Between The Lines

BETWEEN THE LINES

May 10, 2004

Government officials are fond of the platitude "thinking outside the box" to encourage innovative thought. Now we have "smoking outside the box."

Visitors to downtown Baltimore's municipal square, which claims City Hall and the War Memorial building as bookends, will notice newly painted blue rectangles outside two neighboring municipal facilities: the Abel Wolman and Benton buildings.

Wolman is where water bills are paid. Benton houses the Board of Elections and zoning offices. Dealings with those bureaucracies are enough to send many a nicotine dependent resident scrambling outside for a cigarette. Now, however, they'll have to blow their blue smoke beyond the borders of the big blue box.

The boxes block off a space 25 feet from the entrances of both buildings, demarcating where smokers may not light up.

Robert Murrow, a Department of Public Works spokesman, said the new rule was necessary to force smokers away from the front doors. "Nonsmokers coming to the building have to go through a haze of smoke and smoke gets into the lobbies," Murrow said.

-- Doug Donovan

Wheels of progress

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. rolled into the Towson courthouse plaza about 7:20 Friday morning in a show of support for annual Bike to Work Day, just as a small rally was beginning to gather near the fountain.

He looked the part -- tennis shoes, baggy blue shorts, a long-sleeved Bike to Work Day T-shirt and a canary yellow bike helmet, which he kept securely strapped on during the rally.

But Smith's house in Reisterstown is, to put it politely, to heck and gone from Towson, particularly if you want to avoid riding on Interstate 795 and the Beltway. "I have to fess up," he told the crowd. "I didn't ride all the way in from Reisterstown."

In truth, he drove to the school board headquarters about a mile away, borrowed a bike from Deputy Planning Director Jeff Long and rode in from there.

Smith did notice one other problem with the bike-to-work plan: There's one bike rack in Towson. "We're going to have to do something about that," he said.

-- Andrew A. Green

A faithful public servant

Mayor Martin O'Malley has a liaison to the Jewish community. He is Jewish, as you might expect. In fact, his name is Israel, though he goes by Izzy.

The mayor also has a liaison to the Muslim community. He is Jewish, which you might not expect. And his name is Israel, though he goes by Izzy.

"The mayor says he's probably the only mayor in the country that has a Jewish liaison to the Muslim community," said Israel C. Patoka, who in addition to wearing those two hats also heads the mayor's office of neighborhoods.

Patoka says he enjoys working with people of both faiths, whom he often brings together for cultural exchanges. Last month, Patoka helped organize a Passover seder for Muslims and Jews in City Hall.

"It's been really rewarding working with the Muslim leadership," Patoka said. "We have a great relationship. I think they're comfortable with me and I'm very comfortable with them."

-- Laura Vozzella

An age-old honor

Everybody got the marinated chicken breast. Plus spinach and tomato couscous. Not to mention chocolate cake with white chocolate mascarpone mousse.

But there was a special treat for one of the 150 senior-citizen moms attending the "mother appreciation dinner" last week at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, sponsored by the city's Commission on Aging and Retirement Education. One was selected to sit on the dais with Mayor Martin O'Malley as his guest.

That honor went to Rose Toney of West Baltimore. Mother of three, grandmother of two, great-grandmother of three and great-great-grandmother of four, Toney was chosen because at 92, she was the oldest mother in the crowd -- or at least the oldest to admit her age.

"I'm a little shocked," said Toney, who doubted that she was the most senior in the room. "I think I'm just the only honest one."

-- Laura Vozzella

She's no scene-stealer

The fourth floor of City Hall was transformed into a TV set Friday, as HBO's The Wire filmed in Baltimore's ornate City Council chambers.

The story line of the crime drama, in production for its third season, is taking a political turn that will include having the police commissioner appear before a council subcommittee.

Two years ago, the series gave a bit part to Edward T. Norris, then Baltimore's police commissioner, who played a homicide detective. But it was all actors on the set Friday. Real-life city staffers did their best to stay out of the limelight.

That was no easy trick for Sabrina Y. Sutton, youth and education liaison for council President Sheila Dixon. Sutton's office is in the back of the council chambers. So she had to make sure the cameras weren't rolling every time she stepped out.

"Having to ask permission to come in and out -- `Is it a cut?' -- that was the only thing that really affected me," said Sutton, who got a kick out of all the commotion. "It's fun to see all the stuff."

-- Laura Vozzella

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