- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 28, 2004

• It’s all good

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley last week sparred over who would commend the heroes in the water taxi accident this month in Baltimore Harbor that killed five persons, including three passengers from Virginia.

Mr. Ehrlich held a private reception to honor the Baltimore firefighters and naval reservists who helped save 20 persons. But only a few of the firefighters received invitations because the mayor’s office wouldn’t provide their names to the governor.

Mr. Ehrlich’s office said it was “despicable” that the Democratic mayor would not let the Republican governor thank the firefighters.

Mr. O’Malley’s office said it was too soon for such a ceremony, and city Fire Chief William Goodwin agreed.

However, the president of the firefighters union, Richard Schluderberg, said the firefighters were being cheated out of a well-deserved pat on the back.

• No slots, please

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams recently weighed in on a political squabble consuming his neighbors across the city line in Maryland.

When pressed at his weekly news conference last week for his views on how the District might be affected if slot machines are legalized in Maryland, the Democratic mayor said he is “not a big fan of gambling” and called it a “horribly regressive tax on people who ought to be supporting their families.

“It is of concern for me. We want people supporting their families as much as they can.” Mr. Williams said. “I’m not saying I’m totally against the lotteries and all that. If the thing goes up to $250 [million], hey, I’m not a saint. I’ll put in my little money, right? But I just think gunning and pushing it is not in the best interests of society.”

Mr. Williams said he had not considered testifying in Maryland on the subject, nor had he studied its potential financial effect on the District if people cross the city line to spend money in Maryland.

But he said he might bring up the subject in future meetings with Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson and Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

• Health official leaves

The man who has been noticeably absent from the center of the storm swirling around lead in the District’s drinking water was officially replaced Friday.

James A. Buford, director of the D.C. Department of Health, is “leaving the District government,” according to a vaguely worded news release issued by Mayor Anthony A Williams’ press office.

The news release doesn’t say whether Mr. Buford resigned or was fired, and neither Mr. Williams nor City Administrator Robert C. Bobb cared to clarify.

The announcement came as little surprise.

Sources at the Wilson Building say Mr. Buford fell out of favor with the Williams administration, and particularly with Mr. Bobb, months ago amidst a litany of complaints about his management style.

And, while Mr. Williams, Mr. Bobb and D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz took the heat from reporters up to three times a week at the city’s lead briefings, the Health Department was represented by Chief Medical Officer Dr. Daniel Lucey and lead prevention program head Dr. Lynette Stokes.

“Obviously, it is informed by all of that, it involves a lot of that, but it’s not limited to that,” Mr. Williams said Friday of Mr. Buford’s departure in the midst of the lead crisis. “Robert Bobb, when he came in here, we had an understanding that he was going to be looking at some high-priority agencies for review and scrutiny. The Health Department has been one of them.”

Asked about Mr. Buford’s role since the discovery of lead in the drinking water, Mr. Williams was critical of the Health Department’s slow response.

“I don’t think the Health Department, along with other agencies, brought it to the right level of public attention and the right profile and stature,” he said. “I don’t think the Health Department acted as it should have, independently of the [Environmental Protection Agency], to act as an independent check and safeguard in all of this.”

Mr. Buford was named acting director of the Health Department in June 2002. He was confirmed by the Council in December 2002.

Deputy Mayor for Operations Herb Tillery will run the department while a national search is conducted for Mr. Buford’s replacement.

• Historic month

The Board of Supervisors of Prince George County, Va., has proclaimed April “Confederate History and Heritage Month,” at the request of the local arm of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The board Tuesday night approved the proclamation, which was lumped with three other resolutions. All of the resolutions were passed at once, without discussion from the board or audience.

Steven Edmondson, commander of Camp A.P. Hill of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, requested the proclamation.

After the meeting, board Chairman Jerry Skalsky said he had no hesitation about approving it.

Brag Bowling, Virginia commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said Prince George joined about 19 Virginia localities in observing April as Confederate History and Heritage Month.

Powhatan County recently voted to reject the proclamation.

In Pittsylvania County, supervisors decided to vote on a compromise name that doesn’t include the word “Confederate.”

• No harm, no foul

A Baltimore judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by former Rep. Parren Mitchell against the Baltimore Sun and two of its reporters.

The judge ruled that the reporters acted within the law when they interviewed Mr. Mitchell in 2002 in his room at an area nursing home. He was asked about the handling of his finances.

Mr. Mitchell filed the lawsuit days later, saying the reporters trespassed, invaded his privacy and inflicted emotional distress.

The judge, however, ruled that the reporters were not trespassing because they were at the nursing home during normal visiting hours and signed in at the desk. The judge added that Mr. Mitchell consented to the interview by answering the questions.

And the court found no intent to inflict emotional distress.

Mr. Mitchell’s nephew, Michael, said the family plans to appeal the decision.

The newspaper’s investigation showed that the elder Mr. Mitchell’s nursing home bill had not been paid by his nephew, who had power of attorney.

• Not in the mail

Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer has filed income tax claims totaling $130 million against MCI/WorldCom, but he isn’t expecting a big payoff any time soon.

With the company in bankruptcy, Mr. Schaefer last week said the money is “unlikely to be paid in full, as recent income statements show extensive losses.”

While he cautioned against expecting a windfall in state revenues, the comptroller said the state nevertheless should be “vigilant in fighting for our money.”

The comptroller’s office filed the claim in New York bankruptcy court. It is based on court victories won by the comptroller’s office seeking taxes from corporations that use Delaware holding companies to shield income earned in Maryland from the state corporate income tax.

• Big money

Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, the longest-serving woman currently in the U.S. Senate, raised nearly $500,000 at a fund-raiser last Monday.

The event in downtown Baltimore featured seven of her fellow women senators.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York told hundreds of supporters gathered at the National Aquarium that they were lucky to have Miss Mikulski representing them on Capitol Hill.

Mrs. Clinton said Miss Mikulski has shown “true grit and compassion” in serving Maryland for decades.

Eight of the nine Democratic women senators attended the event to help Miss Mikulski defend herself against Republican state Sen.E.J. Pipkin in November’s general election.

Matthew Cella contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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