Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s primary opponents are calling on her to give back the $16,000 in campaign contributions she received from developer David S. Cordish at a time when Cordish sought her blessing for $3 million in rent relief for his Power Plant attractions at the Inner Harbor.
“It’s within her legal rights [to take the money], but the timing does not look good. She should give it back,” said Otis Rolley, who is running against the mayor in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary. He spoke at his campaign office in Hampden yesterday.
Another candidate, Joseph T. “Jody” Landers, also says the mayor should return the donations, which came in the form of $2,000 contributions from eight business entities that don’t bear Cordish’s name but are controlled by him, as The Brew reported exclusively on Tuesday.
“I definitely feel the contribution should be returned,” Landers wrote to The Brew in an email.
Landers said the Cordish campaign donations were inappropriate – as was Rawlings-Blake’s March 2 birthday party fundraiser thrown by developer Pat Turner, a key figure in the corruption trial of former Mayor Sheila Dixon.
“For an administration that claims to be on ethical high ground,” Landers said, “I find this very troubling.”
“We Follow All Campaign Rules”
Asked today about allegations that the Cordish contributions were inappropriate, Rawlings-Blake said at City Hall: “My campaign follows all the campaign finance rules, and I have not yet seen any of the proposals about the Power Plant deal.”
Told about her opponents’ call for her to return the money, she replied, “Thank you for that information.”
Contributions totaling $16,000 were made to Rawlings-Blake’s campaign fund in early May through various business partnerships whose connection to Cordish is not evident from records filed with the Maryland State Board of Elections, The Brew’s reporting revealed.
At the time those payments were received, Cordish had been in talks with a top Rawlings-Blake aide and the city’s business arm, the Baltimore Development Corporation, about his request for a break on the rent on his Power Plant and Power Plant Live attractions at the Inner Harbor.
Cordish’s request for a $3 million city bailout was first reported by The Brew in June after the BDC ejected reporters from the room and held a closed session to decide on their recommendations to Rawlings-Blake, who has final say in the matter.
Her aides have said a decision won’t be made until after the election. Another candidate for mayor, Sen. Catherine Pugh, has not yet replied with a comment.
Baltimore City Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway, who said he had not seen The Brew’s original report on the Cordish contribution, said he would contact The Brew after reading the story after he leaves his office this evening.
Cordish has not replied to The Brew’s request for a response.
Violating “the Spirit of the Law”
With less than two weeks before the election, the candidates are hitting harder on a theme that has run through the election: that a too-close relationship between front runner Rawlings-Blake and developers has flourished at the expense of neighborhoods, children and regular citizens.
“Yesterday [at the debate aired by Maryland Public Television] the mayor talked at great length about how ethics are of the utmost importance to her – and yet how does that square with her accepting this money?” Rolley said. “This is one of the problems we see in this city: we need accessibility, transparency and ethics.”
He continued, “There is the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, and this [Cordish’s contribution] is clearly not in keeping with the spirit of the law.”
The donations to Rawlings-Blake from Cordish business partnerships appear to skirt around state election laws limiting individual contributions to $4,000. (The connection to Cordish was only discernible from the fact that the entities all listed Cordish’s East Pratt St. headquarters as their business address; they were later traced to his shopping center leasing partnerships.)
“I don’t believe the ways the laws are written in Maryland to require so little disclosure – other states are not like this, Pennsylvania is not like this,” complained Dan Fee, Rolley’s campaign spokesman.
“Citizens and the media need to be able to see the business affiliations of people supporting political candidates,” Rolley said, adding that believes state election laws need tightening and will speak out about it.
Saying that Baltimore voters have become inured to corruption, Fee also complained also about the ho-hum reaction to other allegation of impropriety their camp has leveled at Rawlings-Blake.
This includes Rolley’s charge that the incumbent has been conducting campaign business from City Hall.
“The Way it is in Baltimore”
Charging that the mayor’s political and official activities have been blurred by, among other things, a mayoral spokesperson allegedly giving reporters campaign information, Rolley announced recently that he has sent letters requesting an investigation to the city state’s attorney, the U.S. attorney for Maryland and office of the state prosecutor.
“People here have gotten so used to this they just say, ‘That’s the way it is in Baltimore,’ ” Fee said. “I don’t get it.”
Rawlings-Blake’s spokesman Ryan O’Doherty again said today that the Cordish political contributions have no bearing on the mayor’s official actions.
“Those contributions have not and will not have any effect on the mayor’s decision in this matter,” O’Doherty said after today’s Board of Estimates meeting.
–Mark Reutter contributed to this story.