Team Ehrlich a surprising slots ally

March 25, 2009|By LAURA VOZZELLA

The Cordish Cos. has picked a surprising ally in its bid to put slots at Arundel Mills mall: Team Ehrlich.

Bob Ehrlich pushed hard for slots while governor but sharply criticized how Martin O'Malley pulled it off. Yet to help make his case for slots in Anne Arundel, Cordish has tapped Ehrlich communications guru Paul Schurick and others at Womble Carlyle.

"We are helping the Cordish Company with its plan to develop the slots facility near the Arundel Mills Mall," Schurick wrote in an e-mail obtained by The Baltimore Sun's Gadi Dechter. "Specifically, we've been asked to identify and build community support for the plan and for the zoning legislation pending before the Anne Arundel County Council."

Finally, Womble Carlyle has a client other than governor-in-waiting Ehrlich!

"We don't discuss our client relationships with anyone other than our clients," Schurick said.

But Jon Cordish confirmed that Schurick "and his Womble communications team" had been hired to help with community relations - and not lobbying, he noted.

What about Ehrlich's vocal opposition to O'Malley's slots plan?

Ehrlich himself is not involved, Cordish said.

"That's the nebulous world of public relations and lobbying," said County Councilman Jamie Benoit, a vocal slots opponent. "I guess, congratulations to Womble Carlyle. They got a good client."

Nonprofit newspapers - in a good way

Ben Cardin and some mysterious cohorts envision a nonprofit future for newspapers. Nonprofit in a good way.

Maryland's junior senator introduced a bill Tuesday that would allow newspapers to operate along the lines of public TV and radio. Advertising and subscription revenue would be tax-exempt. And readers could make tax-deductible contributions to support coverage.

Such contributions might raise some thorny conflict-of-interest issues. Imagine: "Baltimore City Hall coverage is brought to you by Doracon and contributors like you."

But with newspapers across the country in trouble, Cardin said it is time for some re-invention.

"This legislation is really an effort to save community newspapers," he said in a phone interview from Washington. "I think the old model just doesn't work today for a lot of these papers."

Noting that the Baltimore Examiner recently closed and that The Baltimore Sun's parent company is in bankruptcy court, Cardin said, "We are in danger of losing local focus on news."

The Newspaper Revitalization Act would allow individual papers serving communities to claim 501(c)(3) status because of their educational mission.

Like other nonprofits, newspapers that elect to go that route would not be allowed to make political endorsements. "You can cover elections, you just can't endorse," he said.

Cardin said he came up with the nonprofit idea after talking with people who share his concern about the fate of newspapers.

"There have been different groups in different communities that have tried to look for alternative ways to keep papers afloat that I've talked to," he said.

He wasn't naming names, however. All he'd say was: "I've had conversations with different people in different cities."

I asked Ted Venetoulis, the former Baltimore County exec who leads a group interested in buying The Sun, if he'd put Cardin up to it. He wouldn't say.

"There has been a discussion across the country, and we certainly have participated in that discussion," he said.

'Citizen Schaefer' - moving vans and all

MPT promised a "warts and all" biography of William Donald Schaefer. So the "walk again" episode made the cut. So did a snippet with former Gov. Parris Glendening saying Schaefer is "not a forgiving person."

But the part that really made the Schaefer-friendly crowd recoil the other night during a private screening of Citizen Schaefer? Old TV news footage of the Mayflower moving vans sneaking the Colts out of town. People actually hissed.

Most of the documentary, which airs March 30 on MPT, shows the former mayor, governor and comptroller in his seal-pool-diving, harbor-transforming glory. It seemed to go over well with the 200 people gathered at the Charlestown retirement community auditorium, including Schaefer, who entered the room in a wheelchair but stood to take a regular seat.

"You all can go home now," he joked when he arrived. "I have no idea what we're doing here."

Among those in the audience: Former Gov. Marvin Mandel, state schools chief Nancy Grasmick, former Maryland House Speaker Cas Taylor, lobbyist Bruce Bereano, longtime Schaefer aides Mike Golden and Lainy LeBow-Sachs, MPT President and CEO Robert Shuman, patron of the arts Clarisse Mechanic and former Sun editorial cartoonist Kevin Kallaugher.

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