Former Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris - addressing everything from terrorists to doing time to Jessica Simpson's rear end - made his debut as a radio talk show host yesterday, receiving a warm welcome from callers who, like him, seem to consider any crimes he committed to be in the past.
"Enough's enough," Norris said of his guilty plea to federal public corruption and tax charges stemming from his reign as Baltimore's police chief, the six months he spent in prison and the six more he spent on home detention.
Norris returned to Baltimore on Saturday, partly to fulfill the final part of his sentence - 500 hours of community service - and partly for a job. He is co-host of the new 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. talk show on WHFS-FM, Ed Norris with Big O & Dukes.
The show replaces Big O & Dukes, on which Norris had become a regular guest, by telephone, during his home detention in Florida. Station officials declined to divulge his salary.
Nevertheless, it's a far cry, Norris noted, from the situation he was in one year ago - "in federal prison putting a thing up against the door to keep the rats out." Norris told listeners that, as an inmate, he grew a beard, shaved his head and, for his own safety, led other inmates to believe he was a drug dealer.
Wearing blue jeans and a black shirt, untucked, Norris entered the studio minutes before 11 a.m., took a seat between co-hosts Oscar Zeballos and Chad Dukes and, with a laptop computer and cup of coffee in front of him and a pair of headphones wrapped around his neck, waited for the Howard Stern Show to conclude.
After a Dragnet-style introduction to the new show, Norris began by thanking those who had been so welcoming upon his return to Baltimore. "People literally were hugging me in the streets. ... I got a little choked up," he said. "I had tears in my eyes Saturday night. ... It just did a lot for me mentally; a lot of people still feel pretty positive about me."
Norris acknowledged that, despite declines in crime during his tenure in Baltimore - a trend he alluded to repeatedly - he doesn't expect everyone to be so welcoming. "Half the city still hates you, so you'll never really be popular. But this is a private company. It's a free country. And I got a job."
While his WHFS (105.7 FM) co-hosts said instant messages to the station were running positive and negative, only those with positive remarks about Norris ended up on the air during the show's debut.
When one caller asked Norris if he had remorse, he said, "No, actually, I don't. This was a huge public thing. ... Stuff happens in life."
For the first hour of the show, a string of callers welcomed Norris back - among them Dave in Essex, Frankie in Annapolis and Kathy in Baltimore, who told the ex-police chief, "You were just the one who got caught. That's all it was."
When Rob in Baltimore urged him to "lay waste to the [nonsense] going on in the city" Norris responded, "I just call them as I see them. Balls and strikes."
After the first commercial break, TV news crews cleared out of the studio. Norris took a large gulp of coffee, wiped his face with his hands and, after a few more welcome-backs, the hosts moved on to new topics - the Ravens, Courtney Love, Jessica Simpson and PETA among them.
Norris expressed disappointment in the Ravens' first preseason game, and had high hopes for Jamal Lewis' return to the team after serving his own federal prison sentence. Lewis, Norris said, was fortunate he was sent to a federal prison that had weights. The first one Norris went to, in Mississippi, did not, and he and other inmates used cans of vegetable shortening and bags of rice in their place, he said.
While talking about Love's efforts to maintain custody of her child, Norris remarked, "When you hit rock bottom like I did, there's nothing more important than your children. ... You sacrifice everything to keep your family together."
On rumors that Simpson enhanced her buttocks for her role in the movie The Dukes of Hazzard, Norris commented, "Oh my god. Boy, am I disappointed."
And in discussing a controversial new advertising campaign (now suspended) by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that juxtaposed images of slavery and animal cruelty, Norris called it "outrageous. They should publicly apologize."
There were several calls from friends, including his former patrol partner in New York City, a Legg Mason vice president, and former New York Police Commissioner Howard Safir - all of whom he praised because "they never ran away from me."
Norris, after three years as Baltimore's police commissioner, was named superintendent of Maryland State Police in 2003. Within a year though, he was indicted on charges stemming from his tenure as city chief. He pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to misuse money from a Police Department discretionary fund. Federal prosecutors said he used the money, in part, to pay for extramarital encounters with several women. He also pleaded guilty to lying on tax returns.
Despite being a convicted felon, Norris has widespread appeal locally, said Bob Philips, senior vice president for Infinity Broadcasting, which owns WHFS and 179 other stations. The company may consider syndicating the program, he said. "We have big plans for Ed."
"The response has been incredible," Philips said, adding that the former commissioner's experience, combined with his charisma, make him a natural for talk radio. "He walked a beat in New York City, he's been on top, and he's been in jail."
Norris, 44, flew back to Baltimore on Saturday and had dinner at Ruth's Chris Steak House with radio station officials, who have put him up in a hotel while he finalizes a deal on an apartment.
Norris said he would be meeting this week with officials at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese Of Baltimore, the organization for which he will perform 500 hours of community service, under the terms of his plea agreement.