Baltimore, BELIEVE, or not

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May 18, 2008|By LAURA VOZZELLA

Sometimes a pillar is just a pillar. And sometimes it's the death knell for a municipal slogan.

On the corner of Lombard and Central, at one end of Baltimore's Corned Beef Row, Martin O'Malley's black-and-white BELIEVE motto has gone out in a blaze of beige.

There are two big pillars at that intersection, put up years ago to create a gateway to a district then teeming with Jewish delis, butchers and bakeries.

One, standing on the Lenny's Deli parking lot, says - surprise, surprise - "Lenny's Deli." The other, on an empty lot on the other side of Lombard, used to read, "Corned Beef Row."

But when O'Malley was mayor, the city repainted that pillar to promote his BELIEVE campaign. With the BELIEVE paint wearing off, the city recently gave it yet another makeover, this time in solid beige.

"They just wanted something neutral because the mayor's no longer the mayor anymore," said city Department of Transportation spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes. "This mayor is into 'Cleaner, Greener, Healthier.' Our theme has changed."

No shocker, really, that Sheila Dixon would want a motto of her own. But the prospect of ditching BELIEVE seemed like a political hot potato when Dixon became mayor in January 2007, as her Partner in Progress became governor.

Dixon's transition committee called for "phasing out the 'Believe' campaign,'" as The Sun's John Fritze reported at the time. But Dixon aides told Fritze back then that she was only considering the recommendation, one of nearly 250 from the committee.

Now the administration seems comfortably in dis-BELIEVE mode.

"We haven't put up any BELIEVE stuff in more than a year," said spokesman Sterling Clifford.

Not that they're ripping down every BELIEVE banner in town.

"It's just not investing anything new in it," he said. "It's been that way since last January."

He did add: "I think the mayor's truck still has a BELIEVE sticker on it." There ought to be a law - oh wait, there is

American Idol mystery solved.

Marylanders were barred from entering the American Idol songwriter contest because of a measly $10 entry fee - and, according to the attorney general's office, a misinterpretation of Maryland law.

A Maryland consumer-protection law prohibits "prizes conditioned on purchases." But there's an exception in the law for "games of skill" (not to mention lottery tickets).

The AG's office looked into the matter after several would-be contestants appealed to O'Malley, as both governor and songwriter. (One of them was Jonathan Jensen, a songwriter and musician who's played bass and piano with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for 24 years.)

While American Idol is under no legal obligation to open the contest to residents of all states, the AG's office has persuaded its attorneys to take a closer look at the law next time.

'Mr. Environment' has left the building

For years, Terry Harris devoted himself to Maryland's environmental movement. He headed the statewide Citizens Campaign for the Environment. Served on the Maryland League of Conservation Voters board. Ran the Baltimore City League of Environmental Voters.

He's "taken on toxic polluters in South Baltimore, state agencies that have refused to crack down on Bethlehem Steel's emissions of metals into the bay, city bureaucrats who failed to explain to residents the hazards of a garage full of wastes in their neighborhood, and landfill and soil-recycling-plant owners whose properties helped trash the communities around them, among many other worthy causes," said the City Paper in 2000, when it crowned him Best Environmentalist.

But now?

Outta here. Gone-zo. Good luck with that, babe.

Harris has left Baltimore for greener pastures: Spokane, Wash.

His former comrades in the Maryland environmental movement wish him well.

They'd also like to zing him for "skipping town," as one of them put it.

"The thing that really irks me is he left before we could give him a send off depriving us a good excuse to drink beer," Dru Schmidt- Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, said via e-mail.

Harris was driving his green Honda Civic across the country to his new home, so I couldn't ask him if he's given up on Maryland or just moving west for other reasons. (His ex-colleagues said he didn't have a job lined up.)

Maybe he'll find work with a nice logging company out there.

Mayor, governor, comptroller, TV star

Maryland Public Television is producing what it hopes will be the "definitive" William Donald Schaefer biography. Among those participating: George H.W. Bush.

The former president recently gave an interview in Houston. Schaefer took all kinds of Democratic heat for endorsing Bush over Bill Clinton in 1992.

"I think it's a fantastic story to tell," said Mike Golden, a former Schaefer aide who is a spokesman for MPT.

"The man was in public office for 50 years and came to define a lot of what we see today in Baltimore and Maryland."

Golden, who joined the station after Schaefer's 2006 defeat, said people at MPT approached him with the idea for the film.

Golden has helped organize fundraising for the project - they've raised $30,000 and could use another $20,000 - but is otherwise butting out so that it's an "editorially pure production."

"It's not going to be a puff piece," Golden said, noting that the filmmakers are talking to Schaefer's "supporters as well as detractors."

It'll be a warts-and-all gift to Schaefer if it airs as planned on Nov. 2, his 87th birthday.

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