Coming up dry in search for sense in Sandy aid denial

Obama had little to lose in helping Maryland counties damaged by storm

Trying to make sense of the Obama administration denying federal relief to Maryland for the flooding and other damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, and I'm coming up dry.

No one besides maybe Grover Norquist would have beefed had Maryland picked up a few million bucks to help some homeowners in the Eastern Shore counties of Worcester, Somerset and Dorchester. There are, however, howls about the denial.

The damage was limited here, but it was concentrated and significant, certainly enough to justify some help. Plus, this is a blue state with a Democratic governor and two Democratic U.S. senators, one of whom gets very loud when she gets ticked off. Why would President Obama go along with this denial?

Was it because Dorchester and Worcester counties went for Mitt Romney in the election a week after Sandy? Or because Sandy hit Maryland's only Republican congressional district, the one represented by conservative Rep. Andy Harris?

Hey, I'm just sayin'.

If you doubt the Obama administration would play politics with disaster relief — that President Nice would never, ever do a thing like that — then we go back to my premise: The president had nothing to lose by throwing a few million to Maryland, where 62 percent of the electorate voted for him. Makes no sense.

More about parking in Ellicott City

I need to revisit a couple of earlier columns.

The lead item Tuesday was about the $35 parking ticket Debbie Bakalich received in Ellicott City after spending several hundred dollars on holiday shopping and lunch there.

Parking meters are a nuisance and have become more expensive; they seem to be more about "revenue enhancement" than about parking control. I tend to be jaded about this because of personal experiences and observations in Baltimore; meters in the city are often placed, with nonsensical two-hour limits, in areas where a rapid turnover of spaces isn't a particularly pressing need. Also, meter readers allow no grace period (not even five minutes, from what I see) when they spot an about-to-expire meter.

Such is life — death, taxes and paying to park.

Parking fines are a particular nuisance when local merchants and politicians encourage shoppers to spend their money at local stores and in local bars and restaurants, which was the nature of the complaint lodged by Debbie Bakalich after her trip to Ellicott City. I let her vent about it in Tuesday's column.

But to be fair, I should note that, while Bakalich got nailed for an expired two-hour meter on Main Street, she had other parking choices, and they would have been free.

This was pointed out in an appropriately grumpy email from David Nitkin, a former Sun editor who now works for Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.

Last month, Ulman rolled out a new parking plan for Ellicott City that included a free smartphone parking app, making it easier for visitors to find available spaces.

"There are roughly 600 parking spaces in downtown Ellicott City — on the street and spread among six lots," Nitkin wrote. "Sixty percent of them are free, 40 percent are metered. This holiday season, County Exec Ken Ulman suspended the meters for the longest period ever — from the day after Thanksgiving to the day after New Years — to encourage shopping.

"The spaces lining Main Street are the most valuable, and there is a two-hour limit there. Those rules remain in effect through the holidays: Obviously, it's good for merchants to have more turnover," Nitkin wrote. "It's sad that despite all our efforts — free parking, a cool new app to direct people to spaces, lots of attention and investment downtown — no good deed goes unpunished."

"Again, just FYI," Nitkin wrote, in case we didn't get the point. "Ellicott City is really not the poster child for bad treatment during the holidays."

Nobody said it was.

Still, for one day — Nov. 24, Small Business Saturday — the county could have been even more generous and declared a parking meter holiday on Main Street.

Of course, maybe now Debbie Bakalich has learned her lesson about shopping and parking in Ellicott City. Then again, maybe she won't go back.

More about groundhogs in Federal Hill

In another recent column about a groundhog that managed to get to the heart of the city, to a backyard in Federal Hill, I said that gentrified neighborhood was bordered on one side by water. In fact, Federal Hill has water on two sides, the north and east, which makes groundhog migration there even more difficult than I described.

Also, reader Joe Wehberg wrote to say he didn't think a groundhog in Federal Hill was so odd because he's seen them just to the south, across the tracks in Port Covington. "I saw one recently near the Sunpapers printing plant that had to weigh 75 pounds," Wehberg said. "When the thing stood on his back legs, he looked like a small brown bear cub."

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

 
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