A steady legal hand on that umbrella

The Baltimore Sun

In the middle of a soggy Washington spectacle, there stood Kurt Schmoke, steady legal hand and umbrella-holder.

The former Baltimore mayor and current Howard University Law School dean is part of the legal team representing Roland Burris, the man who claims to be Illinois' junior senator but has so far failed to convince the secretary of the Senate, who rejected his credentials yesterday.

Having not been seated, Burris opted to stand - in front of reporters, outside the Capitol, in the rain. Burris' lead counsel, Timothy W. Wright III, did most of the talking. Citing a 206-year-old legal precedent, Wright said they had Marbury v. Madison on their side.

And in the matter of Mother Nature v. Man, they had Schmoke on their side.

As Burris and Wright spoke, Baltimore's 46th mayor held an umbrella aloft, protecting them from the elements - and landing his face squarely on national TV, including C-SPAN, where I watched him.

Reached by phone later, Schmoke said he had been asked to help out a few weeks ago - "This is 'How I spent my Christmas break' " - because Burris is a friend and Howard Law grad (Class of '63).

"He thought it important to try to put together a legal team that was comprised of some lawyers from some major firms and some from academia," Schmoke said.

Schmoke's political background also might come in handy, he said, because "the questions involved are a mixture of law and politics."

"I really just think that Burris is being treated poorly, that the law is on his side, and he needed some assistance from lawyers with different points of view," Schmoke said.

Not to mention some gallant umbrella work.

"I can say with certainty I've been asked to do more than hold the umbrella," Schmoke said with a laugh. "From Burris' point of view, this may have been very significant so he didn't have to blink throughout the interview."

Fundraisers and photographs

Let other lawmakers have their pedestrian bull roasts and banquet-hall fundraisers. State Sen. Jamie Raskin, an American University law professor and Montgomery County Democrat, looks for unusual ways to raise campaign dough.

His first fundraiser was a party with poets and writers from his district, headlined by George Pelecanos. Then came the hoedown and square dance with Jim Hightower, the Texas populist.

And Friday night, it's a black-tie-optional affair at Washington's Corcoran Gallery of Art, which just happens to have a photo of Raskin on display as part of its Richard Avedon exhibit. Raskin's portrait hangs right by Avedon's shot of Barack Obama.

The famous photographer, who died in 2004, snapped both men at the Democratic National Convention that year. Avedon had read Raskin's book, Overruling Democracy, on the Supreme Court case that decided the 2000 presidential election.

"I got a phone call from Richard Avedon. He had my book and enjoyed it and would like to photograph me. I thought it was some kind of practical joke at first."

They agreed to meet at the Boston convention, which Raskin attended as a delegate and Avedon was covering for The New Yorker.

"The photo was taken in the middle of the night, 1:30 in the morning. Right before me, he took Barack Obama. We were waiting together actually."

What'd he ask the future president there in the basement of the Fleet Center? How's my hair?

"He'd just given that masterful speech, so I was just praising the speech," Raskin said.

Obama came out looking predictably cool and collected. And Raskin?

"I was trying to act relaxed and smiling, but he kept getting me to talk about Bush v. Gore and all of these Rehnquist and Scalia opinions, and the picture he took was pretty ferocious," he said. "It was basically unrecognizable to me. To me, it looks a little like something out of The Sopranos. A friend said, 'I didn't realize you had so much Rahm Emanuel in you.' "

The mad dash for cash

With tickets as pricey as $4,000, Raskin's fundraiser might be more hifalutin' than most, but it's part of the same old mad dash for cash that sweeps through Maryland just before the General Assembly gets back to business.

When lawmakers go back in session next week, they'll be forced to take a break from raising moolah. So in the next week, they'll throw themselves more than 20 fundraisers, according to lobbyist Bruce Bereano, who not only keeps track of such things, but actually delights in them.

"I can't wait for the running around," Bereano said. "They're just popping up like spring flowers. They really are."

Frankly, we're here to help

It was beans-and-franks day at Our Daily Bread yesterday, but it was only by complete coincidence that the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile was parked out back.

Oscar Mayer has six Wienermobiles - seven if you count the Miniwiener - that roll around the country. The sausage-shaped billboards hit parades, fairs and supermarkets as directed by the home office out in Madison, Wis.

Once or twice a month, the drivers - mostly recent college grads who spend a year playing Jack Kerouac in a bun - get to choose where they pull up.

Ben Kopish and Tara Oslick, the "hotdogger" team in the area for some Giant supermarket appearances, went to the Internet looking for volunteer opportunities in Baltimore and turned up at the downtown Baltimore soup kitchen.

"We found it online and called them up and they said, 'Come on over,' " said Oslick, who with Kopish spent lunchtime wiping off tables and putting out silverware and napkins.

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