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The Nose

Czar Overthrown

Posted 12/25/2002

So how long did it take for Mike Gimbel to go from being a down-and-out junkie to becoming Baltimore County's "drug czar"? Eight years, from 1972, when he first kicked his habits (heroin, methadone, cough syrup, Quaaludes), to 1980, when then-County Executive Donald Hutchinson hired him for the part-time, permanent position. And how long was Gimbel drug czar before incoming County Executive Jim Smith's administration shit-canned him, without warning--with only two-weeks severance pay--just before the holidays? Twenty-two years, serving under four consecutive county executives.

And how long does Gimbel intend to remain jobless? "Certainly not 23 years," an agitated Gimbel says, adding that he's "got some ideas, but this is still real fresh and I'm still angry." Among the options he's weighing, he says, are suing to get his job back, starting a private consulting firm, and exploring options in state government under incoming Gov. Robert Ehrlich--or, possibly, in the city under Mayor Martin O'Malley.

"I haven't talked to the mayor," Gimbel says, "and he hasn't called me. But given my talents, I think it may be a good thing to explore. The concept behind the [mayor's anti-drug public relations] BELIEVE campaign is the same as what I've been doing in the county--establishing trust and hope, especially in trying to reach out to kids. But they need a person other than the mayor at the head of it, and I think the mayor and I are on the same page in terms of the importance of drug treatment. I might add more emphasis on prevention, but certainly we share the same philosophy about the need for treatment."

Gimbel, in explaining his present situation, calls himself a "victim of pure politics at its ugliest." He chalks up his dismissal to "personality conflicts" with his boss, county health officer Michelle Leverett, who gave him only hours to clear out his desk and say farewell to colleagues. "She's been coming after me for years," he says, adding that she officially reprimanded him at every opportunity, "though, I'd fight back, and that created a lot of problems. Now, with a new commissioner, she has a new fresh ear, so I was told, 'There is no place for you in the new administration.' Period."

Gimbel's predicament is reminiscent of an incident that took place nearly two years ago, when city real estate officer Anthony Ambridge was fired by his boss, Comptroller Joan Pratt, in a move perceived as political retribution. Within two months, he had been hired as a consultant to evaluate land for Baltimore County. The difference is, the Ambridge ouster brought complaints only from the press and politicians. Gimbel, though, is being treated by Baltimore County residents as a civic martyr--citizens are gathering signatures in the streets to call for his return. The Nose is sure that wherever Gimbel lands, it'll be on his feet.

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