On restaurant, Schmoke takes another bow -- out


September 05, 1997|By DAN RODRICKS

I see where the mayor of Baltimore has been bowing again. He does this a lot, and readily. He must think it's good for his abs. Bow, bow, bow. He bows to community opposition, to political pressure, to fiscal reality. He bows like Yo-Yo Ma.

I'm not talking about his handling of the Police Department mess, the Frazier-Daniel feud. The mayor actually looks strong and decisive in that matter.

But compared with what I'm talking about, Frazier-Daniel is inside baseball.

I'm talking about things that happen "out there." The mayor has a habit of totally misreading community feelings, proposing things that just tick people off, then bowing out of the fight when it looks like a loser.

And he's had a run of losers.

What happens is this: The mayor agrees to support a high-profile proposal of some kind. Unwisely, he too often does this without "lining up his duckies," which is an old phrase for the smart political practice of gaining community support for something before you announce yours. It's not a new concept. "Lining up your duckies" goes back to toga time.

Anyway, the mayor's support for a proposal breathes life into it, and soon it's floating over the city like the Fuji blimp. Then, everyone gets a good look at the Fuji. And they shriek, they

scream, maybe they shoot the Fuji.

tTC Sensing doom, the mayor bows out, usually without much of a fight. When he does this, he reminds me of Gilda Radner's Emily Litella, who used to drop an argument with a snappy, "Never mind."

I only bring this up because it's been happening a lot in the mayor's third term. I'm seeing a trend.

For instance, a developer named George Harris wanted to open a 600-seat restaurant on the north side of the city, where Greenmount Avenue becomes York Road. The mayor of Baltimore supported the idea. Where his constituents who live and work in the area might have seen a rowdy nightclub disguised as a mega-restaurant -- Volcano's North? -- the mayor must have seen economic development. The city granted some building permits and agreed to lease Harris a parking lot.

What happens?

People screamed. The mayor bowed to mounting community opposition and took a walk on George Harris.

What are we to make of this? Maybe Harris was less than candid about his ambitions for the place when he sought the city's support. OK. Maybe. But it's just as likely the mayor and his people completely misread community feelings in the Guilford-Govans area. Maybe they didn't make any phone calls. Maybe they don't keep in touch. Maybe they are out of touch.

They don't do their homework.

They don't line up their duckies.

It's happened a lot.

In a city whose residents and businesses already have the state's highest tax burden, the mayor came up with a remedy for a multimillion-dollar municipal budget gap: A new energy sales tax!

Those who didn't complain loudly about the idea laughed at it. A few weeks after proposing it, the mayor was bowing out of it. "There is less enthusiasm now for the energy tax than there was several weeks ago," he said.

Never mind.

I could go on, so I will.

How about that great idea to sell a 9-acre piece of the city's beloved and historic Druid Hill Park to a church that planned extensive development of the property? The mayor supported that, too. Word of the deal got out, and the screams started right away -- from neighborhood residents, from citywide civic and conservation groups.

The mayor took another bow.

Then there was that other plan for 116 acres of city parkland in Baltimore County. Remember? The city wanted to turn Graham Memorial Park, pastoral terrain adjacent to Gunpowder Falls State Park, into a multisport complex and golf course.

Alas, opposition among nearby residents and park users quickly escalated; the mayor and his people scrapped their plans. (There's talk now about the state and county buying the land.)

The mayor supported a $21 million renovation of Strathdale Manor Apartment complex in Northeast Baltimore, but bowed out after nearby homeowners adamantly opposed the project.

City Hall gave its blessing to a proposed Hillen Tire & Auto Service at the Pratt Street gateway to Little Italy. Predictably, the residents and restaurateurs squawked big-time. The proposal was derided as a terrible idea, incongruous with the city's most ++ popular place to eat. The mayor had to scramble and act; he pulled the city off the Hillen proposal, which never should have seen the light, and supported a much-needed parking garage plan instead.

Oh, well. At least he's held firm on the Paterakis hotel at Inner Harbor East! On a convention hotel a mile from the convention center he remains unbowed.

Pub Date: 9/05/97

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