Itchy trigger finger shoots no hole in official's career

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PLEASE PUT YOUR hands together for good ol' Clarence Blount, the venerable West Baltimore senator who, in a moment of light-headed magnanimity, put his considerable support behind Pete Welch's gubernatorial reappointment to the city liquor board -- despite that "little difficulty" (Blount's words) involving a .38-caliber handgun.

I know it sounds bad. Pete, the 47-year-old son of City Councilwoman Agnes Welch, pleaded guilty to firing his handgun during an argument with one of his mother's campaign workers in 1999. (He told police he did it "to restore order.") The campaign worker -- or anyone standing near her -- was incredibly lucky that Pete's bullet didn't find flesh or foot. And, of course, a lot of Blount's constituents live in neighborhoods where gunfire is too common an occurrence, so it might be argued that the senator shouldn't be rewarding this kind of behavior.

But let's not dwell on such details. Look at the bright side:

1. No one was wounded.

2. Citizens of Baltimore still have Pete's steady hand -- and, presumably, steady mind -- guiding liquor board policy and code enforcement.

3. No need for a gavel at liquor board meetings, and, with Pete around "to restore order," fewer of those time-consuming arguments.

4. Pete remains in good position to take his mom's seat in City Council one day.

I feel good about the whole thing. You?

Speaking of shots ...

If another West Baltimore senator, Clarence M. Mitchell IV (C4), gets his way this year or next in Annapolis, the city will have a 50-block all-night booze zone, where bars and restaurants can serve drinks until 4 a.m.

This is promoted by C4 as "economic development" legislation, a way to improve Baltimore as a convention destination. (I believe that, don't you? I mean, what does it matter if we still don't have enough hotel rooms within easy walking distance of the convention center? What meeting planners really want is assurance that downtown Baltimore can offer a bunch of visiting fertilizer chemists a place to get Alabama Slammers at 3 o'clock in the morning.)

The downside to C4's plan is that people who drink all night can be -- how should I put this? -- unruly and uncooperative. They might balk at leaving at 4 a.m. What I figure is, Pistol Pete can stand by the door at closing hour and fire off a round to scare the customers into the street.

So, keeping Pete Welch armed and on the liquor board -- that's a win-win.

Gently tough on crime

Let's see now. The mayor of Baltimore wants the police of Baltimore to crack down on all kinds of crimes to improve the quality of life in Baltimore.

Because this creates a flood of cases in the criminal justice system, the mayor wants people charged with minor crimes -- drug possession, prostitution, shooting craps -- to go into Early Disposition Court, his six-month-old pet project, so their cases can be resolved quickly.

But it hasn't worked out that way; the vast majority of defendants are not taking early disposition in Early Disposition Court.

The mayor, as is his tendency, blames the state's attorney's office. If only prosecutors would offer more lenient sentences, the mayor says, more defendants would take more deals and that would help unclog the city's criminal justice system.

Are you scratching your head on this, too?

If we're going to be so lenient, why make so many arrests? To satisfy community complaints and clear streets of hookers and dopeheads for a day or two? Won't the hookers and dopeheads be back in another day or two, if not sooner?

Something else: Doesn't this policy of quick-and-lenient send the wrong message about drug possession? Besides making it somewhat inconvenient, how does it stop people from shopping for heroin and cocaine on street corners and in alleys? Doesn't it just move them to other street corners and alleys? And haven't we essentially decriminalized drug possession in this town? Wasn't that Kurt Schmoke's idea?

And if that's what we're doing, shouldn't we say so?

If we're going to be so lenient with drug addicts, why not guarantee them all treatment? I mean, let's go for it. Instead of investing taxpayer millions in another downtown hotel, shouldn't this city open a drug-rehab hospital? Or, wouldn't it simply have made more sense to keep the plan for the now-scrapped Community Court -- offering social and medical services to defendants convicted of minor crimes -- instead of creating this Early Disposition Court?

If you're confused, don't worry. A lot of people are, including the mayor.

Check your radar, mayor

Speaking of the mayor: It's too early to declare his the year's most disingenuous statement by a Maryland politician, but I believe this one -- on the prospect of his running for governor in 2002 -- to be a strong candidate: "I'm light-years away from thinking about that. It's not even on my radar screen."

Right.

Haitian cow, at that

From classifieds in a Perry Hall shopper: "JOE DIMAGGIO BASEBALL. $350. Comes with letter of ethnicity." That would be, in the baseball's case, Haitian. ... Monday's TJI also had a goof. If you want to watch a Saturday practice of the Baltimore Burn of the National Women's Football League, don't go to Catonsville, but to Edmondson-Westside High School, 4501 Edmondson Ave., between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. "The public is welcome to attend, if they can stand the cold," says Burn GM Natalie Sherman. ... Remember those columns last year on spaghetti alla carbonara? I'm serving one more helping on today's Sun food page. And look for my offer -- carbonara for six (in your house, not mine) -- on the list of items for this weekend's radio auction for Center Stage.

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