Wally Orlinsky is the man who might have been. He was the Baltimore City Council president who might have been mayor. He was the bright City Hall intellectual light who might have been governor. Today, he cannot find a full-time job.
Fifteen years ago, he pleaded guilty to taking political bribes. He served time sweeping floors in federal prison, imagining he would be forgiven when he came home. Today, he's a man who can't outlive his old newspaper headlines.
Unable to find a full-time job for the past year, he has been working late afternoons at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, slicing lemons to be squeezed into lemonade, and then hawking programs there in the evenings.
"Can't tell the players without a score card," Orlinsky, 59 years old now, was calling out on a recent night at the ballpark. Thousands of fans filed past his stall behind the first base stands. "Getcha Oriole programs right here."
It was a voice that presided over the Baltimore City Council for 11 years, a voice that once urged Marylanders to elect Orlinsky to the highest office in the state.
Now, he says, he hasn't had a full-time job since last October, when budget cuts ended his job heading a state tree-planting program.
He has busied himself with a computer Web site he has established. There was a brief fling attempting to publish a neighborhood newspaper with William Donald Schaefer. And there's talk of a short-term contract to help the city hook onto the Internet.
In the meantime, though, Orlinsky says, "I get up in the morning. I open the lemonade stand at the commissary and haul in all the stuff so we can make lemonade. Then I go home and change my clothes, and I come back and sell programs.
"This is all I have. It's been very, very painful. Let's just say, I make under $10 an hour. And I'm extremely grateful for what I have."
In the past year, he says, he has sent out more than 2,000 resumes to various employers -- and has found himself almost universally ignored.
"What I've discovered," he was saying last week, "is that I don't get answered. Two thousand resumes, and I've gotten four responses. I'd like to hear one '[Bleep] you,' just so I'll know they're listening.
"But I'm a convicted whatever," he said, his voice trailing off. "And it was 18 years ago, or whatever, and I know how it is. People don't want to be embarrassed; they don't want to be told they've hired a bad guy."
For a long time, Orlinsky wasn't considered a bad guy -- he was considered one of the brightest guys in politics, the No. 2 man in city government when Baltimore was being dubbed one of the nation's great renaissance cities.
Orlinsky was arguably the most articulate voice at City Hall, a man who not only helped the city shed its longtime inferiority complex but trumpeted the virtues and charms of its working-class history.
Politically, though, his path was always blocked by Schaefer, who was mayor for 15 years while Orlinsky chafed for more responsibilities. He grew politically frustrated.
Seeing no future at City Hall, he ran for governor. It was the year Harry Hughes pulled off the great upset of modern state history, slipping past a field of better-known, higher-financed contenders.
A few years later, Orlinsky's world crashed.
In 1982, he was convicted of accepting $10,000 from a company wishing to win a lucrative sewage-treatment contract from the city. He went to Allenwood Prison Camp for 4 1/2 months, where he mopped and waxed floors.
When he came out, he apologized and said he wanted "the opportunity to try to repair the evil."
"Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom," he said. "All men make mistakes."
He worked for a while as a waiter in a Baltimore County restaurant. Then, for eight years, he headed the state's Tree-Mendous tree-planting program. Wally Appleseed, some called him.
Had a few political squabbles, ticked off a few well-placed political people. Planted, as near as he can count, "about six-and-a-half million trees. We had volunteers all over the place. We raised half a million dollars from people planting trees in honor of individuals. Then the budget cutbacks came, and the program was killed."
He started making phone calls, sending out resumes, tasting considerable rejection. Divorced, remarried, children grown, still living in the city, he learned the subtleties of computers and opened his own highly eclectic Web page.
"I have people downloading all kinds of stuff," he said. "Stuff on Judaism in Osaka, book reviews, sports, city planning stuff, restaurant reviews, stuff on Eastern Europe."
But he couldn't find work until midsummer, when he was hired part-time at the ballpark.
"If you want the truth," says Orlinsky, "this isn't just about poor Wally Orlinsky. This is about lots of people working at the ballpark, and it's their second job, or it's their third job. Some of 'em people with college degrees.
"There's nothing dishonorable about doing the work I do. It's just that I'm so underutilized. But so are a lot of people out there. That's the American story today, the tremendous numbers of people underemployed in what we keep hearing is this great economy.
"Some of them, it's because of their age. Some well, you can say I'm in this because of previous conditions of servitude, or whatever, and that's true, too."
He says he's had some old political colleagues go to bat for him. Schaefer and former council President Mary Pat Clarke have tried to help. And, several weeks back, he was contacted by council President Lawrence A. Bell III.
Bell wants to make City Hall's business more accessible to citizens and has asked Orlinsky's help developing an Internet site.
"I've seen Wally's capabilities on computers," Bell said Friday. "So I approached him about helping us for a while. It'd be a contractual deal, which I think we can work out in a few weeks. The money's already in the budget.
"People who want to know the city's business, but who can't get to a hearing, or want to know the status of different bills, we want them to be able to plug into the Internet and find it.
"Wally's a very innovative guy," Bell added. "The old business should be forgotten. I believe in redemption. I believe he's paid the price, and he's a very intelligent and gifted man who has a lot to offer. I've always tried to make use of talent, and who knows more about the City Council than Wally? It's time to move beyond his old problems."
Those are words Wally Orlinsky has longed to hear. He is the man who might have been anything, and wound up unemployable. He made a mistake, but he paid a price for it. It's time for him to come in from the cold.
Pub Date: 9/28/97