It's time to weigh these words to see if they have substance

November 13, 2003|By DAN RODRICKS

JUST TO follow up ... here are statements - declarations, really - made in public during the last year or so that haven't quite - how shall one put this politely? - held up as presented. The first are from the lips of Bob Ehrlich, on the campaign trail, in September 2002:

"As governor, I will move quickly to sell the recently purchased King Air airplane used by Governor [Parris] Glendening, the 100-foot yacht docked in Annapolis, and two of the state's luxury skyboxes at Orioles Park and Ravens stadium. There is no reason for the governor and other state officials to enjoy such luxuries when the state is facing such tough fiscal times. Selling these extravagant amenities will bring $5 million into the state's coffers."

Real man o' the people stuff.

But "quickly" isn't what happened here - it's not exactly like Ehrlich The Bolshevik ransacked the Winter Palace in Annapolis - and parts of Ehrlich's promise are turning out to be easier said than done.

For instance, the plane in question - a $4.9 million, twin-engine King Air leased-to-purchase in 2001 by the Maryland State Police for the extradition of prisoners from all over the country - is still being used by the MSP. The MSP convinced the General Assembly last winter that the state would lose money if it put the plane on the market.

So the state is about to sell the MSP's other twin-engine plane, a smaller model that's 22 years old, instead of the one Glendening used on occasion - to fly from Ocean City to Annapolis, for instance. Ehrlich criticized Glendening for it. So far, I'm told, the new governor hasn't set foot on the plane. (But, as soon as he does, I've been promised a phone call! Ha!)

As for the yacht - again, the "quickly" thing didn't happen. The state still owns the big boat, though the administration is "looking for creative ways of selling it," according to the governor's press secretary, Greg Massoni. Don't be surprised if you see the 112-foot Maryland Independence auctioned on eBay.

And don't be surprised if you see Ehrlich in Docksiders in some kind of official boat, leased or donated. His purge of the trappings of office goes only so far.

"The governor should have access to a [water] vessel of some type," Ehrlich said in July. "It serves a legitimate purpose."

Asked why he doesn't just keep the current yacht if the state needs a boat for entertaining visitors, Ehrlich replied: "It has problems. It's old."

So, again - it's not like the man is Going Nader.

As for the skyboxes - they won't be sold off to help balance the state budget because they're not Ehrlich's to sell. They belong to the Maryland Stadium Authority.

So, says Massoni, the governor and first lady have been "using the boxes for charitable reasons." He says "nonprofit groups" - on a list to be made public next month - were given access to the skyboxes at all but 10 of the Orioles games and each of the Ravens home games so far. How all this is being handled - who gets what, when and how - still sounds a little vague. We can't wait to see the Ehrlichs' guest list.

Riling up unions

Here's another public declaration that hasn't held up so well: "More than 95 percent of the work there will be done by local unions and trades."

That was from Kirk Warden, project executive for Clayco Construction, the St. Louis company that's building the Ravens' new corporate headquarters and training facility in Owings Mills. Construction of the complex, on public parkland leased for a song from Baltimore County, is under way, but the work being performed is not "more than 95 percent" union.

"Not even close," says George Eisner, director of organizing for Local 101, the Baltimore Carpenters Union.

Organized labor has 50 percent to 60 percent of the work on the Ravens facility, according to Greg Smith, a consultant serving as the Ravens' representative to contractors.

Warden agrees with that estimate, but notes that more contracts are due for bid and union companies may get them. (He also said that, in his original statement to The Sun in January, he meant that more than 95 percent of the work would go to local workers - not necessarily to workers in locals.)

Meanwhile, the carpenters union has been handing out leaflets at Ravens home games to protest Clayco's use of a nonunion subcontractor to install drywall throughout the facility. The leaflet says the subcontractor pays its employees wages that are 40 percent less than the local standard, and "little if any health care or pension benefits."

Great. Does the NFL Players Association know about this? Does it care?

Just bag the idea

And one last statement that did not hold up so well: "I'm not using self-service checkout at Giant. (Why should I? They're not paying me to do it. Throw in a box of overpriced clementines and maybe then we'll talk.)"

That was a New Year's resolution. I broke it the other day. Did the self-checkout thing because the other lines were so long (because there aren't enough real, live cashiers!). It was no fun. The whole experience made me nervous. I overcharged myself for bagels. And the lady inside the machine kept saying, "Please move your bananas." It's not for me.

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