Fells Point gains one more night owl

November 19, 2008|By LAURA VOZZELLA

Andres Alonso is busy fixing Baltimore schools. Don't expect him to prop up the city's ailing real estate market, too, even though he just bought a house in Fells Point.

"I don't think I paid top dollar for it," the schools chief said. "I took full advantage of the real estate market."

Alonso, who came to town in the summer of 2007, has been renting in Otterbein. He's not saying what he paid for his new digs. (And don't look at me; the price isn't in public records yet, since he just closed Monday.)

"I'm going to be here a while, so I might as well not rent," he said.

Alonso described the place as a "very modest" three-story, two-bedroom, "older" rowhouse. (He actually said "townhouse." He'll get the lingo down eventually. Maybe he'll even sit out on his front steps - not stoop.)

"I've been looking sort of on and off for the last year and getting to know the city, and this was just a good buy that came to me and it's in a very central place and I don't have to do much to it," he said.

The main selling point was the Fells Point night life, and not because the superintendent plans to go bar-hopping with Michael Phelps. The bachelor schools chief wants to be able to grab a bite to eat after a 15-hour day.

"I'm not making a fashion or Good Housekeeping statement here," he said. "I need to live in a place - I get home so late sometimes - I can go and get something and not worry about what's open and what's not open. ... And I like urban living. I've lived in cities all my life. I like the idea of a neighborhood that has long hours, not because I want to go to bars, but I like that sense of life outside my door."

The mayor knows the kids

Sheila Dixon sat down Monday with journalism students from Walbrook High School. One of them, Shikia Wilhite of the school's Homeland Security Academy, was telling the mayor what she and her classmates knew about journalism: "How to tell a great story. How not to write anything false."

"Huh!" Dixon broke in. "Say that again, because we have a reporter here, and not one of my favorites, who writes a lot of false stuff."

There were two reporters in the room: a guy from Fox TV and, um, yours truly. Dixon did not specify which one she meant, but I suspect I've made one too many cracks about the mayoral mink.

This is going to be one looong assignment, I thought. But Dixon quickly shifted from scolding the news media to scolding the students - in a good, schoolmarmish way.

Even if I hadn't just been rescued from the hot seat, I'd say the schoolmarm shined.

Teaching was Dixon's first calling - she led a kindergarten class long before she led a city - and it showed as she chatted with the students, who'd been invited to have lunch with the mayor in City Hall as part of American Education Week.

Dixon quizzed them about their plans for after high school. Had they taken their SATs? How'd they do? Are their college applications in yet?

She encouraged them and, with a well-received edge, challenged them.

One student said she wound up at Walbrook after getting kicked out of another school. Dixon asked why she'd been expelled, and when the girl professed to having no idea, the mayor responded by rolling her eyes.

"Is that a tattoo?" Dixon asked the student. "And why do you have it there? Later on, you're going to wish you didn't have it. Later on, you're going to be in a professional environment."

The kids had been treated to pizza and salad. The latter went untouched.

"You should have given them the salad first," Dixon said to her staff.

One student complained that that the school nurse's office at Walbrook is so understaffed that kids can't get their physicals to play winter sports.

"If you have medical coverage, your family should get you a physical," Dixon said. "People want government to solve everything."

Another student complained that dropouts who've recently re-enrolled in school have brought their gangbanger ways with them, disrupting the campus. Again, Dixon preached self-reliance.

"Ya'll need to call them out," she said. "Students also have to pull them up. If 100 of you gang up on five and said, 'We're trying to learn. How can we help you out?' "

Dixon assured the group that there are many opportunities for them, but that they'd have to work for them.

"You want things instantly," she said. "Microwaves should have never been created. You want it instantly."

'She's playing catch-up'

Mayor Dixon is going to hit a tennis ball later this week. No reason for her to sweat that.

A karate black belt who works out five days a week, Dixon biked 10 miles with a group just last Friday - and smoked one of her companions, Demaune Millard, her chief of staff, who's 20 years her junior.

But when Dixon takes racquet to ball, she'll do so in some pretty daunting company: Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva. The mayor is not actually going to play against the tennis stars. But she will hit a ceremonial ball to them at 1st Mariner Arena on Friday, when Williams and Dementieva will play in the PNC Tennis Classic.

No pressure! Only some tennis greats and an arena full of onlookers will see if she flubs the moment.

So a tennis refresher course was in order.

David Owens, head tennis coach at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, gave it to Dixon yesterday.

"She's playing catch-up," said spokesman Ian Brennan. "She hasn't played tennis in a while."

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