Can't private sector find `Jimmy' a job in Niceville?

This Just In...

April 27, 2001|By Dan Rodricks

WHA'D I say? Wha'd I say right here in this space two Fridays ago? I said there was too much nice going around the city of Baltimore. I said there was an outbreak of the airborne nice virus, which would be OK if it didn't cost taxpayers too much money.

First, the mayor of Baltimore went nice by paying too much to small businesses displaced by the big, beautiful west-side redevelopment plan. He was way too nice, in particular, to the family that runs the El Dorado strip joint, first paying them $450,000 for their building on West Baltimore Street, then trying to find them a new home, including one just a half-block from the Holocaust Memorial.

Fortunately, Mr. Nice smartened up and called the whole thing off.

Then we had Sheila Dixon, the City Council president. She thought it would be nice to help a political crony get a no-bid, $95-an-hour contract to manage the council's computer system. After this made the front page, Dixon said she'd made a mistake.

But the nice bug is still going around. Look what's up with the woman who runs the city school system.

Everyone who wants public education in Baltimore to improve should be grateful we have Carmen Russo, formerly of Florida. When she was hired by the school board last year, she was said to be "an energetic reformer" with three decades in big, urban systems and a reputation for turning around troubled schools. Just what Baltimore needs, right?

I hope Russo sticks around for a while, because the school system's problems are daunting - bet that's a word you didn't expect in a column that started with, "Wha'd I say?" - and Baltimore really needs a winner running things from North Avenue.

Russo is well paid - $192,000 a year on a four-year contract - and that's the kind of money that keeps Smokehouse Almonds in the pantry.

But, as if that wasn't nice enough, movers and shakers of Charm City are trying to create a job for her fiance so he'll relocate from Florida.

To quote Jay Leno: "You heard about this?"

A friend of the mayor sent a letter to Baltimore foundations - you know, nice people who give away money - asking them to put up some cabbage to create a coaching job so that James Apicella (I'm going to call him Jimmy because he practically feels like family already) can move here.

We're not talking about a $35,000-a-year assistant golf coach at Strayer University, either.

We're talking about $330,000 over three years as a basketball or baseball coach at maybe Coppin State.

Are you following this at home?

They're trying to set up another Jimmy Fund.

If Jimmy moves here from Florida and gets married, he and Russo will be able to report earnings from wages of more than $300,000 a year. At least, that's the way this product of the public school system did the math.

I know what you're thinking: You're thinking, "So what? Businesses do this kind of thing all the time when executives relocate. They help their spouses find jobs and sometimes they even create jobs."

Yeah, but the Apicella matter is different because they're trying to make a job for Jimmy in a state-funded college that doesn't have the funds for his job. That's why Rick Berndt, lawyer and FOM (friend of mayors), sent a letter to foundations asking them to consider putting up the dough. That was the start of the "Get Jimmy A Job" campaign.

This has wrinkled a lot of noses around town because foundations - Abell, Goldseker, Weinberg among them - are accustomed to giving money to nonprofit organizations that do things like feed, clothe and house the poor, redevelop impoverished neighborhoods, combat adult illiteracy.

They're not used to putting up cash for what, in those simpler days before reform, would have been a nice little patronage job.

In the old days, the movers and shakers in this town would have found Jimmy a nice little $25,000-a-year stool over in one of the public works yards. Maybe he would have been a truck dispatcher or sidewalk inspector. He could have shown up three days a week and kept a part-time job at the 7-Eleven. All he had to do was register as a Democrat and sell tickets to bull roasts, maybe shovel a sidewalk in front of a city councilman's house. We would never have heard of the guy, and there wouldn't be this public embarrassment. We wouldn't have all these guys trying to pull off something more complicated than a KGB money-laundering scheme.

I know: They're just trying to be nice. And if it doesn't cost taxpayers anything, what's the hurt?

Right.

But charitable foundations shouldn't get leaned on by the politically connected to pay for this. Can't we find a job for Jimmy in the private sector? You telling me Don Hutchinson can't make a phone call and fix this?

I have a hunch. Now that everyone in Niceville knows that Russo has a significant other in Florida, her Jimmy is going to find a position here. It might not pay $110,000 a year, pal, but I'm sure you'll be able to afford DirecTV.

So come on up and look for a job in the private sector. Maybe Peter Angelos will hire you to be Cal's personal trainer. Hasim "Rock" Rahman is the world's heavyweight champion now, and he can't hold that title unless he unnecessarily expands the size of his entourage; you could work in his corner.

What I'm saying is: We'll take care of you. Lot of nice people here. When you're here, you're family.

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