BEST POLITICIANMartin O’MalleyLove him or hate him, this has been a good year for Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (D). Two O’Malley-backed laws got the nods of the majorities of Maryland voters in last fall’s elections—one granting gay-marriage rights, the other offering in-state tuition discounts for qualifying illegal immigrants (the DREAM Act).This spring he signed into law the death-penalty repeal he’d long sought as well as sweeping gun restrictions. What’s more, by slowing spending growth while adding new revenue, he’s all but obliterated a $1.7 billion structural deficit that had long dogged Maryland’s budgets. These accomplishments have prompted talk that he’ll be a good 2016 candidate for president. Whatevs. The guy’s not all that. Since O’Malley was elected mayor of Baltimore in 1999, we’ve found him to be a cutthroat, manipulative Machiavellian prone to prideful preening, but maybe that’s precisely what makes him so effective. He has, after all, been a pretty good governor, especially this year.
BEST POLITICIAN IN NEED OF A SLAP UPSIDE THE HEADMayor Stephanie Rawlings-BlakeIn 2013 Il Mayore has refined her imperious style, not only cutting city workers’ future pensions, ramming through the Harbor Point and Ticketmaster bills (so the venerable ticket scalper will not be bound by city anti-scalping laws), but also flying to Vegas to marry lobbyist Lisa Harris Jones (the ex-wife of Baltimore’s favorite demolition contractor, Pless Jones) to lobbyist Sean Malone (who cut his teeth as then-Mayor Martin O’Malley’s man at the city police department). As reported by The Baltimore Brew, Rawlings-Blake officiated the wedding not long before spending Memorial Day weekend at Harris-Jones’ Delaware beach house. She went back to Vegas a month later, at taxpayer expense, for a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting. Would that what happens in Vegas stayed in Vegas.
BEST SCANDALMaryland PrisonsIt’s not every year that 28 Maryland correctional officers (COs) face charges in federal court. The number dwarves previous episodes of federally charged CO corruption in Maryland, such as in 2009, when three COs and a correctional kitchen worker were charged in federal court for helping the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang commit crimes, and in 2010, when another was indicted federally in a related BGF racketeering case. Now it’s 13 charged for helping the BGF take over Baltimore jails, plus another 15 for participating in retaliatory inmate beatings and conspiring to obstruct the resulting investigations. Gary Maynard, Maryland’s correctional-system chief, likes to say that 99 percent of COs are honest, upstanding workers in a tough job. That may be true. But Maynard’s job is to make sure the system’s running cleanly, and on that score, the number of COs currently facing federal charges suggests he’s been scandalously ineffective.
BEST CLASH OF THE TITANSAngelos vs. PaterakisOn one side, the aging emperor of asbestos litigation, a man heavily invested in Baltimore’s traditional downtown core—and the Orioles baseball team. On the other side, the breadwinner who parlayed an east-side baking empire into a real-estate colossus that has shifted the city’s fulcrum south and east and has spurred even newer development by a younger upstart. Peter Angelos has quietly directed (or maybe just inspired) the criticism against the myriad tax breaks and special deals for Harbor Point, the future home of Exelon Corp.’s promised Baltimore headquarters and the natural extension of John Paterakis’ Harbor East. And while Paterakis is no longer the controlling interest behind the billion-dollar Harbor Point project, the man who is—Michael Beatty—cut his development teeth in Paterakis’ shadow. Greek gods are as powerful as they are inscrutable, and Baltimore can only hope that they won’t be as capricious, cruel, and tragic as the myths suggest.
BEST FIASCOHarbor PointIt started out as a slam dunk: 3 million square feet of office, retail, hotels, and residences space on a prime waterfront peninsula in the Inner Harbor. With a guaranteed lease from Exelon, backing from the city and the neighborhoods, Harbor Point was set to be the jewel in the new downtown’s crown—and never mind the chromium entombed below. But then, even as Beatty Development reduced its original $154 million Tax Increment Finance request to $107 million, it moved to restore $88 million in Enterprise Zone breaks that might have faded away. It woke up the critics so that even as the TIF shrank, the outrage grew louder, culminating in a series of raucous City Council hearings in which people from the projects chanted and City Council’s Rikki Spector scowled back, dismissing them as the “peanut gallery.” The project will get built, with the tax breaks it doesn’t need—which aren’t peanuts. But the politicians who pushed it will be forever remembered for their craven supineness.
BEST THORN IN O’MALLEY’S SIDETavon WhiteWho would’ve guessed that this year, just as Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s star was rising to its highest level so far in national politics, to the point where his name was seriously being dropped as a potential presidential contender, a lowly prison-gang leader would emerge to throw acid in the face of MOM’s vaunted managerial skills? All Tavon “Bulldog” White—the Black Guerrilla Family leader adept at controlling a harem of female correctional officers (four of whom he’d spawned children with) to help him and his gang take over a Baltimore jail—did was get caught, exposing new depths of already well-exposed corruption in O’Malley’s prison agency. But with that simple act, he’s tarnished one of the Democratic National Committee’s fave up-and-comers. Congrats, Bulldog. You’ll be remembered for this.
BEST UPSIDE TO EXPANDED GAMBLINGBetter Gambling at the RacetracksExpanded gambling in Maryland—first, slots in 2008, then table games and more slots in 2012—is often talked about in terms of revenues it will bring to education. But so far, it’s the horsetracks that have seen a genuine improvement. We were aghast when, a few years ago at Pimlico, a friend hit a $2 trifecta—all three winning horses, in precisely the right order—and went to the window to collect about $25. That’s abominable. Thanks to gambling-based subsidies, though, Maryland is doing better. Race 5 at Laurel Park on March 15, for instance, had a $4,595.20 payout for a $2 trifecta. And, according to a recent Los Angeles Times article, “since the slots started contributing to racing in Maryland, the average daily purse”—the amount paid out to horse-owners—“went from $160,000 to its current $250,000.” Thanks, casinos.
BEST METAPHORICAL TRAIN WRECKGrand Prix of BaltimoreYear three of the Grand Prix brought more racing action and fewer fans than years two and one, which were similarly blessed with beautiful weather but marred by incompetent and undercapitalized management in the first instance and a too-short timeframe in the second. This year was different: Everything went according to plan. And still it underwhelmed. Too bad. The Indy-Izod races are actually pretty cool, with lots of lead changes and the occasional crash to liven up the show. But shutting down huge swaths of downtown and Federal Hill for a week grates on the people who actually make the city go. And in a city with a Super Bowl Champion and a major-league baseball team, the lackluster publicity and money racing brings doesn’t seem worth the trouble.
BEST ACTUAL TRAIN WRECKRosedale, May 28A truck driver was seriously injured when a CSX freight train with tanks of chemicals barreled into it, flicking the truck like a booger into the underbrush that surrounds the private crossing the crash occurred at. There followed a massive explosion of chemicals and a fire that quickly got the city’s attention, an evacuation of nearby residents, and a few viral videos. No signals—they aren’t required. No maintenance of the crossing that would have allowed the trucker to see the train. And CSX sued the trucker in his hospital bed, as is standard. Bigger and more trains are in everyone’s future. Yet, by springtime, the Federal Railroad Administration, the lead agency regulating the nation’s rail lines, had written only eight of the 17 new safety regulations required by a law Congress passed in 2008. Stop, look, and listen.
BEST GIFT TO THE MARYLAND GOP“Rain Tax”Just when it seemed like the Maryland Republican Party had no reason to even bother putting up a fight, the state came along and approved a “stormwater fee,” tacked onto Maryland homeowners’ property-tax bills to help the state pay for pollution-control strategies implemented by the federal government to protect the Chesapeake Bay. Republican yahoos like Delegate Pat McDonough (R-7th District) quickly dubbed it a “rain tax” and put up a fight against the governor and Democrat-controlled legislature that stirred up its OweMalley-hating base. (Never mind that it serves a similar purpose as the “Bay Restoration Fund,” promoted by GOP Governor Bob Ehrlich, which already appears on tax bills—and is about twice as much as the “rain tax.”) Officials in GOP-leaning Carroll and Anne Arundel counties may succeed in exempting their citizens, leaving the counties with unfunded federal and state mandates, which will almost certainly hurt residents more than the $20-$30 “rain tax,” but, hey, they’re stickin’ it to OweBama! One of the supporters of a Western Maryland secessionist movement even cited the tax as a reason to break off five counties into a new state. Just what we need, another red state that overuses the federal resources it claims to hate.
BEST CORPORATE CAPITULATIONMayor and City Council’s Ticketmaster FailIt started out inauspiciously: At Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s request, Councilman Carl Stokes introduced a bill to exempt Ticketmaster (and similar companies) from the city’s ancient anti-scalping law, which criminalized charging more than 50 cents above the ticket’s face price. Supposedly this was just to buy a few months to remake the law more in-tune with modern times. As revelations mounted about how Ticketmaster works (kickbacks to venues, etc.), that effort seemed to harden, and a bill emerged that would have prevented the kind of gouging that concertgoers have endured over the past generation. And then, at the last minute (as is SRB’s style), the bill was amended to allow commercial ticket resellers (but not actual people, of course) to charge unlimited “convenience fees”—just as they had been doing, in violation of the city’s law. “It was, I would say, 90 percent amended,” Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said after she and Stokes voted against the amendments.
BEST GRASSROOTS EXTRACTIONTransform BaltimoreAfter a number of rallies and speeches featuring kids and teachers, a $2.4 billion school-rebuilding project is half-funded—with borrowed money. The city’s schools desperately need work, but the plan underway was adapted from a semi-rural South Carolina county that was facing massive population and job growth from new and expanding factories, while the Baltimore plan is predicated on the idea that the school construction itself will spur growth. Most taxpayers never heard of it until it was done, of course, and fewer still understood the project or its long-term implications.
BEST MOONLIGHTERAshley RoaneIn keeping with a time-honored tradition for Baltimore City police, Ashley Roane, a 25-year-old patrol officer who’d been wearing a badge for five years, allegedly earned some extra cash by providing protection outside of work. Cops usually do this for bars, nightclubs, and retailers, but Roane, according to law enforcers who filed charges against her earlier this year, took her moonlighting to a new level: She allegedly was paid to be the armed lookout for a drug deal involving what she thought was a kilogram of heroin. Not satisfied with that source of extra income, Roane also is accused of stealing identities from law-enforcement databases and using them to file for fraudulent tax returns. If she’d chosen the right nightclub, perhaps Roane could’ve hit a trifecta of vice exploitation: providing door security while protecting drug dealers at the club and stealing identities off the driver’s licenses of carousing patrons.
BEST BUZZKILLFailure to vote on marijuana-decriminalization billsSure, they passed medical marijuana, the most restrictive version of it in the country, no less, but that’s a small consolation when even the staid Baltimore Sun calls Maryland’s arrest rate of African-Americans with marijuana the “new Jim Crow.” And the real bummer is there were two bills on the table that would decriminalize pot—one completely, allowing users to grow their own, and a second, much more likely to pass, that would reduce it to a ticketable offense (allowing cops to continue searching people when they smell it). But the pusillanimous legislators simply failed to vote to repeal it. Sad to say: Jim Crow lives in Maryland.
BEST USE OF QR CODESWall HuntersAccording to the techies, QR codes were going to revolutionize everything. What is a QR code? Exactly. The little dotted squares that let you go straight to a website have been pretty duddy, to say the least. That is, until street artist Nether and housing activist Carol Ott got ahold of them and started placing them on the sides of vacant buildings. Scan the code and go straight to Ott’s Baltimore Slumlord Watch blog, where you can find out not only who owns the building but in whose district it is located.
BEST BGF PROMOTERAnthony Batts, Police CommissionerWhen 13 correctional officers were indicted on corruption charges in April, Police Commissioner Anthony Batts told the public that the Black Guerrilla Family gang is responsible for a lot of violence on the streets. Again in July, when the Baltimore cops named Darryl Anderson “public enemy number 1,” the BGF name rang out. “He is an enforcer or a hitman for the Black Guerrilla Family. He’s a guy who’s probably tied to a number of very violent incidents, not just that one,” Batts said. Back in November? BGF on Greenmount. In fact, since his arrival last summer from California, Batts has mentioned BGF more than any other gang brand. That’s some serious celebrity spokesmanship right there.
BEST DO-NOTHING CITY COUNCIL MEMBERWilliam “Pete” WelchPersonally, we like Councilman Welch. He’s amusingly garrulous and knowledgeable about the issues, as a man who spent many years as an aid to his mother (former Councilwoman Agnes Welch) should be. Plus he wears a bow tie—so, big style points. Yet, when we hear from people in Welch’s 9th District, it’s not because he was helpful on constituent issues. This would be forgivable if Welch was a policy innovator or the kind of questioner of mayoral power that colleagues like Carl Stokes, Mary Pat Clarke, Bill Henry, and even Sharon Green Middleton have on occasion been. But no. Instead, it’s Welch’s legislative record that we look to for his measure, and there, according to the council’s online bill lookup, we find but two 2012 bills on which Welch was a key sponsor. One—an audit bill that Carl Stokes originally proposed, which was watered down by the mayor—passed. The other—a proposal for senior-citizen commission—failed. Among Welch’s handful of resolutions, a proposal for a study examining whether to put ads on city fire trucks passed. A series of resolutions on behalf of the YouthWorks program made it. Welch has introduced no ordinances so far this year.
BEST MYSTERYRobert Curran’s BankruptcyWhen the governor’s uncle and a scion of the city’s First Political Family files for bankruptcy and tells the newspaper he did it to avoid foreclosure on his home, we’ve got to wonder. Particularly when that house is a modest thing without a lot of liens against it, and that governor’s uncle is longtime City Councilman Robert Curran, who earns about $60,000 a year just for that job. Curran says his wife’s health problems prompted their Chapter 13 filing and declines to discuss the details. The filing itself does not shed much light, listing $162,000 in assets and $224,000 in debts—mostly credit card and mortgage, not medical. The Currans have pledged to repay their debts over the next five years. So while people talk—is Baltimore Detroit? Can a bankrupt politician be trusted with the city’s purse strings?—it doesn’t appear that many actual facts—salacious or exculpatory—are likely to be revealed.
BEST DEVELOPERSMike Schecter and Carolyn FrenkilIt’s not that we’re necessarily against developers, it’s just that we’re against the way that people like “Doughboy” Paterakis and Michael Beatty go about it (“Give us a couple hundred mill and we’ll bring some big corporations”). But, we don’t want to live on some swampland or something, either. We love cities. We love this city. And we want the right kind of development, and, so far at least, the partnership between Mike Schecter and Carolyn Frenkil seems like the right way to go in Station North, where they’ve worked to bring the Windup Space, Liam Flynn’s Ale House, and, in a sort of coup de grace, Red Emma’s. If the radical left will work with a developer—and if the developer seeks out the radical left to work with—then they’re doing something right. Next up is 10 E. North Ave., where they’re partnered with MICA, Hopkins, Jubilee Baltimore, and Joe Squared. Sure, they’re probably making a bunch of dough off all these developments, but they also really seem to love the neighborhood. So keep up the good work, but remember: We’ll be watching for any Doughboy shenanigans.
BEST MOVEMENT300 Man MarchAfter a spate of shootings in June, activist Munir Bahar decided it was time to stand up and call out for young men in the city to stop the violence. Gathering neighbors he called for a 300 Man March down the entire 10-mile length of North Avenue. On July 6, after a holiday weekend of violence, he got a 700-man march. “Put down the gun, put up the fist,” the marchers shouted. A second, smaller march took place a few weeks later at night in the rough Belair-Edison neighborhood, and Bahar has promised to continue reaching out to communities affected by gun violence.
BEST RESIGNATIONCaroline GriffinWhen Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake let it be known that she would not endorse her own Anti-Animal Abuse Advisory Commission’s 2012 Annual Report and not put it on the administration’s website, Caroline Griffin, the commission’s chair, resigned in protest. The report is damning, detailing a police department that dropped the ball on animal-cruelty enforcement after Commissioner Anthony Batts took the helm last summer. The State’s Attorney’s Office also stalled and City Health Director Oxiris Barbot did not attend a commission meeting for 18 months. Griffin’s resignation got the attention of the media, and the report got published. It’s too bad that the city’s best people have to fall on their swords in order to get the slightest action out of City Hall.
BEST PLOTTERS OF A DANGEROUS FUTUREJohns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab11100 Johns Hopkins Road, Laurel, (443) 778-5000, jhuapl.edu
One Baltimore institution stands at the nexus where artificial intelligence and advanced robots meet the U.S. president’s power to wage war unchecked: the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab, a sprawling complex of buildings and fields in Laurel where 5,000 engineers and scientists toil on top-secret weapons projects. It is there that the swarming drone technology and “unmanned aerial systems” of tomorrow are being developed, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, on a nonprofit basis on behalf of the for-profit corporations that supply our soldiers and sailors. It is fascinating work, according to the lab’s website. But the details, of course, are mostly classified. We’re sure all this stuff will work flawlessly.
BEST JOBLiquor Board inspectorOh, to be ancient, with a government pension and a $3,600 show-and-go job because of government connections. That is: Oh, to be a part-time inspector for the Baltimore Liquor Board. We’d while away the hours in this or that libationary establishment, checking off the occasional box on the occasional inspection sheet, filling out forms for long-defunct bars (one part-time inspector reportedly turned in 24 inspections of 15 establishments that were defunct), and just generally collecting the rent. Or, at least, that’s how a March audit of the Liquor Board depicts the job. The audit is mostly right, the board’s executive secretary, Sam Daniels, conceded. But because state auditors had never before audited the liquor board, they were not sufficiently familiar with all the nuances of the board’s and inspectors’ work. Daniels retired a few months later.
BEST HEAVY METAL PARKING LOTThe Horseshoe Casino1525 Russell St., caesars.com/Baltimore
It’s not slated to open until next year, but the site of the future Horseshoe Casino is a busy construction zone right now—stirring up whatever’s in the soil. We’ve looked at the regulator-approved “response action plan” that sets out how the developers and operators plan to keep construction workers, casino staff, and patrons safe, despite the thorough chemical contamination the site has endured over the past century or so. Arsenic, antimony, manganese, cadmium, chromium, thalium, vanadium, lead, mercury—all are found in the soil here at concentrations exceeding government toxicity standards. Most, if not all, of these would be found in high concentrations almost anywhere in Baltimore soils beneath former industrial sites, but most such sites are not being dug up to become casinos. Congratulations, Caesars! You (or your heirs and successors, of course) now get to host world-class gambling on top of a choice stew of toxic heavy metals.
BEST USE OF THE LAW TO SUBVERT JUSTICEBig Boyz Bail Bonds
Forever, the law has required a non-refundable, 10 percent down payment on every bail bond, and for almost that long, savvy customers have worked wink-and-handshake discounts with their bondsmen, based on trust. Some of Big Boyz’s customers say the pen-promoting company has done the same, but Big Boyz has a twist: Miss a payment or fall from favor and you’re on the hook for the whole enchilada. The signed contracts will come out, and no judge will ever look past them. Some people will rob you with a gun; Big Boyz (allegedly) will rob those people with a yellow-and-pink pen.
BEST HARANGUERMarilyn MosbyThe Baltimore City state’s attorney election isn’t for another year, but former prosecutor Marilyn Mosby, the wife of City Councilman Nick Mosby (D-7th District), came out slugging incumbent Gregg Bernstein when she announced her candidacy in June. In emails to the media since, Mosby has held Bernstein’s feet to the fire whenever she can point to anything criminal occurring in Baltimore, a city famed for its persistent crime problems. It’s an easy strategy—all crime is the incumbent elected crime-fighter’s fault. While Mosby waited before including Bernstein’s name in her attack emails, perhaps because naming your opponent serves to remind voters of his name, she finally did on Aug. 6—and misspelled his name “Berstein” in the subject line. Classic! Smartly, she’s recently been focusing on Bernstein’s “tenuous grip” on crime reduction in Baltimore’s “most popular neighborhoods”—also the locale of the highest-voting precincts. Mosby’s a bruiser, for sure.
BEST IMPOSTORRobert D. Ballinger IIThe perennial Howard County Board of Education candidate, supposed former staffer to Governor Robert Ehrlich, and former director of opposition research for the Maryland Republican Party “pretended to be a United States Secret Service special agent in order to withdraw United States currency from a First Mariner Bank account that did not belong to him and for which he lacked permission or authority,” according to a criminal information filed in Maryland’s U.S. District Court. As of Sept. 1, his LinkedIn profile still described him as a staffer for Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Pitts, though Pitts’ staff had told City Paper three weeks earlier that Ballinger was a former intern.
BEST NEIGHBORHOOD WATCHDOGMatt GonterFor years, Gonter and his wife, Summer, have worked to make their neighborhood—and the city—better. They reported people fraudulently claiming the homestead tax exemption so much that the state reformed the system. When drug dealers and violent tenants in nearby houses were arrested, Gonter reported it to city housing and HUD. Over time, Gonter noticed patterns. Over and over, the same landlords seemed to rent to tenants who got into trouble with the law. Gonter spoke up about these patterns to city officials. And for this, he and Summer have endured skulking vandalism, open and covert harassment, and, incredibly, cries of “racism” from one very white landlord who resides in Fallston and drives a Ferrari. City police never have caught any of those who harassed the Gonters or vandalized their home.
BEST CAUTIONARY TALEPrisoner’s Aid Association of Maryland, Inc.For 140 years, PAA provided men and women leaving prison with shelter and other services, buoyed by private grants and lots of money from the city, which got most of it from state and federal governments. Then the organization levered-up with $765,000 in loans at 12 percent interest, and it did this as its board members were being indicted—one for stealing $756,000 from a sick child, the other for burning down a house PAA rented because the tenant was his estranged girlfriend. After that, things went downhill quietly, behind the scenes. Even as the city was demanding its money back, bail bondsman “Bishop” Barry Chapman tried to use his rhyming techniques to expand PAA’s reach to other states. Some Baltimore clients ended up homeless, but isn’t that always the way?
BEST EMIGRANTJoshua GoldbergJosh Goldberg, formerly a mortgage broker in East Baltimore, moved to Israel two years ago with his spouse, Bayardo Alvarez, sparking a national debate (in Israel) about gay marriage and the right of return. This year he was indicted (in the U.S. District Court in Maryland) for mortgage fraud stemming from a dozen or so outrageous “straw man” sales of mostly dilapidated Upper Fells Point area rowhouses. The feds say Goldberg co-directed the scheme, with which he and a half-dozen confederates extracted more than $2.5 million from various shady lenders. Several co-defendants have already pleaded guilty. No word on when (or whether) Goldberg might return to face the charge
BEST GADFLYNEWS & MEDIA: Dave TroyDave Troy likes maps. And data. And politics. And Baltimore. And using maps to talk about politics and Baltimore. Or using data to talk about race and elections. And envisioning a new future for Baltimore’s manufacturing industry. Or something. It’s difficult to say sometimes. Troy, the entrepreneur and CEO at the tech/design firm 410 Labs, always seems to have something going on that’s going to make some grand statement about the Baltimore we live in now and the Way it Could Be, and we can’t wait to see what that statement is once a coherent vision for one of them is made.
BEST JOURNALISTMark Reutter, Baltimore BrewNobody in Baltimore went after the Harbor Point development with more attention to detail than Mark Reutter, the former Sun reporter and author who was hired on to the shoestring website four years ago and proceeded to make the rest of us look bad. He covers the waterfront—from Sparrows Point to the Harbor—and everything in City Hall and underground too. The list of scoops: “Gold-plated” parks; Clergymen seek $25 million “community benefits” at Harbor Point; EPA revises city sewer consent decree; Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s “Protocol for Dismantling Homeless Encampments,” and more interesting stories about city consulting contracts.
BEST COLUMNISTThomas Schaller, The Baltimore SunConsider this shoutout a thank you that political columnist Schaller, a UMBC professor of political science, seems to be the only non-sports columnist at The Sun who takes his job and readers seriously. He’ll acknowledge Maryland’s progressive strides (“Maryland becomes a liberal paradise,” April 3, 2013) or chide the Department of Defense (“Don’t exempt Pentagon from scrutiny,” May 1, 2013) in the same kind of clear, direct prose he uses to keep track of Barack Obama’s ups and downs—well, this year, mostly downs (“When the president checks out, abuses mount,” May 29, 2013; “Is Obama the world’s worst socialist?,” Sept. 4, 2013). Whether or not we agree with Schaller’s opinions isn’t the point—that he respects his forum and his reader enough to articulate an idea and argue it is.
BEST TV JOURNALISTJoce Sterman, ABC2Consider this shoutout a thank you that political columnist Schaller, a UMBC professor of political science, seems to be the only non-sports columnist at The Sun who takes his job and readers seriously. He’ll acknowledge Maryland’s progressive strides (“Maryland becomes a liberal paradise,” April 3, 2013) or chide the Department of Defense (“Don’t exempt Pentagon from scrutiny,” May 1, 2013) in the same kind of clear, direct prose he uses to keep track of Barack Obama’s ups and downs—well, this year, mostly downs (“When the president checks out, abuses mount,” May 29, 2013; “Is Obama the world’s worst socialist?,” Sept. 4, 2013). Whether or not we agree with Schaller’s opinions isn’t the point—that he respects his forum and his reader enough to articulate an idea and argue it is.
BEST RADIO SERIES“The Lines Between Us,” WYPRWhenever people say “Smaltimore,” they are usually talking only about their small little corner of the city (and, we have to admit, it is mostly white people who use the phrase). In fact, the city is far bigger than most of us caught up in our actually quite-segregated lives would like to think. Instead of turning a (color) blind eye to the phenomenon, WYPR’s Maryland Morning, under the direction of producer Lawrence Lanahan (disclosure: he is the husband of former CP senior editor Andrea Appleton), produced “The Lines Between Us,” which tackles the various ways that race and class affect our experiences. The series included more than 40 episodes combining residents’ personal stories, radio reports, and incisive, data-heavy graphics accessible online to make sense of why Maryland’s women make 88 cents for every dollar Maryland’s men make; to figure out from what city zip codes Baltimore’s prison population came; to try to understand why CEOs’ pay continues to balloon as the middle class continues to get squeezed, and more. As “The Lines Between Us” wraps up this fall, we hope that WYPR will continue to tackle these problems with the same insight and depth.
BEST COVERAGEScott Calvert on speed camsBaltimore Sun investigative reporter Scott Calvert basically shut down the city’s speed-camera program this year with a series of late-2012 exposés on how the cameras work (not always well: see the minivan clocked at 38 mph while sitting at the light), how the contract works (not well, see Xerox versus Breckford Corp. dueling to operate the 80-odd speed cameras), and how the city’s administration of the program works (not well, you’ll be surprised to learn, because: Baltimore). Thousands of refund notices for erroneous tickets reportedly went out, and the program—which previously had netted Baltimore government about $1 million per month—has been shut down since the beginning of 2013. As of mid-August, the entire program was still on indefinite hiatus, despite competing claims by Breckford officials that the lucrative safety program would be restarted soon.
BEST CUB REPORTERKevin Rector, The Baltimore SunWe started looking for Rector’s byline when he was on the overnight shift down on Calvert Street and we found ourselves waking up every morning to his curious, insightful, and occasionally funny tweets from the newsroom. We have to admit we were a bit sad when he was moved to the day shift. (Is no one tweeting over there at night anymore?) Now he’s been promoted (we guess it is a promotion, at least) to cover transportation, and we’re waiting for him to do an expose on the No. 27 bus and in the meantime are following his new Sun blog, Gay Matters. The fact that The Sun now has a gay blog is reason enough for us to love Rector. We can’t wait to see where he goes next.
BEST BLOGBooze News
A properly staffed daily newspaper in Baltimore would have at least two reporters assigned to the liquor board: one to go to every meeting and record the shenanigans of the various bar and club impresarios (to say nothing of the corner-store entrepreneurs) and their lawyers as they expand their joyful empires; the other would examine the doings of the board itself and the inspectors so deployed. Alas, right now there is not one reporter assigned to it full-time. And that’s why Booze News, the Community Law Center’s liquor board blog, is the best. Though founded only around June by Attorney Christina Schoppert Devereux, and (for the moment anyway) bare bones and summarial, it alone tells us what happens at those interminable meetings—along with telling context like, “Yes, but Canton Crossing Wine & Spirits, LLC was incorporated after the hearing, on August 26, 2013. When the hearing took place on August 15, 2013, the LLC had not yet been formed. The Liquor Board did not comment on this during the hearing.”
BEST REAL DEALFred Rasmussen, The Baltimore SunRoughly 40,000 Marylanders per year go to Bliss Eternal. And of those, roughly 39,998 want an obituary in The Baltimore Sun. The current Sun newsprint budget, however, allows for only 14 a week. You do the math. The task of deciding who gets in falls upon Fred Rasmussen, The Sun’s preeminent obit writer. He’s been bringing the dead to life for 20 of his 40 years at the paper. From the beginning, he shunned The Sun’s practice of featuring only doctors, lawyers, and bankers. Now, the carpenter from White Avenue gets the same treatment as the society swell from Roland Avenue. He has provided last hurrahs for hotel-desk clerks, bartenders, truck drivers, and doormen—and always with grace, dignity, and wit. Baltimore is lucky to have Fred Rasmussen. He knows where the bodies are buried.
BEST PLACE TO READ RACIST DRIVELBaltimore Sun Online CommentsEver heard of a “Honkeycaust?” We hadn’t either. It’s just one of the colorfully racist terms coughed up like a hate-filled hairball in the online comments section for a Baltimore Sun story. If MLK had a dream, then here, under “Add/View comments,” is the nightmare—an angry, ugly realm where just about any news event can spawn a race-baiting screed. A piece about a Baltimore teen shot dead while simply sitting on his front steps? Here’s a chance for some mouth-breathing reader to trot out the line “black feral idiot in the ghetto.” Just one more reason to pick up the paper version of the paper.
BEST SUN RETIREECandus ThomsonThe hemorrhage of talent from 501 N. Calvert St.—a more-than-decade-long slide representative of our post-newspaper epoch—continued in 2013, when longtime editor and reporter Candus “Candy” Thomson signed buyout papers. Best known for her outdoors reporting (her dispatches were good enough to be mentioned in the same breath as Bill Burton and Lefty Kreh), there was little Thomson didn’t write about in clean, accurate, and inquisitive prose in a quarter-century at The Sun. Many who left the House that Mencken Built before her said that, if they were creating a newsroom from scratch, Thomson would be the first hire. There isn’t a section of the paper where her byline hasn’t appeared on the cover and above the fold: A1, sports, metro, business, features, food, real estate, and the old county sections. Thomson leaves journalism to become a public information officer of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. One day, perhaps, they will name a fishing pier after her.
BEST BOGEYMENThe Koch BrothersThey are billionaires! They are Charles Koch and David H. Koch! They fund organizations that are Anthropogenic Global Warming skeptics! They are Republican zealots or Right-Wing zealots or Libertarian zealots or something! They support the Cato Institute! They raised money for Mitt Romney! They are against Obamacare! They almost-maybe bought the Tribune Company, the one that owns The Baltimore Sun! But they didn’t! Wow, that was a close one! What would we have done? Wait, they just bought Molex, one of the component suppliers for Apple! Our iPhones! Aieee!!!
NEWS & MEDIA HALL OF FAMEJustin Fenton@justin_fenton
Since Justin Fenton starting covering police and crime for The Sun, he’s been a Best of Baltimore regular, winning the “Best Journalist” and “Best Twitter Feed” categories in the Readers Poll multiple times each, and as an editors pick for “Best Journalist” in 2010 (with Peter Hermann). Fenton stands out because, even in a diminished newsroom serving a city with lowered expectations from its daily newspaper, he consistently turns in superior work, doggedly chasing down a volume of stories that in years past might have been covered by three or more reporters. Even better, he takes us, his Twitter followers, along virtually every step of the way.
BEST “SCIENTISTS”Tony Pann and Mike MascoWe like Tony Pann. Last year, we named him “Best Weatherman” for the steady, calm way in which he advises whether or not we should bring an umbrella to work. But apparently this umbrella-related knowledge has gone to the WBAL-TV meteorologist’s head, as it has with ABC2’s Mike Masco. Both weathermen took to Facebook last December to air their skepticism about human-caused global warming, which ragtag groups like NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) say is real. Even the American Meteorological Society (AMS), of which Pann claims to be a member on the WBAL website, says “Warming of the climate system now is unequivocal” and that the “dominant cause of the rapid change in climate of the past half century is human-induced.” But Pann, who has a BS in meteorology, says it’s a conspiracy. “If you are making a living on government grants to research global warming, and have been for 20 years, you don’t want that money to dry up!,” he said on his Facebook page. “I hate to say it, but you just have to follow the money.” Masco, who has a BA in communications and a certificate in “Broadcast Meteorology,” joined the debate, calling global warming “the biggest scam in modern time,” and insisting “I don’t drink the liberal coolaid [sic].” Going forward, we’ll just take our chances with the umbrella thing.
BEST ARCHIVESThe Afro-AmericanEvery newspaper creates its own time capsule of its understanding of the past, but few are as singular as what resides in The Afro-American’s archives in Charles Village. Founded by former slave John Murphy in 1892 and continuously published by his family ever since, The Afro’s archives—beginning in 1923, the paper started saving everything used to create its content—provide a unique window in black life in Baltimore and America in the 20th century that has only recently begun to be mined. The archives sat unexplored for decades before archivists started the slow process of sorting through, organizing, and digitizing them in 2007.
BEST OBSESSIONRichard Gorelick on CronutsWhen New York City went all meshugganah this year over cronuts—half-croissant, half-donut, all-delicious (apparently. None have yet made their way to CP HQ)—Sun (and former CP) food writer Gorelick was all over it, with stories and Facebook posts that seemed to both earnestly share the enthusiasm over the hybrid baked goods and simultaneously mock the absurd hype over them. He started on June 7 with “Looking for Cronuts? Gertrude’s has Croi-nuts!,” then “A few Baltimore restaurants dip into the Cronut craze” on Aug. 7 (with an accompanying photo gallery: “Cronut craze hits Baltimore and New York”), and finally on Sept. 4, “In search of the next Cronut.” Gorelick’s Facebook page was a more frequent outlet for the decidedly unhealthy obsession, with endless links and reviews posted with the tag “crontinuing croverage.” Richard, don’t ever change.
BEST SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGYBaltimore SpectatorWith a couple thousand Twitter followers, a Barry White voice, and a powerful paranoia, Apollos Frank-James MacArthur parlayed a run-of-the-mill probation violation into a sensational standoff with the city’s SWAT team, followed by a dramatic six-month term in jail, before pleading guilty to his second gun charge. Now, with nearly 4,000 Twitter followers and an imposing Klout score, MacArthur stands head and shoulders above other anti-police agitators, regaling his online radio listeners and other followers with tales of his gritty exploits in the city’s murderous streets—and regular flame wars with perceived detractors. It’s a lot of work, and MacArthur has paid a heavy price in time and treasure, but he has established himself as a unique Baltimore voice. Admit it: You can’t look away.
BEST TIRED BALTIMORE STEREOTYPEFree ParkingAh, to live in the City That Reads. Crime on every block, crack on every corner, kitschy Hampden stuff that tourists and people in the county visit during December only, a perennial chip on every Bawlmer resident’s shoulder. Oh, and ALL THE FREE PARKING YOU COULD EVER WANT. Apparently, if you live in Washington, D.C., this is what you think of Baltimore. Washington Post travel writer Marc Fisher slaughtered many words in service of this myopic, unimaginative, and boilerplate understanding with his amazingly smug, condescending February story, “In Baltimore, finding more than just true grit,” in which he mentions the parking situation nine times. Look, D.C., we love you. Really, we do. But remarking with “A-HA!” glee at our abundant parking is like us feigning surprise at all the malfeasance your little District manages to create.
BEST RESPONSEThe ChesapeakeAs you may recall, we went to the newly opened Chesapeake one early evening in July and ordered a WhistlePig Manhattan, up. We were expecting a bill of $17 or so. We got a bill for $21. We wrote a blog post complaining about it (“And the award for most overpriced Manhattan in Baltimore goes to . . .,” July 17). We didn’t hear complaints from the place at the time, but not much later, a City Paper reviewer went back to review the restaurant side of things, for which a photograph with the head chef was taken. Sure enough, there was chef Jordan Miller, posing with two plates of food, a bottle of WhistlePig, a Manhattan, and a knowing grin—a grin that said “Fuck you very much, City Paper.” But seriously, we thought it was hilarious and appreciated the way the Chesapeake handled our grousing. Tip o’ the cap. Now, about those prices. . .
BEST HATCHETWesley Case, bWhen Wesley Case’s Midnight Sun blog reviewed David’s 1st and 10, Case repeatedly mentioned the first and last name of the bartender, not only ragging on her service but also making fun of her voice, all but ensuring she would never be able to work in the service industry again. We’re all for the negative review when it is warranted, but the vehemence and unfairness of Case’s case against her struck even old, hardened cynics like us as unjust. In his defense, maybe Case thought the Koch brothers were gonna buy The Sun and he was hoping they might need an assassin.
BEST PUBLIC SERVICECity Paper’s “Eat Pussy Like a Porn Star”
We hope you learn a lot of things when you head to your local yellow box and pick up a copy of City Paper. Maybe something about the City Council’s doings or what’s happening in the arts community. More likely, it’s along the lines of “What’s Dan Savage got to say this week?” or “Will I complete the crossword this time?” Even so, we sometimes pride ourselves on offering news you can use, such as how you can perform cunnilingus on your girlfriend. Hence the reason we enlisted Baltimore-bred porn star Kurt Lockwood to pen a (ahem, short-lived) column for us! Sure enough, he filed a particular column revealing his technique—passed down, we presume, by the porn elders—for orally pleasing a woman. We’ll be damned if it didn’t become one of the perennially most-visited pages of our website, which is to say lots of people read it and learned (we hope) from Lockwood’s advice. You’re welcome! (We think?)