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Rehrmann's New Slot

Posted 2/6/2002

Four years ago at this time, Eileen Rehrmann was spending campaign money and political capital--much of it springing from Baltimore--hand over fist in her quixotic, career-shattering quest to unseat incumbent Glendening. Today, the Nose is happy to report, Rehrmann is giving back to the city that gave so generously to her. The former Harford County executive now lives in Baltimore's Otterbein neighborhood, paying local taxes and liberating herself from the nightmare of suburban car-dependency, and is working to help the City of Baltimore collect unpaid water bills. Rehrmann's 1998 candidacy didn't even survive to primary day, but its political consequences were enduring. Guided by political wheeler-dealer Larry Gibson and endorsed by then-Mayor Kurt Schmoke and Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry, Rehrmann's campaign widened longstanding fissures in the Maryland Democratic Party into a full-fledged rift.

Gibson and Schmoke, already rankled by Glendening's unwavering opposition to slot machines, sidled to the political sidelines after the pro-slots Rehrmann campaign tanked. And the wedge between Curry and his P.G. County predecessor, Glendening (who left a pension scandal and an out-of-whack budget for Curry to contend with), was driven deeper. What's more, a thick cross section of Baltimore's cadre of political donors was taken for a ride on the Rehrmann wagon--about a third of her $1 million campaign kitty came from Baltimore benefactors.

Now Rehrmann's a rehabbed ex-pol working to help Baltimore balance the books. On Jan. 23, the city Board of Estimates approved a contract with Houston-based Utility Review Management Co. (URMC) to boost revenue by plugging leaks in the water-metering system. Eileen Rehrmann & Associates is getting 7.5 percent of the action.

"I'm primarily focused on businesses that save money for government," Rehrmann says of her consulting work. Rehrmann & Associates has done projects for businesses and governments in Maryland, Texas, Florida, and Georgia (she previously teamed up with URMC in Atlanta). The Baltimore contract--her first with the city--lasts three years and pays the contractors half of the additional revenue collected due to their detective work.

The Nose checked in with the water wonks of Austin, which used URMC's services in the late 1990s, to see how well the Texas capital had fared. Laurie Lentz, spokesperson for the Austin water department, says the collaboration was "successful," an all-around "win-win." The contract's two goals--"to recoup every dollar we could and to find out if our water system was reasonably tight"--were met, yielding just shy of a million bucks. "And it was zero dollars out of pocket because the study paid for itself as it went along," Lentz adds.

Austin did a better job than Baltimore in negotiating its share of the take with URMC, taking 55 cents of every dollar collected, 5 cents more than Baltimore's getting. Nonetheless, Austin's experience suggests the local contract should yield a respectable sum for the community chest--particularly welcome in the face of projected deficits.

Also welcome is a trend that Rehrmann says she's noticed--young suburbanites trying their hand at city living. "A lot of friends in Harford County have children who are moving into the city," she tells the Nose. "And that's a healthy sign."

As for politics, Rehrmann claims to be "out of the loop" these days--and that's probably just as well, given the '98 fiasco. The Nose likes her better as an urbanite looking to help boost Baltimore's finances than as a gambling-industry patsy running for governor.

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