As a half-dozen veterans looked on last night, City Council members introduced legislation to make Veterans Day an official city holiday again after it was dropped more than 35 years ago.
At the same time, the City Council approved a resolution asking the Board of Estimates to reverse its approval of an agreement to retain a wall at Memorial Stadium that honored veterans. The legislation, introduced with the blessing of the Maryland Veterans Commission, calls for a new memorial to be built between Oriole Park at Camden Yards and PSINet Stadium.
Councilman Robert W. Curran, a Northeast Baltimore Democrat whose 3rd District includes the Memorial Stadium site, introduced both measures.
"We pride ourselves as being the home of `The Star-Spangled Banner' ... but yet ... we don't honor those who fought in that fight so that Francis Scott Key could see the dawn's early light," he said.
Veterans Day was dropped as an official city holiday in 1965 when the city eliminated two other holidays, and instead gave employees three personal leave days, according to Erwin A. Burtnick, a commissioner of the Maryland Veterans Commission, which favors the change.
Legislation has been introduced twice before to reclaim Veterans Day, but each time has died. Curran said the unions want to add Veterans Day to the 11 paid holidays that city employees have, which could prove contentious in contract negotiations because the city will likely balk at paying for another holiday.
In the Memorial Stadium vote, the council approved a nonbinding resolution asking for a reversal of a hard-fought agreement between Mayor Martin O'Malley and a historical preservation group. Last spring, as Memorial Stadium was being demolished to make way for a senior housing project and a YMCA, the group, Preservation Maryland, took the city to court twice to try to halt demolition - and lost. The group finally agreed on a compromise that allowed the portion of the stadium wall with the veterans memorial to be saved.
In other action last night, the council gave preliminary approval to using $3 million in state funds to construct a garage as part of an incentive package to keep CitiFinancial, a company accused of predatory lending practices, downtown. The approval came after a day of intense lobbying by O'Malley to move the bill out of the budget committee, where it had languished since March.
City Council President Sheila Dixon said she wanted assurances that the company would curtail some of its practices and provide low-interest loans for low-income families. A final vote is expected next week.