Council hotel skeptic puts it in writing

BETWEEN THE LINES

August 08, 2005

"Bring your thick skins," Baltimore City Council President Sheila Dixon warned her council peers after they voted last week to send the controversial convention center hotel plan to the council floor Aug. 15. "It's going to be interesting."

Actually, better get those thick skins on now.

After Dixon made headlines last week by verbally slapping around hotel doubters, Councilwoman Belinda Conaway drafted a letter to area newspapers complaining that Dixon refused to let her make a motion last Monday to delay the vote.

Conaway, who opposes the $305 million, publicly financed hotel, wanted more time to consider a proposal from a developer who claims he could build the project for $214 million and a boatload of city subsidies.

"During the entire committee meeting ... President Dixon deliberately ignored my requests to be recognized," Conaway wrote. "This was a subversion of the democratic process and an abuse of power. The ancestors of Ms. Dixon and myself sacrificed and some of them died so that we could participate in the democratic process."

After hearing about the letter from one of the news outlets, Dixon's spokesman paid a little visit to Conaway's office, recommending someone retract it.

"He said it was poorly written," said Conaway, who stands by her commentary. "It's unfortunate when someone uses a position of power to silence a voice."

Dixon spokesman Chris Williams said he tried to quash the letter not because Dixon told him to but "as a favor" to Conaway so she wouldn't embarrass herself.

"She's a new council member and she hasn't had a good grasp of some of the issues so far, based on some of the remarks she's made," Williams said. "I did it as a favor, frankly."

- Jill Rosen

Buttering up Baltimore

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan arrived at the WYPR-FM studio in Baltimore ready to talk about his expected bid for governor, but not before a few minutes of buttering up a city where he needs to become much better known if he is to beat Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley in a Democratic primary.

Duncan told show host Marc Steiner that he wanted to start the hourlong chat Tuesday by talking about Orioles first-baseman Rafael Palmeiro, suspended by the league for steroid use.

"What a heartbreaker," Duncan said, adding that he found Palmeiro's explanation of accidental ingestion credible. "I believe the guy. I really look up to him."

Taking the bait, Steiner asked Duncan whether he supported the Orioles or the Nationals. Months ago, O'Malley addressed the same topic by saying he welcomed a team in Washington, a declaration that drew jeers from O's fans (not to mention team owner Peter Angelos) and was widely derided as a blatant attempt to build support in the D.C. suburbs.

Now it was Duncan's turn: "I'm an Orioles fan," he said, surely envisioning his Baltimore-area vote total climbing. "I'm an American League fan ... I cringe every time they lose."

Still unaddressed: How Duncan feels about the Ravens.

- David Nitkin

Congestion question

Aggravated by construction delays? Convinced there is a conspiracy to add to the misery of your commute even as the government promises the roadwork will eventually ease congestion?

You may be right.

Baltimore's Department of Transportation sent out a traffic advisory last week warning motorists of delays around the M&T Bank Stadium before and after Saturday's scrimmage between the Ravens and the Washington Redskins.

They also offered a solution.

Work crews would temporarily reopen lanes on Russell Street that have been closed due to a long-term construction project.

That should, in theory, help.

But not according to the Transportation Department's own advisory, which said, in part, " ... two lanes southbound will remain open after the first half of the game to help facilitate congestion."

That is, of course, not what the Department of Transportation intended to say, or do. "We hope there is no congestion," said spokesman David Brown.- Peter Hermann

Great excuse

Carroll County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge offered an excuse for arriving late to her cabinet meeting, one that any of the department heads could understand.

"I got behind a bean picker, a big truck who refused repeatedly to let me get ahead of him," she told the gathering. "I finally realized that he meant business and meant to take up the whole road."

Gouge had to backtrack along country roads to get to the County Office Building in Westminster. But she planned to complain to the truck's owner about his rude driver.

One department head opined that the trucker may have worked for former Commissioner Donald I. Dell, a lifelong farmer with whom Gouge was frequently at odds.

"It was the wrong location for one of Donald's trucks, but you never know," Gouge said.

- Mary Gail Hare

Mayor to self: Great speech!

Mayor Martin O'Malley's homeland security speech last week to the National Press Club was "one of the most comprehensive" looks at protecting cities from terrorist attacks by "any state or local elected official," according to statements by, who else - O'Malley.

Indeed, O'Malley left little doubt last week about what he thought of the speech on a subject that landed him primo speaking roles during last year's presidential election. A press release Tuesday from the mayor and a Thursday e-mail letter from O'Malley said the speech may be the "most comprehensive look at America's homeland security needs presented by any state or local elected official thus far."

In case you missed it, the video and text of the speech were available on both O'Malley's campaign Web site and his city government home page.

- Doug Donovan

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