The News: Mosby’s Murky Campaign Finances, City Council Members bring Digital Redlining Issue to FCC, Baltimore Sun Deal Far from Done

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This week’s Baltimore news includes: Local restauranteurs go the extra mile(s), Gwynns Falls community checks Checkers, Scott asks for input on violence reduction, and more reporting from Baltimore Magazine, Maryland Matters, Baltimore Fishbowl, and other local and independent news sources.



Marilyn Mosby was reelected to a second term in 2018. (Twitter)

Marilyn Mosby refuses to say if campaign funds were used to send threatening letter to former prosecutor
by Mark Reutter
Published March 17 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: Maryland law prohibits officeholders from using their campaign funds to pay for personal legal expenses, but The Brew has found a second instance where Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby apparently did just that.

Mosby’s campaign committee confirmed last month a Brew report that it had paid $3,250 to two attorneys to represent her in an inspector general’s investigation of her travel and business activities.

The committee said on Facebook that Mosby had paid the lawyers with campaign funds because she thought “erroneous media reporting” was a “threat to her electoral viability” (her term lasts until January 2023).

The statement also said that Mosby had “ceased using campaign funds” for legal costs. But the fees paid to the two attorneys have not yet been returned to the campaign committee, according to State Elections Board records.

A review of prior reports revealed that her committee, Friends of Marilyn Mosby, paid $11,014.80 to the Washington law firm of Kellogg, Hansen, Todd, Figel & Frederick in December 2018.



Brittany Young

Yes, She Did: How Brittany Young Is Using Dirt Bikes to Transform Baltimore
by Nylah Burton
Published March 15 in shondaland

Excerpt: After long, harsh winters, we all long for the signs of spring — the budding flowers and sunshine, bumblebees and butterflies, frogs and soft rain showers. But in Baltimore, they also look out for the smell of gas and the sound of revving dirt bikes.

For Brittany Young, a former NASA engineer and founder of B-360 — an initiative that introduces Baltimore kids to the STEM field through dirt bikes — both the sport and science have long been part of her life. To her, and many Baltimore residents, dirt bikes represent joy, freedom, and culture. Science has been her passion since she was six years-old. And now, she’s teaching her students how to combine the two, creating a fun and exciting experience that also challenges them.

“I used to go to the park in the summer with my family to watch the dirt bike riders, and then I’d watch Bill Nye the Science Guy,” the West Baltimore native says. “I’m not a rider. But I’m an enthusiast.”



The rooftop antenna shown above broadcasts internet to Baltimore resident Jay Bennet's home.

Baltimore City Councilmembers send letter calling for FCC commission on ‘digital redlining’
by Donte Kirby
Published March 16 in Baltimore

Excerpt: Baltimore City Councilmembers Zeke Cohen, Kris Burnett and Ryan Dorsey wrote a letter this week calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to set up a commission to investigate “digital redlining.”

The letter signed by 106 officials across the country asks the FCC to use its title II authority, which distinguishes Internet Service Providers as “common carriers” — a step below a utility but a step above in terms of ability to regulate a title I “information service” — to regulate ISPs and to state clear rules that prevent “blocking, throttling and paid prioritization.” They also want the FCC to use its power to safeguard against data caps by broadband providers, which the letter describes as akin to “a regressive tax that impacts poor communities and cities like Baltimore—primarily communities of color the most.”

The three councilmembers previously asked the Maryland Attorney General’s office to investigate Comcast‘s since-postponed plans to implement data caps this year. Now they are turning attention to the federal government, where the FCC changed leadership with the election of a new president. After the departure of Trump appointee Ajit Pai, acting chair Jessica Rosenworcelwas appointed by recently-inaugurated President Joe Biden.

See also:

City Lawmakers Join Call For FCC To Investigate Digital Redlining
by Emily Sullivan
Published March 16 in WYPR



Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott speaks at a news conference. On Wednesday, he announced eased coronavirus restrictions.

Baltimore To Loosen Restrictions To Half Capacity For Most Businesses
by Emily Sullivan
Published March 17 in WYPR

Excerpt: Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott announced eased coronavirus pandemic restrictions Wednesday. They are to go into effect next week.

The new set of restrictions are stricter than statewide guidelines announced by Gov. Larry Hogan last week.

On March 26, the city will allow indoor dining to operate at 50% capacity and outdoor dining at 75% capacity. Religious facilities, retail businesses, museums, libraries, spas, barber shops, salons, indoor and outdoor recreation, gyms and casinos may operate at 50% capacity.

Fitness classes have a cap of 10 people or 25% room capacity, whichever is greater. Social distancing and masks are required.

Indoor theaters are limited to 50% occupancy or 100 people, whichever is less. Outdoor entertainment venues are limited to 75% occupancy or 250 people, whichever is less.

Hookah and cigar lounges may operate at 50% capacity, but no smoking is allowed on site.

“We will continue to analyze the data and lean on the expert direction of our healthcare partners,” Scott said.

The relaxed restrictions fall after St. Patrick’s Day, which has had Scott’s team on high alert. City COVID-19 rates saw spikes after other holidays, such as Christmas and New Year’s Day.



The Maryland hotel executive Stewart W. Bainum Jr. had been planning to create a nonprofit group that would buy The Baltimore Sun.Credit...Andrew Gombert/European Pressphoto Agency

New Suitor May Enter Fray for Tribune Publishing
by Marc Tracy
Published March 14 in The New York Times

Excerpt: A deal that would reshape the American newspaper industry has run into complications just one month after an agreement was reached, according to three people with knowledge of the matter. As a result, the New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital may have to fend off a new suitor for Tribune Publishing, the chain that owns major metropolitan dailies across the country, including The Chicago Tribune, The Daily News and The Baltimore Sun, the people said.

On Feb. 16, Alden, the largest shareholder in Tribune Publishing, with a 32 percent stake, reached an agreement to buy the rest of the chain in a deal that valued the company at $630 million. In the deal, Alden would take ownership of all the Tribune Publishing papers — and then spin off The Sun and two smaller Maryland papers at a price of $65 million to a nonprofit organization controlled by the Maryland hotel magnate Stewart W. Bainum Jr.

In recent days, Mr. Bainum and Alden have found themselves at loggerheads over details of the operating agreements that would be in effect as the Maryland papers transitioned from one owner to another, the people said. In response, Mr. Bainum has taken a preliminary step toward making a bid for all of Tribune Publishing, the people said.

Mr. Bainum has asked the Tribune Publishing special committee, a group made up of three independent board members, for permission to be released from a nondisclosure agreement prohibiting him from discussing the deal, so that he would be able to pursue partners for a new bid, the people said.



Standing in opposition to a proposed Checkers on Gwynns Falls Parkway are Vera Robinson, Lawrence Bell III, Arica Gonzales and Mary Hughes. (Ed Gunts)

Communities see racism in approval of Checkers drive-through despite widespread opposition
by Ed Gunts
Published March 15 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: Lawrence Bell III doesn’t want a Checkers drive-through restaurant on Gwynns Falls Parkway because he’s afraid it will cause traffic accidents and won’t be compatible with the surrounding area.

Mary Hughes doesn’t want the drive-through because she’s afraid it will make the area less safe for children walking to the elementary school one block away and will cause property values to drop.

Vera Robinson doesn’t want a Checkers in her neighborhood because she doesn’t think it will serve healthy food.

Arica Gonzalez thinks another drive-through in West Baltimore will generate more trash and set back community revitalization efforts.

These are some of the reasons why residents have come together to fight a proposal to build a Checkers drive-through restaurant at Gwynns Falls Parkway and Tioga Parkway, just west of Mondawmin Mall.

See also:

Checkers drive-through case is coming back to the zoning board
by Ed Gunts
Published March 17 in Baltimore Brew



Maryland Insurance Commissioner Kathleen A. Biranne during a Hogan administration promotion last year encouraging mask wearing. Maryland Insurance Administration Twitter photo.

Senators Press State Insurance Chief About Her Views on Abortion, LGBTQ Rights
by Josh Kurtz
Published March 16 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: The confirmation process has been fairly sedate for most of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s nominees for state posts, judgeships and commission members this General Assembly session, but the calm was briefly interrupted Monday evening when two senators sharply questioned the head of the Maryland Insurance Administration about her views on abortion and LBGTQ rights.

Kathleen A. Birrane has been serving in the job on an acting basis for 10 months, since the previous insurance commissioner, Alfred W. Redmer Jr., resigned in May. She served as counsel to the agency for several years until 2012 and her father, Edward J. Birrane Jr., was Maryland’s insurance commissioner from 1976 to 1982, and was a well-known expert on insurance issues.

But even though Birrane has been quietly leading the agency for almost a year, two senators used her confirmation hearing before the Senate Executive Nominations Committee Monday to ask her pointed questions about five-year-old social media posts — which have since been taken down — in which she expressed her views on abortion and LGBTQ rights.



Ekiben co-founders Ephrem Abebe and Steve Chu with their legendary steamed buns. —Photography by Matt Roth

How Ekiben Went From a Modest Start-Up to the Toast of the Town
by Jane Marion
Published March 17 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: As the pounding beat from a hip-hop heavy playlist fills the room, the Ekiben team gets to work: Chicken gets dropped in the deep fryer, broccoli is battered, and the kitchen staff hustles at the line, piling pork shoulder and mango-papaya slaw into cardboard containers scrawled with a handdrawn heart and the words, “Thank you! Ekiben Fam.” The pulsing music sets the tone, and the air is electric with energy, as the mostly young staff steadily works to fill orders for steamed bun sandwiches and rice bowls brimming with Thai chicken meatballs or tofu in spicy peanut sauce.

By nightfall, beneath the black-and-white awning at the Hampden eatery’s entrance, the line continues to grow, and not just because COVID-19 has forced the spot to allow only one customer inside at a time. Beginning at 11 a.m., when the lunch shift starts, the joint is jumping. And by night’s end, some hundreds of Neighborhood Bird sandwiches—that is, Ekiben’s legendary Taiwanese curried chicken on a steamed bun—will fly past the vestibule plastered with manga and out the double glass doors. Of course, an equivalent scene is also unfolding at the Ekiben in Fells Point, the first brick-and-mortar location of this Asian-fusion street food spot that opened on Eastern Avenue in 2016.

This second location of Ekiben opened in February 2020, on a scrappy, off-the-beaten-path alley in Hampden just weeks before the pandemic hit, though that hasn’t stopped patrons from finding it. And while the past year has led to a major loss of revenue from their sizeable events business—some 172 catering gigs were canceled in 2020 alone—the nightly takeout grind at both locations has largely stayed steady, in part because Ekiben was already geared toward grab-and-go.

“It took eight months to build in Hampden what took us five years to build in Fells Point,” says Steve Chu, who co-owns Ekiben with his college friend Ephrem Abebe. “It’s kind of crazy.”

See also:

Restaurant owners drive to Vermont to cook broccoli tempura for dying customer
by Marcus Dieterle
Published March 17 in Baltimore Fishbowl



Environmental Bills — on ‘Black Liquor,’ Pollution Tracking and Composting — Move Forward in House
By Bennett Leckrone| Danielle E. Gaines
Published March 17, 2021 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: Maryland lawmakers are looking to change the clean-energy classification of a controversial renewable energy source – but Republicans worry that doing so could drive up energy costs in the state.

“Black liquor,” a byproduct of paper production, is currently listed alongside wind and solar as a “Tier 1” clean energy source by the state – but House Economic Matters Committee Chairman Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s) warned Wednesday that turning the residue into energy results in high pollution.

“Renewable energy and clean energy are not one in the same,” Davis said.

House Bill 875, sponsored by Davis, would remove black liquor from the state’s top renewable energy tier under the renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS). Lawmakers have mulled similar proposals for years – and similar attempts to remove the product from clean energy classifications have failed as recently as February.

While environmental advocates and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have long said that black liquor shouldn’t qualify as a top-tier clean energy source, House Republicans worried Wednesday that the proposal would lead to higher energy bills for Marylanders.



Mayor Brandon Scott on Monday announced that the city had released a draft of its violence prevention plan. Image via Facebook Live.

City seeking public input on plan that aims to holistically address violence in Baltimore
by Marcus Dieterle
Published March 16 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: A draft of Baltimore City’s public safety plan identifies violence as a public health crisis and seeks to address factors that lead to violence.

Mayor Brandon Scott on Monday released a draft of the city’s Violence Prevention Framework and Plan, calling for community feedback on strategies to reduce violence in Baltimore.

“Baltimoreans deserve to live in safe neighborhoods where the public health of our
communities comes first and our children can thrive,” Scott wrote in an introduction to the plan.

Among the plan’s goals: a reduction in gun violence by 15% yearly, and betters supports for victims of intimate partner violence.

See also:

Scott Introduces Public Safety Draft Plan To Prioritize Public Health, Asks For Resident Input
by Emily Sullivan
Published March 15 in WYPR



Header image: @b360baltimore instagram

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