Political odor hangs over sponsorship of festivals

This Just In...

Hint of politics in festival support

April 22, 2002|By DAN RODRICKS

DON'T BE surprised if you see a small disturbance -- a little El Nino -- developing over Patterson Park. The city has cut its financial and promotional support of the group that for a quarter-century staged Baltimore's Hispanic Festival, shifting it to another organization long associated with the mayor's Hispanic liaison, Jose Ruiz.

Instead of giving the Federation of Hispanic Organizations a 90 percent break on the cost of city services for its Hispanic Festival in August in Patterson Park, the city will subsidize the Latino Fest in June to that tune. East Baltimore's Education Based Latino Outreach (EBLO) runs the Latino Fest. EBLO's founder and former director is Ruiz.

That means the Latino Fest will get for the first time what the Hispanic Festival had received for years -- several thousand dollars in city services and promotion as one in a series of ethnic festivals known as Baltimore's "Showcase of Nations." The Latino Fest boasts growing corporate support.

Meanwhile, the city's bill to the Federation of Hispanic Organizations will rise from $881 last year to between $4,000 and $5,000, and the Hispanic Festival will not enjoy "Showcase" status. "It will be a five-fold increase in costs to us," an unhappy Marco Pineyro, president of the federation, said the other day.

While the difference in dollars is not big, the suggestion of politics is. Both Pineyro and Bernardo Rozencwaig, federation vice president, expressed concern that EBLO's connections to Ruiz, who organized the first Latino Fest in 1980 and who has served two mayors -- William Donald Schaefer and Martin O'Malley -- as Hispanic liaison, gave the East Baltimore outreach group an advantage in its quest for "Showcase" status.

That, of course, is not the official line.

Bill Gilmore, director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, said the federation simply missed the Feb. 7 deadline to submit its application for the "Showcase" deal. EBLO's new director, Luis Hernandez, got his group's application in on time.

Rozencwaig, however, claimed no deadline was stated in any of the forms the federation received by mail from Gilmore's office.

"Had I known of the deadline," says Rozencwaig, "I would have personally delivered our deposit check to the Office of Promotion. The support we received from the city in the past was a support we always expected to have and certainly never to lose over some foul-up in paperwork. We didn't even receive a courtesy call, after all these years of doing the festival, to ask, `Where is your application?'"

Rozencwaig and Pineyro are particularly upset with Angela Smith, the "Showcase" coordinator, who, they said, has not returned their phone calls (nor, since Thursday, this columnist's).

"Nobody likes to lose," Gilmore said Friday at the Baltimore Waterfront Festival. "The city decided a while back that it would only sanction one group per ethnic category."

Both the Hispanic and Latino festivals have been held for years -- the former since 1977, the latter since 1980. While EBLO's annual festival has catered to East Baltimore's fast-growing Latino community, traditionally the Hispanic Festival has drawn visitors from throughout the metropolitan area, and busloads of Hispanics come to the festival from Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Gilmore said the decision to award the Latino Fest "Showcase" status this year was "made at City Hall."

That's where Ruiz had his secretary refer calls -- to Rick Binetti, in the mayor's press office.

Like Gilmore, Binetti cited the missed deadline as the key factor in the rejection of the federation's application. He also suggested that EBLO deserved the "Showcase" award because it is more city-based than the federation.

"That's absolutely not true," Pineyro said when I asked if the federation's membership was largely suburban.

While acknowledging EBLO's focus in East Baltimore, Pineyro says his federation -- representing close to 2,300 families with roots in Mexico, Ecuador, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Colombia and the Dominican Republic -- is just as concerned with urban Hispanics and conducts all its activities in the city. On Thursday, for instance, the federation held a dinner at La Fontaine Bleu on Erdman Avenue to honor Hispanic high school seniors. The groups in the federation awarded scholarships totaling $4,000, which is about how much getting bounced from the city's "Showcase" will cost them.

Aria conditioning

Last week's surreal heat wave caused some panic at Opera Vivente that audiences for its production of Agrippina at Emmanuel Episcopal Church would "stay away in droves." But we send high-fives to Bruce Fleming, Porter Siems and Rental Service Corp. for getting three portable A/C units installed in time for Thursday's opening. All went well, we're told, though some ventilating tubes fell during Friday's performance.

Cereal Mom, one of TJI's trusty correspondents, was there. "Some of the opera was brilliant, some of it awkward, but we really enjoyed it," CM says. "With two intermissions, it lasted four hours, and I lasted 'til the end and, honey, I don't even listen to The Don & Mike Show for all four hours."

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