Race to the Bottom Line
Published: August 24, 2011
Thanks very much for Edward Ericson Jr.’s revealing article on the Grand Prix (“Race Questions,” Feature, Aug. 17). It seems that the city has spent quite a bit of money without any serious analysis of positive impact on the city coffers or the creation of jobs for city residents.
To be sure, there are claims of millions in revenue and job creation, but neither the city nor Baltimore Racing Development will make public a reasoned argument that a conscientious citizen can examine. If they have good arguments, I suggest they make them public. Otherwise, we are left to conclude that the Grand Prix is another feel-good party for the moneyed class at taxpayer expense.
Downtown development seems to be based on special tax breaks or direct spending—such as the street alterations for the Grand Prix—for developers and corporations. Shouldn’t such concessions be accompanied by firm requirements that the city and its residents benefit? Other cities have clawback provisions so that the public is paid back if promised benefits do not accrue.
While developers rake in benefits from the city coffers with little accountability, things aren’t so great for working- and middle-class Baltimoreans. They struggle to find jobs and pay the rent, and their children learn in the worst school buildings in the state. When you vote in the mayoral election, consider, for example, that 70 percent of our schools are in poor condition. They are unsafe, waste energy, and lack science labs and other facilities children need to learn. They drive away experienced teachers. The city could create jobs by transforming our schools and, at the same time, could add value in the neighborhood real estate markets. That’s a development project that the mayor and City Council should embrace 100 percent.
Thanks to City Paper, and Ed Ericson in particular, for attempting to get some straight, knowledgeable answers, from anybody, to questions about the upcoming Grand Prix racing event. Yet even Ericson—one of the few real investigative reporters left in the city—was unable to penetrate the stone wall erected by officials of Baltimore Racing Development (BRD) and the city of Baltimore. Perhaps there were no straight, knowledgeable answers to be had—hence the stone wall.
As UMBC economist Dennis Coates points out in the article (and in one of the accompanying videos on City Paper’s web site), sports extravaganzas much bigger than the Baltimore Grand Prix have generally failed to bring their host cities nearly as much net revenue as BRD projects for their “festival of speed.” BRD’s “Economic Impact Report” is a nicely packaged stew of hype, economic double-talk, and wishful thinking—just enough to bamboozle, and placate, the simpleminded majority of our City Council. Has anybody considered the additional costs to the city of additional police and maintenance crews over the Grand Prix weekend? Has anyone seriously accounted for the four-day shutdown of the University of Maryland campus, the closure of the Garmatz federal courthouse, the rerouting of MTA bus lines, and the disruption of scores of taxpaying downtown businesses? We will be lucky if, after five years, we can look back on the Grand Prix and say, “Whew! At least we didn’t lose money.” What’s more likely, after five years, is that nobody will ever make a full accounting of this boondoggle, so we will never know just how badly we’ve been fleeced.
In the meantime, elected officials and BRD are all chanting the same would-be visionary happy talk: Forget economic development! The Grand Prix will be great advertising for Baltimore! We’ll be regarded as a “world-class city”!
If we want to be a world-class city, we need to refocus on the quality of our schools, the full employment of our citizens, the desirability of our neighborhoods ,and the vitality of our businesses. All the fast cars in America won’t get us there.
The writer is a City Paper contributor emeritus.
In a recent interview with City Paper, Gasland director/star Josh Fox tells your reporter that a document issued by environmental regulators in Colorado rebutting basic assertions in his film actually “confirms the findings” of Gasland (“Josh Fox,” Film, Aug. 17). It’s a bizarre statement, and a patently false one, but because City Paper doesn’t actually link to the Colorado rebuttal in the body of the piece, your readers would never know that. (Editor’s note: Fox did not, in fact, cite a specific document. He said Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission “reports” confirm his findings.)
We hope you’ll use the occasion of this letter to pass along to your audience a link to that document—tinyurl.com/3lkot8p—which, among other important contributions, completely shatters the mythology surrounding the film’s flaming-faucet scene. And for those looking for a more detailed and comprehensive refutation of his work, your readers can wade through the 5,000-word response—tinyurl.com/3z3dcpj—issued last summer by Energy in Depth.
Finally, and not to put too fine a point on Mr. Fox’s casual relationship with the truth, but even the filmmaker’s basic back-story of how he got involved in the making of Gasland isn’t exactly aligned with reality. Contrary to what he tells City Paper, Fox’s claim that he was offered $100,000 in 2008 to lease his land for natural gas development appears to be just another prevarication on his part—starting to see a trend here? We invite your readers to take a look—tinyurl.com/3vwhar5—at Fox’s “lease agreement” for themselves and see if they reach a similar conclusion.
Cex Is Natural
I have to say, I was truly shocked by the response to your Aug. 10 cover (“A New Low,” Mail, Aug. 17). Sure, your graphic depiction of Cex was a bold choice for the cover. But I think Roz Nester’s letter in the last issue was more indicative of her own discomfort regarding Cex. I understand that some people don’t like being confronted with Cex in the media. But this is Baltimore, and Cex is part of our local culture. If Ms. Nester doesn’t like Cex, that’s between herself, her partner, and her God. But I’d prefer that she keep her prudish and provincial attitudes about Cex to herself. The French are putting toddlers in lingerie, and the worst imagery she can find to criticize is a wholesome depiction of Cex on the cover of City Paper? Cex was created by God to give us pleasure and express love, and I think I just rode this metaphor into the ground.
Remember the Green!
I was concerned after reading your story on the 3rd District City Council race (“Three for 3,” Mobtown Beat, Aug. 3) that you are afflicted with the-primary-is-the-election syndrome, in contrast to reporters who covered past campaigns. I am running in the 3rd as Green Party candidate and plan to run an aggressive campaign.
You may prefer the status quo but, as a “news” story, you should mention that there will be candidates in the November general election.
By the way, City Paper endorsed me in 2004 (deservedly so, of course!) and I was the best-selling [sic] front page you ever had in 2007, when I got 27 percent of the votes in the general election.
Editor’s note: There are a number of staff changes worth noting here at City Paper, for those of you keeping track. First, longtime CP Publisher Don Farley is leaving the paper in early September to take a position with parent company Times-Shamrock Communications at the home office in Scranton (true fact). More gush about that later, but in the meantime, longtime CP Advertising Director Jennifer Marsh has been named the new publisher, and longtime CP Classified Manager Leslie Grim has been named the new advertising director.
Meanwhile, in the editorial department, Staff Writer Andrea Appleton has been named senior editor; she will take over most of the duties of former Arts Editor Bret McCabe, specifically in regard to the, um, arts. Congratulations to one and all.
And in other topics, we would be grateful if you’d consider sharing your stories of your experiences on Sept. 11, 2001, for our Sept. 7 issue. Please go to citypaper.com/911 for more details.