End patronage in city liquor system Back-scratching: Politicians are paying off old friends who then pay them back.

June 15, 1996

THE STENCH OF corruption emanating from the old-fashioned political patronage system that dispensed jobs to city liquor board members and inspectors in Baltimore has been evident for more than 60 years. The eight state senators who represent the city could have ended it a long time ago. They haven't because they like things the way they are. It gives them power.

That power was evident last month when state Sen. Larry Young gave orders to the liquor board to fire an inspector, Marion P. Turner, that he suspected of cooperating with FBI agents reportedly investigating him. Ms. Turner was hired because Mr. Young told the liquor board to hire her five years ago. She was fired nine days after he decided she was no longer a team player.

Two years ago, after The Sun reported corruption in the liquor inspection system, there was some movement to change it. A task force was formed to make recommendations. Sen. John A. Pica Jr., who heads the city's Senate delegation, said inspectors would no longer solicit campaign contributions from bars. But the patronage system itself was left untouched.

A bill to put into law the campaign solicitation prohibition was vetoed last year by Gov. Parris N. Glendening because it had been sabotaged by inclusion of a last-minute amendment to prohibit so-called "mega-bars" in Baltimore.

There was no similar problem with a bill sponsored this year by Del. James W. Campbell to end the patronage system and require future liquor inspectors to be hired under city civil service procedures. But that legislation died in the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee chaired by Baltimore Sen. Clarence W. Blount. Its fate was predestined when Mr. Pica made the preposterous declaration that he hadn't "heard any strong reasons why the bill is necessary."

Maybe it's not necessary to this city's senators, who obviously like to hand-pick liquor board members and inspectors. The politicians know this gives them leverage over bars and restaurants whose owners know the importance of making campaign contributions, solicited or not. And, in at least one case, they also like the way the current system allows them to punish an inspector who might talk to the FBI.

But the rest of Baltimore has had it with this sorry system. The people want a liquor board responsible to them, not any one senator, and they want professional liquor inspectors who can ,, do their jobs without fear of retribution.

Pub Date: 6/15/96

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