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Campaign Beat

Losing Bet

Hotel, Block Interests Cast Their Lot With Rehrmann, Schmoke

Tom Chalkley

By Van Smith | Posted 9/2/1998

Starting her gubernatorial bid with virtually no public profile outside her Harford County base, Eileen Rehrmann needed desperately to develop a viable statewide organization. Late last year, she hired a campaign manager to boost her chances: Baltimore-based kingmaker Larry Gibson, the man who has long navigated the electoral waters for Mayor Kurt Schmoke and Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry. As the campaign kicked into gear earlier this summer, Schmoke and Curry followed Gibson's lead in excoriating Gov. Parris Glendening (whom all three had backed in 1994) and promoting Rehrmann, whose campaign promptly sputtered. After raising $1.1 million since November '96 and spending $1.15 million to get herself elected, Rehrmann pulled out of the race Aug. 10, saying she lacked the necessary funds for success.

As the dense proliferation of rehrmann for governor signs around Baltimore City indicate, the Gibson/Schmoke forces clearly intended to deliver Mobtown for the Harford County executive. They did manage to deliver $310,000 in campaign funds from city sources, some 30 percent of Rehrmann's total take. But Glendening still attracted $415,000 from city donors. And Rehrmann's Baltimore connection ended up being a net loss: The Rehrmann campaign spent nearly $355,000 in Baltimore, a fifth of it for Gibson's services.

Rehrmann's six top contributors from Baltimore--those who gave the legally mandated $4,000 limit--can be categorized under two headings: "The Block" and "The Wyndham Hotel." The Baltimore Entertainment Center, a civic association of adult clubs on The Block (as well as a few similar establishments on the west side of downtown), initially gave $5,500 and was refunded the excess $1,500. The other five who gave the maximum all have ties to Baltimore baker John Paterakis' Wyndham Hotel project, currently under construction at Inner Harbor East.

The other thread running through Rehrmann's Baltimore support is that her backers weren't particularly loyal. Ten of her top donors--those who gave $2,000 or more--hedged their bets and ponied up funds for other gubernatorial horses. Playing the field by donating to more than one candidate in the same race isn't uncommon; it helps ensure the donor will get credit for backing the winner (and get the access that goes with it), even if his or her political heart lies elsewhere. The big-money "field players" in the Rehrmann camp were:

· Pete Prevas, an attorney active in Baltimore's Greek community, who gave $500 to Glendening along with the maximum $4,000 to Rehrmann. Prevas' law partner is his father, Paterakis attorney and adviser Constantine "Gus" Prevas.

· Koros Inc. , which gave $3,250 to Rehrmann and $300 to Republican candidate Charles Ecker. Koros owns the four Baltimore-area Double T Diners, and is represented by Paterakis adviser "Gus" Prevas and Dennis Psoras. (Psoras was the attorney for Harry Karvounis, who in 1989 was convicted of shooting Peter Ireland, owner of The Block's Oasis Club and a director of the Baltimore Entertainment Center, one of Rehrmann's other top contributors. In 1990 Karvounis' mandatory five-year sentence was commuted by then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer.)

· Roy Kirby & Sons, a Baltimore-based construction contractor, which gave $1,100 to Republican candidate Ellen Sauerbrey, $500 to Glendening, and $2,500 to Rehrmann. Kirby frequently handles big-dollar public-works projects for the city and state; major recent jobs include the Penn Station and Alex. Brown building parking garages, the expansion of the Maryland Historical Society into the former Greyhound bus station, and The Commons, a residential development for Maryland Institute, College of Art students. Company founder Leroy Kirby Sr., who died last year, was a close friend of Schaefer.

· Whitney, Bailey, Cox & Magnani, a consulting firm that specializes in transportation design, which gave $2,500 to Rehrmann and $2,900 to Glendening. Whitney, Bailey designed the light-rail extension to Penn Station and has recommended road-building to abate predicted congestion in fast-growing Carroll County. In 1996 consultants with the firm traveled with city Department of Public Works Director George Balog to Paris to study water-purification technologies to help in designing renovations of the city's aging Ashburton Water Filtration Plant.

· Sudhir Trivedi, president of the Sunbelt Corp., a textile-dye maker based in the World Trade Center, who gave Rehrmann $2,000, Glendening $500, and Sauerbrey $200. In 1992 Trivedi accompanied Schmoke to India on a trip sponsored by STEP IN, an organization of local Indian business leaders headed by Lalit Gadhia, the former Glendening campaign treasurer convicted in 1996 of laundering political contributions.

· Claire Segal, director of the nonprofit organization that mounts ArtScape, who gave $2,000 to Rehrmann and $1,000 to Glendening. Her husband, Tom Segal, who runs a contemporary-art gallery in the Colonnade, also gave $1,000 to Glendening.

· The Leffler Agency, a Baltimore ad agency that specializes in sports marketing, which gave Rehrmann $2,000 and donated $1,500 to Glendening. Leffler's clients include Pimlico Race Track. Rehrmann built her campaign largely on her support of slot machines at Maryland racetracks, which Glendening opposes.

· J. Jay Pecora, founder and head of the contracting firm Allied Construction, who really played the field, giving Rehrmann $2,000, Glendening $1,000, Sauerbrey $250, and Ecker $100. Pecora is a friend of Schaefer, and helps organize the former governor's annual birthday bash.

· Stephen Burch, mid-Atlantic region senior vice president for Comcast Cablevision, who gave $2,000 each to Rehrmann and Glendening. Until late 1996, Burch served on the Baltimore County School Board, to which he was appointed by Glendening.

· Earth Engineering and Sciences, known as E2SI, an engineering-consulting firm, which gave $2,000 to Rehrmann and $450 to Sauerbrey. E2SI is controlled by Sachinder Gupta, whose various companies have obtained minority set-asides in city, state, and federal contracts. Gupta is a large contributor to the Democratic National Committee and a former Glendening appointee to the Maryland Economic Development Commission.

The collection of Baltimore contributors Gibson and Schmoke brought to the table--deep-pocketed Block and Paterakis interests along with a crew of political field players among Baltimore's business community--didn't float Rehrmann's campaign boat. Meanwhile, the Gibson/Schmoke axis barely garnered a whisper of support for Rehrmann among the city's political elite: Thirty-four of the city's 39 state legislators and 17 out of 19 City Council members ignored the mayor's lead and remained faithful to Glendening. Gibson and Schmoke's fruitless efforts on behalf of Rehrmann provide a case study of what the two have to offer for political allies--not a good sign for their future potency in city and state politics.

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