While Baltimore's City Council was ceremonially approving a raft of good-will resolutions last week honoring citizens who had married, died or retired, it unwittingly and unanimously passed a resolution in honor of "Al Speer Plaza."
There is, of course, no Al Speer Plaza in Baltimore, and the only Speer that any council members could think of yesterday was Albert Speer, the convicted war criminal who headed Adolf Hitler's war machine and designed monumental architecture for the Third Reich.
The resolution, as it turned out, was the handiwork of City Council President Walter S. Orlinsky, who has in the past gone out of his way -- although never to this extent -- to debunk Mayor William Donald Schaefer's affection for monuments and grand architecture.
"Don't you believe in great builders?" Orlinsky asked, when questioned about the resolution, which council members said they approved without realizing it.
Orlinsky's resolution was a direct attack on the Schaefer-backed plan to spend $750,000 on a granite-and-grass plaza connecting Baltimore's monumental City Hall with the nearby War Memorial Building. The planned City Hall plaza, the last phase of a $10 million renovation of the historic building, stands only a few blocks from a memorial to victims of the Holocaust, which was recently unveiled near the newly developed Inner Harbor.
The Board of Estimates approved a contract for the plaza earlier this month. Days later, Orlinsky covertly filed his resolution, commending the board "on the occasion of the construction of Al Speer Plaza."
Since Orlinsky's resolution was listed along with a dozen others on the council's "consent agenda" -- resolutions normally passed as a package and not read aloud -- no council member even noticed it at the March 9 meeting.
Councilwoman Rochelle Spector, who said she "was not functioning on all fours" on March 9, later came across the Al Speer resolution, and called on Orlinsky to explain it at the councl's Monday night meeting.
Orlinsky played coy at first. "There must be lots of Al Speers," he said. "Didn't he run an apprentice program for the building trades?" But later he said that the whole affair was a joke on Schaefer, and the resolution would not be recorded in the council record.
Nonetheless, the Al Speer resolution provided fodder for the ongoing tiff between the mayor's office and Orlinsky. "We expect childish things out of Mr. Orlinsky," sneered the mayor's press secretary, Chris Hartman. "This is just another sign of what a whacko council president we've got."
Other Schaefer aides accused Orlinsky of opposing the plaza because it will gobble up the parking spaces in front of City Hall where Orlinsky, Schaefer and other top city officials used to park. "He'd like to park right in front of the doorway," Hartman said. "It's the mayor's position that that should be a public place."