Whose broad stripes and bright stars?

The Baltimore Sun

Republican front-runners weren't the only things missing from the presidential debate stage. The American flag was AWOL, too.

The backdrop to the "All-American Presidential Forum," brought to you by Tavis Smiley and PBS, was a map of the United States, superimposed with a checkerboard of multicultural faces.

Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, one of the presidential hopefuls, asked debate organizers to get Old Glory up there, too, according to Chris Cavey, first vice chairman of the state GOP.

Cavey was acting as an escort for another candidate, Tom Tancredo of Colorado, and heard Hunter's request over his earpiece about half an hour before the show began.

"Escorts were wired. I heard [in the earpiece], 'Congressman Hunter is requesting a flag on stage,'" Cavey said.

Request denied.

I tried to ask Hunter about it, but he and his spokesman were flying somewhere and could not be reached for comment. (Who does this guy think he is, a real candidate?)

Forum organizers also did not return calls seeking comment.

The buzz among some Republicans was that organizers thought the flag might "offend" some members of the audience. Cavey, while critical of the decision, chalks it up to aesthetics, not politics. Red-white-and-blue simply would have clashed with the map's yellow-to-burnt-orange hues.

"I feel it was all just Hollywood," Cavey said. "They had their idea of what the set should look like. It was very nice. It was a very, very professional-looking set. Someone had spent a lot of time and money designing it. But whoever planned it didn't have a flag. None of those producers had the authority to say, 'Oh, crap, we forgot the flag. Let's put it in the corner.' The set-builders' union would have gone on strike."

Isn't it possible that the producers just couldn't find a flag in time after Hunter raised the issue?

"They could have walked across the street to the police station to get a flag in half an hour, and I know personally that Morgan State University has a flag somewhere," Cavey said. "I thought it was absolutely inappropriate that the 'All-American Presidential Debate' couldn't even produce an American flag."

Imagine if he'd done well in religion class

Even better than getting the big job promotion - getting it right before the class reunion.

Edwin O'Brien had plenty to brag about to the old gang last weekend, when he traveled to Somers, N.Y., for his 50th high school reunion. Not that O'Brien, who will be installed as archbishop of Baltimore tomorrow, spent the evening tooting his own horn.

To his classmates from the old St. Mary's High School in Katonah, he wasn't "Your Eminence," "Archbishop" or "Father." He was "Eddie" - the serious student who was already bound for the priesthood but still fun-loving and popular enough to be class president. He also threw his share of snowballs. (Footage of that was caught on 8 mm and included in a class montage shown at the reunion.)

"He was just one of the gang again," said Alex Malecki, director of alumni relations at the school St. Mary's turned into in the 1960s, John F. Kennedy Catholic High in Somers. "'Hey, Eddie, how's it going?' There wasn't anything standoffish about him. I think he relished that opportunity to be that again. Everyone likes to be outside work and turn off the BlackBerry or whatever. ... It was nice to have quote-unquote Eddie back."

One of the old memories recalled: The 39-member Class of 1957 went on religious retreat, where they were warned about the "sin of rock 'n' roll." Several class members, who back in the day loved "Jailhouse Rock" and "Wake Up Little Susie," found that message funny, Malecki said, though he wasn't sure if O'Brien was one of them.

(No one at the archdiocese was commenting on the archbishop's reunion, much less his stance on rock 'n' roll.)

O'Brien said Mass as part of the reunion, first reported on the religious blog Blogging Religiously. During the homily, O'Brien talked about unearthing an old St. Mary's report card in the process of moving to Baltimore. He said his worst marks were in religion, according to classmate Susan Giangrande.

He apparently was better with numbers. Sister Mary Christopher O'Toole taught math to the future archbishop and said he was "an excellent student." O'Toole, 84, still teaches at the school and is traveling to Baltimore to see "Eddie" installed.

Connect the dots

First Mariner Arena promotes a preacher's appearance - how else? - with a fake traffic alert to the media. "Joel Osteen Traffic Warning," the news release was titled. The televangelist appears Oct. 26. Let's hope he's more credible than the arena press office. ... The single-named Amelia of 98 Rock's Mickey, Amelia & Spiegel morning show will serve as a correspondent this week for the Special Olympics World Games in China.

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