City should have put brakes on Fast Eddie a long time ago

December 11, 2003|By Dan Rodricks

THOSE WHO find themselves lost in the sordid details of the indictment of Fast Eddie Norris, and terribly lacking in knowledge of fashion, should please note: Il Bisonte is a line of leather goods from Italy, and Faconnable is a clothing line with a store in Manhattan.

It should be further noted that Smith & Wollensky is not the name of the law firm representing Maryland State Police Superintendent and former Baltimore Police Commissioner Ed Norris. It's the name of his favorite steakhouse in New York.

I hope that helps.

I further hope Fast Eddie doesn't cop a plea. I hope there's a trial, but not for the same reason everyone else hopes there's a trial -- so they can find out who Females Nos. 1 through 8 in the indictment are. The idea of a parade of women in fox boas, coming into a federal courtroom and spilling their guts about Eddie, is enticing, I'll admit. ("Female No. 2: Do you recall what Commissioner Norris gave you on St. Valentine's Day 2001?")

But I'm more interested in what Fast Eddie had at Smith & Wollensky's that cost $225 on one occasion and $544 on another.

Chateaubriand or filet au poivre? First-growth Bordeaux or Mondavi Reserve Cab?

What can I tell ya? If the choice is Court TV or the Food Network, I'm going with the Food Network all the time.

Big restaurant bills fascinate me. When they're paid for out of some charitable fund for police officers and their families, they gross me out.

But they don't necessarily impress me as federal offenses, at least in the "wanna make a federal case out of it" sense.

I appreciate the effort by postal inspectors and prosecutors to investigate Norris' use of a special police slush fund, but we shouldn't have needed a U.S. attorney to get rid of this guy.

If Norris did what he is alleged to have done in the indictment that came off the U.S. attorney's copier machine and warmed reporters' hands yesterday morning, then he should have gotten the boot by the O'Malley administration.

And if that had happened, he never would have been named state police superintendent.

Most of these offenses were detailed in this newspaper in August 2002. You can look it up: "Norris, police spend off-the-books funds on trips, gifts, meals."

It looks to me that Norris' big spending and fast living easily could have been documented by a city auditor or a dutiful city solicitor. It should have been held up by the O'Malley administration as outrageous and intolerable, a grotesque series of personal indulgences at a time when Baltimore police officers were putting their lives on the line to close down open-air drug markets.

But Norris was allowed to stay on the job. O'Malley wouldn't come close to publicly dropping his top cop, the guy he paid handsomely to help him fight crime and -- holy irony, Batman! -- root out police corruption.

("One of the big promises we made was we were going to rid this department of any corrupt police officers we found," Norris said in December 2000. "This is a horrible breach of the public trust," he said after one of his officers was indicted in a drug case. )

It was Norris who decided to drop out of his commitment to the city.

On the day the news broke about Norris' becoming state police superintendent, I was with a police major who had become very close to the former commissioner.

To say the major was disappointed would be lame understatement. Crushed is more like it. Despite reports of Norris' many New York trips and extracurricular activities, a lot of cops in Baltimore saw the guy as a genuine cop's cop and believed his tactics would help turn the tide against the city's violent drug culture.

But what happened?

Norris took his eye off the real prize and became self-enamored, maybe a little drunk with his successes here and the way Baltimoreans, foremost O'Malley, seemed to worship him.

According to the federal indictment against him, Norris' attention turned to clothing from Faconnable, leather goods from Il Bisonte and fine meals at Smith & Wollensky's. On Feb. 13, 2001, he was in Towson Town Center buying lingerie for Female No. 1, Female No. 2 and Female No. 3.

Next thing we know, he's interviewing for other jobs and looking more and more like just another power-happy, ambitious hustler seeing Baltimore as Yahoo City and using it as a steppingstone.

After just a couple of years on the job, he was "looking for a bigger challenge," as if trying to clean up one of the deadliest cities in America wasn't daunting enough.

Then, in one of the great in-your-face political stunts, Norris ran off with the new Republican governor, Bob Ehrlich.

Ehrlich made Norris state police superintendent, even with the slush fund questions hanging over his head. Great move, Guv!

To add insult to injury, Norris received $137,000 in severance from the city plus $6,850 a year for life. (I was looking in the indictment yesterday for "abuse of a minor," for the way Norris treated O'Malley, but it wasn't there. )

Norris did good things for Baltimore in his short time here. But it was just that -- a short time. He didn't finish the job. He bailed on Baltimore. He had a lot of appetites, apparently, but not for the long haul and the hard fight.

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