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The Nose

Naming Names

Posted 3/9/2005

While recently surveying the little metal plaques in City Hall that honor dead politicians by naming various rooms after them, the Nose sniffed out a minor scandal. City government, it turns out, is ignoring one of its own naming laws: Ordinance 00-13, passed in 2000 and titled Naming the Board of Estimates Board Room to be the Hyman Aaron Pressman Board Room. Room 215, the board of estimates meeting room, is legally named after Pressman (1914-’96), city comptroller from 1963 to 1991, but there’s no way that visitors—and there are many who pass through this room’s second-floor doors for public meetings—would know it.

The rooms on City Hall’s fourth floor, however, do not fail to identify their namesakes. There’s a plaque just inside the entrance to City Council Chambers, for example, announcing that the spacious, ornate legislative hall was posthumously dedicated to Clarence “Du” Burns (1918-2003), the city’s first black mayor. The City Council’s two other public-meeting rooms on the fourth floor have plaques dedicated to Norman Van Allan Reeves Jr. (1935-’83), a city councilman, and J. Joseph Curran (1904-’77), a council vice president and patriarch of the ongoing Curran political dynasty.

Burns, Reeves, and Curran are noteworthy characters in Baltimore political history, for sure. And so is Pressman. He was known as the “watchdog of Baltimore” (which was the title of a slim volume of his poetry published in 1977). Pressman’s deputy comptroller, the late Richard Lidinsky (1920-2003), who served during all of his boss’ seven four-year terms, submitted kind remarks for the record of the Pressman Board Room legislation in the spring of 2000. “We respected [the] comptroller in life,” Lidinsky said, reading from his handwritten testimony committed to paper on hotel stationery. “By conferring the proposed naming of the Board of Estimates Room in his honor, we are declaring that [he] will not be forgotten in death.”

Today in City Hall, two identical signs on the doors to Room 215—the piece of real estate legally named after Pressman—announce the following: “Attention! Board of Estimates Room Visitors Please Turn Off All Cell Phones, Pagers.” No mention of the former comptroller anywhere. Pressman, who was always trying to rein in unnecessary extravagances in city government, would not have stood for a costly memorial in his name—just a prominently placed plaque no fancier than the frugal ones honoring Burns, Reeves, and Curran up on the fourth floor.

On May 4, five years will have passed since the Pressman legislation was signed into law by Mayor Martin O’Malley. Maybe by then, the Nose hopes, this longstanding oversight will be corrected.

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