Wandering Eye: Sondheim Prize finalists, the shrinking value of a taxi medallion, and more

MarylandReporter.com's Rebecca Lessner has some compelling coverage of yesterday's Maryland Board of Public Works meeting, when a scandalous food-vendor contract for the state-run Baltimore City Detention Center was dissected. "We can't wake up tomorrow morning and not serve food to the prisoners and have a riot on our hands," she quotes Gov. Larry Hogan as saying. Lessner reports that Crystal Enterprises, which won the contract recently by significantly underbidding the prior vendor, says it was confronted with a roach- and rodent-infested kitchen, "birds eating away" at the food supplies, and broken-down appliances upon taking over the contract. Thus, Crystal quickly found it could not meet its obligations without failing financially, so it asked for a six-month emergency contract that pays 54 percent more than it initially agreed to—an option that corrections secretary Stephen Moyer said was "the best judgement I could make" given that "you cannot go a day without feeding inmates." Comptroller Peter Franchot is urging that the attorney general review the procurement process while the contract is rebid, to determine whether the mess is "simply a case of sloppiness or if there's cause for further review by other appropriate agencies." (Van Smith)

 

Evgeny "Gene" Friedman recently became the first traditional taxi operator to ask for a government bailout of his faltering business, The New York Times' Josh Barro reports gleefully. Friedman owns or controls about 1,000 medallions in New York City—about one-sixth of the minicab fleet—and says he's too big to fail, according to Barro, who has chronicled the price decline of NY medallions on the Upshot blog. Uber is the main reason, of course: The ride-hailing service, which declines to obey taxi regulations and claims it is not a livery service, has devastated the licensed operators in dozens of cities by undercutting prices and providing better service—especially to the sort of trendy and impatient young professionals who get to blog for the NYT. As the going price for a taxi medallion has fallen from its New York peak of more than $1 million, guys like Friedman, who like most businessmen operates on borrowed money, can't pay their loans. Thus the cycle begins: "As Mr. Freidman himself noted, he is no longer able to charge the city's legal maximum lease rate for yellow cabs because fewer people are interested in driving them; this is a fundamental reason prices are declining." In Friedman, Barro has a great and villainous avatar—a paper billionaire crying in his milk. One looks forward with great anticipation to what Barro will write in a decade or so, after Uber vanquishes all the Friedmans, and what we now call taxis are no longer required to serve the poor, infirm, or handicapped; and fares are no longer regulated, nor drivers vetted. Probably press releases for Uber. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

 

Yesterday, the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts (BOPA) announced the finalists for this year's $25,000 Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape prize. And while we have groused in the past about too many finalists coming from out of town, we're happy to report that all of this year's seven finalists are from Charm City. It's also a great, diverse group of artists, including MICA grad and professor Magnolia Laurie and duo of veteran local artists Daniel Wickerham and Malcolm Lomax, along with Mequitta Ahuja, who came to Baltimroe for a MICA artist residency in 2011 and stayed, Zoë Charlton, Benjamin Kelley, Jim Leach, and Ryan Syrell. Work from the finalists will go up at the Baltimore Museum of Art from June 24 and the $25,000 winner will be announced July 11 (the other six finalists get $2,500 prizes). The finalist exhibit will be on display through Aug. 9. (Evan Serpick)

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