Attorney Tied To Arena Plans To Be Rawlings-blake's Staff Chief

February 03, 2010|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,julie.scharper@baltsun.com

An attorney who had been part of a development team that proposed plans for a new Baltimore arena has been named the chief of staff for incoming mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake.

Sophie Dagenais, 43, a public finance attorney with Ballard Spahr who serves on the boards of the nonprofit Live Baltimore and the Park Heights Renaissance group, will become chief of staff when Rawlings-Blake is sworn in on Thursday.

"She will have a fresh perspective. She's smart. She has a lot of energy, a lot of ideas," said Rawlings-Blake. "She's very active in the Baltimore community. She could live anywhere but she chose to put down roots in Baltimore."

Deputy Mayors Andrew B. Frank and Christopher Thomaskutty would remain in their present positions, spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said. He would not comment on whether Deputy Mayor Salima Marriott would remain.

In 2007, Dagenais was a principal of Pinnacle Properties & Development LLC, which teamed with AEG Worldwide, an international sports entertainment company, and Garfield Traub Development LLC to create plans for a large complex to replace the aged 1st Mariner Arena.

Several other teams drafted proposals, but the project has stalled, in part because of the recession.

Dagenais has remained legal counsel to the development group, a position she says she will immediately resign. She said she would recuse herself from any decisions related to the arena.

The incoming mayor's current chief of staff, Kimberly Washington, a childhood friend of Rawlings-Blake's with a long career in city government, will become deputy chief.

Rawlings-Blake, who takes office following Sheila Dixon's resignation as part of a plea in her criminal trial, declined to comment on other senior leadership decisions. But, she added, "I think its important to have continuity to the extent that there can be."

A native of Montreal, Dagenais first moved to Baltimore as a visiting student at the University of Maryland law school in 1987. After graduating from McGill University's law program, she returned to the city and in 1992 was part of a team that founded a local office of the Ballard Spahr firm.

From 2004 to 2008, she worked for a New York real estate investment firm, before returning to the Baltimore office of Ballard Spahr. She lives in Roland Park.

In her legal career, Dagenais has specialized in creating public-private partnerships, experience that she says she will draw on in her new role.

"I think it will be very important to work with the private sector in advancing some of the important issues in front of us," she said. The chief of staff is a "complex role" that she will "help to define," she said.

"My role is to help our new mayor to move the city forward," Dagenais said.

As a board member of Live Baltimore, a nonprofit group that promotes the city, Dagenais has been "open to new ideas" and a "voice of the underdog," said executive director Anna Custer.

"She really gets community development," Custer said. "She asks, 'How does this impact the neighborhoods? What are we doing with community associations?' "

Dagenais has done pro-bono legal work for Arabber Heritage Inc., a nonprofit charged with helping the traditional horse-drawn produce merchants find new stables.

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