Politics & Business

Under Armour To Use Rookies for Endorsements


It’s difficult to believe, with its two million dollar Superbowl commercials and products ranging from women’s underwear to hunting gear to sunglasses, that Under Armour was once just a guy with an idea looking for retail space. In the years since it was founded, the company has grown from a small, home run organization to a hugely successful corporation partnered with some of the top names in sports. But the company couldn’t always rely on the brand-name power it has today to seal those deals. In those early days, it turned to rookies–young athletes with star potential, but without the seven or eight figure salaries of some of the big names in their respective sports.  

More than ten years ago, Under Armour signed an endorsement contract with the Dallas Cowboys’ Eric Ogbogu, and although he wasn’t always a standout on the field, he made famous the now proverbial slogan, “We must protect this house.”  The method worked then, and it works now. While many star athletes would probably gladly endorse such a popular brand, the Baltimore-based company has stuck to the original formula, and recently joined forces with a small group of young NBA players, including rookie sensation Kemba Walker, to promote its new basketball line.

Isn’t this avant-garde advertising approach a bit risky? Why does such a lucrative company remain quirky with marketing? According to the company, endorsement for them has always been more about building brand integrity than it is about the money. That’s easy to say when you’re a multimillion-dollar corporation, but the company actually has a team that follows the careers of college athletes and handpicks them after graduation, so their mission seems legitimate. Now I just have to figure out how I can get on their radar.

Who Are Baltimore’s Most Successful People Under 40?


Think of it as our homegrown MacArthur Genius Grant, minus the $500,000 prize:  the Daily Record just released its annual list of VIPs (very important professionals) age forty and under, and it features a who’s-who of inspirational figures you may recognize from around town.

The list, awarded annually, honors the kinds of people who make you feel like you’re probably not doing enough with your life — community activists, standout lawyers, political movers and shakers, academic superstars, cultural figures, and the like. They’re picked by the Daily Record’s editorial board, “based on their professional accomplishments, a commitment to inspiring change in their community, and their tremendous accomplishments achieved before or by age 40.” 

A few of this year’s honorees:

  • Joe Edwardsen owns popular Station North pizza spot Joe Squared and is involved with the plans to revitalize and develop the surrounding area.
  • Keshia Pollack works to create safe and healthy work environments through her research at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health

Clear-Eyed Capitalists: The Next Generation of Local Leaders


The sky fell. The ground shook. Fissures opened in the earth. From the beginning of 2008 until mid-2009, investors watched in disbelief and wailed in dismay as cascading Wall Street catastrophes–a veritable apocalypse–gripped the nation’s financial system. Investment bank Bear Stearns tanked, and then merged into JP Morgan Chase. Bank of America successively gobbled spiraling Merrill Lynch and Countrywide Financial. Lehman Brothers disappeared without a trace. The stock market plummeted. Credit evaporated. Layoffs proliferated. Toxic assets became toxic waste. Amid all these economic calamities, uber-investment manager Bernie Madoff’s multi-year $65 billion Ponzi scheme unraveled.

Gradually, though, stability returned, aided by government bailouts (GM, Chrysler, AIG, all the largest banks) and a more cautious investment approach by chastened–and, perhaps, chagrined–Wall Street executives. During and after the turmoil, many in the financial-services sector and related areas worked tirelessly to abet the healing. Here is a quintet of locals whose instinctual savvy and innovative strategies give hope that the recklessness that reigned in the previous decade has, temporarily at least, been replaced by responsibility.

Ashton Newhall (35), co-founder and manager of venture capital management firm Greenspring Associates


In the most benign sense of the expression, Ashton Newhall is to the manner born in terms of his profession–predestined to a career as a venture capitalist. His grandfather, Charles Newhall II, worked as an investing partner with Laurance S. Rockefeller (the spiritual Rockefeller brother: crop circles! UFOs!) for that family’s venture-capital firm, Rockefeller & Co. (now Venrock Associates), while his father, Charles W. “Chuck” Newhall III, co-founded Baltimore-based venture-capital behemoth New Enterprise Associates in 1977. Not forgetting Ashton’s younger brother, Adair, a venture capitalist with the healthcare-focused Domain Associates. 

In 2000, after a stint at T. Rowe Price, Ashton Newhall co-launched Montagu Newhall Associates, which ultimately morphed into Greenspring. The Owings Mills-based firm manages venture-capital partnerships that seek out high-value opportunities for pension funds, endowments, and foundations, while also giving its clients access to direct venture-capital investments in the holy trinity sectors of  technology, life sciences, and technology-enabled. To date, Greenspring has provided both direct and indirect exposure to 359 initial public offerings and 272 mergers and acquisitions events valued at more than $100 million each.

 “What distinguishes Greenspring Associates,” notes Newhall, “is that we are the only global venture fund-of-funds in the greater Baltimore area, and one of only a few in the world. Through our platform, we offer our clients primary fund investments, secondary fund investments, direct co-investments, and secondary direct co-investments on a global basis.

We sit at the nexus of the venture capital ecosystem and provide value-added capital that fuels many of today’s leading venture-capital firms and most innovative companies.”  

Jacob Hodes (30), chief operating officer of the private equity group at Brown Advisory


Launched in 1993 as an affiliate of the city’s 200-year-old, snap-to-attention-when-you-hear-its-hallowed-name Alex. Brown & Sons, Brown Advisory evolved into an independent, employee-owned investment firm in 1998, and, at present, boasts client assets of approximately $25 billion, with offices in Washington, D.C., Boston, London, and the mothership HQ here in Fells Point. Somewhat unusually then, Brown Advisory stitches austere venerability to start-up verve.

In 2009, Jacob Hodes signed on as an analyst with Brown’s private equity business, weighing the pros and cons of private investment funds for the firm’s clients. Last year, Hodes ascended to COO in the firm’s private equity division; also in 2010, he joined the business team of BrownSavano, a Brown-related investment fund that provides partial liquidity and asset diversification to individual shareholders in later-stage private companies.

Hodes packs an eye-popping resume, brimming with all the right names. A graduate of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, he worked as an investment-banking analyst on Wall Street at Goldman Sachs, before earning a law degree at UCLA. That led to a post in the corporate department at legal leviathan Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, LLP, where he handled corporate finance deals, mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance issues, and restructurings.

“I’ve been very fortunate to work at two unbelievable, client-first organizations: Goldman and Skadden,” Hodes says. “However, I’ve never been at a place that is more client-oriented, client-focused, and client-driven than Brown Advisory.”

Jennifer Murphy (46), president and CEO of investment firm Legg Mason Capital Management LLC


Working in the extremely long shadow of Bill Miller–the Legg Mason Capital Management guru whose signature Value Trust mutual fund topped Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index from 1991 to 2005–probably cuts both ways, both blessing and curse. A curse because Miller’s remarkable 15-year high-wire run tends to obscure the essential contributions of his lieutenants–at least to the myopic media, and, by extension, to the general public; a blessing because his close associates can soak up the guy’s knowledge, perceptiveness, and insight.

Hired by Miller as a security analyst in 1986, Jennifer Murphy has ascended through the LMCM hierarchy, eventually taking over the president and CEO posts in 2009. Murphy’s investment philosophy reflects Miller’s approach. “We believe buying companies at large discounts to what they’re worth gives investors the best opportunity to build wealth over the long term,” she explains. “While this may sound pretty straightforward, it requires an independent point of view and the conviction to do what others won’t.” In short: Dare to zig when everyone else zags.
Specifically, Murphy adds, Miller has instilled in her the importance of “working with intensity, reading widely, and valuing people’s strengths.”

Apparently, Murphy also values the corporate climate at LMCM, given that she has spent nearly her entire career at the firm  “Because the future is uncertain and the competitive landscape changes constantly,” she notes, “a company’s culture and values are its most enduring assets.” 

Still, she manages to find her way outside the office, serving on the board of trustees at both the Walters Art Museum and the Glenelg Country School. “I also love working in Baltimore,” Murphy says. “It has so much to offer.”

John Linehan (46), vice president of T. Rowe Price Group, Inc., and T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc.


Over the course of its 74-year history (the past 25 as a publicly traded company), investment firm T. Rowe Price has established a reputation for personnel stability that belies the financial-services industry’s here-today-gone-tomorrow culture, where names and faces can change more frequently than Italian prime ministers or Orioles managers. John Linehan, head of TRP’s equity division and co-chairman of its institutional large-cap value fund, among other duties, exemplifies that rock-of-Gibraltar-ness, with 13 years service in the firm’s downtown sanctum sanctorum.

Linehan landed at TRP after earning a B.A. from Amherst College and an M.B.A. from Stanford University, then putting in nine years between Bankers Trust and E.T. Petroleum. In his various roles at Price, Linehan functions as administrator, mentor, and strategist.

For the equity division, Linehan strives to achieve a sort of unified field theory among people, process, and culture. “If we have good people, train them well, give them what they need to succeed and develop a special culture,” he explains, “then we should be successful over the longer term.”

For the large-cap value fund, he closely coordinates with TRP analysts to find “good companies trading at cheap prices. We are looking for companies with both positive fundamentals and valuation appeal. We take a contrarian approach; oftentimes the best time to buy is when others are bearish and the best time to sell is when others are bullish.

Doing well for my clients is my most conspicuous accomplishment. They have trusted me with their money, and I am proud that I have been able to deliver a long-term track record of investment success for them.”

Jeff Dicken (44), director of Baltimore Green Currency Association


Generally, the Secret Service takes a dim view when a group prints its own money, but in the case of Baltimore Green Currency Association, the T-men barely raised an eyebrow, given that the nonprofit BGCA issues BNotes rather than U.S. legal tender.

Launched this past spring in Hampden, the BNote initiative substitutes colorful paper scrip adorned with the images of abolitionist Frederick Douglass (flip side: an oriole) and poet/author Edgar Allan Poe (flip side: a raven) for the traditional green bills bearing the mugs of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, respectively. Exchange $10 for 11 Bnotes, and then use them to make purchases at participating merchants–more than 100 to date citywide, from Mt. Washington to Fell’s Point.

“We are looking to help even the economic playing field in Baltimore,” explains BGCA Director Jeff Dicken. “People’s conception of money has become very rigid, and it’s important to remember its central purpose.  Value exchange takes many forms, and we can and should build systems that benefit people instead of corporations or banks.” (One immediate benefit: 10 BNotes buys $11 worth of goods.)

Similar scrip programs have succeeded in Western Massachusetts, Seattle, Toronto, and New Orleans, among many other communities, but BNotes marks the concept’s local debut. BGCA chose Hampden to roll out its effort because “it’s slightly isolated, giving it a small-town feel,” Dicken points out. “It has many small, independent merchants; it has a very strong sense of community; it’s also attracting new residents, especially younger Baltimoreans. All of these features make Hampden highly receptive to the idea of a new local currency.”

Merchants keep the notes circulating. Peggy Hoffman, co-owner of Hampden’s Minas Gallery, says, “We plan on spending the ones we take in at one of several great local participating restaurants.” 

Called to Service? Georgetown Stunner Sets the Tone


HOT HOUSE: 3053 P Street NW, Washington, DC 20007

In Georgetown, an 1875 Victorian house in a national landmark district, with nine bedrooms, elevator, private garden and 40 foot lap pool: $9,800,000

What: You’ve been given the nod. All that tedious fund-raising has paid off, and now the party/think-tank/consultancy needs you in Washington, D.C., close-at-hand and able to host high-level parties and stuff to impress the foot soldiers, benefactors and celebrity donors. You’re a big personality. A suite at the Watergate won’t do…

This is the place for you: A glamorous dowager empress of a house, standing tall and stately at the corner of 31st and P Street, on Georgetown’s coveted east side.  A jewel in the crown of Georgetown houses, it’s a traditional Victorian mostly, but with a copper Mansard roof that gives it a European aura. French doors in the family room open onto a large terrace overlooking the private garden, adding to the continental charm. Ceilings on the main floor are 13 feet high. The two large drawing rooms are each 28 feet long — you could have cocktails for several hundred people here, without ever feeling crowded. At the same time, the wood paneled library and dining room are perfect for intimate gatherings of like-minded politicos–restrained, yet powerful. The house was once a set for the 1984 film St. Elmo’s Fire and the former owner is the Gatsbyesque Dr. William Haseltine, founder of Human Genome Sciences and seven (!) other successful biotechs. He’s also a philanthropist, a Washington personality and bon vivant. Anyway, from the wine cave to the two bedroom servant’s apartment, this is a house for life-lived-large. Private off-street parking for five to six cars will help. There is a large gym, a spacious master suite with two baths, (seven full and four half-baths in all) as well as the basics of gourmet kitchen (not all that big, but who’s cooking?) hardwood floors throughout, central air, fireplaces.   

Where: 31st and P is on Georgetown’s east side –an easy walk to the Georgetown campus and Dumbarton Oaks.  Nice jogging in Rock Creek Park and the banks of the Potomac. Embassies, shops and restaurants of Georgetown, all right there.

Why: Because your country needs you.

Would suit: Wealthy patron of the arts, intellectual gone over to the business side, business side gone over to government. Michael Bloomberg.

Why Not: No metro in Georgetown (still!), so you’ll have to take a limo over to the White House. Also, with the lap pool, the lot’s too small (.22 acres) for a swing set.

P.S.: Buy it furnished — it’s worth a try.  

From Non-Profits to Novel Writing, Del. Dana Stein Keeps Busy


“I like to do different things at the same time,” Dana Stein says. “It’s rewarding.”

For some people, that might mean taking up gardening on the weekends or playing tennis after work. But Stein’s roving interests have led him to a life that’s chock full of much more than just hobbies:  he runs a thriving non-profit, advocates for the environment as a state delegate, where he acts as deputy majority whip and a member of the environmental matters committee. And for fun last year, he wrote a novel.

The book, Fire in the Wind, came about because Stein was troubled by the fact that when he spoke with high school students about the dangers of global warming, many didn’t seem concerned at all. Stein figured that this might be because it was hard for them to imagine the impact of melting ice caps and increasingly extreme weather patterns. “It’s hard for them to visualize, because it’s too far over the horizon,” he explained in a recent phone conversation. But without formal training as a scientist or teacher, how could he make the issue relevant for them?

Fire in the Wind was born out of just this frustration. It took Stein four or five months to draft the initial version of his dystopian environmental novel, which imagines a near-future America (the novel is set in 2036) where climate change has led to widespread flooding, an internal refugee problem, and a radicalized environmental movement.

The fact that he’d never written fiction before didn’t stymie Stein, perhaps because he has a long history of jumping into new ventures with enthusiasm and vigor. A graduate of Baltimore County public schools, Stein went on to get the Ivy League trifecta — degrees from Harvard (B.A. in government), Columbia (law degree), and Princeton (Master’s in public affairs). But after several years practicing law in D.C., Stein found himself drawn by a new opportunity — the chance to do hands-on work with young people in some of Baltimore’s struggling neighborhoods.

Civic Works, the non-profit that Stein helped found in the early 1990s and continues to run today between stints in Annapolis, is an urban service organization along the lines of a hometown Peace Corps. Civic Works corps members gain skills — in green construction, in urban farming, in entry-level healthcare work — while at the same time serving their communities.

When asked which of the many Civic Works programs he’s most proud of, Stein cites Project Lightbulb, for which corps members go door to door in low-income neighborhoods, offering free energy efficient lightbulbs and other small — yet crucial — green home improvements. “Not only are you helping the environment,” Stein notes, “but you’re lowering costs for the homeowner.”

Notably, Civic Works aims many of its greening projects at low-income neighborhoods, primarily those surrounding the organization’s home base in Clifton Park. One of the message implicit in Civic Works’ projects is that working to improve the environment isn’t just a luxury activity for rich people with enough time and money to spend on organic produce and home weatherization. In fact, since much of the burden of environmental problems gets shifted onto the urban poor, it only makes sense to involve them in the solution.

Along these lines, Stein cites another Civic Works project, the Real Food Farm in Clifton Park, as another of the program’s successes. “We’re responding to a direct community need,” Stein says, pointing out that the area around the farm is what’s known as a food desert, meaning that residents don’t have access to fresh, affordable, healthy food. The farm doesn’t just provide the produce the neighborhood previously lacked; it also gets local residents involved and invested in the growing process.  Tyler Brown, who runs the farm, praises Stein for “creat[ing] a real vision for what the next step is in developing Baltimore into a city that’s on the cutting edge of sustainable practices” and f’or “really taking a chance on following through” not just on the farm, but on a whole host of issues.

But then there’s the whole other side of Stein’s life:  his political work.  “I guess what unites [these different projects] is commitment to community and to service,” Stein muses. He was elected to represent the 11th District (Northwest Baltimore County) in the Maryland House of Delegates in 2006, with the goal of affecting change on a broader basis.  As he describes his particular projects in the legislature, it becomes clear that his experience with Civic Works informs his work in Annapolis. He serves on the Maryland House Environmental Matters Committee, through which he’s helped enact legislation to promote renewable energy, set up the Maryland Clean Energy Center, and enable counties to adopt the international green construction code.

Most recently, Stein has found himself surprisingly compelled by an issue he’d previously had no particular interest in:  ensuring that Maryland citizens are financially literate. After the real estate collapse, bailouts, and financial crisis that marked 2008, Stein says, “I realized that maybe we need to study how well students and adults in Maryland are educated in financial topics.” So he set up a task force, made some recommendations, and eventually developed a financial literacy curriculum that will be a required component for public schools in Maryland starting this fall.

But do all the committees and task forces and lists of recommendations that make up the life of a legislator ever feel, well, slow compared to the work he does at Civic Works, where accomplishments are clear and concrete (more than 2 million pounds of trash removed; 25,477 trees planted; 21 playgrounds built)? For Stein, it seems, the two kinds of work balance each other out nicely. “Civic Works has a significant impact in certain areas. In the legislature, the impact is perhaps not as deep, but it’s broader,” he says.

And, in the end, for Stein all the work is just his attempt at making the world a safer, greener place for his wife and two young daughters. “I probably have always been a bit of a workaholic,” Stein admits. “But it’s great to be able to do work that you find personally rewarding.”

Big Fish Q & A With Baltimore Mayoral Candidate Catherine Pugh


State Senator Catherine Pugh understands both the literal and figurative distinctions between distance racing and sprinting. An avid runner herself, 10 years ago, Pugh helped establish the city’s annual Baltimore Marathon, which in 2010 attracted more than 22,000 participants. Right now, though, she’s completely consumed by the breathless two-month-plus dash–early July filing date to mid-September primary election–that constitutes the Democratic mayoral campaign.

Though not a native Baltimorean–she was born in Norristown, Pa., grew up in nearby Philadelphia–Pugh, 61, has immersed herself in this city as a public servant, businesswoman, and civic activist since moving here in 1969.

After earning undergraduate and master’s degrees in business administration from Morgan State University in 1973 and 1977, respectively, Pugh embarked on a go-go working career that includes founding Baltimore’s first African American business newspaper and serving as dean and director of the local branch of Strayer Business College (now Strayer University). In 1988, she launched the public relations and consulting firm C.E. Pugh & Company, which she still runs as its CEO and president.

Elected to the Baltimore City Council from the 4th District in 1999, Pugh focused on planning, economic development, and urban affairs issues, before moving on to the Maryland General Assembly as a delegate (2005 to 2007) and state senator (2007 to the present) representing the city’s 40th District. In the latter capacity, she has championed legislation that secured scholarships for Baltimore students and increased the state’s minimum wage, while also backing a bill to sanction same-sex marriage in Maryland. Currently, she chairs the Legislative Black Caucus.

Outside of public office, Pugh has worked to boost city tourism, raise literacy rates, and promote healthier kids’ lifestyles. A resident of Ashburton, she announced her candidacy for mayor in June.

Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.

“But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” Matthew 19:26

When did you define your most important goals, and what are they?

Early in my childhood I was drawn to the idea of making a difference in the world. I believe we all have the potential to make the world a much better place for all people.

What is the best advice you ever got that you followed?

My father instilled in me a strong work ethic. He said I could do anything I wanted to do as long as I was willing to work hard to achieve my goals.

The worst advice, and did you follow it? Or how did you muffle it?

I don’t spend much time on dwelling in the past. If someone has given me bad advice, I have long since moved on. I follow my instinct, and that has served me well so far.

What are the three most surprising truths you’ve discovered in your lifetime?

It’s not how many times you fall down in life; your true measure is getting back up.
Prayer really does change things!
We are the change we’ve been waiting for.
What is the best moment of the day?

I am a true believer in the powerful healing power of laughter. When I can share a good laugh with a friend or a stranger, it’s a good day.

What is on your bedside table?

The book Comeback Cities: A Blueprint for Urban Neighborhood Revival by Paul Grogan and Tony Proscio.

What is your favorite local charity?

Wow, there are just too many wonderful charities in Baltimore to choose just one. I serve on nearly 20 nonprofit and organization boards.

What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you are doing?
Study hard, get involved in your local community, dream big, and never, ever give up on yourself!

Why are you successful?

I recognize that my strength and success come from a power much greater than myself. I always put God first in everything I do.

You’re a longtime runner, even participating in marathons. Typically, how often–and how far–do you run each week? What’s your favorite place to run in the city? What running shoes do you currently wear?

I run every morning and average about five miles a day. I run through my neighborhood, Ashburton, and make my way all over the city. I own a lot of shoes but lately have been using a pair of New Balance.

You’ve written about–and advocated for–healthy children through exercise and proper diet. What’s your best tip for the parents of picky eaters?

Be creative and think out of the box. Focus on the healthy foods your picky eater will eat, and jazz it up by finding new variations in preparing their meals. The goal is to keep your child healthy and happy.

If elected mayor, which item will be foremost on your agenda–the specific initiative you immediately strive to accomplish?

On day one, I will begin working on my plan to employ every young person who wants a job in Baltimore. With public and private sector partnerships, I believe we can truly make a difference in the lives of our city’s young people.

Maryland Republicans Plan to Fight Gay Marriage with a Signature Drive


Del. Neil Parrott recently ran a signature drive which successfully brought the controversial Dream Act (which would give in-state tuition benefits at a local community college to illegal immigrant students who have graduated from a public high school in that county and whose parents pay Maryland taxes) up for referendum. Other state legislators who opposed the act were initially skeptical of the efficacy of a signature drive. Senator Parrott and other Republicans now see petitions as a viable way to fight legislation as the minority party. And according to an article on The Capital‘s website  they are looking forward to using the same process to thwart any marriage equality bill that passes in the senate.

Governor O’Malley’s plans to pass a gay-marriage bill next year could put it on the ballot in 2012 for a referendum (assuming opponents get enough signatures to bring the bill to a referendum). Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs implies that this could be bad for Democrats, as a gay-marriage referendum would lure more socially conservative voters to the polls. Does she think that pro-gay-rights voters might not also come out in droves at the opportunity to legalize same sex marriage in Maryland?

What do you think? Would a gay-marriage bill in Maryland get voted down in a referendum? Will it never get past the legislature? Does the marriage equality movement have a chance of converting enough conservative senators in this state as it did in New York?

Can you imagine any of our Republican senators echoing the sentiments of State Senator Mark J. Grisanti of Buffalo? Grisanti said in a short speech before casting his vote, “I believe this state needs to provide equal rights and protection to all of its citizens.” He went on, “I cannot deny a person, a human being, a taxpayer, a worker, the people of my district and across this state…the same rights I have with my wife.”

Assassinated Afghan Leader’s Ties to Baltimore


When a bodyguard assassinated Ahmed Walid Karzai, a dominant figure in southern Afghanistan, last week, American officials reacted with talk of power vacuums and political strategy. “His death will only complicate an already complicated situation,” Bill Harris, formerly Kandahar’s senior American diplomat, told the New York Times.

AWK was, of course, the half-brother of Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan. But he was also half-brother to Qayum Karzai, Baltimore restauranteur (owner of Helmand, b, and Tapas Teatro)–and so the news of his death hit some people around here quite differently.

Depending on whose accounts you believe, AWK was the only person capable of holding together southern Afghanistan and negotiating tricky deals with the Taliban–or he “had connections to the opium trade,  skimmed millions of dollars off contracts for supplying NATO troops and made deals with some Taliban even as he fiercely fought others.” Or perhaps both.

But he also spent a decade living in the U.S., becoming a Cubs fan and managing Helmand’s sister restaurant in Chicago. That restaurant closed in the mid-90s, and AWK moved to Afghanistan to help his brother with his political career. Qayum Karzai stuck around and opened some of Baltimore’s most popular restaurants.  It’s a crazy world.


Photo by Jeff Kubina.

Big Fish Q & A with Baltimore Filmmaker Matthew Porterfield


Meditative, poetic, and deeply observational, writer-director Matthew Porterfield’s films of working-class life simmer with a persistent disquietude just below their benign surfaces. His debut, Hamilton (2006), set and shot in the titular Baltimore neighborhood — where Porterfield grew up and still lives — won widespread acclaim for its quotidian potency. 

Porterfield’s new film, Putty Hill — a deft, seamless combination of narrative fiction and fake documentary – is named after and set in another local neighborhood familiar to him. He shot it along the city’s northeast corridor, in Southwest Baltimore’s Carroll Park, and in southern Pennsylvania, just over the state line from Baltimore County.

Since it opened to hosannas in New York this past February, Putty Hill has gradually rolled out to Baltimore, Washington, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Columbus (Ohio), with future dates throughout the rest of the U.S. 

When not making films, Porterfield, 33, teaches screenwriting and production in Johns Hopkins University’s Film and Media Studies program. He was awarded the Janet & Walter Sondheim Prize last week.


Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.

Get yours and share.

When did you define your most important goals, and what are they?

My only goal is to keep making movies.

What is the best advice you ever got that you followed?

David Lee Roth once told me, “You have the aura of burning tires: Use it!”

The worst advice, and did you follow it? Or how did you muffle it?

“You should try Salvia.” I didn’t. Special K was paralyzing enough.

What are the three most surprising truths you’ve discovered in your


1) You can do a lot with a little bit of money.

2) You’re more like your parents than you think.

3) You reach a point where you don’t like what the young people are

listening to.

What is the best moment of the day?

Play time with my cats, Trudy and Mo.

What is on your bedside table?

At the moment, three books (John Waters’ Role Models, Werner Herzog’s

Conquest of the Useless, and Dieter Roth’s MOMA monograph), a deer-shaped

candle, a tissue box, and a mimikaki.

What is your favorite local charity?

The Abell Foundation.

What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you

are doing?

Start with a story that’s close to home. Keep it simple. And forget prop guns.

Why are you successful?

I don’t scare easy.

What do you hope viewers will take away from Putty Hill?

A feeling akin to excitement.

Do you plan to set and shoot your next film in the Baltimore area?


Do you agree that Timonium and Linthicum sound like lesser-known

elements on the Periodic Table?


Plot Thickens in Botched Presidential Papers Pilfering


More details have surfaced regarding the recent arrests of Barry Landau, presidential memorabilia enthusiast, and Jason Savedoff, his 24-year-old sidekick after their alleged attempt to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of documents from the Maryland Historical Society. According to an article in The Sun, the pair presented employees of the MDHS with cupcakes upon their arrival. Staff even refer to Saturday’s attempted theft as the Great Cupcake Caper. Other regional archives now report having been visited by the duo and being showered with cookies.

But the investigation has uncovered more than the use of distracting desserts. On the pair’s many suspicious visits to historical libraries, they have employed aliases, a fictitious uncle/nephew relationship, and a false address and email address. The only thing the story is missing at this point is a fake mustache and a monocle. (The investigation is still underway, so I haven’t given up hope.)

The humor of the situation is likely lost on Landau and Savedoff, who are currently being held without bond, a decision Landau’s lawyer calls “outrageous.” According to The Atlantic Wire, Landau is said to have the largest collection of presidential memorabilia outside a museum. He has served on every presidential Inaugural Committee since 1965. He even got to know the Clintons so well that he was called on for puppy playdates with their dog Buddy.

Libraries that Landau and Savedoff are known to have visited are currently combing their archives to see if anything is missing. As an outsider, it strikes me as odd that checked-out documents wouldn’t be accounted for after each visit, but apparently most historical archives are woefully understaffed.

Alas, it doesn’t seem likely that the Maryland Historical Society will be growing their staff or beefing up security any time soon, and so this most recent theft scare may simply mean that the public will eventually enjoy much less access to these archives. At that point, the joke will have worn thin for all of us.