Pay your respects; step out of the car

The Baltimore Sun

Funeral procession up ahead. Drivers yield. Old-timer Catholics make the sign of the cross. And the cops? They run the plates.

Officers with a regional auto theft task force for Baltimore City and County ran tags on cars lined up at a West Baltimore funeral home about two weeks ago. One of tags turned up stolen, though the car was not. Two teenage mourners were hauled away.

Is it surprising to find hot cars and tags in funeral processions?

Not at all, said Baltimore police Sgt. Freddie Bland, who is assigned to the task force and who has made funeral busts "several times."

"It's kind of awkward because emotions are high already," he said. "We try to get in fast and out fast."

I don't want to cut the bad guys any slack, but should the cops routinely troll funeral processions for them?

"I look at it like this: They know they're driving a car with stolen tags, or a stolen car. Why take it to the funeral?" Bland said. "Why not call a relative [for a ride]? It's a chance they're willing to take, so you have to pay the consequences."

You can see this bust tomorrow night on America's Most Wanted, when correspondent Michelle Sigona profiles the task force. Another episode highlight: Car-theft suspect flees police by diving into the Inner Harbor. Only after hitting the water does he recall that he can't swim. He was pulled to safety and charged.

A weakness for shutter pleats

The really weird thing about Katie O'Malley and Kendel Ehrlich appearing in practically the same dress the other night: It was no run-of-the-mill frock.

Had the current and ex-first ladies shown up for the unveiling of Bob and Kendel's official portraits in similar skirt suits or little black dresses, big wup. But Katie and Kendel both opted for double V-necked, cap-sleeved numbers covered in shutter pleats (layers, for the non-fashionistas out there).

O'Malley's dress was the color of champagne, Ehrlich's silver, but both passed for cream under the St. John's College auditorium lights. Unlike O'Malley's dress, Ehrlich's had a little basket weave going on in the bodice, and her pleats made a slight chevron up the skirt. Otherwise, sartorial twins separated at birth.

O'Malley picked up hers at Nordstrom. (Adrianna Papell Shutter Pleat Satin Dress, $158 at No telling where Ehrlich got hers, since her husband's communications gang - men, all - failed to grasp the importance of this line of inquiry.

Kendel did not appear to spot her twin in the audience, but Katie did a double-take when hers stepped on stage. The current first lady shouldn't have been surprised. When she bought the dress, the Nordstrom clerk remarked, "They are flying out of here."

They kept the big guy under wraps

The big moment at most portrait unveilings: when the cloth gets whipped off the picture.

Big drama at the Ehrlich event: when the emcee was unveiled.

Ed Norris played master of ceremonies, and that came as a surprise to the crowd because programs were not handed out until they filed out of the auditorium. (Organizers said that was to keep the paintings - shown in the program - under wraps. Sure, sure.)

Norris talked up the unveiling on his WHFS radio show beforehand, but never let on he'd play host.

"I can keep my mouth shut," he said afterward.

Ehrlich communications guy Paul Schurick got the event rolling, then introduced the emcee to the hoots and applause of 600 audience members.

Make that 599 audience members. Not sure the former Baltimore mayor was glad to see his ex-police chief, who left him to become Ehrlich's state chief.

If O'Malley felt wronged by Norris' job switch - he had, after all, stood by Norris when The Sun reported the chief's lavish spending from an off-the-books account - Norris felt that way too, once the feds busted him for it. When Norris was indicted in December 2003, Ehrlich praised Norris' work and said he'd reinstate him if cleared. The jilted mayor, meanwhile, said he'd grown unsatisfied before Norris left for the state job. That Norris had lost his "zip" for the job. That Norris had always done things - using lights and sirens in non-emergencies, for instance - that rubbed him the wrong way.

"I've worked for a lot of people," Norris told Ehrlich from the podium, just a few feet from O'Malley in the front row. "You were not only a pleasure to work for, but I'd follow you to the gates of hell any time."

O'Malley, apparently, is on his own.

Politics and the pew are just fine

The Rev. Emmett Burns, a state delegate and the pastor of Rising Sun First Baptist Church in Woodlawn, has invited the newly churchless Barack Obama to join his congregation.

In a letter sent this week, Burns touts his church's location - not too far from D.C., but blissfully outside that beltway. And himself - the pastor-pol twofer.

"As a delegate to the Maryland General Assembly, the pastor is accustomed to walking the thin line between religion and politics," the letter states. "Though the two are potentially conflicting, our church is able to minister and reconnoiter the incongruities of religion and politics with utmost respect and sensitivity."

Or, as Burns put it to me in a phone interview, "He would not need to feel threatened by political posturing." Which didn't stop Burns from e-mailing copies of the letter far and wide. Baltimore County Exec Jim Smith, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, Governor O'Malley and the news media were all copied.

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