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The Nose

Divine Intervention

Posted 3/30/2005

The Nose was caught off-guard recently by an early-morning phone call from none other than City Council President Sheila Dixon. It seems that City Paper’s recent coverage of Baltimore’s ongoing battle against lead poisoning in children (“Full of Lead,” March 9; “Heavy Metal,” Mobtown Beat, March 23) aggravated Dixon, partly due to a disagreement with CP over our characterization of a City Council resolution to create a task force to study the lead-enforcement process in the city. In part, Dixon was frustrated at the implication that the task force, which she supports, was not well thought out.

“We want to bring the city and state together so we can clearly figure out what’s going on,” she told the Nose. “We have a plan.”

But her main beef was not with CP, it seems, so much as it was with one of her municipal colleagues who was quoted in the March 23 story. In the story, it was suggested by one of Dixon’s aides that the failure to contact City Health Commissioner Dr. Peter Beilenson for his input on the creation of the new task force was an oversight. In fact, Dixon says, Beilenson is “part of the problem.” The reason the city needs a new task force to examine the lead issue in the first place is because the performance of the Health Department, which is under Beilenson’s oversight, needs to be evaluated, she says.

“Beilenson thinks he’s god,” Dixon bluntly proclaimed. “He can’t admit when he’s made a mistake. . . . We [need to] really look at how we’re doing on lead. Nobody ever wants to admit they have a problem.”

Dixon’s revelation that Beilenson thinks of himself as a municipal divinity was a bit of a shocker to the Nose, so we made a call to his office to discuss the matter with him.

“Yes, I’m mortal, I’m definitely not divine,” he assured us. “And yes I do make mistakes.”

He does, however, take issue with Dixon’s notion that a task force is needed to assess city and state lead-enforcement resources.

“We have a meeting exactly like that every month. It’s called LeadStat,” Beilenson says, referring to the O’Malley administration’s 2000 initiative, which was created to coordinate city and state agencies responsible for lead-poisoning prevention.

“Everyone is invited, and most attend,” including the Maryland Department of the Environment, he says. “We cover all the major issues regarding lead enforcement and see who’s doing what.”

For example, Beilenson says, LeadStat helped his office determine the strengths of city and state enforcement efforts. “The city is better at individual landlord cases, and the state, through MDE, is better at bundling, so we work together accordingly,” he says.

Though Beilenson disagrees with Dixon’s suggestion that the city needs another task force to assess his department’s progress on lead-poisoning prevention, he relishes her charge that he’s got aspirations to a higher power.

“Honestly,” he tells the Nose. “I love the God thing.”

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