Poinsettias on the march!

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December 09, 2007|By LAURA VOZZELLA

In a town born just before The Brady Bunch and burdened with Mike Brady-esque split-levels, people hold fast to what traditions and beauty can be had. Which is why some Columbia "pioneers" will arm themselves with poinsettias at high noon today and march on The Mall in Columbia.

The shopping center has a new Christmas display this year. Instead of the two-story poinsettia tree that has heralded the season for 30 years, it's "Santastic" - an elaborate Christmas "experience" with hands-on activities, poufs of fake snow and corporate sponsors. (Please note: Santa's house is brought to you by Long & Foster's Creig Northrop.)

"We really feel that we are trying to evolve and keep things fresh," said Karen Geary, the mall's senior general manager. "We want to bring new merchants to the center. We want to bring new experiences for shoppers."

In any other community, a mall's decision to retire an old holiday display might not make much of a ripple. In Columbia, it is cause for protest, letters to the local paper and even a community forum. At a local history slide show planned for Tuesday, Columbia Archives manager Barbara Kellner will discuss "Columbia's agrarian past, horse racing and the former Poinsettia Tree tradition at the Mall in Columbia."

That the mall gave Habitat for Humanity the money it would have spent on 685 fresh poinsettias - Geary would not specify the amount - seems to have assuaged no one. The poinsettia tree lobby doesn't give a hoot that the 20-foot-high steel structure that supported the plants will live on in a Symphony of Lights display.

"Columbians react to things that I think other people don't react to, and maybe that's because of the way we were formed," Kellner said. "From the beginning, it was important to the plan that people had a voice ... to know our neighbors and get involved."

Which is why Claire Lea, who moved to town in August 1968 and helped start the still-going Longfellow Fourth of July parade three years later, will lead a very different march at the mall today.

"Part of it is, we're a really young community with relatively few shared memories," said Lea, 68. "The poinsettia tree is one of those memories. I took my children there when they were young. I've taken my grandchildren there."

Geary allowed that "change is not easy. ... Long-standing traditions are fabulous." But if the mall is going to keep things exciting, she said, "you have to change."

Scenes we'd prefer not to visualize

If only the locker room walls at the Downtown Athletic Club could talk, what with all the Baltimore pols who work out there. Like a stinky sock discovered at the bottom of a gym bag, some of that locker room gossip got a belated airing last week, at the last meeting of the 69th City Council.

As the televised meeting turned into something of a roast, departing Councilman Keiffer Mitchell recalled a heated locker room argument between then-Mayor Martin O'Malley and Councilman Nick D'Adamo.

"Mayor O'Malley was ripped, with all his muscles and biceps and everything like that, with no shirt on," Mitchell said. "He's standing in his boxers. And Nick, with a towel that barely fit around him, his belly hanging all the way over. And they were nose to nose, arguing with each other. And I thought, `Here's the mayor and a council person and the city's in great hands.'"

Put down that chair; put up your hands

Another tale told out of school at the council meeting/roast: Councilman D'Adamo recalled attending the last game at Memorial Stadium and looking on as Mitchell kicked two seats loose and tried to take them out of the doomed stadium as souvenirs.

"Two cops grab him, throw him against the wall," D'Adamo said. "I said, `He's a councilman.'"

The cops were either unconvinced or unimpressed. But they stood by as D'Adamo made off with the seats.

D'Adamo stashed them in the basement of his family business, the Shocket's bargain emporium in Highlandtown. Only six years later, with the store closing and his wife threatening to throw the seats in the trash, did D'Adamo give them back to his council colleague.

"I'm amazed he didn't send you a bill for rent at Shocket's," said Councilwoman Rikki Spector.

D'Adamo shot back with a reference to Spector's home-away-from-district: "HarborView's picking up the bill."

Make a note of it: Hate's not good

In case you weren't sure of Congressman Elijah Cummings' stance on the issue of the day, his office sent out a press release.

"Today, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) released the following statement in response to the House passing H.Res.826, recognizing the noose as a symbol of oppression, hate, and intimidation," it began. "`As a fifty-six-year-old African American man and the grandson of a former slave, I have learned through personal experience more about the devastating impact of racial hatred than anyone should ever learn.'"

The release went on from there - on and on, for three more paragraphs. No mention of what Cummings thinks of the kind of noose that popped up in Baltimore recently. (A black firefighter left one in an East Baltimore station house to stage a fake hate crime.)

Then again, I guess that could also qualify as an act of "oppression, hate, and intimidation."

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