Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Welcome Resignation

I learned last night that Deputy Mayor Andrew Frank has "resigned." If you read to the bottom of today's Baltimore Sun story on his resignation, it sounds like a possible forced resignation, but that's speculation on my part.

Quote from the Sun article:

Privately, many city officials had speculated that Frank was considered too close to Dixon, whose legal troubles stemmed, in part, from her relationships with developers.

Rawlings-Blake has publicly declared that the Baltimore Development Corp. should be more open and transparent. She made several changes to Frank's staff, dismissing one assistant deputy mayor and demoting another. Kaliope Parthemos, Rawlings-Blake's former assistant chief of staff and a childhood friend, became Frank's sole assistant deputy mayor.

If this was a forced resignation, thank you, Mayor Rawlings-Blake! This is excellent news.

Why am I so jubilant about this resignation?

Andy Frank has been one of the real villains downtown in The Senator saga. After Tom Kiefaber stood up to the BDC, where Mr. Frank used to work, on the Belvedere Square redevelopment a decade ago and stood up around the same time for saving historic buildings on Baltimore's West Side in the area known as the Superblock, Andy Frank developed a real personal vendetta against Tom Kiefaber - a grudge that has apparently persisted to this day.

This personal grudge has manifested in Frank's lies to the press about Tom Kiefaber, mischaracterizing by exaggeration the city's investment in The Senator. Frank's lies were reported by local media as fact, which has resulted in widespread popular confusion about the situation with The Senator, and has also resulted in a violent hatred being directed against Tom Kiefaber by some members of the public who have been mislead into believing that Tom has wasted public funds.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The city's investment in The Senator, prior to acquiring it at auction last summer, has been minimal. Meanwhile, Tom, his family, and their associates, have personally invested over a million dollars of their own money into The Senator and the Belvedere Square commercial district - money that has saved The Senator up to this point, and which kept the Belvedere Square area limping along while the city neglected it for a dozen years, but that is money they will never get back. Tom is a hero who has saved an important landmark theatre for all the citizens of Baltimore, but you'd never know it from Frank's distortions to the press.

Frank has been a major contributor to the smear campaign against Kiefaber, which has resulted in the public's topsy-turvy, through the looking glass perception of the situation. It's one major reason everything much of the public believes about The Senator and Kiefaber is exactly the opposite of the truth.

As someone who has come to know Mr. Kiefaber, it's astonishing, for example, how the people who know him mostly think he's a great guy, but the people who don't really know him tend to give him dirty looks in public. OK, "great guy" is vague. What I mean by that is not just that Tom is a nice guy or a real mensch, which he is, but also one of the most brilliant minds I've met in a very long time --- extremely knowledgeable about the film industry and historic theatres, sharp, quick, conversant on a wide range of subjects, and irreverently funny too.

The fact that Tom has kept The Senator going as a first-run single-screen for-profit theatre for the past 20 years and made it nationally famous with his incredible marketing skills, when it is acknowledged as a nearly impossible task by anyone who knows anything about film exhibition, should tell you something right there. And he did this while having to fight city hall every step of the way. Ever see someone who makes something that defies the laws of physics look easy? Like the gymnasts in the Olympics who make exacting and strenuous physical exertion look like a beautiful dance? That's Tom, folks, and that's why everyone around here thinks another operator is going to be able to come in and operate The Senator as a first-run single-screen for-profit theatre and do it better than Tom. Yeah. Good luck with that. It's like me trying to win a gold medal doing a gymnastic floor routine at the Summer Olypics. Seriously.

Although, I will qualify that by saying that city hall is going to help the next guy instead of fighting him, if that RFP wins, and, subsidize him to a degree that Tom never got, so the feat won't be quite as death-defying, not for a while at least.

When I first met Tom, it was very quickly apparent to me that he was not the same guy the press talks about in a negative light. Tom's relentless hard work and high level of competence, which have been rewarded by many awards and much positive national press over the years, also directly contradict what the local public has been led to believe by people like Andy Frank.

All of this defamation of Tom had a purpose, of course. Over the course of time, it turned the public against Tom, which last summer culminated in the city's hostile takeover of The Senator, right under the nose of a public that claims to care about the theatre.

Because Tom has been unjustly sidelined by all this bad press based on the lies of Frank and a few others, his considerable expertise in the realm of historic theatres and film exhibition has also been largely ignored in the RFP process that will determine The Senator's future. This disregard for someone with so much useful information could prove to be a costly mistake that will negatively affect both the future of The Senator and the entire Belvedere Square commercial district.

Yes, I believe all of us who love The Senator have good reason to be happy that Andy Frank has resigned. It's important now that Frank, with his poor judgement tainted by his personal grudge against Kiefaber, not be allowed to make any further decisions that affect the future of The Senator Theatre.

NOTE: I wrote this the other day with emotion, as a first reaction. It's all true as far as I'm aware, but it could be made more specific and expanded upon. I could talk about the grant for fixing the air conditioning the city gave The Senator over ten years ago, that Mr. Frank repeatedly mischaracterized to the press as a loan that Tom didn't pay back. I could talk about the city's loan guarantee, which was only ever a phantom number on paper, not actual money, but it allowed them to get their hooks into The Senator. Mr. Frank kept talking about that as if it were actual money Tom received into his bank account.

If you wonder why Tom never said much about this, it's simple, really. When the bad guys are figuratively holding your family hostage, you tend to do what they say. What would you do if someone was threatening to turn your family out on the street?

The truth is, Tom never got anything from Baltimore City that he hasn't repaid many times over in taxes and economic vitality for this area generated by his hard work. And now he is losing everything. Everything. Without going into the horror of what that means, this is something nobody should ever have to watch a friend endure. People who know Tom often remark that it's a wonder he can still stand up, with all that he's gone through. And that's why I wrote this piece.

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