So the mayor who swiped gift cards from the poor gets to stay in office (at least for now) while the poor, thanks to cancellation of the tainted Holly Trolley gift card program, get poorer. If that doesn't warm your heart this Christmas, maybe this will:

On Saturday, a bunch of photographers will, for free, take solo and family portraits for anyone who walks in the door at a West Baltimore church. Hairstylists and makeup artists will be on hand, also for free. The portraits will arrive in the mail by Christmas.


Confused? I know: What's in it for the photographers? Where's the mayor's cut?

As far as I can tell, what we have here is a truly philanthropic event in a city that's given charity such a bad name that when the folks at Ritz-Carlton stepped up to provide toys to poor kids, they felt the need to stress they weren't bribing anyone at City Hall. ("We are not looking for any favors," Jennifer Langford-Gilligan of The Ritz told The Baltimore Sun's Annie Linskey.)


The photo shoot is part of a nationwide program, new this year, called Help Portrait, said Mike Stog, a Columbia photographer heading things up in Baltimore. It takes place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Charm City Church, 2001 Frederick Ave.

He has 15 photographers lined up, but could use more. (E-mail for more info.) He also could use donations of coffee, hot chocolate and cookies to offer people as they wait for their close-ups.

Just don't expect a tax break.

If you're missing a car ...

Leonard Kerpelman, who as a lawyer in the 1960s won the Supreme Court case that took prayer out of public schools, has a new cause: reuniting a stolen car with its owner.

A newish-looking tan Toyota Corolla showed up in Kerpelman's Mount Washington neighborhood about six weeks ago and hasn't budged. Kerpelman figures it was stolen.

He could call police, but Kerpelman knows from bitter experience that the city would impound the car and stick the owner with the towing and storage fees.

"It runs up to $250 or so," Kerpelman said. "It's not fair."


So Kerpelman provided the tag number to the state Motor Vehicle Administration and asked who owned the car, but the MVA doesn't give out that information. Kerpelman asked the MVA to pass his number along to the owner. But the MVA, it seems, is not a message service.

Kerpelman peeked through the car window and spotted a business card for Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Althea M. Handy. He wrote the judge and got a "dismissive response."

He assumes the car belongs to someone who's had dealings with the judge. "It may be a probation officer," he said.

In an act of true desperation, Kerpelman called me. Unlike the MVA, I'll gladly pass along a message: If anyone out there is missing a tan Corolla, let me know and I'll put you in touch with Kerpelman. The license plate begins with "7EL." Or as Kerpelman put it, " 'e' as in 'Ex-Lax,' 'l' as in 'Leonard.' "

Not in the cards

Sometimes it seems like everyone but Sheila Dixon has learned something from her trial. An e-mail, "Immediate Suspension of Gift Cards and Certificates," just went out to employees of Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System.


"Management has suspended the use of organizational funds for the purchase and distribution of gifts to employees of cash, gift cards, gift certificates or similar items that may be readily converted to cash," it begins.

"It really, truly has nothing to do with the mayor," Hopkins spokesman Gary Stephenson told me.

Hopkins was concerned that employees who receive gift cards, say as a performance bonus or holiday gift, could be liable for taxes without realizing it, Stephenson said.

"They're considered cash by the IRS," he said.

Perhaps that gives prosecutors an avenue if Facebooking jurors undo the conviction: Did Dixon report those gift cards as income? Tax evasion might seem like a piddly charge, but that's how they got Al Capone.