- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

A federal grand jury indicted a Richmond City Council member and a local businessman Thursday on charges of participating in a bribery plot to select the city’s mayor, U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said.

The Rev. Gwendolyn C. Hedgepeth and real estate developer H. Louis Salomonsky are charged with conspiracy to commit extortion and lying to federal investigators. Specifically, prosecutors said, Miss Hedgepeth agreed to vote for a certain council member in the January mayoral contest this year in exchange for paying off her campaign debt.

Mr. McNulty refused to name the council member in question.

The indictment comes on top of previous charges that Miss Hedgepeth accepted a bribe in July for her vote to replace former council member Sa’ad El-Amin, who was convicted of conspiring to defraud the government.

The investigation into the incidents began in December. Mr. McNulty said Mr. Salomonsky arranged for an FBI informant to bribe Miss Hedgepeth for her vote in Richmond’s mayoral election in January. Richmond’s mayor is chosen by the nine-member City Council, not city residents.

The prosecutor said Miss Hedgepeth agreed to vote for the candidate if her campaign debt of $2,158 was paid off for her.

The candidate never ran for mayor, and Miss Hedgepeth instead accepted a $500 payment for her cooperation, which she later failed to disclose in her campaign finance records, Mr. McNulty said.

Richmond residents will vote in November on a measure that would allow them, not the council, to elect their mayor.

mWelcome back

U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest returned Friday evening after a four-day tour of Iraq, saying he was committed to securing more funds for the postwar reconstruction effort.

“What the troops are doing is nothing short of amazing,” the Maryland Republican said.

Mr. Gilchrest was part of a bipartisan congressional fact-finding tour, which included stops in Baghdad and Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit.

“The United States is undertaking a tremendous responsibility, but the United States and the Iraqi people are working together as a tremendous team,” he said.

Although more than 1,000 schools have been rebuilt and oil is beginning to flow at higher levels, the country is far from stable, he said.

Mr. Gilchrest said he will vote for President Bush’s $87 billion request for the postwar effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, $20.3 billion of which is to be used for Iraq reconstruction.

“I think it may be enough,” he said.

Mr. Gilchrest said conversations with town council members and ordinary Iraqi citizens indicated an appreciation of the United States’ presence in the country.

U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican, was also on the fact-finding mission.

He said he was encouraged that many of the homes had satellite dishes, which were banned under Saddam’s rule.

Mr. Castle said that on one part of the trip their plane carried the bodies of three servicemen killed in recent attacks.

“It is very sobering. You realize the difficulty of it all,” he said.

mConsumer advocate

Patricia Anne Smith, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University and a former prosecutor, will head Maryland’s Office of People’s Counsel, the consumer advocate for electric, natural gas and telephone services.

Miss Smith, 51, takes over from Michael J. Travieso, who held the post for nearly a decade under Democratic administrations.

“Given the recent events surrounding the recovery from Hurricane Isabel, it is now more important than ever that utility customers know there is someone to inform, protect and advocate for their rights,” Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said in a statement announcing the appointment last week.

Miss Smith said one of her priorities will be monitoring the deregulation process.

“The deregulation issue is something that we have to be vigilant [about], and constantly examine the process to see whether improvements need to be made,” Miss Smith said. “The [Office of Peoples Counsel] needs to … be clear there are adequate terms to protect consumers’ interests.”

She said she also plans to review the responses of the state’s utilities to Hurricane Isabel.

Miss Smith will leave a position as assistant professor at the Hopkins School of Professional Studies in Business and Education. She plans to stay on as an adjunct professor at the University of Baltimore, where she teaches legal writing and is the coach for the law school’s environmental moot court team.

mHispanic advisers

A new 21-member Hispanic advisory group will advise Virginia Gov. Mark Warner on issues concerning the Hispanic community in Virginia, he announced last week.

The group’s aim is to develop economic, professional, cultural, educational and government links between the state and the growing population. It will consist of business, academic, government and arts leaders.

The U.S. Census Bureau says the Hispanic population in Virginia more than doubled between 1990 and 2000, increasing to 329,540 from 160,000 in 1990. Virginia’s Hispanic population in 2000 was about 4.7 percent of the state’s roughly 7 million people.

“Our diverse and growing population of Virginians of Latino descent presents new opportunities for the commonwealth,” Mr. Warner said in a news release.

The commission will submit an interim report in December.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. named former Baltimore fire department spokesman Hector Torres as the executive director of the Governor’s Commission on Hispanic Affairs.

Eleven other members of the commission were also introduced during Thursday’s Hispanic Business Conference in Silver Spring, where Mr. Ehrlich spoke.

Mr. Torres most recently worked as director of the Hispanic Apostolate and Immigration Legal Services programs at the Associated Catholic Charities.

“Public service is in my blood and this is just another opportunity for me to stay involved in the Hispanic community,” Mr. Torres said.

The commission’s mission is to bring the needs and concerns of the Hispanic community to the governor.

Mr. Torres said the commission also will educate Hispanics on the resources available to them.

“You’re talking about a very rapidly growing community,” Mr. Torres said. “The community is an immigrant community, so there is a need to provide the resources.”

Mr. Ehrlich also signed an executive order calling for the 17 commission members to meet at least six times a year.

mMountain’s majesty

Maryland’s two westernmost counties hope to boost tourism by giving their rugged region a new identity: Mountain Maryland.

The phrase could turn up on license plates, road signs and TV weather reports, if Karen Myers, chairwoman of a local tourism committee, gets her way.

“We feel a real lack, or maybe we’re like the stepchildren, when it comes to the media in the metropolitan areas. We’d like them to mention us — what the temperature is or what’s going on up here,” Miss Myers told Allegany and Garrett county economic development leaders at an Oct. 6 meeting.

Allegany County resident Casper R. Taylor Jr. coined the phrase several years ago, when he served as speaker of the state House of Delegates, to underscore the counties’ common interests.

The counties use Mountain Maryland in their tourist brochures, but Miss Myers is aiming higher.

She wants to brand the phrase into the public consciousness with special vehicle tags, highway signs along Interstate 68 and frequent media mentions.

“We need to get Mountain Maryland out there, somehow or another, particularly on the weather report,” the Garrett County real estate developer said. “We are no farther from the metropolitan area than is Ocean City, and they tend to always mention what’s going on at the ocean.”

Working such a phrase into news and weather broadcasts isn’t a simple matter. Even at WHAG-TV (Channel 25) in Hagerstown, just one county east of Allegany, news director Mark Kraham said management would have to make sure the phrase fits the station’s objectives before incorporating it into broadcasts.

“The challenge is, the weather forecast has to be done in a matter of minutes, and so we like to use phrases the public is comfortable with and readily recognizes,” he said.

This column is based in part on wire service reports.

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