Ed Norris, unplugged, sits in a Timonium diner eating a cheeseburger and drinking coffee. He seems talked out, and it's only Monday. Norris looks like a middle-aged cop (with a really nice watch) who just wants to get home to Florida for the weekend to see his wife, watch their 6-year-old son play baseball ("Keep your glove up, Jack"), and maybe have a bourbon and play golf - but not at the same time. Live his life, in other words.
Friday is his getaway day. Norris goes home to Tampa, where his family lives while he works weekdays at his Baltimore radio job, The Ed Norris Show on WHFS-FM. The talk show had other people in the title when Norris came back to town last August, but he's the lone host now. "He's the MAN. Literally," says the station's Web site. "If you want real, honest talk about crime, politics, terrorism and the injustices of life, Ed is your man."
There are, of course, second acts in American lives.
Norris, Baltimore's former police commissioner, spent 180 days in prison after pleading guilty in 2004 to conspiring to misuse money from a Police Department discretionary fund. Federal prosecutors said Norris spent about $20,000 on personal expenses and on extramarital encounters with several women. Lingerie had been purchased with city money. "It's hard to argue that Victoria's Secret was police equipment," Norris' lawyer, David Irwin, told The St. Petersburg Times in 2005.
Norris, who had left the city to become superintendent of the Maryland State Police in 2002, also pleaded guilty to federal tax charges. His corruption case, to say the least, was a sensational story.
Today, Norris has another year and a half of probation and still does court-ordered community service. Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., weekdays, he works for Infinity Broadcasting, where he talks about sports (Ravens, anything Terps, NASCAR), consumer newsy stuff, people's love life stuff and the mother lode of stuff: current events - heavy on law and order and local politics.
Who does Ed Norris think he is - some former high-level dude who rubbed elbows with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and the mayor of Baltimore, his old boss Martin O'Malley? He was; he did. He was top cop. Murder rate down - Norris' stature up. Terrorism expert. Larger than life. Then came the proverbial fall from grace and power - long fall. Then came prison, home detention in Tampa, a gig on HBO's The Wire, and a shot at a talk show.
"Now it's Ed Norris, political kingmaker," said a Sun headline last month after gubernatorial candidate and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan joked it up with Norris on his show. Then, Ehrlich followed up with a 45-minute visit to the HFS studios.
After six months on the air, the 45-year-old Norris has found his chops - and maybe his old self.
After his show, Norris sat down with The Sun and talked for another two hours. "I got no place to go," he said. "I got no life here." But the man has found an audience.
You're planning to have a gubernatorial forum in the coming weeks to allow listeners to ask questions of the three candidates. Duncan and the governor have agreed to appear together on your show. What about Mayor O'Malley?
We invited him. We're hoping to have all the candidates on.
("We wish him well, but we're not doing the show," said Hari Sevugan, O'Malley's campaign communications director.)
You had a very public falling-out with the mayor. When was the last personal conversation you had with him?
When he sent my gift. When I left city service, I mean, he wasn't happy, but I couldn't take it anymore. He sent me a framed picture of U.S. Grant. You know, it was an inside joke. He always called me Grant when times went well, and when things weren't, he'd call me McClellan (the Union commander replaced by a displeased President Lincoln). So, he sent me a picture of Grant and wrote on the back a basic thank-you for all your services and the lives you saved.
I don't know exactly what happened, but we left on fairly friendly terms. Then, and I mean quickly thereafter, the conversation ceased.
Big news last week in local radio. WBAL canceled one of your competitors, Rush Limbaugh. Did you open a bottle of champagne?
We watched it with a lot of interest. It's good for us. It gets people talking. I saw on a radio Web site that WBAL offered to replace Rush with me.
Is that true?
No (laughter). Not yet, anyway.
We're going to jump around here. You're writing a book?
Yes. The problem is, I don't exactly know how to go forward with it. But I actually have a story to tell - unlike James Frey or whatever his name was.
Frankly, who really cares about another guy who gets railroaded by the federal government? It happens every day. But I think there is still an appetite for my story. Now is the perfect time, because people are very suspicious of government. There's a real feeling that it's a very frightening and vindictive period in our history. If you question the government, you're not an American.