Financial freedom

If Kweisi Mfume decides to make a political comeback, he could get a financial boost from a recent change in federal campaign finance laws.

Mfume gave up the 7th District congressional seat in 1996 to head the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but he maintains his old campaign committee, which held $99,384 in its accounts as of Sept. 30. Now that Mfume has quit the civil rights job, there is speculation that he might run for the U.S. Senate. But a provision tucked in an omnibus appropriations bill gives him other options for spending his campaign funds -- including using them to run for a state office, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, an online service that tracks campaign money and lobbyists.

"Candidates may now donate or transfer excess campaign funds for any lawful purpose. In some cases this will mean federal candidates may use these funds to run for state office. The amendment makes moot an FEC [Federal Election Commission] advisory opinion issued earlier this year stating excess funds could not be used in that manner," PoliticalMoneyLine reports.

-- Mike Adams

Driving home a point

At a town hall meeting last week to discuss traffic problems in northern Baltimore County, residents seemed to agree that crumbling roads, congested rural routes and speeding could be attributed to development, growing businesses and commuters coming into the area from Pennsylvania. The suggestions offered by community groups to resolve some of the issues -- from constructing new interchanges to changing speed limits -- were met with applause. Promises by state and county highway officials to make the repairs were also well received.

But one Cuba Road resident nearly got a standing ovation, even after he admitted he was a Pennsylvania native. His proposal? Keep all the drivers from his home state from crossing the Maryland line.

-- Laura Barnhardt

A neighborly ranking

Fells Point, you're a winner.

The New York-based Project for Public Spaces announced that the city's quirky waterfront neighborhood was among its top 20 "Best North American Districts, Downtowns and Neighborhoods."

Granville Island, British Columbia, topped this year's list. Fells Point was ranked 10th.

The nonprofit project was founded in 1975 to help cities preserve and revitalize unusual urban spaces, officials said. These urban planners and designers acknowledge that the ranking is highly subjective, designed only to start a national debate about what makes a quality neighborhood.

Cynthia Nikitin, an assistant vice president at the project and a Baltimore native, said she's responsible for putting Fells Point on the list.

Federal Hill made the list, too. But this one is in Providence, R.I.

-- Matthew Dolan

Settling on a number

Now that Baltimore appears close to halting its long-term hemorrhage of residents, Mayor Martin O'Malley told Smart Growth advocates last week that maybe it's time for the city to launch a campaign to rebuild its population -- perhaps even to a level not seen since the 1970s.

"What about 800,000?" he responded, when asked at a fund-raiser for 1000 Friends of Maryland whether he might follow the example of other rebounding cities that have publicly announced goals for larger populations.

Speaking to the group Tuesday night at the Brewers Hill redevelopment, O'Malley said that one of his "secret goals" when he was first elected mayor was to stop the city's loss of residents.

Baltimore's population has been dwindling since it peaked in 1950 at nearly 1 million. Newly revised estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau indicate the decline has slowed in recent years to about 200 a month -- down from 700 a month during the 1990s.

The mayor told the Smart Growth group that before embarking on a formal rebuilding campaign, perhaps community leaders ought to hash out what number of people is desirable and what additional amenities, including parks and open space, might be needed to serve a larger population.

Then, as if he had already settled those questions in his own mind, he concluded: "We'll call it Project 800,000."

-- Timothy B. Wheeler

It's a tough crowd

As chairman of the Baltimore City Council's transition commission, Zelig Robinson learned more about the formal functioning of the council than most people. But he and his co-chairman, George A. Nilson, were not so familiar with the often raucous nature of the informal luncheons held before the council's evening meetings.

Council members grilled Robinson, playfully and seriously, on recommendations made by the commission to help the council switch to single-member districts. After he told members they should publish their office budgets online, banter in the room reached new heights. "Let the mayor publish it," a council member yelled.

Nilson left the room.

A smiling Robinson called for council members' attention, saying: "Please note that the council has driven my co-chair out of the building."

The room erupted in laughter.

-- Doug Donovan

Actions speak louder ...

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Mayor O'Malley are widely expected to face off in the Democratic primary for governor in 2006. But Duncan recently said he does not believe O'Malley will run.

O'Malley hasn't responded to Duncan's comment. But his public schedule for this week seems to say it all.

On Wednesday morning, one day after O'Malley is sworn in for a second term, he will skip his weekly news conference and head to Prince George's County.

The pressing business down there? A senior citizen holiday brunch.

-- Laura Vozzella

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