Grand Prix boosters race ahead with campaign contributions

$42,400 has been funneled so far to Mayor Rawlings-Blake and other supporters of the race.

grand prix srb and mom

June 2010 Grand Prix announcement featured Al Unser Jr., Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Gov. Martin O’Malley, and Jay Davidson, head of Baltimore Racing Development Corp.

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While there’s hot debate about the promise by elected officials that the upcoming Grand Prix race will pump some serious cash into Baltimore’s economy, there’s no disputing that – for those very officials – the event has pumped money into their campaign war chests

The Brew‘s analysis of data on file with the Maryland Board of Elections found that individuals and companies connected with the three-day, Indy-style auto race have donated at least $42,400 to the campaign funds of supportive politicians and officeholders.

The chief recipient of this financial support? Not surprisingly, the Grand Prix’s biggest booster in City Hall, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Running to retain her job in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary, Rawlings-Blake netted at least $24,200 in campaign contributions over the last four years from investors, lawyers and others connected to the race as well as companies awarded big-ticket contracts to help prepare the city for the unprecedented Labor Day races.

Roadwork contractor P. Flanigan & Sons, Inc. (including its principals) has alone given Rawlings-Blake $13,500 since 2008 – the year when it appears people began quietly pushing the idea of bringing the event to Baltimore.

Charged with readying city streets for cars roaring at up to 175 miles an hour, the Baltimore-based firm was awarded a $4.8 million contract by the Board of Estimates.

The company’s contributions to Rawlings-Blake and other pro-race city officials came not just under the company name, but from president Pierce Flanigan IV and his mother, Susan Flanigan, whose late husband, Pierce Flanigan III, previously ran the company.

For example, the Rawlings-Blake campaign received $4,000 from Pierce Flanigan on Jan. 10, 2011 and $1,000 on Jan. 7, 2010. Susan Flanigan gave Rawlings-Blake $1,000 on Jan. 7, 2011 and a further $3,000 on July 20, 2011. (Susan Flanigan is a board member of the Waterfront Partnership which has actively promoted the Grand Prix.)

Grand Prix roadwork in downtown Baltimore smoothed streets for race cars but ruffled the feathers of motorists. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Grand Prix roadwork in downtown Baltimore smoothed streets for race cars but ruffled the feathers of motorists. (Photo by Fern Shen)

P. Flanigan & Sons has been contracting for the city for decades and has showered elected officials with cash going back to the administration of Mayor William Donald Schaefer in the 1970s and before. But the Grand Prix – featured on the P. Flanigan homepage – is its most high-visibility project right now.

The contractor’s largesse has extended beyond the incumbent mayor.

Enthusiastic Grand Prix booster William H. Cole IV, the city councilman in whose 11th District the race is being run, received $1,750 from Pierce Flanigan and his company – part of a total $5,500 he took in from all Grand Prix-connected interests.

Cole’s other Grand Prix benefactors included officials and investors in Baltimore Racing Development Corp., whose contributions since 2008 netted him a total of $3,750.

Big Public Outlay by Baltimore

Cole tells a by-now well-honed story about his initial skepticism in February 2008 when he met with the Rodger’s Forge man, Steven Wehner, who hatched the idea of bringing Indy-style racing to Baltimore.

Despite obvious challenges – the high cost of the event, the mixed success of similar events in other cities, the need for significant government financial help and likely traffic-snarling street work – the idea won converts.

Cole and others, including then-City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and then-Mayor Sheila Dixon, became firm supporters.

Since then, the city has spent more money on preparations for the Grand Prix than any other city in the U.S. with a similar event, according to most accounts.

In Baltimore and Annapolis – where Gov. Martin O’Malley also took a shine to the project – major government horsepower was harnessed to get the project over the finish line, which organizers estimated would cost about $14 million in all.

The City Council and Board of Estimates approved needed permits and committed $7.75 million in state and federal funds to prepare roads for the race. The Board approved the contract to Flanigan & Sons for the roadwork. The Board also approved a five-year contract with Baltimore Racing Development to put on four more races.

Pratt St. had to be readied for cars racing along at 175 mph. (Photo by Fern Shen

Millions of dollars have been spent on preparing Pratt and other downtown streets for the races. Note the spectator stands rising on Pratt at Light Street. (Photo by Fern Shen)

The Maryland Stadium Authority last year approved $1.9 million to cover the up-front cost to convert the parking lots at Camden Yards into a pit lane.

When Baltimore Racing Development needed a bailout earlier this year, the state again came through.

Unable to secure a title sponsor just as their $500,000 bond payment to the Stadium Authority was coming due, the race organizers were gifted by the Maryland Economic Development Corp. with an unprecedented $500,000 loan. (Leonard R. Sachs, chairman of MEDC, is an Inner Harbor parking garage operator.)

“It’s Going to Look So Freaking Sexy on TV!”

Whenever they are questioned about this public spending, or about tree removal and traffic snarls caused by race roadwork, city officials have a ready answer: their contention that it will be an economic windfall for the city.

Last week, Mayor Rawlings-Blake told radio talk-show host Marc Steiner that while others might see the Grand Prix as a time for fun and parties, “it’s about jobs and economic development to me.”

 Crabs, cars, curves - this race poster shows what they're shooting for. (Grand Prix Facebook page)

Crabs, cars, curves - this race poster shows what the organizers are shooting for. (Grand Prix Facebook page)

With an expected 100,000 visitors coming to the city for the event, Gov. Martin O’Malley has said the race would create 400 jobs and generate $65 million to $70 million in economic benefits.

More recently, the Mayor’s Commission of Sustainability said the race will bring in nearly $250 million over the next five years (or about $50 million per year) and $11 million in tax revenues, again spread over five years.

Those numbers have met with heavy skepticism from some residents, economists and the candidates vying in the upcoming election to wrest the mayoralty from Rawlings-Blake.

Grand Prix boosters have also sought to whip up, in a city with little to no racing fan base, enthusiasm for Indy race cars themselves – “the low-slung, open-wheel rockets driven by stars like Danica Patrick,” as the New York Times put it in a recent peppy story on the event.

One of just five races on the 2011 Izod IndyCar Series schedule to be held on a temporary street courses, Baltimore’s Grand Prix is going to be the racing equivalent of having the Ravens play a home game before a national audience on Monday Night Football, enthused course designer Martyn Thake, at an event last year featuring racing star Al Unser Jr.

“It’s going to look so freaking sexy on TV,” Thake told the Baltimore Sun. “The water, the ships, the buildings.”

Topping Off the Tank

A kind of a Who’s Who of the Baltimore Grand Prix organization can be derived from a spin through Councilman Cole’s list of contributors.

There’s Baltimore Racing Development President James “Jay” Davidson ($1,000); Peter J. Collier ($500), BRD’s chief operating officer and a former director of the city parking authority; Grand Prix investor Walker Mygatt ($2,000), a managing director at Constellation Energy Group Inc., and former club Sonar owner Lonnie Fisher ($250), currently handling BRD’s corporate outreach.

The “Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for Baltimore” fund received contributions from the same Grand Prix principals, including Davidson ($1,000), Mygatt ($2,500), and developer Kenneth Banks ($500), president of Bank’s Contracting Co., also a BRD investor.

Ballard Spahr attorney Mark Pollak, who represented the city in Grand Prix negotiations, gave the Rawlings-Blake campaign $1,100; his wife, Joanne, gave $1,000; and his Ballard Spahr partner, Jon Laria, gave $2,350.

The mayor also received money from AJO Concrete Construction Inc. ($2,000), a minority subcontractor for Grand Prix roadwork.

Contributions from these sources also went to another Baltimore official well-placed to smooth the way for the Grand Prix project, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young.

Young received at least $4,700 from race associates and contractors, The Brew found. Checks came from Davidson, Collier, Flanigan and Banks.

Contributions to O’Malley

Gov. O’Malley, who helped steer critically-needed state funds to the Grand Prix, also received money from some of the same contributors.

Pierce Flanigan and his company gave O’Malley $2,000 during his 2010 re-election for governor. Mygatt gave him $500.

David Rather, owner of Mother’s Grille and another Grand Prix investor, kicked in $500. Attorney Mark Pollak contributed $1,500.

Altogether, we identified $7,000 that O’Malley received from Grand Prix-related interests.

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  • fed up

    She has got to go. Crooked as hell. Oh god if she wins we are all screwed. Neighborhoods will suffer the most.

  • Baltimoreplaces

    This type of stuff irks me.  I know it legal but it doesn’t mean that it is right.  Every election season we hear politicians spout off about campaign finance reform.  It seems that even the politicians know it is wrong.  99% of the time the person with the most money wins.

    But it does have me thinking.  If I contribute to local campaigns, maybe I could get some attention to my side walk and alley way.?  It looks like for not a whole lot of money others get it returned 100 fold.

  • Resident

    Curious to see how the hurricane plays into this.  Lets see who gets priority in power outage and damage repair.

  • Ktrueheart

    Wonderful story!   It’s important to bring transparency to current political practices in BMore.  We definitely need more stories on what is viewed as the norm for our elected officials.  I am hopeful that one day a new breed of real citizens will begin to take the place of these career politicians.

  • WBStrategicAlliance

    This article should be eye opening, but somehow residents continue to turn a blind eye.  It’s like people are in a trance. What needs to happen to break the spell? Will it ever happen?

  • Doni Glover

    Excellent reporting.

  • Devil’s Advocate

    If you don’t like the way campaigns are financed then push for reform. I would love to see campaigns financed with public money. However, nobody really seems to want this except for those not in politics. Besides, relative to campaign funding these amounts are chump change.

  • Semi Race Fan

    This is not excellent reporting.  First of all, the title of the article is misleading.  It suggests that the mayor received $42,400 in campaign contributions.  The truth, according to the article, is that she received $24,200 over the last 4 years.  That’s hardly enough money to suggest that she is somehow corrupt, or this is some sweetheart deal.

    Campaign contributions are just that; you give money to those who you support, that you feel may share the same vision as you do.  The investors of the Baltimore Grand Prix feel like the mayor shares that vision, and rightly so, they donated money to her campaign.  

    I’m not even sure how the Grand Prix can be seen as a negative for this city.  I’m not a huge race fan, but this is probably the most exciting event coming to this city, this year. This is good news for our residents, and our local businesses.  Hopefully, the projected revenue estimates are correct.  Stop crying.  This is good for the city.

  • whiskey pete

    I am shocked — SHOCKED, I say, that developers and contractors are donating money to city officials.  It’s outrageous!  The real story is that this is business as usual.  These people are big donors on a regular basis simply because they all feed from the public trough.  I don’t think that O’Malley or Rawlings-Blake supported this race because they got some contributions — they supported the race because the race supporters are the one that have ALWAYS been giving them money.

    While I am a fan of the race, I am still looking at this event with some skepticism.  City races like these don’t always do well, and usually create more anger than support from the residents.  The race will definitely bring in money, but how much?  Will it boost the city’s reputation if no one is watching?

    • Nate

      What about all the money lost due to time spent in traffic congestion and trips deferred or not taken or all the people who would be in town, who decided to be out of town? I want to see an analysis of the receipts of the businesses in a 3 mile radius of downtown after the event and THEN we’ll see how much money is really be made or lost.

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