Pushing Friends And Social Goals

Bdc: Despite Independent Board, City's Development Agency Does Schmoke's Bidding.

April 22, 1997

WHEN MAYOR Kurt L. Schmoke reorganized the Baltimore Development Corp. 15 months ago, he seemed to understand that cronyism was not the best way to run this quasi-governmental economic development agency. A professional replaced a political appointee as president and an independent board substituted for a law firm headed by Schmoke cronies.

BDC under M.J. Brodie operates more efficiently. But two recent decisions show the agency, even with an independent board, still does the mayor's bidding.

First the BDC board, with many abstentions, voted to support bakery magnate John Paterakis' hotel plan -- even though BDC's staff had recommended strongly against it because it is a mile away from the Convention Center. This was followed by a decision to give a lucrative city property management contract to a joint venture that was less qualified than at least two other bidders but included Otis Warren, a politically connected real estate developer.

This is a worrisome trend. The reorganized BDC had a chance to establish a reputation as an impartial referee in economic development matters but blew it. Instead it is sending a message to developers that the merits of proposals are secondary; Baltimore City still makes decisions according to political criteria.

Was Mr. Warren given the nod because he is an African-American and a loyal Schmoke supporter? Did Mr. Paterakis' faraway hotel site win because it was in the empowerment zone and was to be built by another Schmoke financial backer? The appearance to the public is that generous campaign donors were rewarded because their proposals happened to further the Schmoke administration's social goals.

Promoting social goals in city contracts is not necessarily bad. Smart developers ought to know by now that this is part of the Schmoke administration's decision-making. But if this is the way BDC intends to operate, its future requests for proposals ought to contain a clause that clearly states its decisions may not be made on the merits of the proposal but in accordance with broader considerations.

Pub Date: 4/22/97

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