It seems banks aren't like neighbors


You might have noticed Ed Hale, chairman of First Mariner, hitting the television airwaves, sans necktie, with an inviting home-boy pitch for his Canton-based community bank: "We treat you like a neighbor, not a number." Sounds good, but turns out First Mariner wasn't first with it. In fact, it might have been third.

Hale discovered this when he received a letter, dated Feb. 3, from John Bond Jr., president and CEO of Columbia Bank. "Dear Ed," it said. "Columbia Bank has used the slogan, 'We treat you like a neighbor, not a number,' since 1991. I While imitation is one of the best forms of flattery, I do not think that it is appropriate for First Mariner to use the Columbia Bank slogan."

No sooner had that letter settled on Hale's desk when one from Thomas K. Sterner, chairman and CEO, and Richard C. Shultze, president, Fraternity Federal Savings and Loan, showed up.

"Dear Mr. Hale," it said. "It has come to our attention that in some of your recent advertising you have used the phrase that 'We treat you like a neighbor, not a number.' This is strikingly close to advertisements that we have been using for quite some time now. We have used the phrase, 'You're a neighbor, not a number, at Fraternity' in radio advertisements and print media for almost a year. I We would appreciate if you would refrain from further usage of a phrase we consider proprietary."

Hale's response? A letter to all griping parties. "Dear Messrs. Bond, Sterner and Shultze," it said. "Enclosed find respective copies of your letter concerning First Mariner Bank's advertising program. It seems that there is a dispute about the originality of 'neighbor not a number' slogan. I submit that you two companies should arm wrestle for the privilege of continued usage. Let me know who the winner is and I'll take you on."

In the interest of conflict avoidance - that's my raison d'etre - allow me to suggest that these bankers just stay away from the "neighbor/number" concept (it's not that original, fellas) and come up with something really fresh. My suggestions:

"First Mariner: Friends You Can Turn To."

"Fraternity Federal: On Your Side."

"Columbia Bank: Always."

And then - I'm just thinking ahead here - if they ever merge, the ad slogan could be: "First Mariner Fraternity of Columbia and Canton: Friends You Can Always Turn On Your Side To. (Member, FDIC.)"

Panhandler revisited

My suggestion (TJI, Feb. 12) that we license panhandlers evolved from a recent series of thought-provoking conversations about the men and women who seek handouts on the streets of the city and its immediate suburbs. Several readers of this column, including a Baltimore doctor, had been after me to "investigate" a certain panhandler who was the subject of two anecdotes in this column. Why? Because, they allege, the fellow is not what his cardboard sign claims - a homeless, disabled veteran. Check it out, I was told.

So I did. I learned that, last year, Northern District police concluded that this particular panhandler, who frequently stands at Cold Spring Lane and Roland Avenue, was neither homeless nor disabled. The police related as much to a meeting of the Roland Park Civic League in November. Hearing the police report, the doctor, among others, concluded that the panhandler was bad news - for Roland Park and society in general. In a letter to TJI, he described the panhandler as "urban vermin" and a "despicable individual" who "degrades the quality of life in our community" and who deserves no sympathy, no contributions and certainly no mentions in The Sun, however vaguely positive they might be. "People like this prey on the good intentions of others," the doctor said, "and thereby cheat those who are truly needy."

The doctor's conclusion, with its harsh rhetoric, was based on a police conclusion that might not be sound.

For instance, in a feature story published in the fall, the City Paper reported that this panhandler had been seriously injured in a car accident while delivering pizzas a few years ago. The injury required back surgery, his lawyer tells me, and medical bills hit about $28,000. (The panhandler is sometimes seen with a cane and limping.) The accident is the subject of pending litigation.

Is the panhandler homeless? I've learned that he does not have a permanent address. He lists his mother's North Baltimore address in court documents, but apparently does not live with her. The City Paper reported that the panhandler sometimes camps under the Jones Falls Expressway.)

So, is he homeless? Is he disabled? Sounds to me that he's on at least the border of both.

Is he a veteran? He served in the Air Force in the mid-1970s.

Does he have an addiction problem? He told the City Paper he used heroin "but has gone through rehabilitation."

If a man with this background, who can't figure out what else to do for six hours a day, wants to stand on a median strip with a sign and accept donations from people, does that make him "urban vermin"? Personally, I'd reserve that term for people who commit real crimes.

Panhandlers? They're a nuisance and, for sure, some of them might not be what their cardboard signs indicate. But we're all big boys and girls, aren't we? We all get to make up our own minds on how to deal with them - in general, or on a case-by-case business.

Police suggest we resist cash donations on the street and give to charitable organizations instead. That's good advice - especially for people fretting about panhandler fraud.

Or, maybe we should just issue licenses (certificates of need) to our beggars. That would make all of this a lot easier, wouldn't it?

Pub Date: 2/19/97

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