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Bortz and All

Posted 11/15/2000

It was interesting to read your cover story, "Publisher Perish?" (11/1). It sounds as if the "Bruce Bortz story" would make a bestseller of its own! Legal intrigues and a cadre of overly griping, naive authors blaming Bortz for everything from their health and general welfare, to even one self-serving author trying to buy his business out through her own family and complaining bitterly when the deal didn't go through. Ask these authors how many books from small publishers were ever selected by Oprah Winfrey as a recommended book. (Answer: none.) Or how many authors actually make a living off of their books. (Answer: hardly any.) One needs to conclude that Bortz' comments about loving the business and achieving his goals are genuine in light of the personal and professional obstacles he's faced.

Glenda LeGendre

Exile on Main Street In the Nose's column on Sowebo's declining business district (11/1), there was an allegation made that Baltimore Main Streets "went looking for neighborhoods that are already a success." Nothing could be further from the truth. Try selling that premise to the winning neighborhoods that fought hard and competitively to earn the Main Streets designation. The seven neighborhood business districts that make up Baltimore Main Streets--Belair-Edison, East Monument Street, Federal Hill/South Baltimore, Hampden, Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington Boulevard, and Waverly--represent a cross section of the city's commercial corridors. Yes, each of these business districts has particular assets, but each also has specific challenges to overcome. Do we believe that they have a chance to make great strides under the Main Street initiative? Absolutely. But to suggest that they are unqualified "successes" is a stretch.

Baltimore Main Streets and the resources it provides are not a panacea for all of the ills that face a community. But what Baltimore Main Streets does is focus resources, energy, and investment on our neighborhoods' business districts. This focus will result in healthier, safer, and more prosperous communities that better serve the entire city.

Dominic Wiker
Director, Baltimore Main Streets


Dead Men DrinkingRegarding the feature "Charmed Afterlife" (10/25), it seems that much attention has been garnered by the haunting tales surrounding the Club Charles and Zodiac Restaurant in the 1700 block of North Charles Street. There is a compelling historical anecdote to this mystery that may be of considerable interest to fans of the subject. The Club Charles and Zodiac exist today on the exact location of what was once the dead center of Rutter's Graveyard!

Way back when, at a time when Charles Street petered out into a cow path well before reaching the Jones Falls and Guilford was the king's deer park (should the king of England have gotten it into his head to come a-hunting deer in the colony known as Maryland), a prosperous man named Jonathan Hanson operated a mill in the Jones Falls valley near the current site of Penn Station. About a decade before the American Revolution, Hanson laid out a plot of gently sloping land above Jones Falls as a graveyard for his two wives and many of his descendants. His mill workers, servants, and slaves were also buried there. Later, the graveyard was principally used by the John Rutter family and his many descendants, servants, and slaves, hence the name.

The earliest known marker from Rutter's Graveyard was dated 1770. The last known burial there was in 1838. By then, Baltimore was rapidly expanding and the Victorian "cemetery" idea was becoming more fashionable than the graveyards of the past. The expansion of Charles Street across the Jones Falls came at about the same time as the opening of Green Mount, Baltimore's first cemetery (and the fourth or fifth to open nationwide). All the Hansons, Rutters, and their highborn kinfolk were reinterred in Green Mount. However, it seems that the unmarked (or poorly marked, with wooden crosses) graves of the lesser classes were not moved. It is likely that earthen fill from new construction along North Avenue and surrounding streets covered the area of Rutter's Graveyard to level the grade between North Avenue and the approach to the bridge over the Jones Falls. Thus, it is probable that some 20 to 30 feet below the Club Charles and Zodiac, the mortal remains of some hard-working early Baltimoreans still lie.

Bobby Mrozek

Gore-ing Ralph As I awakened from a very short night's sleep after the most harrowing election night in history, I took some solace when I picked up a copy of City Paper last Wednesday, thinking the deadline limitations of weeklies such as yours would mean an issue relatively free of presidential politics. After several issues stuffed with pro-Nader propaganda, God knows we readers were due a break.

Then I turned to Jesse Walter's silly letter (The Mail, 11/8). Walter, like most who hanker for a third choice in national politics, seems to fulminate from the mistaken notion that a president can somehow rule by decree. As inconvenient as it is to such arguments, a president can do virtually nothing about campaign-finance reform without the "advice and consent" of Congress. The same holds true for health care, defense spending, and any form of helping programs that may ring one's chimes. Admittedly, the candidates of both major parties do little to underline this bit of political reality, but implicit in their respective messages is the idea that providing congressional representatives of their party will facilitate delivery of their programs. What really fries my cookies about the third-party crowd is their simplistic lust for executive power. Despite what they may think, both the Democrats and the Republicans did not appear like magic out the Constitutional ether. Seat by seat and office by office, they gradually built up slates of candidates and showed voters some results. Eventually, they gained enough believers to get where they are today.

Pretenders like Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, Patrick Buchanan, Harry Browne, and others too numerous and trivial to mention want to start at the top. With no elective experience, no legislative experience, and certainly no governing experience, they can't be bothered with working their way up. I might have some respect for Nader if he had lowered himself down from on high and maybe run for Congress, say, 20 years ago when his ideas were fresh, but no. The reason Nader thinks there is no difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush is that for a rich white guy with a law degree there isn't. Nader will be fine no matter who is elected, but what about people like me? If Bush is ultimately elected and takes the economy into the tank by giving away the surplus and returning to deficit budgets--and it is virtually a sure thing that he would--numerous points will be added to interest rates and I won't be able to buy a house, a car, or a goddamn washing machine. Does Nader care? Hell, no.

I suggest the Green Party find some fresh young candidates for local and state offices and ready some choices for the primaries for seats in the House of Representatives. A little hard work in those areas can actually lead to victory and the chance to make a difference. Running a burned-out husk like Nader spouting ideas that almost made the Democrats obsolete 15 years ago is a waste of time and effort, serving only egotistical jerks like cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, who doesn't even have the guts to use his real name and is so mired in elitist cynicism he wouldn't know a legitimate idea if it bored into his brain like a drill bit.

Joe Roman

This reply to Jesse Walter is written the day after the election, with the presidential outcome still unclear. What is crystal clear, however, is that the Nader vote caused Al Gore to lose Oregon and other states and perhaps--fatally--Florida. This was confirmed by none other than Ralph Nader, who publicly gloated over it. That'll teach 'em, he told a rally audience.

Walter's letter was a reasonable reaction from someone who apparently mistook the nature of the Gore-Nader debate. What Jesse thought he saw were "Democrats" using scare "tactics." Actually, the launching of the Nader candidacy at this time was being questioned not by Democrats, but by seasoned activists, including charter members of the Green Party. These folk had no illusions about the two capitalist parties, or about Gore, but recognized that the Republicans and their "Contract on America" spelled a very real right-wing threat, and therefore posed the greater immediate danger.

These warnings to Nader came not from "liberals" but from people who had long been in the trenches fighting, among other things, for a real third party, including labor, minorities, peace forces, women, and environmentalists, and who saw that such a party, which needs careful, patient organization, was not the order of the day for this election. The only way to defeat the greater right-wing threat was to use the major parties' own contradictions against them, by electing Gore. Whether they succeeded will likely be known before this letter is published. If we failed, it's not an outcome for Nader to gloat over. No one ever expects a rose garden either way, but a Republican White House, Congress, and Supreme Court may make even Ralph see the point.

Howard Silverberg

Who's Schooling Who?I suppose it probably too late to put in my 2 cents, but I had to respond to Mr. David Tufaro's letter (The Mail, 11/01). I agree with him that public education is a vital issue on which to base one's vote for a presidential team, but I find it laughable that he would blame the Democratic leadership's policies for our "failing public schools." In my opinion, our current leaders have done an admirable job of trying to repair the dismantled system left by their predecessors, Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Like any slow-to-change organization, our current school systems' woes can be traced back to Reaganomics.

In case Mr. Tufaro doesn't remember, Mr. Reagan glibly cut funding for the public schools, including the Title I program, which was founded by Democrats and aimed at helping children from lower-income families get the extra help they needed in school. Ask Robert Lekachman, one of America's leading economists, who stated in his book Greed Is Not Enough: Reaganomics that, "The $36 billion of budget reductions, a 1981 administration triumph, are sums squeezed almost completely from appropriations targeted at low-income Americans."

And does Mr. Tufaro think that if Maryland sees any extra money thanks to our high median income that a large share of it will fund a turnaround for Baltimore City schools? It's more likely that it will go to Montgomery and the other counties in which the top wage-earners reside.

Suppose those "poor minority families" he mentioned would, under Bush's plan, get vouchers in hand. Are the private schools just going to open their doors, add a few desks and chairs (thousands), and absorb the public-school population? Get real.

Cheryl L. Dishon

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