Mayor puts stop to plea for money for his gift Aide had sought $50 from top staffers for Bermuda trip

December 11, 1997|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

To: Mayor's staff.

Re: Christmas spirit.

Subject: A gift for the boss. Please kick in $50 ASAP to send Hizzoner and his wife to Bermuda.

In a memo only a shade less direct, a top aide to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke instructed members of his Cabinet to contribute $50 apiece this week toward round-trip airfare to Bermuda's pristine beaches. But the present dreamed up by the "gift committee" -- a belated Christmas splashing in the foamy surf -- left some staff members and the mayor himself nonplused.

"I didn't know anything about it. When I read [the memo], I said, 'No thanks,' " Schmoke said yesterday.

The mayor's wife, Patricia, an ophthalmologist who keeps urging her husband to relax for longer spells, suggested the island getaway to a staff member. But when Schmoke learned of the directive, after a reporter asked questions, he quickly nixed a staff-paid trip for two and said he would take his wife to Bermuda on his own.

The memo, sent Tuesday by Barbara Bostick-Hunt, Schmoke's deputy chief of staff, to more than 40 agency heads and others in Baltimore city government, credited some "well-placed advice" for the gift choice. It corrected an earlier one that day from the gift committee that listed Jamaica as the destination. The staff, the memo concluded, would present the airline tickets to Schmoke at a Dec. 16 holiday party.

"While it is clearly tempting to want to go along, we will not," Bostick-Hunt wrote. "Please send Maggi a check by Dec. 12th in the amount of $50."

Yesterday afternoon, Bostick-Hunt sent a new memo: "There seemed to have been some confusion because we did not stress that this annual gift is strictly voluntary and by no means mandatory. Since there seemed to be some misunderstanding, we have decided, with the mayor's blessings, to rescind this year's Christmas gift."

At least one staffer was taken aback by the initial directive. "I can't afford a vacation to the islands myself," said the staffer, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal.

Others strongly defended their custom of chipping in each year to buy the mayor costly Christmas presents, from a coat to a treadmill to a print by artist Jacob Lawrence. The tickets to Bermuda would have cost from $1,112 to $1,162, according to three travel agents.

"I can certainly give a Christmas gift to anyone I feel like," snapped Daniel P. Henson III, the city's housing commissioner.

Maggi Gaines, director of Baltimore Reads Inc., collected the checks as a member of the gift committee. "What's the story?" she said. "Why can't a bunch of people get together to buy a man they respect a gift?"

"I don't think it's extravagant at all," said Jesse Hoskins, the city's personnel director who also served on the gift committee.

But staffers for other elected officials in Maryland could barely hide their astonishment at the notion of an island trip as a Christmas gift.

"What? Are you serious?" said Lisa Ritter, spokeswoman for Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary.

Last year, she said, two dozen people who work for Gary contributed $5 to $10 apiece to buy him a golf sweater. "We may bring in some baked goods as well," she said.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening invites his staff each December to a reception at Government House, the governor's mansion. Some of Glendening's Cabinet members bring gifts, such as ties or the science fiction books he loves, said his spokesman, Ray Feldmann.

Schmoke said he was troubled by Bostick-Hunt's memo and the almost identically worded Jamaica-mistake memo sent by the gift committee. The memo, he acknowledged, "made it appear almost as if you had to" contribute and "just didn't strike me as appropriate."

To his wife, he promised to take her on a vacation to an island at his own expense. To his staff, he said, "I appreciate the gesture."

After all, it's the thought that counts.

Pub Date: 12/11/97

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