This is not how a great citizen rolls

Dear Mr. John "Big John" Paterakis: Congratulations on a life of success in bread. Your H&S; Bakery Inc. cornered the market on fast-food hamburger rolls. Your company holdings include Automatic Rolls of North Carolina, Automatic Rolls of New England, Automatic Rolls of New Jersey and Bake Rite Rolls of Pennsylvania.

You told reporter Luke Broadwater of The Baltimore Sun that H&S; plans to open two new bakeries, in Philadelphia and Denver. "We now cover about 70 percent of all the McDonald's in the country," you said.

That's amazing. Good for you and good for the Paterakis family. You bake and sell lots of rolls.

But that doesn't mean you get to roll the city of Baltimore.

Ha! Get it? Roll the city — as in, roll a drunk. That's where you get a guy plastered in a bar, then wait outside and rob him when he hits the sidewalk. I'm not saying the mayor of Baltimore and the Board of Estimates were drunk Wednesday when they voted to award you, a man whose net worth was estimated in the hundreds of millions years ago, another $200,000 in taxpayer funds.

In fact, you didn't have to get them liquored up. Just about everyone at City Hall knows the drill by now: John Paterakis has immense wealth, but he's not going to lift a finger without getting something from the taxpayers first.

That was the case years ago in the 1990s when you got a $25 million tax break. The city needed a new convention center hotel, and they gave you an incentive to build one. The only problem was, the hotel you built was a mile from the Baltimore Convention Center. So that big tax break really was seed money for what became Harbor East.

Harbor East has been such a success that when your associate in that project, Michael Beatty, stepped forward with a plan to make it even grander by developing the adjacent Harbor Point location, the City Council approved millions more in taxpayer assistance for him.

And Harbor East and Harbor Point have enjoyed additional benefits over the years by being in government-designated Enterprise Zones.

So, with regard to your latest little slice of city pie, there should be no surprise that you asked for it, and no surprise that you go it.

The Board of Estimates (with the exception of Joan Pratt, city comptroller) and several City Council members were happy to provide another $200,000 so you can fix some underground pipes before relocating the H&S; distribution plant from its very valuable spot in Harbor East to a place near Pulaski Highway.

I don't know what it is about you, Bread Man.

Maybe they like you a lot. Maybe they like getting campaign donations that smell like dinner rolls.

Or maybe they just felt squeezed again.

You know what I'm talking about: bringing up that bit about Baltimore County. "We also had a good offer from Baltimore County," you said. "We were weighing which one is best for the company."

So the city gave you $200,000 that you don't need just to make sure you kept the H&S; distribution center in Baltimore.

This time, no complex tax program was needed. This is an outright subsidy from petty cash — candy money for Big John.

No one believes you need $200,000 in taxpayer funds for infrastructure work at the new location. Let's be honest, Bread Man, you went after this subsidy for the bakery project because you knew you'd get it.

And all due respect, sir, that's pretty pathetic. It's really an abuse of power, when you think about it. The City Council, with maybe one exception, is a parliament of pushovers, and you know it. The vote on Beatty's $107 million Harbor Point package last year was 11-3 with one abstention.

"Time marches on," you told Broadwater on Tuesday. "My kids have taken over all the daily things. You have to train them before the good Lord takes you."

Are you training them to roll the city?

The city is strapped for cash. The same day I'm learning about Paterakis' latest roll, I'm reading about the lack of funds for two special programs — the Ingenuity Project and the International Baccalaureate — that have given Baltimore high school students a competitive edge in college admissions.

And there are plenty of other needs I could cite here, from public safety to pothole patching. The last thing the city should be doing is giving $200,000 to a multimillionaire.

You could reverse this, Big John. I don't know if you're concerned about legacy. You probably believe that building a great company and redeveloping a section of your hometown is more than what a thousand of your peers contributed in their combined lifetimes. And maybe so.

But that's why, after all you've given and all you've taken, to take a little more — $200,000 that you don't need and that your hometown can't afford — is so tawdry.

That's not how a great citizen rolls.

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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