Head of neighborhood association quits after accusations of conflict

Former GOP candidate says politics behind ouster

February 09, 1999|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Can you run for office and still represent your neighborhood as community association president?

Not, it seems, in South Baltimore.

Under intense pressure, William A. Prohaska, the leader of the peninsula's largest community association, has resigned as president of the South Baltimore Improvement Committee. A new president will preside at a membership meeting tonight.

Prohaska's resignation occurred after improvement committee members accused him of using his position to favor local bar owners -- some of whom gave money last year to his unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination for the 47th District state Senate seat.

"Bill thought he would use our association to help him," says Cynthia Griffin, who served as treasurer under Prohaska. "But he skipped a step. You're supposed to wait until you have favors to sell before you sell them."

Prohaska, the 34-year-old manager of Domino's Pizza in Arbutus, says his ouster was "absolutely" motivated by politics. Griffin, his chief critic, is a member of South Baltimore's powerful Stonewall Democratic Club. On Election Day, Griffin worked the polls for incumbent state Sen. George W. Della, the Stonewall president.

"You get involved in local politics, and people try to bring you down," Prohaska says.

Community associations have launched the careers of such Democratic stalwarts as former City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. Prohaska, a Long Island native who moved to Baltimore six years ago, thought the improvement committee might do the same for a Republican.

His election in October 1997 was stunning. SBIC had long been led by Democrats, who vigorously fought the expansion of bars. The three presidents before Prohaska are members of Stonewall.

In June, Prohaska announced a run for Della's seat. He agreed to take a leave from the presidency, but members complain he didn't put sufficient distance between himself and the neighborhood group.

In July, Prohaska wrote a letter on behalf of a live entertainment application by the Hanover Street tavern Mum's -- in spite of community opposition. Later, despite neighbors' worries about noise, he signed a petition in support of a disc jockey for the Fort Charles Pub, allowing the pub owner to claim the support of the community association president.

Prohaska lost the Republican primary in September.

When he resumed his full duties as community president, he confronted a controversy over a bid by the bar Mother's for outdoor seating. The board drafted a letter opposing the petition, but Prohaska never showed up for the zoning hearing and never delivered the letter to the city.

State election records show that bars contributed more than half of the approximately $2,400 cost of Prohaska's campaign. Among the donations were $25 from the operator of Mother's, and $1,150 from the company of Patrick Turner, who plans to open Crash Cafe on Key Highway.

In seeking Prohaska's resignation, improvement committee members said such donations had compromised him. Confronted at a board meeting last month, Prohaska quit and walked out. His vice president, George Wagner, also resigned, saying that Prohaska had made "errors in judgment" but should not have been pushed out.

"There was the appearance of a conflict of interest, but there was no real conflict," says Prohaska.

The executive board has chosen Griffin as the new president, but the political infighting is likely to continue.

"I'm still a member, and I'll go to the meetings," says Prohaska.

"I'll be the biggest pain in the butt."

Pub Date: 2/09/99

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