The wine kept coming and so did the filet mignon, empanadas, pork sausages, poached pears and gourmet pastries at the party that former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake threw for herself a month before leaving office.
A DJ got the crowd up and dancing, a magician circulated among the guests, delighting them with card tricks.
For take-home favors, there were mini-bottles of Mumm Napa sparkling wine.
The cost of the November 11 bash: $54,437.
But neither Rawlings-Blake nor her guests paid for the private event at Bar Vasquez, an upscale Argentine-themed eatery near Harbor East.
Instead, the full tab was deducted from “Stephanie Rawlings-Blake For Baltimore,” her political fundraising committee.
In reports to the state Board of Elections, the committee categorized the costs as “campaign field expenses” for a campaign that never was.
Fifteen months before the party, in September 2015, Rawlings-Blake announced she would not seek another mayoral term after internal polling showed widespread voter disapproval of her leadership.
Since that announcement, The Brew reported that she spent over $150,000 in campaign funds on consulting fees, meals at sporting events, hotel rooms at the Democratic National Convention, gifts to U.S Conference of Mayors staff and other activities.
According to her January disclosure report, she has spent another $94,000, drawing down her committee’s cash balance from about $425,000 in September 2015 to $177,947 on January 11, 2017.
By far, the biggest single expenditure was for the November 11 party. Additionally, she transferred $46,500 to other political committees, mostly to Democratic officeholders in Annapolis, and $6,000 to incoming Mayor Catherine Pugh.
The Brew has left messages for Rawlings-Blake and her campaign treasurer Charles G. Tildon, but has not yet received a response.
State: Auditing Campaign’s Spending
Maryland law is vague regarding how an official not running for office can spend campaign funds.
The general rule, says Jared DeMarinis, director of campaign finance at the state Elections Board, is that a candidate’s funds should only be used in furtherance of a campaign, not for personal uses.
An office holder who is no longer running for office is expected to transfer campaign funds to other political committees or donate them to charity.
A note to party goers on display that night said the mayor “will be donating a portion of her remaining campaign funds to Youthworks, a cornerstone of her administration.” She urged guests also to contribute.
DeMarinis said his office plans to audit the financial statements of the Rawlings-Blake committee based on the earlier story in The Brew about her expenses.
The Bar Vasquez party was planned by campaign treasurer Charles “Chuck” Tildon and the mayor herself. In a Facebook entry, a City Hall staffer billed the party as “celebrating SRB.”
The campaign committee initially wrote a $20,000 check to the restaurant as a catering deposit. This amount was disclosed in its November statement to the Board of Elections.
It subsequently paid a catering balance of $31,401.31 to Bar Vasquez, which was reported in its January 2017 statement to the board.
The most recent report also disclosed other payments for the party.
They included $1,132 for photographs, made public on the Internet, of Rawlings-Blake posing with guests against a panel backdrop decorated with her name and initials repeated in large purple script.
Another $404 was paid to mayoral assistant Elizabeth Koontz, who trekked to Michael’s and other stores for party favors. Dj Steve Chromer and magician Alex “Speed” de Tessieres shared another $1,500.
Lobbyists, developers, Plank’s lawyer
Guests at the party included Lisa Harris Jones and Sean Malone, the power couple whom Rawlings-Blake married at a civil ceremony in Las Vegas in 2013.
Their firm, Harris Jones & Malone, represents more than 15 companies doing or seeking business with city government.
Also on hand for the wood-fired steaks and dancing were:
• Jon Laria, chief legal counsel for Kevin Plank’s Sagamore Development group. Last August, the company secured $660 million in TIF tax incentives from the Rawlings-Blake administration for its proposed Port Covington project.
• Arsh Mirmiran, principal of Caves Valley Partners. Three days before the party, CVP’s Cross Street Market renovation project received a $2 million grant from the mayoral-controlled Board of Estimates.
• Charles “Chuck” Tildon, vice president of United Way of Central Maryland, who is treasurer of Stephanie Rawlings-Blake For Baltimore.
• Kevin Harris, former spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, who now works for Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser.
• Howard Perlow, vice president of Residential Title & Escrow Co., longtime host of the Maryland Party at the annual RECon shopping center convention in Las Vegas.
• Sandra S. “Sandy” Hillman, the Towson public relations consultant who helped organize a fundraiser last June at the Baltimore Convention Center to help then-senator Catherine Pugh pay off her campaign debts.
• Leon F. Pinkett and Brandon M. Scott, City Council members closely aligned with the ex-mayor (Pinkett, for example, was her assistant deputy mayor for economic and neighborhood development).
• Kaliope Parthemos, Dawn Kirstaetter and Colin Tarbert, members of the ex-mayor’s inner circle. Tarbert remains at City Hall as special assistant to James T. Smith Jr., chief of strategic alliances for Mayor Pugh.
• Stephanie Binetti and David Kosak, whose Binetti Political Strategies group was paid over $59,000 by the mayor’s campaign committee since Rawlings-Blake announced she was not running for re-election.
• Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, which receives hundreds of thousands of dollars of city grants to perform cleaning and other services in central Baltimore.
A New Chapter
After leaving office on December 6, Rawlings-Blake opened SRB & Associates in office space occupied by Binetti at the historic Roland Park shopping center.
Her office is located above Petit Louis, a member of the Foreman Wolf restaurant group that also owns Bar Vasquez.
The new company will offer the ex-mayor’s expertise and “winning solutions” to cities, businesses, campaigns and individuals “who will move our country forward,” according to an email blast to friends and associates.
“As a council member, city council president and most recently as mayor, I have tackled the most intractable problems in American cities and have become a national leader,” the announcement said.