Ehrlich veto on Canton bill could face override

Legislative leaders call governor's move political

December 23, 2003|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

An obscure local liquor bill affecting Southeast Baltimore's Canton neighborhood could become a symbol of the Democratic-controlled General Assembly's willingness to override Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s vetoes, legislative leaders say.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said yesterday that legislation that would have blocked a family with strong Republican ties from opening a tavern in the neighborhood is on a short list of vetoed bills on which there is consensus for an override.

Ehrlich vetoed the legislation - which was inspired by local opposition to putting a tavern in the former firehouse on O'Donnell Square - after it was passed unanimously by the Assembly last spring.

Democrats have more than enough votes in each house to override vetoes when the legislature convenes Jan. 14. But Busch said there are only three bills on which the leaders of the two houses have so far agreed to attempt overrides.

The governor said he was vetoing the bill because of concerns that it was an unfair restraint on trade. But critics noted that the chief beneficiaries of the veto were Marc and William McFaul, owners of a South Baltimore tavern that has become a gathering place and fund-raiser site for Republicans.

The McFauls stirred neighborhood opposition - led by some other Canton tavern owners - with their plans to open the Firehorse Tavern on the western end of the square.

After hearing complaints about increased traffic and parking problems, state Sen. George W. Della Jr. introduced a bill extending to the area a ban on new or transferred liquor licenses within 300 feet of a school or church.

The measure would apply to the liquor license application for the McFauls' proposed tavern because of its proximity to St. Casimir Roman Catholic Church and Father Kolbe School.

By vetoing the legislation, the governor challenged the legislature on its longstanding tradition of giving deference to the local delegation on bills that affect only one jurisdiction.

Miller said yesterday that senators would support Della, a Southeast Baltimore Democrat, and the city delegation. "The senator was responding to community sentiments, and I think the Senate is going to support him on that local bill," Miller said.

Busch agreed that the dispute was a matter of legislative prerogatives.

"According to Della and the three delegates, it was all about a guy who was a friend of Bob Ehrlich and didn't like the bill," Busch said.

Della welcomed the legislative leaders' support, adding that the Firehorse Tavern application has not been approved by the city liquor board.

Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Ehrlich, said the governor stands by his vetoes. "His beliefs are the same as they were a year ago," Fawell said. He said he did not know whether Ehrlich would actively fight to uphold the tavern bill veto.

Marc McFaul, who sought the license for the Firehorse, said yesterday it's unlikely he can get his liquor license approval before an override. McFaul, a longtime Baltimore resident, said the process has left him disgusted.

"I hate the politics. I'm getting out. I'm moving to Harford County," he said.

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