The Kid and the Committee: An apt primer

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Feb. 27, 2019

Our nine year old yesterday delivered two minutes of testimony before the Maryland House of Delegates Appropriations Committee. I, of course, barely held back tears. You can see why here, at 22:25. The packed room erupted in applause when she was done. As a used-to-be reporter who’s attended lots of legislative committee hearings, I assure you that is unusual.

Testifying on behalf of her school was her idea. She didn’t know at the outset that she’d be the one doing it, much less that she’d end up on the governor’s panel, presenting along with Larry Hogan’s senior aide, Keiffer Mitchell Jr. As she read aloud to the committee, including its chair, state Del. Maggie McIntosh of Baltimore City, I recalled that some of the best words she’d written herself. As pride welled up, somehow I kept myself from openly weeping when the two minutes ended.

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(The testimony, as seen by Appropriations Committee member Brooke Lierman, who snapped this photo on her phone and sent it to me.)

I commit this here to posterity because I want to get to it handily as the years go by. Unless I’m wrong, the issue she stepped up for yesterday – asking for state money to cover facilities costs that public charter schools, like hers, currently pay for with privately raised funds that could be used instead for instruction – is but her first. It strikes me that organizing for fair public school funding while you’re still a student is an apt primer for facing the many changes awaiting her generation. 

Out of Storage: Lifestyles of the lowly bankrupt bureaucrats

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Jan. 7, 2019

When the Feds came down on the Baltimore-based Rice Organization in 2005, the politically connected violent drug-dealing enterprise had been operating largely with impunity for about a decade. As the facts unfolded in drips and drabs with successive court filings in the hotly contested RICO case that ensued in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, and real-life parallels to themes in the then-running HBO series The Wire became apparent, I took notes.

There was George Butler, already a star on the streets for his appearances in the Stop Fucking Snitching DVD. There was actress Jada Pinkett Smith, co-owning an East Baltimore property with Rice Organization co-conspirator Chet Pajardo. There was the backstory on the multiple stabbing that had occurred during Kevin Liles’ birthday bash at Hammerjacks nightclub in 2002. There was Robert Simels, the bigshot NYC attorney who kept showing up in connection with players I was writing about, and who ended up going to prison himself, for witness-tampering in connection with a Guyanese death-squad drug-dealer he was defending. There was Eric Clash, cooperating with the government and living to tell about it. The story just kept on giving, and kept on connecting to other matters I was pursuing.

So when I picked up some old investigative records of mine from storage earlier today, the name “Raeshio Rice” popped up off the page. Back in the day, I’d poured over bankruptcy filings that I’d connected, through various other public records, to Rice Organization players. People go bankrupt for any number of reasons, but sometimes when a crime figure suddenly loses income as the law enforcers close in, people close to them may start to suffer sudden financial hardship.

Brothers Howard Rice and Raeshio Rice, ages 38 and 32 when the indictment came down in 2005, were the leaders of the outfit, and Raeshio’s name appeared in connection with his mother’s 2004 bankruptcy case. Her listed occupation was “program coordinator” for “the City of Baltimore” since 1994, earning less than $50,000 annually. Her 1999 Bentley Arnage had already been repossessed early in 2004, but she still had payments to make on the 1998 Mercedes Benz E320 station wagon that was titled in Raeshio Rice’s name.

Another 2004 bankruptcy case tied via public records to the Rice Organization featured a woman who’d worked for 29 years as a case worker for the Maryland Department of Social Services, earning a little over $35,000 a year. Among her assets: times shares in Massanutten Resort in Virginia and St. Martin Island in the Caribbean.

A Bentley and vacations at the Friendly Island – not bad for a couple of low-level civil servants.

Star-Crossed: Property co-owned by Jada Pinkett Smith tied to alleged Baltimore drug conspiracy

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Feb. 16, 2005

A Feb. 2 indictment of 13 men who federal prosecutors say are involved in a violent Baltimore drug conspiracy called the “Rice Organization” seeks forfeiture of co-conspirators’ assets—including an East Baltimore property that state records show is co-owned by actress Jada Pinkett Smith. The property, 1538 N. Caroline St., is a three-story corner building on a 1,440-square-foot lot in the heart of Oliver, a neighborhood long ravaged by the illegal-drug economy. The indictment does not mention what role the property played in the alleged conspiracy, only that the government would seek “all of the right, title and interest of Chet Pajardo, the defendant, in the real property and appurtenances” there.

The $22,000 purchase of the house by Pinkett Smith (listed as “Jada K. Pinkett” in the property records; her middle name is Keran) and Chet Pajardo, a 36-year-old Owings Mills man named as a defendant in the case, was recorded with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation on Nov. 17, 1994. At the time, Pinkett Smith was 23, had already appeared in her feature-film debut, Menace II Society, and was on theater screens co-starring with Keenan Ivory Wayans in A Low Down Dirty Shame. Less than three years later, in 1997, she married fellow actor Will Smith in a ceremony at the Cloisters in Baltimore County.

Ken Hertz, senior partner of the Beverly Hills, Calif., law firm Goldring, Hertz, and Lichtenstein, who represents Pinkett Smith, told City Paper on Feb. 10 that the actress, who grew up in Baltimore and was living here in 1994, met Pajardo about 10 years ago, when Pajardo was working for United Parcel Service. “He was an acquaintance,” Hertz says, explaining that Pinkett Smith split the down payment with Pajardo and has been paying her share of the monthly mortgage payments ever since. She’s had no contact with Pajardo in many years, Hertz contends, and she’d forgotten she owned the building because her accountant made the monthly payments.

Despite the neighborhood’s plight—two blocks away in 2003, for example, all seven members of the Dawson family were burned to death in their home by one of the drug dealers they’d been trying to run off—Hertz says Pinkett Smith’s was “not a dumb investment, because it was so little money.” The Sun reported on Feb. 12 that Hertz also said it was “very important to note that we’ve been assured that she is not a target of the investigation.” (City Paper first reported on its web site that Pajardo and Pinkett Smith co-own the Caroline Street property on Feb 10.)

Pajardo’s defense attorney in the federal conspiracy case, James Gitomer, told City Paper that “I don’t speak to reporters about my clients” when asked if he would be willing to answer some questions about Pajardo.

Members of the Rice Organization, according to the federal indictment, are charged with murders in connection with a drug-trafficking conspiracy that yielded at least $27 million since 1995. Prosecutors allege the group has brought at least 3,000 pounds of cocaine and heroin to the streets of Baltimore. Chet Pajardo faces one conspiracy count, though the details of his alleged crimes are not given.

One Rice member appears in the locally produced Stop Fucking Snitching DVD that drew widespread attention late last fall as an unusual example of witness intimidation doubling as entertainment. Another of those indicted as an ostensible part of the Rice Organization, Anthony B. Leonard, co-owned the former Antique Row restaurant Downtown Southern Blues, which was housed in a North Howard Street property owned by the family of Kenneth Antonio Jackson. Jackson is a strip-club owner and an ex-con who, in the 1980s, became famous as a top lieutenant for the heroin-trafficking organization of Melvin Williams, a major figure in Baltimore’s drug underworld of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.

Pajardo has a noteworthy connection to city politics. On Sept. 8, 2003, he gave $200 to the re-election campaign of city Comptroller Joan Pratt (D) at a fund raiser catered by Downtown Southern Blues; the event brought in a total of $11,500. Four days later, on Sept. 12, 2003, Pajardo donated $100 to the campaign of Democrat Charese Williams, who challenged incumbent City Councilwoman Stephanie Rawlings Blake (D-6th District) and lost in the September 2003 primary. Pratt also donated to Williams’ upstart campaign, giving $1,500 of the $22,500 it raised. Pratt did not respond to requests for comment by press time; attempts to reach Williams were unsuccessful.

During a Feb. 9 visit to the Caroline Street property co-owned by Pajardo and Pinkett Smith, the building was boarded up but had a fresh coat of paint on the entrance. It appeared structurally sound and well-maintained, though its property-tax assessment dropped from $14,100 to $3,000 this year, according to state records. A pay phone was attached to its outside wall. When a photographer visited the building the next day, a woman driving by in a car shouted out, “Is that Jada’s place?” On another Feb. 10 visit, an unidentified man was seen locking up and leaving the property.

Baltimore City Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals records indicate that Everton Allen applied in April 2003 to use a portion of the building as a grocery store, though housing records indicate that the property has been vacant since 2000. A phone number could not be found for Allen at the Randallstown address given in his application.

The previous zoning application for the Caroline Street property was filed in 1996 by Brian E. Macklin, who wanted to open a convenience store at the site. A Polaroid of the building contained in the zoning file shows a Pepsi-Cola sign hanging over the entrance that reads andy’s grocery. A copy of Macklin’s application was sent by the zoning board to “C&J Inc., c/o Chet Pajardo,” and the file notes that in 1993 Pajardo and Jay Anderson pulled an occupancy permit for the address. Court records indicate that Macklin’s current address is on Kentbury Court in the Lyonswood subdivision of Owings Mills, the same small cul-de-sac as another Pajardo property that is under federal forfeiture as part of the Rice Organization indictment. The listed phone number for Macklin’s home-improvement company, Sorgen LLC, is disconnected, and no other contact information for him could be found.

An internet search of the Caroline Street address turns up the name of a business, Peaceful Image Inc., located there. Its corporate charter was forfeited for failure to file tax returns for 1998, according to state records, and it was incorporated by Pajardo on Aug. 15, 1995, “to engage in the business of retailing, wholesaling, manufacturing, and distributing clothing and accessories.” The founding board members were Pajardo, Leon Dickerson, and Michelle Narrington. A year earlier, on Aug. 3, 1994, these three and another individual, Condessa Tucker, registered Peaceful Image as a trade name, and stated its business as “silkscreen, embroidery, T-shirts, and hats.” The company’s principal office was in a building Pajardo owned between 1992 and 2000, on the 1000 block of West 43rd Street in Medfield.

Leon R. Dickerson was identified on the Peaceful Image trade-name application as Leon Dickerson III. An obituary for Leon R. Dickerson III was published in The Sun on Dec. 21, 2001, after he was killed in a stabbing. He was 31 years old and described as a social worker and basketball coach who worked with students struggling with learning disabilities and emotional challenges. According to Baltimore County Police records, Dickerson, who was married, was killed in a lovers’ triangle when the estranged husband of his girlfriend entered her Cockeysville apartment and stabbed both of them; only Dickerson died from his wounds. Dickerson’s parents are neighbors of Pajardo and Macklin in the Owings Mills subdivision of Lyonswood.

When Pajardo and Pinkett Smith purchased the Caroline Street property in 1994, the address given for property-tax mailings was in the 2300 block of North Monroe Street in West Baltimore. The owner, then and now, is listed as Wahseeola C. Pajardo. City Paper’s attempts to reach her at her listed phone number were unsuccessful.

 

The Maryland GOP on Pot: Free State Republicans have been warming to marijuana reform, but support for legalization so far remains a pipe dream

By Van Smith

Published April 20, 2015 in City Paper

While 2014 was a watershed year in the annals of liberalizing Maryland’s pot laws, ringing in decriminalization and revamped medical-marijuana laws, 2003 was a big one, too.

That’s when then-governor Robert Ehrlich, a Republican, signed into law a bill meant to protect medical-marijuana users from serious criminal penalties for possession. Ehrlich wholeheartedly supported the measure, even though only 35 percent of his party’s legislators gave it the thumbs up, according to voting records. When the med-pot laws were reformed last year, though, the Maryland GOP’s evolution on the issue was shown to be a sea change: 75 percent of them voted for it.

“They’ve come a long way since 2000, when I first sponsored the medical-marijuana bill,” says Donald Murphy, a former Republican state delegate who represented parts of Baltimore and Howard counties from 1995 to 2003 and now works as a federal-policies analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a national group looking to liberalize pot laws.

The nation’s views on pot have shifted significantly too since Murphy first proposed medical-marijuana liberalization in Maryland. In 2000, according to long-term polling by Gallup, 64 percent opposed legalizing marijuana use, 31 percent supported it, and 5 percent had no opinion. In 2014, it was 51 percent to 47 percent in favor, with 2 percent having no opinion. The Pew Research Center, meanwhile, found support for legalization jumped quickly this decade, from 41 percent in 2010 to 52 percent in 2014. Legalization is popular in Maryland–a majority support it, according to the Goucher Poll, which also found that Marylanders think tobacco, alcohol, and sugar pose more serious health risks than pot.

These changes pose a conundrum for Republicans, who “tend to be conflicted between their desire for small government and their support for law and order,” explains Murphy. “But they are beginning to acknowledge that the war on drugs has been a failure, a significant waste of resources, and more and more have to face the hypocrisy of their own prior drug use. There are few who will take the lead in drug-policy reform, but just as few who support the status quo.”

Among conservatives looking for ways the GOP can gain a toehold on the winning side of culture wars, marijuana is a hot topic–so hot that activists are looking to make it an issue that can help separate the wheat from the chaff in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, according to Brookings Institution fellow John Hudak’s analysis of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C., which drew about 3,000 attendees. When polled on the question of legalization, 41 percent of CPACers said they support it, while another 21 percent said they want it legally available for medical purposes only. Marijuana policy “made its way into speeches and Q&A sessions not as a tongue-in-cheek, light moment,” Hudak wrote, “but as one of many serious policies of interest to the CPAC crowd.”

The shifting conservative landscape on pot laws is significant to Maryland because, for this year and the next three years (and possibly the next seven), any pot-liberalizing bills the Democrat-controlled legislature may pass–legalization being the Holy Grail–will need the signature of new Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, whose upset victory last fall in this heavily Democratic state wowed the nation. In 2018, presumably he’ll run for re-election with all the benefits of incumbency. While Hogan’s position on weed appears unequivocal–”I’m opposed to full legalization of marijuana,” he wrote in the Sun’s Voter Guide last fall–he’s left himself some wiggle room by sounding alarm bells about how prohibition is enforced: It “seems unjust,” he wrote, to imprison people “for a very small amount of marijuana, destroying their chances of employment, and exposing them to violent offenders.”

A majority of Republicans in the Maryland Senate, meanwhile, have shown themselves to have open minds on the pot issue. Seven of 12 GOP senators voted for decriminalization last year. While this surely had little bearing on the GOP’s gains in last fall’s elections–two seats were picked up in the Senate, and seven in the House–this pro-decriminalization crowd is moving up in the world of Republican politics in Maryland.

Only two of the seven pro-decriminalization GOP senators remain in the Senate, but of those who left, two are county executives–Allan Kittleman of Howard County and Barry Glassman of Harford County–and two joined the Hogan administration: David Brinkley is the secretary of the Department of Budget and Management, and Christopher Shank is the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention. Of the GOP’s two pro-decriminalization senators still sitting, one–J.B. Jennings (District 7, Harford and Cecil)–is the chamber’s minority leader and has announced he’ll run for U.S. Congress to replace U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R-1st District), should Harris run to take the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

On the House side, on the other hand, almost all Republicans were loathe to support decriminalization last year. Only three of the 43 GOP delegates voted for it: Michael Smigiel (District 36, Caroline, Cecil, Kent, and Queen Anne’s), Robert Costa (District 33B, Anne Arundel), and Herb McMillan (District 30, Anne Arundel). Costa retired, McMillan is now chief deputy minority whip, and Smigiel lost a close race in last year’s primary–but recently announced he’s back in the game, planning to run in 2016 against Harris, in part because of Harris’ much-publicized, unsuccessful effort last year to derail Washington, D.C.’s pot-legalization law.

Thus, among this year’s roster of 64 GOP senators and delegates, only three who voted for decriminalization–Jennings, McMillan, and Sen. Edward Reilly (District 33, Anne Arundel)–still sit in the legislature. But voting in the recently ended General Assembly session shows that room still remains in the Maryland GOP’s tent for pot liberalization-and it’s coming in part from newly elected legislators.

A bill to decriminalize the possession of marijuana paraphernalia passed this session, and while only one Republican voted in favor of the Senate version–Justin Ready (District 5, Carroll)–among House GOP members it fared surprisingly well. Seven voted for it: Carl Anderton (District 38B, Wicomico), Mary Beth Carozza (District 38C, Wicomico and Worcester), Robert Flanagan (District 9B, Howard), Robin Grammer (District 6, Baltimore County), McMillan, Christian Miele (District 8, Baltimore County), and Chris West (District 42B, Baltimore County). In a sign that last fall’s elections may be prompting a slight shift in House Republicans’ heretofore rigid anti-pot mindset, five of them–Anderton, Carozza, Grammer, Miele, and West–are newly elected.

West voted to decriminalize pot paraphernalia because, he says, “so long as someone can’t be put in jail for possessing marijuana itself, it makes no sense to have laws on the books” that make possessing pot-smoking paraphernalia like rolling papers or a pipe a criminal offense. However, he stresses, “I’m against totally legalizing marijuana until at least two things happen.” First, he says he would need to be shown that marijuana “does not permanently damage your brain.” Second, he continues, “there needs to be a way to deal with people driving under the influence of marijuana,” since there’s “no way” right now to determine whether a driver is high without “drawing blood,” and, “I don’t think people would permit state troopers to pull out a syringe and take their blood, or be detained for hours so a they can prepare a warrant for a doctor to draw blood.”

Hogan and Shank declined to offer insights into their current views of the changing marijuana-law landscape. Asked to comment on the findings of City Paper’s analysis of how GOP legislators’ voting patterns on pot-reform measures have been changing, and how lifting prohibition fits in with conservative values, both demurred through their communications directors. Hogan’s press secretary, Erin Montgomery, confirmed that Hogan’s campaign position on the issue–that he’s anti-legalization but concerned about the social costs of penalties for possessing small amounts—remains unchanged. Both Montgomery’s and Shank’s communications manager, Patty Mochel, said the men would be happy to discuss the issue once Hogan decides whether or not he’ll sign the pot-paraphernalia bill.

Among GOP legislators, meanwhile, legalization appears to remain anathema. Typical sentiments are those voiced by state Del. Kathy Afzali (District 4, Frederick and Carroll), who’s on the record as “adamantly opposed to the legalization of any drugs,” and Ready, who’s stated that “while I’m sympathetic to some of the arguments in favor of decriminalization, if we legalize it, we say to children and young adults that it’s OK to smoke marijuana.” But some have left room to shift their stances. Grammer told the Dundalk Eagle that he’s opposed to legalization, though he’s “not going to commit without seeing a bill.” Newly elected state Del. Haven Shoemaker (District 5, Carroll), meanwhile, told the Carroll County Times last fall that “I oppose marijuana legalization at this time until we have had a chance to see the effects of legalization in states like Colorado.”

Murphy of the MPP, when told of Shoemaker’s statement, remarked that “if you can talk about this in red-meat conservative Carroll County, then you can talk about it anywhere.” Still, Murphy does not see legalization coming to Maryland any time soon. He says that the newly minted decriminalization law and the just-reformed med-pot laws in Maryland “slow the process down,” because legislators want to “watch and see what happens” as the fresh changes are rolled out, just as they want to “see what happens with legalization in other states.”

“I understand the delay on this,” Murphy says of Maryland’s currently cool reception to the prospect of legalization. “It took us 15 years to get to medical marijuana, so I don’t expect that recreational will happen overnight,” he says, “but it’s more a matter of when than if. Legislators are getting in the way of the people on this, and it’s only a matter of time before they wise up. I suspect they’ve wised up already but are afraid to act on it, and Colorado gives them an excuse to wait.”

The Doctor Is In: Schmoke Inches Toward His “Medicalization” Approach to Drug Reform

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By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Apr. 13, 1994

With two recent political and legislative breakthroughs for Mayor Kurt Schmoke, Baltimore is becoming a model city for drug reform. In March, a $2.3 million federally funded Substance Abuse Treatment and Education Program (STEP), or “drug court,” began diverting nonviolent drug criminals from prisons to treatment programs. And on April 5, the Maryland State legislature passed a bill exempting Baltimore City from certain drug-paraphernalia laws and approving funding for a needle-exchange program called the AIDS Prevention Pilot Program. In a reversal of his earlier stance, Governor William Donald Schaefer supported the bill and is expected to sign it. The success of these two initiatives is a major priority for Schmoke, who is out to prove that what he calls a “medicalization” approach is the best solution for our multiple woes of drugs, crime, and AIDS.

The drug court and the rest of Schmoke’s immediate drug-reform measures appear to enjoy wide support here in Baltimore City. The City Council is almost unanimously behind the mayor’s initiatives. Baltimore’s public-health and drug-treatment providers, who stand to gain funding and stature from the initiatives, also generally approve of them. The new police commissioner, Tom Frazier, says needle exchange, the drug court, and expanded treatment will make his job easier. And of course Baltimore’s heroin and cocaine addicts – who make up about six percent of the population, according to Bureau of the Census figures – are all for it.

In fact, one gets the impression that the mayor’s local drug-reform agenda has been falling into place with relative ease. People tend to see needle exchange, the drug court, and expanded treatment as almost clinical prescriptions for treating the symptoms of the drug crisis.

It is Schmoke’s national long-term drug policy, with its overtones of decriminalization, that has attracted strong and vocal opposition.

By now, everybody knows that Schmoke advocates some form of drug decriminalization. To a lot of people, that strategy sounds so radical on the surface that they aren’t very interested in the details. For example, Lieutenant Leander Nevin, president of the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police, says the bottom line is that Schmoke “wants to legalize drugs and give away free needles,” and asks sarcastically, “It’s socialism, right?”

To Michael Gimbel, director of the Baltimore County Office of Substance Abuse, the details of decriminalization are insignificant compared to the impact of even talking about it. He sees a direct correlation between rising drug use in high schools and the whole debate over decriminalization, which Schmoke has persistently publicized for six years now.

“I think this whole discussion is more hurtful than helpful,” Gimbel says. “I have to deal with the kids today who believe in legalization only because the mayor or the rap group Cypress Hill said so. For the last ten years we have seen major decreases [in drug use] and changes of attitude. Now all of the sudden these kids are changing the way they looking at [legalization]. I have to deal with that, and I blame it on the legalization debate.”

Barring some undetected tectonic shift in public opinion over the last six years, Nevin and Gimbel are right in line with most Marylanders’ opinions of legalization. In 1988, The Evening Sun contracted a public-opinion research firm to survey a random sample of Marylanders over 18 years old to ask them whether they support drug legalization. The results were basically the same for Baltimore as for the whole state: less than 20 percent were for legalization, and more than 70 percent were opposed to it.

In spite of this opposition, Schmoke has high hopes for his long-term, national strategy, which he clearly does not want associated with the term legalization.

“My approach is not legalization, that is, the sale of drugs in the private market,” he told an audience of doctors and nurses at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in March. Rather, he proposes lifting a corner of the current blanket prohibition on illegal drugs by drawing addicts into the public-health system, where they could be maintained, if necessary, using drugs made available through a government market.

“The government, not private traffickers, would control the price, distribution, purity, and access to particular substances, which we already do with prescription drugs,” Schmoke told the audience. “This, mind you, would take most of the profit out of street-level drug trafficking, and it is the profits that drive crime. Addicts would be treated and, if necessary, maintained under medical auspices. In my view, street crime would go down, children would find it harder, not easier, to get their hands on drugs, and law-enforcement officials would concentrate on the highest echelons of drug-trafficking enterprises.”

Schmoke’s zeal for reform is coupled with a hardened distaste for drug prohibition.

“Drug prohibition is a policy that has now turned millions of addicts into criminals, spawned a huge international drug-trafficking enterprise, and brought unrelenting violence to many of our urban neighborhoods,” Schmoke said. “It was a flawed strategy when it began, and it is still a flawed strategy now.”

Legalization or not, the mayor’s approach is roundly dismissed by people who think any fiddling with drug prohibition would, as a sociobiologist might say, damage the antidrug “chromosomes” that have been grafted into society’s DNA sequence over the last few generations. One such person is Dr. Lee P. Brown, the director of President Clinton’s Office of National Drug Control Policy. In a statement on drug legalization last December, after U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders suggested that legalization would reduce crime, Brown commented that “[a]ny change in the current policy of prohibiting drug use would seriously impair antidrug education efforts, drug-free community programs, drug-free workplace programs, and the overall national effort to reduce the level of drug use and its consequences.”

Local opposition to Schmoke’s call to change national drug laws is every bit as pointed as the Washington establishment’s. Gimbel protests that decriminalization “is a real intellectual pipe dream, and it scares me because the mayor is very articulate in selling this program.” City Councilman Martin O’Malley, of the Third District, thinks it “just amounts to so much more intellectual bullshit.” Joyce Malepka, founder of the Silver Spring antidrug lobbying group called Maryland Voters for a Responsible Drug Policy, says, “There is no intellectual argument about legalizing drugs because anyone who is that short-sighted isn’t really experienced, and if that is the case, then there is certainly no business talking about it.”

One objection that Schmoke’s medicalization opponents make is that a prescription-based drug-treatment system for addicts would be ripe for abuse. Steve Dnitrian, vice president of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, in New York City, argues that legal drugs are already abused and a wider array of them would lead to greater use and abuse.

“Take a look at the drugs that are already regulated medically, such as Valium,” Dnitrian says, by way of illustration. “Are they abused? Heavily. Medicalization would be the same thing. You would just be adding a couple of more flavors to the vast array of products we have right now to alter reality. If you make available a product that is not readily available, it is going to get used. Even people who favor decriminalization acknowledge that drug use would go up dramatically.”

Still, Schmoke has so far managed to buck the antidecriminalization establishment and remain in office. How has he done it?

One explanation is that his drug-reform strategy is multi-faceted and comprehensive, so many who oppose him on decriminalization or needle exchange agree with many of his other drug-reform ideas. For instance, his crusade for drug treatment on demand and the creation of drug courts is lauded from all corners, including by Malepka and Gimbel, President Clinton, and the antidrug advertising venture Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

Schmoke hasn’t got this far by smart policymaking alone, however. Part of it was political drive: he is on the line with this medicalization talk, so he has been campaigning hard to prove his is right; if he can’t, he risks losing legitimacy with the public. Frank DeFillipo, a political columnist for The Evening Sun, says, “Schmoke has a lot to defend. He is going to have to go out and defend that issue in the mayoral race, and there are compelling arguments against what he is advocating.”

On the mayor’s side are a significant number of individual legislators, doctors, lawyers, judges, and religious leaders – powerful people with connections to organizations that can effect change. Schmoke feels that the average voter may also be coming around to agree that we need a new strategy against drugs, crime, and AIDS, and that medicalization should be given a sporting chance. Depending on how he plays this issue during the upcoming mayoral campaign, Schmoke may bet his future in political office on that perceived trend. He has been making every effort to swing the Zeitgeist around. Given the poll-pending strength of his supporters, he just might be able to do it.

“My sense is that the majority of Baltimoreans may disagree with my conclusion about the need for medicalization and decriminalization,” Schmoke acknowledges, “but that they agree that I should raise this issue and am glad that I didn’t change my mind. And the overwhelming majority of people believe that the current approach is not working, but they are not sure which way we should go.”

Schmoke hopes to make medicalization an asset at the polls by plugging the effectiveness of the needle-exchange program and the drug court, although he is not sure the results will be in by election time. To bolster his position, he says he will stump medicalization as effective in its own right but even better when combined with community development and community policing initiatives.

“All those things add up to positive impacts,” Schmoke says, “and that is what I’m hoping will happen in the communities.”

Schmoke is confident that all of his attention to detail will pay off politically, because he is well prepared to discuss and defend his proposals. In short, he has a plan, so the burden of proof is on the opposition to propose a better one.

“I think that if somebody is going to raise it as an issue in the election and be critical of my positions,” Schmoke challenges, “then they are going to have to have an alternative, a substantive alternative that will be attractive to the citizenry.”

Mary Pat Clarke, Schmoke’s challenger in next year’s mayoral race, does not plan on making medicalization an issue in the election.

“It is not a local issue,” Clarke points out. “It can’t be solved locally. The real issue is the here and the now and the livability of Baltimore City. If it is an issue in the mayoral race, it will be so only because [Schmoke] makes it one.” The bottom line to Clarke is that medicalization “is not something that we can do [on a local level], it is only something that we can talk about,” and too much talk means too little action. “You can’t use these discussions as an excuse to abandon the treatment programs that exist today,” Clarke argues.

She has particular misgivings about Schmoke’s new STEP, or drug court, program, which has already enrolled more than a dozen addicts and plans to divert 600 nonviolent drug criminals to treatment in its first year. Although she supports the initiative, Clarke fears that the city’s troubled drug-treatment system is ill equipped to handle the new program.

“To talk about a drug court without a rehabilitated and refunded treatment system,” Clarke asserts, “is just to create another level of logjam, frustrations, and problems. Expanded and improved treatment is an imperative before we create a drug court and an entire new system that would fall to pieces without the backup required.”

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Stuart O. Simms, however, points out that funding for the STEP program will cover drug treatment for participants. Also, by freeing up prison space and court dockets, Simms estimates that “in one year, the cost savings of such a program will be $1.8 million.” This money can help fund an expanded treatment system.

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The STEP program is modeled after the drug court in Miami, where only about one in 10 participants have been rearrested during the year following their treatment. To better the chances of the defendants’ success in beating the monkeys off their backs, the STEP program, in addition to drug treatment, provides job training, academic services, life-skills programs, job placement, and other support. It is a one-stop shop for getting your act together. All you have to do is get arrested.

Richard Farr, a cocaine addict, says people might do just that in order to get the treatment they need.

“There are a lot of people out there now who want to get into a drug program, but they can’t,” observes Farr, “so I guess you got to get caught to get into a program. It doesn’t seem right, but it sounds like that’s what you got to do.”

State’s Attorney Simms urges addicts tempted to take this route to “contact the Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems [the city’s treatment referral system] and try to see if they can get involved through the city health department. That is painstaking, that is slow, and I agree that the answer is insufficient.”

Mary Pat Clarke is more optimistic about the mayor’s AIDS Prevention Pilot Program. The $160,000 program is designed for 750 to 1,000 intravenous-drug-using participants, who will be able to exchange dirty needles for clean ones on a one-for-one basis. Another $250,000 has been dedicated for approximately 100 drug-treatment slots reserved for needle-exchange participants. Schmoke expects a needle-exchange program in Baltimore to have results similar to one in New Haven, Connecticut, where needle exchange is credited with a one-third decline in the rate of new HIV infections.

“From a public-health perspective, it is rational,” says Clarke. “Like most of us, I obviously have my concerns about the message it sends, but I think that the public-health issues are imperative. I hope that it will be successful in Baltimore City.”

Baltimore City police commissioner Tom Frazier agrees that “needle exchange is a good thing both in terms of human suffering and public-health costs.”

Clarke and Frazier are joined in support of needle exchange by many experts in the medical community. The Baltimore City Medical Society and the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, the city and state medical societies, respectively, are both behind the measure as a way to control the spread of AIDS without increasing drug abuse. And Dr. Michael Fingerhood, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins and medical director of the Detox Inpatient Unit at Francis Scott Key Medical Center, says, “Most of the people in primary care who take care of people with HIV without a doubt are in favor of needle exchange.”

Dr. David Vlahov, associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, who has been studying the natural history HIV infection among about 600 HIV-infected IV-drug users in Baltimore since 1988, is a fervent supporter of needle exchange. Vlahov points out that there are 39 needle-exchange programs operating in the United States, that there have been numerous studies of needle exchange, including studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. General Accounting Office, and that the results are favorable.

“Looking across the date from a variety of different studies,” Vlahov said as he shared the Hopkins stage with Schmoke in March, “the results have been that needle-exchange programs do not encourage people to start drug use, they do not encourage current drug users to inject more frequently, they do not encourage former users to restart drug use, and they do not encourage needle sharing. So a lot of these concerns that people have had are thwarted by the data that have come forth from these studies.”

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The Governor’s Executive Advisory Council, which advises and reports to Governor Schaefer on public-policy issues, just plain disagrees. Last spring it submitted a “Presentation in Opposition to Needle and Syringe Exchange Programs” to the Governor’s Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission, the body responsible for helping to form and implement the governor’s drug-and-alcohol-abuse policies. The report concludes that the evidence on needle exchange is shaky, and “the real risk of doing real harm is too great.”

The council argues, based on what its chairman, Marshall Meyer, calls “a lot of data, research, study, and common sense,” that need-exchange programs are not safe. The list of risks include sending the wrong message about drug use, causing increased drug use and conversion to injection drugs, assisting criminal behavior, subverting drug-treatment efforts, and increasing the likelihood of “needle stick accidents.”

The council also questions whether needle exchange will work. Focusing just on needles, the report points out, overlooks the roles that other injection paraphernalia and that unsafe sex play in transmitting HIV.

“Facilitating drug use, through the provision of needles, is not likely to result in safe sexual behavior,” the report states, so it concludes that needle exchange may exacerbate the spread of sexually transmitted HIV. Finally, the council noted “that needle exchange programs are having very limited success in reaching, and even less success in keeping, the highest risk users.”

Some representatives in Baltimore’s City Council are concerned not only about mixed messages regarding condoning drug use, but also that the needle-exchange program won’t work. Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch, of the Second District, feels that “the concept is okay, if addicts would turn the needles in and use clean needles, but I don’t think that will happen. I don’t think addicts are responsible enough to do that.”

Councilman Nick D’Adamo, of the First District, agrees: “Needle exchange is iffy to me, because if a drug user on the corner is going to shoot up, I don’t think he’ll be looking for a clean needle. I think he is going to use whatever is there at the time.”

Tony Whiting, an IV-drug addict living in a homeless shelter run by Street Voice, an advocacy group for addicts, thinks the council members are wrong on this score.

“People will use brand-new needles if they have them,” Whiting insists. “Even the ones who don’t care want to use brand-new needles because they are easy to use, they don’t clog, and it makes the whole process a whole lot easier. Any addict would rather have a brand-new set than something used any day.”

Fellow Street Smart denizen and drug addict Richard Farr basically agrees with Whiting.

“Not everybody will go to get a clean needle every time, but the majority of them would,” he predicts. “Maybe if there was a place where they could go to get clean needles, then a lot of [needle sharing] would be eliminated. Not all of it, but a lot of it would.”

Whether addicts will use the program is not the issue for some people; the issue is the extent to which the needle exchange amounts to legalization.

“It’s a bizarre thing to do,” Joyce Malepka says. She argues that “it’s Draconian to give someone who injects heroin needles to continue that process. We see it as a giant step toward legalization.”

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Mary Pat Clarke feels that for now, Schmoke’s visions may be delusions.

“If he can help to improve and enlarge the treatment system in Baltimore City, I would support that,” Clarke says, “but the council has been looking at the current programs and is beginning to meet with [drug treatment] providers and explore the gaps. The providers are out there, underfunded and struggling to survive and handle their caseload, and it is a system in crisis. They are overloaded, they are underfunded, and the city has failed to supply an adequate system of coordination to really assist.”

At least part of the problem is the miniscule amount of funding that comes from the city itself for drug treatment: the figure hovers around $150,000 per year, or about one percent of the total drug-treatment budget for Baltimore City. Because of this meager contribution, some people believe that Schmoke is merely canting when he calls for more treatment.

“He’s been talking like this for so many years,” Michael Gimbel says, “but how much money has he put in his budget to back up his word that he really believes in treatment? Baltimore City gets millions right now from the state for drug treatment, and the city puts virtually nothing in. Yet he wants to go to Annapolis and say, ‘My top priority is needle exchange.’ Why isn’t his top priority treatment for everybody? That is hypocrisy. That is politics, so I can’t respect that.”

Politics or not, if Schmoke manages to get 10,000 new federally funded treatment slots, it will be a coup for the beleaguered Baltimore treatment community.

According to “Baltimore’s Drug Problem,” published by the Abell Foundation, which has funded or carried out many studies about local issues for the city government, “drug treatment experts in Baltimore City suggest that the number of treatment slots needs to be increased, conservatively, by three-fold.” Since there are currently 5,300 treatment slots, Schmoke’s proposal would almost meet the target.

The mayor is seeking a meeting with Clinton Administration officials to discuss his drug-treatment proposal. In the meantime, alternative funding may be found from two other federal sources: Clinton’s crime bill, if passed by Congress, will provide more money for drug treatment, and U.S. Attorney Janet Reno has created a new block-grant program that can be used for either policing or drug treatment.

“Both of those together don’t make up ten thousand [treatment slots],” Schmoke says, “but they would allow us to almost double the number of slot that we have now.”

Despite Schmoke’s optimism, the operable word when it comes to expanded federal funding for drug treatment in Baltimore City is if. And if Schmoke doesn’t produce the proposed treatment slots, then Baltimore’s addicts will continue queuing up on the treatment waiting list and continue to rob, steal, smoke, and shoot up until they can get effective treatment for their disease. According to “Baltimore’s Drug Problem,” on any given day there are about 730 addicts on the treatment waiting list, and only one out of 10 Baltimore substances abusers who want help can get it.

Since 1988, when Schmoke opened a national debate over drug decriminalization, he has done his fair share of talking about providing the help addicts need. Now he has started to take steps to do something about it. He is determined to prove that his medicine works, and if he stays in office another term, Baltimore is destined to be the testing ground.

Schmoke, casting himself as the good doctor, has donned the white lab coat and drawn up the syringe, and Baltimore, gravely ill from the combined effects of drugs, crime, and AIDS, is rolling up its sleeve to take the dose. But will the good doctor find a vein?

 

Around the Block: The Colorful Past, Controversial Present, and Uncertain Future of Baltimore’s Red-Light District

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Feb. 2, 2000

Our values have changed,” Joanne Attman proclaims.

Attman and her husband, Ely Attman, own the building at 425 E. Baltimore St., and are thus the landlords of Club Harem, a strip club in Baltimore’s red-light district, the Block. “There’s nothing wrong with sex,” she says in a telephone interview. “There just isn’t. It’s an adult thing, and as long as it stays an adult thing, that’s all that’s important.

“You know,” she continues, “we’ve come a long way, and people do not view sex as a bad thing if they can do all that’s on the Internet, do what they do on TV, and on the phone. So, as far as the Block, the Block is benign.”

The Attmans, like most of the owners of Block property and businesses, do not live in Baltimore City. Their abode, most recently assessed at more than $225,000, is in a new development in Pikesville. Being a nice, suburban couple, the Attmans probably don’t often come down to the Block and look around; as Joanne Attman says, “We don’t really pay any attention to it.” Like most landlords, they just get a check from their tenants and make the necessary improvements to their property. End of story.

But if the Attmans were paying more attention to what’s happening on the Block, they’d know that its problems have little to do with the morality of sex among adults. The area is besieged by negative publicity over drug dealing, prostitution, employment of underage dancers, and the threatening atmosphere some civic and business leaders contend the Block creates in the middle of the downtown business district.

If they were paying attention, the Attmans would know that last May four pipe bombs were found and defused in the Diamond Lounge, a few doors down from their Block property. They’d know that a club next door to their building, the Circus Bar, was ordered to sell its liquor license last October after a former doorman, convicted of dealing drugs from the club, told the Baltimore City Board of License Commissioners (aka the liquor board) that he thought it was “part of my duties” to sell cocaine from the bar. They’d know that in July 1998, the 408 Club was cited by the liquor board for employing two 16-year-old Baltimore County high-school students as dancers and using three rooms above the bar for prostitution. And they’d know that these incidents are just the tip of the iceberg. (For a fuller accounting of Block property owners and the records of businesses there, see “What’s Around the Block”.)

But Joanne Attman doesn’t want to hear about it. “That’s ludicrous,” she says of the idea that a Block employee considered drug dealing part of his job. “You can go anywhere and buy drugs anywhere in the city. You can buy them at school. They’re being sold everywhere. So to focus in on the Block is absolutely ludicrous.” She is adamant that the action on the Block is essentially harmless: “You know, most of the people down there are there to make a living and that’s what they’re doing–a clean living.” With that, the interview ends abruptly.
The way people make their living on the Block isn’t causing ripples just in City Hall and law-enforcement circles; it is fast becoming a divisive issue within the red-light district’s business community itself. Today, two separate entities–Baltimore Entertainment Center Inc. (BEC) and Downtown Entertainment Inc.–claim to represent the interests of Block businesses. Both groups, at least on the face of it, share the same goal: to clean up the Block’s act so that its businesses can work with city leaders to promote the district as a destination for tourists and conventioneers. But their respective members don’t see eye to eye on how to achieve that aim, according to Block sources.

Today, Baltimore Entertainment Center is effectively defunct, although it is still recognized by many on the Block as an ongoing concern. BEC was formed in February 1997 and until a few months ago was represented by Baltimore attorney Claude Edward Hitchcock, a confidant of former Mayor Kurt Schmoke. At the time the group was launched, Hitchcock said it represented a “new breed of owner and operator on the Block” that is “trying to become better citizens and better neighbors.” Hitchcock resigned as BEC’s attorney in September; the following month, the group forfeited its right to operate in Maryland due to its failure to file property-tax returns–a rectifiable situation, should the taxes be brought up to date. (Attempts to speak with Frank Boston III, reportedly BEC’s new attorney, were unsuccessful.)

Days after Hitchcock left BEC, Downtown Entertainment was formed, with Hitchcock as its lawyer and Jacob “Jack” Gresser–the owner of the Gayety Building, a Block landmark, and another former BEC guiding force–as president. Gresser says Downtown Entertainment wants “to go in the direction of a partnership with the city, in respect of getting involved in the conventions that are coming to town, where the city will advertise these particular businesses in their convention brochures and throw the business our way, if possible.” Ultimately, Gresser says, he wants the Block to become like Bourbon Street, New Orleans’ famous playground of vice. So far, eight to 10 of the Block’s two dozen adult-entertainment establishments have joined the new group, he says.

Gresser says the splintering of BEC occurred over the course of last year, culminating about six months ago–“That’s when we decided to go our different ways.” While he’s loath to speak for those who haven’t joined Downtown Entertainment, he says there are “two distinct, different views of how people want to run their business down on the Block. Everybody runs their business differently. Everyone has a responsibility to run their business properly. I would just like to see everyone get together and go in one direction. We really don’t need this diversification.”

That “diversification” has created to some bad blood. “This has not been a walk in the park,” Hitchcock says. “I mean, I’ve gotten calls here in the office on my voice mail, you know, the use of the ‘N’ word, and ‘Who the fuck do you think you are?’ and all. One guy who was a part of [Downtown Entertainment] got his windows bashed in–both in his business and his car–and his family got threatening phone calls over the telephone at home. I’ve gotten it all. I mean, this has not been easy.”

Neither Gresser nor Hitchcock will go into detail about the causes of the split. Other sources familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, are less cagey–they claim the split is between clubs that host prostitution and clubs that don’t.

“Apparently the difference is private rooms, no private rooms,” says one source. “If there are no private rooms, then you obviously can’t have prostitution on the site.” The clubs without private rooms are the ones moving into Downtown Entertainment, he says.

Sources say the new group also wants police officers currently on the Block beat rotated out. “The policemen around there have been around there for years and have a bunch of friendships,” one source says. “If you are there too long, familiarity can breed bad things.”

Hitchcock says Downtown Entertainment has “scheduled an appointment to talk with the new police commissioner [Ronald Daniel] to basically introduce this new organization to him, to give him a feel for what we intend to do, how we intend to run the businesses, [and] to affirm or reaffirm with him our willingness to be cooperative with the Baltimore City Police Department. In fact, we encourage the police department to be active–fair, but active–on the Block.”

Police spokesperson Robert Weinhold says Daniel “has had conversations with representatives from the Block” and recognizes that they want to make the red-light district as crime-free as possible. “We would expect the efforts of the Block representatives to continue, and that all of the establishments and the citizens who work there will be law-abiding in their business efforts.”

Eventually, Hitchcock says, Downtown Entertainment will seek a meeting with Mayor Martin O’Malley, but it has yet to broach the subject with him. For the time being, the new mayor’s approach to managing the situation on the Block remains a mystery. Despite assurances that he would grant an interview for this article, repeated attempts to set up such a meeting were unsuccessful. O’Malley’s press secretary, Tony White, eventually explained that the mayor has yet to formulate his opinions about the Block district and therefore would rather not discuss it at this time.

“Being the entertainment mogul that he is, he’s thinking about” the Block, White says, but this thinking “hasn’t come to fruition yet.”

It would be a stretch to suggest that contributions to O’Malley’s mayoral campaign last year will have a direct impact on his eventual stance. But several Block interests did pledge support for his candidacy, in all likelihood out of a desire to foster access to and good relations with their potent neighbor in City Hall.

Between July and October of 1999, Block interests donated $6,400 to O’Malley’s cause, according to campaign-finance reports. One of Gresser’s businesses, Custom House News, gave $1,000, as did PP&G, which co-owns the strip club Norma Jean’s and is headed by Pete Koroneos, secretary and treasurer of Downtown Entertainment. The law firm O’Malley worked for before he became mayor gave $2,000 to his campaign, and one of its partners, Joseph Omansky, has long represented Block interests. The remaining $2,400 came from other Block lawyers, owners, liquor licensees, and an accountant.
The Block’s generosity toward politicians is a long-established tradition–probably as old as the Block itself. The district sprang up almost immediately after the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, with the Gayety Theater (opened in 1906 at its present site at 403 E. Baltimore St.) becoming its first landmark. Initially, penny arcades and vaudeville venues dominated, but after the repeal of Prohibition the area took off as a dense concentration of bars and burlesque houses.

During the World War II years and into the 1950s, the Block’s reputation spread nationally as striptease acts became the main attraction at many of the nightclubs and, as two out-of-town reporters wrote in 1951, “any and all forms of vice are tolerated and protected. There is a price for everything, and it’s not much.”

With all of the fun and money being generated on the Block, heat from law enforcement was turned up. Various congressional inquiries and grand-jury investigations fingered the Block as an organized-crime stronghold in the 1950s and ’60s, a place where the rackets, gambling and prostitution in particular, thrived and fueled corruption and violence. Even during its heyday–so romanticized by a legion of old-time Baltimoreans and local scribes–the Block was a dangerous place that spawned crime sprees and fear and trepidation among hand-wringing city residents.

If the 1960s were bad on the Block from a criminal-justice standpoint, the ’70s were much worse. Julius “The Lord” Salsbury, the acknowledged king of Block rackets, was finally convicted on federal charges in 1969, only to flee the country the following year. (Never brought to justice, he remains a legendary fugitive.) But with the end of Salsbury’s reign–and perhaps because of the destabilizing effect of his absence–came an era of unprecedented violence in the district. When crime fighters did try to put the screws to the Block, they often ended up embarrassing themselves: A 1971 raid by federal agents produced little in the way of convictions and made law-enforcement appear groundlessly zealous in pursuit of justice for Block racketeers.

With downtown’s renewal into a modern entertainment district, however, the Block gained a sense of legitimacy, due largely to rose-colored memories of its former glory and its faded Damon Runyonesque character. Then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer spared the Block from his wide-swinging wrecking ball as he rebuilt downtown, and in 1977 it received a special designation as an entertainment district. But the Block’s salad days were long gone; drugs and sleaziness continued to define its identity into the 1980s and ’90s.

As Schaefer moved from City Hall to the State House, his tolerance for the Block wore down. Late in his second term as governor, he ordered a four-month investigation of crime on the Block that culminated in a January 1994 Maryland State Police raid in which some 500 state troopers descended on the district and shut it down. Initially, the governor and his troopers made great claims–one drug kingpin and three distributors had been nabbed, an arsenal of guns had been confiscated, the back of criminal interests on the Block had been irreparably broken. But attempts to prosecute those arrested fell apart amid allegations of improprieties and faulty techniques among the investigators. Once again, law enforcement was left red-faced by its flawed attack on the tenderloin.

Schaefer’s raid occurred as his mayoral successor, Kurt Schmoke, was in the midst of his own attempt to put the Block out of his misery, by buying it out and relocating businesses. This economic attack failed, however–community leaders around the city feared porn shops and strip clubs would spring up in their backyards. Ultimately, after a flood of contributions to Schmoke’s campaign committee from Block interests in late 1996, a détente was reached. Fronted by the Schmoke-friendly Hitchcock–who had previously represented other downtown business interests that hoped to end the Block once and for all–Block operators received a respite as City Hall promised to await improvements promised by the newly formed Baltimore Entertainment Center.

The city held up its commitment, providing physical improvements such as new brick sidewalks in 1997, but so far the businesses haven’t held up their end of the bargain by substantially cleaning up their acts. If and how O’Malley reacts remains to be seen.

The mayor may still be forming his ideas on the future of the Block, but a new regulatory era is already underway. In November, the city liquor board started enforcing new rules that hold the threat of revocation of adult-entertainment licenses should club employees commit too many violations.

Hitchcock says Downtown Entertainment welcomes the restrictions. “We frankly saw it as tightening of the regulations in a fashion that we all agreed needed to happen,” he says. “We’ve had some very damaging rulings by the liquor board against some of those clubs down there. People are getting the message–you know, you do this stuff and you will lose your livelihood, period, end of story. You may be able to appeal it until it gets to some point of finality, but the liquor board’s not playing about this because they have taken on a responsibility and their credibility is on the line.”

Perhaps even more significant than the new regulations, from a business standpoint, is a January 1999 court ruling that full nudity is legal at adult-entertainment establishments that opened before 1993. The ruling arose when the Spectrum Gentlemen’s Club in East Baltimore appealed a nude-dancing violation and found a loophole in the law, which had been interpreted to require that dancers be partially clothed while performing. The decision was handed down by Circuit Court Judge Richard Rombro, in his last judicial act before retiring from the bench. (Unnoticed at the time was the fact that the judge’s nephew, Stuart Rombro, is an attorney who represents Gresser’s Custom House News.) Regardless, it’s been good for business on the Block.

Hitchcock downplays the ruling’s practical significance. “There’s no real difference,” he says. “I mean, yeah, rather than you put a little star on the nipple, you can take the star off now.” But he acknowledges that Baltimore strip clubs have become a “more marketable and a bigger revenue-generating business because you can basically say it’s nude dancing.”

And a more marketable Block is a boon for Baltimore, says City Council member Nicholas D’Adamo, a Democrat whose 1st District includes the Block and many other adult-entertainment venues.

“Let’s be honest,” asserts D’Adamo, who acknowledges that he patronizes Block establishments now and again. “Is it a plus for the city of Baltimore? I think it is. I think for out-of-towners to come to the city, it could be a stop on their agenda if they’re staying downtown.” He further maintains that Block businesses employ some 1,000 workers and should be recognized as job-providers.

Of the allegations of vice associated with Block clubs, the council member says, “I think the press has blown it out of proportion. Sure, there are problems down there. But I think there are problems in every bar. It’s just a matter of what you consider a problem. So why pick on the Block?

“You show me a person a week’s being killed on the Block, or a person a week’s being stabbed and almost died–you show me numbers like that, we got a problem,” D’Adamo continues. “But goddammit, there’s a lot of streets in this city that have these problems that are a lot worse than the Block. We need to address that first.” And, for the time being, it appears that’s exactly what the city’s going to do.

Nic Fit: Puffing Through the Great Vape Debate

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By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Apr. 9, 2014

Image from http://vaping360.com/what-is-vaping/

Recently, I started huffing vapors produced by heating up compounds used in some types of antifreeze. If swallowed, the liquid I’m vaporizing can be poisonous, even fatal, especially to children. No one yet knows what the long-term health effects of inhaling this stuff will be, yet it is cheap, widely available, glamorized in advertisements, and almost completely unregulated by the authorities. In some major cities, all of Arkansas, New Jersey, North Dakota, and Utah, and a growing list of towns and counties, it’s illegal to huff this stuff wherever it’s illegal to smoke tobacco.

So why am I using it? It sounds strange, even counterintuitive perhaps, but I’m using it to improve my health.

It is called “vaping,” and the devices I’m using to “vape” are called electronic cigarettes or “e-cigs,” whose rechargeable batteries heat up “e-juice” to release vapors I inhale. The flavored e-juice I use in my new e-cigs contains nicotine, though not all e-juices do. The more I’ve vaped, the fewer cigarettes I’ve been smoking. My smoke-weary lungs have been feeling increasingly better as a result, though my decades-long nicotine addiction continues-for now.

The e-cig industry was hatched in China about a decade ago, and arrived in the U.S. in the mid-2000s. Its remarkably rapid growth has been happening so fast, it’s hard to track, but Wells Fargo Securities, in a series of recent reports put out by its “Tobacco Talk” survey team, now estimates it to be a $2.2 billion industry. The team predicts that it will reach $10 billion by 2017, and that by 2023, one of the biggest tobacco companies, Reynolds American, will realize $5.2 billion in e-cig revenue, compared to $3.1 billion it will reap from peddling traditional cigarettes.

Big bankers, in other words, are banking on the idea that e-cigs will be bigger than cigarettes within a decade. In Maryland, scores of retail vape stores and online e-cig businesses have sprung up in the past year, while three have opened in Baltimore City since last summer, with a fourth scheduled to open this month.

I followed e-cig media coverage for more than a year before making the leap. Navigating the rabbit hole of e-cig information is dizzying, as one is see-sawed from scary messages (Its ingredients are used in antifreeze! E-juice kills babies!) to rational claims that the technology reduces harm among cigarette smokers. While many questions remain about the long-term effects of inhaling the vapors from e-juice’s ingredients-propylene glycol (PG), vegetable glycerin (VG), and the flavorings infused in them-the ingredients themselves are common and approved as safe for use in food by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Both PG and VG are used in antifreezes designed to reduce harm from accidental ingestion, such as those used in machinery involved in food production. Nicotine, meanwhile, is a powerful and addictive stimulant that can be highly toxic, so the recent rise in reported poisonings from e-juice has prompted a media frenzy-and the widespread use of child-proof caps by e-juice makers and warnings by industry leaders that users should take smart, responsible steps to ensure e-juice doesn’t get ingested by children and pets.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on April 4 issued a press release saying that there have been 2,405 e-cig nicotine-poisoning calls to poison centers from September 2010, when there was one call, to February 2014, when there were 215, and more than half of them pertained to kids under 5 years old. To put this in context, though, poison control centers got more that 20,000 calls in 2012 alone about people poisoned by ingesting fluoride toothpaste, and almost all of them involved children 5 or younger.

Inhaled e-cig vapors have been shown in studies to have trace amounts of some harmful compounds-formaldehyde and acrolein, in particular-at levels far below those found in smoke from burning tobacco. As a review of such studies by Drexel University public health professor Igor Burstyn concluded last summer, “no evidence” currently exists that vaping exposes users to contaminants “that would warrant health concerns by the standards that are used to ensure safety of workplaces,” and “exposures of bystanders are likely to be orders of magnitude less, and thus pose no apparent concern.”

The FDA intends to regulate e-cigs by deeming them tobacco products under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, but the nine-step process of doing so is currently stuck on step four, as the White House Office of Management and Budget reviews whatever the FDA is currently proposing. In the meantime, the FDA says in a statement emailed to City Paper that “further research is needed to assess the potential public health benefits and risks of electronic cigarettes.”

The public-health community is divided on the issue. Some revered medical institutions, like the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, advise against using e-cigs; Mayo says on its web site that “until more is known about the potential risks, the safe play is to say no to electronic cigarettes,” while pointing those who want to quit smoking to the “many FDA-approved medications that have been shown to be safe and effective for this purpose.” Other public-health experts see great promise in e-cigs as a safer alternative to smoking that can help people quit, often more effectively than other FDA-approved options.

Burstyn, in a recent interview with City Paper, says, “If all smokers switched to vaping, it would be the equivalent of them quitting, and it would change the world for the better, in my opinion.” He adds that “all serious scientists are pretty much in agreement that e-cigarettes are the way to go,” while public health professionals who say otherwise “are doing harm, clearly-every time a smoker doesn’t switch to e-cigarettes because of their advice. It’s smoking! One of the most harmful things we do, and so widespread. Their opposition to e-cigs is ideology, it’s not science, and in the end you need to listen to the quality of their arguments and use your own brain.”

In January in the Journal of the American Medical Association, an opinion piece by David Abrams of the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health aired the same concerns about the risk of ideology trumping science in the public health community’s reception of e-cigs.

“If e-cigarettes represent the new frontier,” Abrams wrote, “tobacco control experts must be open to new strategies. Statements based on ideology and insufficient evidence could prevent the use of this opportunity before it becomes established as part of harm reduction strategy.” Regulatory overreach, he suggested, “might support the established tobacco industry, whose rapid entry into the marketplace and history of making potentially misleading claims of harm reduction could promote poly-use of all their tobacco products, and thus perpetuate sales of conventional cigarettes well into the next century rather than speed their obsolescence.” He added that “independent manufacturers of e-cigarettes could compete with tobacco companies and make the cigarette obsolete, just as digital cameras made film obsolete”-a prospect he calls “an extraordinary opportunity to end the cigarette century well before the 100th anniversary” of the first 1964 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on smoking and health.

The controversy over the relative risks of e-cig versus cigarette use “makes no sense to me,” adds Michael Siegel, a physician and public health professor at Boston University. “I’d rather have people use a safer product than a dangerous one,” he tells City Paper in a recent phone interview, adding, “there’s no question [e-cigs are] safer than smoking.” He estimates that e-cigs are currently “saving maybe thousands or tens of thousands of lives” of people who are quitting smoking by using them, and adds that “it’s quite shocking to me, actually, when public-health advocates don’t applaud people quitting in this way. It’s the most promising innovation in my 25-year career.”

The just-released 2014 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report generally withholds judgment on e-cigs but allows that they are likely to be helpful as cigarette use-which the report blames for nearly 21 million premature deaths since 1964, and which, according to the CDC, was down from 42.4 percent of adults in 1965 to almost 18.1 percent in 2012-continues to be stamped out. “The promotion of electronic cigarettes,” the report states, “is much more likely to be beneficial in an environment where the appeal, accessibility, promotion, and use of cigarettes are being rapidly reduced.”

Convinced that vaping wasn’t going to kill me faster than cigarettes, and might actually prolong my life if I could successfully replace cigarettes with e-cigs, on Feb. 16 I went to the Vapory (thevapory.net), Baltimore’s first bricks-and-mortar “vape” shop on Preston Street in Midtown, and paid $57.46, taxes included, for a starter kit and two bottles of tobacco-flavored e-juice.

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The Vapory is in the basement of 19 W. Preston St., so customers step down from the sidewalk to enter the small shop. Its aquamarine walls are crowded with framed prints of old art. Arrayed on nearly all available surfaces are curios: Victorian statuary, skulls, a small bronze of William Donald Schaefer, and figurines of the RCA dog, a caped Robin, and the Super Mario Brothers. The wares for sale-vaping devices, some of them strikingly similar in appearance to the hyposprays made famous by Star Trek’s Dr. Leonard H. “Bones” McCoy, plus accoutrements like carrying cases and colorful tips and tanks, plus rows and rows of e-juice bottles-are in glass display cases. A small table and a couple of chairs are set up for sampling different flavors of e-juices. As if one needed to get more comfortable in this calm, cluttered, bohemian environment, there are two couches in the corner to settle into.

“All out of Thug Juice, but I’m getting more soon,” the Vapory’s owner, 49-year-old Adam Fordham, tells a customer. Flavored with grape, watermelon, and menthol, Thug Juice is one of Fordham’s best-selling e-juices, he says. Made by Bellingham, Wash.-based Mt. Baker Vapor, it’s one of the two brands he carries, the other being Richmond, Va.-based Avail Vapor.

Fordham, a heavyset dandy of a man with a shock of swept-back greying blond hair, used to be an incorrigible smoker. “I was two packs a day for 29 years,” he says, “and I was never going to quit, because I enjoyed it that much.” He first tried vaping, he says, “so I could smoke and drink at a bar,” and “I was very surprised that it replicated” smoking so well. Then “cheapness kicked in,” he continues, as “I saw how much money I was saving. And that’s what really did it for me-especially for someone who never had any intention of quitting smoking. So when that last carton of Marlboros had run out, I didn’t buy any more. And now I’m nearing my one-year anniversary of no cigarettes. I’ve had four drags since, and I couldn’t stand it.”

Fordham opened the Vapory on July 27, 2013, after a long career in what he calls “materials management and supply operations. My first job was as a stockboy at Woolworth’s, and I hardly ever left that. I did it for University of Maryland, did it for Johns Hopkins, and then I was working for a hospital that closed, so I was actually unemployed when I opened the shop. No one was answering my resumes, but I had a short little severance, and I saw how the business was growing, so I thought if I could find a decent space, I could open in time to be the first one in the city.”

The kit Fordham sold to me was manufactured by Shenzhen, China-based Innokin Technology Co. and included two rechargeable batteries, a USB cable and plug for recharging them, and five “cartomizers” that you fill with e-juice and screw into the sleek, black batteries. The cartomizers are clear tanks topped by form-fitting tips and wicks inside them that carry the e-juice to the battery, which, when you push a button to turn it on, vaporizes the e-juice, allowing you to inhale the fumes through the tip. When the cartomizer runs low on e-juice, you add more from the bottles.

The nicotine content of the 25 milliliters (ml) of e-juice I bought from the Vapory-18 milligrams (mg) per ml-means it is the nicotine-equivalent of approximately 375 cigarettes, since each cigarette delivers about 1.2 mg of nicotine (an admittedly rough estimate). Thus, for a little less than $60, I purchased the ability to vape about the same amount of nicotine as I would take in by smoking almost 19 packs of cigarettes costing about $7.50 each-or $140, give or take a few bucks.

This was clearly a huge bargain compared to smoking cigarettes, and the potential savings grew eye-popping as the weeks passed. In March, I went to Bmore Vapes (bmorevapes.com) on Light Street in Federal Hill-the second vape shop to open in the city-and purchased three 10-ml bottles of e-juice containing 24 mg/ml of nicotine, flavored to taste like rum, whiskey, and honey-infused tobacco. Their higher nicotine concentration means each bottle contains the nicotine-equivalent of 10 packs of cigarettes. The three bottles cost about $15, potentially replacing about $225 worth of smokes.

I added to my e-juice collection at Gypsy Vape (gypsy-vape.com), a recently opened shop just inside the Beltway on Route 40 West, by buying three 12-mg nicotine bottles flavored to taste like spiced tobacco, rum, and caramel coffee. Then I returned to the Vapory to buy three more cartomizers for another $15, so I could have eight cartomizers to match my eight flavors.

All told, I’ve spent a little over $100 to become a well-stocked vaper-and my e-juice supplies, which look likely to last me for months to come, contain the same amount of nicotine as roughly 1,275 cigarettes, or about 64 packs, which would have cost me in the neighborhood of $500.

I’m about six weeks into vaping now, and I’m still buying and smoking cigarettes. But the amount I’m smoking has regularly decreased as I’ve come to enjoy vaping more and more to satisfy my need for nicotine. Whereas I used to smoke a half-pack a day, usually a little more, I recently re-upped after taking five days to go through a pack. So I’m at about four cigarettes a day: one in the morning, two during the day, and one before bed. That’s puts me within reach of quitting entirely-which I now intend to do, since, unlike ever before in my long smoking career, it seems like a reasonably obtainable goal.

When I tell Fordham I’m still smoking, albeit less and less, he tries to encourage me by gently shaming me. “What’s the point?” he says. “Segue, dude, you gotta segue.”

Stories about customers who’ve successfully quit smoking start flowing out of Fordham. “I have one guy, he smoked as much as me,” he recalls. “He came in on my second day in business, and he hasn’t smoked since, and since then people come in because they know Larry quit.”

Asked to describe the demographics of his shop’s customers, Fordham says: “It’s like smoking, there’s hardly a demographic because it’s everybody-all races, walks of life.” And he’s clearly satisfied with the sociability of his new career. “I’ve definitely met a fascinating bunch of people since I started this,” he says, before telling an anecdote to illustrate the unlikely camaraderie that arises among those in the vape culture.

“I had one customer who was in here, a University of Baltimore law student,” Fordham recalls. “Then in came this artist who does drag once in a while, these MICA students, and there was a PhD candidate at Hopkins. They all came in about the same time, and everyone’s just really talking about vaping.”

“The UB student,” Fordham continues, “after everyone else left, he was like, ‘You know, I don’t think in any other social situation we would have had a conversation, even if we were in the same bar as each other, which is unlikely. But we’re all talking about this vape, and it’s completely different from the normal crowd I would have met. And these are all people who have started vaping and quit smoking, and almost every one of them is surprised, because they’ve all tried to quit before, and nothing ever worked. And when it works for them, they are very supportive of everybody else.'”

The most prevalent types of e-cigs, known as “cigalikes,” are sold at convenience stores and gas stations, with brand names like blu, NJoy, and Blaze, often in either disposable or rechargeable models. They cost about $5 to $10 each for disposables, or $20 to $70 for rechargeable kits, and offer fewer varieties of flavors, often packaged in cartridges rather than e-juice bottles for use in refillable cartomizers. So cigalikes are more expensive to use over time than the e-cigs sold at vape stores, which cater to those looking to customize their vaping experience with a variety of higher-powered technology and nearly limitless flavor options.

Despite the higher cost over time of disposables and fewer choices, some cigalike users have found them quite useful for quitting smoking. “I was a smoker for ten-plus years,” explains Adam Sahhar, captain of Urban Pirates, which runs playful excursions on the faux-pirate ship Fearless out of Fells Point. “Most days I would smoke a whole pack of cigarettes,” he continues, and “when I decided that I could no longer justify the cost, smell, and harm to my body anymore, I decided to try the blu disposable brand, to work my way off smoking. I stopped smoking cigarettes altogether within a week and have not lit up in over a month.” He adds that using blus “is cheaper and has saved me over $100 in one month.”

Sahhar’s experience with cigalikes may have once been more common than mine, involving cartomizers and a host of tasty flavors. But vape culture centered on what is purveyed online and at vape stores rather than cigalikes from convenience stores is a growing phenomenon. The Wells Fargo Securities team in late March estimated that roughly 60 percent of all e-cig sales is happening in this hard-to-track segment of the economy, and puts the number of vape stores in the U.S. at about 5,000.

In Maryland, the Legal Resource Center for Public Health Policy at the University of Maryland School of Law has tried to keep tabs on the growth of vape shops. Its deputy director, William Tilburg, says, “I don’t have a comprehensive list,” but “the list we have” amounts to “32 bricks-and-mortar shops around the state.”

City Paper‘s attempt to create a list based on new business filings at the Maryland Department of Assessments & Taxation (MDAT), where anyone starting a business goes to file incorporation or trade-name application papers, is also incomplete by necessity. But it indicates that the vape-shop explosion in the Free State is remarkably active-and that Tilburg’s crew has some catching up to do.

Joining the parade of newly forming Maryland vape businesses in March were the Vape Shop in Sykesville, the Vapor Kingdom in Glen Burnie, MD Vapor in Thurmont, Vaperista in Easton, the Vapor Vault in White Plains, Vapor Trails in Hagerstown, Vapeculture in Gaithersburg, Vape Puffin Stuff in Cheltenham, Vape Jungle in Owings Mills, and DC Vapor and Vapor VII in Germantown. In February, there was Gypsy Vape, Vape Exchange in Germantown, Vapor Worldwide in Bethesda, The Vapepad in Odenton, and Vapin Time in College Park. And in January came the Vaper’s Knoll in Pasadena, All Day Vapors in Reisterstown, Vapor-Tek in Elkridge, Vapestore USA in Essex, Vaper-Café Timonium, Vapor Gators in Stevensville, and Vaporrise USA in Hagerstown.

That’s 23 new vaping enterprises in Maryland since the beginning of the year, and is likely not the complete picture. In Baltimore City, for instance, sisters Margee Brooks and Monica Schubel opened Mystic Vape (mystic-vape.com) earlier this year on Falls Road in Hampden, becoming the city’s third vape shop. “These shops are popping up all over,” says Brooks, who was attracted to the prospect of opening one by Schubel, who quit smoking by using e-cigs. “I knew nothing about it before then,” Brooks continues, “but I came into this business saying, you know what, financially this is going to work. I believe in it.”

A fourth city vape shop, District Charm Vapory, is set to open on Washington Boulevard in Pigtown on April 11, according to an email from Rachel Alexander, who co-owns the business with Laura Greeley.

The pace appears to be picking up, since City Paper‘s MDAT business-filings search counted over 30 new vape businesses forming in Maryland in all of 2013. Last year’s new arrivals included the Vapor Hut in Oakland, the Vape Vine and Mean Street Vapor in Glen Burnie, Vape Bros in Ellicott City, the Vape Lounge in Bel Air, Vaping Apes in Forestville, Vape Social in Rockville, Great White Vape in Arnold, Vapor Jacks in Silver Spring, Vape Daddy in Damascus, and Vaporiot in Dundalk.

Clearly, Maryland’s vape scene is burgeoning as customers look for more choice and convenience. To Fordham, what he’s been seeing among his growing customer base is surprising: “It’s the closest thing to religious converts that I can think of.” He’s also surprised at his own transformation: “I never thought I’d be, like, turned into an advocate, you know, some kind of activist or something. I just didn’t see that coming.”

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“I never wanted to be an activist in my life, for anything. For anything. It never even crossed my mind,” says 43-year-old Ron Ward, an attorney who last year opened up The Vapers’ Edge, a vape shop in Parkville. “And then I started these things,” he says, holding up his e-cig, “and here’s the answer to a problem that I’ve been looking for my entire life. And within six months I was an activist, full on. It’s exciting, and being a vendor is very exciting. It’s like throwing the rope back over the fence for people, to help them find an alternative to smoking. And they’re thankful. I have people thank me during the course of the day.”

Ward is a board member of CASAA, the acronym for the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, and now finds himself calling and writing legislators weighing how to regulate e-cigs. He did so in Maryland, urging the state not to institute a proposed ban on e-cig sales while supporting a measure to prohibit sales to minors, and both bills ended up how he’d hoped they would.

As vaping grows more widespread and acceptable, Ward says, “there is power in numbers. We’re very enthused” as the vaping community grows more organized. “Vapers aren’t like smokers,” he says, observing that, “when the smoking ban went down” in 2007 in Maryland, “there weren’t hundreds of smokers descending upon Annapolis to fight against these bills. Vapers are very enthusiastic and want to get involved. So the more vapers we have on board, the more numbers we have, the more we can fight these bans.”

Carl Phillips, a public-health scientist and longtime proponent of tobacco harm reduction who serves as CASAA’s scientific director, believes proposed bans and heavy-handed regulation that may threaten to undermine the e-cig industry are being aided by an inherent irony resulting from an important federal appellate-court decision in 2011 that essentially bars e-cig manufacturers from making claims that their products can help people quit smoking.

“It would be enormously beneficial if they could just tell the truth,” Phillips says, “but instead they have to resort to messages about how it’s a cool alternative to smoking. They are stuck advertising this way, and then they are criticized for using these marketing tactics.”

Boston University’s Siegel agrees, saying that allowing e-cig makers to “make a therapeutic claim is the best thing they could do, since it would allow these companies to inform consumers that they are safer than cigarettes, which is the truth. Instead, companies go to other tactics-how sexy it is, how you can use these where you can’t smoke.”

Siegel points out that “many decisions in public health are made in the absence of complete data”-a real problem for e-cigs since “they just came on the market and there hasn’t been enough time for thorough study yet”-yet “no one is claiming they have short-term effects, the only question is long-term effects, and it takes a very long time to establish what they might be.” New drugs are approved by FDA and “put on the market without any understanding of their long-term effects all the time,” he adds, so such decisions “often have to be made with uncertainties.” The bottom line, he says, is, “we should be doing everything in our power to combat smoking, and e-cigarettes are helping many, many people do just that.”

Here in Baltimore, Bmore Vapes owner Cornelius Sylvester says he’s seen it all when it comes to the controversies over e-cigs. He’s been in the business since 2009, when he started out working for Max Cigs, an e-cig company based in Texas, where he was living at the time. “Now that it’s popular,” Sylvester says, “everyone’s putting out so much misinformation, it’s crazy. Is it 100 percent safe? Nope, but nothing is. But is it safer? Is it a safe alternative? Yeah, it is.”

Sylvester and industry activists like CASAA’s Phillips and Ward agree that the e-cig industry needs regulation, but they’re worried that whatever gets put in place could threaten e-cigs’ availability to consumers whose health could be improved and lives lengthened by using them to quit smoking.

“There should be guidelines,” Sylvester says, “a lot of just basic regulations for this industry that would make everything so much simpler and promote safety.” He worries that, instead, “it’s going to be, take out as many small people like me as possible, replace them with electronic cigarettes in small pen styles from the big tobacco companies, and let the big pharmaceutical companies, who have rival quit-smoking products, do the dirty work and come down and wipe us out. All that’ll be left are the big tobacco companies, who are going to work with the FDA to do it this way, and pretty much take over the market.”

Time will tell whether Sylvester’s pessimistic vision turns out to be prescient or misplaced. In the meantime, though, his business is booming. He says he now has nine employees and will need more as he expands to a new, bigger location in Baltimore County, and another in the planning stages at Arundel Mills Mall. He says some small e-cig companies’ growth is staggering.

“I know one guy, I sold him his first e-cigarette in Texas,” Sylvester says. “Since then, he opened up his own store, doing online sales, and he did over $50 million last year. I’m like, wow.”

“The people you’re talking to are already the converts,” says Pamela Clark, a public health research professor who is director of the new University of Maryland Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (UMD-TCRS), when I mention the raft of stories vape connoisseurs have told me about people quitting smoking by switching to vaping.

“They’re the born-again breathers, and they’re passionate,” Clark continues. “They’re the ones who show up and testify at government hearings. They’re really part of the subculture, and they go to vape fests and are technologically oriented and disdainful of cigalikes,” which increasingly are produced by big tobacco companies. “The tobacco industry is not involved with” the vape stores’ products so far, which she calls “very funky looking,” and she believes that “many of [their customers] were never smokers.”

She worries, though, that the rise in vape culture “may re-normalize smoking” thanks to “advertising on television,” turning back the ebb tide that cigarette use has seen for decades until now, when “it’s down below 20 percent of the population,” while also reversing the decline in teen smoking. On the other hand, she says, putting the brakes on e-cigs’ growth presents an “ethical dilemma,” because “a lot of people will anecdotally quit with them,” presenting a “problem of denying these things from people who want to quit.”

Clark, who says she got her first grant to study e-cigs in 2011, is guiding UMD-TCRS as it embarks on major new e-cig research funded last year by the National Institutes of Health in collaboration with the FDA. Some of the defenders of vape culture cited this forthcoming study when, in March, the Economic Matters Committee of the Maryland House of Delegates held a hearing on House Bill 1291, which sought to ban vaping wherever smoking is already banned by law in Maryland.

Cheryl Zolnierek, who goes by the nickname “Vape Mom” as vice president of Maryland Vapers (mdvapers.org), a group that hosts social meet-ups and an online community of vapers and vendors, asked the committee to “please, wait until this study is released, see what they have to say,” before passing an indoor-vaping ban. Lobbyist Bruce Bereano, representing the Association of Tobacco and Candy Wholesalers in opposing the bill, urged the committee to “await objective, concrete scientific facts and evidence before acting” and pointed out that Prince George’s County, which had been considering passing an indoor-vaping ban last year, decided it would hold off until the Clark-led study produced results.

The bill’s sponsor, state Del. Aruna Miller (D-Montgomery County), told the committee to “err on the side of public safety” and allow the proposal to go forward to a floor vote, since it’s “like the wild, wild West out there” with “no FDA oversight.” She claimed that “many of these studies that have been conducted” are “not conclusive” as to the risks of vaping, which may be a “gateway product” leading nonsmokers to pick up cigarettes.

Joining Miller in support of the bill was Donald Shell, head of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Cancer and Chronic Disease Bureau, who said that reported e-cig “nicotine overdoses” in Maryland had increased from seven calls in 2012, two involving children, to 11 in 2013, nine of them kids. He added that “we are not clear what the potential risk is at this time” from vaping.

Del. Melvin Stukes (D-Baltimore City) signed on as a co-sponsor of Miller’s bill, and says in an interview with City Paper that “nobody knows what’s coming from these things,” adding, “I did hear there are some things involved with the vapors that are hazardous.” Another co-sponsor, Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County), who is a physician, adds that he’s heard e-cigs “help people quit” smoking, but “that’s not proven,” adding, “it’s always good to err on the side of caution until the facts are clear.”

But at the committee hearing, vaping proponents argued that enough is already known to avoid banning the convenient use of this promising smoking-cessation technology. “Vaping is 99 percent less risky than smoking,” said CASAA’s Phillips. The suggestion that “a bystander would be harmed” by vaping is “misguided,” he said, since the toxicity of vaping “is far below the level to create any health concern,” and “that’s the exposure to the user herself.” People who switch from smoking to vaping, Phillips continued, “are reducing their health risk almost as much as if they’d quit cold turkey,” and if Maryland law was changed to “take away that convenience” of vaping indoors in public places-like bars, restaurants, and even vape shops-“more people will keep smoking and die from it.”

Also testifying against the bill was Bill Godshall, the founder of SmokeFree Pennsylvania and a CASAA advisor, who said the bill, if passed, would “protect cigarette markets” by creating disincentives for smokers to start vaping, a practice that he estimates has “replaced about one billion packs of cigarettes in the U.S. in the past five years,” while “last year, U.S. cigarette sales dropped by 4.6 percent as e-cigarette sales skyrocketed to replace them.” The more vaping goes mainstream, the more it “denormalizes cigarette smoking,” Godshall argued, adding that just as e-cigs have burgeoned, “teen smoking has declined to record lows.”

Godshall’s teen-smoking point was meant to counter widely cited data from the CDC, which he mentioned to the committee, finding that high-schoolers’ e-cig use rose from 1.5 percent to 2.8 percent from 2011 to 2012. When these findings were released, CDC director Tom Frieden surmised publicly that they raise the specter that e-cigs are a gateway to cigarette smoking. But the CDC also found that 9 out of 10 high-schoolers who reported vaping were already cigarette smokers and that teen smoking overall had declined-facts they released belatedly, and which suggest that many vaping high-schoolers may be dual users on the road to quitting cigarettes or have already fully switched to vaping.

Boston University’s Siegel found CDC’s behavior in releasing its data in successive bites highly suspect, writing on his blog, The Rest of the Story: Tobacco News Analysis and Commentary (tobaccoanalysis.blogspot.com), that “CDC officials certainly had plenty of opportunity to let the public know that there was no discernible increase in cigarette smoking among youth concomitant with the observed increase in e-cigarette use,” and the fact they reported the former only after the media rippled with news of the latter, suggests they’ve come to “a pre-determined conclusion that e-cigarettes are evil.”

In the end, the Economic Matters Committee voted 19 to 3 to stop Maryland’s proposed indoor-vaping ban in its tracks. Bereano, in an interview after the vote, says it’s likely the majority struck the bill down “because they are sensitive to business and cautious about government regulation of business and business products,” especially since, given the reliability of information currently available, “they couldn’t call vaping dangerous and harmful.” Stukes, though, says that while the proposal is “dead for now, it will be back next year.”

“I smoked 31 years,” says Rick Willard, a 47-year-old retired Baltimore City cop. “I was doing almost two packs a day. I would raid houses with a cigarette in my mouth. In Edmondson Village, my nickname was the Marlboro Man. I always had a cigarette. I would chase a bad guy down the street for a couple of blocks, and I’d have to stop and smoke a cigarette to kick-start my lungs.”

Willard is telling war stories of his days as a chronic smoker while sitting in the lounge area of Gypsy Vape, a shop he recently opened with his longtime friend and fellow former Baltimore cop Kevin Hoff. “I tried the patch, gum, Chantix, hypnosis-everything you could imagine to quit smoking,” Willard continues. He discovered e-cigs about five years ago, he says, and “quit smoking 100 percent on January 17 of 2013.” He says he’s cut the nicotine content of the e-juices he vapes to 6 mg/ml, sometimes as low as 3 mg/ml, and “I could probably go to zero,” but, “I have no intention of quitting.” But “once you switch all the way,” he continues, “after a couple of weeks, you’re going to see a difference in how you feel. I could barely walk up a flight of steps without getting winded before. Now, I can run five miles. I feel better all over, my whole body.”

Hoff, a longtime Goth and Renaissance Festival enthusiast, says, “I vape no nicotine. I have no wish to vape nicotine, and half the vapers out there don’t vape nicotine.” He was “a hookah smoker before I got into vaping,” he explains, but grew worried about “what they put in that charcoal” used in hookahs, and “how much of that is still getting through the water filter.” So he switched to vaping-and now he enjoys something that may be the only aspect of vape culture that is controversial among vapers themselves.

It’s called “cloud chasing,” and it involves exhaling mass quantities of thick vapor, enough to fill a room, much like a theatrical fog machine can. Those who build the e-cigs that can do it have to be hard-core geeks about the vaping technology. When I ask Hoff what he uses to chase clouds, he says this: “I’m running a 20-gauge, four-wrap wire on an IGO-W drip atomizer that subohms at about anywhere from .06 to .13.” This is how cloud chasers talk.

Ron Ward, the lawyer with the Parkville vape shop, tries to be tolerant about cloud chasers. “I’m libertarian by nature,” he explains, so, “I have no problem with it at all.” But he clearly does, based on what he says next: “If you do blow industrial size clouds of vapor in public, it’s going to ruin it for the rest of us. It’s going to be what they point to when they say these things should be banned indoors, because people are being disrespectful. It honestly creates such an immense amount of vapor that it could be offensive to a lot of people. It’s offensive to me, and I’m a vaper.”

Cloud chasing “started in the Phillipines,” Ward continues, “I’d say it’s been a year and a half, and it’s become very, very popular. Culturally, it seems to be mostly young people and hobbyists, people in their 20s who like to rebuild things and want to build something that makes the most vapor.”

Or people like 48-year-old Hoff, who says he wore a blue Mohawk for part of his six years on the police force, and the last thing most people would think when looking at him is “ex-cop.” But Willard, who looks every bit the ex-cop, echoes Ward’s concerns. While cloud chasers “do it everywhere” because “it’s fun and they enjoy it,” Willard says, “sometimes people aren’t responsible. If they really thought about the future of vaping, they wouldn’t sit in a Chuck-E-Cheese and subohm and blow a cloud, because the perception of that cloud, after years of indoctrination of what smoke is, people don’t understand it. And then they get fearful for their kids.”

But the geek factor involved in cloud chasing is indicative of a larger theme in hardcore vape culture, one in which, unlike with people trying to quit smoking, nicotine isn’t really part of the picture.

“Probably 50 percent of our customers don’t even do nicotine,” Hoff explains. “A lot are people who were into hookahs, without nicotine, so we supply non-nicotine e-juice to a lot of people who just enjoy vaping, who just have a pastime where they sit around and socialize. Now, a lot of young people are going to vape shops the way, when I was younger, we used to bar-hop. It’s kind of like a hobby to a lot of people, and they go around and collect things, build things, look at things, collect the different mods, the different drippers”-component parts of high-end e-cigs that people build themselves, so they can control the ohms and voltage of the batteries and the amount of e-juice delivered.

“It’s a whole different subculture that is literally springing up overnight,” Hoff says. “I can’t remember a subculture that sprang up this quickly.”

But “our primary customers,” Hoff adds, “are people who want to quit smoking. They’ve tried everything. They come here, and we sell them just the basic kit to get started on their journey. And it works. They’re surprised that they’re not doing cigarettes anymore, and the thought of smoking turns their stomach.”

Hoff’s wife, Jennifer Langenfelder, pipes in: “One thing I don’t miss is smelling like a cigarette.” She was a pack-a-day smoker until the shop opened, three weeks earlier, and hasn’t had one since. “It’s gotten to the point where I can smell it on somebody, and it just makes me want to gag. You get to the point where it just smells and tastes disgusting.”

“That’s how we can tell if our customers are being honest or not about quitting,” Hoff concludes. “You don’t get that smell, you know it’s working.”

For now, I still carry that smell-though less so, given that I’m smoking only three or four cigarettes a day. I look forward to the day I can go to the Vapory or Gypsy Vape or Bmore Vapes, and they’ll notice I don’t reek.

The Quiet Revolution: Can Heather Mizeur Ride Maryland’s Wave of Progressive Politics to the Governor’s Office?

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By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Jan. 15, 2014

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

More than a quarter-century has passed since Maryland’s last truly competitive Democratic primary for governor in 1986, when Attorney General Stephen Sachs lost to Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer. So this year’s polling on June 24 will be historic, simply because two statewide elected leaders – Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown and Attorney General Doug Gansler – are on the ballot. Complicating their efforts to attract the most votes from Maryland’s roughly 2 million registered Democrats is a third bona fide candidate: 41-year-old state Del. Heather Mizeur of Montgomery County, a state legislator with sterling credentials as a Democratic Party activist.

City Paper met with Mizeur at the Starbucks on Church Circle in Annapolis to discuss her candidacy. The sit-down occurred on the first day of this year’s General Assembly session-apt timing, given Maryland’s increasingly apparent leftward leanings in recent years, passing laws to repeal the death penalty, ramp up gun control, extend marriage rights to same-sex couples, and grant in-state tuition to some undocumented immigrants.

While Brown and Gansler grapple, Mizeur’s candidacy seems to be tapping into this leftward trend by proposing to legalize and tax marijuana to pay for universal pre-K public education, to raise the minimum wage by nearly $10 per hour over the next decade, and to provide small-business tax relief while closing loopholes that let large out-of-state companies off the tax hook. The small-town Illinois native with working-class roots has toiled in the partisan vineyards since the 1990s: as a staffer for three Congressional Democrats; as domestic-policy director for then-U.S. Sen. John Kerry when he ran in the 2004 presidential election; as a Takoma Park city councilwoman; as a superdelegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention; as a 2009 appointee to the Democratic National Committee’s executive committee; and as a veteran of seven (and counting) Maryland General Assembly sessions.

If elected, Mizeur would be many firsts for Maryland: the first woman governor, the first openly gay governor, and the first same-sex married governor. She would also be the first governor elected using the state’s public-financing mechanism for statewide campaigns, an arrangement that constrains campaign spending but opens up a funding level that might otherwise have been elusive, given the well-established money-pumping machines working for Brown and Gansler.

City Paper: The clock is ticking, with a June primary.

Heather Mizeur: It is, but we take a pause now for a 90-day legislative session with great expectations on what we can get done to make a difference in peoples’ lives. We seem to be unified in trying to increase the minimum wage, and I’m hoping we’ll also get paid sick leave and some small-business tax relief. We don’t have to have either-or economic policy. We can pay people a living wage and have paid sick leave while also providing tax relief to our small businesses as long as we close some corporate tax loopholes that are allowing a handful of multi-state companies to hide their earnings outside of the state and avoid paying any taxes. I think we’re going to be able to make some progress on marijuana policy reform and hopefully protect us from unregulated shale-gas drilling. It’s a big agenda.

CP: Does it change the dynamic, being a candidate running against the lieutenant governor and the attorney general during the session?

HM: I’m sure there’ll be some elbows thrown trying to keep people from being seen as successful. That’s not how I come at this. I come at this as a public servant. I don’t view my opponents in the campaign as my enemies. We’re all good people, trying to get good things done for the state. We just have vastly different visions for where we take Maryland. I’m definitely looking forward to being the one that helps set the agenda for what that will be starting in 2015.

CP: You strike me as the extra-establishment progressive candidate.

HM: What do you mean by that?

CP: You came up in the Democratic establishment and right now, with your candidacy, you are challenging it.

HM: Very much so, because in Maryland our next governor should not always be dictated by who’s standing next in line. The way it typically has worked in Maryland is, once a governor gets elected, insiders start looking at who appears to be next in line and funneling money and building favors and establishing deeper relationships to get in good with them. When a candidate like me looks at getting in, I’m technically supposed to look at the millions of dollars in their bank accounts or the endorsements they’ve already lined up years ago, and say, “Well, I can’t compete against that, I should never get in.” That perpetuates a system of advancing the person next in line to protect the status quo.

My campaign is about re-empowering the people so they have alternatives and choices and can come together and say, “We have a different vision. We believe in something else than what is spoon-fed to us that we’re expected to go along with.” We’re in it to win it, and we’re incredibly thrilled with the support of a robust grassroots base all across the state.

CP: This race doesn’t seem to be a coronation, though, and sometimes those coronations don’t work, like in Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s case in 2002. You worked on Townsend’s campaign, right?

HM: I was Joe Kennedy’s legislative director, her brother, when he was in Congress. Toward the end of that campaign, he asked if I would consider going and helping his sister’s campaign out. And I was very interested for a variety of reasons in trying to help out that effort.

 

CP: The primary, a lot of people seemed to be interested-but I’m blanking on who actually ran against her.

HM: Nobody. That was the problem. [Actually, Robert Fustero ran against her, getting 20 percent of the vote.] There were a handful of people who were interested in running, but they took a look at money, endorsements, all those things, and decided not to run. I think contested primaries are good for democracy, to engage the electorate to feel ownership over the process. But even a contested primary is usually the next-in-line guys duking it out. It’s not someone like me, who’s seen as jumping the line and not waiting your turn.

I just reject the notion that these elections should be about whose turn it is. This is about the problems our state faces, how to address those problems, and an ability to capture the imagination of the electorate to come together to stand for what is the right course of action. How’s that ever going to be addressed by just looking at who thinks it’s their political birthright by virtue of, “I’ve done this job, and now it’s my turn to do that job”?

When people ask me, “Well, why don’t you run for comptroller or why didn’t you be someone’s running mate?,” I say, “Because that is me trying to set a pathway for my career, and that’s not what this is about.” This is about being in a place and time where my ideas and my willingness to address the challenges facing us are better than the competition. So I am a better candidate and I will be a better governor, and it’s time for me to step forward and give voters that option.

CP: Every state has its own nuanced political geography, but Maryland is essentially three states: the Eastern Shore, Western Maryland, and the Baltimore-Washington corridor, where most of the population lives. You seem to represent a progressive set of beliefs that is often shared by well-educated people in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. How do you address your progressive politics to those parts of the state that don’t share those ideas?

HM: I actually reject the notion that progressive values and ideas are only shared by people of a certain educational attainment or living in a certain region of the state. Progressive values come from a place of being willing to make progress on problems that have plagued us for too long and the solutions have been too risk-averse. I do believe in a one-Maryland approach to governing. I am not just campaigning in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. I think that it is convenient to try to take a progressive viewpoint and put it in the box of one region or another, but I’m finding the depth of support for the ideas that I’m discussing across the board.

Some people might disagree with me on some of the specifics I’m advancing, but they are backing my candidacy because they find it refreshing for a candidate to actually stand up and say what he or she believes. I’m taking very bold, principled stances on a range of issues, providing clear, in-depth policy proposals for the public to determine if they want to support my candidacy based on what I believe. I add a lot of pragmatism to my progressive stances.

People all across the state want to be able to earn a decent salary. Where the concern has been is, you can’t do that without hurting small businesses. Yes, I’m pushing for a living wage, and I’m bringing to the table tax relief for small businesses, but I’m also for holding corporations accountable for their fair share. That might be called a progressive priority, but it is just about fundamental fairness in expecting all of us to play by the same rules. And our failed war on drugs, the impact that marijuana prohibition has had on people’s lives, is something that is resonating in every corner of the state.

I’m not offering up campaign slogans and empty promises and things that will help us do just enough to have a bumper sticker to get reelected in four years. I’m coming in to make transformational change happen, and I’m giving a very clear road map on how I will accomplish it, and that’s exciting a base of people to be engaged and involved in a candidacy that is going all the way to win. I am finding that that spark is catching fire. I have Republicans, Greens, independents reaching out to our office about changing their voter registrations, because they have to under our current system, just to have the opportunity to vote for me because they see this as a real shift in what has been politics as usual in Annapolis.

CP: What types of positions are you finding that people respect, even if they disagree with them?

HM: I have some people say, “I don’t smoke marijuana, not sure I’m all that cracked up about the policy, a little bit worried about a stoner on every corner. But when I hear you connecting the dots to the larger negative impact these laws have on people’s lives and that they detract money from law enforcement focusing on more serious and violent crime, it starts to make sense.” And this new revenue source can go to something they do believe in-having universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds, which people understand is expensive, that’s why we don’t have it. It’s not because people in Annapolis are opposed to educating our toddlers. It’s a really expensive thing to do, and no one’s been able to find an appropriate revenue source to pay for it. Changing our drug policy and dedicating that revenue to something that will lift our communities up in a really positive way will benefit everyone by eliminating the achievement gap in our schools and making sure every child enters kindergarten ready to learn.

CP: And the other candidates, are you saying they are prone to platitudes and slogans and lack clear policy proposals?

HM: I think that the style and substance of the three campaigns are very, very different, and the voters are seeing those differences very clearly.

CP: What sets you apart from Brown, for instance?

HM: I was opposed to the casino-gaming expansion as a lazy form of economic development because there are better ways to create jobs that lift our communities up, like putting people to work rebuilding our schools. He was a big backer and supporter of that approach. We have seemingly parted ways on marijuana policy. I fought against the teacher pension-shift last year because we have one policy requirement in our constitution, and it’s related to giving our children an outstanding K-through-12 public education, and we can’t do that without attracting and retaining the best qualified educators in the nation.

I just have a different set of priorities. We share a priority of giving our kids access to universal pre-K, but we differ vastly on how we would go about doing it. He would rely on low-income families losing money in casinos, and his whole plan is predicated on casino revenue hitting a certain threshold to be able to implement it. My proposal is a more stable revenue source that will guarantee that we can follow through.

 

We’ve both spent eight years in the legislature, and I’d put my record up against his or anyone else’s in this race. Past is prologue, so what have you gotten done in the job you already had? I’ve pushed through a bill that allowed young adults to stay on their families’ health plans through age 25 four years before it was rolled into national health reform. I had legislation to identify and enroll 50,000 of our eligible but uninsured children. I’ve worked across the aisle to get a family-planning expansion passed for 35,000 more women by convincing my GOP colleagues that it’s a win-win for us by lowering the abortion rate and saving the state money while improving maternal health outcomes. I did expansion of coverage for foster kids, led the charge on trying to make sure we protect ourselves against fracking in the state, and marriage equality.

As you can tell, I’m uncomfortable with the question. It is not the kind of campaign I’m running. I don’t want to win by convincing everyone that there is something wrong or ineffective about the other people in the race. I want to win by everyone realizing that I’d be a better governor. Some of the way that gets done is by drawing contrasts, and I’m probably not a great politician from that perspective. Where I come from, from a place of spirituality, doesn’t fit well with trying to make someone else look lesser in order for you to look better. I think people are resonating with the positive campaign that I am running, and the issues that I’m advancing, and I think we’ve done a better job of having a clearer road map on a range of large issues on how our administration would tackle them.

CP: Name recognition is kind of the name of the game when it comes to electoral politics. Yours is still very low.

HM: Suffice it to say that the polls that have been talked about publicly so far were out before I had a chance to make my mark on this race. We started out in July with an early theme of wanting to build and strengthen commitment to public service, and using that as an initial ground force of people. So we built playgrounds, painted schools, read to school kids, cleaned up marshlands, rebuilt homes with Habitat for Humanity in Frederick. While doing that work, we started rolling out our policy initiatives in late October. There’s been no polling done since we’ve done all the great work on our education platform, our detailed 10-point jobs- and economic-development plan, our marijuana-legalization proposal, public financing of campaigns, big environmental initiatives, principals for fixing the flawed implementation of the Affordable Care Act. We are very confident that our message is growing, our support is growing, my name recognition is growing. We’re going to have what it takes to win this election.

CP: Have you been doing any internal polling of your own?

HM: Because of our decision to become a publicly financed campaign, it is very restrictive on how much money we can raise and spend. We have had to make some unconventional decisions on where we spend our money and need to really wait to spend most of our resources on the last efforts. So we are not afforded the same luxury of being able to do consistent polling. But I do benefit from knowing of other polls that are happening around the state, and people tell me that jaws are dropping when the results are coming in, that there’s been some good movement.

CP: Equality Maryland has endorsed Brown. That must’ve been a disappointment.

HM: Of course. There is no ticket that has done more for the LGBT community than ours. Not only me, as an open LGBT member of the caucus who fought for this in a very personal way-my own marriage was at stake-but without Delman Coates [Mizuer’s running mate, who is senior pastor of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Prince George’s County], I don’t know if that would have won the vote at the end of the day in the legislature if there hadn’t been some black clergy that came forward to say it was an important civil rights issue, that we had to separate church and state, that the church can still teach whatever it wants to teach, but we have to treat everyone equally under the law. And Delman helped lead that.

It’s a puzzling selection, but there’s a lot of politics that come into play. The supporters of these organizations anticipate the selection to be based on who they think the best governor will be, who’s been the best on their issues. But people are starting to realize that those decisions tend to more often be centered on who looks like they’re going to win. And who has that crystal ball right now, right? There’s still six months left in the campaign.

I would say this even if they had endorsed me: No community is monolithic, and no one votes based on how an organization recommends that somebody vote. At the end of the day, it is still incumbent upon the candidates to run the best campaigns to inspire and motivate people to vote for them. And I’m very confident of the level of support I have in the LGBT community in Maryland.

CP: You’ve been reaching out to voters of a diversity of ideologies, but in terms of the Maryland electorate’s progressivism, does it seem to be growing?

HM: Maryland has always been more progressive than its leadership. We saw that with the Marriage Equality Act and the Dream Act. We had to fight like the dickens to get both of those bills passed with very razor-thin margins because of the conservative prevailing ideology in the legislative bodies. Then both ballot initiatives won with strong support from the people, not just from the places where people expected it. Marriage equality didn’t just win in big urban areas. There were six jurisdictions that voted for it by majority. So I think the voters of Maryland have been incredibly progressive and have been hoping for their leadership to catch up. My candidacy is offering an opportunity to come out of the closet, if you will.

CP: What is the core problem that’s being addressed in your suite of progressive policy prescriptions?

HM: Economic justice is the biggest one. We have a growing spread of the haves and have-nots, and I think the progressive movement is not just about the people at the bottom rungs, yet that is an important voice-people in poverty who are most vulnerable need a political class fighting on their behalf. But our middle class is seemingly being eviscerated, and we’ve got to make sure that middle-class families are able to earn more and are taxed less. Under this administration, the millionaires’ tax was allowed to expire while taxes were increased on families making between $100,000 and $150,000 a year. That’s backwards from how I see the world, and my tax plan would reverse that.

 

CP: How are you going to play it in Baltimore City?

HM: We’re working on that every day, and even before I thought about running for governor, I was building relationships in Baltimore City when I walked through city schools and saw the deplorable conditions and started to work with the Baltimore Education Coalition and BUILD and the ACLU Education Reform Project on creating the strategy that became known as Transform Baltimore, to bring in the school construction revenue for the city. I wrote an op-ed with Tom Wilcox of the Baltimore Community Foundation in October of 2011 in The Baltimore Sun that carved the framework and path for the success that we got in the 2013 session.

I was very involved in fighting the administration’s plan to build a youth jail in the city. They wanted to build a 120-bed facility at a cost of $70 million, and I was among the early voices saying we have to end our focus on mass incarceration and the crib-to-prison pipeline and just always looking to build more jails for kids rather than creating affirmative opportunities for them.

In our early-childhood education plan, we have a critical component of fixing the child-care subsidies so that truly middle-class families have access to affordable child care and investments in after-school initiatives and summer programs for our kids. Those are the biggest investments of anything we’ve proposed in this race. They are very big, comprehensive plans that I’ve been talking about how to pay for, but it’s about setting priorities and those are my priorities.

There is no candidate from the city, and I think we’re all working to establish a presence and a base of support. And we will have a robust “Baltimore for Mizeur-Coates” organization that helps us with all of our house parties and community events. I think some of the earned media that we’ve been able to generate in the Baltimore market on our policy ideas has helped. We’re having these conversations directly with the people, and I’m very pleased with the growing support. We’ve got more time left in this campaign than what we’ve already invested in it, to keep up the momentum.

CP: The biggest potential for gaining success in Baltimore City is boosting participation, because turnout is typically so low.

HM: We’re looking at probably less than 500,000 people who turn out for this primary election, statewide. Sad but true.

CP: How do you solve that problem?

HM: By getting people energized and motivated and believing in politics again, that it’s not a dirty profession, that it’s not politicians trading favors with their best corporate sponsors and special-interest pals. That’s part of the reason we made the decision to do public campaign financing. We knew we’d have enough to compete and win under the rules, but it was as important to reestablish trust with the electorate and restore integrity in the process. You don’t have to become part of the problem to win, you don’t have to play by the same rules that have turned everybody off. You can do it differently, build trust with the voters, and have them engage in the process again.

Not only will that be part of our campaign’s theme, but it will be how we govern after we win, showing what can happen when engaged communities come together to awaken our higher selves. We all have dreams. We all have things we believe in. We all have a vision for the kind of community that we want to live in together. Somewhere along the line we stopped talking about that, stopped sharing those dreams, because we stopped believing in each other and our ability to make it happen. We’re going to prove in this campaign that that’s possible again.

Old Business: Martin O’Malley’s Failed Promise As Baltimore Mayor Will Stay With Him, No Matter Who Wins The Governor’s Race

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Nov. 1 2006

book

In the summer of 1999, when then-City Councilman Martin O’Malley was running for mayor of Baltimore at age 36, he wrote With Change There Is Hope: A Blueprint for Baltimore’s Future. It was a two-part, two-booklet title (pictured), one bound in a green cover, the other blue. They were handed out far and wide during the last weeks of the 1999 campaign. O’Malley dubbed them collectively as “my epistle” or “my book,” and separately as “the Green Book” and “the Blue Book.”

Today, With Change There Is Hope represents a sweeping archive of O’Malley’s promises to voters. In politics, that’s a contract, a document that sets down what’s expected of the victor in return for votes. There is no penalty for failing to uphold the contract, but when its terms aren’t met, elections–such as the gubernatorial one that will decide between Democrat O’Malley, Republican incumbent Robert Ehrlich, and Green Party candidate Ed Boyd on Nov. 7–can result either in punishment or forgiveness.

Baltimore’s voters held up their end of the bargain with O’Malley when they first backed him seven years ago. O’Malley was expected to deliver–a lot. He’d set his plan down in the 40-page Green Book, which focused on crime reduction, and the 80-page Blue Book, which covered everything else–and how all of it is tied to the crime rate. Those who supported O’Malley’s re-election in the 2004 election did so despite the fact that many of his pledges remained unmet. Now, joined by voters in the rest of the state, they will decide whether to back him again in his bid for governor. O’Malley still owes Baltimore. If he wins the election, he’ll be expected to pay it back from the statehouse. If he loses, he’ll work off his debt at City Hall.

O’Malley focuses on the debt paid, not the debt remaining, as he makes the campaign rounds for governor. He has plenty of accomplishments with which to fill speeches. The main one, perhaps, was described in an Oct. 5 speech at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health: “Instead of wallowing in a culture of failure and excuses, we came together to take on the tough challenges and made progress.”

Running to replace Ehrlich this year, O’Malley recites a concisely packaged 10-point plan instead of handing out lengthy manifestos. Copies of With Change There Is Hope are hard to come by today. They are not available online. Google its title with the word “Baltimore,” and all that comes up is a link to City Paper‘s 2002 Best of Baltimore “Best Scandal: Police Corruption” blurb. But O’Malley’s 7-year-old collection of green and blue IOUs remains in the archives of history, ready to be dusted off once again.

“My approach as mayor will focus on two basic concepts–urgency and accountability,” he wrote in the Blue Book’s conclusion, after setting the bar for his own performance. He wanted change, urgently, and change came after he became mayor. But it often came not as promised, or sometimes not at all. That’s not surprising, given O’Malley’s great expectations. Urgency is hard to measure (he certainly seemed urgent), but accountability is O’Malley’s middle name. Now he’s accountable for how things changed, or have not.

Just as the mayor’s CitiStat program tries to keep city agencies on their toes by measuring government activities, journalists can apply statistical yardsticks to O’Malley’s promises. There are two sources of information for this exercise: what O’Malley said would happen, and what happened according to the numbers and known circumstances. (Numerous phone messages and e-mails to the mayor’s communications director, Steve Kearney, and O’Malley spokespersons Rick Abbruzzese and Raquel Guillory, were not returned.) Given the vast landscape of his panoramic vision for Baltimore in With Change There Is Hope, it’s best to begin by concentrating, as O’Malley did when he first ran for mayor, on a single issue: crime, and how everything hinges on it.

 

O’Malley’s June 23, 1999, mayoral campaign announcement speech, delivered at the corner of Harford Road and the Alameda, drew a small crowd. He made up for the lack of attention by using the speech’s text as the Green Book’s opener: “My name is Martin O’Malley. I believe I can turn this city around by making it a safer place, and I mean to begin doing it now.”

First, though, O’Malley had to get elected, and right off the bat his credibility was questioned. He told a story in the speech about having been to the same corner the previous midnight, when he was approached by a drug dealer, who asked, “What do you want?” The exchange gave O’Malley a rhetorical hook for his announcement.

“That’s a question,” the would-be mayor said to 30 or so supporters gathered to hear his speech, “that each of us in this city needs to answer in this important election year.”

Sun columnist Dan Rodricks suspected the hook was hogwash and immediately got on the case. Rodricks visited the neighborhood and found a resident who said that Harford Road and the Alameda is not a drug corner, but a “hackin’ corner” where “guys hang out lookin’ for rides.” O’Malley told Rodricks “it’s no big deal,” and explained that the guy on the corner who gave him his “What do you want?” line for the speech “was doing that hand motion they do when the markets open. It’s a notorious corner. That’s what they do there.” But, Rodricks reported, O’Malley “can’t say for sure that the young guy wanted to sell him drugs. It’s a hunch.” The columnist gave O’Malley’s poetic license its propers: “Good stuff, councilman. Even without that Monday-midnight story.”

O’Malley is prone to hunches, and has thus far benefited from people forgiving him when they don’t pan out. His main hunch as a councilman with mayoral ambitions was that if you solve the crime problem, everything else will fall into place. From O’Malley’s perspective, the revival of schools, housing, health, jobs, population, investment, tax revenues, the real-estate market–in short, all that makes cities tick–depended on public safety, government’s primary responsibility. He waxed on this theme in the Green Book, asking voters to “Imagine how quickly our great City will come back to life when we get hold of public safety and start closing down our expanding drug markets.” He pointed to other cities, such as New York, as crime-fighting models and suggested we simply copy what worked elsewhere.

In a 1999 phone interview about his crime plan, O’Malley was emphatic. “There is no way to create jobs or to improve the business environment if the only businesses expanding are these open-air drug markets. So that’s first and foremost,” he asserted. “It affects everything.” He went on to spell out his policing strategy, which had various names: “quality of life,” “zero tolerance,” and “broken windows.” The idea, he said, was to “improve the reality of public safety” by “changing enforcement priorities, by redefining the mission of the police as restoring public order on our corners and improving quality of life on our corners. When you do that the bigger crimes become easier to solve and easier to deter, and you drive the drug markets indoors, which drives down the random violence that is inflating our numbers to be some of the worst in the nation.”

At O’Malley’s announcement, he called the corner where he was standing an “open-air drug market,” and promised within six months to make it and nine others like it “things of our city’s past.” He added that “in the second year, 20 more open-air drug markets will likewise be shut down, and thus will the people of this city easily measure our success or failure.”

After six months in office, in a letter to The Sun, the mayor explained that he’d taken care of the 10 drug corners. And he described how it had happened: Police, city inspectors, and public-works crews had tidied them up, pronto. It was that easy.

The two-year mark in 2002, by which time O’Malley promised 20 more cleaned-up corners came and went without fanfare. As 2003 began, public frustration about the continuing crime problem was evident.

“We still have open-air drug markets on our corners,” City Councilman Bernard “Jack” Young (D-12th District)–usually, like most members of the council, an O’Malley ally–told the Baltimore Afro American in late January 2003. “Point-blank, nothing’s changed. We’re paying all of this overtime to the police. Where is the change?” O’Malley’s hunch was being called into question.

The experience of crime in Baltimore neighborhoods is as varied as the neighborhoods themselves. What feels to many like improvements under Mayor O’Malley–seemingly safer and clearly more prosperous communities around the waterfront, along the north-south axis of Charles Street, along the Northeast Baltimore thoroughfares of Belair and Harford roads, and in certain other key neighborhoods like Hampden–feels to others like it’s not happening in their neighborhoods. Because the improvements are concentrated in waterfront neighborhoods and the central north-south spine of the city, they are more evident than the sluggish expanses of the east and west sides, where change has come more slowly, if at all.

With or without dramatic crime reductions, though, the city has been rebounding in many ways, and O’Malley’s re-election in 2004 affirmed and affixed the notion that he was doing alright as mayor. Many understood that he would soon run for governor. Once he announced his candidacy for state office, O’Malley’s record as mayor became Republicans’ main message when promoting Ehrlich. They can do that because O’Malley’s hunch hasn’t worked itself out yet.

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If O’Malley was wrong about crime being the foremost determinant of the city’s fortunes, then there’s room for forgiveness. Crime in many ways has trended downward, particularly in some parts of the city and for some types of crime. But low interest rates, not reduced bloodshed, likely had more to do with the city’s improved performance under O’Malley.

In the Blue Book, O’Malley noted that in 1999 “City houses fetch roughly one half of what they do in Baltimore County,” because of the prevalence of crime in the city. Since 1999, “thanks to reductions in crime and increased investment in the city, average home values in Baltimore have risen 120%,” according to O’Malley’s campaign web site.

Crime reductions may have helped, but the key factor was the residential real-estate market boom created by historically low interest rates and rising demand. The 2004 median sales price for a Baltimore single-family home was $130,500, compared to $215,000 in Baltimore County. Thus, instead of city houses selling for half the value of county houses, under O’Malley they began selling at about 60 percent of what county houses get. The value of city single-family homes gained slightly more than 35 percent between 2002 and 2004, an amount a tad higher than in Baltimore County.

Real-estate values and tax revenues tend to rise and fall together, and they both jumped under O’Malley, as expected during times of cheap money. In 2000, city revenues stood at about $1.4 billion. In 2004, they broke $2 billion, and stood at $2.1 billion in 2005. Increasing real-estate values helped a lot on the property-tax front, aided by new taxes instituted by O’Malley.

The level of private investment in the city, likewise, has increased substantially. Little scaffolding and few cranes were part of Baltimore’s streetscape in the 1990s, but they are common sights today. The O’Malley administration says the value of development activity under way in 2005 was estimated to be $2 billion, whereas ongoing projects in 2000 added up to a little less than $900 million.

O’Malley’s gubernatorial campaign biography states that, as mayor, he has “promoted job growth by attracting over $10 billion in economic development” and “nearly ended Baltimore’s decades-long population loss.” But jobs and population declined in the city, and unemployment rose from 5.9 percent in 2000 to 7.1 percent in 2005. Job loss from 1999 to ’04 hit Baltimore hard, taking away about 40,000 jobs–the most among Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions, as was the city’s loss of about 15,000 residents from 2000 to ’05. A 2002 U.S. Census snapshot of the city’s unemployment situation pointed out key disparities: While the overall unemployment rate was 6.8 percent, white men were at 2.1 percent and black men at 11.8 percent. The city made the top-10 list in the country for average weekly wage growth in 2005, but at the same time lost more jobs–5,800–than almost all of the 323 large cities and counties studied. While the city’s employment outlook hits some harder than others, the jobs that remain are paying better, and the loss of jobs went along with ongoing loss in population.

The jobs lost under O’Malley came on the heels of all the jobs lost before him. In the Blue Book, O’Malley painted a bleak picture of the Kurt Schmoke years, describing job declines in manufacturing, transportation, retail, banking, and hospitals. The situation hardly improved after O’Malley was elected. Between 2001 and ’04, Baltimore lost nearly 5 percent of its jobs. A quarter of its manufacturing jobs, 15 percent of its banking and finance jobs, 5 percent of its retail jobs–all disappeared in a four-year span. The drop in public employment was pronounced, especially local government jobs, which fell by nearly 4,000 positions, more than 12 percent. Only three sectors posted major job gains: hospitals, educational services, and the hotel and restaurant industry.

Under Mayor Schmoke, the city lost an average of 722 jobs per month, O’Malley calculated in the Blue Book. Between 2001 and ’04 under O’Malley, the city lost an average of 432 jobs per month. That’s a dramatic improvement, but it is still a drastic rate of job loss–especially when the surrounding counties are alive with job growth. The Blue Book pointed out that the surrounding counties posted a gain of 104,000 jobs when Schmoke was mayor, an average of 963 new jobs each month. Between 2001 and ’04, with O’Malley as mayor, the surrounding counties added nearly 63,500 new jobs, an average of 1,322 jobs per month.

Thus, while the city’s job loss has slowed under O’Malley, it has not reversed, as O’Malley predicted. And the surrounding counties’ job growth accelerated by about 40 percent. Baltimore remains the hole in the doughnut of regional employment trends.

The public schools, well, they’re still a mess, but there are bright spots. As the city’s population declines, so does school enrollment–by an average of 2,900 students per year since O’Malley became mayor, bringing the total down to about 85,000. While some of the trends in standardized test scores are good, many others are not. Graduation rates are up for seniors getting a regular education, but down dramatically for the increasing share of students in special education. The money spent to achieve these results has increased dramatically on a cost-per-student basis, and has been the target of near-permanent scandal over the school system’s financial accountability.

In the Blue Book, O’Malley reported that in 1997 only 16.6 percent of third-graders’ scores were “satisfactory” under the state reading tests. This statistic is recited again on O’Malley’s campaign web site, and updated with the claim that O’Malley “helped 61% of the third graders meet those state standards last year.” The standardized tests were changed in 2002. Under the new ones, the percent of third-graders with “proficient” reading scores has risen annually, from 38 percent in 2003 to 59 percent in ’06, when the statewide scores had risen from 50 percent to 63 percent. The same happened with third-grade math scores, with the percent of proficient third-graders rising to 52 today from 40 in 2003, when the statewide scores had jumped only four points, from 50 to 54. That’s some of the good news.

Some of the bad news is that only 2 percent of special-education high-school students passed the high-school English standardized test in 2005. That 2.1 percent passed in 2006 is nothing to brag about, since it indicates that students in the city’s large special-education program don’t have much of an education to look forward to.

As students continue in school, their improved scores in earlier grades should be reflected in improvements as they reach higher grades. In some cases, this has happened, but not in others. The third-grade class of 2004, for instance, was tested again as fifth-graders this year, when its proficiency in math and reading both were significantly higher than those of prior fifth-grade classes. But the sixth-grade class of 2004, which was entering first grade when O’Malley was elected mayor, is another story. When the class reached eighth-grade this year, its share of students scoring proficiently dropped in both math and reading compared to its sixth-grade scores.

O’Malley’s Blue Book measured city schools’ graduation rates harshly, saying that “only 25 percent of ninth graders . . . ever graduate. This is unacceptable.” The percent of regular-education 12th-graders graduating is rising, from 58 percent in 2002 to 64 percent today. But the drop in the share of special-education 12th-graders graduating went from 65 percent in 2002 to 35 percent today.

When running for mayor, O’Malley’s intentions about special education were clear: He wanted significant improvements, and a reduction in the size of the program. He said that, at the time, 18 percent of the student population was enrolled in special education, and he wanted that number to drop to 13. By 2000, it had dropped to 17 percent, which is where it remained in 2005. Meanwhile, by O’Malley’s figures from his first mayoral campaign, the cost of educating each special-education student per year was $9,680. Since then, it has increased by a fifth, and stands at $11,722 per student.

In his governor’s campaign biography, O’Malley expresses pride in city schools, claiming that “for the past three years, elementary school students have posted higher scores in reading, language arts, and mathematics at every grade level.” That’s an accomplishment that would make any mayor proud. But O’Malley, by law, does not control the city school system. As mayor, he is an equal partner with the state in its success or failure–an equal partner with the government headed by his gubernatorial opponent, Robert Ehrlich. “Our children should not suffer due to adult disagreements,” O’Malley wrote in the Blue Book. “In the future, Baltimore should, once again, take greater responsibility for our school system. But we also must build continually on the partnership we have established with Annapolis–it is in the best interest of our children.”

The city-state partnership has suffered from scandal after scandal arising from lack of accountability in recent years, leaving the city school system in such a shambles that it is surprising some children are able to learn adequately. Neither the city nor the state has stepped up to take unilateral responsibility, though their collective responsibility is there for all to see. O’Malley takes credit for the good where he can–with some improved test scores in some grades–and, either as governor or as mayor, may be in a position to do more for at least a couple more years. But he’ll also have to live with the bad, until the system gets fixed.

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Baltimore under O’Malley is a mixed bag of results, and it’s hard to say changes in the crime rate made it so. By the raw numbers, though, Baltimore is safer now than when O’Malley started. In the first six months of 2000, when he was working off his obligation to clear the 10 corners, the city logged 141 murders, 161 rapes, 3,010 robberies, and 4,530 aggravated assaults, including 700 nonfatal shootings. In 2005, the totals from January to June were much rosier. Murder was down 3 percent, rape had dropped by more than half, robbery saw a 40 percent reduction, and aggravated assaults were reduced nearly a quarter, including a near 30 percent drop in shootings. The same number of under-18-year-olds–47–were murdered in 2002 as were in 1996, but in the first 10 months of this year 22 kids were killed, and all of last year saw only 14 juvenile homicides, so the situation appears to be getting less bloody for Baltimore’s teens.

Yet, despite these numbers and O’Malley’s optimism and declarations of success, frustrations and distrust about the prevalence of crime abound. Some of O’Malley’s crime numbers remain under the pall of a state effort to audit his numbers this year, an effort that the mayor rebuffed. And O’Malley’s earlier use of an audit of the 1999 figures to establish the baseline for his claims of crime reduction has been called into question.

O’Malley’s handpicked benchmarks in the Green Book set a high bar, and, although he didn’t meet many of them, they often moved in the direction he promised. His Green Book said public-safety improvements in the first two years of the O’Malley administration, for instance, should reflect New York’s as it first adopted quality-of-life policing under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the mid-1990s. When Giuliani was first starting out, murder went down 40 percent, robbery 30 percent, burglary a quarter, and rape by 8 percent, according to the Green Book’s figures.

By three of these measures, O’Malley fell short. His first two years saw nearly a fifth fewer murders and burglaries, and a quarter fewer robberies–all smaller drops than what Giuliani delivered. (Given the doubts about the Baltimore’s 1999 crime numbers, 1998 was used as the base year for this analysis, giving O’Malley three years to accomplish what Giuliani did in two.) But on the fourth category, rape, O’Malley achieved a reduction of about 40 percent, more than five times larger than New York’s. Rape later became a category of crime suspected in 2003 of being under-reported by Baltimore police, and, after an audit, a 15 percent upward correction in the 2002 numbers was ordered.

O’Malley’s second-guessed crime numbers have historical poignancy. When he was a councilman, O’Malley made a name for himself by proving that then-Mayor Schmoke’s police department was cooking its books to augment its mid-1990s crime-reduction claims. Today’s data-accuracy doubts suggest that perhaps O’Malley’s police department somehow has been aping the bad behavior of Schmoke’s department, though hard evidence of this has yet to arrive. Pending future findings, which themselves may end up subject to charges of inaccuracy, the numbers O’Malley’s police department reported to the FBI are the best available data about Baltimore crime.

The raw numbers about crime reduction that O’Malley likes to cite, though, tend not to take into account the decline in the city’s population. Do so, and Baltimore’s murder rate goes from 40.3 murders for every 100,000 residents in 2000 to 42 in 2005. Thus, it makes sense that many people believe Baltimore remains as murderous as it was before O’Malley became mayor–because Baltimore was, in fact, a bit more murderous, per capita, in 2005 than it was in 2000.

O’Malley pledged in the Green Book to make Baltimore a lot less murderous, by taking the toll down to 175 homicides in 2002. This bold goal helped him get elected 1999, when there were 305 murders. But when 2002 closed out, there were 78 more homicides than he’d promised. Boston, a city of a little less than 600,000 people, and one which the Green Book points to as a model for Baltimore to follow, had 60 murders that year, by way of comparison.

Baltimore’s crime rates look bad when compared to other large U.S. cities, and the numbers hardly improved from 2000 to 2005. After five years of O’Malley, there were 17.6 violent crimes for every 1,000 Baltimore residents in 2005, nearly 80 percent more than the big-city average. In 2000, as in 2005, the city’s murder rate was nearly three times higher than the average for cities of between a half-million and a million people. Robberies in 2000 were 2.6 times more common in Baltimore than in other large cities, and aggravated assaults (including shootings) were 2.2 times more prevalent. Five years into the O’Malley administration, the violence had fallen off, but still occurred at nearly double the rates in other large cities.

In With Change There Is Hope, O’Malley observed that “Baltimore is today the fourth deadliest city in the nation, and the city’s murder rate is seven times higher than in the average city.” Time hasn’t changed much in that regard. In 2005, Baltimore’s murder rate was still seven times the average for U.S. cities. In the 2005 Detroit mayoral race, the fact that only Baltimore had a higher murder rate than Detroit was put in play on the campaign trail. This year, in a ranking against 31 other cities with populations over a half-million, Baltimore was second most dangerous, with Detroit earning the top dishonor.

Where violence is concentrated is where the greatest crime reductions are possible. Traditionally in contemporary Baltimore, the brunt of the violence has disproportionately fallen on the Eastern and Western police districts, compared to the other seven districts. After a period of increasing violence in O’Malley’s first term, it is here, in the Eastern and Western districts, where crime numbers show improvements–fulfilling some of the expectations O’Malley created.

From 1999 to ’02, the share of the citywide homicides happening in the Eastern and Western districts rose from nearly 30 percent to more than 40 percent. Murders were dropping in the city (from 305 in 1999 to 253 in 2002), yet these two districts were showing substantial increases in their body count. That’s now changed. In 2005, the Eastern and Western’s combined tally had dropped 30 percent from 2002’s level, while the rest of the city’s homicides had jumped up a quarter. The burden is shared now by four other districts–the Southern, Southwestern, Northern, and Southeastern–joining the Western with more murders in 2005 than they’d had in 1999.

The recent geographical shift in Baltimore homicides suggests O’Malley in some ways is starting to mirror Giuliani’s 1990s crime-fighting success in New York. In 1999, just before O’Malley declared for mayor, the New Republic ran a cover story on Giuliani that examined an important trend in the Big Apple’s crime reduction: The sharpest crime drops were seen in the area’s that needed them the most. Harlem’s crime fell 61 percent between 1994 and ’98, for example, and East New York’s murders went from 110 in 1993 to 37 in ’98. Similarly, in Baltimore, the Eastern and Western police districts have recently shown substantial improvements, although several other districts have experienced increases in crime.

Overall, though, the picture on the crime front is pretty bleak compared to O’Malley’s expectations and how it compares to the rest of urban America. “With public will, energy and political leadership,” O’Malley wrote in the Blue Book in 1999, “Baltimore will join the ranks of America’s great rejuvenated cities that are growing safer, larger, and more diverse . . . That is my pledge.” Now it’s seven years later, and Baltimore continues to earn its title as one of the most violent cities in America.

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Unlike his crime figures, O’Malley’s budget figures aren’t a matter for debate. In the Green Book, O’Malley indicated that the added cost of his crime plan was, well, nothing, or not much more. “The real solution in Baltimore is not to double size of the broken system,” he wrote about the police department, “but to implement the simple procedural reforms that will make greater use of the substantial resources already in place.” And in the 1999 phone interview, he said crime reductions under his watch would cover the reform costs, explaining that he planned to “increase city revenues by making this city a dramatically safer place quickly, and thereby reversing our loss of population.” He predicted that crime reduction would pay for everything, and then he pulled a George Bush I, promising that “I am dead-set opposed to raising taxes.”

The upshot from the police budget trends is this: a growing proportion of cops at desks, costing a larger amount of money. The department’s budget went up 25 percent from 2002 to ’07, the current fiscal year. Two parts of the departmental budget went up more than 100 percent: Administrative Direction and Control jumped from to $15.5 million to $32 million, while money for the Office of Criminal Justice Policy more than tripled, from $3.5 million to $12 million. Together, the administrative and policy slices of the police pie grew from 7 to 13 percent, while all other parts of the department saw their slices shrink. Though the overall budget went up, department-wide staffing levels dropped by nearly 5 percent from 2002 to today. Administrative staffing jumped nearly 8 percent–the only kind of police staffing that grew. Yet O’Malley’s campaign web site states that he “put more cops on the streets as part of a comprehensive plan to reduce crime.”

The five-year growth of the police budget wasn’t paid for with revenue resulting from an increased city population, as O’Malley had predicted. Population continued to fall, though more slowly. Rather, money was available to expand the police budget because of rising real-estate values and the mayor’s new taxes on energy, cell phones, and real-estate transactions, O’Malley’s prior no-new-taxes pledge notwithstanding. Because of the additional revenues, he was able to keep some promises.

O’Malley vowed in the Green Book to increase funding for the State’s Attorney’s Office “as long as it stays committed to the path of reform, and committed to keeping repeat violent offenders off the street.” The city’s contribution to State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy’s office has been boosted from $21.6 million in 2002 to $30.4 million today, a more than 40 percent raise that has allowed staffing levels for prosecutions to increase by 55 positions.

The mayor has been true to drug treatment, too. “Since 1996, annual funding for drug treatment in Baltimore has doubled from $16.5 million to $33 million,” O’Malley wrote in the Green Book, indicating this is a positive trend he’d like to continue. And he has. Drug treatment funding under O’Malley increased to $53 million in 2005.

Teen motherhood and other health indicators affect crime trends over the long term, and O’Malley aimed to oversee their decline. He pointed out that in 1997 “nearly 10 percent” of city girls aged 15 to 19 had babies. There was a steep decline after O’Malley took office, and in 2004 the proportion of girls that age who had babies was 6.8 percent. He wanted infant mortality to decline, reporting that the city in 1997 lost newborns at a rate of 14.4 babies per 1,000 live births, “nearly double the state’s rate,” he wrote. It dropped significantly. In 2005, the infant mortality rate had declined to 11.3, half again as high as the state’s.

O’Malley pointed out in the Green Book–as Jay Leno was saying, too, on The Tonight Show at the time–that Baltimore is “the syphilis capital of the United States.” As O’Malley wrote those words, the syphilis rate was in steep decline. In 1999, Indianapolis became the syphilis capital, after Baltimore’s rate had dropped 45 percent in one year. In 2002, Baltimore was ranked 11th among U.S. cities, with an incidence rate of 18.6 cases per 100,000 people. That year, 120 cases were reported. But the disease jumped sharply in 2004, when 209 cases were reported for a rate of 33.2, placing Baltimore third in the nation, behind San Francisco and Atlanta.

Two other sexually transmissible diseases were mentioned in O’Malley’s book, gonorrhea and chlamydia. Baltimore “is rated number two in the U.S. for active cases of gonorrhea,” he wrote at the time. It has dropped significantly since then, but Baltimore was still the fourth-highest city on the list for active cases of gonorrhea in 2004, the most recent ranking available. When O’Malley sought to become mayor, he explained that Baltimore’s national rank was “third for active cases of chlamydia.” The city’s chlamydia rate has actually risen significantly since then, yet its national ranking dropped to seventh highest–an improvement, of sorts.

O’Malley recently summed up his disease-fighting record much more succinctly, and no less truthfully: “Syphillis [sic] is down 75% since 1997 and Gonorrhea is down 45% since 1995.” These surgically selected statistics are posted, along with the rest of O’Malley’s Oct. 5 Hopkins speech, on his campaign web site (www.martinomalley.com).

Baltimore’s improved status on drug-related emergency-room visits, an important indicator of drug abuse, is impressive, but still marginal in the national context. In 1999, O’Malley wrote that Baltimore is “rated number one in the nation for hospital emergency room admissions involving substance abuse.” In 2005, it was tied with New York and Boston for third in the nation.

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But O’Malley failed on some important other promises, such as the one about reducing the need to arrest people. The Green Book was adamant about giving police expanded power to issue civil citations for minor crimes, which was expected to free the courts of petty cases. “Through the use of citations–which make fewer arrests necessary–and courthouse reforms that keep innocent people and minor criminals from languishing in jail for weeks before trial,” O’Malley predicted that “fewer people may actually be locked up using quality-of-life policing strategies.” At the very least, he promised that “quality-of-life policing does not mean arresting and locking up our city’s young men indiscriminately.”

Under Schmoke, there had been 70,000 arrests in 1997 and 85,000 in 1998. After several years of quality-of-life police work, in 2004 O’Malley’s expanded civil-citation powers were put in place. In 2005, city police logged around 100,000 arrests. In 2006, the city was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who raised charges of widespread indiscriminate arrests. So much for the less-arrests theory of zero-tolerance policing.

O’Malley’s record on police corruption and misconduct has a level of intrigue appropriate to the cloak-and-dagger milieu of internal investigations. His campaign pledges on the issue were zealous. “We know,” he wrote in the Green Book, “that when the police are encouraged to be more assertive, government must become more assertive and open in its policing of the police.” He’d been complaining about police corruption and misconduct under Schmoke’s commissioners for years, and yet “our problem has only gotten worse,” he insisted, adding that “There is nothing more harmful to effective law enforcement, and more devastating to the morale of law-abiding citizens and law enforcement officers, than police misconduct.”

To fight it, O’Malley pledged in the Green Book to “open the Police Department’s internal investigation process, to assure the public that police problems are not being swept under the rug by colleagues’ complicity.”

Immediately after gaining City Hall, O’Malley asked outside consultants to look at the department’s problems. Among their tasks was a survey of police personnel about street-level corruption, which showed that 23 percent of the department believed that more than a quarter of its officers were “involved in stealing money or drugs from drug dealers.” The survey put numbers on the idea that the Baltimore police had a corruption problem.

And yet nothing much happened. Not for years. There were two corruption arrests that didn’t pan out. The case against officer Brian Sewell, suspected in 2000 of planting drugs on an innocent suspect, became suspicious when police evidence against him disappeared during a break-in at internal investigators’ offices, and the charges were dropped by prosecutors in 2001. Officer Jacqueline Folio, accused of a false drug arrest, was found not guilty in a 2003 criminal trial, and the department’s administrative case against her was so full of exculpatory evidence and apparent attempts at cover-ups that she was cleared entirely–and settled her own lawsuit against the city over the whole, career-ending episode. At the end of 2003, police said they had conducted 202 “random integrity tests” to catch bad cops since 2000, yet the only cops nabbed were Sewell and Folio.

The quiet continued. In early January of this year, The Washington Post reported that O’Malley had been booed at a legislative hearing over his department’s high volume of arrests, and that the mayor countered that aggressive arrests would be reflected in increased misconduct complaints, which were down. He was soon to lose the use of that argument at hearings, for 2006 quickly became a memorable year in the annals of Baltimore police misbehavior.

Two days after the legislative hearing, on Jan. 6, a city grand jury charged three officers with rape, unearthing evidence that their undercover squad was corrupt in other ways as well. In April, a federal jury convicted two Baltimore police detectives for robbing drug dealers, a city grand jury charged an officer with stealing rims off a car belonging to an arrested citizen, and an officer caught a gambling conviction. In July, two officers were charged in Baltimore County in separate crimes–fraud and theft in one case, and burglary and stalking in the other. And in August, a Baltimore officer was charged with identity theft in Pennsylvania.

As a councilman and mayoral candidate, O’Malley was passionate about the idea that the police department needed a housecleaning. Police officers “after all are only human,” he said in the 1999 phone interview, so they must be policed “to insure that temptation, unchecked anger, and prejudice do not tarnish the moral authority necessary for a police department to effectively perform its job.” After five years of relative quiet punctuated by weak corruption cases under O’Malley, what he predicted in 1999–“well publicized arrests of clusters of officers who are lured away by the easy money and lucrative money of the drug trade,” as he put it in a 1999 phone interview–is finally coming true.

 

The Green Book set down an anecdote about Schmoke’s police commissioner Thomas Frazier coming before the City Council in September 1996, on the heels of councilman O’Malley’s return from New York to study its policing strategies. “You don’t have to tell me about zero tolerance. I know what they do in New York,” Frazier was quoted as saying. “They’re doing the same thing I started doing here with Greenmount Avenue–close down the open-air drug markets, drive them indoors, and you reduce the violence. . . . I have to be a team player. When we start closing down the open-air drug markets, the judges complain that we’re crowding their courts and the Mayor makes me back off. . . . Tell the judges. I’m only one piece of this criminal justice system.”

And so is Mayor O’Malley only one piece of the city’s public-safety complex, though you’d never know that from reading the Green Book. To get elected, he made it seem like he was a one-man crime-fighting machine, that all he had to do was hire a police commissioner to deploy known policing strategies proven successful in other cities, and it would all fall in place–an instant urban revival. It’s doubtful any mayor could have met the expectations O’Malley set for himself, much less one who hasn’t gone through four police commissioners and three interim commissioners the way O’Malley has. Still, he scored points for seeming to try and for being in power when interest rates dropped. This Nov. 7, the state’s voters will decide whether he tried hard enough. Either way, he still owes.

Dream Team? Comptroller-Elect’s Transition Team Raises Eyebrows

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Nov. 29, 1995

Comptroller-elect Joan Pratt has chosen Julius Henson, her campaign manager, and state Senator Larry Young to help lead a team of about 25 people that will direct her transition from private life as a certified public accountant to the holder of the third-highest position in city government. Both men contributed to Pratt’s campaign. Henson is also widely believed to be Pratt’s choice for city real-estate officer, an appointment that has been vacant since Arthur Held’s term expired on June 30.

Henson, who chairs the transition team, ran Pratt’s campaign against retired state Senator Julian Lapides, the early favorite who lost the Democratic primary in September by nearly 10,000 votes. In addition to volunteering as campaign manager, Henson gave $1,400 to the Pratt campaign, plus another $1,065 that was donated by one of his companies, the Wild Geese Company. (These totals are based on campaign-finance reports covering the period up until two weeks before the September primary. As of November 24, Pratt had not filed a copy of her October 27 report in Baltimore, as she is required to do under state election laws.)

About the real-estate-office position, Henson says Pratt “has not made any decisions about that yet. If she does offer it to me, I’ll consider it.” The city real-estate officer is responsible for the disposition of all city real estate, including acquisitions and sales, leases, contracts, and tax sales of properties with delinquent accounts.

Pratt and Henson were business partners in a real-estate investment company, Henson & Pratt, Inc., and in 2112 Etting Street Limited Partnership, among other partnerships. Through these concerns, Pratt and Henson together owned nine residential properties. In August, Pratt transferred her stock in the partnership to Henson.

The properties were in various states of disrepair in August, when Pratt and Henson each owned a 50 percent stake in the businesses. A recent visit to three properties on the 2100 block of Etting Street found two of them occupied by tenants whjo complained of Henson’s unresponsiveness to problems at their houses, which included rat holes in the kitchen, holes in the ceiling, unrepaired fire damage, and a jury-rigged furnace. The third house is vacant.

Though neither Pratt nor Henson will confirm it for the press, sources close to both say they have been romantically involved for several years. Mary Henson, Julius’ mother, says the diamond ring worn by Joan Pratt is a gift from Henson and confirmed their romantic relationship.

Mary Henson’s own relationship with her son has been difficult; in February 1993, she filed battery and attempted-theft charges against Julius Henson. She was 63 at the time. Her son was acquitted of the charges in June of that year.

In 1974, at age 25, Henson ran in the Democratic primary for clerk of the circuit court. He got more than 17,000 votes in the citywide race, but lost to John Hubble. Asked whether he gained any lessons from the experience that helped him in managing the Pratt campaign, he says, “Not really.” Henson says he doesn’t remember why he sought the office, except that “it was winnable, I guess.”

Young, who chairs the team’s committee on the office of the comptroller, was an early backer of Pratt’s campaign (and a $250 contributor). Henson says, “He may have been the only [state] senator who did not support Jack Lapides, so he has been a friend of the campaign.”

Young came up in politics under the tutelage of U.S. Representative Parren Mitchell in the 1970s and has emerged as a powerful West Baltimore political figure whose campaign organization has delivered votes effectively for Bill Clinton, Parris Glendening, Kurt Schmoke, and now Joan Pratt (who is also from West Baltimore). He chairs the Senate Executive Nominations Committee and the Health Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee.

Along with his political prominence, Young has been the subject of Baltimore City police attention over the years. As chronicled in David Simon’s book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, Young was involved in a series of odd incidents in 1988: He injured his political aide’s arm by beating him with a tree limb, and he falsely reported being kidnapped, a misdemeanor charge of which he was acquitted after much embarrassing publicity.

In 1990, Young became a central figure (though officially not a suspect) in the murder investigation of his close personal friend, the Reverend Marvin Moore. The murder case is still open.

More recently, Young was caught up in the Willie Runyon political-fund-raising scandal during last year’s legal battle over the gubernatorial election. Young did not disclose the fact that he was an employee of Runyon’s American Ambulance and Oxygen Service, Inc., in his financial-disclosure form on file with the state ethics commission in Towson, in spite of the fact that he sits on a subcommittee that considers healthcare legislation that might affect Runyon’s business. Young retired from American Ambulance in June.

According to Henson, Pratt’s transition team is staffed voluntarily with professionals who have expertise in the areas of human resources, audits, real estate, communication, insurance, ethics, governmental relationships, public relations, and the historical role of the comptroller, and it will help arrange a proposed conference on economic empowerment and a proposed citizens advisory review board to scrutinize waste, fraud, and abuse. Each of these “areas of perusal” is assigned to a committee of the team.

As an example of what expertise the transition-team members bring to the table, Henson explains that “the woman looking at the city’s paging system, which falls under communication, she sells pagers to area hospitals.”

No other members of Pratt’s transition team have been named. However, Henson confirmed that he and two other men have met with members of the city office of real estate to discuss its functions. One of the men identified by Henson, Arnold Hawkins, is an attorney with Harbor Title Guarantee Company, and gave $1,000 to the Pratt campaign before the September primary.

Asked why he was asked to chair the transition team, Henson says, “If I was smart enough to win the election, I guess the comptroller-elect thought I was smart enough to chair the transition team.” Pratt did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story, and Henson said the comptroller-elect would not speak to City Paper.