Year-end wrap-up (with a quick jaunt to Romania)
While most Maryland legislators spent part of their holiday season preparing for January's General Assembly session, state Sen. Jim Rosapepe of College Park had a different agenda: hawking his autobiographical travel book about Romania on two continents.
He and co-author Sheilah Kast, a broadcast journalist and Rosapepe's wife, are having some success, too. Amazon is temporarily sold out. The book ranks No. 6 in Amazon's list of top sellers on Eastern European history.
The Kast-Rosapepe promotion tour has taken them to Washington, Baltimore, New York, London and the Romanian capital of Bucharest. They've created their own website for the book, which goes by the catchy title, "Dracula is Dead," and the ridiculously long subtitle, "How Romanians Survived Communism, Ended It, and Emerged since 1989 as the New Italy."
There's a bit of Maryland flavor in this enjoyable 412-page book detailing Jim and Sheilah's adventures in Romania between 1998 and 2001 while he was U.S. ambassador.
In "Teaching at Maryland, Living in Timisoara," they write about a visit from Don Langenberg, who was then chancellor of the University System of Maryland.
During their conversations, Langenberg "bragged about how fast the University of Maryland University College online program was growing" 50 percent a year. But Langenberg said a problem had cropped up: a lack of professors to teach one of the most popular courses computer science.
One thing led to another and pretty soon two Romanian computer science professors were visiting Adelphi for three weeks of training. In the fall of 2000, they started teaching online for UMUC from Romania.
Within months, UM officials returned to Bucharest and recruited over a dozen more online professors, who are paid exceptionally high wages by local standards for this task. By 2008, the Rosapepes write, Romania had more University College faculty "than any country except the U.S. and South Korea."
The other local vignette is titled, "From Pikesville to Constanta," and has a personal aspect for me. It concerns Rosapepe's efforts to convince Romanian authorities that they should return a seized mansion to its rightful owner, Jackie Waldman, who lives in northwest Baltimore County.
The issue was brought to Rosapepe's attention by then-U.S. Rep. Ben Cardin on a visit to Bucharest for a conference on European security. Waldman was Cardin's constituent and had been trying since the fall of communism in the early 1990s to reclaim her late father's four-story, 24-room Italianate house on a bluff overlooking the Black Sea.
She had won all the legal battles but the government kept fighting her. Built in the late 1930s by Waldman's father, a fruit importer, the mansion had been seized by the Nazis and fascists, used as its regional headquarters by the German Wehrmacht, converted into officer housing by the Soviet army, turned into a civil center for Romania's communist government and used by the secret police as a vacation spot.
Rosapepe explained the situation to Romania's interior minister and asked him to intervene. When Waldman won her next appeal, the government agreed to abide by the ruling.
The house Jackie Waldman had never been inside as a child was hers.
"In the years since, the Waldmans have visited every year and restored the house. Their son moved there full time and married a Romanian. They're living in the house their grandfather was thrown out of seven decades and two regimes ago."
Jackie Waldman, and her husband, Ed, were neighbors of mine when I was a teenager in Baltimore. We reconnected when Rosapepe hosted a reception on board a Romanian tall ship at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, and again at a Rosapepe book event at the city's Pratt Library.
She recently retired as a chemistry lecturer at Goucher College following a career as a neuropathology researcher at Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland medical schools. She invited me and probably many others to visit her in Constanta during her summer trips there. One of these days, I'd love to take her up on that offer, made possible by Rosapepe's effective constituent work on her behalf.
Finally, good fiscal news for Gov. Martin O'Malley just in time for the new year.
On Dec. 9, State Treasurer Nancy Kopp negotiated the refinancing of $603 million in general obligation bonds. The lower interest rate saves $25 million enough to offset the reduced income recently predicted for the rest of this fiscal year by the Board of Revenue Estimates.
There's another refinancing set for late February or early March, which should lead to more savings. It's what the governor needs as he desperately seeks ways to plug a $2 billion budget hole.
A salary commission has recommended the next governor receive a delayed and quite modest pay increase. This produced a self-serving wail from the state employees union director, who seems to think the recession will be with us in three years when that raise kicks in.
The panel recommended no pay raise for the governor and other statewide officials in 2011 and no increase in 2012, either. That would be seven years in a row without a wage increase for Maryland's governor.
Exactly how is that unfair to state workers?
It's time to stop the unseemly grandstanding and look at the facts. State college presidents out-earn the governor, as do the county executives in Prince George's and Montgomery counties, as do six cabinet secretaries who report to the governor, as well as the state's attorney for Baltimore city.
A two-year delay is reasonable, but so is a $5,000 raise in 2013 and another in 2014. That would bring the governor's pay to $160,000 still below the salary of many other Maryland officials with far less responsibility.
It would bring the average annual pay increase for Maryland's governor from 2006 through 2014 to a penny-pinching 1.25 percent. The pay commission should be applauded for its tight-fisted approach instead of getting denounced by publicity-seeking whiners.
Barry Rascovar is a longtime State House columnist and communications consultant. His e-mail address is email@example.com.