2016: The Best in Baltimore and Maryland Political News

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Given that 2016 was an election year, we knew we had a storm of political news coming toward Baltimore City and across Maryland. But even with our eyes on big potential changes in City Hall, the U.S. Capitol and the White House, many of us were still taken aback by the political zoo that was let loose in 2016. With that in mind, here are our picks for the top political stories of this past year.

Catherine Pugh Becomes Mayor of Baltimore

When former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced last year that she wouldn’t be seeking a second term, a battle royale ensued between mayoral hopefuls. From a crowd of nearly 30 candidates emerged Pugh, a state senator who made an unsurprising, but triumphant return after losing out to Rawlings-Blake to be the Democratic mayoral candidate in 2011.

The win wasn’t without controversy (see below). But once it was affirmed, and then re-affirmed (again, see below) the Pugh never looked back. Facing off against Green Party candidate Joshua Harris, Republican Alan Walden and her primary-season nemesis, former Mayor Sheila Dixon, Pugh cruised to a win with 74 percent of the vote this past November. She’s already been busy in her first month in office, which is a good sign for many who were ready for a change in pace from the old administration.

Trump Takes the Presidency

In perhaps the biggest story in 21st-century U.S. political history (most of which remains unwritten), Donald Trump became leader of the free world. Running on a platform buoyed by ambitions to “drain the swamp,” jail his opponent over an email scandal, create a national registry for Muslims and   deport millions of immigrants prior to building a physical wall between the United States and Mexico, Trump shocked the world when he took home more than 300 electoral votes on Election Night. Of course, neither Baltimoreans nor Marylanders helped him secure that victory on Nov. 8, with most voters sticking with tradition in going blue.

Gov. Larry Hogan Refuses to Back Trump

When Trump became the frontrunner for the Republican Party in 2016, Gov. Larry Hogan was quick to distinguish himself from some of his colleagues who jumped on the real estate mogul’s bandwagon. “I’m not a Trump fan,” he said in March. “I don’t think he should be the nominee. At this point in time, I have no idea who the candidates are going to be or who I’m going to vote for.”

Hogan held strong to that instinct, skipping the Republican National Convention where Trump would be officially nominated in July and even writing in his father on Election Day. Of course, when someone with Trump’s political temperament is taking office, it’s advised to change that attitude, at least publicly, prior to inauguration, which is exactly what Hogan has done.

Trump Comes to Baltimore, and Talks About it When He’s Not Here

Donald Trump appeared in Baltimore twice this year, once for the National Guard’s convention and again for the Army-Navy game after he was elected president. Both appearances went as planned, aside from a surprise stop at a Dundalk diner the first time around and a quick meet-up with Mayor Catherine Pugh about a letter the second time. However, generally speaking, Trump and Baltimore did not have a peaceful relationship in 2016.

There were of course the protests after his election, as well as his barbs lobbed at former Mayor Rawlings-Blake and current State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. He also made an example out of the city repeatedly when bringing up his “inner cities are in terrible shape” talking point. This generated some strong responses, even when he didn’t directly reference Charm City, as in one case that elicited rebuke from a Baltimore journalist. Interestingly enough, most of the controversy he generated about the city occurred at times when he wasn’t here.

Pugh Beats Dixon, But Only With Troubled Aftermath

Catherine Pugh was the victorious candidate in the April Democratic primary, but her win was tinted with ballot-related controversy. After being picked by for the mayoral ticket over former Mayor Dixon, who resigned as mayor in 2011 after being found guilty of using gift cards intended for poor residents, problems with the voting count came up. Dixon refused to concede and called the vote into question. Two weeks later, the state decided to investigate the ballot-counting process due to “discrepancies” in election data, including an oversight in which provisional ballots went uncounted. Eventually, Pugh was declared the winner once again, and Dixon didn’t resurface again until she launched an ill-fated write-in bid in October.

Hogan Sets New Rules for School Start Dates

Gov. Hogan announced in late August that he had issued an executive order requiring schools to start after Labor Day and end before June 15 starting next school year. The move allowed the state to fall in line with others that follow a widely used system of starting school after Labor Day and could potentially reduce lost classroom time for districts with air conditioning shortages on hot late-summer days. However, it’s left school districts scrambling to adjust calendars and has upset many who would like to have that added classroom time for students if it’s available. Furthermore, when school systems started requesting exceptions to the rule, Hogan issued another executive order limiting them for getting those exemptions.

Overall, the orders produced a mix of support and hostility across the state. It didn’t help the latter when Hogan called concerns “stupid” at an appearance in Montgomery County. The entire ordeal led at least one state education official to resign.

Ben Carson Ends Up in Political Office, After All

Ben Carson didn’t end up being the Republican candidate for president, which is probably a good thing. But even though the early campaign season got ugly last year when he and Donald Trump were fighting for position — Trump at one point compared Carson to a child molester — that didn’t exclude Carson from having a job waiting for him with Trump’s administration when it was all said and done.

It would have been too normal for Trump to offer Carson a job fit for a doctor and for Carson to accept it right away. First, Carson’s spokesman said the retired doctor declined because he didn’t feel he had the right level of experience to be working in the White House. Then, Carson said that was false and blamed the media for distorting his words. Eventually, Trump and Carson narrowed down the offer from three positions for which Carson was poorly matched to one. Last month, Trump formally offered Carson the role as head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which he graciously accepted.

Officials in Maryland Bicker Over Post-Trump Immigration Policy

Immediately after Trump was elected president, undocumented Marylanders grew concerned that their days in the United States might be numbered. Their advocates were quick to express their support. First, then-Mayor Rawlings-Blake publicly reaffirmed Baltimore’s status as a sanctuary city for the refugees and undocumented persons. Then, as a movement grew for colleges around the country (including more than a handful here in Maryland) to protect their undocumented students who have been permitted to study here in the United States, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz made a strong stand against any effort to remove such students from Baltimore County, even saying county police would enforce no such policy. This of course led to a war of letters between him and lone Republican Maryland Rep. Andy Harris, complete with threats to withdraw funding and dismissals of said threats. That tiff simmered down, but is a strong candidate to re-emerge in 2017.

Sen. Barb Retires, Chris Van Hollen Takes Over Her Seat

After 45 years, Sen. Barb Mikulski is calling it quits on her political career. First elected to her Senate seat in 1986, “Senator Barb” has staked out a reputation as a fiery legislator with a passion for women’s rights, including equal pay and abortion rights in recent years, among other issues. In her farewell speech on the Senate floor, she reflected on her upbringing in East Baltimore’s Highlandtown neighborhood, the relationships she developed across the aisle and her work as a leader and role model for female members of Congress for the last five terms.

Mikulski has given her blessing to her pending replacement, Rep. Chris Van Hollen. Van Hollen easily won her Senate seat over Republican opponent Kathy Szeliga on Nov. 7, and is poised to carry on Maryland’s Democratic interests in the U.S. Senate.

O’Malley Drops Out of Presidential Race

After eight months on the campaign trail trying to beat Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination, Martin O’Malley called it quits in February. The former governor did his best to make his voice heard, but suffered from a lack of air time during primary debates and a poor early showing at the Iowa Caucus. He did pull out a semblance of a win posthumously, though, edging out the legendary Vermin Supreme for third place in the New Hampshire primary with 0.2 percent of the vote.

Ethan McLeod
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