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August 15, 2011

Rolley makes a campaign issue of Grand Prix

Sun colleague Childs Walker reports:

Mayoral challenger Otis Rolley questioned Monday whether the city will profit from the Baltimore Grand Prix, and called on Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to release all city documents related to the three-day event.

Other challengers in next month’s Democratic primary joined in the criticism, saying the event raised doubts about Rawlings-Blake’s spending priorities, and how carefully she weighed the costs and benefits of the race before she pledged millions of dollars to support it.

The Baltimore Grand Prix, a three-day event culminating in an IndyCar race through the streets along the Inner Harbor on Sept. 4, is one of the most visible projects Rawlings-Blake has pursued during her 18 months in office.

Rolley’s press conference, and the follow-up remarks by former City Councilman Joseph T. “Jody” Landers and state Sen. Catherine Pugh, amounted to the most significant attempt yet by Rawlings-Blake’s challengers to portray the event as a potential liability for the city and its mayor. The race comes nine days before the Sept. 13 mayoral primary.

Rawlings-Blake has signed a five-year agreement pledging $7.75 million in road work for the race. Much of the money comes from the federal government, and city officials say most of the work would have been necessary in coming years anyway.

Rolley, who is challenging Rawlings-Blake in the Democratic primary, noted that the city cut funding this year for after-school programs, and the mayor proposed staggering swimming pools schedules, closing fire companies on a rotating basis and reducing the hours of the city’s 311 service request line.

He questioned how much thought Rawlings-Blake put into the Grand Prix before signing off on it.

“It sounded like a cool idea, and she ran with it,” Rolley said. “That’s not what we expect in terms of leadership from the mayor of the city.”

A campaign spokeswoman for Rawlings-Blake said Rolley was muddying the issue by implying that federal money for roadwork could have been directed to other needs.

"As Mr. Rolley should know, since he was former Mayor [Sheila] Dixon's chief of staff and the Founding President/CEO of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, federal road dollars can only be spent on road projects — not rec centers or any other purpose,” spokeswoman Keiana Page said in a statement emailed to reporters before Rolley spoke.

“The Grand Prix will bring 100,000 people to Baltimore on Labor Day weekend,” Page said. “It will provide a tremendous boost to struggling small businesses like restaurants and shops — as well as hotels. And it is unbelievably cynical for Mr. Rolley to try to lift his failing campaign by belittling something that will boost our economy and improve Baltimore’s image nationally and internationally.”

Political scientist Matthew Crenson, a professor emeritus at the Johns Hopkins University, said Rolley chose an inviting target.

“It’s something that has caused a lot of Baltimoreans recent inconvenience,” Crenson said. “And there is doubt over whether it’s going to pay for itself.”

Contacted by The Baltimore Sun, other Democratic challengers quickly piggybacked on Rolley’s comments. Pugh questioned spending millions of dollars on a concentrated area when roads are dilapidated around the city.

“I think you have to ask whether this is the right economic engine for Baltimore when you look at what has happened with races in other cities,” she said.

Landers said he hopes the Grand Prix will succeed.

“But my whole impression is that they did not really do their homework,” he said. “I’m not convinced that the costs and benefits are going to match up.”

Crenson said the mayor remains the candidate to beat, but her challengers are smart to register their doubts about an event that could blow up in her face shortly before the primary.

“This is their last, best chance,” he said.

Rawlings-Blake, who championed the race as City Council president, signed the contract pledging $7.75 million for roadwork three months after she was sworn in as mayor last year.

While critics have raised complaints about traffic delays and questions about the race’s economic potential, the mayor has defended the move as a bold attempt to lure money and attention to downtown Baltimore.

The record for street racing in other cities is mixed. Races have become annual fixtures in Long Beach, Calif., and St. Petersburg, Fla.

But the District of Columbia gave up its race after a year after residents complained of the noise. San Jose, Calif. backed away after three years because of cost concerns.

Even the Baltimore race’s staunchest supporters say the inaugural running is unlikely to be profitable for the city. They describe it as a long-term investment in Baltimore’s image that could pay off if it makes the city a destination for race fans each Labor Day — and if it helps lure bigger events such, as an Olympics or World Cup.

City officials have said they teamed with race organizers to produce a study that showed the race will produce $70 million in economic impact.

But Rolley questioned the figure, citing a Baltimore Sun report that said the economic impact of the long-established events in St. Petersburg and Long Beach was little more than half that.

City officials say they will receive about $2 million in direct tax benefits from the race. Organizers also are required to pay the city a $250,000 annual fee and another $500,000 in the first year to cover costs for police, firefighters and other services related to the event. That second figure will increase in future years.

Rolley accused the mayor of “refusing to be transparent” in laying out the costs and potential revenues for the event.

He said that based on the incomplete figures he has seen, “the mayor’s Grand Prix is more likely to cost the taxpayers money than to make money.”

“We have been transparent,” Page countered. “City Hall released thousands of pages of documents to The Sun and [the Associated Press] last week. What more does he want?”

Rolley said that if he had been mayor, he would have considered pursuing the Grand Prix but probably would have passed on it, based on the existing evidence.

He said he has spoken to voters who are “very frustrated that this is seen as a priority when people are dying and our schools are struggling.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 6:03 PM | | Comments (29)


Puppets of MOM are never transparent.

Rolley is good at throwing the predictable campaign daggers at the Mayor and his other mayoral hopefuls, but the majority of his political stances don't have any basis in reality.

The Grand Prix hasn't even been run yet, and he's already bashing it, and by extension the entire city. Basing his criticism on the lack of projected "profit" for the City is foolish and shows his lack of understanding of managing a city. If he doesn't think the City is prepared to host such an event, he should say so, not hide behind theoretical numbers.

Cutting property taxes unequally based on assessed home values over a 10 year period? It'll be at least that long for the lawsuits to be settled before that plan eventually evaporates. Sounds like a Rolley Folly to me.

John stop being a HATER. What your MOM didn't tuck you in at night or do you just have a problem with powerful women ? Tell your boy Otis to stop HATING too. Everyone knows he's just trying to throw cheap shots at Stephanie. Not working and both of you are LAME

Dear John,
What ? Didn't your MOM tuck you in a night or do you just hate powerful women who know how to run things ? Somebody give this guy the hugs his MOM never did ! Stop Hating and the same goes for your boy OTIS ! He's making LAME shots at Stephanie and so are you. the people are not Fooled by you fools. Once again the boy Otis is crying Wolf.

The reality is the people in the neighborhoods will not benefit from this race. They could care less. This mayor cares nothing for the neighborhoods. We need real her out of office!

You complain about Rolley....what is SRB good for? ....thats right absolutely nothing! Say it again, jobs for youth she falls short, homelessness, our failing scools she fall short...she says our childern are doing well...she falls short.
What are her priorities for the city...thats right a car race.

I cannot vote for any politician that MOM backs Larrys. It is that simple gentlemen.
I do not want MOM controlling the entire political structure in Maryland if and when he replaces Mikulski as Senator. It is that simple. MOM is a vindictive prick who did Baltimore no favors as Mayor nor the state of Maryland as Governor.
Increases state spending by 11% in 2011 and now , once again MOM neeeds more revunue in an weconomin downturn that has hurt so many of us.
Sound fiscal management.
MOM pillors Erhlich in 2006 for switching the Road fundds to the general fund.
5 years later, a billion dollars bled from the highway fund and MOM wants the voters to pay for his mismanagement of funds with a gas tax increase.
And I am a Democrat.
Has nothing to do with SRB-she the puppet.
Nothing more, nothing less.
Chill out gentlemen.

I could care less who wins the Mayor's race.... I don't even live in the city, however, you would think that a city known for violent crime, would do everything in its' power to change their image. Even if the Baltimore City, doesn't make a penny, my hats off to the Mayor for supporing this event.

Give me a break!!! Baltimore needs to enter the 21st century. Give the race a chance. It could be the largest boost to the local economy ever. Race fans bring alot of money with them. I am comming from out of state for the race, so are many others. Play your cards right Baltimore, don't blow this opportunity. Good luck. See all you race fans in a couple of weeks. CAN'T WAIT !!!!!!!!!!

Usual Baltimore City poltics .. discourage people who actually earn a living from coming into the city to spend money on hotels, bars, restaurants, and other businesses; but bemoan the fact that people that earn nothing but want their services might be inconvenienced. Bringing money INTO the city is what actually helps keep those pools and rec centers open; NOT all those city dwellers that are living off the public dole.

As for tired in b"more - why do you think a poltician or society is responsibile for correcting all the ills of the city. #1 solution - if you cannot support yourself; dont be stupid and irresponsible and have children. If people that don't have jobs, passed on getting an education, live off welfare and government hand outs, and have no drive to succeed would stop breeding many of the issues such as homelessness, deteriorating schools, high unemployment, the destructive drug culture, the violence and lack of respect for humainity would solve itself. Take responsibility and stop looking for the people that actually are contributing to society to continue to fund this inter-city lack of responsibility.

Why wouldn't he make it a campaign issue? In fact, somebody should have a lot sooner. It's a major political blunder for the mayor that has caused a lot of inconvenience, frustration, and worse for city residents from all socioeconomic groups (with the possible exception of a few very rich businesspeople who may make their homes in Roland Park or Homeland at a safe distance from the travel nightmares downtown). The attitude of the suburbanite poster ("dblopa") says it all: this event is not for the city, it's for the people outside the city who have no interest in or understanding of urbanism. If they mayor wants to be a mayor for the people of White Marsh or Belair, I suggest she move to one of those places.

I lived in Long Beach, CA when the Grand Prix came to that city. I’ve also lived in Baltimore, so I know what you are in for. Two words: mayhem and chaos. Just as in Long Beach, this venue is for the enjoyment of the few (wealthy and influential), while disrupting and inconveniencing the rest. Here is what to expect: People will die because rescue medics will not be able to get to you in a timely manner. There will be a spike in crime, because law enforcement will be tied up with directing traffic in circles and crowd control. Businesses will have to close because customers will not be able to get to them. Public transit will be interrupted for the many that need it most. If you are along the race route you will not be allowed to leave your home, or get back to it if you have. And then there is the noise, the litter, the drunks, and people that could care less about their behavior. The only people that will make money are the promoters (already wealthy at the expense of tax payers). And a first time event of this magnitude will cause problems that no one previously thought of. It took Long Beach about three years before they got it close to right. Here is another thing. The cars don’t just show up and race. There are a few days of practice for the drivers and their crews to prepare. And then a few days of after event clean up and dismantle of the course. Probably a week of the two words above.

Political contributions by the president of Baltimore Racing Development:

Tell Rolley to ask Bill C where the real pudding is

So the streets were going to have to be repaved anyway. At the tune of 6 million for a couple of miles, if that? Already, the cost benefit is skewed the wrong way.

The asserted projected attendance of 100,000 people coming to Baltimore is ludicrous, as is the projected $70 million economic impact.

FACT: If you go to or, you will discover that every hotel in Baltimore still has vacancies every night during Labor Day weekend. If people are going to be coming to Baltimore from out of town, I would think that most of them would already have made their reservations and bought their tickets.

FACT: Other than the Indianapolis 500 itself, not a single IndyCar race this year has drawn close to 100,000 people TOTAL, much less than many from out of town.

Basing attendance projections on the Indy 500 itself, if that's what has been done, is as ludicrous as projecting attendance for the typical featured race at Pimlico based on the number who attend the Preakness. And claiming that 100,000 people will come to Baltimore for this event makes no more sense if what is really meant is that there will be a total of 100,000 who attend SOME race that weekend if you're counting the same people several times -- and especially not if most of them come from the Baltimore area itself.

If tickets are selling so well for this thing, why are they being given away every day by local TV and radio stations?

Hey, the way I see it, the city got free road repairs and a chance at filling some restaurants and hotel rooms on Labor Day weekend. Whether the race itself is profitable or not doesn't really make any difference. I have no interest in the Grand Prix personally but why turn down free money?

it would be great if it succeeeds and brings a lot of tourist money to the city every year... but even if it doesn't happen again, the roads will still be fixed.

So if I want to go to the inner harbor on Labor day I will have to park where?? In Woodlawn and catch the redline. Thats right, that is 10 years away. Also I guess I will have to wait 2 hours before being seated at a restaurant. Yeah, this is what I want on Labor Day Weekend.

Geez, I guess some people just like to cry about everything and anything that does not agree with their personal plans (@Dub). Look if it's going to be too much trouble to visit Baltimore for your Labor Day weeekend, just go somewhere else then. Stop trying to make the race out to be a bad thing for the city.

Take a step back and realize the big picture of what this event is about. If anything, this is a tremendous boost to the city on many levels. Baltimore gets very little recognition as it is, save for tv series such as the Wire and Homicide (both of which generally paint an overall negative image of the city for people who are not from here).

I believe without a shadow of a doubt that this weekend event will have an extremely positive impact (short and long-term) on the city (even though to get there we all have to deal with the minor annoyances it creates).

Sorry for the rant. Just getting tired of people thinking of nothing but themselves.

The notion that Baltimore will get any sort of national attention for this race is ludicrous. How many of you are aware of the several other cities holding similar races? Detroit has one. Has it helped them out any? Does anyone even care, outside the city itself? I don't think so.
The race is a big mistake, and I hope it costs SRB at the polls.

Eh, Rolley is grasping at straws. He's got no real issues to campaign on, so he's trying to make hay out of the Grand Prix. His tax plan is unworkable, and no one really cared about the trees, so now there's this.

According to the SUN.. SRB has had major contributors that have a vested interest in this race.(Grand Prix and Mayoral race)

"The contractor whose firm is handling roadwork for the race, Pierce J. Flanigan IV, contributed $4,000 to Rawlings-Blake...Willard Hackerman, whose Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel could become part of an arena/convention center complex under a proposal from the Greater Baltimore Committee, gave $4,000"

If these two profit $100 for every dollar donated to the campaign i'd say thats a great investment. Thank you for posting your comments that are based in FACT. the fact is that if only 2000 people contributed to SRB's campaign to raise that amount of money, then @ $700 per person average, that's not saying a lot about the voter base in Baltimore.

@Dub -- you remind me of Yogi Berra's comment, "nobody goes there anymore because it's always too crowded." Come another weekend. Or take the Light Rail. Or the Metro. Or drive into midtown and use the circulator.

If your beef is with Baltimore's deplorable mass transit, I'm with you. If your beef is that you find it inconvenient that others might be downtown when you want to visit, I'm not.

Has he even been to an auto race? Or just Basket Ball Games! Iknow all us Blacks are only interested in Ball games right! Not me i love racing i have been to the 500 Ten times you A-hold

As someone who is neither dying nor a grade school, I would LOVE to have Otis as my Mayor. What a ball o' fun he sounds like!!
Now that's the attitude that really keeps people coming to Baltimore to visit and back to stay.

The reason it didn't work in DC is because it was held in the getto not like the area of the inner harbour which is a model that many states follow.

Looks like the Grand Prix is filling the local hotels for Labor Day weekend. Based on
Baltimore is 21st in the top 25 labor day destinations!
More money and positive PR for our City!

I have a feeling that this will not bring in that many people into the city. As a sedan driver I pick up a lot of people from BWI and bring them to the Inner Harbor. I'd say that 95% of the people that see the construction and ask me what is going on have never heard of the Baltimore Grand Prix. With a week left, it doesn't look good for the event. Also I've noticed that the promoters are advertising that "tickets are going fast", which is often a deceptive tactic to pressure people to buy tickets. I hope I'm proven wrong.

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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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