Rawlings-Blake donates Orioles skybox tickets to 27 nonprofits, schools

Mayor's daughter's school on list

Common Cause calls for formal policy

  • Exterior sign of Baltimore City Stephanie Rawlings-Blake Mayor's skybox at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Exterior sign of Baltimore City Stephanie Rawlings-Blake… (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
May 26, 2012|By Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has donated use of her office's skybox at Oriole Park at Camden Yards to 27 nonprofit or charitable organizations this year, including her daughter's school, according to a list provided by the mayor's office.

The Parent Teacher Organization at Mount Washington Elementary/Middle School auctioned off tickets to the box this month, raising $1,000 as part of the group's "Swing Into Spring" event, officials said.

Mayoral spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said that Rawlings-Blake routinely makes the skybox available to nonprofit organizations and that any nonprofit is free to request its use for fundraising purposes.

"This year, as in years past, the organizations contact the Mayor's office to make the requests which are handled as they are received," he wrote in an email. "Any Baltimore area charitable or nonprofit organization may contact the Mayor's Office and make a request at any time."

But government watchdog group Common Cause said the mayor should institute a formal policy to avoid any appearance of favoritism.

"It really should be the people's skybox," said James Browning, the regional director for Common Cause. "There should be a formal application process, so people can be confident that there is no favoritism." He called the box a "valuable asset" that could help a struggling charity.

O'Doherty said six schools have been granted access to the box for fundraising purposes this year. They are Mount Washington Elementary/Middle School, where Rawlings-Blake's daughter attends; Federal Hill Preparatory School, where O'Doherty's son attends; Grace and Saint Peter's school, an Episcopal school in Mount Vernon that the mayor attended; and three all-girls Catholic schools — Catholic High School, Mercy High School, and the Institute of Notre Dame.

Mayoral spokesman Ian Brennan said O'Doherty was not aware of the request for tickets for Federal Hill Preparatory School.

At Mount Washington, neither the PTO president nor the school principal responded to requests for comment.

This year, the mayor's office also donated use of the baseball skybox to Center Stage for an auction co-sponsored by The Baltimore Sun and to the Kennedy Krieger Institute, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Mercy Medical Center, Village Learning Place and the American Heart Association, among other groups.

In contrast, Rawlings-Blake's guests in the city's skybox for last season's eight Ravens home games typically included a small circle of city employees, business leaders, campaign donors, and family members, The Baltimore Sun reported in February. The Orioles have an 81-game home season.

"When a request comes in, and tickets are available, they are provided in the order they are received," O'Doherty said of the Orioles tickets.

Sonia Socha, executive director of the South Baltimore Learning Center, which promotes adult literacy, said Rawlings-Blake attended the organization's fundraiser in March — in which the group raised $5,000 by auctioning off the skybox tickets.

"This was a big year for us," said Socha. "The mayor spoke about how important adult literacy is for her. It made people more inclined to spend."

Socha said she's been requesting city skybox tickets for fundraising events since the administration of Mayor Martin O'Malley. She said a well-connected board member told her they were available.

"We would never have thought of it had it not been for a board member who suggested it," Socha said. "We would have never known it was available. It's wonderful. We really appreciate having the donations."

Institute of Notre Dame spokeswoman Lillian Knipp said the box raised nearly $2,000 for the school. It was won by principal Ann Seeley.

Governor O'Malley uses his boxes at the Ravens and Orioles' stadiums in a similar manner to Rawlings-Blake. His guests at Ravens games this past season included key politicians, campaign donors, and the family and friends of government officials. But tickets for nearly 40 percent of Orioles games were given to charities, schools, hospitals and nonprofit institutions last season, according to the governor's office.

O'Malley has no formal process for choosing whom to invite to his box, which is provided to the governor under the lease agreement for the stadium, but he uses it to promote "economic development, federal relations, legislative outreach," according to his spokesman.

The Baltimore Sun requested lists of skybox attendees after the mayor's use of the Ravens skybox was thrust into the spotlight. She rescinded an offer of tickets to City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young for the Jan. 11 playoff game against the Houston Texans. The move came after Young publicly criticized her efforts to plan another Grand Prix IndyCar race.

Brennan said Rawlings-Blake has said businesses who participate in the "Hire One Youth" campaign this summer will be added to a raffle for tickets to the city's Ravens skybox next season.



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