The Last Tycoon
Love Him or Hate Him, Peter Angelos Holds the Key to Downtown's Future.
George P. lived, and became Peter G. And an early brick was laid in the edifice of the Angelos myth.
On the Fourth of July, Peter Angelos turned 71, secure in his place as Baltimore's highest-profile businessperson and most projected-upon private citizen, a man everyone claims to understand and know. He evokes passionate and contradictory feelings--of reverence and revulsion, admiration and anger, his image of generosity as stark to some as his image of unmitigated greed is to others.
At a time when the city is reeling under some of the nation's worst crime, poverty, and schools, Angelos has emerged as Baltimore's own flawed hero, and it's a status that somehow seems apt. Eight years ago, amid newfound personal wealth and a leadership vacuum in City Hall, he emerged seemingly out of nowhere to wield a hand in just about everything deemed since to be of dire importance to Baltimore's economic health.
It was Angelos whose high-priced purchase of the Orioles headed off absentee ownership for the city's signature sports franchise, and whose free spending got the team back into the baseball elite, if only briefly. It was his purchase of the One Charles Center office building that triggered more than $50 million in private and public improvements in Baltimore's declining downtown core. When Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point shipyard, the hallmark of Baltimore's prosperous midcentury manufacturing era, faced closure, it was Angelos who offered to buy the plant and save its nearly 1,000 jobs. (Ultimately he backed down due to environmental problems that plagued the site, but another buyer emerged and the plant remains open.)
It was Angelos too who ended up leading the charge on the massive redevelopment of downtown's west side, a plan that spurred a huge public outcry over small, minority-owned businesses being displaced and historic buildings being razed. It was Angelos who provided the impetus for efforts to move Our Daily Bread, the city's largest soup kitchen, and its homeless patrons out of downtown. And it was Angelos who, through family and business interests as well as personal contributions, became one of the top three donors to last year's mayoral campaign.
When it comes to Baltimore's politics and finances, it seems, almost nothing happens without Peter Angelos. And as a result, Baltimoreans--such as Frances Angelos six decades ago--endow him with might of huge proportion, alternately hailing him as the city's savior and assailing him as its bane.
"Why does he do it all? He's really a visionary. He really loves the city," says Primo Padeletti, an old childhood friend.
"The money's gone to his head. He's a control freak," says Frank Sliwka, who worked in Angelos' law firm in the early '60s but fell out with him a few years back over a fund-raising dispute.
But interviews with Angelos and those close to him, coupled with a close look at his business holdings, political activities, and philanthropic endeavors, reveal that the man everyone claims to know so well isn't quite so transparent. His wealth and clout stretch far beyond what meets the eye. His impact is felt well outside the realms of baseball and a revitalized downtown. His relationship to Baltimore is a complex one--rooted as much in schmoozing lawmakers as in personal friendships with steelworkers and preachers. And his plans for the city loom large in the years ahead.
Peter Angelos' personal office occupies the southeast corner of the 22nd floor of One Charles Center. It is off-limits to most. A glance through a slightly ajar door reveals a large, dark-wood desk, piled high with legal briefs, flanked by black-and-orange O's memorabilia, and surrounded by dress-shirted men milling about, conducting business. Angelos' inner sanctum evokes the familiar scene of a presidential candidate, stationed in a hotel suite with teams of aides buzzing around, keeping the campaign in motion.
The conference room outside the office is less secretive and imposing, and provides perhaps an ever starker glimpse into Angelos' world. The sparsely decorated space is dominated by a panoramic view of downtown, courtesy of a south-facing window that runs the length of the room. When Angelos stands before the glass, pointing to this building he owns or that one he wants to acquire, to the unsightly cement walls he'll replace with granite and the stretch of Charles Street that will soon sport a brick sidewalk, it is a window into his personal sandbox.
As he moves from the window to his high-backed leather chair, Angelos unravels the web that is his corporate holdings, discusses deals currently in the works, and pretty much gives the impression that from up here, his roost high in the downtown skyline, anything is possible. Possible because of money.
"My net worth? I don't really know. It's not so much that I don't know. I'm really worth what people think I'm worth. It's how people perceive you, how people judge your character. I'm not a billionaire. 'Multimillionaire' is plenty adequate," he says, as matter-of-factly as one might state his or her age and weight.
As a lawyer for 29 years, Angelos had done well for himself by the time he'd turned 60. Well enough to invest in a friend's residential development in Baltimore County, to live in Roland Park, and to carry the costs of massive asbestos litigation that was his firm's main endeavor. He worked hard and, like his father, invested his money. An immigrant like his wife Frances, John Angelos wasn't a steelworker for more than a decade before he was running his own restaurants. And his son proved equally entrepreneurial. But it wasn't until 1992 that Peter Angelos became a rich man.
That spring, Angelos' many asbestos cases were consolidated and went to trial. In July, a Baltimore Circuit Court jury ruled that several asbestos manufacturers knowingly peddled a hazardous product to plants such as Bethlehem Steel for more than a half-century, causing cancer in thousands of Baltimore factory workers. By August, the awards had reached the $200 million to $400 million range; Angelos and his firm, which handled the cases on a contingency, earned more than $100 million, according to newspaper reports at the time.
Since then, his firm has moved between 300 and 500 additional asbestos cases a year. Doctors predicted the real asbestos epidemic would hit between 1990 and 2020, so the cases will likely continue for at least five more years, Angelos says. When all is said and done, the firm will have overseen nearly 20,000 cases, earning from $60,000 to $8 million a pop, depending on whether the plaintiff's cancers were fatal and whether the case was settled or went to trial. What Angelos will make personally isn't clear, but for the firm of which he is the sole proprietor, that's at least a half-billion dollars in asbestos income alone over 20 years. Figuring in other revenue, mostly from personal-injury litigation, and the hefty costs that come with its hundreds of contingency cases, sources close to the firm say it boasts an annual profit of roughly $15 million.
With the initial asbestos windfall, Angelos assembled a group of investors and bought the Orioles in August 1993 for $173 million (then a record price tag for a sports franchise), claiming a 60 percent ownership himself. The team's value has more than doubled since, putting his personal stake at about $210 million were he to sell it today (something he says he has no plans to do).
A few years after buying the O's, Angelos began pouring money into real estate, according to records at the State Department of Assessments and Taxation. In the wake of the asbestos victory, his growing firm needed more office space, so he bought One Charles Center for $6 million. (He's in the process of spending $10 million to $12 million on renovations.) The building, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright associate Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, was the cornerstone of the Charles Center urban-renewal project that revived Baltimore's center city in the 1960s, but by the mid '90s it was largely vacant.
In the last three years, Angelos has acquired three buildings surrounding his new HQ: the old Hamburger's store to the south for $1.6 million (he is spending nearly $10 million more to convert it into a downtown campus for Johns Hopkins University's School of Continuing Studies); the building due west of One Charles Center for $9.4 million; and the old Fidelity and Deposit Cos. building to the north, a historic landmark Angelos bought for $3 million and has earmarked for high-end apartments (a project pegged at $14 million). He has plans to buy two other buildings in the immediate Charles Center vicinity and is in the process of acquiring perhaps the most valuable piece of undeveloped land in the city: the 2-acre McCormick and Co. site next to the Harbor Court Hotel, a waterfront parcel with an estimated value of $18 million. (Angelos won't confirm it, but sources close to him say he's reached an agreement with the site's owner, the Rouse Co., and assumed control of it.)
Angelos owns numerous other properties in Mount Vernon, Little Italy, and Baltimore County, including two restaurants and a 237-acre farm in Monkton where he keeps 30 racing thoroughbreds.
Chances are good that as Angelos' firm takes in millions more in litigation fees, there'll be more buildings, restaurants, and possibly even sporting pursuits to follow. His firm stands to earn $500 million to $1 billion for its representation of the state in its suits against the tobacco industry, depending on the outcome of a contractual dispute currently tied up in court. Last year, he initiated class-action litigation against the lead-paint industry, the first lawsuit of its kind in the country, for which his firm stands to gain many millions more over the next several years.
Similar to his asbestos litigation, the lead-paint suit claims that for more than 50 years, manufacturers knowingly marketed an unsafe product to consumers. "Lead is going to be a major battle. I've already put $1 million into it. Financially, it's not potentially as big as asbestos," he says--although that could change if the firm decides to take on reams of individual cases rather than simply the class action, something it's begun doing on a small scale, according to Angelos attorney Ron Richardson. "But this is a litigation I want to take to the ultimate limit because I think it's going to tell us a lot about what happens in this country to the severe detriment of the public. I got into it because of the children, and because of the problem it is in Baltimore. . . . Nobody was really doing anything about it."
The firm is also representing some 500 plaintiffs in a class-action case against manufacturers of the diet drug fen-phen. And sources say that, in light of growing but as yet unproved claims that cellular phones cause tumors, it's pursuing possible personal-injury litigation against the wireless-phone industry.
Joseph C. Howard was suspended from his job as a city prosecutor in 1967 for publicizing unequal treatment of black and white rape victims in Baltimore. The event followed soon after the birth of the Goon Squad, a group of activist ministers and lawyers who made it their mission to not only get Howard reinstated but to "get the city to speak politically and substantively to [African-Americans'] pain and inclusion," says the Rev. Vernon Dobson, a founding member.
It was the movement that landed Parren Mitchell in Congress and put Howard on the Circuit Court bench in 1968 as the city's first elected black judge. But before all that, when Howard was still out of work, he ran into fellow young lawyer Peter Angelos on the street one day and shook his hand. When Howard pulled his hand away, he found several hundred dollars--somewhere between $400 and $800, recalls Homer Favor, an economics professor at Morgan State University and another Goon Squad founder.
"That was the kind of support that really helped us to elect Joe" to the judgeship, says Dobson, the pastor at Union Baptist Church. "[Angelos] didn't want to be known because he didn't want anyone to know he was underwriting the budget of our struggle, but he was inclusive enough to participate."
It wasn't Angelos' first involvement in a civil-rights cause. In 1962, after the state legislature failed to end segregation in public accommodations, Angelos, then a City Council member, shepherded a local version to passage. But following the Howard incident, his ties to Dobson and Favor deepened. Over the years, they would get together and talk politics and share visions for the city. Angelos would go on to advocate for minority issues and become a generous friend of BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development), a social-justice organization of which Dobson is a founding leader; the minister and Favor have been staunch backers of Angelos' downtown development initiatives. Today, Dobson says, Angelos is one of just two people in the white business community he's called a friend; the other is the late developer and philanthropist James Rouse.
Angelos' support of Howard and BUILD are but two in a long string of gestures he's made over the years that don't reflect just generosity, but a longing to make an impact.
From the time he was 12--soon after his family moved from Pittsburgh to Baltimore and he started doing odd jobs at Tom's Bar, his father's Highlandtown tavern--Angelos strove to be the go-to guy. At age 28, he turned to politics to make his mark. He lost a state Senate bid in 1958, but a year later he was elected to the City Council, where he developed a reputation as both government watchdog and incurable windbag. He successfully advocated for the city to hire a fiscal adviser to scrutinize mayoral spending, and he pushed for raises for police and firefighters while demanding that city officials hold the line on their own pay. He regularly demanded investigations, into everything from gasoline prices to the city welfare, real-estate, and school-construction agencies. But more often than not, The Evening Sun said in a 1967 editorial, these probes produced only "interminable charges and counter charges and finally dissipated with a hailstorm of words." The outspoken council member, the paper concluded, was "excellent on the attack but lacked the staying power on important issues."
In 1963, Angelos ran against Tommy D'Alesandro III for City Council president and lost. Four years later, he ran for mayor--again taking on D'Alesandro (and heading the city's first integrated ticket, with Clarence Mitchell III running for council president), and again losing. He would consider several state and congressional races before bowing out of electoral politics to focus on his law practice, but it wasn't long before that took on the familiar ring of a crusade.
"He's a person who was driven to run for mayor, meaning he had a desire to insert his persona on the city and the direction of the city," says Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings (D-Baltimore). "I figure if you run for mayor, that doesn't leave your core, even if you lose."
Primo Padeletti grew up with Angelos on Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown and, like most of their East Baltimore pals, went to work as a laborer after graduating from Patterson High School. In 1964, Padeletti, a bricklayer by trade, went to work for steelworkers-union Local 2610. As one of his first tasks, he visited Angelos' law office in the old Equitable Building on Calvert Street, where his old friend ran a small practice dominated by criminal-defense work. Between 2610 and a sister local, the union had 28,000 members who were often getting injured on the job; Padeletti figured if he taught Angelos about labor he could get him to counsel members on workers-compensation issues. Angelos began spending Tuesday evenings in Padeletti's office on Dundalk Avenue, prepping steelworkers to present their cases before the workers-comp commission.
Soon after, a change in state law mandated that attorneys present such cases, and the rest, as Padeletti says, is history. Angelos became the steelworkers union's lawyer, and garnered other unions as clients. When ex-Sparrows Point workers started dying from cancers associated with asbestos exposure, the union asked him to sue the asbestos industry. Angelos resisted, knowing how many cases there would be over time and how costly it would be, but he eventually agreed. (As state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer recalls it, Angelos was penniless and labor leaders threatened to take their business elsewhere if he didn't oblige.) In September 1981, Angelos began filing suits against numerous asbestos manufacturers. The cases were eventually consolidated, and by the time the first of them went to trial, they included 8,500-plus plaintiffs, 90 percent of whom Angelos represented. The cases have been tried over the years, and continue to be so, in groups of five to 20 at a time.
The risk paid off. The July 1992 decision in one of the asbestos cases made Angelos a very rich man--and showed he had the "staying power on important issues" which The Evening Sun had claimed 25 years earlier he lacked. It allowed him to make the kind of impact he never made as a politician.
Angelos' wealth gives him the satisfaction of being able to do a deal and see a final product, "but it doesn't give me a feeling of power or special standing over others," he says. "It's incidental. It doesn't really mean anything other than what it permits you to do."
What it permits him to do, he says, are "constructive things" that can benefit others.
"There are things that you see as you grow older. You see all these things, and they can't help but make an impression on you," Angelos says. This thought prompts a 10-minute diatribe about the squalor and injustice that plague the nation's penal system, which segues into a meditation about how nowhere in Maryland can a person study to become a cabinetmaker, a job that, to him, blends economic sufficiency with personal satisfaction. He raps his knuckles on the conference-room table, leans back in his chair and crosses one leg over the other, and pledges to correct some of these wrongs with his tobacco fee--once he finally gets it.
Even without those additional hundreds of millions, Angelos' wealth has translated into tremendous power and influence over others in recent years. And if the fact that his critics won't speak publicly about him for fear of retribution (while privately telling stories about vengeance and money going to Angelos' head) doesn't speak loudly to that effect, Angelos' dabbling in politics and international diplomacy does.
"He brings to the table all of the accouterments of being very powerful and influential: money, a personality of power, he's been successful, and he knows what he wants," says Del. Rawlings, chairperson of the state House Appropriations Committee.
Rawlings recalls a time during the 1994 General Assembly session when he and Angelos were at each other's throats. It was several months after the Orioles sale, and the city legislative delegation wanted Angelos to fully disclose minority participation in the team's front office and in operation of the publicly funded Oriole Park, as the previous owner had done. Running a ball club means doling out big-money contracts--tickets must be printed, security attended to, vendors hired--and the legislators wanted assurances that minorities were getting a share of the bounty. But as a businessperson running a private company, Angelos didn't want to reveal such information. A battle ensued, with meetings organized, public statements batted back and forth, and then-Gov. Schaefer playing umpire. In the end, Angelos got his way: no disclosure.
It was an election year and after the session, Rawlings ran for a fifth term in the House. He has long believed Angelos was behind a smear campaign to stifle his bid.
"A major labor leader in the Maryland-Washington, D.C., area told the speaker of the House that their top priority was to defeat me at the polls in the primary election," Rawlings says. "The speaker wanted to know why, and the reason they gave was that I was hurting business because I was raising black issues about the whole stadium deal." Rawlings says the campaign was marked by the circulation of brochures that included negative quotes from labor leaders and claims of private indiscretions.
Both men moved on, Rawlings says, and now they dine together perhaps once a month. The delegate says he no longer has concerns about minority participation in Orioles business and thinks Angelos is doing a good job as owner. But he remains aware of how Angelos, with his vast wealth and interests, throws his weight around in Annapolis.
"He does have this victim's personality, that he's been wronged all the time," Rawlings says. "Then when you pull the covers back, you find he's the one who's left the victim battered and bruised. It's kind of his cover: Everyone else out there, they don't understand, they're taking advantage of him. A classic example of that is the parity clause"--the Orioles' call for a new contract with the Maryland Stadium Authority that offers the same terms as the Baltimore Ravens' deal, including the option to sell stadium naming rights. Angelos has hired attorney David Kendall, President Clinton's impeachment lawyer, to represent him in the matter. Rawlings says he agrees with Angelos' position but adds, "I think he sees this as an opportunity to act because he's been victimized again. And he acted aggressively by getting one of the best lawyers in D.C."
But playing victim doesn't get Angelos much rope these days. With his heavy-handed stewardship of the Orioles, he shoulders the blame from fans who've watched on-field and front-office talent flee (or get run out of) Baltimore as the high-salaried O's crumbled into one of baseball's worst franchises. (Nationally, the team and its owner are laughingstocks: ESPN The Magazine called them a "dysfunctional family" and likened them to TV's The Sopranos, and Angelos has made seven appearances in the past 18 months on Hofstetter's Jerk of the Week, an online list of pro-sports bad guys.) Nonetheless, attendance has remained among the best in the majors; the Orioles' 1999 revenue was the second-highest and third-fastest-growing in the American League, according to the business-data tracker Hoover's Online. Despite Angelos' estimate that the team has lost $10 million to $20 million over the past several years, it has so appreciated in value as to create an annual net profit, he says.
In this atmosphere, Angelos' complaints that he too should get lucrative stadium perks don't cut much public ice. And in recent years, as his portfolio and profile have grown, the perception that he is a martinet motivated by raw self-interest, more interested in being right than in doing the right thing, has spilled over into the legal and political arenas, largely because of his battle over the tobacco fee.
In March 1996, Angelos made a deal with the state to represent it in litigation with the tobacco industry in return for a 25 percent contingency fee. Public outcry over the fee resulted in the General Assembly cutting it in half, but when Maryland then joined other states in a global settlement, Angelos held his hand out for his 25 percent, maintaining that a deal's a deal. The state filed suit against him last December. Many legal experts contend he is technically right--the legislature lacks authority to alter a contract--and he has pledged to use half of his fee to put computers in all Maryland schools. But the popular perception, as stated on talk radio and in letters to The Sun, is that Angelos is simply trying to milk the state for as much as he can get.
Until 1994, Angelos himself traveled to Annapolis during the annual legislative session, lobbying mostly for union clients. But with the spectacular success of his practice and his sports and real-estate acquisitions, he has developed special interests of his own and built a corps of lobbyists who toil in the capital for him. (Among them are several of his firm's lawyers, including former state senator John Pica and state Sen. Norman Stone.) Every session, so-called "Angelos bills" are introduced, and in 1999, 10 lawyers and lobbyists were registered with the State Ethics Commission on his behalf, three of them non-Angelos employees who in recent years have earned tens of thousands of dollars for pushing his positions.
"His power in Annapolis has been absolutely magical. The idea that one person could provide all this major legislation has been amazing," House Minority Leader Robert Flanagan (R-Howard County) says. "He has a very high success rate. He is personally close with the governor and the speaker and the president of the Senate. And everyone knows that he is a very generous contributor to Democratic candidates and as a result is looked upon with favor. It's all based on huge amounts of money flowing [from] Peter Angelos' pocket and into the coffers of the Democratic Party."
(Flanagan's assessment notwithstanding, Angelos isn't particularly close with Gov. Parris Glendening, due largely to the tobacco-fee fight. And Rawlings says Angelos seems to be souring on the legislative process; during this year's session, according to the State Ethics Commission, he deployed only three attorneys from his firm to lobby legislators. When he gets together with Angelos these days, Rawlings says, "Early in the dinner he's berating politicians in Annapolis and characterizing us as having no balls.")
"In certain committees, in certain places in Annapolis . . . the course of an issue is always spinning around the Angelos factor," says Kathleen Skullney, executive director of the government-watchdog group Common Cause/Maryland. "Money is the name of the game, and if you want to throw your weight around, how far you can throw it is determined by how much money you have. And Mr. Angelos has a lot of money. Whether it's at the federal or state or local level, he definitely wants to be the biggest player on the street."
Annapolis hasn't been Angelos' sole stage for exerting influence. In May 1995, he made his first major contribution to the national Democratic Party. Since then, Angelos, the Orioles, and members of his family have contributed roughly $1.3 million to Democratic candidates and organizations outside of Maryland. Since last year, lawyers in his firm have contributed $30,000 to favorite Angelos candidates running for office this fall: presidential nominee Al Gore; U.S. Senate hopeful Michael Ciresi, the lawyer who represented Minnesota in its tobacco lawsuit; and Edward O'Brien, a ranking AFL-CIO official from Pennsylvania running for Congress. (Angelos says he "rarely if at all" asks lawyers in the firm to make contributions to political candidates. "Some do because they know I'm [so] inclined," he says.)
Most of Angelos' donations to the Democrats have been lump sums of "soft money"--contributions designed to promote party positions and activities rather than individual candidates--in the $10,000 to $250,000 range. Given his largess, it wasn't surprising that his was one of eight donor names to surface in 1997 when Gore came under scrutiny for personally soliciting soft-money contributions and then placing them in a "hard money" account.
In venturing into national Democratic politics, Angelos has followed what's become protocol for trial attorneys. With Republicans pushing hard in recent years for tort reform, particularly limiting liability in personal-injury cases, trial lawyers have fought back with the fruits of their personal-injury fortunes. Angelos makes no apologies for his free spending. The legal system "is as important to the average American as the medical profession," he says. "We are professionally there to speak up and protect individuals' rights in the legal profession, and I am opposed to a party which indulges in lawyer-bashing irresponsibly in order to collect campaign contributions from corporations."
His generosity has paid off. Angelos' phone calls to the White House get returned, says his real-estate chief, Wayne Gioioso Jr., and his relationship with the president is such that he will cancel a meeting with Clinton at the last minute because he's watching an O's game. ("How many people do that?" Gioioso asks.)
When Angelos set out last year to arrange a game between the Orioles and the Cuban national team, the White House and State Department were ready to lend a hand.
That sort of influence, the power that comes from having money, has positioned Peter Angelos as a principal architect of the city's future. He sits on many of Baltimore's most prestigious boards--of universities, hospitals, artistic and cultural organizations--gives millions to causes, and is largely to credit for the redevelopment buzz downtown.
Immediately after cashing in on the asbestos verdict, Angelos gave $1 million to his alma mater, the University of Baltimore Law School. Over the years, he gave away millions more. A couple of years ago, Schaefer bemoaned to Angelos the demise of Mount Vernon's annual Flower Mart; he got a $10,000 check a day later. When Morgan State set out to build a Christian center, Angelos helped underwrite it. And when the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People solicited corporate donations at its recent convention in Baltimore, Angelos wrote a $100,000 check--on the heels of another recent $100,000 donation.
Angelos says he doesn't know how much he's given away; he pegs the total at "a few million bucks," adding that he's "not done yet." But while tales abound from people both little and big about Angelos' goodwill, it's been his mission to rebuild downtown where his impact has been most visible.
Soon after being elected to the City Council in 1959, when the Charles Street corridor was all but dead, Angelos traveled to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to study those cities' urban-renewal plans, then hailed as national models. From this trip, Angelos made recommendations to the council; these were incorporated into the Charles Center urban-renewal plan, which in turn, Angelos says with a measure of pride, "attract[ed] the notice of many cities throughout the country."
But Charles Center's glory days didn't last. Three decades later, when Angelos bought One Charles Center, he again threw himself into restoring the area. "I'm very much trying to bring Charles Center back to the status it had achieved in the City Council urban-renewal plan back in the 1960s," he says. "My purpose in buying this building is to demonstrate on a private basis that there is intrinsic value in buildings such as this building."
Soon afterward, Angelos approached Baltimore Gas and Electric, the new owner of the Hamburger's property next-door, about achieving some kind of architectural symmetry between the two buildings, only to learn that the utility didn't plan to renovate but to erect thermal towers on the site. "Suffice it to say, I took necessary steps to make sure that didn't happen," Angelos says. He filed suit to keep BGE from building its heating and cooling tanks, and later settled by taking the property off the utility's hands for $1.6 million. He then lured Johns Hopkins, which was toying with moving its downtown campus uptown, by promising to construct a $10 million facility for the university in return for a "special lease arrangement."
"It wasn't a typical real-estate deal. Pete made it happen because he willed it to happen, and he put enough money into it to make it happen. [And] that guy has so much money," Gioiso says. "In my opinion, he doesn't care how much something costs. He cares about how much value there is in it. And with the Hamburger's [site], he was adding value to the city."
Angelos was now on a roll.
"From the effort we began here [at One Charles Center], discussions ensued among various heads of companies--private companies and in particular the Weinberg Foundation--with an eye toward extending what we started here into the west side of the city," Angelos says. "And as a consequence of those discussions, the west-side renaissance is underway."
City Hall, which wasn't providing any downtown revitalization leadership of its own, quickly agreed to a private-sector plan to bolster the tattered retail district along Howard Street and around Lexington Market, and the City Council passed legislation authorizing the acquisition (via condemnation) of some 100 privately owned properties to make way for an 18-square-block, $350 million-plus redevelopment over the next few years. As co-chairperson of the west-side task force, Angelos is overseeing the project, and might even participate as a property owner and developer himself if others don't come forward, he says.
But Angelos' west-side stake goes beyond bolstering the frayed border of Charles Center. He's knee-deep in another development effort that could dramatically alter the face and economic fate of downtown.
In September 1996, the city issued a request for proposals (RFP) to build a hotel to complement the recent $151 million expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center. Exclusive negotiating rights were granted to the city's other Greek real-estate mogul, John Paterakis, to build a hotel on the east side of the Inner Harbor. Angelos sat the process out; within months, however, he approached the city about building a hotel on two city-owned lots adjacent to the convention center. The city liked the idea and issued an RFP for development of those lots, all the while continuing talks with Paterakis. The negotiating rights went to Angelos, who pledged to build a $150 million Grand Hyatt hotel. The city agreed to grant both projects major tax breaks, and the hotel-development race downtown was on.
But while Paterakis' hotel rose weedlike from the ground at Inner Harbor East, deadlines for Angelos to submit final plans to the city came and went, and were continually extended over the course of two years, during which Angelos was lining up funding and haggling with the Hyatt Corp. over employees' rights to unionize. Finally, this past spring, the city revoked his exclusive negotiating rights and reopened the RFP process, although so far no other developer has spoken up.
Sources close to Angelos say he'll build a convention-center hotel one way or the other, even if it means building it on the McCormick site. "He's committed to doing something," Rawlings says, adding that Angelos presented hotel plans to the University of Maryland Medical System a few months ago.
All the downtown activity--Charles Center, west side, hotel--is only what Angelos calls a "first phase." In his head is a much bigger plan to march the momentum from those projects eastward to Broadway and north up Charles Street to Mount Royal Avenue. (A group that includes the University of Baltimore; Jimmy Rouse, president of the Charles Street Association; and Aegon Insurance has already been organized to revive retail along the north-south strip.)
"If we get that much accomplished, we will have essentially renewed and revitalized 60 to 70 percent of the downtown area," Angelos says. "I'd like to see the whole thing happen within a five-year period."
"We look to the private sector for support, but we also look to them to take the lead in many of these things," says M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic-development arm. "There is not another dynamic force that drives the [Baltimore] market. Washington, D.C., has the federal government, and New York is a financial center, so for Baltimore to continue to support itself requires more risk-taking. A Peter Angelos is an important part of that equation."
Two years ago, Angelos and his wife flew to Paris on the Concorde to see the Three Tenors perform at the Eiffel Tower. They stayed a week, visited museums, shopped, rented a car and drove up to Normandy. But by the third day, Angelos was bored. "How many museums can you visit and scarves can you buy?" he wonders aloud.
Angelos doesn't like vacations. He likes to work--period. He works until 7, 8, or 9 o'clock each weeknight, and comes into the office on weekends until 1 P.M. or 2 P.M. "I think you work all your life," he shrugs.
It's a notion this son of immigrants comes by honestly. All his father did was work, Angelos says, and work was encouraged among the kids. His parents impressed upon him and his siblings the need "to be educated, to be successful, to gain the respect of your peers and have a good reputation, and as much as possible to be a person of principle and integrity." Within that equation, work was a given.
With that work ethic came competitiveness, cultivated by amateur boxing matches at the Baltimore Athletic Association as a kid, the occasional street scuffle, and baseball games at Patterson Park or on O'Donnell Street. And pride.
Angelos says one of the reasons he bought the Orioles was that out-of-state ownership would imply the local business community wasn't up to the task. And sources close to him say he is determined to build a convention-center hotel because he doesn't want to look like he's welshing on a promise.
"On the City Council, I never saw him waver on an issue." says D'Alesandro, Angelos' former political rival. "When you get a guy like Pete, you can't prohibit him or restrict him or put him in a corner. He's going to do his thing, come hell or high water."
Such attributes have served Angelos well in the practice of law. But the most striking thing about spending an afternoon with him isn't his competitiveness or pride, but watching him dart from topic to topic, with a firm argument already crafted and every question or consequence already considered each time he lands. Every aspect of a five-hour conversation is germane to what motivates Angelos in the work he does all day, every day. His intellect and his work are one and the same.
As a lawyer, Angelos reasons, "You've got to be able to absorb information. You know how they talk about a quick study? You've got to be able to capture the essence of, say, scientific inquiry. That's one of the reasons I may go from one thing . . . to the other. . . . If you have an inquiring mind and you're curious about things, your comprehension comes quicker."
It might be unfair to cast Angelos as all work and no play, but even his hobbies are what most would consider chores. With few exceptions, his reading material has practical applications--news magazines, tomes on tobacco litigation, political memoirs, Aristotle's Ethics, and books with titles such as Whole Brain Thinking and Anger at Work. He's a self-educated architecture buff and serious stock-market player who scrupulously studies companies and haggles over share prices.
But for all the intellect and time spent learning, there is one thing about Angelos that strays from his work-all-day mantra: his relationship with his dog, Sluggo, a 7-year-old English bulldog named after the boy in the Nancy cartoon. When the Angeloses go out for ice cream, they bring back a scoop for Sluggo. Before they moved downtown, Angelos could be seen late at night walking the dog around Roland Park. And on Saturdays when he goes in to work, it's with Sluggo in tow.
In Baltimore's increasingly young and tech-frenzied corporate culture, Peter Angelos is a throwback. He doesn't sit on the board of big banks and public companies, but works best in private transactions, taking a long view and investing in local real estate. He occasionally brings in partners to help finance deals and manage businesses, but usually he operates solo, affirming the image of an all-powerful one-man show. He is, as Pete Rawlings says, "unto himself."
Despite studying the lives of dozens of prominent men, he doesn't look to the great philosophers, politicians, or modern-day moguls for direction. Asked to name mentors, the only one that comes to his mind is the late Baltimorean Henry Knott Sr., whom Angelos praises as a "hard-nosed businessman [who] made millions of dollars, gave literally a couple hundred million to charity, and name[d] every building he funded after his wife, never himself." He buys American, drives his own Cadillac, and eschews trendy restaurants for a regular table at Boccaccio in Little Italy. The night after the Orioles qualified for the American League playoffs in 1997, he didn't celebrate at the Center Club or in Canton, but at Antney's bar in Little Italy.
But for all that makes him an unlikely fish in Baltimore's modern waters, it's hard to imagine Angelos in any other city. Playing hide-and-seek with Highlandtown kids, watching them grow up to become steelworkers and drink at his father's bar, becoming their lawyer and watching them sicken and die determined where Angelos is today.
"I don't know if I'd consider Peter Angelos a friend, because it goes beyond friendship. He's one of us," says Ernest Grecco, president of the Metropolitan Baltimore Council AFL-CIO Unions.
Without his East Baltimore roots and the tragic legacy of the Sparrows Point shipyards, Peter Angelos would still be "just as aggressive and a good lawyer," D'Alesandro reckons. He might even own a restaurant or two. But he wouldn't be standing in front of a window atop one of Baltimore's tallest office buildings, mapping out downtown's future. And he wouldn't generate the public intrigue that both propels and dogs him.
"I'm think I'm perceived somewhat negatively due to criticism--no, not criticism, but great focus--on the fate of the Orioles," Angelos says. "When you're involved in ownership [of a pro sports franchise], your popularity or lack of it tends to be associated with the fortunes of the team at the time. During the first couple of years when the Orioles made the playoffs, the perception was extremely high . . . and that spills over into professional and social areas. There's also the notion that I'm an authoritarian, somebody who fires people indiscriminately--all of which is not accurate, but nevertheless there is a kernel of truth in it. So in a sports sense, [my reputation] is by and large negative.
"Professionally, in my contact with many people that I know, I'm pretty much considered a reasonable guy, I think. . . . We have over 100 lawyers and nearly 300 support personnel [in the law firm], and the fact of the matter is, I can't remember when I ordered the termination of anyone. I would agonize over that.
"And on things like making the state a better place economically to live, I think people give me high marks--sometimes a little too much credit."
Angelos cares about people, and as a result he cares what people say about him. He is offended by the Orioles-related criticism; for several years he has refused to talk to recently departed Sun sports columnist Ken Rosenthal--even though Rosenthal's father-in-law is a client and friend. But public perception is dwarfed in Angelos' mind by what he considers his mission: restore Baltimore--its baseball spirit, its dignified labor days, its buildings and center city--to what it once was.
Is this nostalgia? "There may be some of that, sure," Angelos says. Is it about giving back? "I think so. But I don't put it in those words. You observe, you study, and you say to yourself, This is something that should be done, that can be done. So why not get it done? Why not join others to achieve goals that benefit everyone in the community? It's a very normal thing to want to do, I think."
Some argue that for Angelos to take a lead in Baltimore's revitalization is to risk building not Baltimore's but Peter Angelos' downtown, and having to do it on his terms. (It's a complaint that echoes among a handful of those who've been on the receiving end of all those charitable Angelos checks floating around town.) Others, citing his recent acts as Orioles owner and tobacco litigant, believe the only thing being revitalized is Angelos' swelling fortune.
Then there are those, such as Baltimore Development Corp. chief Brodie, who note that it takes a private businessperson with significant means to act swiftly and sidestep government's bureaucratic hoops; who, like D'Alesandro, fondly recall the days of the 1950s and '60s when the business community thought locally instead of globally and was a real leader in the city; who, like Primo Padeletti, say simply that Angelos has a "passion"for building Baltimore that few can match.
For his part, Angelos views his role more pragmatically: He's leading the charge to rebuild downtown because he can. "There's a need for it to be done, and I've been very fortunate to be in a position to make a substantial contribution toward that effort financially."
And no, he adds, it's not about building a legacy. He may be leaving his very personal stamp on the Orioles, on downtown, on how the legal profession approaches social problems and how it gets paid for doing so. But he insists he isn't doing it so people will remember who did it.
"I don't even think about dying. Who the hell thinks about that? I'm talking about now," he says. "There are very few people who live on after their demise. I think it's what you do now. What do they call it--instant gratification."
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