Dumb -- and dumber

September 08, 1996|By Barry Rascovar

WHAT COULD BE a huge generator of local jobs and taxes, the enlarged Convention Center, opened last week. It offers exciting potential for an impoverished city. The first thought should be: How do we maximize its vast potential?

When you've got a sparkling gem, promote the heck out of it. That's a no-brainer. But not to Mayor Kurt Schmoke. Instead, he undermined efforts to draw conventions. He has refused repeatedly to find the money for a first-rate promotion drive in the hotly competitive convention industry.

Dumb move. If this new facility can't draw crowds, it will be the citizens of Baltimore who suffer. Conversely, a thriving Convention Center could mean 8,000 jobs and $30 million a year in tax revenue.

Mayor Schmoke will suffer, too. State lawmakers are furious that he has failed to take responsibility for marketing Baltimore. If the mayor persists, look for the General Assembly to mandate a fat promotional budget from hotel-tax receipts the mayor now uses for other purposes.

First, the mayor decided the city's convention-bureau board was dominated by acolytes of the former mayor, William Donald Schaefer. He starved its budget, then got permission to dismantle it. The results? The city's much-acclaimed convention-bureau director, Wayne Chappell, quit in disgust; the board's chairman, businessman Henry A. Rosenberg, quit with an angry broadside at the mayor, and the under-funded convention bureau, which couldn't compete against other cities with huge promotional budgets, lost business.

Thus, come 1999 and 2000, Baltimore's convention bookings drop dangerously. We could have a white elephant on our hands.

It is tragic -- and illogical. Surely, the mayor comprehends the importance of conventions. But he let politics get in the way. Instead of moving heaven and earth to give the city a promotional effort second to none, he pulled the plug.

And when pressure built for him to finally come up with money to bolster the convention bureau's efforts, he simply hiked the city's tax on hotels -- a sure way to lose prospective conventions.

Second chance for Schmoke

But circumstances sometimes give politicians second chances. Mr. Schmoke can turn his malfeasance into gold. He can take study being conducted by the Baltimore Development Corp. on funding sources for convention marketing and find a way to ensure the kind of financial backing it takes to gain conventions.

Will he seize the day? Given the ill will the mayor has generated on this matter, he needs to recoup his losses. What better way than to become a vocal champion and hefty patron of convention marketing for Baltimore?

That was dumb. This is dumber. Just as Mr. Schmoke needlessly alienated a respected businessman, Parris Glendening last week turned ex-business allies into indignant enemies.

Mr. Glendening blew up because some political and corporate leaders met to discuss the governor's weaknesses and see if things were so bad that they should unite behind a challenger.

The governor's response was to savage the businessmen. He said they were sore at him for rejecting requests for special favors. He portrayed them as representing evil interests he had rebuffed.

And what were these ''evil'' requests? A widening of Route 28 through Gaithersburg that the county badly needs, a major income-tax cut the business community has long sought and a second home for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in Bethesda.

While the governor may disagree with these requests, or the way the requests were presented, there's nothing immoral or dastardly going on. He meets all the time with businessmen who want favors. They did nothing wrong in pleading their case.

The folks the governor denounced supported him in 1994. But they have been disappointed. Still, they might have been brought back into camp with quiet persuasion. Instead, they were branded with a scarlet letter.

To top it off, Mr. Glendening said ominously -- and without proof -- that the rump group was backed by gambling interests.

That would be ironic: The man who tried to discredit this gathering for the governor was Gerard Evans, a Glendening fund-raiser and casino lobbyist.

Barry Rascovar is deputy editorial-page editor of The Sun.

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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