Last week Joseph Meyerhoff, a Baltimore philanthropist, pledged $5 million to make sure his city would have its own symphony hall. The city's mayor and several other people called it the greatest public gift in Maryland's history.
Yesterday State Del. Robert Anthony Jacques, a Democrat from Montgomery County, asked the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee if more private money could not be found to help pay for the city's planned $15 million symphony hall.
The answer was immediately forthcoming: "I've had enough of you," said Del. Frank C. Robey (D-Baltimore). "I don't want to see you kick the city around anymore."
Robey was defending a bill that would have the state provide $7.5 million for the hall. The city has already pledged $2.5 million. Jacques and other representatives of wealthy suburbs in Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties had said they were tired of funding the city.
Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer rose to the assault. "At the end of the session, I see it in my own delegation here, nerves are frayed. They're on edge . . . We don't come from a rich country, we're an old city."
Behind Schaefer sat the philanthropist, Meyerhoff, who said he promised $5 million to insure that conductor Sergiu Commissiona would remain with the Baltimore Symphony. A new hall had been written into Commissiona's contract. Other symphony board members were present counting heads for the vote that would come up in minutes. The year before the committee had killed a similar bill.
Del. Timothy R. Hickman, a Democrat from Baltimore County, home for half the Baltimore City Symphony's patrons, asked the mayor why his city demanded $3 million to repair the historic frigate "Constellation." Why, he asked, hadn't the mayor told him and others that he wanted money for that as well as for the symphony hall as well as for money for an animal hospital at the city zoo.
"I should have told you, yeh. To say I should have told you, it's the easiest thing in the world," Schaefer replied.
Then the argument expanded. Del. Charles S. Blumenthal asserted that Prince George's County received only $300,000 from the state for capital projects. Jacques suggested that Baltimore come in each year with a list of priority issues."You should prioritize."
"I'd like to have been here 50 years ago when Baltimore City was carrying the state on its back. It's not easy to be a city delegate," Robey replied.
The Symphony backers had lobbied well. The preeminent Annapolis lobbyist James J. Doyle Jr. donated his services. As a "labor of love," symphony board member and Baltimore attorney Henry Lord did his share of talking up the project. "If we had the concert hall, it would free up the Lyric Theatre (home of present) the symphony and other attractions to schedule only ballet and opera. It would mean Baltimore could become an arts center."
The committee passed the $7.5 million symphony hall bill 16 to 5. Hickman voted yes. Mayor Schaefer and Meyerhoff were pleased.
"I've been president of the symphony for 12 years," said Meyerhoff, the developer of Monumental Properties Inc. "The symphony is at a point where it could become great. With its own hall, the symphony and all the art will thrive."
With committee passage, the bill has a good chance of winning approval from the General Assembly.