In Charm City, there's always room for redemption

August 12, 2005|By MICHAEL OLESKER

I LOVE this town. Nobody who dies in public has to stay buried. Eddie Norris gets out of the federal slammer, and now he's looking to be a radio star. Larry Young's banished from the state legislature, spends purgatory on the radio, and now talks about another political run. Rafael Palmeiro gets caught with steroids in his system, and last night he was back at the ballpark. Around here, who says there's no life after death?

I admire these guys. No kidding. If I'd been humiliated in public the way they have, I'd spend the rest of my life in my room, curled in the fetal position. These guys have the intestinal fortitude to say: This is my one life, and I'm going to live it to its fullest potential.

Since we all believe in the redemption of the human spirit, there is only one major problem with this kind of attitude. I wish they'd tell us the truth about the past before they plunge into the future. I don't know how you ask for anybody's forgiveness and understanding when you still haven't admitted you did anything wrong.

Now we learn that Eddie Norris wants to be a radio star. He always had a performer's instincts - check out his recurring stint on HBO's The Wire - but now he's apparently getting a full-time gig with WHFS-FM radio. Well, why not? Except for his honesty problem, Norris was a terrific police commissioner. He's smart, and he knows a lot of stuff about crime and law enforcement and the politics around both. He could tell the truth on the radio in ways that everybody else is just faking.

But, in the 14 months since he reluctantly pleaded guilty to public corruption and tax charges, Norris is still having trouble admitting he did anything wrong. He said he was "sorry" moments before Judge Richard Bennett sentenced him to prison. But sorry for what?

Norris, hoping for a sentencing break, was purposely vague - and, since getting back in circulation, he's given interviews making it clear he still thinks the case against him was convoluted, and the charges unfair, and he's still maintaining he didn't do anything criminal.

Eddie, Eddie, give us a break.

You took money that a schoolboy would understand wasn't his to spend. And it's not just that the money was used to romance lady friends, because that's a matter between you and your wife. It's that you did this romancing, in the hours of greatest anxiety over the Sept. 11 attacks, while pretending you were at special anti-terrorist conferences, helping to protect the country.

"The fire hadn't even gone out in the towers of New York," Judge Bennett said. "If ever there was a time ... guys were needed. ... "

It's painful to revisit such a time in Norris' life, and nobody wants to. But you read Norris' twisted explanations for his trouble and wonder: Who does he think he's kidding? And you hear he's going on the radio, and wish him well, but wonder about his ability to speak truth to facts.

Then there's Larry Young. In the winter of 1998, he became the first person in 200 years to be expelled from Maryland's Senate because of ethics violations. The charges included using his office to enrich his private businesses. Young denied he'd done anything wrong. Then he stood trial for extortion and bribery, was acquitted, and thus declared vindication.

Larry, Larry, do you think nobody's paying attention?

Let the record show: There is a difference between criminal conviction and the murkier area of ethics violations. Young was one of the legislature's experts on health care. He also ran several corporations out of his Senate district office, some of which were paid thousands of dollars by health care companies that did business with the state. This was not a healthy arrangement - particularly when it turned out Young did not report this money to the General Assembly's ethics committee.

Also, one of his companies was awarded a $38,500 consulting contract from Coppin State College. But a legislative investigation found Young hadn't done any work for the money.

The other night, Young had a party that was billed as a celebration of his years as a radio talk show host. Here's the truth of it: If Young's old constituents want to vote him back into office, that's their privilege. Aside from his ethics problems, he showed he was a smart and insightful legislator. But voters might feel a lot better if he ever admitted the truth about his humiliating expulsion.

Then we have Rafael Palmeiro.

Suspended for steroid use after swearing to Congress that he was clean, Palmeiro sat out 10 days but was back yesterday. He goes on denying he's done anything wrong, now adding the word "intentionally."

Raffy, Raffy, what a sad story you are.

You're the guy of a million kids' dreams. You and Bobby Bonilla were the two Orioles who pushed Cal Ripken Jr. to make his ballpark victory tour the night he passed the ghost of Lou Gehrig. What a beautiful moment for everybody. And you're the guy surrounded by teammates as you stood at second base after your 3,000th hit.

Those glad moments ought to be your lasting images. Instead, we'll remember you shaking a finger at Congress - and, in fact, at all of us - and insisting you were clean. And continuing to stick by that story.

We're a forgiving people. Raffy wants to play ball again, as who wouldn't? Eddie wants to talk on the radio, and why not? Larry wants the political life, and that's OK, too. We just wish they'd come clean about the past before embarking on the future.

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