Between The Lines

BETWEEN THE LINES

December 08, 2003

Was that a potshot?

Like any good politician, President Bush recognized many of the elected officials inside a Hyatt ballroom on Friday when he came to town for a million-dollar fund-raiser. But it was a cryptic line about a politician not mentioned by name -- Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley -- that received a lot of attention.

After calling Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. a "live wire, which is what this state needed," and expressing gratitude to Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele and Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Bush asked the state and local officials to "get into your districts and energize people and get them to vote."

He added: "If you happen to be a mayor, my only advice is to fill the potholes."

It was unclear if the comments were intended as a jab at O'Malley, who has blasted the federal government for not providing enough homeland security resources for cities and who is sparring with Ehrlich over who will head the city's Social Services Department.

O'Malley spokesman Stephen J. Kearney said the Bush quip, which drew laughs among the $2,000-a-ticket crowd, might have missed its mark -- the type of presidential comment a certain talk show host compiles for his own laughs.

"Maybe it will make David Letterman's `joke that is not a joke'" segment, Kearney said.

-- David Nitkin and Rona Kobell

Sincerely, overkill

When Baltimore city school officials went to notify 710 employees that they were laying them off -- in an emergency attempt to fix an overspent budget -- they appear to have wanted to make sure the workers got the message.

Axed employees received a letter explaining the details of the layoff, not once, not twice, but five times.

The first notice was delivered by hand from supervisors. Three more letters were sent individually by first-class mail. And one was sent special delivery, with a receipt requested.

The cost in postage for the multiple notifications: nearly $7 per person. Altogether, the cash-strapped system spent close to $5,000 simply to tell employees their services were no longer necessary.

-- Tanika White

Did I mention ... ?

Frank M. Conaway, mayoral candidate and clerk of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, appears to be somewhat confused about rules of ethics in campaigning -- specifically, about the one stating that public officials who are running for office may not use public funds for their personal campaign.

Conaway sent out a news release last week responding to a report in The Sun about Baltimore police underreporting rapes in the city. The release, sent on letterhead from the clerk of the court's office, explains that Conaway asked the U.S. attorney's office to investigate whether the underreporting was deliberate.

The release begins: "Frank M. Conaway, Clerk of the court and candidate for Mayor, today asked the Justice Department to investigate ..."

When Conaway was asked whether promoting his mayoral campaign on government letterhead was a conflict, he said no.

"I can't separate the two as I see it," he said.

-- Allison Klein

By any other name

Misty Skipper. No, it's not the name of a sleek yacht plying the waters of the Chesapeake Bay but a woman who works in the CSX Corp. communications office in Jacksonville, Fla. We met Misty over the telephone while reporting about a new development for the elderly planned on property owned by CSX in Dundalk.

Reporters find her name easy to remember, Skipper said. That's a good thing.

-- Joe Nawrozki

Try not to get salty

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. insists that last week's snowstorm is not his fault.

Sure, the first snowstorm of last year came the day after he held a news conference announcing the county's snow-readiness. And on Thursday, he made the same announcement in front of the same salt barn. The next day, same result.

"I am not the angel of snow. I will not accept that," a still-optimistic Smith said Thursday morning. "See that sun up there? It's fighting to get through."

No word on whether he'll be hiring out his services to any ski resorts.

-- Andrew A. Green

Snow: rah, rah, rah

Give me an S!

This appeared in a Dec. 4 news release from Mayor Martin O'Malley's office: The "City of Baltimore will hold a Snow Pep Rally on December 14 ... for approximately 600 city employees ... that participate in snow removal efforts ... The rally will include equipment demonstrations, training regarding the use of de-icing materials, specific snow route training, and will serve as the culmination of almost a year of planning to revise the City's overall Snow Removal Plan."

What, no cheerleaders?

-- Doug Donovan

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