Cordish backs Della foe

Developer tied to bulk of Senate candidate's cash

October 08, 2006|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,Sun reporter

A political novice trying to unseat a longtime state senator representing Baltimore's booming waterfront neighborhoods has received the bulk of his campaign cash from companies linked to prominent city developer David S. Cordish.

In a single day in August, Republican Keith Losoya, a challenger to Democratic Sen. George W. Della Jr., received $28,000 from members of Cordish's family and corporate entities linked to his business.

The contributions - $2,000 each from two of Cordish's sons and a dozen limited liability corporations with mailing addresses at Cordish's downtown offices - represent about 80 percent of total contributions to Losoya's campaign during the most recent filing period, and about 60 percent of his cash on hand, according to State Board of Elections members.

Losoya, the former president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association, is seeking to represent Baltimore's 46th District, which includes most of the city's prime waterfront real estate, as well as Power Plant Live, an entertainment venue that Cordish created and his family controls.

The district is also home to about 600 bars and restaurants, all of which are monitored by the city liquor board, a state agency over which city senators hold significant sway. The liquor board fined Power Plant Live this year for allowing underage patrons to consume alcohol at two bars, one of which was subsequently shut down.

It is this nexus of development opportunity and the liquor board that has state Democrats wondering if there isn't more to the Cordish contributions than - as Losoya has described them - a helpful boost to a political neophyte running in a largely Democratic district against an incumbent who has been in office since 1983, and whose family has controlled politics in South Baltimore since the Depression. Della's father was a state senator from 1938 to 1961 and was Senate president for a decade.

The contributions to Losoya are legal - state law counts corporations as separate entities even if they have the same mailing address - but still confound Democrats.

Members of the Cordish family have given money to a number of Republican and Democratic candidates in recent months, but contributions to Losoya top all others, according to state election records.

"Maybe they want change and they want to do whatever they can to support a challenger," said Losoya, 39, who stepped down from his position as president of the Federal Hill neighborhood group in May, several months after he decided to run for public office. He is also executive director of Chesapeake Sustainable Business Alliance, a group that encourages environmentally and socially responsible business practices.

Losoya said he knows Reed Cordish, one of David Cordish's sons, because the younger Cordish also lives in Federal Hill. Losoya said he believes that he and David Cordish - who are members of Mayor Martin O'Malley's Inner Harbor Advisory Committee - share political and business views.

Attempts to reach Reed Cordish, who works with his father and often serves as a spokesman on Power Plant Live and liquor board issues, were unsuccessful.

"Maybe it's ideological, maybe it's business," said Losoya. "But there are no strings attached. They just came out strong with support."

Democrats, however, are less certain.

"I haven't seen this kind of campaign finance influence for a race like this before," said David Paulson, communications director for the Maryland Democratic Party, referring to the Cordish contributions. "It's very unusual to build almost your entire campaign on the foundation of one special-interest group."

The donations raise Losoya's campaign treasury to a level close to Della's. State records show that the challenger had $47,776 in cash as of Sept. 1, just slightly less than Della's $50,840.

Democrats speculate that the Cordishes are looking for a senator who would work for them on issues before the liquor board. Another theory is that the family is sending a message to Della - who introduced a bill this year that could have caused problems for Power Plant Live - or anyone else who crosses them.

After the liquor board fined Power Plant Live $800 in March, Reed Cordish said he would back legislation that would make it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to enter a Baltimore bar.

Della introduced a bill along those lines, but it applied only to venues with arena licenses, which allow several bars and restaurants to sell liquor under one license. Power Plant Live is one of five venues in Baltimore with such a license. The others are the city's convention center, two sports stadiums and the now-closed Hammerjack's nightclub.

When the legislation went to the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee for its first hearing, representatives of Power Plant Live and David Cordish's wife testified that the bill was unnecessary because they had already banned "college night" events that attracted underage patrons.

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