Baltimore's mayor is no line-jumper

November 05, 2008|By LAURA VOZZELLA | LAURA VOZZELLA,laura.vozzella@baltsun.com

Mayor Sheila Dixon had a long wait at her polling place yesterday, but not as long as it could have been.

At 10:45 a.m., Dixon arrived at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, The Baltimore Sun's Annie Linskey reports. The line snaked outside the building and halfway around the block, but a member of Dixon's staff, Antonio Hayes, had been there for an hour already holding a place for her in line. He said that he's held a place for her in the past, but she's declined to take the spot. This time, she took it. Even so, there were hundreds in front of the mayor. She waited. And waited, taking a call from her daughter.

When she got inside, she noticed that the line went to the end of the hallway and doubled back.

Around 11:30 Paulita Sheridan, a volunteer poll worker, offered to let the mayor cut in line. Dixon declined, quipping that such a move would merit a headline in The Baltimore Sun.

But the line slowed. And by 12:08 she hadn't moved forward much and had grown impatient looking at the scheduled events she was missing.

"I'm getting ready to take you up on that offer," she said when Sheridan walked by. Others in line behind her urged her forward, impressed that she'd waited so long.

So at 12:10 the mayor skipped to the head of the line, probably shaving 30 minutes off her wait, and voted.

Smell the coffee

"Vote Today!!" Cafe Bluehouse urged customers in an e-mail, "Then come by our Harbor East location, tell us you voted, and get 10% off of your coffee beverage at cafe bluehouse. Maryland has ten electoral votes, so that number just seemed to make sense."

Was that discount joe patriotic or illegal? The cafe staff thought the former. Then they heard a bit on NPR, which raised questions about similar offers from Starbucks and Ben and Jerry's.

That sent Bluehouse general manager Amy Laperle scrambling to look up Maryland election law. "You can't give incentive for people to vote," she learned. "We doubt we would get in trouble for that, but it's always good to keep on the right side of things."

So out went another e-mail.

"Sorry to bother you again, but OOPS! Apparently it's against the law for a business to encourage someone to vote - for anyone they like - with a promotion such as ours. Our revised offer is that anyone can just walk in off the street and ask for 10% off our coffee today for no reason, even if they have chosen not to do their patriotic duty and participate in our democracy."

'Five dollars a leaf'

Municipal leaf-sucking made a comeback this week.

So, unmitigated joy in the leafy neighborhoods that have griped since the O'Malley administration cut the service?

Not quite.

Seems some people weren't pleased because, well, most of the leaves are still on the trees. Picky! Picky! Picky!

The citizen journalist previously known as my husband shot video of a giant leaf-sucking truck crawling down our Southwest Baltimore street Monday morning, vacuuming in vain at nearly leafless pavement.

"Five dollars a leaf" was his unofficial cost estimate.

OK, one neighbor had managed to amass a good-sized pile, but she's an overachiever.

DPW spokesman Kurt Kocher said the leaf-sucking was planned quite a while ago, to give neighborhoods plenty of notice to move cars and rake leaves into the street.

Somebody should have given the trees a heads-up. For some reason, they held onto their foliage longer than usual this year, Kocher said.

"I always think of Halloween as the time when the leaves are pretty much gone around here," he said. "You can have a storm that would come through and really take them off. You can't predict. You have to schedule and say 'OK.' "

Kocher said the lack of leaves wasn't that unfortunate because DPW was mostly interested in testing out $421,000 in new leaf-sucking equipment, two vacuum trucks and five vacuums that attach to dump trucks. (Purchased before the recent economic downturn, he noted.)

Baltimore got rid of its leaf trucks several years ago to save money, over the objections of homeowners who thought it was a pain to stuff leaves in bags. Then the city, which uses the leaves for mulch, discovered it was a pain getting the leaves out of the bags.

Leaf-sucking is being tried out in 13 neighborhoods. In future years, the city might charge a fee for the service, which could offset the cost.

Let's hope the leaves come down before anybody ponies up.

See video of the city's leaf-sucking truck at baltimoresun.com/vozzella.

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