Nose-picking, cringe-worthy Skynyrd tunes, and automatic defibrillators: The Nose goes to Gov. Hogan's inaugural gala

City Paper

Daniella, the new Maryland governor’s 2-year-old granddaughter, just wouldn’t quit. There she was, up on the stage in her mom’s arms, right next to Larry Hogan at his inaugural gala at the Baltimore Convention Center, way past bedtime on the evening of Jan. 21, wearing a glittery gold dress, doing what toddlers are wont to do: insistently mining the contents of her nose. 

The well-lit act was being closed-circuit broadcast onto numerous enormous screens placed throughout the massive hall, a live-action spectacle for a large audience, preserved for posterity. When her mom couldn’t get Daniella to stop, she turned her back to the crowd to save us from witnessing that timeless act of humanity, apparently ordained by evolutionary biology since, no matter what your age, your finger always fits your nostril. Daniella stopped only when something her granddad was saying—maybe it was the “we’re going to get the government off our backs and out of our pockets” moment—prompted a roar of applause. She needed both hands to clap.

The Nose, of course, was smitten. It may have been the only glimpse of unselfconscious authenticity we witnessed the whole night. 

Among the self-conscious inauthenticity on display at the gala were all of the Maryland state flags dressed up as clothing and accessories. There were blazers and ties and bow ties and silk scarves and shawls, and even a large leather handbag, all emblazoned with patterns based on the Free State’s flag. Since the flag includes the Crossland banner, a symbol adopted by Civil War secessionists, the prevalence of these wearables provided apt visuals when the local cover band playing in the lobby, Great Escape, ripped into Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ which surely made the guy wearing the camouflage shirt-and-hat combo feel right at home. The fancy-pants crowd in tuxes and gowns, though, seemed to prefer the highly polished out-of-town act playing Gershwin and Glenn Miller in the main hall, the Andrew Thielen Big Band out of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The Nose cringed when Great Escape played ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ with its blatant praise (“the governor’s true”) of segregationist George Wallace, who, as chief executive there when the song came out in 1974, loved it so much he made the band’s members honorary officers of the state militia. It reminded us that Wallace won Maryland’s Democratic primary for president in 1972, after he’d made strong showings here in the 1964 and 1968 presidential races. This was still on our minds when the band slashed out its version of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Brown Sugar,’ with its brutal slavery references and its race-baiting lyrics (“how come you taste/dance so good . . . just like a black girl should”), and we watched as the faces of some of the African-American catering staff turned stoically stern.

The demographics of the event, though, were surprisingly diverse for a GOP gathering. A friend of ours from Fells Point, who managed to crash the event just for kicks, pegged it as 80 percent white, with the balance split between Asians and African-Americans, along with a few Southeast Asians. What’s more, when Hogan took the stage to make his brief remarks, comprised mostly of thanks for helping him win the election, he was the only white person there. His wife and family are Asian Americans, and lieutenant governor Boyd Rutherford and his wife and children are African-American. The image projected the inclusiveness Republicans strive for, but struggle to obtain.

Another demographic turn of events in Hogan’s run-up to taking over the State House was his drafting former state Del. Keiffer Mitchell, who lost in the Baltimore mayor’s race in 2007, to be his special adviser on charter schools. When the Nose ran into Mitchell at the gala, he jocularly stated that “I’m not obligated to talk to you guys anymore.” When we asked, “Not obligated, or not authorized?” his retort was, “I’m not authorized either, I’m just a lowly staffer.” We pointed out to him that “you keep coming up with second acts. Lose the race for mayor, become a delegate. Lose the race for delegate, go work as the governor’s advisor.” In answering, he referred to his cousin, former state Sen. Clarence “C4” Mitchell IV, saying, “C4 taught me that. Lose the Senate, become a radio talk-show host” on WBAL.  

Mitchell’s a good sport, even though this scion of Baltimore’s most famous civil-rights family, when he was a city councilman in 2000, protested that Baltimore really shouldn’t continue to celebrate the birthday of the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, because he put the city under martial law during the Civil War, imprisoned the mayor, City Council, and police chief, and trained cannons at City Hall. Given Baltimore’s unique history just as the war broke out—Union troops suffered fatalities as they marched through the city along Pratt Street, and a majority of Mobtown’s citizens were believed to be antiwar Southern sympathizers—the Nose sympathizes with Abe’s decision, and since we hold him and Martin Luther King Jr. to be among our most-holy heroes, we take issue with Mitchell’s position on the matter. But reasonable minds can disagree.

Now that Hogan is governor, there’s bound to be a lot of disagreement in Annapolis, given the majority-Democrat legislature. And the Nose, the day after the gala, opened our emails to find it had already begun. The Sierra Club and Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility decried his decision to quash new rules to abate ground-level ozone pollution caused by coal-fired power plants, while Equality Maryland and FreeState Legal Project denounced his withdrawal of a regulation to prohibit sexual-orientation and gender-identity discrimination by Medicaid providers and his failure to include gender identity in an executive order on state employees’ standards of conduct. On the other hand, The Maryland Public Policy Institute glowed about Hogan’s just-released (though incomplete) budget, saying that “finally, Maryland is on a glide path to fiscal sustainability.”

The night before, the crasher told the Nose on his way out the door that, “Well, that was boring, but what do you expect? Are they going to tell you something that’s going to blow your mind on inauguration day?” Turns out, the mind-blowing started with the next day’s policy debates.

Speaking of the gala crasher, in the days before the event, the Nose contemplated crashing it, too. But after some persistence we managed to get a press pass that, really, we didn’t need. And the stated policy, conveyed in an email, that reporters would “locate in the press area” and, after Hogan’s remarks, “will be escorted out of the Convention Center,” turned out to be rubbish. We were free to roam as we pleased, and the check-in policy was strictly a state-your-name affair. As for non-press attendees, all one needed to do, as our crasher did, was approach the registration tables and declare an affiliation with one of the event’s many, many corporate sponsors.

The Nose abstained from partaking of any of the impressive spread of food and drinks (due both to journalistic ethics and the facts that, much to our horror, Canadian Club was being served instead of Pikesville Supreme Straight Rye Whiskey and that the automatic external defibrillator was prominently placed, for potential stroke victims’ convenience, right next to the gourmet-slider station), but our Fells Point friend quaffed and chowed liberally. Asked for a review of the offerings, he said, “Meh,” adding that “the sliders are good,” but the “mac and cheese bites are gross,” while “the gin’s good” and “they are pouring like pirates.” He enjoyed the hobnobbing, saying, “it’s just people drinking heavily” and “one guy tried to sell me a coat that looked like the Maryland flag.”

Should anybody want such a garment, the Nose suggests Googling “Maryland flag clothing” and getting your credit-card number ready. We’ll take a pass. That Crossland banner thing gives us the willies. And, while we look forward to Hogan’s fiscally conservative attempts to get a grip on the state’s ballooning community chest, his out-of-the-gate environmental deregulation and discriminatory slights give us the willies, too. We were hoping for a Republican more like former governor Robert Ehrlich, whose top budget beneficiary was the Maryland Department of the Environment and whose chief of staff was gay. 

Predictable prognosticators that we are, absent a course correction and the arrival of actual inclusiveness rather than staged visuals, we foresee a one-term tenure for Hogan—assuming, that is, that the Democrats go with a high-quality candidate like Heather Mizeur. Maryland, we think, really isn’t really purple, despite the spectral shift boasted of at the gala. So if Hogan continues to press anti-environment and socially conservative lines, he’s going to find out the hard way that that doesn’t fly with most of the voters. Either way, though, the Nose hopes the next gubernatorial-inauguration gala will feature Pikesville instead of Canadian Club and Rye Rye instead of Great Escape. 

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