Gov. Larry Hogan spent most of Wednesday in Frederick County, meeting with owners of small businesses, sampling beer, announcing state transportation funding for the county and visiting a cosmetology school.
Along the way, Hogan made frequent references to statistics on job creation, economic growth and public opinion as evidence of his administration’s success. The last year has been the best for business in Maryland in eight years, Hogan said.
The Republican governor’s itinerary also included a tour of downtown Frederick, a groundbreaking ceremony at Frederick Memorial Hospital’s James M. Stockman Cancer Institute and a meeting with members of the Frederick Rotary Club at Dutch’s Daughter restaurant.
Small-business owners he spoke to at Baltimore Coffee & Tea Co. highlighted changes made to create a more business-friendly environment.
Among them was Stanley Constantine, owner of the coffee shop on Presidents Court. Sitting across the table from Hogan, Constantine said he’d previously considered relocating his business.
“It’s heartbreaking to want to leave a place you love and have spent your whole life in ... because of the administration,” he said, referring to Hogan’s Democratic predecessor, Martin O’Malley.
Under Hogan’s administration, he’s felt more able to stay and succeed.
“Hogan has changed the whole atmosphere in Maryland,” agreed Norman Loverde, vice president of Baltimore Coffee & Tea Co.
Cheri Thompson said Hogan’s commitment to bring jobs to Maryland and lower taxes affirmed her decision to stay in business. Thompson owns The Savory Spoon Catering Co., which celebrated its fifth anniversary this year.
“It’s given me hope to keep pushing and not give up,” she said. “I trust him.”
For some employees facing layoffs from Springfield Hospital Center in Carroll County, Hogan’s words about job growth seemed hypocritical.
Close to 60 workers are expected to be laid off from the Sykesville hospital as part of efforts to privatize the institution, The Baltimore Sun has reported. A dozen of them gathered outside Frederick City Hall on Wednesday with signs and petitions bearing 600 signatures asking Hogan not to cut their jobs.
“Our patients need us,” said Debbie Zeitler, who has worked in the hospital food services department for 13 years.
But if the throngs of local and state officials, community leaders, business owners and local residents who congregated around Hogan throughout the day were any indication, he had many supporters.
Richard Griffin, the city’s director of economic development, said he had never seen such a large turnout in prior gubernatorial visits to Frederick.
“This governor seems to be very popular,” he said.
Griffin highlighted several local businesses as he guided Hogan and his entourage through downtown Frederick, stopping at The Temple: A Paul Mitchell Partner School, Curious Iguana and Candy Kitchen. Hogan toured Flying Dog Brewery before his downtown stop.
Noticeably absent from the walk through downtown was a tour of the site of the proposed downtown hotel and conference center at 200 and 212 E. Patrick St. Griffin and Hogan only briefly discussed the project, which requires state funding in the form of a $14.8 million bond to the Maryland Stadium Authority.
Asked if he would include the requested funding in his fiscal 2017 budget, Hogan said he will “give it every consideration” if the bill passes muster among state legislators.
Hogan had a stronger stance, however, on prevailing-wage law, which requires that state-funded construction projects pay workers a higher hourly rate. The requirement was expanded to cover most school construction projects in 2014. The law has factored heavily into discussions about school construction costs in Frederick County, including plans to build two new elementary schools.
Hogan said he would support the Frederick County bill proposing that construction of Sugarloaf Elementary School in Urbana and Butterfly Ridge Elementary School in Frederick be exempt from the 2014 law.
Hogan’s visit to Frederick was not all business, however. He shook the hands of hospital leaders and cancer survivors at the groundbreaking of the James M. Stockman Cancer Institute.
Before taking the podium at Solarex Court to talk about transportation projects, he encountered a woman who said she was diagnosed with cancer. The woman said she drove from Cascade to see the governor, who last year had a form of cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma. His cancer is now in remission.
Upon seeing the lack of hair under the woman’s wool hat, Hogan told her to stay strong and that he’d pray for her.
In response to a reporter’s question, Hogan said is not supporting a presidential candidate. He endorsed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for president last year. Since Christie left the race and threw his support to GOP front-runner and businessman Donald Trump, many wondered if Hogan would do the same.
On Wednesday, Hogan said he is “not really focused too much on presidential politics. I’m staying focused on Maryland.”
Hogan would not say if he would support Trump as the Republican nominee.
“The election is eight months away, so we’ll let you know in eight months,” he said.