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The Dundalk Eagle: Comptroller Franchot sits down with the Eagle

As Election Day draws ever closer, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) took time from his schedule to sit down with the Eagle editorial staff during a wide-ranging interview last month.

Franchot opened by discussing his own campaign for re-election as Maryland Comptroller. Franchot is seeking his fourth term as comptroller, running against Republican challenger Anjali Reed Phukan.

Franchot has long framed himself as an independent Democrat, beholden not to party, but to the people.

“The campaign is much more about insiders versus outsiders than it is liberal versus conservative,” he said.

He painted a picture of state Senate President Sen. Mike Miller (D-27) and House of Delegates Speaker Del. Michael Busch (D-30A) as the ultimate state insiders, wielding “absolute control.”

“It's just a corrosive thing when you have unchecked power,” Franchot said of the longtime Democratic control of the state.

“What we need,” he noted, “are checks and balances.”

Franchot has drawn some ire from members of his own party for such statements, and for his close working relationship with incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

He has also declined to endorse Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous over Gov. Hogan in this year's election.

Responding to such criticism, Franchot noted that he is campaigning for Democrats “who are capable of standing on their own two feet.”

He has endorsed Dundalk native, Democrat John Olszewski Jr., for Baltimore County Executive, calling him “a breath of fresh air.”

Calling Olszewski's Republican opponent Al Redmer “a good guy,” Franchot noted, “I think it's a new day for the county.

Franchot quite visibly sparred with former Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz (D) over several issues, including the now-stalled plans to redevelop the North Point Government Center site.

Franchot has been a vocal opponent of plans to develop a shopping center on part of the site, claiming that the county did not listen to the community when planning the project.

Franchot is one of three members of the state Board of Public Works (with Gov. Hogan and state Treasurer Nancy Kopp). Since the building was a former school, courts ruled that the board had to approve any redevelopment at the site.

In 2015, Franchot and Hogan voted to delay the project. Subsequent court rulings further stalled the project.

Both county executive candidates have expressed a desire to further consult with the community before taking any action on the issue.

For his part, Franchot said of the Government Center, “It's going to be a redone community center that is the pride of Dundalk.”

“My instinct right now, and my suggestion is, for the people of Dundalk to have a planning meeting,

he said. “It doesn't have to be a developer's sweetheart deal.”

“I think they need to move quickly,” he added, pointing to a one-time $1.3 billion budget surplus in the coming year. That sum, he noted, is quickly being carved up.

“Dundalk should get down there with their requests,” he said.

Franchot (and the Board of Public Works) also came to odds with Kamenetz on the issue of air conditioning in Baltimore County Public Schools.

As part of his Schools for Our Future initiative, Kamenetz laid out a multi-billion-dollar plan to replace and renovate county schools, guarantee a/c in all by 2021.

Franchot criticized that timeline, calling for the installation of portable units in the meantime. Kamenetz rejected the idea and impractical and expensive.

He is suggesting that every county classroom without a/c have a split unit put in. The units would cost $1,000 each, plus a few hundred dollars for installation. Franchot called such systems, capable of producing a/c and heat, “efficient” and cost-effective.

“I appreciate the progress Baltimore County has made,” he acknowledged, though he also pointed to the “8,000 kids in Baltimore County that don't have proper climate control.”

Franchot also criticized the General Assembly's move to strip the Board of Public Works of its authority over school construction funding, pointing to issues of overcrowded schools and “crumbling” infrastructure in Baltimore County.

“I think there is a lot of progress that can be made with a creative use of private sector money,” he noted.

While he has focused on the Government Center and schools, Franchot has also positioned himself as a champion for the craft beer industry. He lobbied for legislation that would have loosen restrictions on craft beer producers statewide, including Key Brewing here in Dundalk.

He also announced his office's plans to investigate Budweiser for what he called “discriminatory marketing.”

The beer producer, he claimed, sold a 77-pack of beer, fashioned like a keg, only in College Park on homecoming.

The move, he alleged, was designed to promote “homecoming binge drinking.”

“Something like that needs to be corrected,” he said.

For now, Franchot is focusing on his upcoming re-election bid.

Speaking of his opponent, Anjali Reed Phukan, Franchot noted that “anyone who gets in the arena and runs deserves respect.”

Of course, wherever Franchot goes, speculation of a future gubernatorial run follows.

“I like what I'm doing,” he said when asked about a potential run for governor.

“I've got a good job,” he said, noting — with a smile — “I tried to get out of politics by running for comptroller.”

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