One Year In Florida

ducks for blog

THE DUCKS THINK THIS BRIDGE WILL TAKE THEM ACROSS THE BORDER TO CANADA. 

As of Aug. 1, I’ve been a Florida resident for one full year! Driver’s license, car registration, voter registration, all accomplished within the first couple of months. Survived my first hurricane, too. Last week, I signed a lease renewal. Small rent increase, now will pay $699 a month. And my typical electric bill is around $46. Zero commuting time and distance.

Won’t try to write a full account of the year, but if I did, it wouldn’t be long. Compared with the first nine months of 2017, which included putting my financial house in order and removing myself from Maryland to Florida, the past 12 months have been a walk in the park.

I met the neighbors in the other three apartments on my floor. Three lone individuals, like me. I speak to one of them nearly every day. Big improvement over the $900 basement apartment in wealthy Montgomery County, where my neighbors were the storage room, the trash room, and the laundry room.

I soon discovered two excellent public libraries and one big bookstore with excellent discounts. And I tried a few churches. Like everyone else, I shop at Publix supermarket and Walmart. Four cheap restaurants are nearby. They meet my need for simple food and ambiance. But I eat in the apartment a lot. I know where to recycle newspapers and aluminum cans, but not plastic bottles.

Each apartment has its own air conditioner outside. My unit died in early July. No problem. Apartment management installed a window unit to tide me over two days while a new outside air conditioner was installed. It is powerful and efficient. Inside air temperature is NOT a problem, I can assure you! The outdoor temperature, humidity and rain in summer, that’s another story. Don’t even want to talk about it.

You have not seen lightning until you’ve lived in the Tampa Bay region.

Full disclosure requires me to report that I turned 70 in June. I’ve been aging at an alarming rate the past few years. Sleep too much. I accomplished the move to Florida on adrenaline fumes. Did it in the nick of time; not sure I’d be able to manage such a feat five years hence.

Truth is, I’m well on the way to becoming a cynical old man. Possibly I’ve already arrived. If a man isn’t cynical at this point, he just hasn’t been paying attention.

The move to Florida was necessary, and possibly life-saving. I escaped the nasty winter cold and the impoverishing Montgomery County cost of living. I haven’t had bronchitis since departing Maryland. Here on the Gulf Coast of Florida, I survive nicely and balance my budget. And that’s enough honesty for one blog post.

— John

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Gaithersburg Is Most Diverse Small City In America, And Don’t Forget Silver Spring, Germantown and Rockville

How diverse is Gaithersburg?  Go ahead, take a guess.

MAP OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MD, SHOWS GERMANTOWN AT THE NORTH END OF A PROPOSED TRANSIT LINE, THEN, GOING SOUTH, GAITHERSBURG AND ROCKVILLE, AND SILVER SPRING, NEAR THE D.C. LINE.

MAP OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MD, SHOWS GERMANTOWN AT THE NORTH END OF A PROPOSED TRANSIT LINE (green line) AND GOING SOUTH, GAITHERSBURG AND ROCKVILLE. SILVER SPRING IS AT THE SOUTHCENTRAL AND SOUTHWEST CORNER OF THE MAP, NEAR THE D.C. LINE.

Gaithersburg is the most diverse small city in America. Number One in diversity out of more than 300 cities, according to Wallethub.com!   Continue reading

AARP Online Retirement Livability Index

A new AARP Livability Index can tell you how your city or town (or the place you’re thinking about relocating) ranks as a place to live and grow older. The Livability Index, which can rate practically any neighborhood in the U.S., goes live this week, according to The Washington Post and a host of other mainstream media outlets. You can find it at aarp.org/livabilityindex. (Interestingly, many MSM sources fail to give the url for the new AARP tool.)

AARP describes the new resource as follows:

“The Livability Index is a signature initiative of the Public Policy Institute to measure the quality of life in American communities across multiple dimensions: housing, transportation, neighborhood characteristics, environment, health, opportunity, and civic and social engagement.

An interactive, easily navigated website, the Livability Index allows users to compare communities, adjust scores based on personal preferences and learn how to take action to make their own communities move livable.”

I entered my Maryland zip code into the system and found out in about half a second that my Gaithersburg neighborhood rates 59 on a scale of zero to 100. I also received specific ratings on the following livability measures:

  • Housing (affordability and access)
  • Transportation (safe and convenient options)
  • Environment (clean air and water)
  • Health (prevention, access and quality)
  • Engagement (civic and social involvement)
  • Opportunity (inclusion and possibilities)

Housing in my neighborhood rates a measly 36. Not a surprise to me. I already know that generally speaking, you can’t buy or rent a home in Montgomery County, MD, unless you’re affluent. You need two middle-class incomes or one high income to support a family here. (That’s why I’m researching communities in Florida. The cost of living in many parts of Florida is quite reasonable, compared to the Maryland suburbs. Needless to say, the AARP Livability Index will be a great help in my search.)

On the positive side, my neighborhood rates high in Health (79), and gets pretty good scores of 64 on both Neighborhood and Engagement. (I’m doubtful about the high rating for Engagement. If AARP considered voter turnout in the last election, we would rank much lower.)

Transportation rates 56. Even if you own a car, that’s an optimistic number. The Washington, D.C. area is notorious for rush hour traffic. If you depend on public transportation, I dunno. My part of Montgomery County is past the end of the line for the Metro subway. And Metro overall? I don’t have to ride the subway every day, and I’m glad I don’t. MARC commuter trains are good if both your home and workplace are near a rail station.

The transportation score could go up or way down in the future, depending on whether our leaders and voters are willing to fund plans for the Purple Line in the southern parts of Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties, and Bus Rapid Transit in northern Montgomery.

Take a look at the AARP Livability Index. How does your hometown rate? Are your civic leaders going to be bragging, or running for cover?

— John Hayden

The Future Of Air Transportation in Montgomery County

What can be done to meet the present and future needs of Montgomery County citizens and businesses for air transportation?  Continue reading

Maryland 2014 Election Lessons, Part 3. Democratic Turnout

(Updated 11-16-2014 to include alternative solutions in the conclusion.)

It’s past time for Democratic leaders in Montgomery County to snap out of their funk over the amazing shrinking turnout of MoCo voters.  Continue reading

Maryland Democrats Snooze Three Weeks Before Election

The election is three weeks from today. Why does my Democratic gut feel like it needs an Alka-Seltzer?

This is the saddest year for Maryland Democrats since Spiro Agnew won the governor’s mansion. At least Bob Ehrlich was a seasoned Maryland politician with years of service in Congress and the General Assembly. Who is this year’s Republican candidate? He’s the son of someone by the same name who was a congressman when I was a teenager, in the last century.

This year, we have two candidates who look sort of gubernatorial, no election for the U.S. Senate, and no contest in any of the state’s eight congressional districts. In Montgomery County, my home county and the largest jurisdiction in Maryland, there’s no visible sign of an impending election. I mean “no sign” literally. You see a few lonely lawns sprouting signs for Republicans. But Democratic signs, nada. And why should there be? Ike Leggett has a lock on the county executive’s office and nine Democratic council candidates are cruising to Election Day on automatic pilot. It’s no wonder the voters are disconnected. This is no way to run a democracy.

Not a single political message in my mailbox since the primary. (Email is a different story. Messages every day from Democrats begging for contributions.) The only candidate to be seen or heard from in Montgomery is Robin Ficker.  Seriously, Ficker is the only candidate I’ve seen since the June primary. I attended three Saturday-night outdoor concerts at Black Rock Theater in Germantown during the summer, and Ficker was working the crowd all three times. I seriously doubt, BTW, that Ficker can win, but stranger things have happened. If any Republican has a snowball’s chance in MoCo in 2014, it would have to be Ficker.

I chalk up the political disinterest to two factors.

First, there’s not a single exciting contest to stir the voters’ blood, not in MoCo, and not in Prince George’s County or Baltimore City, the state’s two other Democratic redoubts. If anyone knows of a General Assembly cliffhanger in Central Maryland, please let me know.

The second reason is related to the first. The Democratic Party in MoCo, P.G., and The City is the victim of its own success. Democrats so dominate politics in the big three that all suspense, energy and conflict has been drained from the system. Could you write a good novel or screenplay without CONFLICT?

Without conflict, there is no story. If there is any conflict left in the Big Three, it would be in the primaries, not the General Election. Alas, the entrenchment and almost certain re-election of Democratic incumbents in the local and legislative races has drained excitement even from the primaries. The turnout in June’s Maryland primary is Exhibit A.

With the days ticking down to the start of Early Voting, and the electorate snoozing, a Republican has been creeping slowly up behind the Democrat in the only statewide race that matters, the governor’s race. The candidates are Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the Democrat who should be the runaway favorite; and Republican Larry Hogan, who unlike Agnew, Ellen Sauerbrey and Bob Ehrlich, the other serious Republicans to run for governor in modern history, has never held elective office.

That’s right. Agnew was county executive of Baltimore County, at that time one of the three most populous jurisdictions. Sauerbrey was minority leader in the House of Delegates, and Ehrlich was a congressman. What are Larry Hogan’s credentials? I can think of two: Hogan looks old enough to be governor, and he promises to cut taxes. Now, even Brown, the Democrat, is promising no new taxes.

Taxes is the only issue on the voter’s minds this election season. I’ve been making some phone calls to voters — a lot of phone calls, actually. When I ask about issues, the answer is taxes. It’s the next thing to unanimous. I’m calling on behalf of a Democratic candidate on the Eastern Shore, where Red Republicans are thick as mosquitoes, but Democrats and unaffiliated voters in the Blue counties have nearly as much antipathy to taxes this year. Just ask Brown.

So there you have it. Democrats in Central Maryland are in a self-induced coma. Republicans in the provinces are hopping mad, as always. I don’t think it will happen, but we could wake up with a Republican governor on Nov. 5.

— John Hayden

Montgomery County Issues Fake Algebra Scores And Altered Report Cards

A story in Sunday’s Washington Post alleges that Montgomery County school officials added 15 percentage points to high school Algebra 1 math scores. Why? Because the vast majority of students failed the final exam, that’s why.

School officials provided a variety of excuses for the abysmal test results, and then simply tacked on an extra 15 percentage points to raise the failure rate from 82 percent to only 68 percent, according to the Post story  by Donna St. George. Based on the new, improved, fake scores, 623 additional students in MoCo high schools suddenly passed the test.

To celebrate, the schools printed new, improved report cards, which were mailed out three days late. (I’m not making this up. You can read the story in hard copy in the Metro section, page C3, June 29, 2014.)

Hurray for Montgomery County! Another great accomplishment for our heralded public school system.

The Post story provides additional information, but leaves unanswered a host of important educational questions. Do county test scores  have any integrity? Any validity? Is there any possible way of knowing if test scores reflect student learning or teacher performance? Who shredded the original report cards? Is there any cure for my early onset cynicism?

Taking this dystopian fantasy a step further, are test scores tabulated on the same computers used to count votes in county elections? Or the same computers used to project the traffic impact of high-density development?

Maybe the Post story is in error? Maybe I’ve terribly misrepresented the story? Can anyone provide a believable explanation?

Alternatively, can anyone provide an entertaining fictional explanation? The comment space below is available free to creative minds. No word count limit. The prize for the best entry is a week of substitute teaching in a ninth-grade algebra class.

— John Hayden

Cheryl Kagan Wins District 17 Senate Race; Paper-Thin Margins In Delegate Race

Cheryl Kagan won a close and nasty race for State Senate in District 17 Tuesday with 4,335 votes, defeating Del. Luiz Simmons, who had 3,629 votes. The margin of victory was Kagan, 54.43 percent, Simmons 45.57 percent. All results reported by the Maryland Election Board late Tuesday night are unofficial.

The campaign deteriorated in the final weeks into an exchange of negative advertising by the two candidates.

Kagan, a former delegate, lost to Sen. Jennie Forehand by a narrow margin four years ago. This year, Sen. Forehand opted to retire, setting up the contest between Kagan and Simmons.

(Note: Delegate vote totals below updated at 5 a.m. Wednesday.)

Del. Kumar Barve was the clear winner in the six-way contest for three District 17 seats in the House of Delegates, with 5,344 votes, or 25.49 percent. District 17 includes Gaithersburg and Rockville in the heart of Montgomery County.

First-time candidate Andrew Platt was in second place with 4,274 votes, edging past Del. Jim Gilchrist, who had 4,250, for the third seat.

Former Rockville mayor Susan Hoffman appears to have failed to win a seat by a margin of just 113 votes. She had 4,137 votes.

Platt, Gilchrist and Hoffman were locked in a nail-biter all evening, with each pulling about 20 percent of the vote.

The percentages at 5 a.m. are: Platt, 20.39 percent, Gilchrist, 20.27 percent, and Hoffman, 19.73 percent.

It’s not unusual for delegate races in Montgomery County to be decided by 400 votes, or even 300, but 113 votes is almost too close to call, in my opinion. It’s possible that the outcome could be changed by the absentee and provisional ballots, which will not be counted for several weeks. Is there any way to do a recount or an audit on the county’s paperless, high-tech voting system?

The trailing candidates in District 17 were Laurie-Anne Sayles, with 2,227 votes, and George Zamora.

— John Hayden

In Montgomery County, Incumbents Prevail

Tuesday was a very good primary election day for incumbents in Montgomery County. Unless I missed something in the General Assembly races, every Democratic incumbent running for re-election was a winner. There are no Republican incumbents in MoCo.

Do incumbents have tenure? Are Montgomery County voters that delighted with the status quo?

County Executive Ike Leggett was re-elected by a wide margin over Doug Duncan and Phil Andrews. All incumbent County Council members on the ballot were re-elected by safe margins.

In the two open Montgomery County district seats, Sidney Katz led three other candidates in District 3, and Tom Hucker narrowly edged Evan Glass in District 5. The District 5 contest is close enough that it could be affected by absentee and provisional ballots.

Marc Elrich led the field for the four at-large Council seats, with 53,394 votes, followed by incumbents Nancy Floreen, Hans Riemer and George Leventhal, in that order. Elrich’s coattails were not long enough to pull Beth Daly across the finish line. Daly failed to win a Council seat, finishing fifth and trailing Leventhal by about 6,000 votes. Vivian Malloy finished sixth.

In District 1, Roger Berliner won re-election by a landslide over former Council Member Dutchy Trachtenberg. Craig Rice easily won re-election in District 2, and Nancy Navarro was unopposed in District 3.

— John Hayden

Maryland League of Conservation Voters Endorsements Map

The Maryland League of Conservation Voters map of endorsed candidates is here. Easy to click on your own legislative district for endorsements.

Most of the Maryland General Assembly candidate endorsements are clustered in the Baltimore-Washington urban-suburban area.

The ONLY Eastern Shore GA candidate endorsed is Judy Davis, a Democrat running for the new open seat in District 38C (Ocean City, Ocean Pines, N. Worcester County and NE Wicomico County.)

I’m shore that Judy Davis would welcome campaign contributions from loyal Democrats and green voters. Her motto, “Teacher, Mother, Volunteer.”  (This message has not been authorized or approved by any candidate. Just sayn’)

Del. Norm Conway in District 38B has won environmental group endorsements in the past, but was not selected by the League of Conservation Voters this year.

And in other environmental news, the Green Party of Montgomery County has released a scorecard on how members of the Montgomery County Council voted, 2011-2014. You can see the scorecard here.

Marc Ehrlich is the only MoCo council member to earn a 100 percent rating from the Green Party. He’s followed by Nancy Navarro with 88 percent, and Phil Andrews and Roger Berliner both at 75 percent. And so on. Nancy Floreen earned the lowest rating from the Green Party, with 25 percent.

— John Hayden