Politics & Business

Roboscandal Round-up

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Two political strategists could face up to five years in jail and 50 million dollars in fines for telling Maryland voters to “relax.” Julius Henson and Paul Schurick worked on Republican Robert L. Ehrlich’s failed 2010 bid for governor, Schurick as Ehrlich’s campaign manager and Henson as a political consultant. They have been charged with conspiracy to violate Maryland election laws, among other charges, for ordering deceptive robocalls to be sent to over 112,000 households on election day, targeting African-American Democrat populations with an automated message encouraging voters to “relax” because Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley had already won election. But of course these calls were made while the polls were still open.

Both Henson and Schurick claim they have violated no laws. Henson freely admits ordering the calls, but claims that they were not intended to suppress Democratic voters, but rather to encourage Ehrlich’s supporters to get out to the polls. Henson called the strategy “counterintuitive.” That’s certainly one word for it. It’s especially counterintuitive when you consider that, according to court papers, the phone numbers were culled from call lists for two recent Democratic campaigns Henson’s firms had worked for, and were unlikely to be the numbers of Ehrlich supporters. On top of that, according to the state prosecutor, an Ehrlich campaign document called “The Schurick Doctrine” declares its aim to be the promotion of “confusion, emotionalism, and frustration among African-American Democrats.”

With a 2005 Maryland law expressly making it illegal to “willfully and knowingly influence or attempt to influence a voter’s decision whether to go to the polls to cast a vote through the use of force, fraud, threat, menace, intimidation, bribery, reward, or offer of reward,” these charges could carry up to a five-year sentence. Henson and an associate are also facing a civil suit related to the calls. If found in violation, they could be fined 500 dollars per call, and remember: there were over 112,000 calls.

Q & A with Community Activist Sally Michel

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Sally Michel believed in Baltimore long before such behavior was mandated by municipal bumper sticker. As one of the city’s pre-eminent cultural and educational activists, Michel has consistently channeled that belief into tangible results for a smorgasbord of worthy beneficiaries – the Abell Foundation, Fund for Educational Excellence, School for the Arts, Junior League, and Walters Art Museum, among countless others – that have significantly enhanced the quality of life in Baltimore. 

Michel also has played a quietly influential role in civic affairs, both publicly – she served for 10 years on the city’s Planning Commission, including a stretch as chair – and privately, as a staunch donor to the campaigns of local, state, and national Democratic candidates (William Donald Schaefer, Ben Cardin, Elijah Cummings, Maggie McIntosh, Barack Obama, et al.).

However, Michel is probably best known as the co-founder – and relentless shepherdess — of the Parks & People Foundation, the public/private organization, launched in 1984 with Schaefer’s benediction, dedicated to developing programs that seamlessly mesh environmental and educational initiatives. Accordingly, she created the group’s SuperKids Camp, which since 1997 has provided more than 17,000 city schoolchildren with innovative learning experiences via a fun-but-functional summer camp.

Michel, now 73, grew up in Virginia, attended Goucher College, and lives in Roland Park.    

Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.  

Help us to remember that what we keep we lose, and only what we give remains our own.
 
When did you define your most important goals, and what are they? 

Goals are an ongoing process, but mine have always focused on children and the city environment. 
 
What is the best advice you ever got that you followed? 

My husband use to give my three daughters the following advice: be a lady, do things to make me proud, and, above all, think. We have all followed that advice. 
 
The worst advice, and did you follow it? Or how did you muffle it?

Vote Republican. I never have.
 
What are the three most surprising truths you’ve discovered in your lifetime? 

Friends and family are the key to everything. Eight grandkids are sheer joy. There are not enough hours in the day.    
 
What is the best moment of the day?

Two a.m. It’s quiet, the phone doesn’t ring, and I can get a lot of work done.
 
What is on your bedside table? 

Three alarm clocks.
 
What is your favorite local charity? 

The Parks & People Foundation, because it helps city children and parks.
 
What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you are doing? 

Marry someone who will support you in all your ventures.
 
Why are you successful? 

Teamwork.
 
What is your favorite Baltimore City vista? 

The view from my porch. I can see the Roland Park water tower and all the way down to the harbor.
 
What is the most difficult plant that you have successfully grown in your home garden? 

Does not apply – I have never grown a plant successfully. 
 
What attribute surprised you the most about William Donald Schaefer?

Despite his gruff exterior, he was a lovely, sweet man.

Catherine Pugh’s Twitter Account Hacked? Sounds Familiar…

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Add Baltimore mayoral candidate Catherine Pugh’s name to the list of politicians whose social networking gaffes (or hacks, depending on whom you believe) have become news stories. While Pugh was attending a gala for the Associated Black Charities Saturday night her Twitter account published a tweet that read: “Mmm mmm good looking men here,” which is fairly tame as regrettable tweets go. It’s unbecoming of a state senator and mayoral hopeful, maybe, but it would be a stretch to call it scandalous. Pugh denies sending the tweet.

Certainly it’s nothing compared with the over-reported (and over-photo-illustrated) “sexting” scandal of the unfortunately named Rep. Anthony Weiner, whose confusing half-denials gave way to defiant confessions as photo after half-dressed photo of the New York congressman surfaced on the Internet as evidence of his inappropriate cyber-behavior. The two stories are similar only in medium, but the medium is the message to the larger story here.

Social media scandals could be the wave of the future. Digital information is particularly leaky, and once out is quickly copied and distributed. A single private message intended for the eyes of a friend or family member can become a media event in a matter of minutes.

It’s possible that these scandals could become less common as the current politicians are succeeded by a more tech-savvy generation, but I have my doubts. So often I’ve seen younger people post information to their Facebook pages that I would never dream of posting. I wonder if these immature and inappropriately personal messages will cause problems for them in the future with relationships, employment, or running for public office.

It’s unclear how culpable the news media are in the reporting of these scandals. Certainly Rep. Weiner’s social networking “affairs” are some kind of news story, but how relevant are they really? Are the media working in the name of greater transparency or simple voyeurism? Perhaps blaming news outlets is itself outdated. Even without coverage of  Weiner’s Twitter scandal by legitimate news sources, surely the story would have spread far and wide through retweets and Facebook posts. Have we come to a time when the people determine what’s newsworthy? And is this the kind of thing we’re into?



 

Contest: Summer Job Horror Stories

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All over Baltimore kids are looking for summer work. The jobs, if you can get them, are typically hellish: babysitting bratty kids, hanging over a fryer in a fast food kitchen, digging graves in the hot sun, assisting a verbally abusive power tripper, to name a foul few. It’s a character building rite of passage, sure, and most of us get through it, with stories that seems funny in retrospect, but it seems pretty insufferable at the time.

Do you remember one summer job that was particularly brutal? Tell us your story! Winner receives a $50 gift certificate to a local restaurant, where the lucky scribe may spy a beleaguered Baltimore teen busing loaded tables for peanuts. 

To get your creative juices flowing, we share with you a classic missive from a Baltimorean who worked as an assistant in the entertainment industry one summer. Makes grave digging sound cushy, no?

“Worst day of work ever. I had to be at Lydia’s house at 8 this morning with coffee, which meant I had to get up at 6:30 and leave by seven. I get there, and she’s still asleep so I have to wake her up, give her her coffee and then change her cat’s kitty litter and clean her room while she gets her hair blown out. After all this is done, she starts freaking out because she can’t find her coat and she has to be on the lot at 10:30. We finally get in the car and she calls (her first assistant) Rachel about how I have no idea what I’m doing and how I hadn’t been prepped properly. She insists to me that she’s not mad at me, but lets me know that I need to be briefed better on the things that need to go in her purse and make sure that there are coffee and cigarettes waiting in the car for her. If not, it puts her in “a really crappy mood.” She repeats that this can never happen again. At this point its 9:55 and we have to be on set at 10:30, which is 45 minutes away. I speed all the way and get her there on time, but when we get to the stage, she tells me to call Sue, one of the women she is meeting. I don’t have Sue’s number, but what’s worse is my phone is broken and spazzes out sometimes, and of course, it picks then to spazz. It won’t turn on and it’s freezing. “This is really shitty, this can never happen again,” she repeats over and over as if I were deaf and mentally challenged. I apologize profusely, and, because on some level she likes me, she tries to be positive but it is clear that she is pissed. She gets out of the car and slams the door. So, naturally, I drive away. I get back to the office, after crying the whole way, and apparently she’s angry because I drove away and the rest of the crew was running late so she was there alone when we “could have gone to get cigarettes and coffee.” I want to scream at her, “You’re 60 years old, can’t you make sure you have cigarettes?!! Can’t you make sure everything is in your purse that’s supposed to be there?!! Are you a moron?” But of course, I can’t. So I have to run out and get her coffee for before she gets here. Now she won’t look at me and I’m pretty much positive that she’s not going to want me to work here anymore, which sucks because I sacrificed my whole summer for this…opportunity.”

Execs to Hop in the Harbor!

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We double-dog dare you to dive off the pier at Fells Point, and not in a drunken stupor either, in the name of clean water and good faith. But, wait, don’t do it yet. Wait till 2020, when it’s safe.

Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore aims to make the Inner Harbor swimmable and fishable by ’20, if not sooner. Mike Hankin, president/CEO of Brown Advisory, has even promised to take a swim himself, as part of the first harbor-held triathlon.

“Some people think I’ve gone out on a limb here, but this is very doable,” Hankin says. “This harbor deserves to be cleaned up! Come now, this is our city–let’s act like it!”

Hankin serves as chairman of the organization’s board–exec director Laurie Schwartz, also an avid swimmer, provides key leadership.

She, too, looks forward to a clean, competitive swim by nontoxic deadline.

“I’m in! I’m a regular swimmer–at Meadowbrook and Harbor East MAC–and would much prefer to swim in the open waters of the Harbor. I dream about swimming from the foot of Broadway to Tidepoint!” Schwartz says.

Participating harbor-area businesses include H&S Bakeries, Cordish Company, General Growth, Merritt Properties, and Brown Advisory, plus nonprofits the Maryland Science Center and the Aquarium.

Since raising two million dollars to gather momentum, industrious WPB collective has organized to pick up trash on the south side of the harbor, maintained over twenty green urban spaces, and much more. City council fully backs their optimistic efforts.

Are there doubters among you, readers? We’ve all seen tons of nasty trash floating in the harbor, every time we visit the place. The trouble feels chronic, okay. So, how will the organization actually achieve their dreamy fish-and-human-friendly goals?

Well, practical plans (not the least bit watery) underway to ensure clean, swimmable water include a regular “State of the Harbor” report card, a detailed action plan produced by the Center for Watershed Protection and Biohabitats, addressing each major source of harbor pollution, and active neighborhood participation, with grants provided to neighborhood leaders who can spearhead health plan creation, cleanup and awareness efforts. (Problems like litter, sediment run-off and clogged streams will be addressed.)

Sponsors include: Constellation Energy, Legg Mason, Rauch Foundation, Abell Foundation, Cleaner Greener Baltimore and Duane Morris.

Will you support efforts to clean up our harbor? Whether or not you pitch in, will you ultimately take a dip? Go on, we dare you, and we’ll see you in there!

New B.A. Lands You Fast Telemarketing Gig

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Not that I’m regretting dropping four years’ tuition into a bachelor’s degree from a top art college, but why did I choose to major in illustration rather than….creative ways to sell stuff? For the past four years I’ve been telling myself, “Don’t worry, you’ll have a job waiting when you graduate.”

Seems the only places hiring are marketing and sales firms. As soon as I put my resume on Monster and Career Builder, my email and phone lines were flooded with recruiters looking for new grads aspiring to be telemarketers. I guess you should take what you can get, but for someone who’s not a “people person,” calling strangers during dinnertime and pestering them to buy something they don’t need not only seems like a poor use of my degree, it’s not physically doable.

I’ve zoned out for hours surfing the web for design jobs, since I have a couple of great graphic design classes under my belt. The catch is that 99 percent of the graphic design jobs posted require knowledge of web design. I guess the average Corporate Joe wouldn’t realize it, but graphic design and web design are two different things. Just the other day I went to an interview for a “part time graphic design with maybe some writing” job. Immediately they told me they wanted someone to build their website and edit video footage. Where did that come from? It says nowhere on my resume that I build websites or have video experience.

Surely, the jobs are out there. It’s just a matter of finding one to which you can apply your hundred thousand dollar degree. For artists, it’s ten times the battle. I can dedicate myself to being a freelance illustrator, without the security of a steady income or reliable clients, but I’m looking for something permanent. I wish my school officials had told me freshman year, if you want to make money with a Bachelors of Fine Arts, you need to learn web design. Or figure out how to cold call people and talk them into magazine subscriptions.

Exec Trophy House in Owings Mills Shows Signs of Success

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Ever wonder what former CEO Bill Jews did with the generous “parting gift” he received from CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield? Well, at least part of the answer resides at 11914 Minor Jones Drive in Owings Mills. Jews purchased the home for $3,275,000 in early 2010 and its bells and whistles are a timely reminder of how lucrative the state’s largest health insurer was for the ex-company chief. 

The understated exterior view belies an opulence that presents itself as soon as you open the front door. A two-story barrel-vaulted foyer with curved staircase seems designed to greet the owner with the message, “Congratulations, buddy, you are successful!” As a matter of fact, the whole house feels very “executive” with loads of gleaming wood, recessed lighting and inlaid marble. Is it me or does that dining room look like it’s just a few yellow notepads short of a board meeting? No wonder Bill liked it! The house weighs in at 10,000 square feet with six bedrooms, eight baths, pool, putting green (tres business man) and a room for every purpose imaginable: theater room, exercize room, wine room, etc. Over the top? Well, not exactly my style but well done and the creature comforts certainly look inviting. The amount of Bravo TV I could watch in those green loungers alone! The only element that I can truly take exception with is that pool house, which looks like a Wawa convenience store. It needs to be fired.

Arguably, the house is symbol of well-earned success. Jews’ story is the classic American dream: from hard-working Cambridge basketball star to top executive. Bill Jews smartly led CFBCBC from the brink of insolvency to profitability by cutting costs and growing profits. But some believe cutting costs equals cutting care, and large profits have no business near a non-profit health insurance program. Either way the house is a sign of the times that makes you think.

Time to Worship at the Pizza Altar

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Only two days left til the most anticipated event of Baltimore’s summer:  yes, of course, we’re referring to the opening of actor Chazz Palminteri‘s Italian restaurant Chazz:  A Bronx Original. It’s a dining establishment so momentous that it needs a subtitle. Need we say more?

Well, yeah, there’s plenty more to say. The restaurant’s decor sounds like it’s aiming for a mix between upscale-casual and totally ridiculous:  there are multiple dining rooms “each with its own Bronx personality,” “an unprecedented bar program” (whatever that means), and — maybe you should sit down for this one — a pizza altar.

But the pizza might turn out to be worthy of your worship:  it features house-made mozzerella, and gets baked in a coal-fired oven. One pizza expert pronounced coal-fired ovens 2008’s biggest fad in his annual “Year in Pizza” presentation, so Chazz is moderately on-trend in that way.

And of course with a name like Chazz:  A Bronx Original, the appeal isn’t only the food. As Chazz himself told the Baltimore Sun earlier this spring, “Diners will be sitting in Chazz’s dining room. Boom! One of my movies will come on. They’ll be dining at Chazz, and then they’ll see me on the screen. And then they’ll look around, and Chazz Palminteri will be right there.” No, he’s serious:  “Don’t be surprised to see me working the pizza oven; I plan on being there and being active.”

Palminteri had apparently spent years searching for the perfect place to launch the Italian restaurant of his dreams. Then he stopped by Aldo’s in Little Italy while he was in town performing his one-man show based on “A Bronx Tale” — and ended up eating there ten nights in a row. The man does his research:  after settling on a Harbor East location, Palminteri went on an “exhaustive pizza discovery tour of the New York area” with a couple of Baldwin brothers.

Sounds like it’ll fit right in with the expensive kitsch-that-doesn’t-know-it’s-kitsch of the rest of Little Italy. Let us know if you stop by!

Light Rail Railing: Board it to Better it

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Have you ridden the light rail lately? For many in the Baltimore community the answer is certainly no, despite a daily ridership of over 36,000. I’ve recently been taking it more frequently (to avoid drinking and driving, frankly) and I have been appalled at some of the problems with our city’s simple railway. First of all you can easily get away without paying to get on the thing. I have never seen anyone checking a ticket. I know that there are ticket checkers because I have a friend who was kicked off once for not paying but they are too few and far between. The light rail claims to run on an honor-based proof of payment system, but plenty of people still get on without paying, how many no one knows. But this keeps the light rail from making the money it could, which is a shame.

While I was riding the other night some doucher lit a cigar in front of me and about a dozen other people. Really? Who smokes a cigar in a closed train filled with people? While the light rail isn’t as bad as it could be (get off at Lexington Market and see how that other Baltimore property is doing) it could be much, much better. For instance, I admit that I’ve debated getting off before my stop just to escape the smell. And at night there are some predictably shady customers on board.

This all gets back to my original point. None of these things will change unless you start using the light rail more often and pay for it. Support your city. Do that and maybe they’ll able to pay attendants who can check tickets and, I don’t know, keep people from smoking cigars.

 

Arlo Shakur is one of two our summer interns. 

What the State’s Richest Employees Have in Common

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Who said working for the state doesn’t pay?
    While choosing the right college major may net you more (or less) money, maybe your best bet is to work for the college itself. Yes, the university system is where the money’s at — at least in Maryland, where the top ten highest-paid state employees all work for the University System of Maryland, primarily in the School of Medicine.
    2010’s top earner was Stephen Bartlett, chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and chief of surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center. His base salary last year was $864,786. That number doesn’t include bonuses, speaking fees, or payments for appearing on television; once you include those numbers, Gary Williams, head coach at the University of Maryland, surges to the top — his base salary was $450,869, but those extra earnings add up:  his total compensation for 2010 was $2.3 million. (Williams retired after the 2010 season, so maybe he was just trying to earn a little extra for retirement?)
    Governor O’Malley? His (relatively) paltry $150,000 per year put him nowhere near the top of the list. Maybe he should consider a second career in academia.
    What else do the top earners have in common?  Well, they’re all men; only two women make it into the top fifty. The highest-paid woman entering the list comes in at #22 — Claudia Baquet, an associate dean and an advocate for underserved communities. We hope she doesn’t feel too lonely up there at the top.

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