Banner political notes: Help for renters; Towson U protest; grabbing a cold one

Published on: October 01, 2022 at 6:00 am EDT

Updated on: October 01, 2022 at 11:10 am EDT

Maryland, Baltimore City, Baltimore County politics

Baltimore City made new commitments to improving its eviction prevention programs last week under mounting pressure from renter advocacy groups and following the publication of a story in The Banner about delays in the city’s rental assistance program.

The city committed an additional $400,000 to the city’s right to counsel program — which provides legal representation for tenants facing eviction — for education and outreach. The mayor’s office also committed to regular meetings with Baltimore Renters United, a tenant advocacy group, to review the efficacy of the city’s rental assistance distribution efforts. And the mayor’s office will launch an eviction prevention dashboard, with data on the city’s program.

The Banner story documented how an uptick in demand for assistance from renters facing imminent eviction has caused delays in the distribution of federal rental assistance funds. As Baltimore’s rent court has resumed processing cases at pre-pandemic pace, that has created a rush of applications from tenants with immediate need for assistance.

The city has increased staffing to meet that demand, but there’s another problem, too: landlords are increasingly rejecting the funds. With the court processing eviction cases more quickly, some landlords are opting to proceed with eviction rather than wait for rental assistance funds to come through.

The city’s new commitments, while not a direct answer to all of the issues raised by housing groups and news reports, were received enthusiastically by tenant advocates. Baltimore Renters United had planned a protest for Saturday at the city Department of Housing and Community Development — in the middle of the city’s Charm City Live festival — to demand additional funding for the right to counsel and rental assistance programs.

After the city announced its commitments Friday, the group called off the protest.

Protest planned at Schifanelli, Peroutka talk at Towson University

The Republican nominees for lieutenant governor and attorney general are expected to address Towson University students at a Monday forum.

Some Towson University students aren’t happy about it.

The Towerlight — the college’s independently run student news outlet — broke the news on Thursday that Towson’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America is organizing a protest at the on-campus West Village Commons building, where the running mate for gubernatorial nominee Dan Cox, Gordana Schifanelli, and the Republicans’ pick for attorney general, Michael Peroutka, are slated to discuss constitutional rights.

The Monday event was organized by the university chapter of Turning Point USA — which describes itself as a “nonpartisan political group” that promotes individualism and wants to open dialogue on campus.

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The chapter has posted memes on social media mocking people who are transgender or for abortion rights and declaring an FBI raid on former president Donald Trump’s Florida estate illegal.

Richard Soucy, a senior and chair of Towson’s Young Democratic Socialists chapter, said group leaders are training their organizers to lead a peaceful demonstration against political candidates whose platforms are buoyed by homophobia and sexism.

“You can’t have a good faith dialogue without [acknowledging] basic human rights,” Soucy said.

“Any political view that does not acknowledge those rights” is not a starting point for respectful discussion, he added.

Peroutka — described as a “fringe candidate” by news outlets during bids for office in years past — was a League of the South member from 2014 to 2018, and left when he ran successfully for Anne Arundel County Council. The Southern Poverty Law Center says the League of the South is explicitly racist and wants to establish a Christian theocratic state.

“The protest is to show these values have no place whatsoever in our community and will not be unchallenged,” Soucy said.

Schifanelli, an Eastern Shore attorney, led a faction of angry parents against Andrea Kane, the first Black superintendent of Queen Anne’s County schools. Schifanelli recently lost a lawsuit alleging she was defamed by one of Kane’s supporters.

Turning Point’s representatives didn’t return requests for comment. The chapter is part of the national nonprofit Turning Point USA, which funds its college offshoots, and doesn’t receive financial support from Towson University.

But Tim Yalinkilincer, self-identified in The Towerlight as the chapter’s media and communications director, told student reporters in a statement that the group encourages protestors who “should know that they are only able to do so because of the first amendment rights guaranteed to them in our constitution.”

Turning Point’s prior events included a panel discussion of “young conservatives” featuring young white men who blog about their political views on YouTube and Gab — a social media platform frequently used by those with far-right political perspectives.

Towson’s campus has been the scene of politically related confrontations and students for years have challenged non-denominational Christian groups preaching on the edge of the campus, in part over their anti-LGBTQ views.

In response, the university established the Tiger Advocacy Advisory Team, comprised of school event organizers and public safety representatives, to work with student protestors. And the university has a general public safety plan for organized demonstrations if the need arises.

“As a public institution, TU endeavors to protect each student’s free speech rights, and may not limit speech or expression, based solely on the content or the views being expressed,” Towson University spokesman Matt Palmer wrote.

Currently, Democratic candidate for governor Wes Moore holds a commanding lead over Cox, according to a recent survey by Goucher College Poll in partnership with The Baltimore Banner and WYPR. People surveyed were most likely to say Cox’s politics were “far or extreme right.”

Where’s the love for local beer?

At The Baltimore Banner, we ask politicians and political hopefuls serious questions on issues ranging from taxes to transportation, health care to housing, and deficits to development.

But we sometimes have a little fun, too.

At this year’s J. Millard Tawes Crab & Clam Bake on the Lower Eastern Shore — attended by a who’s who of Maryland political figureswe quizzed politicos about crabs.

One of our questions: what was their favorite beer to wash down steamed crabs. Here’s a sampling of their answers.

Barry Glassman, Harford County executive and Republican candidate for comptroller: “Corona Light.”

Brooke Lierman, state delegate from Baltimore and Democratic candidate for comptroller: “Whatever the local brew is on tap.”

U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, Republican running for reelection: “Wow, there are a lot. I would say a RaR ale.”

(RaR is a brewery based in Cambridge. We’re not sure which RaR ale the congressman favors, but we can recommend the Country Ride Pale Ale.)

Heather Mizeur, Democrat who is challenging Harris: “Any.”

Wes Moore, Democrat running for governor: “I mean, you gotta go with Natty Boh, because Natty Boh is just the easiest. I know there are a lot of people who think it’s very watered down and you don’t get the alcohol content. But at the same time, the whole point of steamed crabs is you’re spending time with friends and hanging out, so let it last longer.”

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, a Republican: “Well for me, I like Yuengling. I know it’s not local — well there’s nothing local except I guess the craft beers now — but I like Yuengling.”

Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican: “Anything cold.”

State Treasurer Dereck Davis, a Democrat: “Free. If it’s free, it’s for me.”

Anirban Basu out at WYPR

A longtime radio host with ties to Baltimore’s political world is out at WYPR, the city’s flagship NPR station.

WYPR aired the last episode of Anirban Basu’s “Morning Economic Report” on Friday. The one-minute program aired every weekday for more than 20 years. Basu, the economist and CEO of Sage Policy Group, discussed everything from mortgage rates to labor trends. He also hosted “Your Retirement,” a weekly afternoon segment.

The Baltimore Banner and WYPR announced a joint operating agreement earlier this year.

The program helped establish Basu as a local economic expert who gradually delved into the political sphere. He served on Gov. Larry Hogan’s transition committee; in 2014, the Republican appointed Basu as chairman of the Maryland Economic Development Commission. He previously served on the board of Baltimore City Public Schools.

Basu recently served as the treasurer of the political action committee that spent nearly $190,000 trying to pass Renew Baltimore, a measure to cap city property taxes, and advised perennial candidate Thiru Vignarajah.

His morning program was funded by a variety of sponsors over the years, most recently by Acme Paper & Supply Company. Basu said he received quarterly payments from WYPR and that his financial support of the station through Sage Policy Group’s underwriting meant “I was basically giving away content for free.”

Basu said he had a sense his time at the station was coming to an end after shake-ups in station management earlier this year, but that he was surprised his tenure ended so soon.

“When we were a young company, to be on the radio was really terrific from the perspective of becoming more visible,” he said. “But now that we have relatively few clients in Maryland, it became a labor of love that had very little to do with the company, and more to do with the fact that I love to bring economic news data and analysis to our audience.”

He said management told him that listeners wanted more news breaks rather than special segments.

In a statement, WYPR CEO and president LaFontaine Oliver said the station is “working hard to provide more real estate for original reporting from our growing award-winning newsroom and our new partner, The Baltimore Banner.”

Basu said he would have continued doing the programs for a few years. “To a certain extent, there’s sour grapes here,” he said.