The Maryland Transportation Authority Police will drop the practice of providing armed escorts for visiting sports and entertainment celebrities at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, the state's new transportation secretary said yesterday.
John D. Porcari said the police agency would instead focus on its "primary tasks" of providing security at the airport, port and toll facilities.
"We are going to focus on the basics. I'm sure there are limousine services for celebrities," Porcari said.
The decision reverses a policy expanded by Chief Gary W. McLhinney, the former Baltimore police union leader who was appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. The transportation chief said no decision has been made about who will lead the police agency.
McLhinney, who still holds the job, said he had not heard of the change but would comply. "If that's the secretary's decision, it'll end immediately," he said.
The decision to end the celebrity escorts to the gates at BWI eliminates a practice - first reported in The Sun - that had led to complaints from some frontline officers, who said they were being used for purposes that were less than professional.
One of the most frequent users of the service - not provided to celebrities at most large U.S. airports - was former Oriole star Cal Ripken Jr. One of McLhinney's top deputies, Lt. Col Russell N. Shea Jr., has worked for Ripken as a part-time security aide while on the state payroll.
Officials at airports in Orlando, Fla., and Chicago said they saw no need to provide armed escorts for hometown heroes such as Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan. But McLhinney had said the escorts were needed to maintain order at BWI. He was supported in that position by Porcari's predecessor, Robert L. Flanagan.
In May, McLhinney responded to The Sun's inquiries about the escort program by releasing hundreds of pages of records of escorts provided to prominent people, including high-ranking government officials. The Sun had only requested records of escorts of celebrities in the private sector.
The records the chief released included the names of Secret Service agents assigned to members of the president's family and security officials who travel with National Security Agency officials. Such information is generally not disclosed by government agencies. The state attorney general's office denied an assertion that McLhinney had sought its advice before releasing the federal and state documents.
Shortly thereafter, the Transportation Security Administration stopped sharing written notices of federal security escorts with McLhinney's department. About the same time, McLhinney ordered his officers to stop keeping written records of escorts and to destroy existing documents.
In addition to calling off the escort service, Porcari, who previously led the Transportation Department under Gov. Parris N. Glendening, signaled several likely changes of direction in state transportation policy, with less emphasis on advanced bus technology and more on rail transit lines. He also pulled off the market the World Trade Center in Baltimore. The Ehrlich administration had been trying to sell the waterfront tower.
Porcari said that while Gov. Martin O'Malley has no plans to seek new state transportation revenue this year, the General Assembly can expect to see such a package next year. He did not provide specifics but signaled that he thinks it's a good idea to index the state's gasoline tax so that it goes up with inflation.
Porcari also indicated that while he's not opposed to using tolls to finance new highway capacity, he's disinclined to use tolls as a way of paying for an expected widening of the Baltimore and Washington beltways. Flanagan was a proponent of adding express toll lanes to both.
Porcari said he's taking his time to decide whether to keep the administrators who run the state's port, airport, transit and motor vehicle agencies. "Everyone will have a chance to prove themselves," he said.
The one agency head who is definitely out is Trent Kittleman, a staunch Republican who resigned as executive secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority this week. She had earlier said she hoped to stay on.
The one administrator the O'Malley administration knows it wants to keep is Neil J. Pedersen, chief of the State Highway Administration.
"Neil Pedersen is one of the best highway administrators in the country," Porcari said. "I look forward to continuing to work for him."
With a $1.8 billion construction program at BWI largely completed, Porcari said he will turn his focus to another of the state's economic generators, the port of Baltimore. Among his priorities is deepening a berth at Seagirt Marine Terminal from 40 feet to 50 feet so it can accommodate bigger container ships.
Porcari said the state doesn't have enough money now to start that project. He said he is canceling the Ehrlich administration's plan to fund the dredging with the proceeds of the sale of the World Trade Center. In a weak real estate market, he said, the tower would not generate the $30 million to $45 million the Transportation Department had projected.
The Maryland Port Administration should instead make upgrades and seek to attract new tenants to the building, which is half-full, he said.