baltimoresun.com

October 26, 2011

City boots and threatens to seize its own car

 

Baltimore boots and threatens to seize its own car
 

 

 

A Baltimore City fleet vehicle was booted and marked with a notice that it could face "seizure by the City of Baltimore."

Adrienne Barnes, a transportation department spokeswoman, said it was unclear how a city-owned vehicle could have been booted by the city.

"That's something that is going to have to be investigated," said Barnes. 

The car was parked in front of the Abel Wolman municipal building near City Hall on Holliday Street Wednesday morning.  Papers in the back seat indicated that it had been used by a housing inspector, and Barnes confirmed that the housing department had possession of the car.

Barnes said that parking agents ticket any vehicles that are illegally parked, regardless of to whom they belong. 

"If there's a sign that says no parking, that means no parking, no matter who you are," she said. "Our ticket issuance is based on safety."

But Barnes was not able to explain why the boot was placed on the car.  Vehicles are generally immobilized after at least three parking tickets go unpaid.

Under the city's system, parking tickets on fleet vehicles are normally promptly paid, Barnes said. 

"When a City of Baltimore vehicle is ticketed, parking fines automatically sends a notice to fleet," she said. "Fleet pays the find and then it's automatically sent to the agency for reimbursement."

The agency then passes the cost on to the employee who was at fault she said. 

Barnes said transportation and housing officials were trying to determine how the car could have built up enough unpaid tickets to require the boot. 

 

Posted by Julie Scharper at 1:09 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: City Hall
        

September 23, 2011

Sneed concedes in Baltimore City Council race

The Sun's Luke Broadwater reports:

Shannon Sneed, the television producer who finished just 43 votes short of unseating Councilman Warren Branch in Baltimore City Council District 13, posted a concession message on her campaign Facebook page Thursday and pledged to continue her activist work in East Baltimore.

"We have come to the end of a long journey. I am thankful for the opportunity I had to get to know many of the great residents of District 13. I would also like to thank my husband, family, friends, and neighbors who dedicated so much time in this campaign. Though I was not selected to be the next council member, I will still be working tirelessly in our community. I would like to congratulate our councilman on his race and I know if he succeeds then our community succeeds."

In an interview earlier this week, Branch, the brother of Del. Talmadge Branch (D-Baltimore), claimed victory in a race that was too close to call for more than a week. He praised Sneed's campaign as "wonderful."

"She put on a positive campaign. There was no innuendo and slander," Branch said.

Sneed, who has worked for WJZ-13, has not responded to calls and emails seeking comment.

About 4,500 votes were cast in the district's five-person primary race.

The Baltimore City Board of Elections expects to certify the election results this afternoon, officials there said.

Posted by baltimoresun.com at 9:54 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: City Hall, Elections
        

September 22, 2011

Rawlings-Blake says Obama bill would fight poverty

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake responded to a Census report Thursday showing growing poverty in Baltimore with another call to support President Barack Obama’s jobs bill.

“The Great Recession has hit America’s cities particularly hard with higher unemployment rates, and the tough economy has pushed more families into poverty,” Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. “That is why Republicans in Congress must work now to pass the American Jobs Act.”

The Census reported Thursday that more than one in four Baltimoreans is living in poverty. That’s an increase of more than 20 percent in the last year.

Obama’s llegislation would cut payroll taxes for employers and employees and pump $100 billion of new infrastructure spending into the economy. It has met opposition from GOP lawmakers, who object to the payroll tax cut, the stimulus spending and Obama’s plan to fund it in part by raising taxes on the wealthy.

Rawlings-Blake joined mayors from across the country earlier this week to lobby Washington in support of the $447 billion package. They met at the White House on Tuesday with National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and senior advisor David Plouffe.

In her statement, Rawlings Blake said the American Jobs Act would “cut payroll taxes for Baltimore families — keeping more money in their paychecks; extend unemployment benefits for Baltimoreans looking for jobs; create new tax incentives for small businesses to create jobs; build or renovate thousands of new schools in America’s poorest school districts—immediately creating new construction jobs; and fund rehabilitation and demolition of vacant buildings in struggling neighborhoods.

Continue reading "Rawlings-Blake says Obama bill would fight poverty" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:48 PM | | Comments (6)
        

September 21, 2011

‘Significant’ budget shortfall projected in Baltimore City

With Baltimore County attempting to cut 200 positions in hopes of saving $15 million for next budget year, city officials say they’re also eying a dire budget year.

Ryan O’Doherty, spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said city budget analysts are predicting a “significant” shortfall this budget cycle – which will cause the mayor to make “difficult reductions” to city government when the budget process begins next spring.

“We expect to have budget projections that show a significant shortfall,” he said. “Without getting into specifics, there will be very difficult reductions in this budget.”

The city has frequently faced structural deficits in recent years. Last year’s shortfall was $65 million; the year before, the deficit was $121 million, O’Doherty said.

“Again, it’s largely as a result of declining revenues and rising fixed costs,” he said of the projected shortfall.

O’Doherty said low income and property tax revenue, combined with the “ever-increasing” cost of employee benefits and prescription drug costs have created the deficit.

“Every year it gets more difficult because the year before you already cut everything you thought you could cut,” he said.

He said he expected the city’s budget office to have specific projections within a month.

-Luke Broadwater

Posted by Andy Rosen at 4:42 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: City Hall
        

September 14, 2011

Newcomer Mosby beats Conaway in council primary

In an election with few surprises, Baltimore City Councilwoman Belinda M. Conaway, the daughter of a storied political family, was soundly defeated in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

Political newcomer Nick Mosby, an electrical engineer from Reservoir Hill, bested two-term incumbent Conaway by 648 votes in the Democratic primary, part of a larger shift on the Council that increases the number of allies of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Conaway, 43, who had been dogged in recent months over residency issues and filed a $20 million lawsuit against a blogger she claimed had defamed her, said in a brief interview Wednesday morning that she looked forward to spending more time with her family. She ultimately dropped the suit.

“I don’t have any regrets -- none,” said Conaway, 43. “There’s a lot of support for me and for my family. We remain positive and remain committed to the community. Life goes on. The world keeps on turning.”

The defeat is a blow to the Conaway political dynasty, which includes the councilwoman’s father, Frank M. Conaway, Sr., the clerk of the city’s Circuit Court who made an unsuccessful primary challenge to Rawlings-Blake. Belinda Conaway's mother, Mary Conaway is the city’s register of wills and her brother, Frank M. Conaway Jr. represents the city in the House of Delegates.

Mosby, who ran unsuccessfully for the Council in 2007 against William Cole, before Reservoir Hill was shifted from District 11 to District 7, said he saw an opportunity when Conaway filed the suit.

Continue reading "Newcomer Mosby beats Conaway in council primary" »

Posted by Andy Rosen at 3:20 PM | | Comments (2)
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September 13, 2011

Baltimore polls open for primary

UPDATED: 9:22 a.m.

Luke Broadwater reports:

Voters took to the polls this morning, casting their ballots for Baltimore mayor in a crowded race that could change the direction of the city.

At Fort Worthington Elementary School in East Baltimore, 44 people had voted within the first hour, election judges said.

East Baltimore resident Lisa McCray said she had nothing against Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, but preferred challenger Catherine Pugh, a state senator.

"I like her outlook on things," McCray said of Pugh. "She's going to be able to change things."

McCray said the most important issues for her were the schools and crime.

Angela Lyles, 46, of East Baltimore, said she voted for the mayor, who assumed the position once her predecessor Mayor Sheila Dixon was forced to step down after a corruption trial.

"I want to give her a full term," Lyles said of Rawlings-Blake. "She needs to get a fair chance."

Robert and Margaret Jackson -- an East Baltimore couple married for 56 years -- said they came out to the polls early to vote for the candidates, including Rawlings-Blake, endorsed by the AFL-CIO union.

Robert Jackson, 77, said he believed Rawlings-Blake could help improve schools, while his wife said she earned respect for the mayor when Rawlings-Blake attended an event for adult illiteracy.

"That made me see her in a positive light," Margaret Jackson said.

City Council President Jack Young stopped by the polling station to greet election judges, he said.

Young said he had been driving around to bus stops encouraging people to vote.

"I know they're predicting light turnout but I hope that's not the case," he said.

Young, who faces multiple challengers to his seat, said he did not take the race lightly.

"People need to get out and exercise their right to vote," he said.

Check out the Baltimore City elections guide

Continue reading "Baltimore polls open for primary" »

Posted by baltimoresun.com at 8:34 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: City Hall, Elections
        

August 23, 2011

SRB: No significant injuries or major damage

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has addressed reports at the city’s emergency operations center on the earthquake that rattled Maryland. The following are her remarks, as prepared for delivery.

"Good afternoon.

"Today, just before 2pm, Baltimore residents experienced the effects of a 5.8 magnitude earthquake originating South of Richmond Virginia.

"While this came as quite a shock to all of us, I am pleased to report that there have been no reports of significant injuries or major damage in Baltimore.

"There have been a handful of reports of minor to moderate damage to some buildings.

"Shortly after the earthquake, I immediately activated the City's Emergency Operation Center.

"And we convened a meeting of City First Responders and City Agency heads to conduct a preliminary assessment of the effects of the earthquake.

"Again, at this time we have no reports of injuries or Major damage in Baltimore.

"Let me be clear:

"911 is fully operational and responding to all emergencies.

"All nine Police Districts are fully-staffed and additional resources have been deployed.

"The Baltimore City Police helicopter "Foxtrot" is continuing to conduct an aerial survey of the city.

"Again, we will respond to every single 911 call for service.

Continue reading "SRB: No significant injuries or major damage" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:48 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Council president forum postponed after quake

The League of Women Voters of Baltimore City has cancelled the forum planned Tuesday evening between candidates for City Council president after officials closed the Enoch Pratt Free Library, where it was to be held.

The central library building, which dates to the 1930s, was evacuated and closed after the earthquake shook Baltimore Tuesday afternoon. It must be inspected before the public will be allowed back in.

The League, which organized the event, did not say Tuesday whether it would be rescheduled.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:42 PM | | Comments (0)
        

August 16, 2011

Rawlings-Blake boasts fundraising lead

Sun colleague Justin Fenton reports:

With less than a month left before the Democratic primary, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has opened a commanding fundraising lead over her challengers, according to figures released by the campaigns in advance of the final reporting deadline Tuesday.

Rawlings-Blake had raised $800,000 since mid-January and $1.4 million overall this year, her campaign said, more than all her opponents combined. She has $676,000 in cash on hand — enough, her campaign said, to fund an aggressive television campaign in the race’s final weeks.

Her lead poses a challenge to her the rest of the field, which was already battling the perception that she has the race all but locked down.

Rawlings-Blake, who became mayor early last year following the resignation or Sheila Dixon, has also secured the endorsements of much of the city and state’s power establishment. But her campaign touted the breadth of her support.

“We’re really proud of the fact that we have had more than 1,000 individuals donors since the beginning of the year,” spokeswoman Keiana Page said. “I think it just goes to show that people aren’t necessarily in agreeance with some of the radical plans put out by our opponents.”

Her challengers have tried to use Rawlings-Blake’s fundraising prowess against her, saying it shows she is beholden to special interests and the political establishment.

State Sen. Catherine Pugh said she had raised $345,000 since she announced her candidacy for mayor in June. She had $250,000 in January. A campaign spokesman said he did not know how much cash she had on hand.

Former city planning director Otis Rolley reported raising about $267,000 since mid-January and $400,000 overall. He had less than $95,000 in cash.

Former City Councilman Joseph T. Landers raised $140,000 after he announced his candidacy in April, much of it in loans from himself and his campaign manager, according to a report filed with state board of elections. He had about $101,700 on hand.

Continue reading "Rawlings-Blake boasts fundraising lead" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 8:53 PM | | Comments (20)
        

June 23, 2011

Conaway suit could "chill free speech in Baltimore," blogger says

Blogger Adam Meister has asked a judge to dismiss the $21 million law suit that Baltimore City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway brought against him after he reported she signed documents indicating she lived in Baltimore County.

The suit "if allowed to proceed, will chill free speech in Baltimore," an attorney for Meister wrote in a motion asking the judge to dismiss the suit. "By filing this suit, [Conaway] is attempting to silence Mr. Meister during the period of her re-election campaign."

In March, Meister,on his blog for Examiner.com, reported that Conaway had designated a home in Randallstown as her principal residence and linked to public real estate records to back his case.

"Belinda K. Conaway should immediately resign from Baltimore's City Council since she does not reside in Baltimore," Meister wrote.

Last month, Conaway filed suit against Meister demanding $21 million in damages and saying the blog post was libeous, defamatory and intentionally inflicted of emotional distress.

Conaway says in the suit that she was "having trouble sleeping," "short-tempered and ill" because of the blog post.

Meister's legal filings, prepared by two attorneys from the Venable firm on a pro bono basis, states that Conaway is a public figure and Meister was reporting on a matter of public concern-- indicating that his words do not pass the test to be considered libel.

Moreover, the filings state, Meister linked to documents Conaway herself had signed, attesting that her primary residence as in the county.

"If politicians can punish journalists by dragging them into litigation for reporting on the
politicians’ own statements, on matters of public concern, then the First Amendment is
endangered in Baltimore," Meister states in the suit.

An attorney for Conaway, Thomas J. Maronick Jr. said he had not yet had time to thoroughly studying Meister's filings, but said, "Obviously, at this point, we intend to vigorously argue against that motion."

"We don't believe our suit is frivolous," he said. "We filed it in good faith."


Posted by Julie Scharper at 9:37 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: City Hall
        

June 21, 2011

City clears legal hurdle over slots site

City officials have agreed to pay a local development team $1.2 million to settle a 2007 deal on a portion of land included in the 17-acre parcel slated for a slots parlor, clearing one of the last legal hurdles before the site can be developed.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's office announced today that it had reached the agreement with Gateway South LLC, headed by Samuel Polakoff, over the 11-acre site off of Russell Street. The deal is slated to go before the five-member Board of Estimates tomorrow.

The quasi-public Baltimore Development Corporation awarded the exclusive negotiating rights to Polakoff for the 11-acre waterfront site in 2007. Polakoff, whose company was then called Cormony Development LLC, had plans to team with Ray Lewis to build offices, shops, restaurants and a sports entertainment complex on the site.

Polakoff had initially asked for as much as $4 million to repay the investment he had made in the property, but the city negotiated the amount down, according to a statement from Rawlings-Blake's office.

One last legal challenge remains on the site. Canadian developer Michael Moldenhauer, who was the sole bidder on the casino in 2009, is appealing the state's decision not to grant his company a slots license.

The state slots commission issued a new request for proposals for the site in late April and applications are due at the end of next month. Moldenhauer is among the developers who are considering placing a bid on the project.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 2:59 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: City Hall, Slots
        

June 20, 2011

Rawlings-Blake elected trustee of mayors' group

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has elected Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake one of 13 trustees of the organization.

The conference, which is concluding its annual meeting Monday in Baltimore, represents the 1,210 U.S. cities with populations of 30,000 or more. As a trustee, Rawlings-Blake is part pf the conference’s executive committee, which helps determine the direction of the organization, her office says.

Conference CEO Tom Cochran called Rawlings-Blake “a tireless advocate for her city.”

“Her speedy rise to a Trustee position with the U.S. Conference of Mayors is unprecedented,” Cochran said in a statement released by Rawlings-Blake’s office. “She is smart, talented and energetic, and we are lucky to have her as a Trustee.”

Rawlings-Blake called the election “a great honor.”

Continue reading "Rawlings-Blake elected trustee of mayors' group" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:34 PM | | Comments (4)
        

City Councilwoman signed doc calling county home "primary residence"

A Baltimore City Councilwoman who is suing a local blogger for reporting that she “does not reside” in the city signed a document last year certifying that her primary residence was in Baltimore County.

Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, who lists her father’s Northwest Baltimore home on city documents as her official residence, signed a mortgage agreement last year indicating that the house she bought in Randallstown in 1997 was her primary residence.

Conaway joined the City Council in 2004.

Contacted for a response on Monday, Conaway said: “You know I can't talk about that” and referred questions to her lawyer.

Attorney Thomas J. Maronick Jr. said the councilwoman and her husband signed the document “inadvertently.”

“They shouldn’t have signed it,” Maronick said. He said the couple “didn’t look very carefully” at the papers and called the signing an “oversight.”

“It’s not unusual for people at a real estate settlement to sign documents without reading them carefully,” Maronick said. “There was no attempt whatsoever to defraud anyone.”

Conaway filed a $21 million lawsuit against blogger Adam Meister and the Examiner news organization last month after Meister posted copies of Conaway’s property records online and wrote that she “should immediately resign from Baltimore's City Council since she does not reside in Baltimore.”

In her lawsuit, Conaway claims the posts were libelous, defamatory and intentionally inflicted emotional distress because she “does in fact live in Baltimore City.”

Meister said Monday that a major law firm had agreed to defend him pro bono. He declined to name the firm publicly.

He said he planned to file a motion to dismiss “because the suit inhibits free speech.” He declined to comment further, on the advice of his lawyer.

Conaway is not the only City Council member whose residency has sparked questions.

Continue reading "City Councilwoman signed doc calling county home "primary residence"" »

Posted by Julie Scharper at 9:53 AM | | Comments (36)
Categories: City Hall
        

June 16, 2011

"Stop cutting police and fire" unions tell visiting mayors

Baltimore's police and fire unions hoisted a billboard near City Hall Thursday asking attendees for the U.S. Conference of Mayors to "Stop cutting police & fire."
Baltimore FOP and Fire Union billboard for U.S. Conference of Mayors
The unions had previously threatened to picket the conference, which is expected to draw more than 200 mayors and their staff members to Baltimore for the weekend.
 
The unions have been struggling with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake since she pushed through a reform of their pension plan last year that saved the city hundreds of millions of dollars, but delayed retirement and cut some benefits.
 
The billboard is a few blocks from City Hall and is visible from I-83-- and The Baltimore Sun newsroom. 

 

Posted by Julie Scharper at 1:56 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: City Hall
        

June 15, 2011

Councilwomen win additional $50K for youth jobs

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration pledged an additional $50,000 for summer youth jobs, following lobbying from City Council members Belinda Conaway and Mary Pat Clarke and youth advocates.

The announcement came as the council's budget and appropriations committee unanimously voted in favor of Rawlings-Blake's $1.3 billion operating budget for the financial year that begins July 1.

Rawlings-Blake increased spending in her operating budget by 1 percent while cutting $65 million in expenses.

Rawlings-Blake had offered to devote an additional $36,000 to Youth Works and $14,000 for the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau, but the director of that organization pledged his funds for the city's youth summer jobs program.

Legal Aid executive director Wilhelm Joseph said the $14,000 allocation was "insulting." The city had given his organization as much as $250,000 in recent years and $125,000 last year.

The organization spends $9.5 million of its $24 million budget helping city residents, he said.

Youth advocates, including the Safe and Sound Campaign, led by Hathaway Ferebee, and Ralph E. Moore Jr. of East Baltimore's St. Frances Academy Community Center, had pushed for greater funding for programs for young people.

Youth Works' budget for the coming year will be $2.85 million, substantially larger than the $1.76 allocated for it this year. State funding for the program rose from from $86,000 last year to $1.17 this year.

Nearly 5,000 young people are expected to have summer jobs through the program.

The entire council is slated to cast final votes on the budget Monday.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 5:01 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: City Hall
        

Police, fire unions cancel protest of U.S. Conference of Mayors

The city's police and fire unions have called off a protest of the U.S. Conference of Mayors that will begin in Baltimore later this week.

"It's about messaging getting for our members what they deserve," said Fraternal Order of Police president Bob Cherry. "We thought going back to a billboard reminding mayors of the importance of public safety was the best way to go."

Speakers at the conference, which begins Thursday night and runs through Monday, include House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. About 200 mayors and their staff are expected to be in the city through Monday morning.

Gov. Martin O'Malley and filmmaker John Waters are slated to entertain the mayors.

The unions had threatened last winter to picket the conference to push Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to compromise over furlough days and pension benefits. The police and firefighters union remain locked in a legal battle with the city over changes to their pension plan that Rawlings-Blake pushed through last year.

Cherry declined to describe the message to be printed on the billboard. Last year, the unions posted a billboard near City Hall that said, "Welcome to Baltimore, Home to a Mayor & City Council who turned their backs on our Police & Firefighters."

Posted by Julie Scharper at 3:34 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: City Hall
        

June 13, 2011

Baltimore City Council joins chorus against Obama immigration enforcement

The Baltimore City Council tonight voted to adopt a resolution condemning a federal program that is key to President Obama’s strategy to toughen enforcement of immigration laws, joining a chorus of other states and law enforcement agencies across the country in rebuffing the initiative.

According to a press release from Casa of Maryland, the non-binding resolution calls for a suspension of the "Secure Communities" program, which the council says is "undermining public safety in the city for everyone" by mostly deporting people who have not committed an infraction. It was introduced by City Councilman Jim Kraft, who represents Southeast Baltimore.

Across the country, states have been rebuffing the program. Illinois was first, terminating its agreement with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in May. New York followed suit, withdrawing from the program earlier this month, and Massachusetts also notified the Department of Homeland Security that it will not participate. California Governor Jerry Brown is also being pushed to suspend that state's participation. 

Casa officials told The Sun's Julie Scharper that they hope the Baltimore council's resolution will lead the state officials to join other states in suspending the program. Casa claims that 60 percent of those deported in Maryland under the program have been "non-criminals."

ICE says the program helps identify criminal aliens in state prisons and local jails by running their fingerprints against federal immigration databases when they are booked into the system. It has led to record numbers of deportations, almost 8,000, in the past two years, according to reports.

According to an ICE report from January, when 7 of 24 jurisdictions in the Maryland were active in the program, 163 convicted criminal aliens had been arrested and booked into ICE custody. Seventy-two convicted criminal aliens had been removed from the U.S. As of April 2011, 21 Maryland jurisdictions had signed on: Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Kent, Prince George's, Queen Anne's, Saint Mary's, Somerset, Talbot and Worcester counties.  

Posted by Justin Fenton at 6:33 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: City Hall, Immigration
        

June 8, 2011

Affordable housing bill clears hurdle

An effort to indefinitely extend a Baltimore law that requires developers to build affordable housing units along with market-rate homes received the backing of a key City Council committee today, although it's unclear how the measure will fare when the full council takes it up Monday.

The 2007 law, which was championed by Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, requires developers to set aside a certain percentage of homes, condominiums or apartments to be sold or rented at lower rates for large developments that receive significant public subsidies or meet other criteria.

Only one development project, Union Mill in Hampden, has triggered the terms of the law, resulting in the construction of 10 affordable units. Seawall Development, the builders of that project, also tapped into the city's affordable housing fund to construct 20 units in other projects.

Affordable housing advocates say the law was watered down in 2007 when the council -- following recommendations of a panel of developers -- passed nearly 100 amendments, including some which slowed the implementation of the law.

Mel Freeman, the executive director of the Citizens' Planning and Housing Association a major proponent of the measure, is lobbying council members to extend the law indefinitely. He hopes to then amend the law to make it apply to more projects.

The bill was "beat up pretty bad in 2007," he said. "Getting the sunset removed gives us time to go back to the table and work on those amendments."

The law was intended to open opportunities for low-income residents to live in neighborhoods where they have access to quality schools, grocery stores, parks and other amenities, he said.

"The issue is quality affordable housing," said Tammy Mayer, community engagement director for Citizens Planning and Housing Association. "If you segregate all your affordable housing in one area, you wind up with ghettos."

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who voted to repeal a provision that would have repealed the law next year, said the law "deserves to have a wide horizon of time" to demonstrate its efficacy.

Council Vice President Edward Reisinger, who chairs the Transportation and Land Use committee, voted in favor of the bill, but said he planned to introduce an amendment to it on Monday.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is pushing for the bill to sunset in 2020, a spokesman said.

Rawlings-Blake "supports an extension of law to July 2020 which would give more time for the housing market to recover and give the City a better understanding the of effectiveness of the ordinance in providing affordable housing opportunities," spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said in an email.

The city's planning and housing departments recommended that the law be extended for a finite period. The finance department wrote in a letter to council members that the law is "neither cost-effective nor sustainable," noting that it had yielded 20 housing units at a cost of approximately $87,500 per unit.

Four members of the council's Land Use and Transportation Committee voted to support the indefinite extension: Reisinger, Clarke, Bill Henry, Sharon Green Middleton and Warren Branch. Two members, Belinda Conaway and James B. Kraft, were not present for the vote.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 5:09 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: City Hall
        

City approves $99K more for Grand Prix work

The city spending board voted today to allocate an additional $98,800 for infrastructure improvements related to the Grand Prix race.

The money, which was primarily drawn from federal funds, will be used for construction management and inspections, said transportation department spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes.

The five members of the Board of Estimates, who include Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Comptroller Joan Pratt, voted unanimously to approve the expenditure.

The city had allocated $7.75 million for road construction to transform two miles of streets ringing the Inner Harbor into a race course for the three day open-wheeled racing festival, which is scheduled for the Labor Day long weekend.

The city previously awarded a $4.2 million contract to contractor P. Flanigan & Sons for road work related to the race. The construction management contract was awarded to Whitman, Requardt & Associates.

Crews shutdown Conway Street earlier this week for construction related to the race and it is expected to remain closed for two weeks. Transportation officials expect the roadwork to be finished by late July or early August -- around the time Jersey walls and concrete barriers start going up along the course.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 4:17 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: City Hall
        

May 25, 2011

City security equipment removed from Sheila Dixon's home

Update:
City-owned security equipment worth $12,000 was removed from former Mayor Sheila Dixon's home last fall,after Baltimore police made several attempts to reclaim the equipment, the city's inspector general announced Wednesday.

Inspector General David McClintock said he received a tip in September that the security cameras remained at Dixon's home in the Southwest Baltimore neighborhood of Hunting Ridge and that police had previously attempted to get the equipment back. Police removed the cameras in November, he said.

Reached by phone, Dixon said she had no desire to keep the equipment, and that she would have given it back sooner if she could have disconnected it herself.

"You know the city-- how slow they are," said Dixon. "I couldn't take it down myself."

She said that a police officer who had formerly been assigned to guard her first contacted her about getting back the equipment in August or September, months after she left office.

"It was a matter of coordinating between the police department and some of my former staff," she said.

Dixon, who was in New York for her daughter's college graduation, questioned why the inspector general's office was announcing the removal the equipment six months after it occurred.

McClintock said that his office recently completed an administrative review of the policy for reclaiming equipment from former city officials. Receiving the equipment from Dixon was the first part of that effort, he said.

"Police made several efforts to obtain Mayor Dixon’s consent for removal of the equipment but were not successful," according to a news release from his office.

When Martin O'Malley left the mayor's office to become governor, he returned the security equipment that had been installed at his Baltimore home, according to the news release.

"As a result of renewed efforts by the OIG and the Baltimore City Police, the equipment from Mayor Dixon’s residence was returned to City custody," the release continues.

Dixon resigned in February 2010 as part of a plea agreement to settle charges of embezzlement and perjury.

Here's the full text of the inspector general's news release:

Continue reading "City security equipment removed from Sheila Dixon's home" »

Posted by Julie Scharper at 4:25 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: City Hall
        

'Don't waste our time,' SRB says to those unhappy with slots offer

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake addressed reports this morning that some potential bidders for Baltimore's casino believe the deal assembled by the state and city would make it nearly impossible to turn a profit.

"The ones who are complaining [about the deal], I hope they don't waste our time and submit a bid," said Rawlings-Blake, adding that she did not wish to repeat the problems the city encountered last time they attempted to find a slots operator.

That bidder, Baltimore City Entertainment Group, headed by Canadian developer Michael Moldenhauer, is in Baltimore City Circuit Court today for a hearing on their second appeal to overturn the slots commission's ruling to not issue them a slots license. BCEG was the only group that bid on the casino when the state slots commission last sought proposals in 2009.

Rawlings-Blake said she was confident that the deal negotiated by state slots officials and her economic development team could "attract capable, strong companies."

The city has received "a lot of good feedback" on the deal, although it may not exactly suit the wishes of all companies, she said.

"Many potential bidders wish they could create the [request for proposals for the casino] themselves," she said.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 11:30 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: City Hall
        

May 23, 2011

Pelosi, Huffington coming for mayors' meeting

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Gov. Martin O’Malley, new media magnate Arianna Huffington and U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue will be coming to Baltimore next month for the annual meeting of the the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Washington-based organization announced Monday.

Hundreds of mayors are expected to attend the meeting from June 17 to 20 at the Hilton Baltimore, which is to focus on jobs and the economy, homeland security, transportation, energy and immigration. The mayors use the annual meeting to debate and vote on policy positions to forward to Congress and the White House.

On the last day of the meeting, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is scheduled to be inaugurated president of the conference for 2011-12. He takes over from Eilzabeth Kautz, mayor of Burnsville, Minn.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors represents the 1,210 U.S. cities with populations of 30,000 or more.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 11:16 AM | | Comments (12)
        

May 19, 2011

Healthcare workers union endorses Rawlings-Blake

A healthcare workers union endorsed this afternoon Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's bid to retain the city's highest office.

The United Healthcare Workers East of the SEIU pledged to back Rawlings-Blake at an event at the Eubie Blake Cultural Center.

“As a city council member, as council president and now as mayor, she’s fought tirelessly for quality healthcare — and for quality healthcare jobs," John Reid, executive vice president of 1199SEIU, said in a statement. "By helping caregivers to win a voice for our patients and a better life for our families, she’s helping to improve the quality of life for everyone in Baltimore.”

“Healthcare workers are the heart and soul of Baltimore. One in five jobs in our city is in healthcare, so by improving conditions for workers in our hospitals, nursing homes and clinics, we’re not only improving healthcare standards, we’re improving living standards across the city. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made so far, and I know together we can do so much more by 2015," Rawlings-Blake said in a statement.

The union touted Rawlings-Blake's sponsorship of a 2009 resolution in support of the Heart of Baltimore campaign, which backed "the right of every Baltimore caregiver to a free and fair union election."

The union described itself in a press release "the most powerful grassroots election operation in Maryland" and said "substantial numbers" of its members would campaign door-to-door.

Rawlings-Blake has picked up a number of high-profile endorsements in recent weeks, including Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Rep. Elijah Cummings and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 12:59 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: City Hall
        

May 17, 2011

Rolley unveils plan to 'rebuild' city government

Mayoral candidate Otis Rolley is slated Wednesday to release his plan to "rebuild" city government by cutting high-ranking staffers, requiring new or promoted municipal workers to live in Baltimore and performing random anonymous checks of city services.

Rolley says he wants to "increase... the public's faith in how government makes decisions" by forcing disclosures of contributions from contractors and subcontractors and barring major donors from receiving no-bid contracts or participating in powerful boards.

"If you’re serious about a open and transparent government and if you're truly respectful of the citizens as your customers and your bosses then you do things differently," Rolley said in an interview.

Rolley, who served as the city's planning director under then-Mayor Martin O'Malley for four years and as former Mayor Sheila Dixon's chief of staff for one year, plans to present his plan tomorrow afternoon at his campaign headquarters in Hampden.

In the seven-page proposal, Rolley says he would eliminate the two deputy mayor positions, which currently have a salaries over $100,000.

"The mayor needs to hire competent, qualified courageous [agency heads] and deal with them directly," he said.

Continue reading "Rolley unveils plan to 'rebuild' city government" »

Posted by Julie Scharper at 7:22 PM | | Comments (15)
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Stokes to make mayoral announcement Wednesday

Councilman Carl Stokes plans to tell supporters that he is "definitely" planning to run at an event at a Charles Village cafe tomorrow evening.

Stokes, who also ran for mayor in 1999, says that he will not be making a "formal campaign announcement" and that he is not planning to file to run for office tomorrow.

"My friends and my family have been asking me if I'm definitely going to run," said Stokes. "I've asked those who are able to come over tomorrow to Terra Café to tell them I'm definitely going to run for mayor."

Stokes denied rumors that he is contemplating a run for his current seat representing the 12th District or to unseat Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young.

Stokes said he'll leave the campaign event shortly after 6 p.m. to join the rest of the City Council for taxpayer's night at the War Memorial Building, a public forum for residents to share their thoughts on Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's proposed budget.

"I'm not going to miss taxpayers night," said Stokes. "That wouldn’t be a signal for anybody."

Continue reading "Stokes to make mayoral announcement Wednesday" »

Posted by Julie Scharper at 6:06 PM | | Comments (5)
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May 13, 2011

Update on the arrests of city workers

A total of 11 city employees were found to have open warrants under a new initiative that checks a database of of the city's 15,000 workers against a list of people with open warrants, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Friday.

Four of the workers were with the Department of Recreation and Parks, two were with public works department, two with the fire department, two in employment development and one in transportation, spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said in an email.

The warrants were primarily for assault charges and violations of probation, he said.

One of the workers was the subject of two open warrants. Police have served 10 of the 12 open warrants and are waiting to serve the last two, O'Doherty said.

The arrests are part of a new initiative to check city worker rolls against lists of open warrants, which is apparently the first time in recent years city official have performed such a check.

O'Doherty said the initiative was part of Rawlings-Blake's efforts to boost ethical standards and make government more open and accountable.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 5:32 PM | | Comments (0)
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May 12, 2011

City employees arrested on outstanding warrants

About a dozen city employees have been arrested on open warrants under a new initiative from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a spokesman said Thursday.

The Baltimore City Police warrant task force arrested the employees after a check of city databases revealed that they had open warrants for serious offenses, spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said.

The mayor's office recently began checking a database of the city's 15,000 employees against a list of people with outstanding warrants, O'Doherty said. It appears to be the first time in recent history that such a check has been made, he said.

The checks, which are part of an effort to create a more "open and honest government" are ongoing and will be repeated in the future, O'Doherty said.

The names of the employees and their offenses, the agencies for which they worked and the time and place of arrests were not immediately available. A police spokesman did not immediately have additional information.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 6:36 PM | | Comments (16)
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Peter O'Malley to be Rawlings-Blake's chief of staff

The governor's brother is leaving his post as the chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party to become Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's chief of staff, the mayor's office announced Thursday.

Peter O'Malley will start work as Rawlings-Blake's chief of staff tomorrow, according to a news release.

"Peter will help deliver results that benefit the people of Baltimore -- that is why he is the best choice to be Chief of Staff in my Administration," Rawlings-Blake said. "Peter is an effective and proven manager with great integrity who has proven his ability as a public servant."

O'Malley, who worked for the city from 2000-2 and later served as former Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s chief of staff, said he was "honored" to have been chosen for the position.

"I think she's a very serious leader," said O'Malley.  "She makes a decision and does the hard work 

Rawlings-Blake's previous chief of staff, Sophie Dagenais, former corporate attorney and developer, stepped down in March.

The timing is awkward: Peter O'Malley was named to be the chair of the state Democratic Party two months ago.

Yvette Lewis will serve as the party's acting chair and Gov. O'Malley urged the party's executive board to grant her the position permanently at its next meeting, according to a news release.   Lewis, a political veteran from Prince George's County, currently is the party's first vice chair.

O'Malley, an attorney and Mt. Washington resident, said that the two years he spent working for the Citistat office while his brother was mayor "was the best job I ever had."

"You go to work in the morning and you see problems, and when you get to work you can fix them," he said. 

He said his time in Baltimore County and work with the state party would benefit the city.

"I think it's good to have those relationships with the surrounding jurisdictions because a lot of our issues don't just stop at the border," he said. 

City Councilman Robert W. Curran, who is related to the O'Malleys by marriage, praised the move, saying Peter O'Malley would "be a good fit" and wouldn't "need any on the job training."

"He knows the city and he has the ability to reach out to the other subdivisions," Curran said. 

During the annual Democratic party gala Monday night, O'Malley thanked his brother for his hard work but gave no hint that Peter would be moving on.

Peter O'Malley was praised by several officials, and roasted by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

The Senate President, from Prince George's County, said that during the 2010 election Peter O'Malley was "barked at" by his brother, the governor.

 Also, Miller vastly understated Peter's campaign role, saying the governor's brother frequently called to round up yard signs. "He was a sign man," Miller said. "And now he's the head of the Democratic Party."

Peter O'Malley, who has worked on his brother's campaign, should be a political boost for Rawlings-Blake, who faces a competitive primary this year in her first citywide election as mayor.  Rawlings-Blake was elevated to the mayor's office last year after Sheila Dixon resigned.

But at least one challenger to Rawlings-Blake said the move raises eyebrows.

"It's not a show of strength," said Dan Fee, campaign manager for former city planning director Otis Rolley.

"It's clear that she recognizes that she has a real problem, that people are deeply dissatisfied because there are too few jobs and too much crime," he said. "Rather than dealing with this [campaign] with substance, they're looking to do it politically. How does that help the people of Baltimore?"

 

                                                                                      ~Annie Linksey and Julie Scharper

 

Posted by Annie Linskey at 1:41 PM | | Comments (22)
Categories: City Hall
        

April 29, 2011

Bobby Curran's plan to tax the towing companies

If a Baltimore City Councilman has his way, drivers won't be the only ones digging in their pockets when their cars are towed-- towing companies will have to pay too.

Councilman Robert W. Curran wants to impose a $30 surcharge on vehicles towed from private lots.

Under the bill, which Curran plans to introduce at Monday's council meeting, towing companies would be required to notify police before hooking up a car.

The $30 surcharge would be paid by the towing company, not by the unlucky vehicle-owner, Curran said. The companies would be required to pay the even if they hook up the car but do not tow it away.

"This is not intended to be passed on the to the consumer," said Curran, who closely follows towing issues. "The surcharge must be paid by the towing company. They can't jack up their rates."

Curran estimates that about 20,000 vehicles are towed from private lots each year. Tow companies can charge drivers as much as $300 to get their cars back.

Curran's surcharge would not apply to cars towed at the request of the police department by the city-approved "medallion" tow companies.

At a hearing earlier this week, council members requested a consultant review the medallion system, which awards lucrative contracts to a small circle of towing companies without a competitive bidding process.

Curran estimates that the surcharge could generate between $400,000 and $600,000 annually

He would like to see some of that money put back into two of his pet projects-- animals services and BARCS, the city's animal shelter. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake chopped nearly $400,000 from their combined budgets as she sought to close a $65 million gap in the city's spending plan.

Curran said several of his colleagues have offered their support for the measure.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 1:26 PM | | Comments (13)
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Mikulski to endorse Rawlings-Blake Monday

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will pick up another high profile nod Monday-- Sen. Barbara Mikulski is slated to endorse her in Canton, according to the Rawlings-Blake campaign.

Monday's event will mark the second high-profile endorsement for Rawlings-Blake in less than a week's time. Rep. Elijah Cummings offered his support for her campaign at a press conference in front of Mondawmin Mall Thursday.

Mikulski will offer her endorsement in front of the Can Company on Boston Street at 9:30 Monday morning, campaign manager Travis Tazelaar said.

The campaign season is kicking into high gear, as the September Democratic primary looms a little more than four months away.

Former city planning director Otis Rolley and Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors vice president. Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III have filed to run, and state Sen. Catherine Pugh, Councilman Carl Stokes and Clerk of Courts Frank Conaway are all contemplating a mayoral bid.

And rumors remain that former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who spoke eloquently at William Donald Schaefer's funeral on Wednesday, will enter the race at the 11th hour.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 12:39 PM | | Comments (7)
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Jody Landers buys up real estate... online

We know mayoral candidate and Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors vice president Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III is an expert in real property. But he also has staked a few claims online.

Landers purchased the domain names youngforcouncilpresident.com, coleforcouncilpresident.com, conawayformayor.com and stokesformayor.com late last year.

"It was a preemptive, defensive move" that an advisor suggested, Landers said. "When we were buying domain names, we just bought a slew of domain names."

Landers said that he had subsequently "thought the better of it" and would gladly turn the sites over to Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who is running for reelection, Councilman William H. Cole IV (who is running for his 11th district seat, not the presidency) and mayoral candidates Councilman Carl Stokes and Clerk of Courts Frank M. Conaway Sr.

"If any of those folks are interested in them, they can have them for whatever they cost me," he said.

Landers declined to name the advisor who suggested buying the domain names, but said the person "had the best of intentions."

Landers, who is running on a platform of lowering the city's property tax rates, appeared at City Hall earlier this week. The former councilman attended a ceremony Monday evening for current and former city and state elected officials to welcome former governor and mayor William Donald Schaefer's body as he lay in state at City Hall.

Landers said he planned to step from his job with the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors in late June to focus on the campaign.

Landers says he wants to grow the city's tax base by attracting new residents through lowering property tax rates. He criticized the host of new taxes that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake implemented last year to help fill a $121 million hole in the city's budget.

"I just dont see this administration having a plan or a clue as to how to deal with this," he said. "We need a long term vision so that we can grow the tax base."


Posted by Julie Scharper at 11:09 AM | | Comments (1)
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April 28, 2011

Bill Cole files for council seat, ending speculation on council president bid

Councilman William H. Cole IV announced today that he has filed to run for the seat representing the 11th district, ending speculation that he would run to be council president.

On his Facebook page, Cole wrote: "I filed for re-election today. I didn't send out a press release or march across the city -- I just walked in with my $50 in hand and filed. This is the toughest job I've ever had, but I've enjoyed every minute of the challenge. Thanks to all of my constituents, friends, and family (particularly Michelle White Cole) for the tremendous support and encouragement. I'm looking forward to four more years."

Cole attempted to sway his colleagues to elect him council president last year when Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was elevated from that seat to the mayor's office. Despite Rawlings-Blake's behind-the-scenes support for Cole, the majority of council members supported Bernard C. "Jack" Young to become council president.

Young is currently running unopposed to retain the council president's seat.

Under a redistricting plan proposed by Rawlings-Blake and approved by the council last month, Cole's 11th district will change substantially in December. The district will include all of Federal Hill, South Baltimore and Locust Point and no longer include Reservoir Hill and parts of Pigtown.

It is unlikely Cole will face a serious challenger for the seat. The 38-year-old father of three is popular among his constituents and has a close working relationship with Rawlings-Blake. Veteran fundraiser Colleen Martin-Lauer -- who raises money for Rawlings-Blake and Gov. Martin O'Malley-- has worked on Cole's campaigns.

Within a few hours of Cole updating his Facebook status, more than 50 people had "liked" his decision to run again for council.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 11:02 PM | | Comments (1)
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Cummings endorses "steady," "honest" Rawlings-Blake

Rep. Elijah Cummings endorsed Thursday Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's bid to retain her office, describing her as a "steady" and "honest" leader and said she should not be "taken for granted."

"It gives me great pleasure to say I will do everything in my power to make sure Stephanie Rawlings-Blake continues to be mayor for another four years," said Cummings, speaking in front of the recently-opened Marshall's at Mondawmin Mall.

Cummings said that he had known Rawlings-Blake, the daughter of the late Del. Howard P. Rawlings, all of her life and closely watched and advised her political career since she was first elected to the City Council in 1995.

"I am so proud to see Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake emerge to become the great leader that she is," said Cummings.

Rawlings-Blake has led the city through "stormy circumstances," said Cummings, referring to the economic downturn. As if on cue, the rain intensified and thunder rumbled as he spoke.

Cummings praised Rawlings-Blake's "honest" approach to the city's budget deficits over the past two years. Being mayor is more challenging that some realize, he said.

"You have to make sure the potholes are fixed and the snow gets picked up," he said. "You have to be someone who can walk with the people and talk with the president."

"This is a woman who goes into that office every day and does everything she can to empower the citizens of our city," said Cummings, who spoke extemporaneously and without notes.

A crowd of about 30 people, including the mayor's mother, Dr. Nina Rawlings, braved the rain for the campaign event.

Rawlings-Blake read from prepared remarks that reiterated many of the points from her February State of the City speech.

She touted her overall of the fire and police pension system, changes to the composition of the city's ethics board and efforts to close to budget shortfalls without laying off police officers and while fully funding the city's obligations to public schools.

Rawlings-Blake said she gets the job done with "no excuses, no blame game, no sugarcoating, no pie-in-the-sky plans."

She also praised last year's decreases in homicides and violent crimes, but did mention homicide rates for the current year-- which are 23 percent higher than the same period in 2010.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 1:18 PM | | Comments (6)
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Rawlings-Blake: Constellation deal a "net gain" for Baltimore

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said that the sale of Constellation Energy, the city's lone remaining Fortune 500 company, to a Chicago-based company represents a "net gain" for Baltimore.

"I had a great conversation with [Constellation Energy CEO Mayo Shattuck] and he assured me this would be a net gain for Baltimore," said Rawlings-Blake.

Rawlings-Blake said the deal, in which which Constellation is selling itself to Exelon for $7.9 billion in stocks, would result in a new building and new jobs in green energy in Baltimore.

Asked whether she was disturbed to see the city's last Fortune 500 company be sold, Rawlings-Blake said that was a "simplistic way to look at it."

"This will be an expanded company that maintains its presence Downtown," said Rawlings-Blake. "You could see the glass half full or half empty. I look at the glass half full and keep moving."

Posted by Julie Scharper at 12:46 PM | | Comments (9)
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April 27, 2011

Library hours, youth jobs spared in panel's proposal

Library hours and youth summer jobs appear to be off the chopping block after the Board of Estimates voted Wednesday to approve Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s $1.29 billion city budget for 2012.

The spending plan would also cut the number of city employee furlough days and increase the number of city-owned properties for sale. It now goes to the City Council for consideration.

City finance officials say current revenues for 2012, which remain lower than those of 2008, fall about $60 million short of the level needed to maintain current city services. Rawlings-Blake’s plan would freeze pay for city managers and reduce central administrative costs across city agencies by 10 percent.

The proposal approved by the Board of Estimates uses an estimated $6 milliin increase in state aid to restore some funding for programs that were reduced in the preliminary budget announced by Rawlings-Blake.

The bulk of the increase — approximately $4.1 million — will help limit employee furlough days to between two and five, officials say. Last year, city workers were furloughed between four and 11 days, depending on salary.

Continue reading "Library hours, youth jobs spared in panel's proposal" »

Posted by Andy Rosen at 11:27 AM | | Comments (0)
        

April 20, 2011

Mfume rumored to be contemplating run for mayor

Less than five months before the primary election for Baltimore's mayoral race, the rumors are flying that former congressman Kweisi Mfume is planning to run for the city's highest office.

Sources say that Mfume, the former president of the NAACP, has been arranging meetings with city leaders, including former mayor Sheila Dixon, to discuss a possibly candidacy.

Mfume said he was "not considering anything yet."

"I love this city and I pay attention to how things shake out," he said. He said he had not spoken with Dixon about entering the mayor's race.

"Sheila and I talk from time to time and there's really nothing beyond that," he said. "There's really nothing to report yet."

The Afro first reported last month that Mfume planned to step down in June as the CEO of the National Medical Association, a position he has held for about a year.

"I agreed to come on board for a year or so to help position the organization with the roll-out of the medical reform act," he said. "It's been over a year, so I decided to move on. I gave 90 days notice, but I said I'd stay on longer if they needed me."

Mfume, regarded as gifted orator, will deliver a eulogy at the funeral of William Donald Schaefer next week. Sen. Barbara Mikulski and longtime Schaefer aide Lainy Lebow-Sachs will also eulogize the former mayor, governor and state comptroller.

Political insiders say that Mfume could mount a formidable challenge to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who was elevated into office last year after Dixon resigned.

The five-term congressman would bring considerably more name-recognition and fundraising power to the race than the other declared and likely candidates, who include former city planning director Otis Rolley, state Sen. Catherine Pugh, City Councilman Carl Stokes, Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors vice-president Joseph T. "Jody" Landers and Clerk of Courts Frank Conaway Sr.

This is far from the first time Mfume has been rumored to be making a bid for the city's highest office.

In 1999, Mfume pointed out, Schaefer, flanked by former mayors Thomas D'Alesandro III, Clarence H. Du Burns held a press conference in front of City Hall to draft Mfume to run.

In 2007, a year after Mfume lost a bid for senator to Benjamin Cardin, the rumors that Mfume would run reached a fever pitch, but Mfume opted out.

"Every four years, there's some sort of speculation," said Mfume, speaking by phone from Camden Yards, where, with his grandson on his lap, he was watching the Orioles play.


Posted by Julie Scharper at 8:02 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: City Hall
        

Solving the mayor's 'Russian problem'

Sitting in her well-furnished apartment on the top floor of a swank downtown building, Ekaterina Nazarenko is enjoying her spring break vacation when a reporter knocks on the door.

The 25-year-old, who says she is studying English as a second language at Johns Hopkins University and Baltimore Community College, is unaware of the mini-controversy swirling for the past three months around her $7,000 in campaign contributions to Gov. Martin O'Malley and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. A web site has dubbed her Rawlings-Blake's "Russian problem," while a blogger has questioned why the media refuses to look into her identity.

So, on a rainy weekday afternoon, a newspaper reporter looks her up and pays a visit.

Nazarenko says she loves the United States - her parents want her to come back, but she has dreamed of living here since she was in 8th grade. Wearing short, blue shorts and a small tank top, she curls up on a white leather sofa and looks through printouts from Baltileaks.org, the muckraking site which has pulled pictures from her forgotten Myspace page, printed her old address, and linked to her Facebook friends' pages in trying to determine her identity and motives.

Clearly unnerved, she asks why people would care that she gave money. Often, a reporter explains, people who give large amounts of money - particularly the maximum contribution - have political interests that they are trying to advance, or at least that's what people suspect.

Continue reading "Solving the mayor's 'Russian problem'" »

Posted by Justin Fenton at 10:24 AM | | Comments (14)
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April 18, 2011

Billboard criticizing mayor, council wins ad award

A billboard criticizing Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the Baltimore City Council for overhauling the fire and police pension system did more than ruffle feathers at City Hall -- it won the top award from the city's advertising association.

The billboard, created by Barb Clapp Advertising & Marketing of Lutherville for the Fraternal Order of Police and the firefighter's union, won the Best in Show award at last week's ADDY Awards. 

Saying Rawlings-Blake and the council "turned their backs on our Police & Firefighters,"  the billboard was posted near City Hall for several weeks last summer. 

The unions launched a flurry of public attacks after Rawlings-Blake and the council overhauled benefits to cut back on skyrocketing pension costs. The changes are expected to save the cash-strapped city $400 million over five years. 

The American Advertising Federation of Baltimore selected the the billboard from among 50,000 entries, according to a news release. 

Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Posted by Julie Scharper at 3:21 PM | | Comments (1)
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Landers to officially announce mayoral bid

 Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors Vice President Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III intends to officially launch his bid for mayor on Wednesday, his campaign announced early Monday. 

Landers, a former city councilman, "will officially file for office on the Democratic ticket at the City Board of Elections that morning and host a press conference in the afternoon," according to an emailed announcement. 

Barring any surprises, Landers would be the second candidate to formally announce a bid to unseat Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Otis Rolley, the city's former planning director, filed to run last week.

Landers, like Rolley, says the city's property tax rate must be lowered to attract and keep residents and businesses. Two other potential candidates, City Councilman Carl Stokes and State Sen. Catherine Pugh, have also emphasized lowering the city's property tax rate, which is nearly twice as high as most surrounding jurisdictions.

Landers will hold a press conference on Wednesday afternoon at “Chef Mac’s and All That Blues," in the 4700 block of Harford Road in Northeast Baltimore.

“It’s only appropriate to start my campaign in the community where I was born, raised and currently reside,” Landers said in a statement.“The success of the Lauraville-Hamilton business association over the past decade is an excellent example of a community working together for one cause, and will be one of the focal points of my campaign for other communities to follow.

Landers said "personal frustration" with the decline of population and city services over the past 20 years motivated him to run. 

"I will work with residents and business leaders to develop a clear set of priorities for our City government to operate under, advocate innovative and efficient methods to deliver city services and make reducing the City’s exorbitant property tax rate my top priority in order to promote future growth," he said.

Rawlings-Blake, who in January had raised more campaign funds than all her likely challengers combined, has launched a task force to examine the city's long-term financial health and diversify the tax base over 10 years. She cut $65 million from the city's expenses to close a shortfall in the city's $1.29 billion preliminary operating budget, while raising overall operating spending by 1 percent.

Here's the complete text of Landers' announcement:

Photo courtesy of Landers' campaign

Continue reading "Landers to officially announce mayoral bid " »

Posted by Julie Scharper at 12:21 AM | | Comments (17)
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April 14, 2011

Sen. Catherine Pugh "looking at" mayoral run

State Sen. Catherine Pugh said today that she is "looking at" the possibility of running for mayor.

"I'm really concerned about the future of the city," said Pugh. "I'm concerned about the leadership. I'm concerned about the budget. I'm concerned about how lead paint settlements are being handled. And I don't think we've amply responded to the citizens of Baltimore about what you do with property taxes."

Pugh said that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's budget does not address the needs of young people.

"Recreation and job opportunities for young people have to be in the forefront," said Pugh. "How do we make our city more community driven and less developer driven?"

Pugh has become more vocal on city issues in recent weeks, criticizing the Housing Authority of Baltimore City for failing to pay more than $12 million in legal settlements to lead poisoning victims.

Pugh has served in the state senate since 2007 and chairs the Legislative Black Caucus. She was a member of the House of Delegates from 2005-2007 and represented West Baltimore on the City Council from 1999-2004.


Posted by Julie Scharper at 6:56 PM | | Comments (8)
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April 13, 2011

Mayor's budget predicts failure, youth advocates say

Julie Scharper reports:

Scores of children, teenagers and young adults expressed concern about Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s spending plan at a public meeting Wednesday evening, saying it devoted too much funding to stopping crime and not enough to activities for young people.

“Tonight, I stand to challenge you to match our dollars with the ideal that we can protect our children’s future instead of predicting their failure,” said LeVar Jones, a staffer with the advocacy group Safe and Sound.

“When I look at the budget, it makes me wonder if you even think it’s important to fight for youth like us,” said Isaac Cobb Jr., 17, of Harlem Park. “It seems like our own mayor doesn’t even believe in the citizens of Baltimore City, especially our youth.”

The young and their advocates were among about 80 people who attended “Taxpayer’s Night,” an annual event hosted by the city’s Board of Estimates to solicit comments on the mayor’s preliminary budget.

Rawlings-Blake trimmed $65 million from the city’s $1.29 billion operating budget to balance expenditures and revenue. Overall operating spending would grow by 1 percent from last year’s spending plan.

“This is tough budget, but, with no new taxes, it’s also a smart budget,” said Rawlings-Blake before inviting residents to comment on the plan.

Continue reading "Mayor's budget predicts failure, youth advocates say" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 10:14 PM | | Comments (4)
        

City could see 9 percent jump in water bills

The city's spending board voted today to hold a hearing to increase water and sewer rates by 9 percent -- the third consecutive year of substantial rate increases-- in an effort to offset the cost of federally-mandated improvements to the city's reservoirs and pipes.

The average family of four would pay about $88 more per year under the rate increases, according to the Board of Estimates agenda.

"We have to be sure we can pay for infrastructure improvements," said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

The federal government has ordered the city to repair sewer lines to prevent overflows and cover reservoirs to prevent contamination, said Department of Public Works director Col. Alfred H. Foxx.

The board also voted to propose raising water rates by 9 percent for residents of Anne Arundel, Howard and Carroll Counties.

The rate increase, which is subject to a public hearing on May 18, represents the third consecutive 9 percent hike. Rates are expected to increase in 2012 and 2013 as well, said Foxx.

"We have been trying to hold the increases to single digits," but rates could increase more in future years, said public works spokeswoman Celete Amato.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 2:25 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: City Hall
        

Mayor: A 'terrible decision' on Read's drugstore

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she was "frustrated and disappointed" that the city's preservation committee had voted to temporarily add a former Read's drugstore to a list of historical landmarks, a move that will halt demolition for at least six months.

"It's unacceptable to throw away a good compromise," said Rawlings-Blake following the city's spend board meeting Wednesday. "The commission made a terrible decision."

The city's Commission for Historical and Architectural preservation voted yesterday to grant temporary landmark status to the West Baltimore building because it was the site of a 1955 lunch counter sit-in that impacted the national civil rights movement.

Rawlings-Blake had announced a deal last month with developer Lexington Square Partners to preserve two exterior walls and work them into the new project.

The commission's decision stymies progress on the already long-delayed redevelopment of the area known as the Superblock. The $150 million project will bring jobs and economic growth to West Baltimore, developers say.

Rawlings-Blake criticized the commission for slowing work on the project. The commissioners, she said, don't live in neighborhoods were residents lack jobs and don't understand the importance of creating jobs on the Westside.

"We can't continue to have benign neglect," she said. "If we do the same thing, we're going to have benign neglect."

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April 12, 2011

Rolley to officially declare candidacy Wednesday

Former city planning director Otis Rolley plans to formally file as a candidate for mayor with the city's board of elections Wednesday.

"I know the next five months are going to be the toughest five months of my life, until I get elected, and then they'll all be tough," Rolley said this morning at an interview in his campaign headquarters in Hampden.

Rolley's schedule is packed with community meetings, church visits, small gatherings at homes, and fundraisers. He said he was undaunted by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's substantial fund raising lead, although he declined to say how much he currently had in his campaign account.

"We have a good finance committee. Things are pumping," he said. "I wouldn't be filing tomorrow and I wouldn't excited about filing tomorrow if I weren't doing very well."

Rolley said he has been garnering smaller sums from many donors, rather than receiving the big ticket donations from developers and business owners.

"How I'm running this campaign is how I'll run the city as mayor," Rolley said. "We are going to give Baltimore back to the people of Baltimore, and that's why some people are afraid of my campaign."

Rolley says he plans to cut property tax rates in half over eight years, grow small businesses and focus on the city's neighborhoods, not just the Downtown tourist areas. His slogan -- "Elevate Baltimore" -- a play on the Otis Elevator Company, is about "elevating expectations" for the city, he says.

"I can't pay twice the rate of my neighbors and get one third the service," said Rolley.

Rolley today criticized Rawlings-Blake's response to reports of the city housing authority refusing to pay nearly $12 million in lead paint damage settlements. Rawlings-Blake concurred with housing authority executive director Paul T. Graziano that paying the settlements would bar the $300 million entity from paying other obligations.

"The courts have made a determination that we need to pay and we have to pay," said Rolley. "This is more of the same, the city's leadership not taking responsibility. People were poisoned and the housing authority, as determined by a judge, was responsible."

Although the Housing Authority of Baltimore City is an independent agency, the mayor chooses the board of commissioners and Graziano serves as her housing commissioner.

State Sen. Catherine Pugh, another likely mayoral candidate, other state leaders and City Council members have joined the call for the housing authority to explain why it has not paid the settlements.

Barring any surprises, Rolley will be the first of a field of about half a dozen mayoral candidates to register. According to the city board of elections, no one else had officially filed a candidacy by Tuesday afternoon. Candidates have until early July to register.

Rolley has captured a lot of early press attention, and was the focus of cover story in the City Paper and a glowing profile in the Jewish Times. Last week, Tom Loveland, a member of Rawlings-Blake's transition committee who was appointed the city's Google Czar by the mayor, endorsed Rolley in a letter in the Baltimore Business Journal.

But Rawlings-Blake is likely to gather the big ticket endorsements. Rep. Elijah Cummings was slated to endorse her at an event at Mondawmin Mall last Friday, but had to cancel due to federal budget negotiations. She has a close relationship with Gov. Martin O'Malley and many politicos feel a deep loyalty to her father, the late Del. Howard P. Rawlings.

Yet Rolley professes that he can win by energizing communities and reaching out to residents through social networking.

"We're going to win this race. It's not crazy confidence, it's based on the pulse of the people," he said. "I feel the energy in the communities."


Posted by Julie Scharper at 3:50 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: City Hall
        

April 8, 2011

Councilman: Sell naming rights to city buildings

Sun colleague Jean Marbella reports:

Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young has an idea for how the city can raise some much needed revenue: Sell itself.

Under legislation Young wants the council to consider, corporations would be invited to sponsor city buildings or programs, such as a city pool that might otherwise have to close because of budget cuts.

In exchange for their sponsorship, companies could get “visibility on City vehicles, logo space in City mailings, and more,” Young said in the introductory copy of the bill, which he plans to introduce at Monday’s council City Council meeting.

While corporate sponsorships are increasingly common when it comes to events or sports facilities — such as M&T Bank’s naming rights to Ravens Stadium, this would open up another level of private involvement in public programs and buildings.

Asked whether any city assets, such as City Hall itself, would be excluded from a corporate sponsorship, Young’s spokesman said such details have not yet been worked out.

Continue reading "Councilman: Sell naming rights to city buildings" »

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April 7, 2011

Rolley opens campaign HQ in Hampden

Scores of supporters of Otis Rolley, the former city planning director who is challenging Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for mayor, packed into his campaign headquarters -- a three-story row house on The Avenue in Hampden last night.

"It's a race not just to be mayor, but for the heart and soul of Baltimore," Rolley said in brief speech.

"I love Baltimore. You love Baltimore. Let's translate that love into action," he said. "You don't love Baltimore when you overtax... You don't love Baltimore when you cut the services [people need most.]"

He is running on a platform of lowering property rates, growing neighborhoods and boosting small businesses. Last week, he criticized Rawlings-Blake's budget for cutting funds to recreation and parks and libraries while increasing spending to attract tourism.

Rolley, who served directed the planning department when Martin O'Malley was mayor and was Sheila Dixon's chief of staff for one year, declared it was a "new era for Baltimore."

"It's an end to the old boy's club," he said.

Continue reading "Rolley opens campaign HQ in Hampden" »

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April 6, 2011

Rawlings-Blake plans "important announcement"

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake plans to make an "important campaign announcement" Friday morning, according to an email sent to supporters this afternoon.

Rawlings-Blake will be joined by Rep. Elijah Cummings in front of the Marshalls at Mondawmin Mall at 10 a.m. to make the announcement, according to the email.

I'm waiting for a call back from Colleen Martin-Lauer, who handles fundraising for Rawlings-Blake, to find out more about the announcement. Rawlings-Blake's campaign also launched a Twitter account today, @srbforbaltimore.

Her most prominent challenger thus far, former city planning director Otis Rolley, has been ramping up his campaign in recent weeks. He hired Pennsylvania political veteran Daniel Fee as his campaign manager and is opening his campaign headquarters in Hampden this evening.

UPDATE: The event has been postponed due to the federal budget debate. Cummings is expected to announce his endorsement of Rawlings-Blake at an event in the coming weeks, said campaign manager Travis Tazelaar.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 6:09 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: City Hall
        

Have other housing inspectors failed checks?

Here's an interesting element of the city inspector general's report about a housing inspector who was hired despite having a criminal record and was promoted after lying on a background check application: nine current city housing inspectors also failed to meet the requirements to be certified as Special Enforcement Officers.

At a budget hearing today, Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said there are currently about 80 housing inspectors. That means that about one out of nine failed the certification, which they are required to have under a procedure Graziano put in place in 2002.

Special Enforcement Officers undergo rigorous background checks and have the ability to make arrests, Graziano said. He plans to change department policy so that housing inspectors are no longer required to have the certification, which he says is unnecessary and a remnant from another time.

In response to a question about the nine inspectors, Graziano criticized today's story for not noting in the first couple paragraphs that he had fired the housing inspector, Algie C. Epps, after Inspector General David McClintock brought the falsified records to his attention.

According to McClintock's report, police informed housing officials in 2007 that Epps had listed a false Social Security number, birth date and middle name on his background check application.

Graziano said that "we were first advised" of the falsified documents by McClintock.

"None of us knew anything about that" in 2007, he said. "I never saw any of the documents because I don't deal with the paperwork."

Continue reading "Have other housing inspectors failed checks?" »

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April 5, 2011

City law department reverses position on redistricting

The city's law department announced Tuesday that the new City Council boundaries would no longer be effective for representation April 1, a reversal of a decision issued by the department two week ago.

Baltimoreans will vote in the new districts in the fall citywide elections, but the 72,000 residents who were moved into new districts will not be represented by a new council member until December, City Solicitor George Nilson wrote in a memo issued Tuesday afternoon.

Nilson's memo contradicts an opinion penned by Assistant City Solicitor Victor K. Tervala on March 25, who wrote that the new districts would go into effect -- for purposes of both representation and the upcoming election-- on April 1. In the past, residents continued to be represented by their current council member until the new council took office in December.

Nilson interpreted differently a note on a 1994 amendment on which Tervala based his decision.

"Because it is consistent with general expectations, avoids the reported confusion of the last week, and most importantly avoids leaving communities represented for approximately 8 months by person for whom they didn't have an opportunity to vote," the revised interpretation is preferable, Nilson said.

Nilson noted that the language in the charter was vague and should be amended before the next time districts are drawn, a decade from now.

Nilson reviewed Tervala's opinion at the request of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's office, a spokesman said.

Tervala's quietly-issued opinion drew outcry from some residents and community leaders when the Baltimore Sun reported it last week. Throughout a nearly two-month long series of hearings on Rawlings-Blake's new map, council members and a redistricting expert said residents would remain represented by current council members until December.

Mayoral candidate Otis Rolley said the last-minute decision "didn't smell right" and demanded answers from Rawlings-Blake.

"While all of us in the Law Department are dedicated to getting it right the first time, often -- as is the case here -- there is no silver bullet clear cut answer," Nilson wrote. "We appreciate the patience of all who are interested in this subject with our efforts to sort out conflicting and ambiguous Charter provisions.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 9:00 PM | | Comments (2)
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April 4, 2011

Rolley opens campaign headquarters in Hampden

Mayoral candidate Otis Rolley will open his campaign headquarters on The Avenue in Hampden on Wednesday evening, according to an email from his campaign.

Rolley, the city's former planning director, ramped up his campaign in the past week, arriving at City Hall to criticize Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's budget, questioning a last-minute decision by the city law department on redistricting and hiring a campaign manager, veteran Pennsylvania political strategist Daniel Fee.

Fee, who served as communications director during former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell's successful 2002 and 2006 campaigns, said he was drawn to Rolley because he is a "progressive, big picture candidate."

"I love urban campaigns," Fee said in an interview. "We have to make it clear that there's a real choice for Baltimore."

The president of the Echo Group, a strategic communications firm, Fee also worked as communications chief for Philadelphia mayor John Street's 2003 successful re-election campaign and Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams' campaign.

“His experience, work ethic and track record speak for themselves, and I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together," Rolley said in statement. "He knows how campaigns work and will make sure that we have the plan, the team and the resources to win.”

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April 1, 2011

Rolley: Sudden redistricting changes don't pass the "smell test"

Mayoral candidate Otis Rolley is questioning an eleventh-hour decision by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's law department to implement newly drawn City Council district boundaries today, a departure from past practices.

Rolley said the sudden shift "doesn't pass the smell test" and said Rawlings-Blake "owes the public an explanation, and she should not hide behind legalities or spokespeople.”

The city solicitor referred questions about the memo to a mayoral spokesman yesterday. Spokesman Ryan O'Doherty did not return repeated requests for comment yesterday.

Update: O'Doherty said today that this is "a legal matter that is being carefully and thoroughly reviewed by Solicitor Nilson and should not be politicized."

He said the mayor had asked Nilson to personally review the opinion yesterday prior to inquiries from The Baltimore Sun.

About 72,000 people found themselves in new council districts today in accordance with an opinion quietly issued by the law department last week. During nearly two months of hearings on the redistricting plan, officials said the new changes wouldn't take effect until December.

"I am concerned that it could confuse voters, further lessen their faith in the process and decrease voter participation," Rolley said in a statement. "I pray that this is not a voter suppression tactic in the disguise of mayoral prerogative.”

" I pray that this is not a voter suppression tactic in the disguise of mayoral prerogative," Rolley said.

Rolley's full statement is below:

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Categories: City Hall
        

March 31, 2011

72,000 Baltimore residents to find themselves in new City Council districts Friday

About 72,000 Baltimoreans will find themselves represented by a new City Council member on Friday morning, according to an opinion issued late last week by the city’s law department that contradicts the city’s past practices.

“We were pretty surprised,” said Councilman James B. Kraft, who co-chaired the council’s redistricting committee. “It’s confusing for people, but any project we’re working on, we’re going to continue working on.”

Throughout the hearings this year on the new council map drawn by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, council members and a redistricting expert contracted by the council contended that, for purposes of representation, the new districts would not take effect until December, after the November elections to determine the makeup of the next council.

But on March 25, Assistant City Solicitor Victor K. Tervala wrote in a memo to council members that the new boundaries would take effect today “for the purpose of both election and representation.”

While residents generally appeared pleased or indifferent to the district map approved by the council Monday, residents of some comunities — most notably Butcher’s Hill and Upper Fells Point — expressed anger that the new boundaries split their neighborhoods.

About 72,000 people, or one in nine city residents, will find themselves in a new district Friday, according to John Willis, the former Maryland secretary of state who shepherded the council through the redistricting process.

In the memo, Tervala notes that while other jurisdictions — including the state ¬— differentiate between the date new districts go into effect for elections and representation, the city charter makes no such distinction.

He points to a note attached to a 1994 amendment to the charter that states that an incumbent whose home has been removed from a district would represent the newly drawn district as evidence for his opinion.

Yet in 2003, the last time the lines were redrawn, council members continued to represent the districts delineated by the old boundaries until a new council was sworn in in December.
City solicitor George Nilson referred questions about the proposal to a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake. Spokesman Ryan O’Doherty did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Council Vice President Edward Reisinger said that he was surprised by the law department’s opinion, but expressed faith in its decision.

“This is my third redistricting,” he said. “Usually the way it was was that we waited until after the swearing-in to start serving the new district, but that doesn’t mean it was right.”

A spokesman for Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said that the council president’s office was seeking clarification on the law department’s rationale.

“We’re trying to figure out the basis for this interpretation,” spokesman Lester Davis said. He stressed that all residents would be represented by a council person.

Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, who co-chaired the redistricting committee with Kraft and had staunchly opposed Rawlings-Blake’s plan, said that she has already started meeting with residents of Reservoir Hill, which shifted into her district.

Reisinger, who swapped vast tracts with Councilman William H. Cole IV, said that they were working closely to address the concerns of residents who were moved to new districts.

“It will work out,” said Reisinger. “I’ve seen stranger things happen.”

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Categories: City Hall
        

March 30, 2011

Rawlings-Blake budget would affect pools, rec centers, fire companies

Swimming pools would be open on a staggered schedule this summer, three fire companies would be closed on a rolling basis and 311 would be available less frequently under the preliminary budget that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake rolled out this morning.

No taxes, including property taxes, would be increased, but residents would be required to pay for bulk trash pickups beginning on January 1, Rawlings-Blake said.

Rawlings-Blake, who is facing an election in the fall, said the budget is "about governing," not politics.

"You can't manage your way out of the great recession," said Rawlings-Blake. "You need to lead the way out of the great recession."

Likely mayoral challenger Otis Rolley, who attended the unveiling of the mayor's budget at the Board of Estimates this morning, criticized the budget, saying that it cut the services on which middle class families most depend.

"Where we're getting cut to the bone is in the neighborhoods," said Rolley. "We're not getting cut to the bone in City Hall. It continues to be an assault on the middle class and our neighborhoods."

Rolley, the city's former planning director, described Rawlings-Blake's budget as a "status quo" spending plan, that did little to stanch the city's decline in population and jobs.

Rolley said he would reduce expenses by increasing government efficiency and grow the city's tax base by attracting new residents and retaining current residents by lowering property taxes. He has not released the specifics of his plan to lower property taxes.

Rawlings-Blake has announced plans to craft a 10 year plan to overhaul the city's finances.

Under her budget, three firehouses would be closed each day. Two companies are currently closed on a rolling basis as a cost-cutting measure, although three were closed daily until late last year.

Swimming pools would open on a staggered schedule through the summer. The large pools at Druid Hill Park and Patterson Park would be open only on weekends from Memoral Day to Labor Day. Six park pools would be open for 10 weeks and 13 walk-to pools would be open for six weeks. Splash pools that are not connected to a swimming pool would be closed.

More than half of the city's 55 recreation centers would be turned over to non-profits or other third-party groups. If groups are not found to take over the centers, some of them could close, Rawlings-Blake said.

The preliminary budget calls for library hours to be reduced, but Rawlings-Blake said the hours could be restored if the city receives additional funding from the state.

Funding for animal services would be increased by $62,000, but three animal control worker jobs would be eliminated. The city would cut the amount of funds given to the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter.

Rawlings-Blake's $2.29 billion operating budget includes a spending increase of about 1% over last year. About $65 million in cuts are spread across city services, including cuts to animal services and after school programs.

Rawlings-Blake and finance officials did not detail specifics of the city's $402 million capital budget, but noted that it had dropped by 40% from last year. The reason, city budget director Andrew W. Kleine told the city spending board, is that federal funds for water and waste water programs, had created a spike in capital spending in the current budget year, but are not included in next year's budget.

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March 29, 2011

SRB cuts $65m from budget, does not raise taxes

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will slash $65 million from the city's $1.2 billion budget through "tough but targeted cuts" but not raise taxes in the coming fiscal year, according to a briefing slated to be presented to the city's spending board Wednesday.

Under the plan library hours would be reduced, some after school programs eliminated and funding for animal services would be cut. Residents would be forced to pay for bulk trash pickups and hours would be cut back at the city's 311 call center.

Rawlings-Blake does not make significant cuts to fire and police, as she had threatened to do in a doomsday budget scenario last year, and the spending plan fully funds the city schools.

City workers, many of whom were threatened with layoffs last year, need not fear massive job cuts in the coming year, according to the budget briefing. About 400 vacant positions will be abolished or not funded, but no there will be no widespread layoffs.

Workers will receive a 2 percent cost-of-living increase to offset salary reductions due to furlough days, which will continue in the coming budget year.

For the second consecutive year, the city will not pay into an affordable housing fund that was established when officials consented to pay for the construction of a convention center hotel with public money. When the hotel was approved under Martin O'Malley's tenure as mayor, many City Council members said only supported the deal because of the fund, which was intended to be used to eliminate blighted blocks and spur the construction of affordable homes.

Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, declined to comment on specifics of the proposal.


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Categories: City Hall
        

Rawlings-Blake announces cuts to mayor's budget

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Tuesday that she intends to cut the budget for her office by $264,000, about 6 percent of last year's $4.25 million budget.

The reduction is likely due in part to the departure of two high-ranking staffers in recent months, Rawlings-Blake's chief of staff Sophie Dagenais and the city's chief lobbyist Diane Hutchins. Dagenais earned an annual salary of $140,000 and Hutchins' salary was $110,000.

Rawlings-Blake promoted Kim Washington, her close friend since childhood and former deputy chief of staff, to the top lobbyist position earlier this year.

Rawlings-Blake also announced Tuesday that she was cutting the the Office of Neighborhoods' $535,000 budget by $10,000 and adding $8,000 to the Office of Citistat's $503,000 budget.

The announcement comes as Rawlings-Blake prepares to unveil her spending plan for the city Wednesday morning. Rawlings-Blake must hack $65 million from the city's $1.2 billion budget, the third consecutive year in which considerable cuts are required. The budget appears slightly rosier than it did a couple months ago, when finance officials anticipated an $81 million shortfall.

Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, has not responded to a question about the discrepancy in the shortfall.

Last year, Rawlings-Blake cut $70 million in services and added $50 million in new taxes to plug a $121 million budget hole. The passage of the budget was a contentious process that drew ire from residents and City Council members who were loathe to see services cut while taxes and fees inched upward.

Finance officials reported earlier this month that the new taxes that Rawlings-Blake implemented last year are likely to generate $10 million less than they had anticipated. But they said they would not be forced to dip into reserve funds to cover the difference because expenses were also lower than expected.

This marks the second year that Rawlings-Blake kicked off the budget process by announcing cuts to the mayor's office. Last year, she cut $576,000 from the budget to the mayor's office, in part by terminating staffers who were holdovers from Sheila Dixon's administration.

O'Doherty, Rawlings-Blake's spokesman, has not responded to a request for salary data for mayoral staffers. The mayor's announcement did not include comparisons between salaries for mayoral staffers for the upcoming year and previous years.


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March 28, 2011

City Council approves redistricting plan

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's new map of the city's 14 council districts received final approval from the council at Monday's meeting.

Eleven council members and Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young voted for the plan; Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, Councilman James B. Kraft and Councilman Carl Stokes opposed it.

Conaway and Kraft, who co-chaired the committee that oversaw the redistricting process, had complained that the new map diluted the power of black and Latino voters in some neighborhoods. Conaway and some civil rights leaders have threatened to sue over the map.

A mayoral spokesman refuted those allegations and said the plan could stand up to a legal challenge.

"Councilwoman Conaway is not an attorney," said spokesman Ryan O'Doherty. "The plan has been approved by the law department."

Critics of the plan, including residents of Upper Fells Point and Butcher's Hill -- neighborhoods that will be split among districts under the plan -- allege that Rawlings-Blake drew the map to favor her allies on the council.

O'Doherty said in an email that "politics were not the consideration" in the plan.

The city charter requires that a redistricting plan be approved by April 1. Voters will pick candidates in the fall council elections based on the new districts.

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March 22, 2011

Spector bills city $1,155 for trip to neighboring D.C.

Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector billed the city $1,155 to attend a three-day conference less than an hour away in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.

Registration for the National Association of Counties conference cost $515. Spector is seeking reimbursement for an additional $640 for her hotel stay, mileage, parking and food, according to an item on the agenda for Wednesday's Board of Estimates meeting.

Spector said that she spent the night in the hotel because she needed to attend a session at 7 a.m. Saturday. She chairs the ports subcommittee of the transportation committee which met early Saturday to go over their legislative agenda, Spector said.

"I always tell people how important the port is to Baltimore and the state," said Spector. "So much economic development is based on that port."

Spector said she spent two nights at the hotel and attended two of the five days of the conference.

The conference was held at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in the Woodley Park area, about 43 miles from Spector's official home on Park Heights Avenue in her Northwest Baltimore district. The hotel is even closer to the Downtown condominium where Spector spends the bulk of her time -- about 34 miles away.

Update: The Board of Estimates did approve Spector's travel costs this morning. An agenda for the conference lists the ports subcommittee meeting at 2 p.m. Saturday, not at 7 a.m.

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March 16, 2011

SRB: Votes had nothing to do with my husband's job

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake addressed questions at a morning press conference about the more than $900,000 in deals that she approved with Johns Hopkins since her husband began working in a division of the health system in mid-December.

"Not one single item that was approved by the Board of Estimates had anything to do with my husband's employment," Rawlings-Blake, reading from a statement, said in response to a story by The Sun. She noted that the university and the health system are the state's two largest private employers.

Under the city's ethics code, "a public servant may not participate in and must disqualify himself or herself from any matter if" it involves a "business entity in which… a disqualifying relative is a partner, officer, director, trustee, employee, or agent."

Kent Blake, the mayor's husband of 11 years, works for Hopkins Community Physicians, a division of the Johns Hopkins Health System.

Rawlings-Blake said she asked City Solicitor George Nilson to look into the matter "out of an abundance of caution." She said that Nilson has found no ethical issues in the votes that she has made.

Nilson told The Sun on Tuesday that while it appears acceptable for Rawlings-Blake to participate in decisions involving the university, it is less clear from an ethical standpoint whether she should be voting on issues involving the medical system.

"A lawyerly, narrow view of things could reach a conclusion that she is free to vote on matters [involving divisions of the health system other than Johns Hopkins Community Physicians] because it's clear that her husband is employed by a separate legal entity," Nilson said.

"But a more expansive view that would be more restrictive of her participation would say that the Hopkins medical institutions could be looked at as one entity," he said.

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March 15, 2011

City taxes, fees projected to fall short of expectations

The package of taxes and fees crafted by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and City Council members to meet a budget deficit last year is estimated to fall short of projected revenues by nearly $17 million — more than a third of the income that it was expected to generate — city finance officials said Tuesday.

The city will receive $12 million less in income tax than officials had projected — most likely due to unemployment, officials said — and a controversial bottle tax is predicted to generate $1 million less than officials had expected, city budget director Andrew W. Kleine told council members at a hearing.

But Kleine said the drop in revenue will likely be offset by savings in other areas of the budget, particularly a hiring freeze that has left many positions open.

“I’m not ringing any alarm bells,” said Kleine. “We’re going to be able to balance the general fund budget.”

Rawlings-Blake raised parking fees and fines, slashed a discount for early property tax payments and boosted taxes on hotel stays, energy use and cell phone and land lines last year as part of an effort to generate $48 million in new revenue to help plug the city’s $121 million budget gap.

Kleine attributed the drop in income tax revenue in part to rising gas prices. Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, who chairs the budget committee, questioned him about Rawlings-Blake’s support for a higher state gas tax.

“In the short term, higher gas prices could reduce employment,” Kleine said. But he added that the higher gas tax was necessary for the state’s long-term financial health.

Continue reading "City taxes, fees projected to fall short of expectations " »

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Categories: City Hall
        

City to pay $55K to ex-employee in equal-pay case

A former employee of the city's Minority and Women-Owned Business Development office who alleged she was paid nearly $20,000 less than a less-qualified male co-worker has reached a $55,000 settlement with the city.

Lawyers for Melissa Fulton, who worked for the office for three years until she was terminated in early 2010, reached a deal with the city late last month in the federal equal pay act case. The deal is slated to be approved by the city's spending board tomorrow.

Fulton was hired in 2007 shortly after Sheila Dixon was sworn in as mayor. A male co-worker, who had the same title and responsibilities, was paid nearly $20,000 more than her $55,000 annual salary, according to a federal law suit that Fulton filed.

A separate law suit alleging race, gender and age discrimination remains unresolved. Fulton filed a complaint with with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission late last year claiming that her termination was unlawful.

Fulton, the only white person among the four employees in her office, was the only person in her office fired when Stephanie Rawlings-Blake replaced Dixon as mayor last year, according to the complaint. She claims that she was terminated despite a spotless record, while her younger, black male counterpart who had been formally reprimanded, was retained.

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March 7, 2011

Stokes details plan to cut city property taxes

City Councilman and mayoral candidate Carl Stokes unveiled a plan Monday that he says could cut property taxes in half over the next five years, while council colleagues and a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called the proposal unrealistic.

Stokes said he would cut tax incentives for residents and businesses and fund the cuts by privatizing the city’s water and waste water operations and asking for state aid.

A key element of Stokes’ plan is also one of the most contentious: An increase on the cap on the homestead tax credit.

Stokes says a 2 percent increase could generate as much as $32 million in the first year. But council colleagues said the credit, which restricts property tax increases on primary residences, should be left alone.

“We’re starting this discussion about lowering property taxes … by raising property taxes?” Councilman William H. Cole IV asked after Stokes introduced his legislation at the council meeting Monday evening.

The tax credit “keeps a lot of us in our homes,” Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said after the meeting.

Continue reading "Stokes details plan to cut city property taxes" »

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Rawlings-Blake chief of staff resigns

Sophie Dagenais, a former corporate lawyer who has served as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's chief of staff for the past year, will resign effective March 21.

"It was always our plan, the mayor's and mine, that I come here for a finite period time," Dagenais said in an interview. "My work is done."

Dagenais, who worked for the Ballard Spahr law firm before joining Rawlings-Blake's administration, said she had not yet lined up her next position. She said she had always planned to leave after a year, although city officials left out that detail when they trumpeted her arrival last year.

Dagenais said she was leaving to allow a permanent chief of staff to be chosen.

Prior to joining the Rawlings-Blake administration, Dagenais had been part of a development team that crafted a proposal to build a new arena. That plan was later shelved and city officials are currently contemplating building a combined arena and convention center.

Dagenais was a low-key presence in the Rawlings-Blake administration. In one of her first public appearance last year, council members vented about a lack of transparency Rawlings-Blake's budget plans.

Former deputy chief of staff Kim Washington, who served as chief of staff when Rawlings-Blake was City Council president, has had a more prominent role in the administration, leading negotiations with council members, business leaders and union heads.

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February 16, 2011

Rawlings-Blake tweaks redistricting plan

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake released some tweaks to her City Council redistricting plan today as the council prepares for a 5 p.m. hearing on the new map.

The city's population dropped by 30,000 over the past decade, one-third more than Rawlings-Blake had estimated when drawing the districts. A quirk of city law required the preliminary map to be released in early February, before official Census data was available.

The amendments to the redistricting map are relatively minor.

Among the changes: parts of Guilford and Mt Pleasant Park that had been been excised will now remain in the 4th district. Pen Lucy, which was in the 14th district, will be moved to the 4th. The 8th district will now extend up to Liberty Heights Avenue, adding Howard Park, which was formerly part of the 5th district. And all of Druid Heights will me moved from the 11th district to the 7th.

The most major shift in Rawlings-Blake's original proposal
-- the peninsula that includes Federal Hill and Locust Point being moved from the 10th district to the 11th -- remains in play. Political insiders speculate the move was made to bolster Council Vice President Ed Reisinger's chances of re-election. He has tepid support in Federal Hill and stronger alliances in the Southwest neighborhoods that would be part of his district according to the plan.

Redistricting plans have prompted some strong reactions from community members in the past. It will be interesting to see what residents say at this, the first of several planned public hearings.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 4:29 PM | | Comments (1)
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"Developer B" throws bday fundraiser for Rawlings-Blake

Patrick Turner, a developer who played a key role in the trial of former Mayor Sheila Dixon, is throwing a birthday bash and fundraiser for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake next month.

Guests will enjoy "amazing culinary treats and drinks" from Ruth's Chris, The Wine Market and Miguel's Cocina and Cantina in the penthouse suite at Turner's Silo Point luxury condominium building on March 2, according to the invitation.

Tickets run from $1,000 to 125 for the fete, with discounts available for "public servants," according to the invitation.

Turner and his wife Jeanine, a model-turned-artist, are among the 30 members of the party's host committee.

Turner's testimony that he delivered a stack of $1,000 in gift cards to City Hall in 2005 played a key role in Dixon's 2009 trial on embezzlement charges. Turner , who was identified as "Developer B" in court documents, said he thought the cards were to be distributed to poor children. Dixon used some of the cards to buy gifts for family and employees.

Turner appeared uneasy on the witness stand. Here is how my colleagues Annie Linskey and Julie Bykowicz described him at the time:

"Turner, whose $1.4 billion planned community of offices, stores and housing in Westport is benefiting from the largest tax incentive the city has ever approved, appeared uncomfortable on the stand. He gripped the wooden arms of the witness chair and smoothed his mustache and beard, sometimes quickly dabbing his lips with a napkin. His face reddened at times, and he frequently glanced toward the defense table, where Dixon sat scribbling notes."

Other members of the host committee include developers Thibault Manekin, Arsh Mirmiran and Evan Morville, along with Peter Auchincloss, a former city planning commission chair and president of the Watermark Corporation.

Rawlings-Blake has a huge fundraising edge over her competitors in the mayor's race. She had raised $840,000 by late last month, more than twice as month as all of her challengers combined. She raised $600,000 at a single event that was scheduled for the same night comedian Bill Cosby appeared at an event for her competitor and former city planning director Otis Rolley.

Many of Rawlings-Blake's donations have come from developers and contractors who do business with the city, which is certainly not unexpected for an incumbent mayor.

Incidentally, the birthday celebration comes a little early for Rawlings-Blake. She will turn 41 on St. Patrick's Day, March 17.

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February 9, 2011

With ruling, panel to seek new slots bidders for city

A judge has cleared the way for the state slots commission to seek proposals for companies to build and manage the casino approved for Baltimore.

Baltimore Circuit Court Judge John Phillip Miller ruled that a Canadian developer had no claim on the land off of Russell Street that the city selected as a site for the slots parlor.

The Baltimore City Entertainment Group, led by Toronto developer Michael Moldenhauer, had sought $100 million in damages after the city revoked the group’s right to develop the property. The city, which cut ties with Moldenhauer after the state commission rejected his group’s application for a slots license, had asked the judge to end the deal.

Moldenhauer’s group was the only applicant for a the Baltimore slots license.

While Miller did not grant the city's request to dismiss the group’s lawsuit in its entirety, he granted several of the city's motions, and ruled that “the City is, and remains, the only titleholder to the real property.”

The city is “free and clear from any claims by BCEG under its contracts” and “there exists no cloud upon the title of the property,” Miller wrote in his opinion this week.

The Baltimore City Entertainment Group characterized the ruling as a victory, because Miller is allowing the case to proceed to the discovery process.

“We are very pleased with this ruling,” Moldenhauer said in a statement. “We are confident that our breach of contract suit as it goes forward will show that the city needs to let us build our project.”

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Categories: City Hall, Law and Courts, Slots
        

City Inspector General to offer cash rewards

City employees or residents who tip off the inspector general's office to misdeeds will be eligible for cash rewards under a program approved by the city's spending board today.

Tipsters could receive 10 percent of money saved by the city in exchange for providing "substantial information not previously known" by the inspector general's office, comptroller or law department, under the policy.

Inspector General David McClintock said the policy is modeled after a federal program and is intended to spur residents and employees to speak out about government waste.

The five-member Board of Estimates approved $50,000 for the program Wednesday. McClintock said that 10 percent of funds recovered through the program in the future would be deposited in the account.

The spending panel also approved a second measure which would allow contractors to report fraud without fear of prosecution or being barred from future contracts. Contractors who report their own misdeeds, promptly correct them and discipline the employees involved would be eligible for the program.

"We're trying to change the landscape of how the city deals with contractors," McClintock said. "As far as I know, this is the first policy of its type in a major U.S. city."

In her State of the City speech Monday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced that she was increasing the inspector general's budget so an additional investigator could be hired.

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February 8, 2011

Balto. delegate mulling run for City Council prez

Del. Curtis Anderson said Monday night that he may mount a challenge to Baltimore City Council President Bernard "Jack" Young, who has held the head council position for a year.

Anderson was the top vote getter for his northeast Baltimore seat in November, and would not have to give up his position in the General Assembly to challenge Young. The city primary is in September.

"I'm looking at it to see if I can raise the money," Anderson said after session Monday night. Anderson added that he has a "problem" with Young's vision for the city. Anderson said as Council President he would focus on making teachers feel more appreciated and organizing volunteer opportunities for adults who want to help the city's disadvantaged youth.

The Delegate said he will make a decision by March and would want to be able to match Young's formidable war chest. As of the last campaign finance reporting period Young had $235,000. Anderson has $2,800.

So far much of the chatter about Baltimore's upcoming election has focused on the top of the ticket where Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will face former city planner Otis Rolley. Many view the race as competitive because Rawlings-Blake was not elected to her current position, she assumed it after former Mayor Sheila Dixon stepped down last year.

But the City Council President race could also be interesting: Young, an east-Baltimore Democrat, was elected by fellow council members to the Council President job when Rawlings-Blake became mayor. He's never been tested city-wide.


Posted by Annie Linskey at 9:03 AM | | Comments (4)
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February 7, 2011

Rawlings-Blake talks economic development

Julie Scharper reports:

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced plans Monday afternoon to restructure the city's economic development agency, increase funding for new technology and create a youth cabinet.

In her second State of the City speech since taking office a little over a year ago, Rawlings-Blake also proposed creating a "Ten Year Plan for Baltimore" to chart out a longterm economic develop strategy.

She vowed to fund core services while grappling with an estimated $80 million shortfall in the city's $1.2 billion budget for the coming year.

She pledged to continue to fund all school-based community health centers and libraries and increase funds for youth workforce initiatives.

Rawlings-Blake laid out plans to create a "Recovery Corps" of 100 former addicts to help counsel those with drug and alcohol problems. She also said she would compile statistics to track domestic violence cases.

Read the text of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's 2011 State of the City address.

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January 20, 2011

Rawlings-Blake opens wide fundraising lead

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has $842,000 in her campaign account, putting her far ahead of the fundraising pack for those challenging her for the mayor's seat.

State Sen. Catherine Pugh, who is rumored to be contemplating a run, has $252,000 cash in hand, putting her in second place.

Former city planning director Otis Rolley, whose campaign has generated more buzz than the other challengers, has $106,000 in his account, which, he said yesterday, is better than he had a hoped to raise by this point.

Councilman Carl Stokes, who has been chatting with political consultants about a possible campaign, is lagging far behind on fundraising with just $14,700 in his account.

Reports for other potential challengers, including Clerk of Court Frank Conaway Sr., Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors Vice President Josepth T. "Jody" Landers, and car salesman Scott Donahoo, are not yet available, but we hope to get them later on today. 

 

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January 19, 2011

Rolley trails far behind Rawlings-Blake in fundraising

Former city planning director Otis Rolley has raised $129,500 toward his bid for mayor, a fraction of the more than $800,000 Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has on hand.

But Rolley said in an emailed statement announcing his campaign's financial status that he "could not be more pleased."

"We have a carefully crafted plan to win this election, and our fundraising is going better than expected," Rolley said.

A performance comedian Bill Cosby gave for Rolley supporters last week garnered headlines -- but didn't net a lot of money-- a little more than $42,000.

A competing fundraiser held a few blocks away for Rawlings-Blake drew many of the city's top developers, lobbyists and business leaders and raked in more than $600,000.

Rolley said that his campaign has "received an outpouring of small contributions from hard-working people" some of whom gave as little as $5 or $10.

"In our campaign, small contributions are huge.," Rolley said. "Our supporters have been getting the word out about our movement to take Baltimore to a new level of excellence and people are excited. People who typically do not give are giving."

Full financial disclosure forms for all mayoral candidates -- as many as seven people are contemplating a bid -- will be made public tomorrow.

Conventional wisdom holds that between $1 and $1.5 million is needed to win the city's top office. Candidates have until late early July to register with the state Board of Elections and, in heavily Democrat Baltimore, the race is generally decided by the September primary. 

UPDATE:  Rolley has spent nearly $23,000 on campaign expenses, according his campaign filings.  He has about $106,000 cash on hand, about an eighth of what Rawlings-Blake has.  He spent nearly $12,000 on events, including $5000 for rent and catering for the Tremont Grand Hotel where the Cosby event was held.

 

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January 18, 2011

Rawlings-Blake has $800K in the bank

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is starting her mayoral campaign with a pretty penny in the bank-- she has $800,000 cash-in-hand, fundraiser Colleen Martin-Lauer told me last night.

More than $600,000 came through an event Rawlings-Blake held last week at The Hippodrome, at the same time comedian Bill Cosby was stumping for her challenger, Otis Rolley.

We'll get a better sense of how the other candidates stack up on Thursday when campaign finance reports are made public. Other potential challengers include State Sen. Catherine Pugh, Councilman Carl Stokes, Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors vice president Joseph T. "Jody" Landers, and Clerk of Court Frank Conaway.

Martin-Lauer, who also handles fundraising for Gov. Martin O'Malley, said $800,000 is a "pretty significant number to be at in January before the campaign really starts."

Continue reading "Rawlings-Blake has $800K in the bank" »

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January 14, 2011

Baltimore mayor betting crab cakes on Ravens win

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is betting the mayor of Pittsburgh crab cakes and more that the Ravens will beat the Steelers in their divisional playoff on Saturday.

If Baltimore wins, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke RAVENstahl will send Rawlings-Blake a plate of sandwiches from Primanti Bros. Restaurant, Smiley cookies from Eat ’n Park and other Steeltown treats.

He’ll also have to post a video of himself in a Baltimore jersey declaring the Ravens’ superiority to the Steelers.

If Pittsburgh wins, Rawlings-Blake will owe Ravenstahl a tray of crab cakes from frin Faidley’s Seafood in Lexington Market. And she’ll be responsible for a video announcement of her own, in black and gold, proclaiming the Steelers’ superiority.

But she doesn’t believe it will come to that.

“Coach Harbaugh and the entire Ravens team are playing their best football right now, and I look forward to watching them win on Saturday,” Rawlings-Blake said in a release. “I am also excited to see how handsome my colleague, Mayor Ravenstahl, looks in purple and black!”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:56 PM | | Comments (3)
        

January 10, 2011

Tuesday: Two mayoral candidates, two fundraisers

Bill Cosby comes to town Tuesday to stump for Otis Rolley, the former city planning director who is running for mayor.

While Rolley's supporters are paying as much as $4,000 for dinner with the comedian at The Tremont Grand Hotel, backers of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will be gathering just a few blocks away at The Hippodrome for her fundraiser.

Rolley's event will be hosted by former 92Q personality Marc Clarke and speakers include civil rights lawyer Sherilynn Ifill. It will be interesting to see who shows up at Rolley's fundraiser, because the invitation for Rawlings-Blake's event makes it apparent she has lined up a lot of big name donors.

The "Host Committee" includes former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley (a Republican); former Prince George's County executive Wayne Curry; former Baltimore County executive Ted Venetoulis; former head of the state Democratic party, Michael Cryor; and Rev. Frank M. Reid III, pastor of Bethel A.M.E. church.

Jay Davidson, head of the team behind the Baltimore Grand Prix; Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank; developer Pless Jones, Sr, who heads the Maryland Minority Contractors Association; and his wife the prominent lobbyist Lisa Harris Jones are among the many other prominent members of the host committee.


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January 6, 2011

City faces $81 million budget gap

Despite two years of budget cuts and a $50 million in new taxes, Baltimore faces an $81 million gap in its $1.2 billion budget, finance officials said at a City Council hearing Thursday.

City budget chief Andrew W. Kleine said the gap was equal to the cost of keeping more than 1,000 police officers or 1,200 firefighters on duty, prompting an outcry from council members still bitter from a rancorous budget process last year.

"We went through this last year," said Councilman James B. Kraft. "What this does is really create an atmosphere of fear."

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake unveiled a doomsday budget in March that plugged a $120 million hole by laying off police officers and firefighters, shuttering recreation centers and eliminating popular services. Several weeks later, she rolled out a package of $50 million new or increased taxes and fees that mitigated the worst cuts.

Council members were barraged with calls and emails from dueling interest groups. Some wanted the council to prevent the cuts; others opposed the new taxes.

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Categories: City Hall
        

Council picks Pete Welch, despite concerns

A Baltimore City Council committee chose William A. "Pete" Welch Jr. to replace his mother on the Baltimore City Council, despite concerns about his past criminal offenses.

Nine of the 12 council members on the committee voted for Welch, who had worked for nearly 30 years as a legislative aide to his mother, Agnes Welch, who retired from the council last month.

Welch's candidacy sparked outcry from community leaders and political observers, who pointed to his criminal record. He pleaded guilty to handgun violations in 1999 for firing at a group of angry poll workers and, the following year, was convicted of paying poll workers -- a process that is now legal. In 2004, he pleaded guilty to three counts of failing to file campaign finance reports while treasurer of his mother's campaign.

Councilman Robert W. Curran nominated Welch, saying that his "long-time relationship" with the Ninth District, made him best-qualified for the job. Nicholas D'Adamo seconded the nomination.

Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, Council Vice President Edward Reisinger, and council members Warren Branch, William H. Cole IV, Belinda Conaway, Sharon Green Middleton and Carl Stokes voted for Welch.

After a lengthy pause, Councilman James B. Kraft nominated Abigail Breiseth, a teacher who helped found a charter school. Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke seconded the nomination and Councilman Bill Henry also voted for Breiseth.

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Pete Welch, the gun and "long-term relationships"

The City Council's nominating committee meets this afternoon to vote on a replacement to fill the seat vacated by Agnes Welch's retirement.

The forerunner for the seat is her son and longtime aide, William A. "Pete" Welch Jr. That has triggered a lot of controversy from those who say his record -- which includes guilty pleas to handgun charges for firing a pistol to disburse angry campaign workers and for failing to file his mother's campaign finance reports.

At a hearing Tuesday, Welch said that he fired the gun by accident. But my colleague Laura Vozzella reports today that Welch told the police a different story in 1999 -- at that time, he said "I shot at the ground to restore order," according to court documents.

Yet most council members told Vozzella that they were leaning toward voting for Pete Welch. Their explanations were interesting, to say the least.

Council Vice-Presidend Ed Reisinger said, ""Anyone who's been arrested, especially when you're in the city of Baltimore — you know what I mean — are we going to disqualify them from employment?"

And Councilman Bobby Curran said his "long-term relationship with Agnes" would make it tough to not vote for Pete.

"You very rarely get to pay back people in politics for what they've done for you," Curran said.

Only Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said that she definitely planned to vote for one of Welch's challengers, who include a political science professor, a teacher and the head of a progressive nonprofit.

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Posted by Julie Scharper at 11:38 AM | | Comments (0)
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Baltimore: broke again

Baltimore faces a significant budget shortfall for the second consecutive year, necessitating another round of service cuts and tax increases, officials said Wednesday.

Fixed expenses are expected to increase sharply, while revenues are projected to decrease slightly, finance officials said.

Finance officials declined to state publicly the precise amount of the shortfall Wednesday, but said it is considerably less than the $121 million gap last year.

Nonetheless, budget director Andrew W. Kleine warned that closing the current gap could prove more painful, because some taxes are at peak levels and nonessential expenses have already been whittled away.

"This could be just as difficult, if not more, to deal with because of the cuts we have already made and revenue we have already raised," Kleine said.

Officials are slated to brief the City Council on the budget Thursday.

The city's budget gap could grow if state and federal aid are further decreased. Officials anticipate losing at least $5 million in state aid, but that figure could mushroom to as much as $45 million if highway user revenue fees and homeowner's tax credits are cut, Kleine said.

As state officials grapple with a $1.6 billion revenue shortfall, additional costs could be pushed onto local governments, including teacher pension costs.

And it is unclear how the Republican-dominated Congress could affect appropriations to the city.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake remains opposed to raising the city's property tax rate, which is nearly twice that of the surrounding counties.

Rawlings-Blake sliced $70 million from the city's budget last year by furloughs, layoffs, consolidating offices and requiring employees to pay a portion of prescription drug costs.

She raised $50 million in revenue by increasing new parking fees and fines, raising taxes on hotel rooms, telecommunications, energy and income, and imposing a new 2-cent bottle tax.

She also pushed through an overhaul of the fire and police pension system, which is expected to save the city $106 million this year but prompted a federal lawsuit from the public safety unions.

The full budget, including proposed cuts to agencies and suggestions for new revenue sources, will be presented to the council in late March, Kleine said.

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January 5, 2011

Stokes plotting mayoral bid

Outspoken City Councilman and charter school leader Carl Stokes is interviewing political consultants and planning a poll, as he considers a run for mayor.

"We're weighing the reaction we receive," said Stokes, who served in the council in the 1990s and lost the 1999 mayor's race to Martin O'Malley. "I think people remember some of the things we were saying 11, 12 years ago. People have not seen the neighborhood revitalization in many our neighborhoods they way they thought it would happen."

Stokes, who served on the council in the 1990s and was appointed to represent Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young's former East Baltimore district last year, has been contemplating a run for the city's highest office for several months.

The web site The Investigative Voice first reported Wednesday that Stokes had met with political consultants.

Stokes is scheduled to be a guest on Midday with Dan Rodricks Thursday at 12:30 and to talk about the city's high property tax rates along with Jody Landers, a former councilman who has also launched a mayoral bid.

Stokes says that he has drafted a plan to cut property taxes in half over five years, but the specifics of his plan are unclear.

Since returning to City Hall in February, Stokes has taken independent stances on several issues, voting against zoning changes for Remington's 25th Street Station Walmart shopping center and not supporting two of the tax hikes proposed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Recently, as chair of the taxation and finance committee, he has voted against tax breaks for an Inner Harbor development project backed by developer John Paterakis Sr. and signaled that he would also vote against tax breaks for the State Center project in Northwest Baltimore.


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January 3, 2011

Welch looking to succeed mother on City Council

Sun colleague Julie Scharper reports:

When Baltimore City Council members convene Tuesday to consider applicants for the seat left open by long-time councilwoman’s retirement last month, at least one will be very familiar to them: The councilwoman’s son, who served as her aide for nearly three decades.

William A. “Pete” Welch Jr., 57, is running to replace his mother, Agnes Welch. He says his experience working with the residents and businesses of West Baltimore qualify him for the job.

But Welch’s three challengers — who include a political science professor, a teacher who helped found a charter school and the director of a nonprofit — say it’s time for a change in the Ninth District, which includes many of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

They point to Welch’s past brushes with law, which stem from his work on his mother’s campaigns. He pleaded guilty in 2000 to second-degree assault and gun violations for firing a pistol to disburse a group of angry poll workers demanding promised payments, and pleaded guilty in 2004 to three misdemeanor charges for failing to file campaign finance reports.

Welch also was found guilty of paying poll workers in 1999, a practice that was outlawed but is now legal.

“If we’re going to be serious about improving our city and our neighborhoods, we need to get people in office who are qualified to do those jobs,” said John T. Bullock, a political scientist at Towson University who is running for the council seat. “Other than being her son, what qualifications does he bring?”

Welch describes the gun incident as a “life-changing event” that prompted him to learn anger management techniques and obtain a certificate in mediation. He says the failure to update campaign finance reports was a mistake.

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December 22, 2010

Attorney: City officials demanded secret settlement

Since taking office in February, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has proclaimed a desire to increase transparency in city government.

But an investigation published in today's Daily Record shows that in one legal case, city officials withheld the name of a man who received a $200,000 settlement, contrary to the man's wishes, according to his attorney.

Yakov Shapiro, a violinist from Germantown, sued the city after he was wrongfully jailed on child molestation charges in 2007. Police had actually meant to arrest Yisrael Shapiro, a Baltimore rabbi.

Steven D. Kupferberg, Yakov Shapiro's attorney, told Daily Record reporter Brendan Kearney that his client never asked for his name to be kept secret. But at the time, city officials -- who did not release the amount of the settlement until prodded by The Sun -- said they would not reveal his name at his request.

Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, told The Sun's Justin Fenton in March that the plaintiff "demanded confidentiality as part of the settlement agreement. Had we not provided that, the cost of the settlement may very well have been higher."

"We've attempted to provide as much transparency as possible within the confines" of the settlement, he said.

City Solicitor George Nilson termed the discrepancy a "he-said, she-said situation."

He also described the officer's error as a rookie mistake, but the Daily Record's story revealed that the officer, a 17-year-veteran, had been on the sex offense squad since 2001. Nilson said the officer was unfamiliar with the task of researching addresses.

“That’s all I knew then and that’s all I know now,” Nilson told the Daily Record.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 11:38 AM | | Comments (0)
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December 21, 2010

Landers contemplates mayoral bid

Joseph T. “Jody” Landers III, vice president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and a former Baltimore City Council member, announced Tuesday he is contemplating a run for mayor.

“I’ve grown somewhat frustrated over what I see as a lack of vision with where the city is headed,” said Landers. “The pressing needs of the city and this recession need more than a wait and see approach. We really need to put a priority on doing everything we can to grow the citys tax base and stimulate jobs.”

The web site The Investigative Voice first reported that Landers was considering a run for mayor.

Landers has long criticized the city’s property tax rate, which is the highest in the state. In 2007, under then- Mayor Sheila Dixon, Landers chaired a panel which drafted several alternative taxes that could allow the city to lower property tax rates.

Variations of some of those proposals were adopted by the city this year to fill a $121 million hole in the city’s budget, prompting objections from Landers who believes the measures should be used to reduce property taxes.

“We issued a report and explained all the reasons it is importatnt for the city to increase its tax base, but I feel as if it fell on deaf ears,” said Landers.

He added that the high property taxes dissuade both businesses and residents from moving to the city. There are curently more homes for sale in Baltimore than were sold during all of last year, he said. And the end of the housing bubble has made homes in the surrounding counties as affordable as those in the city, he said.

Landers said the city should cut expenses, investigate other revenue sources and consider sharing resources with the counties to reduce property tax rates.

“We need to make this a priority,” he said.

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Posted by Julie Scharper at 5:51 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: City Hall
        

December 10, 2010

Dixon: 'I disappointed the city, my family and myself'

Ten months after her conviction for embezzlement, her Alford plea on perjury charges and her resignation as mayor of Baltimore, Sheila Dixon told The Daily Record this week that she “disappointed the city, my family and myself,” but that she still follows city politics and hasn’t ruled out a future run for office.

“Of course, I would do a poll to find out” how such a return to the fray would be received, Dixon told Daily Record reporter Melody Simmons in an interview published Friday.

Of her successor, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Dixon told Simmons: “I don’t see a clear vision.” Dixon said the city has lost some of the momentum that she said started during her own administration on eliminating homelessness, reducing violent crime and making the city more green.

“We were making great strides,” Dixon said. “I feel like the city has gotten back to being more reactive than proactive. And I know there have been crises that have happened that you can’t control, but there’s no real plan of action. And I hear from different groups that they don’t have access to the administration the way that they did.”

Read the interview at mddailyrecord.com.

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November 15, 2010

Baltimore's mayoral race: An early peek at the candidates

With the gubernatorial contest behind us, political junkies are looking ahead to the race for the city's top office.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who was automatically elevated to the city's top post when Sheila Dixon resigned, will likely face off against Otis Rolley, who created the city's first master plan when he served as director of the planning department in 2006 under then- mayor Martin O'Malley.

Other possible challengers include Clerk of Court Frank Conaway Sr., state Sen. Catherine Pugh, Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Councilman Carl Stokes. Even Scott Donahoo, known for the wacky TV commercials for his car dealerships, is rumored to be running.

Former congressman and director of the national NAACP Kweisi Mfume is said to be contemplating a run, although he says his sole focus is running the National Medical Society right now.

Politicos say Mfume, a gifted orator and a well-known name in Baltimore, could give Rawlings-Blake a run for her money. However, his name has been mentioned as a candidate since 1999 and he has never launched a bid for office.

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Posted by Julie Scharper at 4:11 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: City Hall
        

November 9, 2010

Welch to retire, council colleagues say

Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper reports:

City Councilwoman Agnes Welch, who has represented Southwest Baltimore for more than a quarter century, is planning to retire before the end of the year, her colleagues say.

Welch, 85, has not set a firm date for her retirement, Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said. She is serving her seventh term on the council.

“She said she was really enjoying her work on the council, but there comes a time when you want to leave still at the top of your game,” said Young, who met with her before Monday’s council meeting.

Calls to Welch were not immediately returned Tuesday.

Her son and longtime aide, William “Pete” Welch, said the councilwoman is contemplating retirement, but has made no formal announcement.

City Hall observers consider William Welch the likely successor to his mother’s seat and speculate that her retirement will be timed to allow him to go into next year’s election as the incumbent.

When a council seat is open, the 14 other council members host public interviews for the seat and vote on a successor.

William Welch laughed off questions of whether he would run for his mother’s seat, saying it was “putting the cart before the horse.”

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Categories: City Hall, People
        

October 19, 2010

Holton to speak on restoring trust in City Hall

 

Councilwoman Helen L. Holton, who pleaded no contest to a campaign finance violation two weeks ago, will speak tonight at a panel discussion at Loyola University on "Restoring Public Trust in City Hall."

Holton, who traveled to Palm Springs, Fla. last week for a conference at the city's expense, will join Councilmen William H. Cole IV and James B. Kraft for the fifth annual "Law and the City" discussion.

Andrea Giampetro-Meyer, chair of Loyola's Law & Social Responsibility Department and the event's organizer, said Holton would bring a "unique perspective" to the discussion.

"Holton's recent experiences will allow her to offer insights about what it is like to have your behavior questioned from an ethical perspective," Giampetro-Meyer said.

The West Baltimore councilwoman will bring "unique insights about legal and ethical guidelines" for city elected officials, she said.

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Posted by Julie Scharper at 12:47 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: City Hall
        

October 11, 2010

Baltimore Mayor at White House today

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is expected to join a group of governors, mayors and Cabinet secretaries at the White House this morning for an event with President Barack Obama highlighting infrastructure investments.

The gathering in the State Dining Room is part of a fresh attempt by the administration to focus attention on Obama's plan to invest $50 billion in highway, rail and runway improvements.

Those on hand will include Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and Delaware Governor Jack Markell, Transportation secretary Ray LaHood and mayors from Philadelphia, Atlanta, L.A., Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Columbus and Charleston, S.C.

Among the topics expected to be addressed is a new administration report which says that 80 percent of the transportation infrastructure jobs would be created in the construction, manufacturing and retail trade sectors, and that the work would go to sectors of the economy currently being battered by high joblessness.

Click here for a copy of the report.

Posted by Paul West at 9:47 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: City Hall
        

October 6, 2010

After plea, Holton traveling to Fla. on city's dime

The Baltimore Sun's Julie Scharper reports:

Baltimore City Councilwoman Helen Holton, who pleaded no contest this week to a campaign finance violation, will attend a three-day conference in Palm Beach, Fla., next week at the city’s expense.

The city spending board voted Wednesday to approve the $1,100 trip for Holton, who will be attending the National Association of Counties conference in Palm Beach from October 13 to 15.

Holton pleaded no contest on Monday to a misdemeanor stemming from a deal she struck with developer Ronald Lipscomb and bread magnate and developer John Paterakis Sr.

Holton asked the two to pay $12,500 for a poll during her 2007 re-election campaign, circumventing campaign finance regulations and exceeding the $4,000 cap on donations from individuals during an election cycle.

A related and more serious bribery charge remains tied up in an appeal to the Court of Appeals.
Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who presides over the five-member Board of Estimates, abstained from the vote. His spokesman said Young normally abstains from votes involving the council members.

Spokesman Lester J. Davis said the trip was planned long before the plea deal was announced and that Young, who serves as leader of the council, “did not have a role in picking who went on this trip.”

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake voted in favor of the expenditure. Asked if Holton’s trip should be approved after her plea, Rawlings-Blake said “I don’t think the two are related.”

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August 25, 2010

A Cinematic Morning at the Board of Estimates

Meetings of the city's spending board are generally sleepy bureaucratic pageants, punctuated by the occasional protest from contractors or the sopping arrival of officials caught in the rain.

But Tom Kiefaber, who ran the Senator Theater until just a few weeks ago, brought a level of drama worthy of a summer blockbuster to today's meeting.

Kiefaber accused the Baltimore Development Company of being "deceitful and fraudulent" in the manner in which they awarded the contract for the theater to James "Buzz" and Kathleen Cusack, the father-and-daughter team behind the Charles Theatre.

He interupted assistant city solicitor Larry Jenkins, prompting Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young to rap his gavel and call for order.

"This is out of order," Kiefaber yelled. "This is a fraud coming down here."

After Kiefaber stormed to the back of the chamber, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, "I'm very much looking forward to new leadership at the Senator Theatre."

She praised the Cusacks' role in the renaissance of Station North and said she anticipated a "viable theater" would add to the revitalized Belvedere Square area.

"Shame on you. Shame on all of you," Kiefaber yelled from the back of the room as the five-member board voted on the agreement. City Comptroller Joan Pratt abstained from the vote.

Four teams responded to a request for proposals last fall. BDC officials winnowed the field down to two -- the Cusacks and Towson University's WTMD radio station, but the university dropped out saying it could not come up with a workable financial model.

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Categories: City Hall
        

August 17, 2010

City councilman supports Senate challenger

Senate challenger Hector Torres touted an endorsement from City Councilman Bill Henry this morning, providing one establishment stamp of approval for the Senate hopeful.

Torres, a former fire department spokesman, wants to unseat veteran Senator Joan Carter Conway, who chairs the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee.

She’s known for her fiery presence in Annapolis and frequently takes the floor push back efforts to reduce funding for the city. But she ruffled feathers this year when she did not allow a bill permitting Marylanders to purchase wine via the Internet to leave her committee.

Torres says she’s too cozy with the state’s powerful alcoholic beverages lobby, which opposed the wine bill. She denies that charge, but he’s also trying to tie her to other special interests, showing on his website that her campaign donors have obtained state contracts.

"It is not about cozy," Conway said. "I tell people you can send me your money if you want, but it is not going to affect what I do."

The race is one of the few contested legislative contests in Baltimore this year and so far it has not attracted the attention as the Della v. Ferguson match up on the city's waterfront.

Henry’s councilmanic district overlaps part of the area Torres hopes to represent. In a statement, Henry said: "Hector Torres has a proven track record of dedicated public service in Baltimore City and I believe he is the candidate who will best represent the interests of the 43rd District in Annapolis," said Henry.

Conway said she was not suprised by the endorsement, and does not think it will not have much of an impact on the race. "It is a democracy, you have the right to endorse whoever you want," she said.

The rest of the councilman’s statement after the jump.

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Categories: Candidate Watch 2010, City Hall
        

August 10, 2010

Young gets rattled at council meeting

If you're looking for a little excitement on Monday evenings, don't turn on the TV, just come down to City Hall for a council meeting.

It seems as if there's always drama at the meetings, whether protests from union leaders or business owners, or the members squabbling among themselves.

Longtime Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young promised to tone down his trademark fiery temper when he became council president in February.

But he got his hackles up last night after council members teased him as he counted votes on a referendum, introduced at the request of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration, that would allow the city to make more purchases without public announcement.

Councilman Robert W. Curran said something unintelligible to Young from his seat in the first row of the council chambers.

Young shot back, "I can count very good. Look at my bank account book and look at yours."

He went back to counting votes and became flustered again. "Bobby Curran got me all twisted up," he said.

Later, Young's staff doled out birthday gifts to several council members, including Curran. "Make sure you count everything in the bag," he told Curran.

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Categories: City Hall
        

August 5, 2010

Hearing on Remington Walmart proposal tonight

The city planning commission will hear lengthy testimony tonight on a proposed development for the current Anderson Automotive site that flanks Howard Street in Remington.

Plans for the 11.5 acre plot of land have divided residents, many of whom have strong reactions to a Walmart store proposed for the site, and thrust the neighborhood into the limelight.

A diverse group of people call Remington home and opinions on the store run the gamut from those who welcome opportunities to buy cheap goods to those who fear the store will drive down wages in the area.

Two coaltitions of residents and business owners who have concerns about the project, Bmore Local and Bmore CAN are holding a rally before the planning commission meets.

If the commission votes to approve the plans for the project tonight, it could return to the City Council for approval as soon as next month.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 5:11 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: City Hall
        

Vozzella: The surgeon on speed dial

After the stabbing death of a young Hopkins researcher in Charles Village, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake agreed to talk to Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper about the time eight years ago when her brother was gravely wounded in a stabbing.

In a city freshly rattled by violent crime, it might have been smart politics for a mayor to let people know she'd been personally affected by it.

Except for this part, Baltimore Sun colleague Laura Vozzella writes: The mayor recalled in the interview that when things looked dire for her brother, Wendell Rawlings, her powerful politician-dad pulled strings to get him moved from Sinai Hospital to Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

"Delegate [Pete] Rawlings called Thomas Scalea, physician-in-chief at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, who rode an ambulance to Sinai to pick up Wendell Rawlings," The Sun's Julie Scharper wrote.

I can't blame the late delegate for pulling any string he could to save his son. What parent wouldn't?

But was it smart for the mayor to offer up that tidbit — that her dad had one of the world's greatest trauma surgeons on speed dial, and that the doc was willing to hop into an ambulance on his behalf — in the context of an interview meant to show that she'd been touched by violent crime, just like so many ordinary Baltimoreans? Kinda undercuts the everywoman theme, doesn't it?

I bounced that off attorney Warren Brown, a reliably colorful observer of Baltimore crime and politics. Turns out, he represented one of the guys charged in the matter, but only until he got the case transferred to juvenile court. ("I don't mess around with juvenile court," Brown said. "It's a mess down there.") So Brown is not exactly a disinterested observer, but I still wanted his take.

He had no issue with what Pete Rawlings did for Wendell. "I'd do the same thing, no question about that," Brown said. But when it came to the mayor's comments, he did question "the wisdom of her broadcasting" what amounted to "special treatment."

"As much as, you know, in her position, she wants to appear to relate to the people, there is this little something in her that still causes her to let folk know that, 'I am a little better than you are,'" Brown said.

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August 3, 2010

Rawlings-Blake in Asia for leadership program

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is visiting China and India this week. But her tour of Asia is not a vacation-- she's traveling with the Aspen Leadership Institute's Rodel Fellowship Program.

According to its website, the program “seeks to enhance our democracy by identifying and bringing together the nation's most promising young political leaders to explore, though study and conversation, the underlying values and principles of western democracy, the relationship between individuals and their community, and the responsibilities of public leadership.”

Rawlings-Blake was in Beijing Tuesday and will head to New Delhi Thursday, aides said. They said city money is not being used to find the travel

She joins a familiar face on the trip: Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler is one of the 20 fellows participating.

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Categories: City Hall
        

July 30, 2010

Rawlings-Blake recalls night violence came calling

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake rarely speaks of the night the city's dangers arrived at her front door. But in the days after the stabbing death of a young Johns Hopkins researcher in Charles Village, she has been thinking about the moment that she says helped shape the way she views violent crime.

"There is no acceptable amount of death. There is no acceptable level of violence," Rawlings-Blake tells Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper. "This is more than a public safety issue. This is a moral issue. All the communities affected by violence need to be as outraged and as determined to pursue justice."

Rawlings-Blake told Scharper she was in her bedroom in her Coldsping condominium that chilly November night in 2002 when the front door banged open and she heard her brother scream: "Call the police!"

Rawlings-Blake hurried to the landing of her split-level home that chilly November evening eight years ago. She found her younger brother hunched in the entryway, blood streaming from his neck and back.

"I didn't know what happened," Rawlings-Blake said. "I didn't know the circumstances. I picked up the phone and I yanked it so hard I pulled the cord out of the wall."

Rawlings-Blake, who was vice president of the City Council at the time, said it furthered her resolve to push for stricter penalties for violent criminals.

"We have to be vigilant to make sure that people who should not be walking among us are off the street," she said.

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July 26, 2010

Official: No legal action against profane rapper

The city will not pursue legal action against Wale, the Washington, D.C.-based hip hop artist who reportedly used profanity and a racial slur while performing at Artscape, the director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts said Monday.

Organizers were shocked when Wale used offensive language during his performance, BOPA executive director Bill Gilmore told Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper.

“He is not known to do that kind of performance,” said Gilmore. “We were pretty much caught off guard.”

Artscape musicians are cautioned that their acts must be suitable for family audiences, said Gilmore. “This is the first time this had ever happened” at Artscape, he said.

Performers are paid in advance and it is not possible to reduce or revoke the payment, he said. The city does not intend to pursue any type of legal action, he said.

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July 22, 2010

City living wage bill dies in committee

After hearing more than four hours of testimony by business and religious leaders Thursday, a Baltimore City Council committee rejected a bill that would have required major retailers to pay workers the city’s living wage, Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper reports.

Councilman Warren Branch, chair of the three-member labor subcommittee, voted against the bill. Councilwoman Belinda Conaway voted in its favor; Councilman Nicholas D’Adamo was absent due to his parents’ poor health.

After the vote, the measure’s sponsor said she was hopeful it could be resurrected.

“This is too important to just let it die in committee,” Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said. “It could have made a huge difference for thousands of families who live in Baltimore City. It could have lifted them out of poverty or at least taken them to the poverty line.”

The bill could have another chance if Branch asks for it to be reconsidered, or if eight of the 15 council members petition for it to come to the full body for a vote. Seven members have pledged their support.

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Categories: City Hall, Money and Business
        

City council considering living wage rules

The Baltimore City Council will hear testimony Thursday on a controversial proposal to require large retailers in the city to pay employees a "living wage" — currently, $10.59 per hour.

Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper reports that the reactions have fallen along the familiar business-labor divide. Supporters say it would help workers who do not earn enough money to support their families; opponents say it would discourage retailers from moving into the city.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke tells Scharper she was inspired to introduce the bill after listening to presentations about a planned Walmart store in Remington.

"The goal is that people who work hard can support their families without turning to charity or the government for help," said Clarke, who was council president when the city passed the nation's first living-wage law in 1994.

But Greater Baltimore Committee Chairman Donald C. Fry says the measure could force retailers to lay off employees or cut hours to cover the increased payroll, while leading stores to set up business in the surrounding counties rather than the city.

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July 19, 2010

Schmoke campaign manager defending Jessamy

Over the Baltimore Crime Beat blog, Baltimore Sun colleague Justin Fenton tracks down the sender of an unsigned e-mail written in support of Baltimore City State's Attorney Paticia C. Jessamy:

The first line read, "Jessamy: Tough and Smart on Crime," (her campaign slogan) and it proceeded to explain that since Jessamy took office in 1995, crime had declined substantially. It didn't say whether Jessamy was taking credit for this decline, nor did it draw any parallels between prosecutions and crime rate. There was no contact information.

In an attempt to discern the sender's identity, I wrote back. It turned out it was from none other than Larry S. Gibson, an old hand in politics once described as the "man behind [former mayor] Kurt Schmoke" and a political "kingmaker" in the city. Though the statistics and exact wording of the email appear on the front page of Jessamy's election web site, Gibson said he had prepared the email as a private citizen because it was important that the "public know the truth," calling Democratic primary challenger Gregg Bernstein "dishonest."

Gibson said he has had almost no involvement in local politics since 1999 (he ran former state's attorney Stuart Simms' failed bid for Attorney General in 2006), but wants to get involved with the Jessamy campaign. "I intend to do what I can to re-elect Patricia Jessamy," he wrote in a reply email.

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July 2, 2010

City police, firefighters protest pension changes

Holding signs that said "City Hall Has Turned Their Backs on Police and Firefighters," about two dozen members of the Baltimore police and firefighters unions protested the city's new pension legislation, Baltimore Sun colleague Jessica Anderson writes.

The union members wore shirts saying, "We Protect You. Help Protect Us," and yelled as local city and business leaders entered a fundraising event for Councilman Bill Cole at Luckie's Tavern on Market Place downtown. The new pension bill drastically alters the police and firefighter pension plan.

"We're here to show our displeasure with City Council for cutting our pension system when we provided a viable alternative," said David Cox, secretary-treasurer of Firefighters Local 734.

But council members contend the changes prevent financial disaster for the city.

"The reality was the city is facing extremely challenging times. We needed to make the pension plan sustainable long-term," Cole said.

Read more on the police and fire union pension protest.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (0)
        

June 29, 2010

A balanced budget, but trouble ahead?

After months of rancorous debate, the search for a solution to Baltimore's $121 million deficit draws to a close this week without the sweeping layoffs or deep service cuts that officials had threatened.

But as Baltimore Sun City Hall reporter Julie Scharper relates, analysts are warning of the potential impact of a little-remarked hike in the income tax, and of more tough fiscal times ahead, as federal stimulus funding dries up and the state tightens its belt.

A budget represents a "snapshot of the next year," not a "strategic plan," said Donald Fry, head of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He said officials should seize the lull after the budget's passage to draft a long-term roadmap for economic development.

Economist Anirban Basu, CEO of the Sage Policy Group, sounded a note of alarm over an increase in the income tax, which nearly doubles the disparity between rate in the city and that of Baltimore County.

"I've never seen such a stealth income tax increase in my life," said Basu, who warned that the hike could dissuade those considering a move to the city or prompt residents to leave.

"The city took two steps back when it only needed to take one step back," he said.

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:05 PM | | Comments (1)
        

June 21, 2010

Council expected to back 2-cent bottle tax

From City Hall, the Baltimore Sun's Julie Scharper reports that the City Council will vote Monday night on a 2-cent tax on bottled beverages, to expire after three years.

City Hall sources say Councilwoman Helen Holton, who last week helped to defeat the 4-cent bottle tax backed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, has agreed to support the more modest measure following a meeting Monday afternoon with the mayor.

Having voted against the 4-cent tax last week, Holton may file a motion to reconsider it on Monday night. The council is expected to amend the measure, cutting the tax in half and adding the sunset date, and approve it Monday night in a preliminary vote. A final vote would be held later this week.

Rawlings-Blake and the council have been negotiating the mix of new taxes and service cuts needed to close a $121 million budget gap by the end of the fiscal year June 30.

The 4-cent bottle tax, which officials say would have generated $11.4 million, failed last week when the council deadlocked 7-7. It is the only revenue-raising measure proposed by Rawlings-Blake that the council has not approved.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:32 PM | | Comments (5)
        

In Baltimore, more pension tension

Baltimore Sun city hall reporter Julie Scharper writes:

Nearly forgotten in the hoopla over the failure of the bottle tax at last week's city council meeting was an issue with potentially larger reverberations: the fire and police pension system. A bill that would radically alter the pension plan and save the city $65 million escaped a final vote last week but is scheduled to be considered tonight.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke plans to offer a series of amendments to the pension bill on behalf of the police and fire unions at tonight’ meeting. The amendments would grant all fire and police retirees an annual cost-of-living increase of 2 percent. Unamended, the current legislation gives retirees over 55 would a 1 percent increase and those over 65 2 percent.

It should be noted here that Councilman Bill Cole recently introduced a bill to reform the elected officials’ pension system that would boost their cost-of-liivng increase from 2.5 percent to 2.8 percent, so a 2% increase for police and fire retirees does not seem out of the question.

It is unclear how many council members will support the amendments, but Clarke hopes that they could help stave off a lawsuit. The Fraternal Order of Police and the firefighters' union filed a lawsuit in federal court a couple weeks ago charging the city with “knowingly underfunding” the pension plan over the past decade.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:44 PM | | Comments (7)
        

Mayor, supporters still lobbying for city bottle tax

Baltimore Sun city hall reporter Julie Scharper writes:

Today marks not only the longest day of the year, but also the longest council meeting of the year. After months of wrangling, the Baltimore City Council finally will pass a final version of the city’s budget tonight through a complicated series of meetings and hearings likely to last several hours.

What is still not known is the fate of the bottle tax. As of this afternoon, city officials were still attempting to persuade council members to resurrect the four-cent tax, which was efectively killed by a tie vote last Thursday. The council could revisit the issue if a member who voted against it asks for it to be reconsidered. The administration, which estimates that the tax could generate $11 million in revenue and reverse cuts to many programs, especially public works, continues to lobby for the tax.

Councilman Warren Branch voted against the tax last week, surprising many in City Hall who thought he would support it because he was a long-time public works employee and a former leader in the AFSCME union, which has supported the tax. On Friday, Branch told city officials that he would not budge on the tax, snuffing the hope that he would be the one to bring it back.

But fans of the tax hold out hope that one of the other council members who voted against it — Helen Holton, James B. Kraft, Belinda Conaway, Agnes Welch, Nick D’Adamo or Bill Henry — would ask for it to be reconsidered at tonight’s meeting. Kraft sent an e-mail to constituents detailing why he was not backing the tax and said today he remains firm.

However, several water advocacy groups have criticized Kraft, one of the most environmentally conscious council members, for not supporting it because Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says some of the proceeds will be used to maintain trash-skimming operations in the Harbor. In his letter, Kraft opines that it would be unlikely for the mayor to discontinue such an important and high-profile service during an election year.

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June 17, 2010

Bottle tax comes up short; city to cut services

The City Council failed Thursday to approve a controversial new tax on bottled beverages, leaving the city to cut services to close a budget gap, Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper reports.

The 15-member council split 7-7 on the measure backed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake but opposed by a coalition of beverage of distributors and store owners. Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, whose cousin is a lobbyist for a beverage distributor, recused himself.

Supporters of the new tariff had lobbied furiously this week to win the support of two remaining swing voters to achieve an 8-6 majority. Council member Warren Branch, who had said Wednesday that he was undecided, voted against it Thursday.

“My constituents told me overwhelmingly to vote no,” he said.

Councilman Carl Stokes, the other undecided member, voted for it Thursday.

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City joins brief against Arizona immigration law

The city of Baltimore has joined a friend-of-the-court brief urging a federal court in Arizona to block enforcement of that state’s controversial new immigration law, Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper reports.

“The law passed in Arizona offends us and goes against everything that our great nation stands for,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. “Our country has accepted and welcomed immigrants of all colors, nationalities, and ethnic backgrounds because that is what makes us great. Cities like Baltimore were built by generations of immigrants who thirsted for the freedom to build a prosperous life for themselves and their families. We cannot let fear tear down this country’s tradition of inclusion, liberty and justice.”

The city has joined San Francisco, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Seattle in the brief, which argues that Arizona Senate Bill 1070 is “unconstitutional, impractical, costly, and deeply damaging to the relationships of trust law enforcement agencies have built with immigrant communities,” according to a news release from Rawlings-Blake’s office.

“SB 1070 suggests, wrongly, that the enforcement of federal civil immigration law is the proper responsibility of local government officials, and that basic constitutional principles do not apply when those officials are investigating or enforcing immigration law,” the local governments argue. “That message will be heard not just in Arizona, but in every state in the country, making immigrants—whether they are naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, visa holders, or undocumented individuals—distrustful of local government and law enforcement officials.”

The brief was filed Wednesday in a lawsuit by activists who are asking the court to halt enforcement of the law before it goes into effect at the end of July.

Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton introduced a City Council resolution last month criticizing the Arizona law.

Del. Pat McDonough of Harford County, who says he will introduce a bill modeled on the Arizona law in Annapolis next year, called Middleton’s resolution “useless and clueless.”

Continue reading "City joins brief against Arizona immigration law" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:11 PM | | Comments (29)
        

City bottle tax in doubt

The controversial bottle tax backed by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to help close $121 million budget gap is in doubt after a key city councilman said he was leaning against voting for it on Thursday, Baltimore Sun colleague Julie Scharper reports.

Councilman Carl Stokes, seen as a swing vote on the proposal, said late Wednesday that he does not agree with Rawlings-Blake's plans for the proceeds of the tax on bottled beverages.

Stokes said the revenue should save more jobs than the 70 that Rawlings-Blake says it will preserve; the mayor wants to use the money to restore street-cleaning and sanitation programs, among other initiatives.

"I don't have a reason to vote for the bottle tax," Stokes told Scharper. "If I had a reason, like more jobs and fewer furlough days, I'd vote for it."

A Stokes vote against the tax would likely lead to a 7-7 tie, resulting in its defeat.

The proposed tariff is one of several taxes and fees on which council members are scheduled to vote Thursday at an emergency meeting to help close the city's $121 million budget shortfall before the current fiscal year ends in less than two weeks.

Read the rest of the story at baltimoresun.com.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 1:01 PM | | Comments (0)
        

June 7, 2010

Conaway wants her big signs back

A dispatch from City Hall reporter Julie Scharper:

Belinda Conaway has a reputation for being a bit of a maverick on the Baltimore City Council.

In recent months, she has introduced both a resolution to investigate how police handle routine stops and a bill to create a “drag net” around problem areas. And as chair of the budget committee, she drew flak from police last month when she used a hearing on the department’s budget allocation to submit a laundry list of questions on the racial makeup of command staff.

Today, Conaway is unveiling a piece of legislation that hits close to home. Very close to home.

The councilwoman, whose father, mother and brother are all elected officials and city residents, wants to abolish size restrictions on political campaign signs in residential areas.

“This is what I call the Conaway law,” the councilwoman said at a luncheon work session. “It’s a nitpicky thing against the Conaways.”

The councilwoman, who lives in West Baltimore at an address shared by her parents and brother, said her family “traditionally has had large signs, particularly in the last race.”

Given the tight financial times, it seems foolhardy to waste resources on enforcing campaign sign laws, she said.

But Councilman Robert Curran, who sponsored the bill that limited the size of the signs, said it was not inspired by the Conaway family’s signs, but rather large signs that appeared in his Northeast Baltimore district during the last state delegate race.

Continue reading "Conaway wants her big signs back" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:43 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Candidate Watch 2010, City Hall, Law and Courts
        
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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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