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An insult ... but it's our insult

The Baltimore Sun

When the Senator Theatre holds a Wire screening Saturday, the night before the acclaimed HBO series begins its fifth and final season, someone a little surprising will be in the audience: the mayor of Baltimore.

City leaders have never been big fans of the show, complaining that the gritty urban drama scares off tourists. In 2002, the City Council even considered a resolution calling for an ad campaign to counter the negative publicity. The council scrapped the measure after creator David Simon threatened to move production to another city.

At a hearing on the proposed resolution, then-council President Sheila Dixon complimented Simon on his "good writing," The Sun reported at the time, but asked this:

"Have you ever had a thought on writing something pretty or positive about Baltimore? ... Is there something that will give the children something to look up to about the city of Baltimore?"

Simon answered, "I write what I know."

So why will Dixon help celebrate the show?

"She was invited to go, it's taking place at the historic Senator Theatre here in Baltimore, and regardless of people's feelings about how the show portrays the city, it has been a big part of the city for the past four years," Dixon spokesman Sterling Clifford said. "She's going to acknowledge that the show has been part of Baltimore all this time and it's over now."

Not all publicity is good publicity

The bigger shocker would be if Gov. Martin O'Malley showed up at the Senator to watch The Wire, which has a character who bears more than a passing resemblance to him.

The fictional Thomas Carcetti is a young, ambitious Baltimore politician who rose to power in City Hall on the crime issue. The HBO character is a philanderer, which helped fuel rumors about O'Malley's personal life several years ago.

I asked O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese if the governor would be there. He said no, but added that politicians might not be the ones squirming in their seats this season, which focuses on a fictionalized Sun.

Said Abbruzzese: "I think the bigger question is: Will anybody from The Baltimore Sun be attending?"

Powerful women with grate insight

Notice to all the developers, lawyers and assorted wheeler-dealers hoping to have their way with Baltimore's City Hall: Women rule. Four out of five Board of Estimates members, the officials who control the city's purse strings, own real purses - and high heels.

The upshot of that girlpower revolution: a stretch of Charm City sidewalk could become friendlier to heels, costing a local restaurateur big bucks but perhaps saving the ankles of countless fashionistas.

While it's been years since Mayor Dixon famously brandished a stiletto like a stiletto, she still wears heels, as does Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Comptroller Joan Pratt and acting Public Works Director Shirley Williams. (Williams, however, favors less-treacherous "stacked" heels, shaped like a wedge. The fifth member of the board, City Solicitor George Nilson, is the odd man out in sensible shoes.)

The board's feminine majority made itself known recently, when a lawyer for Lebanese Taverna came seeking permission for front steps extending into the public sidewalk, The Sun's John Fritze reports. (The steps have already been built, but the Harbor East restaurant was belatedly seeking a city permit after the president of the condo association at Spinnaker Bay complained.)

Condo Guy had lots of arguments against granting a permit. The steps, he said, extend twice as far onto the sidewalk as city regulations allow. They take up 60 percent of the sidewalk while city regs say they can claim no more than one-quarter of it. Yada, yada, yada.

The point that really seemed to resonate with the board: to walk around the steps, pedestrians have to step onto a tree grate.

"I guess one of the benefits of having three women that are up here, or ... four women, is that we understand that you can't include grate in sidewalk because if you look at any type of heel that's a thin heel, you know, the grate is not the same as the sidewalk," Rawlings-Blake said.

Dixon piped up: "Bricks are an issue, too."

"Bricks, cobblestones, but if you have grates, you can't really consider it sidewalk," Rawlings-Blake said. "Someone gets caught in it ... and then it's the city's liability."

Attorney Peter Prevas argued for the restaurant: "When you actually look at the grate, it's not the type of grate that your heel is going to get stuck in. It's totally walkable."

But after Condo Guy announced the grate had 3/4 -inch holes, Prevas conceded: "I don't wear heels."

The board told Prevas to come back in January with cost estimates for changing the steps or moving the grate.

Was this a watershed moment in city politics, representing the ascendancy of a high-heeled power elite? Prevas would say this much: "Usually the grate has nothing to do with a minor privilege permit."

He quickly added, "It's a practical observation. I thought they were being practical."

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