Dinner for Bishop Robinson draws a crowd of memories

February 15, 2003|By GREGORY KANE

NO ONE HAS ever thought to tell Carole Todd, "Don't quit your day job."

Not that she would. During the day she's head of the guidance department at Baltimore's Carver Vocational-Technical High School. She loves her day job.

But Tuesday night, she took off the guidance counselor hat and slipped on a judge's black robe. Then she crept up to the podium and banged the gavel. The High Court of Martin's West Regency Ballroom was now in session, Judge Carole Todd presiding.

Looking straight at Bishop Robinson, the state juvenile justice secretary who is about to retire, Todd read the charges:

On the charge of being a public servant for 50 years: Guilty.

On the charge of having commanded all three divisions of the Baltimore City Police Department: Guilty.

For serving as the state public safety commissioner: Guilty.

For "making significant improvements" to Baltimore's Central Booking and Intake Center (the city jail, in just plain darned English), starting an alternative-to-prison program, instituting a prison chaplains' program, for his sharp, natty attire, and "for being downright handsome," Todd found Robinson guilty as charged.

"I've never seen a case in which the evidence was so compelling," Todd said.

The occasion was a dinner in Martin's West Regency Ballroom honoring Robinson, who in 1984 became Baltimore's first black police commissioner. How well is Robinson thought of around this town? Consider those who came to pay him homage.

There was Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy, who took good-naturedly the gibes that she shouldn't be seen anywhere near cops, because she doesn't get along with them. Del. Emmett Burns was there, as were ex-guvs Marvin Mandel and William Donald Schaefer. City Councilman Bernard "Jack" Young was on hand, as was former judge and city solicitor George Russell. Boyse Mosley -- the man who should have been appointed Baltimore's superintendent of schools 10 years ago -- joined the celebration.

Former state Sen. Clarence Mitchell IV and Kevin Clark, Baltimore's police commissioner-to-be, arrived just as the festivities started. The City College contingent -- former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, retired Baltimore police Col. Barry Powell and former Maj. Leonard Hamm -- was in the house. Retired Maj. Wendell "Pete" France attended. Baltimore Colt football great Lenny Moore walked in with Lt. Gov. Michael Steele.

"I can identify a little bit with being the first," Steele said after he strode to the podium to offer his congratulations. When Steele presented Robinson with a proclamation from Gov. Robert Ehrlich, another first was achieved: It was the first such honor the lieutenant governor had handed out.

There were scores of others. Each came for his or her own reasons, and there must be dozens of anecdotes about Robinson to illustrate why. Here's just one, a true Bishop Robinson story:

It was the early 1980s, when Donald Pomerleau, known in some circles as simply "that horrible man," was Baltimore's police commissioner and riding roughshod over the privacy rights of law-abiding citizens.

An off-duty police officer was in an East Baltimore greasy spoon when he became convinced a black youth who had entered the joint was casing it for a robbery. The cop shot the youth several times when he pulled a metal object out of his jacket. It turned out to be a cigarette lighter.

Yet another public relations nightmare Pomerleau wasn't able to handle. A community forum was held by city residents angered that the youth had been shot. Organizers demanded Pomerleau attend and give an explanation. Pomerleau chumped out and sent Robinson, then a colonel, to take the heat.

And there was plenty of heat to take. Robinson was abused, cursed, excoriated, 'buked, scorned and called everything but a child of God. I'm surprised no one worked in an unkind word about his mama.

He took it all with cool, grace, elegance and style.

"Boy, I want to be like him when I grow up," was all I could think.

It was Robinson who questioned the trigger-happy officer when his trial board came around. Word on the street is that Robinson was less than kind in his interrogation. The cop was fired.

Robinson took one for the team at that forum and thus proved he had the mettle for leadership. He was rewarded a few years later with the top cop post -- and well he should have been. He was honored Tuesday night for years of that leadership.

This state will be a duller place without him.

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