Charm City celebrates Mayors capture a Maryland memory

January 19, 1993|By Wayne Hardin and Sylvia Badger | Wayne Hardin and Sylvia Badger,Staff Writers

The big hall at the Baltimore Convention Center looked like neon high-tech nightclub last night as about 3,000 people and a smattering of celebrities moved out of the crowded lobby into the place where the Mayors' Pre-Inauguration Gala was ready to go.

A giant bar stacked with glasses and liquor bottles at weird angles for maximum service commanded the middle of the room, and 14 food areas identified with different cities were spotted around the edges. A giant video screen, to show the musical acts andscenes of the various cities, was hung high at one end near a bandstand. The effect was the design and production of Paul Wolman, founder of P.W. Feats of Baltimore, which specializes in this sort of extravaganza. The theme was celebration of cities.

Tiffany Countess and Qierra Martin, two powerful-voiced 12-year-old girls from Baltimore, sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" a capella to thunderous applause and cheering, and the black-tie invitation-only event was on its way.

City officials gave no official crowd estimate, but attendants on the first floor said they checked 2,400 coats and second-floor attendants handled another 600.

Two of the national celebrities were television stars and Baltimore natives. Charles Dutton, "Roc" on the Fox series, and talk-show host Montel Williams, a Naval Academy graduate and son of Baltimore Fire Chief Herman Williams Jr., both were masters of ceremonies.

Mr. Dutton said he came to the gala because Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke invited him. "I support the mayor in all he's trying to do for the city," he said.

"An inauguration is like a national wedding," pronounced Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, resplendent in a gold lame sweater, purple jacket and long charcoal skirt, clearly counting this gala as part of a "three-day affair." "We have Bill Clinton for richer or poorer, for better or worse, for the next four years."

L Paul S. Sarbanes, Maryland's senior senator, also was there.

The mayors, an estimated 240 of them, arrived from Washington for the gala shortly before 6 p.m. on 20 buses. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, listed as host for the gala along with Mr. Schmoke, has been meeting in Washington.

The mayors de-bused and immediately headed for a private reception in the mayor's VIP room on the second floor, marching through Hall A featuring city scenes like a rowhouse, a Yellow Cab, a Baltimore trash basket, a Baltimore screen painter, a Little Italy street artist. They were entertained at the reception by performers from the Baltimore School for the Arts.

Lenny Shapiro, president of Diversions, a Baltimore cultural travel organization, arranged for the buses. Each bus had two guides, who served chardonnay, sparkling cider and hors d'oeuvres and gave the visitors information about Baltimore and its history.

After the reception, a color guard from Douglass High School led mayors down the stairs and through a double line of women wearing white dresses. Dr. Patricia Schmoke, the mayor's wife, wore a long dress with gold sequined top. After some picture-taking, the mayors, led by the Schmokes, marched into the gala to Bill Clinton's adopted theme song, Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow."

Those attending the gala from the 2,000 who received invitations were allowed into the center early but were kept in the lobby until 7 p.m. The Hamilton Middle School Jazz Band, directed by teacher Alvin C. Wallace, entertained in the lobby.

"We're ready," Mr. Wallace said. "We've been practicing every day for two weeks."

Tony DeSalis, who said he had been a sidewalk painter in Little Italy for more than 50 years, set up a display of his work near the band. Mr. DeSalis said he brought 500 business cards with him and handed out every one.

Inside, the gala-goers got three hours of entertainment and the fulfilled promise that the only speeches would be introductions by Mr. Schmoke and Mayor William Althaus of York, Pa., representing the Conference of Mayors. There had been hopes that president-elect Bill Clinton and vice president-elect Albert Gore also would be there, but late last week city officials said Mr. Clinton would be too busy in Washington and instead would address the gathering by videotape.

In the lobby, Montel Williams, a master of ceremonies for part of the program, was critical of the Clinton non-appearance.

"If he really believes in the cities, what other place in the world would be more important than to be in Baltimore tonight?"

Henry Cisneros, the president-elect's choice for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, represented Mr. Clinton.

The food, under the broad title of "Tastes of the Towns," featured specialties of 14 cities from Baltimore to Little Rock to San Francisco.

Baltimore's offering was Maryland-style crab balls with cocktail sauce, hard crabs being a little messy for this kind of gala. Little Rock, Ark., was represented by "tangy Southern-style barbecue." The San Francisco food was skewered chicken breast tempura style.

Geno Svec, 26, executive chef for Service America Corp., which caters for the Convention Center, put it all together, even to the point of calling Little Rock to get the correct recipe for "pulled pork barbecue."

"That means you shred the meat by hand," Mr. Svec said.

Lines were long at all the food areas in the noisy Exhibition Hall, with one of the more popular appearing to be the Little Rock

table.

"It was worth waiting for," said Sallie Cushner, who works for Creative Specialties, a gift shop in Pikesville, walking away from sampling the Arkansas barbecue.

Some people left early, complaining that the lines at the food tables were too long.

While the well-dressed of officialdom, politics and Baltimore society congregated in the hall, a small group of protesters held up signs with various messages to party-goers and Pratt Street motorists.

One man had two signs, one in each hand -- "Term Limits" and "Balance Budget Now."

Another man had a sign that said, "Is it 1996 yet?"

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