By Laura Vozzella
7:58 PM EDT, June 20, 2011
Former Senator Theatre owner Tom Kiefaber disrupted a City Council meeting Monday night, bounding up to the dais as the council was about to take a final vote to designate the interior of the theater a historic landmark.
"Right when it [the bill] came up ... he rushed the dais," Councilman Bobby Curran said. "He called it a banana republic. '[Abell Foundation President] Bob Embry controls the City Council.'"
City Council President Jack Young cut off the microphone Kiefaber had commandeered and called a recess. But Kiefaber, dressed in a jacket and tie, stayed on the dais, shouting to the council chamber. Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke approached and tried to talk with him. A police officer eventualy escorted him out of the chamber.
Kiefaber said later that he had not been charged criminally for the disruption. He said the officer told him he'd be arrested if he didn't leave City Hall, so he left.
"All right, I’m walking," Kiefaber said he told the officer. "I don’t want to go to Central Booking. Nobody does."
The theater had been in Kiefaber's family since his grandfather opened it in 1939. He lost it to the city in an auction in July 2009, after he'd failed to make mortgage payments for several months. He continued operating the theater on a month-to-month lease until July, when city officials ordered him out so the new operators, James "Buzz" Cusack and his daughter, Kathleen, could begin their planned repairs and renovations to the building. They reopened the theater in October.
By disrupting the meeting, Kiefaber said he was trying to make a point that powerbrokers like Embry, who sits on the city's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, and M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corporation, have too much sway.
"I uttered he whose name could not be mentioned: Baltimort," Kiefaber said, referring to Embry. "One person's valid, vigorous protest is another's tirade."
Curran said he and council veterans such as Mary Pat Clarke and Rikki Spector had never heard of anyone rushing the dais in City Hall.
"We’ve had people stand up in the audience," he said. "We've never had anyone rush the podium and stand up next to the president and try to take control of the microphone."
Curran praised Young's handling of the situation.
"What he did was totally outrageous and disrespectful," Young said on video captured by The Baltimore Sun's Erica Green.
A City Hall staffer, incidentally, held a piece of paper in front of Green's cell phone camera to try to prevent her from recording the incident.
Unless there's some loophole to the Open Meetings Act I'm not aware of, I'm pretty sure City Council meetings are public even when Tom Kiefaber storms the dais.
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