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8.13.07: Charmed or Harmed?

Viewpoints and observations about state and local events and personages.

by Andre German
Why does a tragedy have to happen before our public service departments conduct themselves in a way that....well, serves the public?
First, my condolences to the family of Irene Morgan Kirkaldy: Ninety-year-old Baltimore native Irene Morgan Kirkaldy has died in Virginia. Her refusal to give up her bus seat to white passengers triggered a landmark Supreme Court ruling more than a decade before Rosa Parks gained recognition for doing the same. She was born Irene Morgan in Baltimore in 1917, and was arrested in 1944 for refusing to give up her seat on a Greyhound bus heading from Gloucester, Virginia, to Baltimore, and for resisting arrest. Her case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall, who later became the court's first black justice. The case resulted in a 1946 decision striking down Jim Crow segregation in interstate transportation. The case paved the way for Parks' famous stand on a local bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. Kirkaldy also inspired the first Freedom Ride in 1947, when 16 civil rights activists rode buses and trains through the South to test the law enunciated in her court case. In 2001, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Citizens Medal—the second highest civilian honor in the United States. Kirkaldy died Friday at her daughter's home in Newport News. We can all learn from her example.

Charmed by Cal Ripken Jr. The local Maryland icon has recently become a Special Sports Envoy to the Department of State. Ripken will join Karen P. Hughes, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, in efforts as a goodwill ambassador from America by sharing his story with international youth, while visiting their schools and clubs and hosting baseball clinics. The announcement will be made Monday by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Our president is obviously(and rightfully) not respected worldwide; good thing we still have a few heroes left to promote the best of America. And Ripken did it all without having to resort to steroids or getting a big head, literally or figuratively.

Harmed by the Baltimore Firefighter's Union. The union has officially announced its endorsement of Keiffer Mitchell for Mayor. Richard G. Schluderberg, president of Local 734, called Mitchell the "public safety candidate" and said that they "firmly believe that, under Keiffer Mitchell's leadership, Baltimore will be a much safer city." Schluderberg also said Dixon disappointed the union with both contract negotiations and with declining to dismiss Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. after two no-confidence votes, which prompts the question on whether their endorsement of Mitchell is pro-Mitchell or anti-Dixon. Mitchell's call for Baltimore to become a police state, despite the fact that his own campaign has already broken the law, has garnered him the trifecta of public safety unions' endorsements--Baltimore Police, Baltimore Firefighters, and Baltimore Sheriffs.

Charmed by the Verizon customers. The Verizon Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Verizon Communications, seeks to award $341,000 to nonprofit organizations in Maryland that support literacy and learning activities for children, adolescents and adults through customer participation in their "Check into Literacy" program. The program allows Verizon landline phone customers to make a $1-a-month, tax-deductible donations to literacy programs when they pay their Verizon bill. All they need to do is check off a box on their payment slip. Verizon has already collected $341,000 through the program in Maryland. To qualify for funding, applicants must be a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization providing basic reading skills and computer and Web-based literacy programs to Marylanders in under-served communities. Grant proposals must be submitted by midnight, Sept. 10. Verizon will announce grant recipients on Nov. 30. Now, if only Verizon could actually provide the decent service they're supposed to be providing...

Harmed by the Maryland Transportation Authority. The Maryland Transportation Authority will start the first re-inspections of seven bridges today: the Bay Bridge (which, with two spans, counts as two bridges), the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge across the Susquehanna on Route 40, the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge on I-95 over the Susquehanna, the Key Bridge, the Harry W. Nice Bridge in Southern Maryland and the K-Truss Bridge south of the Harbor Tunnel Plaza. Spokesperson Kelly Melhem said the agency, being extra careful, is adding three more to a previous list for extra inspections after last week's bridge collapse in Minnesota. Sounds like a charmed, doesn't it? It's not. Why does a tragedy have to happen before our public service departments conduct themselves in a way that....well, serves the public? Why does there have to be a 9/11 before a Department of Homeland Security is established? Why does there have to be a widespread threat of global warming before a Baltimore Office of Sustainability is proposed? Why does there have to be a Katrina before the levees are inspected? Why does there have to be a Minneapolis Bridge disaster before obsolete and damaged bridges are inspected and repaired?

Charmed by Baltimore preservationists. Preservationists in Baltimore are gearing up for an August 14th hearing to decide the fate of the Morris Mechanic Theater at the Baltimore Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (BHAP). The theater, designed by John Johansen, opened in January 1967 as part of Baltimore's mid-1960s downtown revitalization through the Baltimore Urban Renewal and Housing Agency created in 1964. Tony Randall, Katherine Hepburn, George C. Scott, Cab Calloway, Deborah Kerr, Liv Ullman, Nigel Hawthorne and a host of others performed on the Mechanic stage, but the 1,614-seat theater has sat vacant since 2004, when the nearby Hippodrome Theater reopened after extensive renovations financed by Clear Channel Entertainment. The owners of the theater, Melvin and Benjamin Greenwald, have a redevelopment plan for the theater that would add a level of retail space above the existing structure as well as a 10-story residential tower. They reference the theater, a design of the Brutalist school of architecture, as being "ugly" and "obsolete when they built it." Preservationists, on the other hand, assess the theatre as being, in the words of Michael V. Murphy, an appointed member of BHAP, "a very important building for our city—it shows civic pride and progress at a certain time...Our job is to identify the very best work of each generation. I think it would be a tragedy to lose this building. When it was new, it was truly avant-garde.” Also, the preservationists acknowledge that the Mechanic is no longer a functioning theater and contend that it should be adapted for a new use with careful additions and renovations that will only slightly alter the structure of the building. Joining the efforts to preserve the structure are the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects, Docomomo, and the Recent Past Preservation Network. The BHAP meeting will set a six-month delay on new construction permits at the building’s site. If they approve landmark status for the building, the case will move to Baltimore’s planning commission and ultimately to the city council for final approval.

Harmed by the Genovese Syndrome in Baltimore. For those not aware of the true story that has now become urban legend, New Yorker Kitty Genovese was stalked and stabbed in Queens while 38 of her neighbors watched and did nothing because they "did not want to get involved." At around 5 p.m. Saturday afternoon, patrol officers in West Baltimore discovered 20-year-old Davon McCargo lying unconscious in the street. Police say McCargo was suffering from multiple gunshot wounds to both the chest and the head. He was rushed to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he died at 8:10 that same evening. Even though the shooting happened in broad daylight on a busy street in West Baltimore, police say no one saw anything. So far, investigators have no motive and no suspects. Stopping crime in our city starts with us.

Charmed by Comptroller Franchot. State officials are looking towards hybrid cars and biodiesel-fueled vehicles for ways to make the state's fleet of 9,000 vehicles cleaner and greener. The state already has 30 hybrid vehicles in its fleet and Comptroller Peter Franchot wants the state to buy more. Franchot says the state isn't moving fast enough with environmentally friendly policies. The Maryland Department of Budget and Managementofficials say there are two obstacles—hybrids might not be appropriate for state troopers and hybrids can't be counted toward federal targets for numbers of alternative fuel vehicles.

Harmed by the Watkins Security Agency of Baltimore. The O'Malley administration is moving to terminate the contract of the Watkins Security Agency of Baltimore, the private firm charged with providing security at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School. Until last fall, securing and monitoring the gates and perimeter fencing at the facility in Baltimore County had fallen to state employees. But the service was contracted out to Watkins late last year by the administration of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Among other things, the contract requires the security company's staff to respond immediately when fence alarms go off. But Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore said procedures required by the contract were not followed when 10 youths escaped from Hickey in May, or when two others escaped July 31. Two other youths fled the grounds in January. "We're moving to terminate the contract," DeVore said. "We're going to assume those responsibilities with our own staff—the gatehouse, sallyport monitoring and patrol functions."

Charmed by the Horn Point Laboratory. The University of Maryland's Horn Point laboratory near Cambridge will begin work this fall on a new pier that will hold a $9 million "setting facility"—a place for baby oysters to set on shells before being dumped in the bay. The lab makes about 350 million baby oysters a year, and that number could increase to one billion a year once the expansion is complete. The hope is that the new oysters will not only boost the diminished oyster industry but also help filter pollution and revive the fish habitat. Today, the oyster population is reduced to about one percent of its historic level. Healthy oysters consume algae and other water-borne nutrients, each one filtering up to five liters of water per hour. Scientists believe that the Bay's once-flourishing oyster populations historically filtered the estuary's entire water volume of excess nutrients every three or four days.
Andre German does not officially endorse any candidates for Mayor, though he does have a fondness for A. Robert Kaufman. He does oppose Keiffer Mitchell, however. More information Andre German can be found at his myspace profile, or he may be contacted at

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This story was published on August 13, 2007.