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Business & Developmentby Fern Shen and Mark Reutter5:18 pmAug 25, 20110

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.

Above: 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.

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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