Stetson Will Not Seek Fourth Term on Council

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Councilman Marty Stetson announces his decision not to run for reelection

Chestertown Councilman Marty Stetson announced Monday that he will not seek a fourth term in this fall’s council elections.

Stetson, who represents the town’s fourth ward, is the longest-serving current member of the council, having taken office in January 2008. He made his announcement during his ward report at the Aug. 5 council meeting. He said that he is in excellent health and that he believed he would not have any problem in winning another term. However, he said, increasing problems with his hearing were the deciding factor. “Listening is an important part of this job,” he said, and with difficulties in following verbal discussions or conversations with constituents, he realized he could no longer fill his role effectively.

A former town Police Chief and county alcoholic beverage inspector, Stetson has been a consistent advocate of fiscal restraint during his time on the council. He was strongly opposed to the town’s purchase of the Chestertown marina, arguing that the facility serves only a fraction of residents and that its revenues would never repay the purchase price. He has also been a consistent opponent of spending taxpayer funds for a July 4 fireworks display, which ultimately led to the decision to drop fireworks from the 2019 budget.

At the same time, Stetson has been an active supporter of the dog park, which is funded by the Friends of the Dog Park and is located in Margo Bailey Park in his ward. The Friends have donated funds to purchase and construct all the park’s facilities and make a regular donation to the town to allow the town crew to perform maintenance.

Councilman Marty Stetson, Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver and Town Clerk Jen Mulligan at the Aug. 5 Chestertown council.

During his tenure on the council, Stetson has been an enthusiastic representative for the town at Maryland Municipal League meetings, where he has regularly carried the town’s flag in opening ceremonies. He has also been a regular attendee at Kent County’s Council of Government meetings. And it is rare for him to miss a local ribbon-cutting or other events where a council presence is appropriate. Stetson is also a dedicated sports fan, often wearing ties or socks with Orioles or Ravens logos to meetings, especially after a home team win.

After Stetson’s announcement, Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver, who was elected in 2017, expressed his appreciation for Stetson’s willingness to help the newer members of the council learn the ropes of town government. He praised Stetson’s wisdom and patience and thanked him for his long service to the town.

Councilman David Foster, elected the same year as Tolliver, said that Stetson and he had not agreed on all issues, but that Stetson had never let their differences affect their relationship as colleagues. “He doesn’t hold a grudge,” Foster said. He also said that Stetson was always ready to offer a ride to out-of-town meetings they were both attending, and to make other efforts to smooth his younger colleague’s way during his first term on the council.

Here is the text of Stetson’s announcement, of which he provided the Spy with a printed copy.

“From time to time I am asked if I am going to run for a fourth term. I think now is a good time to let you know my decision.

“First I am in good health – I exercise a minimum of an hour each day, can and do 100 sit-ups and 50 push-ups. My exercise may be just a walk or a bike ride but usually includes swimming laps, working with weights or an elliptical machine. I of course no longer run marathons or swim across the Bay, that occurred many years ago. I am within 10 pounds of the weight I graduated from high school, but I will say it is not distributed in the same manner.

“All that being said, I am 82 years old and I, like many other people, felt that someone 82 should not be running for office. Now that I am 82, I am not sure I feel that way.

“But I do have a loss of hearing. I have been wearing hearing aids for over 20 years but as of late, my loss has become more pronounced. I am having trouble hearing all that is said, not usually by the Council people if they talk one at a time. But I do have trouble in group settings of any kind. I believe listening is a very important part of this job – so because I feel that it keeps me from doing the job as I think it needs to be done, I will not be filing for the fourth term.

“It is not because I feel I may lose, I feel I could win my Council seat if I choose to run. I seldom go out in public without someone stopping and saying they appreciate my honesty and frankness while serving on the Council. Some say they may not agree with me but appreciate the sincerity of my thoughts.

“When you add in my four years of active duty in the military service, with my time on the Maryland State Police, time as Chief of Police of Chestertown, that of Alcoholic Beverage Inspector for the county along with the twelve years I have spent on the Council, it amounts to over 60 years of public service of one kind or another.

“I plan on being a very active member of the council right up until my successor is sworn in, whoever he or she may be.”

Council members and members of the public attending the meeting applauded at the conclusion of Stetson’s statement.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, who also faces reelection this fall, has not announced whether she plans to run for a third term.

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No Music in Park this weekend Sat Aug 3

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Swing City

Well, global warming is apparently not our friend this summer.  The director of Swing City has decided to postpone this Saturday’s planned concert due to the heat along with the possibility of thunderstorms.  The temperature is predicted to be in the 80s at 7 pm with of course a higher “feels like” temperature.  This is especially difficult weather for musicians playing trumpets and other wind instruments.   The band is too large to fit into our usual back-up locations.

However, there’s good news!  We have rescheduled both of our postponed bands for one big Music in the Park Saturday on Sept 7.  We’ll send out details later, but right now it looks like the Chesapeake Brass Band will go on at 2:00 pm and Swing City will follow them around 4:00 pm.  So mark your calendars for a big day of music in downtown Chestertown at Fountain Park (and keep your fingers crossed for good weather!)

Chesapeake Brass Band

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Food Friday: Keeping Cool in August

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Welcome to the dog days of summer. We have just started our long slog through August, yearning for relief while gasping for a cool breeze and grasping at (paper) straws in our cocktails. Through this wretchedly long month we droop, we melt, and we puddle in the heat. Thank goodness today is Friday.

During the week we will enjoy cheap white wine with dinner, but with the weekend comes a little freedom to imbibe more exotic nectars. Although Mr. Friday will tell you that the best thing on a hot day is an icy cold beer, pulled from a galvanized cooler, dripping with melting ice and condensation. I prefer a little frippery in my life, although my New England forebears would look askance, and tut tut. Obviously they will have forgotten about August, the hottest month in our hemisphere. We enjoy air conditioning in our cars and houses, and any time we spend outdoors seems hellishly warm. Even Luke the wonder dog is tired of the heat. Halfway through our morning walk he lay down in the shade, and refused to budge. He is not a fan of the dog days.

My favorite cocktail is the French 75, which offers a nice kick, but not much in the way of coolth. It is shaken with ice, and it quickly warms up outside in the real world. Unlike Nick and Nora Charles, I cannot be witty or clever after a few cocktails. Instead, as we sit in the early evening shade in the Adirondack chairs, I want to hear the clink of ice cubes in a tall, light and fruity drink as we wait for the fireflies to start lighting up the back yard. Luke, never far away, sits on the grass with the ball between his paws, hoping for one more game.

Find some backyard cocktail glasses before you start mixing up your own concoctions – something colorful and durable. Something to flash color and spark back to the fireflies as we all sit out the hot month in our backyards, waiting for the Perseid meteor showers to begin.

I am informed by the young and impossibly cool young folk I know that rosé wine is the way to go this summer. And, if possible, sparkling rosé is even more sought after. My exposure to rosé was limited to my parents discovering Mateus rosé the summer they went to England. Interesting that it skipped a generation. So try to be young and impossibly cool, too, with this:

Rosé-Aperol Spritz
https://www.bonappetit.com/story/rose-cocktails

¾ cup passion fruit juice, chilled

¼ cup Aperol

¼ cup fresh lime juice

4 teaspoons sugar

1 750ml bottle sparkling rosé, chilled

Ruby red grapefruit wedges (for serving)

Whisk passion fruit juice, Aperol, lime juice, and sugar in a large pitcher until sugar is dissolved. Stir in rosé. Serve spritz in large ice-filled wine glasses. Garnish with a grapefruit wedge.


This brings sweet relief:
Sour-Cherry Gin Smash
https://www.esquire.com/food-drink/g1498/summer-cocktails/

2 ounces gin
6 sour cherries

1 sugar cube
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

Ginger ale

1 lime wedge

In a cocktail shaker, combine the cherries and the sugar cube. Muddle until the sugar is broken down. Add the lime juice and gin, and then shake. Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with a splash of ginger ale and garnish with a lime wedge.

Perfect for the backyard at twilight:
Firefly Lemonade
https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a53665/firefly-lemonade-recipe/

4 cups lemonade
4 cups tonic water
1 cup Blue Curacao
1 cup Midori
1/2 cup vodka
4 glow sticks

To four glasses, add crushed ice. Add in 1 cup tonic, 1/4 cup Blue Curacao, 1/4 cup Midori, and 1 ounce vodka.
Stir with a glow sticks to combine. (If you prefer a lot of ice, stir together mixture first, then pour over ice.)

This is pretty kicky – The Frida. I’m sure Frida Kahlo, the ultimate in cool, knew how to refresh in the summer heat of Mexico.
https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/drinks/how-to/g827/summer-cocktail-recipes/


1.5 ounce jalapeño-infused tequila

2 ounce of watermelon purée (purée pieces of watermelon in blender)
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

3/4 ounce simple syrup


Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake and strain into a glass, garnish with lime, and serve.

But this is my favorite summer cocktail, hopelessly old-fashioned:
Pimm’s Cup
https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/the-pimm-s-cup

Moonlight croquet, anyone?

1 3-inch piece English cucumber, cut into 1/2-inch slices, plus 2 spears (for garnish)

3/4 cup Pimm’s No. 1*

3 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice or regular lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Ice cubes

2 sprigs each fresh rosemary, thyme, and mint

2 lemon slices

2 fresh strawberries, halved

Ginger beer, chilled

2 rhubarb stalks (for garnish)


Place 1/2-inch-thick cucumber slices in cocktail shaker. Using muddler or handle of wooden spoon, mash well. Add Pimm’s, lemon juice, and sugar. Fill 2 Pilsner glasses with ice; set aside. Add ice to Pimm’s mixture, cover, and shake vigorously 20 times. Strain into glasses. Push 1 rosemary sprig, 1 thyme sprig, 1 mint sprig, 1 lemon slice, and 2 strawberry halves down into each glass. Fill glasses with ginger beer. Garnish with cucumber spears and rhubarb stalks.

“My old grandmother always used to say, Summer friends will melt away like summer snows, but winter friends are friends forever.” 
― George R.R. Martin

Kent County Schools’ Program Provides Summer Learning

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Meeting the beaver! In front: Skylar, Elana, Desmond, & Nathaniel. In back – Jemima Clark of Washington College & Wayne Gilchrist of Sassafras Environmental Education Center. – Photo by Jane Jewell

Ah, summer vacation!  Both students and teachers look forward to it all year long.  Long days of fun in the sun. Parents might be a little less enthusiastic even though they fondly remember their own childhood summer days.  But now they  worry about what will occupy their child’s time, who will take care of them while they are at work, and — perhaps most perplexing of all – how do they avoid the plaintive cries of “I’m bored!” and “There’s nothing to do!”

But there is another –less obvious but quite important –problem concerning summer vacation.  Decades of experience and numerous studies have shown that not all but many students lose ground over the summer. Students who had been reading at or above grade level during the school year are often lagging behind by September. In the fall, they may struggle with math problems, addition and subtraction that they had previously mastered.   Thus the first part of the new school year is often spent reviewing and catching students back up to where they were before vacation.

Wearing their KEEP T-shirts are Janice Steffy, local accountability coordinator, and Sue Basener, grant coordinator – photo by Jane Jewell

Bethany Redman, tutor and Amelia Markosian, teacher & site coordinator, both with Kent County Public Schools, – photo by Jane Jewell

For the fifth summer now, Kent County Public Schools has run a special program to help prevent that summer loss, and in fact, to help students forge ahead, building on what they learned during the school year so that they are ready for the new school year.

Called KEEP for Kent Exploration and Enrichment Program, the program ran Monday through Thursday for 4 weeks in July.   Approximately 100 students were enrolled in the program which was held at Garnet Elementary School in Chestertown. Students in grades 1-8 were nominated for the program by teachers and other school personnel. Parents, who were sent information about the upcoming program, were allowed to nominate their own children. KEEP was funded by a 21st Century Grant administered by the Maryland State Department of Education. There were no fees for the families. The program included lunch and bus transportation to and from school. Program activities focused on reading, math, and science.

Hannah Albrecht of Washington College talks with a parent on KEEP-Expo day at the end of the summer program. – photo by Jane Jewell

Partnering with the school system were Washington College, the Sassafras Environmental Education Center at Turner’s Creek, Sultana Education Foundation, the Kent County Public Library, Chesapeake Bank and Trust, and Echo Hill Outdoor School.

Field trips were an important part of the enrichment component. There were walking trips to nearby places such as the Kent County Public Library. Buses took the students further afield, including a day trip to the Baltimore Aquarium. Closer to home, they visited the various partners’ sites, learning about resources and institutions in their community such as Chesapeake Bank and the Sultana Education Center. All the students were able to visit the Turner’s Creek center, where they learned about the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Wayne Gilchrist, director of the Turner’s Creek center, said they also toured the vegetable garden at the center. A special treat at the center was a chance to learn about Indian arrowheads collected along the Sassafras River banks. All grades were given a canoe trip and had a chance to hike through the forest, where they saw animal homes. Gilchrest said that one group got a surprise close-up look at a beaver swimming near their canoes.

The program had six teachers, with four instructional aides moving between classes as needed.

“Bucky” Beaver – found deceased on Turner’s Creek just off the Sassafras River by the Sassafras Environmental Education Center now has a post-life career teaching students about rivers, dams, and water quality. – photo by Jane Jewell

While the program follows projects and curriculum developed by educational and subject experts, there was also input from local teachers and parents. One interesting note is that the parents requested homework assignments — and they got them! Special projects to be completed at home were given to all students. But completion was optional. It was, after all, summer. Progress reports were also sent home, once in the middle of KEEP and then a final report at the end. The program also included academic pre- and post-testing of all students in order to evaluate the program’s effectiveness.

On the final day, families were invited to a special KEEP-Expo demonstration and swim day at the Kent County Community Center in Worton.

Science projects covered a wide range of subjects including zoology and gardening. – photo by Peter Heck

KEEP-Expo day projects focused on reading, science, and math.  –  Photo by Peter Heck

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Op-Ed: Kent County Tops State in Oxycodone, Hydrocodone Prescriptions by Dan Watson

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Having gone to court to win access to the information, The Washington Post and a small West Virginia paper, the Charleston Gazette-Mail, have pried loose evidence that 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone tablets were distributed in the US over a seven-year period 2006-2012. Seventy-six BILLION. Any wonder we’ve suffered a nationwide opioid epidemic?

And this data covers only those two pills; it does not include Oxycontin, Percocet, Valium, and so forth—all of which are dangerous and part of the problem.  Access to the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) database obtained by the Post enables any reader to drill down to annual data on a County basis, Visit here.

I write from the Talbot County perspective.  Kent County leads Maryland in the legal distribution of the opioids studied dispensing 170 percent of the state average per person.  Three of the top five counties are on the Eastern Shore, including Cecil and Worcester. Talbot County led Baltimore City and Baltimore County, but both were in the bottom half of the list and both below the state average.

As I scanned the Post’s stunning articles with their dynamic maps and graphics, I thought of the Shore-wide “Go Purple” campaign that certainly raised public consciousness of the opioid crisis in our region. 

Pharmacies in Talbot County dispensed 33 oxycodone and hydrocodone pills for every man, woman and child in Talbot County, on average, over those seven years. That sure looked like a lot to me. I was inclined to chalk it up to our older population (median 49.7 years, 12 years older than state average!). We must have the highest number of joint replacements per capita of any County in Maryland if my circle of friends is any indicator.

By contrast, pharmacies in Kent County dispensed 59 oxycodone and hydrocodone pills per person, on average, over those seven years.  The obvious question to my friends in Kent County is, Why was your rate of distribution of these dangerous drugs almost twice Talbot’s, and four times that of Montgomery and PG?  I for one am a loss for a reasonable hypothesis, although I don’t know your County as well as I should.

If there is good news, it is that the DEA data reveals that Maryland was spared complete devastation compared to other areas of the Country, particularly Appalachia where in Mingo County WV the average was 203 pills per person over seven years!

Having identified Kent as a high use county, it would seem the medical community must take an aggressive role in monitoring patient use and potential misuse.  Heading off abuse of opioid prescriptions continues to be unified effort led by local law enforcement in every county. Eastern Shore counties will start ramping up for “Goes Purple” campaign soon.  

I wanted to learn more about the law enforcement perspective on this report so I sat down with Talbot County Sheriff Joe Gamble who was happy to spend an hour to drill down into its meaning locally. His main points were these:

Importance: The national data and patterns are obviously jaw dropping. At the State and County levels it could also be very useful to uncover outliers. The data shows individual pharmacy and physician fulfillments (though not individual prescriptions). 

Timeliness: The publicly released data set is seven years old. It would have been more helpful before the horse was out of the barn. Since 2012 the drug scene has morphed somewhat.

Pills In Context: Prior to about 2012 pills of all sorts—especially oxycodone and hydrocodone—were a dominant problem because they were cheap and available. Since then, for many reasons, pills have become less available and—in relation to heroine especially—more expensive. Consequently, pills are today dangerous mostly as a “step on the ladder” (Sheriff Gamble’s phrase): a kid who may have toyed with alcohol or marijuana gets his (or her) hands on a pill or two, and experiences that first opioid high. It may be a brief plateau, but once addiction takes hold, the much cheaper and available heroine becomes the main drug of choice.

Two Things People Need To Do: First, sort through your meds for any drugs you do not really need at present….not just expired drugs, but those “left over.” Don’t save them for a rainy day. Deposit them directly into the (free and anonymous) dropbox situated right in front of the Sheriff’s Office on Vickers Drive off of Flatland Road. Second, as to any drugs you need to keep on hand, do not let them simply sit in your medicine cabinet. Lock them up somewhere. We all think of the risk of teenagers or kids getting hold of them, but really anyone with incidental access (cleaners, repairmen) can lift a few little pills (worth $30 or $40 each), and if the whole bottle doesn’t disappear, who’s to notice?

The flood of opioids is a historic, world-class scandal. How many Americans—including some in Kent and Talbot County– have died unnecessarily? How many equivalent World Trade Towers went down, and nary a terrorist to be seen?

Many want to crucify the profit driven players in the opioid trade itself—the manufacturers, the wholesale distributers, and unscrupulous or careless pharmacists and prescribers. But blame is shared by those responsible for regulating this dangerous business, whose indifference and ineptitude–and probably worse–denied Americans the protections that should have applied. Responsibility rests ultimately on the lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who failed us over many years.  And of course patients need to be wary of using opioids to solve long-term pain issues.  

Meanwhile, do your part today. Check that medicine cabinet, find those unused dangerous meds, and discard properly (NOT down the toilet).  Any questions, call your local sheriff’s department.  

Dan Watson is the former chair of Bipartisan Coalition For New Council Leadership and has lived in Talbot County for the last twenty-five years. 

 

Elk or Bison?

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In “The Summer Day,” one of my favorite poems by Mary Oliver, the poet asks us to pay attention, to kneel down in the grass and stroll through the fields to appreciate the beauty of the natural world of which we are an integral part.

As you know I recently returned from a vacation which took me, Jim, Jenna, and Kelsy to Montana to visit James. We have not been away on a family trip (minus girlfriends and boyfriends) in many years. It was a very special time enjoying each other’s company and exploring the natural world. We visited the breathtaking Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park where we saw a black bear, elk, and bison. We fly fished on the Yellowstone River. We made it to the snow-covered summit of Beartooth Mountain in Cody, Wyoming at an elevation of 11,000 feet. We took a llama hike at the Sage Lodge, and we hiked to a waterfall on Mill Creek in the Absaroka Mountains in the Gallatin National Forest. The majestic views and untouched beauty surrounding us was inspiring. (Jim is back on a plane to Montana as we speak for a boys’ weekend of fly fishing, but that is another story.)

Prior to our trip, I read a blog on Outside online, a publication featuring everything about the outdoors. It covers many topics including “travel, sports, health, and fitness, as well as the personalities, the environment, and the style and culture of the outdoors.” Katie Arnold’s piece, “Are You an Elk Parent or a Bison Parent? – the Fine Line Between Holding On and Letting Go,” caught my eye as I hoped to see both elk and bison in Yellowstone.

She wrote: “When predators approach, [elk mothers] run away, leaving their babies, who aren’t strong enough to walk. Most of the time, the mothers come back for their calves but only after the danger has passed. Bison mothers do the opposite. After their babies are born, they’ll stand their ground, snort, and charge to keep them safe.”

During my trip, I kept thinking about my parenting style, many years into the flight plan. What kind of a mother was I, and what am I now. I think a gradual melding of bison into elk over time is the answer.  When my children were young I was a fierce protector. It is a good thing I did not work at my children’s’ school because several times over the years I needed to be my child’s advocate, and I would not have wanted my colleagues to tangle with my bison instincts.

Now, as my children are “adulting” on their own, I have stepped back, unless asked. And, while I cannot see myself ever fleeing from danger and leaving my child behind, I do think now, I can retreat as they navigate careers, healthcare, insurance, housing, and relationships. Thankfully, for me and Jim, our children still seek our advice and counsel. I hope that never changes. I am proud of being a bison mother at the outset and setting my children on a course to elk-like independence. I am proud, even as difficult as it is sometimes, to be the elk mother now and let them triumph, even if their path is sometimes winding.

Back at Kent School following our trip, I thought a lot about our teachers and our students. Are teachers elk or bison? I believe they are a powerful combination of both. Good teachers know when to be strong advocates for their students, like the bison. Yet, they also know that at any grade level, elk independence is necessary. Letting students fail is just as important as having them succeed. Deep learning happens through the navigation of a failed attempt and the subsequent turning around.

We can learn a lot from both the bison and the elk approach to raising or teaching children.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown, a member of the Board of the Association of Independent Maryland and DC Schools, a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s, a member of the Board of Chesapeake Charities, and a member of the Education Committee of Sultana Education Foundation.

An Open Letter to Rep. Andy Harris

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Shame on you, Representative Andy Harris.

The President recently tweeted that four of Harris’ colleagues in Congress, three of whom were born in the United States and the fourth a naturalized citizen, should “go back…to the crime-infested countries from which they came.”

Rather than condemn this racist rhetoric, Harris told reporters that there was perhaps a misunderstanding, that the President may not have meant countries but rather congressional districts or cities. 

This disingenuous reply reveals the extent to which our congressman is willing to twist himself into knots to go along with anything that the President does or says, no matter how divisive and harmful.

As a coalition of progressive groups on the Eastern Shore, we believe that Harris has lost sight of what makes America truly great—its diversity and the opportunity it extends to those yearning to be free.

He also seems to have forgotten his own background. Like many of us, Harris is a child of immigrants. According to the public record, Harris’s own Hungarian father and Polish mother emigrated to the United States in 1950 as stateless refugees. The United States took the Harris family in, allowing them to thrive here, eventually raising a son to be a U.S. Congressman. 

Given his own experience with the American dream, why would Harris be willing to look away when the President questions the rights of other immigrants and children of immigrants to participate in the political life of the United States? Sadly, the answer seems to lie in Harris’s acceptance of the racial division that Trump sows in his tweets and at his rallies.

One key difference between Harris and the four Congresswomen targeted by Trump is they are women of color. That makes Harris’ response doubly shameful. He represents the district where Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman began their struggles for racial equality. He should know better. We call upon him to uphold the real American dream – equality for all—and condemn hateful and dangerous comments from the members of his own party, including the President. 

Dr. Harris, it is your moral responsibility and civic duty to hold the President accountable when he seeks to sow racial division. You represent all of the people in your district, whatever their origin and however they arrived in this country. You need to recognize that whatever policy disagreements there may be, this is no way to act.

Indivisible Dorchester

Indivisible Worcester

Kent and Queen Anne’s Indivisible

Talbot Rising

Talbot Rising

Spy at the Troika: Raoul Middleman and Wrestling with Art

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Raoul Middleman’s personality is as colorful as his art.

That became vividly apparent in dual appearances at Plein Art Festival events Saturday evening: an interview and reception at the Troika Gallery, where 20 of his paintings are on display through Aug. 3, sandwiched around a film preview and question-and-answer adventure—you could call it performance-art storytelling—at the Avalon Theater.

Crusty Old Dude

Deservedly billed as “Legendary Artist” by the Troika Gallery, which sponsored the Avalon show and has represented him for 23 years, Middleman taught at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore for 58 years until his retirement from teaching last month. His freewheeling, wide-ranging paintings are in the collection of, among others, the Baltimore Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery/National Gallery of Art in Washington, along with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and National Academy of Design in New York.   

Middleman, 84, describes his approach to painting as “a wrestling match. . . . I start out with a vague idea of what I’m going to paint and then the brush, the application, takes over. That’s an exquisite moment. What I come up with is a surprise, even to me.”

“His personality and storytelling are inseparable from his brushstrokes and narrative art,” says one of his thousands of former Maryland Institute students, Liz Parks. (Full disclosure: My wife participated in our interview with Middleman, reminding him when he recalled his youthful days in Montana as a ranch hand (of sorts) that his student, then known as Ms. Goodman, dubbed him “the Sam Shepard of art,” after the late playwright known for his American West vernacular.

In a scene from an in-progress documentary on his career, titled simply “Middleman,” screened at the Avalon, we see the artist shopping at Lexington Market. (He’s Baltimorean through and through.) In the market for scaly models, Middleman chooses four fish to take to his home/studio. Not to be fried, baked or broiled. But they are served up raw in a seafood still life, similar to one in the window of the Troika right now. He arranges them around a couple of lemons, also purchased at Lexington Market, and slathers paint on the canvas as if filleting his catch. Then he changes his mind and reconfigures the scene.

His art has been described by critics as “messy and real,” reflecting the chaos of life and nature. If he has one particular muse, it’s “the super-funky Baltimore atmosphere,” citing filmmaker John Waters as a fellow-minded artist. 

He majored in philosophy at Johns Hopkins University and hoped to become a writer until visiting a girlfriend in New Orleans who gently nudged him in the direction of art. Soon he was studying at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Academy of Art.

“I could always draw,” he said, adding, “If someone suggests you should do something different and that doesn’t work out, then you have two asses to kick.” 

Like many artists in any field, Middleman declines to be confined to a single genre. Early on, he did Pop Art, which he gave up in pique over a dispute with a New York gallery owner. He turned to landscapes, about as far from Pop Art as you can get, and continued in landscape artistry periodically throughout his career. Several wreckage-of-nature paintings can be seen now at the Troika. For a time, at its height in the 1960s, he favored abstracts and later narrative paintings telling a story that could be re-interpreted by whomever beholds it. 

He likens his progression to Renaissance painter Bellini, whose earlier paintings Middleman calls “linear” in style. Later, Bellini moved closer to the approach of many of his students, among them Titian—more painterly, more sensual. “To some, Bellini’s earlier work is his best,” Middleman says. But time bends fashion and taste. And what once was deemed hip is later dismissed as ho-hum. And vice-versa.

Middleman has ridden that wave throughout his career as a painter, even drawing inspiration from former students, trying new styles.

To his son’s question, Middleman recalled that at one point in his career he was an Abstract Expressionist.

 “ ‘No you’re not, Dad,’ ” Middleman said. “You’re an Argumentative Expressionist.”

Apparently, the father agrees.

“Painting is an open question,” he says. “A good painting is kind of an argument. Whatever the artist may think it means, it may be something completely different to each viewer. So, there is no single right answer. Only questions.”

Steve Parks is a retired journalist, arts writer and editor now living in Easton.

Council Hears Reports on Meter Bags, Car Show, Police Recruit

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At the Chestertown Council meeting, July 15, Kay MacIntosh of Main Street Chestertown showed council members samples of bags to be placed on parking meters for streets that need to be closed for special events.

Kay MacIntosh

MacIntosh said the bags would be an “easier and more positive” way to inform the public of street closings, not just saying “you can’t park here,” but turning it into “don’t park here because there’s a great event coming.”

The bags would take a burden off the police department, which currently posts paper signs on trees, utility poles, or other fixtures for the purpose. Those signs can be damaged by rain or wind, which requires that they be replaced. The weatherproof bags, designed by Barbara Slocum, are made of bluish-purple canvas,  and they would have a slot with a clear plastic window for insertion of a paper sign specific to the event. The signs would be placed in the bags at police headquarters before they were deployed. The bags can also be used for the Saturday Farmers Market, where they would stay up full-time, MacIntosh said. 

A $2,464 grant from the Maryland State Arts Council will pay for almost all of the bags, MacIntosh said. The Tea Party Festival is the only regular event that would require placing bags on all the downtown meters, which are primarily on High and Cross Streets and Park Row. If the cost exceeds the grant amount, she said, the balance can be covered from donated funds visitors put in the parking meters.

MacIntosh said she would consult with the town police before placing a final order for the bags.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll asked MacIntosh about plans for a classic car show to be held downtown in September.

MacIntosh said the organizers had not yet received permits for the event, but she believed they had filed the application. The show is scheduled for Sept. 14, at 2 p.m., after the Farmers Market closes. Cars would be exhibited on High Street next to Fountain Park, and on Park Row and Memorial Plaza. There would be a couple of food trucks, and beer and wine vendors. Half a dozen especially interesting cars would be displayed in the park itself, she said. She said the organizers would take special care to avoid damaging the grass in the park.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper expressed concern about giving Farmers Market vendors enough time to break down their displays and leave the park before the cars need to set up. Barbara Slocum, one of the organizers, said she had been at Farmers Market and timed the vendors as they left. The park was “almost empty” by 12:40, she said, leaving enough time for everyone if setup for the car show begins at 1 p.m. and the show itself at 2.

Ingersoll said the possibility of damage to the park grass should be minimal. He also said it should be put in the context of a plan by the Chestertown Garden Club to aerate and reseed the park later in September. He joked that “the biggest rain of the season” would probably fall on Sept. 13, making the park too muddy to show cars there.

Chestertown Police Chief Ardian Baker

After Chief Adrian Baker presented the monthly police report for June, Ingersoll asked if there was any update on the “purloined” police recruit who completed training under Chestertown auspices and then resigned to take a job with another Shore town.

Baker said the police department had received a personal check from the recruit reimbursing the town for his salary. The department also expects a check from the town with which he is now working for the cost of training, Baker said. He said the other recruit hired at the same time is “doing great,” with field training expected to be completed by August. He said he would bring the new officer in to introduce him to the council at the next meeting.

Councilman David Foster, in his ward report, asked if the town was considering kayak and bike rentals in the marina.

Ingersoll said there had been some discussion of the idea. He said said that any rentals would need to be “non-commercial,” so as not to expose the town to tax liability for the property. Also, he said, there is currently dredging being done at the marina, which makes it less safe for kayakers to launch there. The two kayak launches at the marina were not getting a great deal of use, he said.

Ingersoll also said there is an issue with slip fees for visiting boaters who want to eat at the 98 Cannon restaurant. He said the restaurant only maintains two slips. “We’re working out details,” he said.

Councilman Marty Stetson reported that playground equipment in Margo Bailey Park was recently vandalized. He said the equipment is underused, and its location makes it an easy target for mischief. “It’s a question if it’s the right place for it,” he said. Stetson also reported that the town street crew had pruned and trimmed about 100 trees in the park. “It’s really beautiful,” he said.

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