Where there's smoke, there's Bereano

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February 04, 2007|By LAURA VOZZELLA

City Councilman Bobby Curran is an ex-smoker on a mission, one who says he's up against "front groups for the tobacco industry" as he tries to get smoking banned from Baltimore restaurants and bars.

Curran doesn't offer any proof. But the Smoke Free Maryland Coalition claims to have the smoking gun - in the form of a 14-year-old letter from tobacco lobbyist Bruce Bereano.

Yes, it's dated. But it still makes good reading, which is why the coalition posts it on its Web site, under the heading, "Secret Documents."

Back when the letter was written, the Restaurant Association of Maryland had just come out in favor of a statewide ban. Bereano let the group know he was none too pleased.

"I thought we were working closely together, in concert and coordination," Bereano wrote on Feb. 23, 1993. "My client [The Tobacco Institute] and I and the tobacco companies certainly have been totally responsive to you and your organization and not just financially."

Bereano signed off with, "Thanks for nothing" - and cc'd officials at Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds.

Asked about the letter last week, Bereano said: "If the best they can do is come up with a 14-year-old letter, they need to regroup."

Still a tobacco lobbyist, Bereano said the alliance between restaurants and tobacco is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, he proudly noted that after receiving his letter, the restaurant association did a 180 on smoking bans.

"I educated them," Bereano said. "I guilted them out of their morass. They can see clearly and they're fine, they're fine."

Is he still working closely with the restaurant association?

"Very closely," Bereano said. "Very, very closely."

Don't got 'em, don't smoke 'em

Melvin Thompson, vice president of the restaurant association, has a different take on the group's ties to tobacco.

"We've never worked closely with the tobacco industry," he said.

The association and tobacco are both opposed to smoking bans, Thompson said, but for different reasons. He said tobacco wants to sell more cigarettes. Restaurateurs, he said, simply want to accommodate their smoking customers.

"We have totally different interests," he said. "I think that proves we're not working together on this.

"If the sale of cigarettes were banned, we wouldn't have a problem with that," he added. "I don't think Bruce's clients would say that."

Somebody give the man a job

City Councilman Keiffer Mitchell has had no shortage of job offers since the mayoral candidate was forced to take an unpaid leave of absence from his job at Harbor Bank.

The offers came from: Baltimore County Councilman Joe Bartenfelder, who was looking for a farmhand; a guy who wanted Mitchell to work at his gas station in Dundalk; and a cabby who called out to the councilman at the corner of Baltimore and Charles.

"He rolled down the window and said, `I'll offer you a job to ride around in my cab and be, like, a tour guide for my customers,'" Mitchell said. "He said he would split the fares with me."

Somebody from East Baltimore also left this voice mail: "I just want to let you know I'm offering a business proposition. However, you'll have to meet me. I won't leave a number. I'll find you."

Mitchell hasn't heard back from that guy. And needless to say, he's still looking for work.

Would-be losers welcome

Amy Hildreth lost weight and found love on The Biggest Loser. Now she and the boyfriend she met on the weight-loss reality show are creating their own fitness farm right here in Baltimore.

Hildreth and Marty Wolff, a contestant from Missouri who moved to Baltimore after meeting Hildreth on the show, are offering a 12-week program, with personal training and nutrition counseling at the Merritt Athletic Club in Canton.

It begins Feb. 12 and will be modeled on the show, though those pesky intellectual property types at NBC won't let them call it "Biggest Loser Baltimore."

They're calling it: Merritt's Weight Loss Challenge with Amy and Marty from The Biggest Loser Show.

There's an ICC, and it's in Indiana

The Indiana Senate Transportation Committee voted to approve legislation that would pave the way for the construction of the Indiana Commerce Connector. Gov. Mitch Daniels is proposing to entrust the construction and operation of the 75-mile highway around Indianapolis to a private tollway concession, without using public funds. So the state that stole the Colts is laying claim to the ICC before Maryland can even build it.

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