Just the check, and no backtalk


September 25, 2005|By LAURA VOZZELLA

It's hard to buy Ed Norris dinner in this town.

Six months in the slammer would hardly kill a guy's appetite for fine dining, so that's not the problem.

Fresh from federal prison, his job options limited but his tragically hip palate intact, Norris is all champagne tastes, bread-and-water budget.

"I'm broke," Norris says with cheerful bravado when he accepts my recent invitation for an over-dinner interview.

Norris suggests a few restaurants, including Sotto Sopra, the chic Charles Street eatery whose Italian name roughly translates to "You spent HOW MUCH on duck ravioli?"

The place bills itself as "Intriguing. Innovative. Inspiring." Add, in Norris' case, "Incarcerating."

It was among the upscale eateries where Norris, as Baltimore's police chief, frittered away thousands from an account begun as a Depression-era charity fund.

So Sotto Sopra it is, and over salmon risotto and a couple of glasses of Chianti, Norris tells quite a story - one he has already worked up into an outline and hopes to turn into a book.

It's complicated - so much so that I'm going to wait and explain it in another column - but here's what it boils down to: Ed Norris says he was railroaded by the feds.

Whether or not it holds water, the story makes for above-average dinner theater. Norris is animated and upbeat even as he paints himself as victim, using the punchy Brooklyn delivery that has given him a budding second career as a local talk radio personality and an occasional role as a cop on HBO's The Wire.

The conversation is as "intriguing" as the food. So what's the catch? Why is it hard to buy Ed Norris dinner?

Because you have to stand in line.

At least that's true at Sotto Sopra, where owner Riccardo Bosio desperately wanted our $70 supper to be on the house.

I thanked Bosio but explained that The Sun doesn't allow employees to take free meals and that the paper was treating Norris anyway. Bosio insisted, saying he personally wanted to treat the man who helped knock down the city's homicide rate. I insisted, noting that this nice gesture would just save money for the newspaper, whose reporting on Norris' spending helped put him behind bars.

After that, Bosio relented - and told the waiter to charge me double.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ellipses

Del. Catherine E. Pugh will read from her self-published book of poetry, Mind Garden, at the Baltimore Book Festival today.

Here's a sample from "City Survival ... " (The ellipses, in the title and the poem, are the former City Councilwoman's).

"If we can build stadiums, arenas, and hotels that we need ...

Then we can build schools for the children that we feed ...

If we can reconstruct downtowns where people feel safe to come ...

Then we can reconfigure neighborhoods, safe for everyone ...

Cities must build homes with garages, grass and trees ...

Offering County-like attractions with all the amenities ...

All we need is the committed to come together and take a stand ...

Using our ingenuity to develop a future plan ...

It is time for a nationwide focused city revival ...

To engage us in neighborhood and city survival ... "

Maybe the elevator music will be "Kumbaya"

The town of Columbia, which was planned right down to its clustered mailboxes to encourage elbow-rubbing among rich and poor, black and white, Jew and gentile, could soon have a new symbol:

The private elevator.

Eighty of them, in one 22-story luxury condominium tower proposed for the Town Center lakefront.

Actually, it's not as exclusive as it sounds.

The elevators would be semi-private - one lift for every two condos in the 160-unit plan from Florida developer WCI Communities.

And who knows? Depending on how the elevator-mates get paired up, there could be all sorts of socio-economic encounters.

After all, the condos will start in the measly $500,000s and top out at more than $1 million.

With malice toward one

Mayor Martin O'Malley is a history buff. He's also a politician. So it was probably inevitable that he would get around someday to comparing himself to Abraham Lincoln.

He did it on WBAL-TV the other night when asked about violent crime and his string of police commissioners.

"The people of Baltimore, and their police department, have achieved the largest reduction of crime of any city in America," O'Malley said. "I've gone through fewer generals than Lincoln, and I've been at it longer."

That prompted the campaign staff for Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, O'Malley's likely rival in next year's Democratic primary for governor, to fire off a Letterman-like list:

"Top 10 Differences Between Lincoln and Mayor O'Malley."

They're not all knee-slappers. But here are a few:

9. None of Lincoln's generals went to prison.

4. Lincoln's idea of reconstruction did NOT include $305 million public dollars for a hotel.

3. Lincoln kept the Union together; O'Malley kept his band together.

2. Lincoln didn't change the target from "winning the war" to "reducing violent acts by the South."

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