Something funny about that mustache

The Baltimore Sun

So Bob Ehrlich has a rug after all.

The $37,500 custom carpet he ordered as governor in early 2006 was just installed in the State House, setting off a new round of woolly-headed speculation:

Does the mustachioed fisherman on the right look a little Indian?

Not Native American. Indian as in from India, the Asian subcontinent where the thing was made.

At the center of the handmade Indo Sarouk-style rug is a replica of the Maryland state seal, which includes images of a farmer and a fisherman. On the official seal, the fisherman sports a straight, furry 'stache. On the rug, it's a slim, subcontinental chevron. (The farmer wears a full beard on both.)

"It's not unheard of in decorative arts to have some facial features that relate to the craftsman," said Elaine Rice Bachmann, director of artistic property at the State Archives.

She hadn't noticed the allegedly Indian features that had some in the State House chuckling, but she'd seen something similar on historic ceramics that were made in China and portray signers of the Declaration of Independence.

"All of the people [signing] have little Chinese faces," she said.

The state ordered the handmade rug through Towson's Alex Cooper, The Baltimore Sun's Gadi Dechter reported this week.

No one at Alex Cooper called me back to talk about the carpet, so I'm left to speculate that the rug-maker, maybe someone about Drew Ehrlich's age, modeled the 'stache after his dad's.

Or perhaps the design was a nod to diversity. Ehrlich cast himself as a big-tent guy. And you know what they say: big tent, big rug.

Now it gets dull

Is it possible that something that starts with mayor-developer sex and designer spending sprees can peter out to a sterile, no-name sellout?

In the state prosecutor's long-running City Hall corruption investigation, sex, fur and Jimmy Choo have given way to a political survey.

Baltimoreans are denied, even, the brand.

"Company Z" is how court documents identify the firm that supposedly conducted a $12,500 survey for Councilwoman Helen Holton and, according to her indictment, sent the bill to developer Ron Lipscomb.

In exchange, prosecutors say, Holton helped Lipscomb secure city tax breaks worth millions.

Mayor Sheila Dixon helped Lipscomb, too. And the alleged quid pro quo with Dixon was far juicier, according to prosecutors who raided her Hunting Ridge home last summer. Dixon accepted fur coats, air travel and other gifts, and even dashed off to New York with Lipscomb hours after voting on one of his deals, the prosecutors say in court documents.

With another grand jury dissolving today and the mayor so far unindicted, we have to wonder: Has the dating defense worked? Perhaps grand jurors have bought the idea that in Dixon's case, gifts from Lipscomb would amount to tokens of affection, not bribes.

Even if it was romance and not business, Dixon shouldn't have voted on her lover's projects, however awkward it might have been to announce: "Gotta recuse myself on this one; I'm sleeping with the developer."

Dixon and Lipscomb were married, but separated from, other people at the time.

The Lipscomb-Holton affair, by contrast, appears to have been all business. After company Company Z sent her a bill, Holton didn't even hand it off to Lipscomb personally. The councilwoman, a CPA, asked Company Z to send another invoice over to Lipscomb's Doracon Contracting, the indictment states.

If grand jurors are more sympathetic to illicit lovers than to illicit associates, if Holton goes down and Dixon skates, does that mean there's no justice in Baltimore?

Or just no entertainment?

Gentlemen who lunch

State Sen. Brian Frosh lunched the other day at Rams Head in Annapolis with two of his friends, who just happen to be Gov. Martin O'Malley and Comptroller Peter Franchot.

Frosh proposed the get-together, and O'Malley and Franchot, who are often very much at odds, actually agreed.

If you're wondering what they ate: The governor had a tandoori chicken salad; the comptroller had a cheddar cheeseburger, holding, per his New Year's resolution, the fries; Frosh had a chicken Caesar salad.

If you're wondering what they discussed, keep wondering. Nobody's saying.

But Franchot spokesman Joe Shapiro said it went well.

"It was something good to happen, and I think it will be helpful as we move forward," Shapiro said.

Ain't love grand?

Love must be in the air in Annapolis. Either that or lunch with the comptroller really put the governor in a good mood.

Right afterward, O'Malley turned up at Annapolis High School with another one-time foe, Nancy Grasmick.

Just a year ago, he was trying mightily to give the long-serving state schools chief the heave-ho. But there was no sign of strain when they appeared together Wednesday, basking in the glow of an Education Week ranking that put Maryland schools first in the nation.

The two were all smiles and whispered back and forth.

Almost "canoodling," is how one spy described it.

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