It was a bad omen for Anne Arundel County: The first politicians to arrive at Harry Browne's restaurant for the county government's annual legislative breakfast -- set up to pump the county's General Assembly delegation for state money -- were locked outside on the cold, windy Tuesday morning in Annapolis.
When the shivering politicians finally came in from the 25-degree chill, they sat down to discuss their business over a meal of scrambled eggs, bacon and potatoes. In exchange for the literal bacon, county budget officer John Hammond noted, the assembled state delegates and senators would be expected to bring home the figurative bacon during the 90-day legislative session that began Wednesday.
Led by County Executive Janet S. Owens (D), the county requested $256 million in funding. Among the bigger items were $183.3 million for K-12 education; $22.4 million for Anne Arundel Community College; $26.1 million for transportation; and $5.9 million for police and public safety.
Owens delivered this message to virtually every elected Democrat in the county. Newly-elected House Speaker Michael E. Busch was there, as were Sens. John C. Astle, James E. DeGrange and Philip C. Jimeno, and Dels. Virginia P. Clagett, Barbara A. Frush, Pauline H. Menes, Brian R. Moe, Joan Cadden, Theodore Sophocleus and Mary Ann Love.
Missing in action: the Republican Party. They had a conflicting commitment to a GOP caucus called by Republican Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. himself. The lone representative of the other party at the breakfast was Del. John R. Leopold.
Owens seemed to know that the county isn't going to rake in the money like it did during the happier economic times of a few years ago. She did not even bother to present a "wish list" of projects and initiatives she wanted the county's State House representatives to push. With the state facing a $1.2 billion deficit, there just isn't any money.
The grim mood over the budget prevailed. "We'll do what we can," Clagett said.
Owens understood. "I'm not even entertaining bond bills," she said. "This is about holding the line."
Janet From the Block
But Owens's mood perked up when she heard the rumor, confirmed by a most reliable source, that Ehrlich's campaign staff had a habit of referring to the county executive as "J. Lo."
The friendly moniker, comparing Owens to the curvy singer and movie star Jennifer Lopez -- in a slight mutation of Owens's initials -- was bestowed on Owens because of the county executive's good relations with Ehrlich despite their living on opposite sides of the political fence.
Owens, usually quick to respond to the most unpredictable political events with "I'm not surprised," was genuinely flabbergasted to hear about her unlikely nickname. In a second, her face went from confusion to shock to a warm blush.
Her amazement and distress was difficult to express.
"Why, I never . . . That's the nicest thing. . . ," she sputtered, as her staff chuckled.
"I'd better start working out," she concluded.
"Janet from the block," snickered the executive's hip young spokesman, former radio reporter Matt Diehl, referring to Lopez's latest hit song.
Soon to be in concert -- J. Lo, as performed by J.O.:
Don't be fooled by the rocks that I've got
I'm still, I'm still Janet from the block
Used to have a little, now I have a lot
No matter where I go, I know where I came from.