Nice guys finish last -- and cost us too much

April 13, 2001|By Dan Rodricks

I HEREBY authorize Martin O'Malley, the mayor of Baltimore, to stop being nice. He's been on a tear lately. I don't know what's gotten into the guy the last couple of months, but I find myself longing for the old, not-nice O'Malley -- the one who started off the new year by blasting the state's attorney with profanities, the wise guy who only a year ago was drawing stick figures for Maryland's chief judge.

But he went nice on this El Dorado deal, and it ended up costing O'Malley time and energy better spent on more important issues, and it damaged his reputation as an outraged reformer.

Get that smiley-face pin off your lapel, mayor.

It would be OK with me -- and, I'll bet, the vast majority of Baltimoreans not directly employed in the sleazy strip-club industry -- if, once and for all, he tells "Kenny Bird"Jackson and the rest of the enterprising Jacksons that they can take their business to some more suitable place -- say, Route 1, Elkridge.

Here's some suggested prose:

"Kenny Bird, baby, correct me if I'm wrong, but we paid you $450,000 for your property on West Baltimore Street -- twice what your family paid for it just a few years ago -- so we can go ahead with the big west-side redevelopment project. We tried several times to find you a new home for the El Dorado -- even though it's an unsavory business with a police record and a history of lap dancing -- but that didn't work out. What can I say? That's it from here, baby. If you don't like it, call the Lewis Law Line. We're under no legal obligation to do any more than we've done -- and we've already been very generous. Good luck, baby, and if you end up selling Amway products, stop by City Hall."

I'm no speechwriter -- I tend to overdo that "baby" business -- but I think that cuts pretty close to the point.

The point should have been made a couple of months ago.

Instead, the city got drawn into relocation niceties, trying to find the El Dorado a new home, offering to be landlord to a strip joint. Friends of Kenny Bird -- and supposed friends of O'Malley -- embarrassed the mayor into a battle he couldn't win and shouldn't have fought.

When the whole thing finally fell through, Kenny Bird, claiming unfairness, showed up at the mayor's news conference yesterday to squawk about his canceling the city's proposal to lease a Gay Street building to the El Dorado.

The mayor kept his composure. But it would have been OK with me if he'd drawn Kenny Bird some stick figures of men moving a strip club to Pulaski Highway.

O'Malley wanted to do right by the merchants on the west side; he didn't want to kick them out of the way without compensating them for their losses and even helping them to relocate.

That wasn't necessary but it was nice, and I have no problem with nice -- up to a point, and paying the El Dorado $450,000 was it.

O'Malley isn't the only one who's been overly nice.

Sheila Dixon, the City Council president, says of the El Dorado's owners: "We have the responsibility to try and find them a new home."

If only she were so earnest about finding new homes for poor people displaced by all the public-housing demolition. (OK, that wasn't very nice. But I'm trying to end this epidemic.)

Sheila D. was also way nice to her campaign chairman; he got a no-bid consulting contract on the city's computer system and it cost taxpayers more than $100,000 in a year, and apparently the whole thing could have been done cheaper by another contractor already in place.

But Dixon had to go and be nice and help her political pal.

Stop all this nice, you're killing me.

OK, sometimes `nice' works

The following exchange might sound like one that occurred on the London Underground (or in an episode of "A Fine Romance" on the BBC), but one of our many far-flung TJI correspondents swears it occurred aboard a light rail train headed for downtown Hon City:

Middle-aged woman, standing at rear of car: "I just want to tell you that you are the rudest man I have ever encountered!"

This gets the attention of a middle-aged man sitting on a bench facing the aisle.

"Why," the woman yells, "do you have your bag on a seat when there are several of us standing?"

Passengers look up from their papers and books. The man doesn't say anything for about 10 seconds and then, remaining composed, responds: "Madam, you would be absolutely correct if that were my bag, but it isn't."

Pointing to a sleeping man sprawled over two seats, he adds: "It would be more appropriate to direct your remarks to this gentleman."

The falsely accused fellow opens his morning paper and resumes reading. The guy taking up three seats continues his slumber. The woman, chastened and silent for the rest of her trip, exits the train at Cultural Center.

A little big-city caution

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