentage, with more than 6.8 percent of its registered voters casting ballots, officials said.

The option of early voting carries advantages for both voters and election boards. “You can pick which day is convenient for you to vote,” Duncan said.

Banks hopes early voting might take some of the burden off polling places on Election Day, especially with people who can vote only during the early morning or evening rush. “It would just be really good for us if people take advantage of it,” she said.

Both Republican and Democratic party committees are urging their supporters to get out and vote.

“Absolutely we’re spreading the word” about early voting, said Norma Lindsay, chairwoman of the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee. The group has been contacting supporters through telephone banks, commercials, Facebook and Twitter, and will provide some taxi and van services to help people get to the polls. Lindsay said she expects early voting to allow more seniors and college students to vote.

The Montgomery County Republican Central Committee is encouraging supporters to take advantage of the options available to them, said Chairman Mark Uncapher. But he doesn’t think early voting has necessarily provided a boost.

“I’m not sure that early voting has significantly increased voter turnout,” Uncapher said. “People who want to vote will vote.”

Registered voters can also choose to vote by absentee ballot. If mailed or delivered, applications for an absentee ballot must be received at the applicant’s local election board by 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 26. If faxed or e-mailed, it must be received by 11:59 p.m.

More information on voting procedures can be found at the Maryland State Board of Elections.

- By Maryland Newsline’s Karen Carmichael

College Park Installs Speed Camera

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Speeding drivers in College Park should beware: Officials recently launched the city’s first speed monitoring system.

“We have several areas in the city that have proven dangerous to pedestrians,” said Bob Ryan, the city’s director of Public Services. “It’s an issue that’s evolved over time, as traffic has become heavier in this area and the city has grown … and become more pedestrian.”

The first of six systems is located near the intersection of Paint Branch Parkway and the Trolley Trail.

“I’ve been concerned for some time about the danger of pedestrians crossing at the hiker-biker trail … this is College Park’s main corridor for pedestrians and bikers,” said Council member Stephanie E. Stullich.

After a 30-day warning period, the city will begin issuing $40 citations to those who are driving 12 miles per hour or more above the posted speed limit.

“I think it’s too generous,” Stullich said of the 12 mph grace.  She said that the speed limit is 35 mph, but drivers have been caught driving in excess of 50 mph.

Ryan said that the mayor and City Council met last spring to propose speed monitoring systems in school zones and within one-half mile of the University of Maryland campus.

The system will be self-sustaining, as revenues from tickets will be used to fund it, he said.

The city intends to use speed monitoring systems on five additional roads:

  • Rhode Island Avenue, from Route 193 north to the city boundary;
  • Metzerott Road, within city boundaries from University Boulevard to Adelphi Road;
  • Greenbelt Road, from Baltimore Avenue to Rhode Island Avenue;
  • Baltimore Ave, from Beechwood Road to Indian Lane; and
  • University Boulevard within the city boundaries, from Adelphi Road to 49th Avenue.

–By Maryland Newsline’s Tami Le

Abandoned Elkton Factory Nominated to Superfund List

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

ELKTON – A plume of toxic groundwater on the property of an abandoned Elkton munitions factory is under investigation as a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency.

In its heyday during World War II, the factory — then known as Triumph Explosives, Inc. — manufactured bombs and ammunition for the U.S. Department of Defense.

After the war, the factory was used to make flares, fireworks and batteries, says Lorie Baker, the Mid-Atlantic region coordinator of the National Priorities List of so-called toxic “Superfund” sites.

Now, a plume of liquid trichloroethene — a de-greaser for machine parts — in the property’s groundwater has led the Environmental Protection Agency to nominate the site to the National Priorities List of places “where hazardous contaminants could impact public health” or the environment, according to a press release.

The nomination was made Tuesday. A 60-day comment period follows the nomination.

Unless the Environmental Protection Agency receives “significant comments” opposing the listing, the site — now known as the Dwyer Property after a post-World War II owner — will be included on the National Priorities List at the end of the comment period.

And since the Environmental Protection Agency has not found any “responsible parties” related to the site or its toxic plume, “we don’t anticipate any comments,” Baker says.

The full extent of the contamination is also unknown.

“Basically the groundwater beneath the site is contaminated with solvents,” Baker says, but “we haven’t really identified the extent of the plume,” which most likely comes from an on-site source, she says.

“Once (the contaminant) gets into the ground water, it can spread,” but “it hasn’t spread that far yet.”

So far, “we haven’t found anybody’s drinking water wells contaminated” by the plume, Baker adds.

Since Elkton has its own municipal water supply, “there should be no concern for the residents,” she says.

Further investigation is still needed, says Roy Seneca, a spokesperson for the Mid-Atlantic region office of the National Priorities List.

The Maryland Department of the Environment has already dug a number of test wells on the site, Seneca says, but because it has limited resources, the department asked the Environmental Protection Agency for assistance.

Once the extent of the contamination is known, the two agencies will work together to clean the site up, Seneca adds.

A common treatment for contaminated ground water is the pump-and-treat method, by which a well is dug and filled with water, which absorbs contaminants from the surrounding soil. The contaminated water is then treated, Seneca says.

Elkton town officials declined to comment on the Superfund listing.

By Capital News Service’s Laura L. Thornton

Chilean Ambassador Praises Mine’s ‘Happy Ending’

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010
Outside the Chilean Embassy in Washington, on day two of the rescue, Ambassador Arturo Fermandois emerges to express high hopes for a successful rescue. (By Ilana Yergin)

Outside the Chilean Embassy in Washington, on day two of the rescue, Ambassador Arturo Fermandois emerges to express high hopes for a successful rescue.

WASHINGTON – Just after 11 a.m., Chilean Ambassador Arturo Fermandois stepped outside the embassy on Massachusetts Avenue.  The 14th miner had just been rescued.

“I was told that never in the mining history, there has been a rescue or a happy ending like this,” he said. “Normally you have very bad news when a collapse happens in a mine.”

After 68 days of being trapped more than 2,000 feet underground, the first of 33 miners was rescued Tuesday night.

In Washington, more than 100 people gathered outside the embassy anxiously awaiting news of the rescue.

Today the crowd is gone, but the giant TV screen remains, giving passersby a chance to see the unfolding drama.

It took the rescuers approximately 55 minutes to pull the first miner out through the narrow tunnel, but with practice, they’ve shortened the process to about 25 to 30 minutes.

As important as the efforts are above ground, the miners below have had to work just as hard to stay alive.

“There was a strong leadership among the miners,” said Fermandois.

“They organized themselves from the very first moment. They organized the food they had, taking care about the air. Otherwise, without this leadership and without this courage, this wouldn’t have been possible.”

–By Maryland Newsline’s Ilana Yergin

O’Malley Announces Plan for Early Childhood Education Summit

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

BALTIMORE – Gov. Martin O’Malley said Wednesday he would “like to convene all of the various networks of early childhood education and early childcare” in what would be called the Forward Ahead Summit on Early Care and Education.

O’Malley made the announcement for the summit, planned for next year, during a meeting on early childhood education and care issues hosted by Maryland Family Network, along with other organizations.

“I think this summit will give us an opportunity, the people willing, to lay out an agenda for the next four years so that we can continue to improve outcomes for children and make sure that more and more of our children are ready to learn at 5,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley, who is running for re-election against Republican former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, also mentioned measures taken during his first term to address early childhood education and other related issues. He cited increased investments in childcare subsidies and a 20 percent increase from five years ago in children who were assessed as “fully ready to learn” when they started kindergarten.

The summit could help address the concerns voiced by some who attended the meeting.

Janis Dorr, vice president of the Central Maryland Association for the Education of Young Children, and a Baltimore pre-kindergarten teacher, appealed to O’Malley to be “a hero” and address ongoing obstacles in early education.

In her experience in public pre-kindergarten, Dorr has seen class sizes increase and said the curriculum focuses too much on strict academics and not enough on social and emotional development.

“I hear all this talk about improvements … and yet somehow it doesn’t reach Pre-K in Baltimore City,” Dorr said.

– By Capital News Service’s Lindsay Powers

Police Call Bar ‘Bad Neighbor’ After Early-Morning Altercation

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010
Prince Georges County Police Chief David Mitchell at the press conference. (Photo by Maryland Newsline's Tami Le)

University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell at the press conference. (Photo by Maryland Newsline's Tami Le)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell railed against the Thirsty Turtle during a press conference late Tuesday, calling it a “bad neighbor” in the wake of a quadruple-stabbing that followed a fight at the College Park bar.

Four men, three of them University of Maryland students, were stabbed across the street from the Thirsty Turtle early Tuesday morning. Shortly before the stabbing, the victims and a suspect were thrown out of the bar after an altercation, police said.

The three University of Maryland students are all under the legal drinking age, Mitchell said. He said the bar has been fined in the past for serving underage patrons.

“I’ve received complaints from parents and administrators about the lack of good common sense in admitting underage students,” Mitchell said.

He added the three university students, one 19 years old and two 20, were all allowed to enter the Thirsty Turtle after showing their own legitimate Maryland identification, which made clear they were not of legal drinking age.

The fourth victim was 23 years old, police said.

John McGroarty, a liquor inspector for Prince George’s County, said the bar, in the 7400 block of Baltimore Avenue, had been cited three times in the past two years for various violations, including admitting and serving underage patrons.

One of the incidents took place Sept. 23.

“We’re not here to adversely affect business; we’re here for the safety of students,” McGroarty said.

Mitchell added that in a recent three-week period, a “significant number” of underage students who had been injured and treated in incidents related to alcohol consumption identified the Thirsty Turtle as the place that served them.

The liquor board has the authority to shut the bar down without a hearing if there is an “imminent danger” to patrons or the community, McGroarty said. He said the board would not move to shut the Thirsty Turtle down immediately, but Mitchell said he is ready to take decisive action if warranted.

“I’m ready to padlock it tonight,” Mitchell said.

Management from the Thirsty Turtle declined to comment after several attempts by Maryland Newsline to contact them.

Prince George’s County Deputy Police Chief Kevin Davis said police are actively searching for a Hispanic male with a black mohawk as the main suspect in the stabbing. He was inside the bar with the four victims, police said, and was thrown out with them.

Police were notified of the stabbing at about 1:30 a.m., and the victims were found near the Cornerstone Grill and Loft, about a half block south of the Thirsty Turtle.

Three of the four victims were treated and released from area hospitals. A fourth was expected to be released soon, Davis said.

Catherine Yang, 31, store manager of Ten Ren Tea Time, said she wasn’t surprised by the news. “I always had the feeling that maybe something really bad gonna happen next door,” she said. “It’s a bar; what are you expecting?”

Yang said she has been working at the tea house adjacent to the Thirsty Turtle for more than three years.

Yang said Tea Time’s store windows were broken three times last year because of drunk people on the streets. “I’m not saying it must be their customers, but it’s easy people could get drunk over there and do whatever on the streets,” she said.

–by Maryland Newsline’s Justin Karp and Tami Le

Ehrlich, O’Malley Face Off in First Televised Debate

Monday, October 11th, 2010

The two major candidates for Maryland governor battled today in their first televised debate of 2010, with Gov. Martin O’Malley warning that Maryland would move backward if his Republican opponent Bob Ehrlich Jr. were elected.

Ehrlich in turn downplayed the rosy picture of economic and educational progress O’Malley’s campaign has painted over the past several weeks.

“O’Malley says there’s progress in the state. I have a far different point of view,” Ehrlich said, in his opening statement.

“We’re doing better than most states, but we have a lot of important and urgent work to do,” O’Malley said.

The debate opened on the economy, and Ehrlich devoted much of his response to criticizing Maryland’s “broken” regulatory agencies that he said have created one of the most hostile business environments in the country.

O’Malley said he would not make the “irresponsible blanket pledge” to not increase taxes, a promise Ehrlich made this summer.

“I will pledge to not pretend fees are not taxes,” he said, poking fun at Ehrlich’s campaign rhetoric. Ehrlich has tried to distinguish between taxes and fees during the campaign.

The debate was relatively emotionless until education became the topic.  O’Malley was the first to speak, touting the fact that Maryland was one of 10 states recently selected for a federal Race to the Top grant.

O’Malley also said the number of charter schools has doubled on his watch.

Ehrlich centered his response on under-performing schools.

“We need to focus our attention on the students who are hurting,” he said, and promised no furloughs for state workers.

Soon after, O’Malley released the education debate ammunition that’s been making headlines – Ehrlich’s plan to cut spending meant for areas where education is more expensive (http://www.journalism.umd.edu/cns/wire/2010-editions/10-October-editions/101006-Wednesday/EducationCuts_CNS-UMCP.html).

“Gov., I think we can agree that Maryland schools are pretty good generally,” Ehrlich said. It was one of six times he referred to O’Malley as “Gov.,” and it was one of several times Ehrlich suggested the two candidates could find common ground.

The debate was sponsored by the Baltimore Jewish Council and the WJZ-TV Channel 13, which will air the debate at 7 p.m. today.

It will also be streamed on WJZ.com.

By Capital News Service’s Shannon Hoffman.

O’Malley, Ehrlich hit neighboring counties

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Maryland’s two leading gubernatorial candidates campaigned within three miles of each other Friday, one at a groundbreaking ceremony in southwest Baltimore and the other at a lunchtime meet-and-greet in Catonsville.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, thanked a myriad of people who worked to make possible the Uplands redevelopment, a project that began in 2004, during his tenure as the Baltimore’s mayor.

“He continues to demonstrate his commitment to this project and this city,” said Paul Graziano, commissioner of the Department of Housing and Community Development, who called the project “one of the pre-eminent new communities in the country.”

The $238 million redevelopment on the site of a former low-income housing community will consist of more than 1,100 mixed-income housing units when completed and will create 54 permanent jobs and about 300 construction jobs, O’Malley said, reinforcing his campaign message of job creation.

“We are going to bring back moms and dads and kids to this part of the city as we move forward,” the governor said.

O’Malley, who was twice referred to as “the current and future governor,” also highlighted some of his other campaign sound bites: improved schools, decreases in violent crime and a freeze in college tuition.

Former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, a Republican, spent early Friday afternoon talking to voters about his Roadmap for 2020 at Grilled Cheese & Co. in Catonsville.

Scott Pevenstein, the company’s vice president of marketing and public relations, said Ehrlich visited the restaurant partially because his parents are regulars there. His mother reportedly has said Grilled Cheese & Co. has the best Caesar dressing.

Pevenstein said he and his business partners back candidates and policies that are pro-business.

Cutting taxes on small business helps us grow,” he said.

Andre Gingles, a small business owner in Prince George’s County, said he just happened to be at Grilled Cheese & Co. for lunch when the former governor, whom he supports, stopped by.

“He implemented a set of regulations that help small businesses survive and expand,” Gingles said. “I’m glad he’s interested in trying to come back.”

– By Capital News Service’s Abby Brownback