Peel back the layers of water-stained wallboard and loose floor tiles, get down to the odorous core of the city's public housing scandal -- can we now officially call it that? -- and we find, if not corruption, at least incompetence. The mayor says the fast-track, no-bid process for granting repair contracts in shabby, city-owned houses was justified by an emergency in Baltimore's housing needs. "The housing situation [was] a public health threat to communities," the mayor said.
Well, how did it get that way? It got that way -- or, at least, the situation worsened profoundly -- under the administration of the previous housing commissioner, Robert W. Hearn, appointed by Kurt L. Schmoke. Among Hearn's many shortcomings, as the head of the Housing Authority and the Department of Housing and Community Development, was his failure to take advantage of millions of dollars in federal aid. (He's also the man who, as tenants fled and some withheld rent in protest, said the public nTC housing projects had "an image problem.") Come on. During the Schmoke administration, the city's once-vaunted housing agency -- it was the federally financed dynamo that drove the Baltimore Renaissance -- foundered. It was five years before Schmoke realized Hearn was in over his head and removed him. Then, the mayor brought in Dan Henson to -- and here's another
irony for you -- clean up the mess.
And he sings, too
Tom DiVenti, poet, seafood chef and performance artist, takes his act uptown Sunday, March 5 when, as lounge lizard Tony Bologna, he sings on the 13th Floor, the cappuccino piano bar in the Belvedere. This I gotta see. DiVenti will be joined by Brown Benson on the keyboard. "Ever see the 'Nutty Professor' with Jerry Lewis? Buddy Love?" says Tom. "Tony Bologna -- pronounced Ba'logg'nah -- is kinda like that, except more charming, nicer. Tony wears sharkskin, of course." DiVenti changes clothes and shtick for a second set, as country-western singer T.T. Tucker. Cindy Heidel does her comedy act, too. Showtime is 10 p.m.
You'd think the Secret Service would be interested in the driver of a car with this bumper sticker: "Lee Harvey Oswald, where are you when we need you?" Someone, assumedly someone with a traceable Maryland license plate, obviously has no qualms about publicly expressing hatred for the president and suggesting violence be done to him. The persons who printed these bumper stickers obviously presumed there would be a market for them, too. Remarkable, isn't it? Those who suggest that political rhetoric in America today is no more vicious than during Franklin Roosevelt's time or Richard Nixon's era are plain wrong. Though many of us viewed Nixon's presidency as disgraceful and corrupt, we never wished him harm, just gone. As a gathering place for demonstrators and people from the fringe, City Hall Plaza is no Lafayette Park. It just doesn't have the daily flow of assorted protesters and dissidents as the park across from the White House does. But Wednesday afternoon, the place was alive with vocal citizens. There was a ring of men and women protesting the governor's detestable attack on state disability benefits for the poor. But most conspicuous (Lafayette-like, as it were) was the fellow dressed as George Washington -- resplendent in colorful colonial waistcoat, boots, powdered wig and three-cornered hat. Valentino Grampa, a native of Italy, dressed as the father of our country to celebrate George's 263rd birthday. He was handing out copies of "George Washington's Prayer," and complaining that Americans don't know their own history. (The man has a point, no?) He's a citizen and proud of it. He campaigned for Ellen R. Sauerbrey in the same colonial costume. He's not a professional demonstrator, however, so don't look for Valentino on Holliday Street again soon. He and his wife, Mariarosa, operate an Italian pizza shop and carryout -- they strain their own tomatoes in a "passapomodori" to make sauce -- called Giovanna in Parkville. It's a beautiful country.
Whenever something reminds me of life in the 1950s or early 1960s, I exclaim: "Lucy, I'm home!" When an Electrolux salesman showed up at the front door to sell us a vacuum cleaner, when I met a Fuller Brush man, when somebody told me they were taking mambo lessons, that was my reaction. Now, check this out: This month, as an inducement to open checking accounts, Provident Bank is offering prospective customers a 10-piece Rubbermaid storage container set. Lucy, I'm home!
From A. Jackson, Harford County, comes a proposed municipal slogan: "Glen Burnie: A Road In Search Of A Town."
From Ed, Timonium: "A friend, having discussed with a co-worker a denture problem a few days earlier, found a memo on his desk, which said, in part: "You may want to look into Gentile Dental."
In the good old summertime
The weather was so nice the other day that I saw two grown men grilling burgers in their back yards and three little girls -- Becky, Hanna and Samantha -- selling lemonade for 25 cents a cup on Stevenson Road near Rodgers Forge.
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