Trump’s Secret

August 13th, 2017

For months now, actually the last two years, I have been puzzled by a persistent, troubling question:
What is Donald Trump hiding?
Through the tumult of the first six months of the Trump White House, through all the resignations and firings, from National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to the spectacular flameout of Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, aka “The Mooch,” I have asked myself:
What is Donald Trump keeping from us?
I first started to wonder at the outset of his presidential campaign when he refused to release his income tax returns.
What was in there that was so damaging?
Was he simply not as rich as he claimed? Or, would his returns demonstrate, contrary to what he has said publicly, that he is or has been deeply indebted to Russian creditors with connections to the Kremlin? Would the returns reveal that the Trump real estate empire is a house of cards, staggering under mountains of debt? Or, more embarrassing politically, would we discover that the real estate mogul has paid few if any taxes over the years?
Obviously, there had to be sensitive material in his income tax returns. Why else would he stubbornly refuse to release them?
The same fundamental question – what is he hiding? – came to mind again and again as Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, tweeted out his fury at the appointment of Robert Mueller as special prosecutor and railed against Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the probe into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with the Russians.
The whole “Russia thing,” as the President derisively describes it, has clearly gotten under his skin. Why?
There is, after all, no hard, public evidence so far that Donald Trump personally colluded with the Russians during or after the campaign.
His family is a different matter. His son, Don Jr., clearly colluded when he famously met with the Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton; and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, may well have had improper conversations with the Russian Ambassador and a Kremlin-connected Russian banker.
But again, it is not clear yet that a specific, prosecutable crime was committed. President Trump may or may not be guilty of obstruction of justice, but that is up to Special Counselor Mueller to determine with his investigation.
What explains the President’s furious reaction when reports emerged that Mueller was looking into his past financial transactions? Why did President Trump angrily declare that whole area of his life out of bounds?
The President is clearly, deeply worried about something . Worried to the point of musing aloud about firing Sessions and Mueller and considering pardoning his aides and family members and even himself, if that is legally possible.
Who would even consider such high-risk options that are guaranteed to create a political firestorm and could easily prompt calls for his impeachment? Only a President who feels his back is against the wall. Only a President who fears that the Mueller investigation could bring him or his family members down.
In recent days, we have learned that the Special Counsel has empanelled multiple grand juries that are looking into Trump’s financial dealings and any and all contacts his campaign had with Russians before, during and after the campaign. So stay tuned. We may finally get some answers.

Cap’n Jack and His Missing Crosses

July 20th, 2017

It was a tantalizing find, a possible solution to a four-century-old mystery, and it sent a shiver of excitement through the small band of obsessive amateur historians that continue to search for artifacts from Captain John Smith’s legendary voyages of exploration of the Chesapeake Bay in 1608.
The discovery, in June, 2010, by Maryland archeologist Darrin Lowery, on Mockhorn Island, a marshy expanse on the Atlantic side of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, was a small, metal Maltese cross.
Dr. Lowery, who has turned up more than 700 ancient artifacts in his extensive field work, was immediately intrigued when a colleague literally stepped on the cross at low tide. The object caught his eye because it resembled the Maltese design of the 27 crosses that Captain Smith depicted on his famous map of the Bay to mark the highpoints of his explorations.
Smith wrote in his journal and histories that he carved crosses into trees and nailed up brass versions of the cross “to signify to any that Englishmen had been there.” In effect, he was stamping it “Property of England.”
Historians and enthusiasts have been searching for the famous crosses for 400-plus years. Now, on a hot, sticky June day, with insects biting at his ankles, Lowery was looking excitedly at a metal Maltese cross on a site that his research had proved was Smith’s first landfall at the outset of his 1608 exploration voyage.
“Of course I was intrigued,” he said, with admirable understatement. This, potentially, was the Holy Grail of Chesapeake colonial research. He sent it to be analyzed and dated by experts at the Smithsonian Institutions and later at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources in Richmond, a process that proceeded at an academic pace, meaning years.

Captain John Smith’s explorations of the Chesapeake Bay four centuries ago have captured the imagination of generations of enthusiasts who have read his journals and writings and poured over his extraordinarily accurate map of the Bay. I confess I am one of them. My curiosity was piqued in 2007, when I re-traced Captain Smith’s routes around the Bay for a cover story for The Smithsonian magazine.
It was a grand journey, from Jamestown to Havre de Grace, with lots of side excursions. Four centuries earlier, Cap’n Jack, as I came to think of him fondly, even though we are not related, had sailed and rowed the broad waters and nooks and crannies of the Bay with a dozen men in an open boat known as a shallop, braving storms and hostile natives. As a modern-day softie, I covered most of it in a friend’s lovely yacht.
Following his extraordinarily accurate map and guided by his keenly-observed journal, I came to admire Cap’n Jack for his courage, determination and resourcefulness, even though some of the settlers at Jamestown apparently considered him to be an arrogant little braggart.
And, like so many others, I wondered: what became of the famous crosses? I consulted Edward Wright Haile, poet, surveyor and author of the elegant “John Smith in the Chesapeake,” who, with historian and author Connie Lapallo, spearheads the John Smith Cross Project of the Chesapeake Conservancy, a partner organization with the National Park Service in developing the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, better known as the Water Trail. Working together, they have established 15 stone markers where Cap’n Jack put his crosses, and have more to go.
So, where are the crosses today? “Obviously, I don’t know,” Haile said. “They may exist in someone’s attic, or, very possibly, the Indians took the brass crosses and melted them down or converted them to their own uses. We still hope to find out.”
Meanwhile, what of the Mockhorn Island cross? Is it an authentic John Smith cross?
“No, definitely not,” said Darrin Lowery, who told me he had had finally heard from the experts in Richmond, who had subjected his find to all manner of tests.
“They told me it is old, but not that old,” he said. “They think it may be part of a horse’s bridle that fell off and got buried. Or something else. But it’s not John Smith’s.”
So, 410 years after Cap’n Jack set out to explore the Bay and nailed his crosses, the great Chesapeake mystery continues.

Six Days of War

June 5th, 2017

Shortly after dawn on the hot, dry morning of June 5, 1967, Israel launched a momentous battle with her Arab neighbors that came to be known as the Six Day War.
In the course of six frantic days, responding to Egypt’s closing of her access to the Red Sea, Israel captured the Sinai, East Jerusalem and the West Bank and the Golan Heights of Syria, redrawing the map and the power structure of the Middle East. The war created a stalemate in Jerusalem and on the West Bank that persists to this day, half a century later. It is the same standoff between Israelis and the Palestinians that confronted President Trump on his recent visit.
I covered the battle for Jerusalem and the West Bank as an incredibly green, inexperienced correspondent for The New York Times. I had arrived in Israel just 10 days before to take up my first foreign assignment and knew … absolutely nothing.
Scrambling after the Israeli tanks in a rented car, I followed the first units inside the ancient walled Old City of Jerusalem on foot as they took control of the broad, open space the Arabs call the Noble sanctuary and Jews call the Temple Mount. Suddenly, the exhausted troops were face to face with the holiest site in Judaism, the western retaining wall of the Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.
It was an extraordinary moment that I described in an article that The Times headlined: “Israelis Weep and Pray Beside Wailing Wall.” In truth, the more observant soldiers prayed, while the more secular slumped in the shade to avoid a broiling sun. But no one, religious or secular, failed to realize that they were living history. It was the first time Jews had control of the Temple Mount in 2,000 years.
The battle for Jerusalem and the West Bank was fierce, but it was largely over in 96 hours. Israel had won the war, but not the peace. A settlement with the Palestinians is still beyond their reach 50 years later.
Israelis and Palestinians alike were stunned by the speed of the war and the outcome. Two peoples who had been separated by the so-called “Green Line” and a narrow no-man’s land were suddenly face-to-face.
Both sides were intensely curious about the other.
As soon as they could, Israelis poured into the walled Old City. Curiosity — and the human instinct for bargains — drove them into the Palestinian shops. The shelves on the Jordanian side were stocked with duty-free electronics and small luxuries unavailable in high-tariff Israel. The bargains flew off the shelves.
As soon as they could, Palestinians explored Israeli West Jerusalem and beyond.
In the process of getting to know each other in the first weeks after the war, Palestinians discovered that Israelis were not, in fact, 10 feet tall; Israelis found that Palestinians were not, in fact, all cut-throats.
It was not all sweetness and light – blood had been spilled. But there was a shared assumption that, because the Israeli victory had been so total, that this time there would be a settlement of some sort, maybe even a peace agreement.
It was not to be.
By the fall of 1967, the leaders of the Arab states met in Khartoum and agreed on their famous three no’s: “No negotiation, no recognition, no peace” with Israel.
At the same time, the first Jewish settlers established a rump settlement in a hotel in Hebron on the West Bank, insisting on their biblical right to the land and vowing not to leave. They were the first settlers, but hardly the last: there are some 400,000 Israelis settlers on the West Bank today and 350,000 more in East Jerusalem. They are determined not to leave.
So, all the elements of a stubborn standoff were in place before the year was out.
They are still in place 50 years later.

Chesapeake Bay in Trump’s Crosshairs

May 14th, 2017

The Chesapeake Bay had a good week last week.

The annual report card on the Bay’s overall health from the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) showed significant improvement, one-design sailboats from around the nation had a rollicking regatta in the waters off Annapolis, and just days before that, Congress preserved funds for the Chesapeake Bay Program for the balance of the fiscal year.

Nothing in Washington is permanent, of course, so the budget battle will resume in September for FY2018 and the Trump Administration is still threatening to zero-out the $73 million annual appropriation for the Chesapeake Bay Program, which is headquartered in Annapolis.

The White House has other environmental programs in its budget crosshairs as well. It is calling for substantial reductions in funding for the E.P.A, NOAA and the intricate network of federal agencies that together allocate more than $500 million a year to the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay’s waters and fisheries.  Congressional members from Maryland and Virginia will do what they can to preserve the federal funds, but some sort of a fiscal haircut seems likely come September.

The painful irony is that this assault on the nation’s environmental programs comes just as the Bay and its tributaries seem to be turning the corner. The UMCES report found that, after decades of work, the largest estuary in the nation is making a steady, measurable recovery.

The Bay earned an overall grade of C on the 2016 UMCES report card: not dean’s list, perhaps, but one of the highest scores recorded in years.  (Unfortunately, Anne Arundel County’s sluggish rivers lagged behind with a D+.)  The Fisheries Index, made up of blue crab, striped bass and bay anchovies, rebounded to an A, a dramatic sign that the restoration effort is working.

The Trump Administration took no notice, however, and promised to redouble its budget-cutting efforts. The Trump formula: billions more for rebuilding the military and national security, sharp reductions in “discretionary” spending, including the environment.

“I do not think Donald Trump connects with the environment if he cannot play golf on it, or own it,’ said Dr. Thomas Miller, the director of the  Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, an arm of UMCES in Solomons Island. “I sense a profound lack of interest in environmental issues as president and personally throughout his career as a developer.”

Miller worries that if the Chesapeake Bay Program is eliminated or even substantially trimmed, it will no longer be able to monitor the progress being made by the six states and District of Columbia that make up the 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed. Under the terms of the 2014 Chesapeake Watershed Agreement, the states committed themselves to make major progress towards cleaning up the Bay by 2025. It is the Chesapeake Bay Program that coordinates and monitors their efforts to insure that they live up to their commitments.

Tom Horton, the Eastern Shore journalist and author that many regard as the bard of the Bay, is concerned that if the federal funds supporting this effort are cut, the individual states will not make up the difference.  “You can’t assume that the states will pick up the slack,” he said, “Pennsylvania is already struggling to find the money to do what it is committed to do.”

Horton doubts that the Trump Administration, despite its threats, will succeed in eliminating the Chesapeake Bay Program in 2018, but, he said,  “even a modest cut sends a signal that says: ‘don’t bother about the Bay.’”

One statistic might give the Trump budget-cutters pause: a healthy Chesapeake Bay is an economic engine that generates over 5,000 seafood industry jobs and an annual income of $56 million. Altogether, the watershed’s regional economy provides 8.3 million jobs and an annual income of almost $400 billion.

Real money, as they say, even in today’s Washington.

They Also Serve……

April 10th, 2017

The jury summons came in the mail, posing the classic dilemma: do my civic duty, or try to weasel out?
This time, at least, I opted for duty and showed up at Circuit Court on Church Circle in Annapolis at the appointed hour.
8:00 a.m. Checked into the jury room and was promptly given three crisp $5 bills, my juror’s per diem. A total of 180 jurors has been summoned on this day. We are seated in long rows of chairs facing a lectern flanked by flags.
8:10 a.m. A 14-minute video, complete with music, entitled “You the Jury” plays on the two large television monitors in the jury waiting room,
8:25 a.m. Marci Mustachio, the Jury Commissioner, comes to the lectern to announce that there are 16 criminal cases on the docket today in which the defendants may, or may not, ask to be judged by a jury of their peers. So, she says, enjoy the television or check out the library, which she warns is mostly stocked with romance novels. The jurors start to get restless, wondering if we are going to get a trial or just wait.
8:30 a.m. Bailiff announces that it is going to take time to work through the docket, so we get our first break, until 9 a.m. Entire juror pool troops to the cafeteria, where a small coffee, “Columbia Bold,” goes for $1.44, the “egg and meat” sandwich, $3.45.
8:45 a.m. “CBS This Morning” is on the television. Feature entitled “Kung Fu Writing” tells us that Bruce Lee’s new memoir “packs a philosophical punch.” Charlie Rose looks dubious.
9:05 a.m. Judge Mark Crooks addresses the jurors and gets a nice laugh about his last name. He thanks us for our service and tells us that “seeing you here this morning restores my faith in democracy.” Jurors smile and shift in their seats, getting more restless.
9:15 a.m. “Today” is on the TV. Weatherman Al Roker, wearing a Northern Michigan Wildcats sweatshirt, is bounding about the set wildly excited about something. Jurors are not wildly excited.
9:45 a.m. Bailiff announces 20-minute break, explaining that the Judge is till working through the docket. The wheels of justice are grinding slowly. Man seated on my left groans, says: “I’ve got to call my office.” Woman in front row dozes off.
10:30 a.m. “Let’s Make a Deal” on TV. Contestants wildly excited. Jurors not.
10:45 a.m. Sudden activity! Bailiff summons 60 of the 180 jurors to empanel a jury in an armed robbery case. They troop out to the courtroom for voir dire, the selection process. The rest of us sit back and watch “The Price Is Right” on TV. Man seated on my right is grumpy: “If this was a business,” he growls, “they’d be bankrupt.”
11:15 a.m. Class dismissed! Bailiff announces that remaining 15 cases have either been settled or the defendants have chosen to have their fates decided by a judge alone. Jurors, delighted, head out the door.
For the next three days, as instructed by my summons, I call the Circuit Court recording after 5 p.m. to learn, with a mixture of relief and disappointment, that I am not needed the next day. Duty fulfilled. Sort of.
Frustrated and not a little bit annoyed by the whole process, I call Marci Mustachio to ask if, in this age of the internet and social media, there is not a more streamlined way to produce the jurors that the courts need and not keep hundreds of others waiting, watching daytime TV. Some 800 jurors were summoned this week, only a fraction of whom were empaneled on juries.
In essence, the cheerful Ms. Mustachio, says no, not really. On a typical day, two or three cases will require juries. She needs to be ready to meet the needs of the judges. Besides, jurors used to be kept on call for two weeks. Social media won’t work, she says, “because not everybody is on the internet. My father, for instance, wants no part of it.”
Also, neighbors who have actually served on juries report that it is a fascinating experience, well worth the time. One, who found the defendant guilty of a felony after a draining, four-day trial and two days of deliberation, described it as “an intensely human experience.”
Did he emerge thinking that justice had been done? I asked. Had the system worked? He thought about that for a minute and said: “Yes, in this case, it did.”

Media in the Age of Trump

March 12th, 2017

For news organizations, the early months of the Age of Trump have been, perversely, the best of times and the worst of times.
The worst, because of the 45th President’s vitriolic assault on the media as dishonest, disloyal “enemies of the people.”
The best, oddly, because the chaos surrounding the Trump ascension has given birth to some remarkable investigative reporting. The New York Times, the Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, especially, have been topping each other repeatedly with penetrating reports about the inner workings, conflicts and contradictions of the new Administration and – get this – people are paying for it. It is an on-going newspaper war in the best sense of the word.
And not just newspapers. The New Yorker magazine, renowned for its prose and commentary, has been breaking news about the curious and continuing Trump-Russian connections. The venerable Atlantic magazine, a monthly, has published an in-depth look at what it calls the autocratic aspects of Trumpism.
Most major organizations have beefed up their Washington and investigative staffs since election day. The New York Times has assigned six top reporters to cover the White House full-time. (When I was The Times’ chief White House correspondent in the 1970’s, I was “chief” of myself and one deputy.)
The Washington Post and CNN have added to the collective reporting muscle by building new investigative teams.
It is the best of times, as well, because readers and viewers have responded to the tumultuous times by forking over cash for subscriptions to the most reliable of the “lamestream” media, as Sarah Palin once dubbed them.
The Times, which has been struggling financially in recent years from a crippling loss of print advertising, is experiencing a remarkable surge. The Grey Lady added 300,000 new digital subscriptions since election day. The Washington Post has topped 300,000 paid digital subscriptions for the first time. The New Yorker has picked up 250,000 subscribers in the last three months. Subscriptions to The Atlantic were up 210 per cent in January over the same month the year before.
The timing is hardly coincidental.
These new readers are not just reacting to Trump’s attacks on the press; they are hungry for reliable journalism in an uncertain world. And they are paying for it. Stephen Colbert once dubbed it “truthiness,” and people want it.
The cable news networks, all of which have tasted Trump’s wrath at one time or another, are enjoying an across-the-board
ratings boost. Fox, Trump’s favorite, leads the pack, but even CNN, which the President has labeled “fake news,” is up sharply. Jeff Zucker, CNN’s worldwide president, calls it a “renaissance in American Journalism.”
Have there been mistakes and excesses in the coverage? Of course. But you will get a clearer picture of the Administration in the media than from Kelly Anne Conway and the other Trump spokespeople.
Incidentally, the other great beneficiaries of the Trump Bump have been Colbert, John Oliver and, of course, Saturday Night Live. Late night television satire has never been better – or more popular.
Meanwhile, the normally adversarial relationship between the press and the White House has descended into daily hostilities between Sean Spicer, the beleaguered press secretary, and the reporters who question him. The televised battles have become a daytime hit as Spicer gamely tries to defend his boss’s twitter outbursts.
It is hard at this point to see where all this chaos leads us. David Brooks doubts that Trump can last a year. But the President’s base seems solidly behind him and largely satisfied that he is fulfilling his campaign promises. The Republicans in Congress will not challenge him as long as they believe he will sign their agenda into law.
In the main, reporters have been keeping their heads down, doing their jobs, digging for the truth and, fortunately, not taking the Presidential attacks personally. Most realize it is not about them. This is not a popularity contest, which is a good thing, since neither side would win. But it is reminder that, as the old saying goes, “politics ain’t beanbag.”

News Obsessive Disorder

February 19th, 2017

Are you suffering from News Obsessive Disorder (NOD)?
Do the headlines out of our nation’s capital give you a headache? Does page-one make you anxious? Do you find yourself watching cable news non-stop?
You are not alone. NOD is endemic in the Age of Trump, and growing.
Fortunately, the doctor is in.
Valium might help, or Xanax. But the recommended remedy here is travel. Take a trip, a long trip, preferably outside the circulation area of your favorite paper, ideally to where the internet connection is spotty and wi-fi rare.
My wife and I recently sought such relief.
We left Annapolis on January 22, with the inauguration and Women’s March on the Mall and in Annapolis still ringing in our ears. We flew to Panama, boarded a ship, transited the Canal and turned south along the Pacific coasts of Ecuador, Peru and Chile, crossing the equator and basking in the full summer of the southern hemisphere. It was a speaking assignment for me on a cruise ship, a journey of some 8,500 miles in all, and it came at just the right time to detox from Trumpworld.
It is not a miracle cure for NOD, mind you. The news still gets through. The ship has a satellite that brings in some of the cable channels and sometimes the uplink to the internet works. But – here is the good news — as Washington slips further and further behind you, the headlines seem more remote, less immediate, less threatening.
South Americans know about Trump, of course, but they don’t obsess about him. They have their own worries. In Ecuador, they are still rebuilding from a terrible earthquake, in Peru there is a water shortage, in Chile, where they are in the fifth year of a drought, wild fires are raging.
On board the ship, when the satellite is working, the inescapable headlines from Washington tumble across the television screen: a blizzard of executive orders, a travel ban against Muslims that the President says is not really a travel ban against Muslims and that the courts say is illegal, the Alice-in-Wonderland comment from White House counselor Kelly Anne Conway that the Administration is not lying, but offering “alternative facts.”
President Trump holds phone conversations with a dozen world leaders and hangs up on some of them. Mexico is said to be furious, Australia confused and the French mystified.
Annapolis news is mystifying as well. The Capital Gazette website reports that Mayor Pantelides has fired the Annapolis police chief because he wants to go in a “new direction.” What is that all about?
Every day brings a new headline stranger than the day before. But as you sail further south, it all seems far away, like another planet. It is sunny and warm. You relax and read your book; your blood pressure goes down, you take a nap.
Eventually, the trip is over and you come home, back to the world of non-stop “Breaking News” about the chaos at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The television is on morning and night. NOD again.
Once again, you are drinking from a news fire hose: The President has fired his national security adviser after only 24 days in office, the billionaire he nominated for Labor Secretary is out before he was in, North Korea fires a missile, a Russian spy ship is off the coast of Connecticut. The scent of scandal is in the air.
On MSNBC, political director Chuck Todd warns: “Hunker down, this is a Category 5 political hurricane that’s hitting Washington.”
Then last Thursday, the President emerges in the East Room to give a 77-minute news conference like no other. It is mostly a rambling, disjointed assault on the news media, whom he loves and hates and loves to hate. NOD again.
Vacation over, it is time to pay attention and remember some hard realities: critical news about Trump is not “fake news,” leaks are not the problem, lies are. Truth is more important – and more difficult to discern – than ever. It is up to the viewer and reader to decide.
That’s unfair, I know, but in the Age of Trump and the era of “alternative facts,” that’s the way it is.

Terence Smith, who lives in Eastport, is a former White House correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News.

A Three-way Race for Mayor of Annapolis

January 15th, 2017

“Gavin 2017.” That was the bumper sticker I saw in a parking lot the other day. It was the first sign that the 2017 race for mayor of Annapolis is underway. Buckle up. It may get lively.

“Gavin” is Gavin Buckley, the outgoing 53-year-old owner of, it seems, most of the restaurants on West Street, including Metropolitan, Lemongrass, Tsunami, and Sailor. Born in South Africa, raised in Australia, Buckley is Annapolis’ Crocodile Dundee. He sailed into town 23 years ago from Bermuda and never left. He has already filed to run in the Democratic primary next September, hoping to challenge Republican Mayor Mike Pantelides, 33, who has declared for a second term.

State Sen. John Astle, 73, is probably running for the Democratic nomination as well.

“I’m thinking seriously about it,” he says, with a grin and a mischievous lilt in his voice that makes you think he’s made up his mind. “I’m giving it a good hard look.” That is the careful answer of a 22-year senator who is currently enmeshed in another legislative session and doesn’t have to file his papers until July 31.

So, 10 months before the balloting, three candidates are already raising money and shaking every hand they can find.

Who, you might ask, in his or her right mind would want to be the 137th mayor of Annapolis? Most of the mayor’s time is spent arguing with the eight-member City Council over nearly every issue that comes up: new developments, selling the golf course, even promoting the noisy spectacle known as the Nitro Circus. Everything is a battle, everything takes forever.
“This job is a struggle to get to five” votes, Mayor Pantelides explained, referring to the simple majority on the City Council necessary to get anything done. But, he quickly added last week, “I love the job. I enjoy meeting different people and I want to build on what we’ve accomplished in my first term.”

Besides, Pantelides has some $150,000 in his campaign account and no likely Republican opposition for the nomination. He has got much of the business community behind him and the wind at his back. He won by 59 votes last time, out of some 8,000, and plans to do better this time. “I’d be hard to beat for the Republican nomination,” he says cheerfully.

“I enjoyed the job,” says Ellen Moyer, mayor from 2001 to 2009. “I enjoyed helping people.” Then she adds: “But I don’t enjoy the lack of civility, the nastiness of the rhetoric and the character assassination that comes with it.”

Buckley doesn’t sound worried about that. He was inspired to run by his ongoing court battle with the Historic Preservation Commission over the modernist mural on the facade of Tsunami, one of his restaurants. He wants to stand up for freedom of expression and for the arts community. Beyond that, he wants to breathe some life into the city, re-imagine Main Street and City Dock and make Annapolis a draw, like Boulder, Colorado, or Asheville, North Carolina, or Austin, Texas, or Burlington, Vermont.

“I appreciate the city’s history,” he says, “but the historic buildings can be a backdrop to a lot of cool stuff” like music festivals, a cafe culture and, yes, murals. “The mayor should be the promoting officer for the city, its biggest promoter.”

Astle has lived in Annapolis for 46 years. “I love this city,” he says, “I’d like to fix the interior workings of the city, make its government work the way it should.” Describing himself with a smile as “a Democrat who loves dogs, guns and pickups,” he says his has been a life of service, as a Marine helicopter pilot in Vietnam, a pilot who flew the vice president for four years and retired as a colonel, a police officer in Baltimore, District 30 delegate for a dozen years and senator for 22.

Astle ran for mayor in 1981 and lost by 243 votes. Listening to him, you get the impression he’d like to correct that record.

Then there are the practical considerations: his last three Senate elections have been squeakers he won by less than 1 percent of the vote. He is sure to have strong Republican opposition if he tries again. And, he adds with a good-natured laugh, “It’d be a pay raise!”

A state senator makes $50,000, the mayor $98,000.

Sounds like we have a lively three-way race coming this year.

Campaign Autopsy: Clinton’s 1,000 Cuts

December 12th, 2016

A month after the most surreal, bizarre Presidential election in my lifetime, I find I have almost as many questions as answers.
Not about Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory, which seems clear, unless the Michigan recount and the Electors who actually cast their votes on December 19, decide otherwise.
Nor about Hillary Clinton’s defeat, which, in hindsight, I guess more of us should have seen coming.
Rather, my questions are about why:
Why did Trump win? What combination of the man, the moment, his message, his blatant manipulation of facts and brilliant self-marketing caused the upset?
Why did tens of millions of voters describe Trump as not qualified to be President and vote for him anyway?
Why did Clinton lose? What combination of the woman, the moment, her message and largely self-inflicted wounds caused the result?
Donald Trump’s victory is history-making and fascinating. To come from nowhere, politically, with no prior experience in elective office, little understanding of the issues or the world and a questionable personal reputation, especially with 52 per cent of the population, is nothing short of amazing.
Indisputably, Trump tapped into some deep-seated sentiments in the voting public, exploited them shamelessly and against all odds, pulled off the most remarkable electoral achievement in modern political history. He broke all the rules of American politics, and won. He lost the popular vote, but won the presidency.
Hillary Clinton’s loss is amazing as well.
Arguably the most qualified person to run for the presidency, with deep experience and an intimate knowledge of the issues confronting the nation, the support of her party and a vast campaign chest, she nonetheless lost. She played by the rules of American politics, and lost. She won the popular vote by more than 2 million votes, and lost.
It is not an easy answer. The question was put to 20-some veteran Democratic operatives, many of them White House alumni, at a private dinner Wednesday night in a plush, paneled dining room in Washington. It was a collective autopsy of a campaign they all expected to win. The mood was set at the outset by the host, who passed out “Emergency Canadian Residence Applications” as a gag.
Then, seated beneath a glowering portrait of a long-dead Civil War general, the guests were uniformly critical of the strategy and execution of the Clinton campaign. More in sadness than anger, they described a defeat inflicted by a thousand cuts.
In almost telegraphic shorthand, they ticked off the campaign’s failings: No message…took minorities and women for granted…essentially promised a third Obama term…assumed urban supporters would out-number rural opponents, as they had twice for Obama… failed to address economic concerns of white working class men…expected Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to be in the bag, and on and on.
Victory was always going to be tough, they said, given widespread Clinton fatigue…sclerosis of the Democratic Party…polarizing nature of the economic divide over the last 25 years…public disgust with “the establishment”…the challenge of a “change” election, etc.
Hillary herself came in for sharp criticism for mishandling her email controversy, the on-again FBI investigation, especially Director Comey’s bombshell 11 days before the vote, her sarcastic “basket of deplorables” and her remote style and reluctance to answer questions. She ran like a 20th-century candidate, it was said, in a 21st century election where all the old rules went out the window.
Then a single question stopped the conversation cold. Is it possible, one former senior official said ruefully, that running a woman candidate on the heels of the first black president may have been “a step too far” for the average American voter? “Not a pretty thought,” muttered one guest in the silence that followed.
As the dinner broke up, the guests consoled themselves with the thought that American politics have always been cyclical, that parties that seem devastated usually rise from the ashes, and that, as used to be said among enlisted men in the U.S. Army, nothing very good or very bad lasts very long.

Americans Afloat Choose Change

November 26th, 2016

Some cheered when Donald Trump went over the top, some groaned, some said it was the dawn of a new era, some said it was the end of history, some made comments not suitable for a family newspaper and just about everybody expressed shock.

Six hundred strong, they were part of a floating focus group aboard Crystal Symphony, one of two luxury cruise ships operated by Crystal Cruises, a top-rated company with the questionable judgment to engage me occasionally as a “World Affairs” lecturer, this time aboard a 16-day cruise from Miami to San Diego via the Panama Canal.

It was not a formal focus group, but it functioned as one, with discussions and panels on the campaign before and after Election Day. The group included 20 different nationalities, but the great majority were U.S. citizens and most said they had sent in absentee ballots or participated in early voting, as I did in Annapolis on Oct. 28, before boarding the ship a week before Election Day.

As Crystal Cruises guests, they were not typical; they are older, well-educated, affluent and mostly white. They included more Republicans than Democrats, more avowed conservatives than liberals, some open supporters of Donald Trump, some outspoken backers of Hillary Clinton and a fair number who said they didn’t like either candidate and couldn’t wait for the endless campaign to be over.

In a poll taken Friday, during a final panel discussion, they disclosed how they actually voted: 52 percent for Trump, 38 percent for Clinton and 10 percent for other candidates. It was a more lopsided pro-Trump tally than the national vote, but not different in the outcome. At the same time, a striking 47 percent said they did not believe the president-elect would keep his campaign promises. About 20 percent thought he could and would; the balance said “maybe.”
Using handheld devices, the audience indicated that it thought the most pressing issue in the new president’s in-box was the nomination of a new Supreme Court justice. The audience selected defeating ISIS and dealing with world terrorism as the most urgent foreign policy issue, and creating jobs, repairing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure and improving the educational system as the top domestic priorities. Donald Trump, take notice.

The passengers from other countries — they included Brits, Canadians, Australians, Latinos and representatives of perhaps a dozen European and Asian nations — seemed to follow the campaign and election every bit as closely as the Americans. To a person, they seemed shocked by the outcome and worried about the impact a Trump presidency might have on their countries and economies.
The Americans showed their political colors by which cable channel they chose to watch for the election night coverage, The ship stayed studiously neutral by putting CNN on the big screen in one theater and Fox News in another. MSNBC and two British channels — Sky News and the BBC — were available in the staterooms.

Most of the cheering came from the Fox crowd as it became clear that Trump would prevail. Most of the groans came from the CNN-watchers.

Even before Election Day, a man from Florida came up to me after a lecture on the campaign and said, “You know those people who won’t tell pollsters whether they support one candidate or the other and then vote for Trump? Well, I am one of those people. I voted for him before I left Florida.”

When I asked him to explain his choice, he said, “Change. We need change.”

A Florida woman, on the other hand, told me, “I’m a Republican who votes for Republicans. But not this time — not Trump. I couldn’t bring myself to vote for him.”

The Clinton enthusiasts were harshly critical of Trump before the election, calling him totally unqualified. After his victory, they were mostly subdued. “Aren’t you worried?” a woman asked me after Trump’s victory. “I am.”

I am, too.