City government shifts to Tampa

Members of council, mayor's office find game tickets in a snap

January 27, 2001|By Gady A. Epstein and Laurie Willis | Gady A. Epstein and Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Baltimore is headed to the Super Bowl, and so, it seems, is a good bit of city government.

City Council President Sheila Dixon and at least four others on the 19-member council are going - though not at city expense - in addition to a five-person mayoral entourage that is traveling mostly on the city's official dime.

Like state legislators with the right connections, City Council members seemed to find ways to get tickets if they wanted them, whether by calling the mayor's office and getting a referral to the Ravens' influential lobbyist or by calling the Ravens directly and just asking.

"Sheila had called the Ravens to ask if they had any tickets left, and when they said yes, she purchased them," said Dixon's spokesman, Jason Young.

At least seven members of the all-Democratic City Council bought or received tickets, including two who say they won't personally be using them.

Mayor Martin O'Malley's office sent an e-mail to Dixon's chief of staff saying that council members who wanted tickets should contact Annapolis lobbyist Gary R. Alexander, who represents the Ravens.

One of the members who was referred to Alexander was Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, of Northwest Baltimore's 5th District, who was able to buy five Super Bowl tickets from different sources. But she has given the tickets to her sons, grandsons and a close family friend from Florida.

She was hoping she'd be able to find a sixth one so that she could join them in Tampa for the big game.

Alexander said yesterday that no one on the City Council purchased or received tickets from him.

"The Baltimore City Council all got their tickets from the Ravens," he said. "Our involvement was to make up a list so that the Ravens knew who were elected officials and who weren't."

Councilwoman Catherine E. Pugh, of West Baltimore's 4th District, said that she bought her two $325 tickets - including one she sold to Spector at face value - without using the benefits of her office.

"I called and asked for Ravens tickets," Pugh said. "I didn't identify myself as a councilwoman. I only wanted one ticket, and I knew that Rikki wanted one ticket."

Councilwoman Stephanie Rawlings, who like Spector represents the 5th District, wouldn't identify the exact source of her tickets. She said the tickets were a gift to her husband and were not from anyone with business interests before the city - which means the gift is allowed under city ethics laws.

"It's a personal family thing," she said. Asked whether the benefactor was a friend of her father, state Del. Howard P. Rawlings, the powerful West Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, she would only respond that the giver was a "friend of the family."

The other council members able to get tickets were Robert W. Curran and Kenneth N. Harris Sr., both of Northeast Baltimore's 3rd District, and Kieffer J. Mitchell Jr. of West Baltimore's 4th District. Curran and Mitchell are going to the game, but Harris said yesterday he canceled his plans, after becoming ill.

Because most of the council members attending purchased their tickets, the city's ethics laws do not appear to apply to their Super Bowl trips.

The ethics laws generally prohibit council members from receiving gifts from people or companies with business interests before the city. But there are exceptions, including gifts offered "as a courtesy or ceremony extended to the office," so long as they are not considered "significant" gifts that would appear or are intended to unduly influence the officeholder.

The mayor's office got 16 tickets to the game, spokesman Tony White said. The office purchased eight tickets through the city's ownership of a luxury box, and the Ravens gave the mayor eight more as "freebies," White said.

O'Malley left yesterday morning with his wife, Katie; his press secretary, White; Deputy Mayor Laurie Schwartz; and a member of the mayor's executive protection police detail.

Their trip, which will last through Monday, will cost taxpayers roughly $2,500 to $3,000, including $2,300 in airfare for everyone but O'Malley's wife, whose ticket the mayor is paying for himself, White said. The cost also includes an undetermined amount to be reimbursed to the Ravens for two hotel rooms being supplied by the team, he said.

The mayor's office sold eight of the 16 tickets at face value and did not yet know yesterday to whom O'Malley would give the three tickets not being used by his party.

O'Malley said Thursday night that First Deputy Mayor Michael Enright would have the names of those who purchased the tickets from the mayor's office. But Enright declined to provide the names when contacted yesterday, and White, the mayor's spokesman, would only say that some of the tickets were purchased by former city officials.

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