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Monday  •  May 4, 2020

Concerning Developer Influences on Incumbent Board of Education Candidate Jen Mallo

By Steven Keller

With the April 2020 election campaign reports now available, it’s official that HCPSS Board of Education (BOE) member and re-election candidate Jen Mallo held her re-election campaign kickoff event free-of-charge at a prime room in the Columbia headquarters building of The Howard Hughes Corporation (THHC) (one of Howard County’s largest developers).


This in-kind donation was reported as a suspiciously low $150 amount on her April 2020 campaign finance report — a potentially significant undervaluation of this gift. THHC has not donated to any other BOE candidates. Curiously, one of their only other in-kind donations was to State Senator Bill Ferguson for a campaign event and valued at $1,993.



In addition to this significant in-kind gift from one of HoCo’s largest developers, Jen Mallo has also received the following:


  • A $500 donation just before her 2018 election from the Maryland Building Industry Association (MBIA)


  • A $100 donation last month from the former president of the MBIA (his first ever & only donation to a BOE candidate), now lead for SDC Properties. SDC Properties is one of the most involved developers in Howard County, having essentially designed modern Columbia.  This donor was the MBIA President in the year leading up to Mallo’s first $500 MBIA donation.



Jen Mallo appears to be openly seeking & embracing endorsements, financial contributions & generous favors from developers (and politicians with heavy ties to developers) that have successfully influenced planning, zoning, and development practices that are directly responsible for the HCPSS school overcrowding crisis and the massive redistricting that took place in Fall 2019.


Some in the community have brushed off the low dollar amount of these campaign contributions to Jen Mallo compared to campaign contributions made by some local constituents & neighborhoods to other BOE candidates during this election cycle. Let’s be clear: what’s concerning here is not the monetary value of the contribution, but what it represents.


When developers have historically stayed away from local BOE races, why would they become involved now, when redistricting is central to much of the re-election focus? It is no coincidence that THHC, MBIA, and SDC are highly connected with the narrative put forth by Center Maryland, as detailed in this previous post.


Any dollar amount contributed by developers in non-partisan Board of Education campaigns is a signal of support, resources, and influence. When we have numerous bills coming before the county and school attendance area decisions being made by the BOE, any developer influence at this time in Howard County should be carefully scrutinized and questioned.


As has been seen with many current & past elected officials, developer influence often trickles in slowly and grows over time. These sort of influences have no place in education. The only way for us to eliminate that possibility of undue developer influence is to abandon the practice entirely.


For a candidate who has prided herself on her independence from partisan politics and special interests during her 2018 campaign (less than two years ago), this sudden flip-flop in Jen Mallo’s values raises serious red flags that every District 4 voter needs to be aware of and carefully consider.

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