Remember when the worst thing a Baltimore City Council member brandished was a shoe?
On Thursday, the council will consider adding to its ranks a man who fired a .38-calber gun during an argument over $40.
Does that make aspiring councilman William "Pete" Welch a menace to society — or a law-and-order man, as he claimed at the time of the 1999 incident?
"I shot at the ground to restore order," Welch told police, according to court documents.
Welch offered another explanation this week when the council grilled him and three others seeking to fill the council seat vacated by his mother, Agnes Welch, The Baltimore Sun's Jessica Anderson reported.
"The gun misfired into the floor," Welch told council members, who will nominate a replacement Thursday and take a final vote Monday.
Frankly, I think Welch should have stuck with his "restore-order" story. We've had enough criminal "oops" in City Hall, as in "Oops! I thought all those gift cards were for me."
But there is one problem with his original story.
What Welch claimed to be restoring order to was, in fact, an illegal transaction: The $40 in dispute was the payment he had promised a woman for working the polls for his mother; paying "walking-around money" was then an illegal practice in Maryland.
Welch was charged initially with attempted murder and illegal possession of a handgun, but he avoided jail time by pleading guilty to second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and discharging a firearm. He received probation before judgment on a charge related to the walking-around money.
Does any of that trouble members of the council as they consider picking Welch to serve out the rest of his mother's term? Welch, a longtime aide in his mother's office, is also a certified public accountant who for years managed to file identical campaign finance reports on his mother's behalf. In June 2004, he pleaded guilty to two counts of failure to file campaign finance reports and one count of perjury related to the reports.
"He made some wrong decisions with whatever he did," said Councilman Ed Reisinger, who told me he is leaning toward Welch. "Anyone who's been arrested, especially when you're in the city of Baltimore — you know what I mean — are we going to disqualify them from employment?"
For Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, who, like Councilman Carl Stokes, is torn between Welch and Michael E. Johnson, the criminal stuff is part of the equation.
"That's something to give you pause," Conaway said. "I definitely agree with that."
Not so much for Councilman Bill Henry, who — like Council President Jack Young — said he was undecided.
"I don't know if that's what concerns me," Henry said. "I would like to choose based on positives among the four candidates. If I get to the point where that doesn't help me choose, then I'll think about negatives."
Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke's take: "I think it does count."
Clarke said she is torn between the three other candidates.
"I think Pete has done a very dutiful job serving his mother's constituents for many years, and I thank him for that, but I'm actually ruminating among the three other candidates," Clarke said.
Councilman Bobby Curran, meanwhile, said he was firmly in Welch's corner. Not because of anything Welch did or didn't do, but because of what his mom had done for Curran.
"My long-term relationship with Agnes — of three decades, working together politically — it would be tough for me to vote against him," Curran said, noting that Agnes Welch had endorsed him in campaign literature when he first ran for council in 1995. "You very rarely get to pay back people in politics for what they've done for you."
What, no photo op?
Yes, Baltimore has a new state's attorney, but don't look for any photographic evidence.
News organizations were prohibited from taking any pictures at Gregg Bernstein's ceremonial swearing-in at the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse this week.
Don't blame Bernstein. Ever hear of a politician who didn't want his picture in the paper?
"It wasn't from our end," said Jamie Watt of Profiles PR, who's been working for Bernstein.
Administrative Circuit Court Judge Marcella Holland banned photos, saying they are not allowed in the courthouse. If that's the policy, that's the policy. But Bernstein was allowed to bring along a professional photographer to take pictures for his own use. And people in attendance, including Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Maryland Court of Appeals, snapped away on their own cameras, The Sun's Tricia Bishop reports.
The Sun has photos in its archives from the swearing-in of Bernstein's predecessor, Patricia Jessamy, in the same courthouse in 2003. Just a year ago, photographers from The Sun and TV news had been allowed inside a courtroom — outside the presence of the jury — to photograph evidence in then-Mayor Sheila Dixon's trial.
What gives? Holland wouldn't discuss the matter, referring me to Angelita Plemmer, communications director for the Maryland judiciary.
"When judges make decisions [about cameras], they take into account a number of factors: security, size of the room, disturbing the ceremony itself," Plemmer said.
I said I thought it was odd that Judge Bell would take photos if it's so taboo.
"That sounds like him," Plemmer said. "That does sound like him."