He's cold, he's hungry, he's determined

November 16, 2008|By LAURA VOZZELLA

Funding has dried up for the drug recovery program I Can't We Can. The group's offices are going unheated. And you know things are really dire when Anthony McCarthy starts denying himself food.

The WEAA radio host and I Can't We Can staffer launched a hunger strike Friday, declaring that he'd consume nothing but water until the public donates $50,000 to the program.

"You know, food is my favorite thing in the world," McCarthy said with a laugh. "I'm a big guy. I'm like a camel. I've stored up enough fat to get me through the next couple of weeks, but I'm hoping the public won't put that to the test."

McCarthy was a longtime aide to Sheila Dixon who, after leaving the mayor's office under less-than-optimal circumstances, worked for an AIDS organization known as HERO. The group announced this month that it is shutting its doors.

"I do have a habit of choosing organizations that are on the brink of financial tsunamis," said McCarthy, who became I Can't We Can's chief administrator three months ago. "But I'm not going to let that happen to I Can't We Can."

McCarthy said the whole city would suffer if the program isn't around to help addicts, "the people who would otherwise be breaking into cars and homes and committing horrible crimes to feed their addictions."

The 10-year-old organization serves about 150 people a day, providing them with food, shelter, drug treatment and mental health services, McCarthy said. Never flush, the group has fallen on especially hard times as the economy has tanked.

The organization doesn't even have the money to replace its rooftop heating and air-conditioning unit, which someone stole back in the summer, probably for scrap.

So the staff is cold. And hungry, in McCarthy's case.

"I don't have any money," McCarthy said. "But I do have the platform of my radio program, and I happen to have a pretty big body that I can put on the line."

The poinsettias are safe, for now

Remember last December when a bunch of suburbanites armed only with pointy-leafed holiday flowers went toe-to-toe with the nation's second-largest mall owner, which had dared to retire Columbia's poinsettia tree tradition?

There was a little - and needless to say, Howard-County civil - protest at The Mall in Columbia, and General Growth Properties just caved, promising to bring back the two-story floral display this year.

And no one saw GGP's meltdown coming? If the company couldn't stand up to a handful of Columbia "pioneers," no wonder it can't weather this economy.

Not that poinsettia fans find any joy in the company's demise - especially as GGP made good on its promise and started assembling the poinsettia tree in the mall last week.

If the mall winds up getting sold, the poinsettia battle might have to be waged again. Said Claire Lea, who helped organize last year's protest: "Let's hope we don't have to."

The honor of lobbyists impugned

Bruce Bereano trekked to Frederick a few weeks back to take up for "the poor plastic bag." He wound up having to defend something else: lobbyists.

Bereano was among lobbyists at a public hearing on the county commissioners' legislative package, which, among other things, urges the General Assembly to ban plastic bags.

"There is absolutely nothing wrong with the poor plastic bag," the Frederick News-Post quoted Bereano saying on behalf of client Safeway. "Why it's been picked on all over the place, I don't know."

Soon, however, it was Bereano who felt picked on. County Commissioner Lennie Thompson questioned the honesty of lobbyists.

In an interview with me later, Thompson recalled saying something along the lines of: "This gentleman is a lobbyist. He's paid to represent the needs of his client. Of course he's going to say things that probably aren't true."

Bereano dashed off a letter to the News-Post, calling Thompson "outrageously disrespectful, rude and imbalanced." Imbalanced in a fairness sort of way, though Bereano wound up his missive by suggesting that Thompson "should seek some help."

"Lobbyists can be good citizens," Bereano told me later. "They really can. Pay taxes and contribute to the betterment of society. And pay taxes I do."

The newspaper ran the letter last week. Thompson said he didn't mind a bit. "Whenever I can be criticized by a lobbyist who's a convicted felon, please put that above the fold," Thompson said.

A low blow, given that the mail-fraud conviction Thompson referenced goes back 14 years, Bereano said. "He's not a good Christian," said the lobbyist.

Said Thompson: "I'm a lawyer. I've been called worse."

See the culture; get the business

The Bob Ehrlichs, Junior and Senior, are in South Korea on a weeklong cultural- and business-affairs mission.

South Korean Ambassador Lee Tae-sik had met the governor when he was in office and invited him to join a mission of that sort sometime. The invitation was extended to Senior when the ambassador learned he was a Korean War vet.

Let's hope Junior, who often gripes about Maryland's business climate under Martin O'Malley, keeps that under his hat while courting Korean business.

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