By now, you probably know the names of the politicians involved on both sides of the Harbor Point debate — the ongoing argument over $107 million in public financing for the $1.8 billion waterfront project.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, among other local politicians, has been a vocal supporter of the plan, which she says will bring Baltimore badly needed jobs and eventually swell the city’s tax rolls. Councilman Carl Stokes, chairman of the taxation committee, has been a staunch opponent, arguing that the developer shouldn’t benefit from public money that would be better used on essential city services.
But who’s been working behind the scenes, contributing money to politicians — in support of or opposition to the project? It’s perhaps no surprise: Those supporting Harbor Point have a history of donating to Rawlings-Blake. Those opposed have a history of donating to Stokes.
Michael S. Beatty’s Harbor Point Development Group LLC, which would build the project to house Exelon’s new regional headquarters, recently registered a lobbyist with the city: Ryan J. Potter, a partner in the law firm Gallagher Evelius & Jones LLP.
Gallagher Evelius & Jones’ managing partner is the political kingmaker Richard O. Berndt, whom Rawlings-Blake’s father once called “the political pope of Baltimore.” Former Mayor William Donald Schaefer nicknamed Berndt “the German general” and credited him with the creation of the Inner Harbor. The firm, which also represents Beatty’s former partner John Paterakis Sr. and his Harbor East development, has contributed heavily to Rawlings-Blake.
During her mayoral bid, the firm and its lawyers donated about $35,000 to Rawlings-Blake.
Campaign finance laws limit contributions to $4,000 per company or individuals. While the law firm maxed out with a gift of $4,000, individuals could give more. For instance, lawyer Nita L. Schultz, who specializes in real estate development and government financing, gave the mayor $4,000, while attorney Thomas B. Lewis, who specializes in, among other things, tax increment financing, gave her $2,500.
Exelon Corp., the highest-profile tenant of Harbor Point, also donated $1,000 to Rawlings-Blake.
Gallagher Evelius & Jones also has donated to Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Councilman James Kraft, who are strong supporters of the project.
Additionally, Beatty — whose 27-arce development would sit between Harbor East and Fells Point — also has hired a public relations firm: Kearney O’Doherty Public Affairs, run by Gov. Martin O’Malley’s former spokesman Steve Kearney and Damian O’Doherty, older brother of Rawlings-Blake’s departing policy and communications director, Ryan O’Doherty.
On the other side, Stokes was backed financially in the last election cycle by Orioles majority owner Peter G, Angelos. Though he has not spoken publicly about the deal, Angelos’ allies have been critical of the approximately $400 million in public subsidies proposed for the project.
At a recent council hearing, Ronald Kreitner, longtime head of the nonprofit Westside Renaissance, called the development the “biggest raid on the public treasury in the history of Baltimore.”
Westside Renaissance, the nonprofit Kreitner heads, focuses on the westside of downtown. The group's chairman is Angelos, a major downtown property owner with a stake in protecting that district.
During the last campaign, Angelos, his lawyers and business entities gave about $50,000 to Stokes. For instance, Stokes received $2,500 in campaign contributions from both Mid-Atlantic Sports Network and Artemis Properties, both Angelos businesses.
The next hearing on Harbor Point’s tax increment financing is scheduled for Aug. 7.