Do you see that pin? Guess who gave it

The Baltimore Sun

So there's John P. Coale, the big-time-Democratic-fundraiser-turned-Mc Caniac, in the spin room after last week's presidential debate.

Signs announce the various campaign surrogates offering their opinions on who'd won. He spots one with a familiar name.

"I saw this sign, 'O'Malley,' and I think, 'Who has the same name as our governor who's on Obama's staff?' and I walked over, and it's Martin," Coale recalled yesterday.

Coale, a trial lawyer, gave Martin O'Malley a $500,000 loan in the waning days of his campaign for governor. Coale and the gov supported Hillary Clinton in the primary. But they haven't seen eye to eye on the race since September, when Coale "came out," as he puts it, for John McCain.

So these two were not about to talk politics. Better to take up some less awkward topic, like that unusual lapel pin Coale was sporting. It was blue, with eight stars, representing the Big Dipper and the North Star.

O'Malley and Colm O'Comartun, the governor's handler and fellow fan of all things Irish, were quick to spot it.

"Both of them saw it, and Colm, who of course knows Irish history back and forth, told me it was the flag of the Irish Socialists back 100 years ago," Coale said.

Well, no, Coale had to break it to them: It was the Alaska flag.

"Sarah Palin gave me this," he told them.

Coale has traveled with the McCain campaign and has spent time with Palin, whom he has found to be smart and fun to be around. But he got the pin from his wife, Fox newswoman Greta Van Susteren. She'd brought it back from a trip to Alaska and told her husband that Palin had given it to her to give to him. But Coale later found out the pin didn't come from Palin. Van Susteren was just teasing Coale, who admits to being "enamored" of Palin. He still tells people the pin is "a gift from my girlfriend," and he doesn't mean Van Susteren.

Is Greta OK with that?

"She knows it," he said.

One dude to another

If John Coale can have a crush on Sarah Palin, why shouldn't Bill Clinton be ga-ga for Todd Palin?

Coale had a chance to chat with Clinton about a month ago, having tagged along as his wife interviewed the former president in New York. Clinton couldn't say enough about Alaska's snowmobile-racing First Dude, Coale said.

"He couldn't stop talking about Todd Palin, finishing the race with a broken arm for like 500 miles. 'That guy's great. I've never met him, but I love him.' He must have said that about five times. Kept coming back to Todd. I mean, it was totally genuine."

No, really, it's all good

No fun being a big-city mayor these days. Money is so tight in Baltimore that Mayor Sheila Dixon is cutting police overtime just as the cops seem to be getting the upper hand on the city's murderers. Madame Cleaner, Greener is talking about reducing trash collection. Maybe layoffs at City Hall.

No doubt Dixon is glad to be getting away from it all today, when she flies to Egypt on the city dime.

Dixon and three other city employees will spend six days in the Land of the Pharaohs, visiting Luxor, Alexandria and Cairo. Taxpayers will pick up the $17,000 tab.

Mayors travel. Some travel overseas. But all the way to Egypt as they're claiming to scour the budget for every nickel of savings?

"It's an economic development thing, an educational opportunity," Dixon spokesman Sterling Clifford said. "It's a chance to continue to develop Sister Cities relationships that benefit the city."

Clifford also noted that the trip has been planned for more than a year.

Dixon will be accompanied by City Health Commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein; Renee Samuels, director of the Mayor's Office of International and Immigrant Affairs; and James Salyers, a member of the mayor's security detail.

They will tour hospitals and promote a medical exchange program. They'll meet with government officials. They'll also visit the Alexandria library - "the oldest library in the world," Clifford said - and set up an intern exchange with the Pratt - the "oldest free library in America."

Their trip will overlap a tour organized by the Baltimore-Luxor-Alexandria Sister Cities Committee. The Sister Cities tour lasts 11 days, with lodging at 5-star hotels and three meals a day at $2,500 per person. The price tag for Dixon and her three fellow travelers works out to more than $4,200 per person, and their tour is five days shorter.

Why is the mayor's trip so much more expensive? Is the mayor staying at the same five-star hotels? Is there such a thing as a six-star hotel? Is she flying first class?

Clifford said he did not know where the mayor is staying. He did not respond to a follow-up e-mail inquiring if the mayor was flying coach, business or first class. The Sister Cities tourists paid $2,000 more to fly business.

The costs of free speech

The Parkville contractor charged with threatening Governor O'Malley discovered the limits of free speech this week. The jury found Walter Abbott guilty. He got a 6-month suspended sentence, two years' probation and an order to stay away from O'Malley and his wife. Attorney Arthur Frank wishes he could have told the jury that this is National Freedom of Speech Week. But the Baltimore County Circuit Court judge wasn't having any of it. "After 30 years of practicing law, I just found the only courtroom in America that doesn't allow freedom of speech," said Frank.

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