Baltimore City Hall has been out front on this swine flu business, taking preventive measures and making official pronouncements even without any cases confirmed in the city.
Except when it comes to the Purell provided to City Council members this week. On that one, the city was 17 months behind the curve.
At a lunch meeting in City Hall on Monday, the Health Department provided the council with a flu briefing and 4-ounce bottles of the minty green gel, The Baltimore Sun's Annie Linskey reports. The expiration date stamped on the bottles was December 2007.
That's one way to wipe out political rivals: Arm them with dud sanitizer as a scary bug looms.
Sound like Machiavelli in the age of Purell? The council is, after all, trying to get its grubby paws on $40 million that Mayor Sheila Dixon wants to use to reduce city borrowing.
"I don't suspect anything sinister at play there," said Councilman Bill Cole. "I actually think the Health Department was trying to help us stay healthy."
Dixon spokesman Scott Peterson agreed to discuss the Purell gaffe so long as I promised to mention that he'd resorted to more drastic cleaning methods - showering at home in the middle of the workday Tuesday - because he'd been helping rebuild the Stadium Place playground, which burned in September.
"Make sure you mention I'm covered with mud," he said. He also wanted word out that volunteers are needed all week. ( www.stadiumplayground.org if you're willing.)
But back to the expired sanitizer, which Peterson sarcastically dubbed "Purellgate." He saw a silver lining in the bungled "nice gesture to the council."
"If it had to be expired to get your attention to publicize it to the public, to remind them of one of the best preventive measures, then so be it," he told me.
Besides, he said, who knew Purell expired?
The Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman I reached was at a loss to explain just how the passage of time affects Purell, but apparently it doesn't age like a first-growth Bordeaux.
The spokeswoman - who, oddly, would not be identified by name - was certain that buying new Purell would be best for council members (and, presumably, J&J).
"We would recommend that you go out and get another one," she said.
But does it work?
I rang up Dr. Andrew Pekosz, associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, to ask if Purell, expired or not, actually kills the flu virus.
There was some question about that on NPR's Diane Rehm Show last week, when Pekosz was one of the guests.
Pekosz said alcohol-based hand sanitizers do work against the flu virus, though hand-washing works better.
Before we got to that, when I first reach Pekosz by phone, he volunteered: "I'm having pork for lunch."
He went on to explain that the chop he'd just heated up wasn't risky eating because it was properly cooked, and influenza in swine is limited to the respiratory tract anyway.
"I'm setting an example," he said.
Ehrlich on the march
Watchers of Maryland parades and politics should take note: The grand marshal of this year's Arbutus Fourth of July parade will be none other than former Gov. Bob Ehrlich.
Should we read anything into that?
"He's been participating in the Arbutus parade for twenty years, so this is a favorite stop of his," Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said via e-mail. "He's looking forward to celebrating the holiday with hometown friends."
But has Ehrlich marched since he's been out of office? Fawell didn't respond to that question.
The guy in charge of the parade, George Kendrick, thinks this will be Ehrlich's first appearance since he lost the governor's race in 2006, though he wasn't sure.
But Kendrick said he sought out Ehrlich, not the other way around. And Kendrick said he did so only after two others, Betty Okonski of Southwest Emergency Services and retired Baltimore County District Judge John C. Coolahan, turned him down.
"I asked a number of people, and they didn't want to do it, and I said, 'Hell, I'll ask him,' " said Kendrick, who coached Ehrlich in sandlot football years ago. "I was looking, and he agreed to do it."
Gov. Martin O'Malley skipped all of the area Fourth of July parades last year. But perhaps, with the 2010 election looming, he'll want to march in Arbutus, too.
"I won't stop him," Kendrick said. "We got a lot of politicians. I don't keep 'em out. But I don't encourage them, either."
O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said it was too early to say what the current governor's parade schedule will be. "I'm sure the governor will be participating in a number of parades," he said.
Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer has been in Johns Hopkins Hospital since the weekend, according to two sources who said he was there for a procedure involving a pacemaker. Both sources said Schaefer was expected to return to the Charlestown retirement community Wednesday.