Mimi and Co. didn't need TV to entertain us

MICHAEL OLESKER

April 13, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Some treasured moments in life we never forget: a first kiss, the birth of a baby. Me, I remember my first Baltimore City Council meeting and wipe away a tear. It was lovely. I thought everybody would go home in ambulances.

"Sit down, Mimi."

This was the voice of Councilman Carroll Fitzgerald, bellowing across the council floor at his distinguished colleague Mimi DiPietro, who had risen to surround an idea with the English language but detoured some place between a pronoun and a verb.

"I been accused," DiPietro cried, toward whom absolutely no one could figure. "You do it again, and I'll nail you."

"Move it," the radio reporter Eddie Fenton declared from the press table, in decibels not precisely under his breath. The meeting was already 10 minutes old. It was the spring of 1976. Fenton felt a thirst approaching.

Now, from his perch high atop the City Hall chamber, Council President Wally Orlinsky took members to task: not for the DiPietro-Fitzgerald outburst, which was more or less standard protocol, or the Fenton outcry, also considered standard practice, but for members' failure to do their homework at committee meetings.

Dr. Emerson Julian, the West Baltimore councilman, leaped to his feet and put his face as close as he could to Orlinsky's.

"You ever accuse me again," Julian said, "and I'll drag you down by your hind legs in front of everybody. I don't care. Don't talk about me like that in public."

"You?" said Orlinsky. "You thought I was talking about you?"

"You weren't?" said Julian.

"No."

"Oh." Julian shrugged his shoulders. "In that case, I have nothing more to say."

"Then move it," Fenton declared again from the press table, for the meeting was now maybe 15 minutes old and Fenton couldn't understand why it wasn't over yet, so he could get to more important things, like the bottle he was keeping in the refrigerator in Councilman DiPietro's office.

I miss those moments. I miss the spontaneity, the free-form sparring. I miss DiPietro and Fitzgerald and Fenton, and Orlinsky and Julian, too. I miss the lack of self-importance, which led legendary 6th District council members to be dubbed the Silent Sixth because, having nothing to say, they always said nothing.

Also, not to be dismissed, I miss the brevity.

Sometimes, these days, I watch the City Council on television. Their meetings are now carried on the city's Cable 44. Once, meetings lasted barely an hour, often less. Today, they routinely last two hours.

Some think there is a connection between the cameras and the increased length of meetings. They believe council members may actually be showing off, knowing that their words are now being heard not merely by their colleagues and occasional concerned citizens who might drop by City Hall, but by thousands sitting at home who now watch council proceedings in lieu of getting an actual life.

As some members told The Sun's Sandy Banisky last week, council meetings have now become show business, instead of merely a government body trying to struggle its way to community solutions.

In fact, I don't worry too much about the government work. If it takes a little longer because certain members wish to preen for the cameras, that's their problem. I can always turn off the set. But it's the change of characters that I mourn.

Television homogenizes. It makes people so self-conscious about how they look and talk that they wind up trying to look and talk like everybody else they've seen on television. It's the meltdown of individualism, the removal of idiosyncrasy. People cannot truly be themselves if they're too busy looking in the mirror.

So now, instead of a government struggling and blustering and scrounging to do its work, and in the heat of the moment sometimes threatening to punch each other in the nose, we have mannered posturing. It's always campaign season, with an estimated 30,000 potential voters tuning in on any given Monday evening, and politicians always wearing masks.

Well, let them have their fun. Let those 30,000 viewers tune in, instead of getting a life. But let them be warned: It's not a government in action they're seeing. Or even a government in inaction. It's just television, which is not particularly to be confused with real life.

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