Park that sign someplace else

2b

September 05, 2007|By LAURA VOZZELLA

A city firefighter who waves at cars for Keiffer Mitchell when he's off duty drove to work the other day with one of the mayoral candidate's Day-Glo orange signs mounted on his pickup truck.

An order came down from Deputy Chief Gregory Ward that the sign had to be covered up or removed while the pickup was parked at the Oldtown fire station, fire union officials said.

"Apparently there are some kind of guidelines for city employees and political action," said David Cox, vice president of Firefighters Local 734, which has endorsed Mitchell. "It basically says you couldn't hang signs on city buildings or on city property."

Cox and union President Rick Schluderberg note that the 4-by-8-foot Mitchell placard wasn't technically posted on city property. It was on a private car that happened to be parked on city property.

"It's a personal vehicle," Schluderberg said. "As far as I know, this still is America. You do have freedom of speech."

Union officials advised the firefighter - whose name they did not disclose - to comply with the order. But they are investigating whether the policy is legal or consistently enforced. The city seems to have turned a blind eye to bumper stickers - even orange ones, Cox said.

"I have a [Mitchell] bumper sticker on my car, and nothing's ever been said about the bumper sticker on my car," said Cox, who also parks at the Oldtown station. "They told me nothing would be said about the bumper stickers. But the sign was a bigger issue because more people could see it."

A spokesman for the department said he'd have to look into the matter but did not get back to me before deadline. An advocate for the city's position did turn up somewhere unexpected: the American Civil Liberties Union.

Though he usually comes down against restrictions on speech, David Rocah, staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, said that it is "surely constitutional" for the city to prohibit political signs on city property. "Otherwise, every incumbent would use city property to advertise their campaign," he said.

While he does not think that ban should extend to bumper stickers on municipal employees' private cars, Rocah thinks a huge sign is another matter.

"A reasonable passer-by might see the giant sign and not see it as an employee's personal speech, but see it as a giant sign advertising a political campaign on public property," he said.

Rocah said there's an easy solution: The firefighter should park his pickup on the street.

English major, music promoter and - oh, dear - journalist

Baltimore Examiner reporter Stephen Janis used to be in records, with his own independent label that he said specialized in "live go-go hip-hop kind of stuff."

"He has produced records for Jay Z, DJ Kool, Chill Rob G, Biz Markie, Doug E Fresh and John Waters (Cecil B. Demented), including the longest-running rap single in Billboard chart history (`Let Me Clear My Throat')," reads his official bio at the Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches courses on MP3 culture and digital promotion.

My pop music knowledge peaked in the Partridge Family era, so I turned to a younger, hipper colleague to find out if that's as impressive as it sounds.

"Jay Z is [BLEEPin'] top notch!" The Sun's Nicole Fuller informed me.

Janis, 43, insisted his music-biz achievements were "interspersed with years of inactivity and bitterness."

Even so, why give all that up for the considerably less glamorous world of daily journalism?

"The music business is up and down. You have your good years, and you have your really bad years," he said. "Honestly, the music business, with the MP3 revolution, was becoming extremely difficult. I was an English major in college, and I found journalism more suited to the lifestyle of someone a little older."

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