Flower Power triumphs again, civilly


December 14, 2007|By LAURA VOZZELLA

Another civic crisis averted in Columbia: Starting next year, the poinsettia tree will be back at the mall.

A couple hundred fans of the two-story holiday display made good on (polite) threats reported in my Sunday column and marched, poinsettias in hand, on The Mall in Columbia.

Yesterday, General Growth Properties issued this statement: "After witnessing the show of support for the tree from the Columbia community, GGP has decided to bring the holiday symbol back to the center."

Yes, that General Growth Properties, "the second largest U.S.-based publicly traded real estate investment trust based upon market capitalization," according to the small type on the bottom of the news release announcing that the company had caved. The General Growth Properties that owns or manages 200 malls in 45 states, not to mention Brazil and Turkey. The one that thought it was buying some shopping centers a few years back when it acquired the Rouse Co. and now finds it bought a dream.

It's a dream premised on an earnest, (hyper)active citizenry. Columbians expect to have equal say in the community pool hours and a private shopping center's holiday frippery.

To get the latter, all it took was a quiet demonstration. (Well, that and an article in The Columbia Flier, a bunch of letters to that paper, plus a column in this space and The Washington Post.)

Even a sedate protest will draw the attention of mall security. Guards asked demonstrators not to congregate in a way that would impede shoppers and told them to put away their cameras, according to protest organizer Claire Lea.

"Apparently it's against mall policy to take photographs," Lea said. "Apparently people were taking photographs."

"It was very civil," she added - superfluously, since it was Howard County, after all.

After the demonstration, mall officials even offered to take the protest plants over to Howard County General Hospital to spread some holiday cheer. And mall manager Karen Geary invited the three women who planned the demonstration to meet with her Monday.

"I think everybody is very surprised and happy and pleased," Lea said. "I feel like Jim Rouse has been on my shoulder."

Formerly withdrawn, now newly deposited

Harbor Bank chief executive Joseph Haskins conceded last January that he bent to political pressure and placed Keiffer Mitchell on unpaid leave from his day job at the bank because the councilman was running for mayor.

Haskins said at the time that he was getting lots of calls from people - he wouldn't say who - concerned that Mitchell might be able to peer into his rivals' campaign accounts. Haskins said those fears were unfounded, but he put the business development officer on leave anyway because the complaints were a "distraction" for the bank.

Having lost the election, Mitchell has gone back to banking. But not - surprise, surprise - at Harbor.

Wachovia Corp. announced this week that Mitchell had been named a small business banker, focusing on downtown companies with sales of $1 million to $3 million. He started Monday.

Did Mitchell even consider returning to Harbor? He laughed.

"I'm not going to say. Wachovia is a great bank. ... The first call I received about employment was from Wachovia Bank, a week after the election."

He said he never heard from Harbor.

Outgoing - get it? Just not yet gone

Sometimes governors comment, sometimes not. But when it's no comment, they usually don't issue a news release trumpeting their silence.

That is, unless it offers The Gov the chance to lob a political zinger like "outgoing" not once, but twice.

"Governor Martin O'Malley's Communications Director, Steve Kearney, released the following statement today in reaction to the Maryland's outgoing State Board of Education vote," said a Tuesday release. "We have no comment on the action of the outgoing school board. The Governor will announce three new board members tomorrow."

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