Renewing Baltimore New City Council members talk hopes, priorities


Baltimore City Councilmen Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (left) and Zeke Cohen (Justin Silberman)

When Zeke Cohen and Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer decided to run for the 1st and 5th District seats on the Baltimore City Council this past election, they saw it as a calling.

Never mind that, if successful, it would be the first time two Jewish councilmembers served simultaneously since 1987.

Cohen and Schleifer felt the majority of people in their districts were looking to them for steady guidance and leadership.

Now, at 27 and 31, respectively, Schleifer and Cohen are the two youngest members of the new council, which was officially sworn in along with Mayor Catherine Pugh on Dec. 8.

Whatever political experience they lack, Schleifer and Cohen say they make up for it with what they feel is a full-fledged commitment to understanding the identity of Baltimore at its core.

“Ultimately, we want to sell Baltimore  as a city that is safe, has a world-class school system, world-class public transit and where people want to live,” Cohen said. “That means we need to have an eye toward the future.”

With eight Democratic freshmen councilmembers, including Cohen and Schleifer, and a new mayor in Pugh, the city government has undergone a massive makeover, replacing more than 125 years of experience.

At a time when Baltimore continues to combat an enduring number of social, economic and political issues, Cohen and Schleifer feel they can help provide the hope and change Baltimore residents crave.

And the issues are big, with the councilmen highlighting enduring poverty, high unemployment numbers, low public high school graduation rates, high crime levels and accusations of police misconduct. Joining Cohen and Schleifer in this fight are freshman councilmembers Ryan Dorsey in the 3rd District, Leon Pinkett III in the 7th District, Kristerfer Burnett in the 8th District, John Bullock in the 9th District, Robert Stokes Jr. in the 12th District and Shannon Sneed in the 13th District.

“I like to think we all complement each other by dealing with these broad-range issues in the city that affect everyone,” Schleifer said. “As a side note, [Cohen]  and I just happen to be Jewish and understand the concerns and needs of the community as a whole.”

Together, with City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young leading the charge, Cohen and Schleifer believe brokering deals with leaders and organizations from the public and private sectors is the best way to proceed.

While the job of a councilmember is regarded as part time, Cohen and Schleifer are treating their positions as full time. The pair, whose offices are next to one another on the fifth floor of City Hall, have  hit the ground running during their first month in office.

Their early commitment to putting constituent service at the forefront is something that has already resonated with many veteran councilmembers, creating an energetic atmosphere inside City Hall.

“It’s a joy to walk into the Hall,” said 14th District Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who became the longest-serving member of the council after the retirement of former 5th District Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector. “There’s all this work going on, positive energy and great optimism for change. I just love the environment with this council; it makes my heart happy.”

In a prepared statement, Pugh, Baltimore’s 50th mayor, told the JT she has “been very impressed by the experiences, ideas and energy both Cohen and Schleifer bring to the council.” She is also “looking forward to partnering with them and working together to move Baltimore forward.”

Schleifer’s Top Issues

Before considering major legislation, Schleifer says he wants to address everyday problems.

Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifercredit to FeeBee Photography

(FeeBee Photography)

A lifelong resident of the 5th District, which includes both traditionally African-American and Jewish neighborhoods such as Cheswolde and Glen in Northwest Baltimore, Schleifer is focused on affordable housing and taxes, bringing the city up to date technologically, improving the lives of seniors and improving public safety, which is his No. 1 priority.

“For as long as I can remember, public safety, preserving and protecting the basic safeties of residents, has been something I take very seriously,” Schleifer said.

The 72nd City Council was sworn into office more than 20 months after the death of Freddie Gray from injuries sustained while in police custody, which set off unrest in various parts of the city.

On a per-capita basis, 2015 was the deadliest ever in the city. That year’s 344 homicides was second only to the record of 353 in 1993, when Baltimore had about 100,000 more residents.

While the number of homicides dropped to 318 last year, Schleifer wants to ramp up his public safety efforts. He said he was pleased that Police Commissioner Kevin Davis reinstituted officers to patrol smaller areas in the Northwest last year rather than allowing them to roam larger areas.

Schleifer, a member of the council’s Public Safety Committee, wants to see more initiatives like that throughout the city. He said rebuilding trust between the police and those they serve are pivotal to community relations and can be accomplished through more community walks with officers.

“This is an issue I have been very passionate about for a while,” Schleifer said. “We have first responders who will get to you in two minutes, so I say to everyone, if you’re going to have a heart attack, do it in the 5th District.”

Nathan Willner, president of the Cheswolde Neighborhood Association, has seen firsthand the emphasis Schleifer, former vice president of the association, has placed on making the streets of Baltimore a safer place for all.

“No one has a better pulse on what is going on at all times in the community than Yitzy does,” Willner said. “Not only does he represent the Jewish community, but he has continued to bridge the gap and embrace the diversity we have in our African-American and Muslim communities.”

In addition to his emphasis on public safety, Schleifer is determined to once again fill the city’s vacant homes and neighborhoods.

As the newly appointed vice chairman of the Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, he will work hand in hand with committee chairman John Bullock to take on that task.

Although Bullock and Schleifer have yet to formally come up with an agenda, Bullock said they plan to push for legislation to create more affordable housing.

“I have known Yitzy for a while, and we both seem to be coming at this committee assignment from a very similar place,” Bullock said. “Working together, I am looking forward to it, because we will come at the issues that persist with our housing [and do] what’s right for the city.”

In an interview with the JT, City Council President Young said he has laid out plans with leaders from the nonprofit and private sectors to improve the quality of life for Baltimoreans, starting with housing.

For instance, Young said, he is working on a deal with Details Deconstruction, a nonprofit that puts people to work deconstructing vacant houses. If completed, the partnership would create six to eight times more jobs than a demolition project, Young said.

Schleifer is also bullish on pushing to make expenses such as water and housing bills more affordable for seniors, given the growth of that population in the Northwest specifically.

In the 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Survey, the last comprehensive study of the community, there were an estimated 3,900 Jewish seniors in Baltimore older than age 85, an increase of 166 percent from 1999.

Because many people are living longer lives, Schleifer, a former Edward A. Myerberg Center board member, said it’s imperative to find the right solutions for those people sooner rather than later.

“I am very passionate about the aging population, because it makes up a very large portion of the constituent base,” Schleifer said. “I’ve always wanted to help people age in place and have made sure we’ve had enough senior housing for our aging population. I am pushing hard for something like this because that can be an immediate fix.”

Cohen’s Focus on the Youth

A Canton resident, Cohen is steadfast in his desire to focus on public transportation, improve the Baltimore City Public School system, increase wages for workers and create jobs for youth.

As chairman of the Youth and Education committee, he said one of the first things he plans to push is locally owned businesses hiring from within the area.

photo by Justin Silberman

(Justin Silberman)

Cohen, executive director of The Intersection, a nonprofit that has helped more than 30 high school students earn college scholarships, understands that training students for such skills starts in the classroom.

“There is value to be had in hiring locally, and we know the benefit of hiring a workforce that is local, approximate and already knows the area,” said Cohen, whose district stretches from Harbor East to the city-county line in Dundalk and includes Southeast Baltimore. “What that requires is that our school system and government step up and deliver a better quality education and that our business sector steps up and makes that investment in our youth.”

Clarke was originally selected by Young to serve as chairwoman of the Youth and Education Committee but deferred to Cohen “because he has a passion for working with and helping young people.”

Young said he hopes Cohen works closely with Pugh to assume greater local control of the city school system, which has received increasing state oversight — and funding — since 1997.

“Because Zeke is the chair of the Youth and Education Committee, I want to see him hold the school system to the fire on budget issues,” Young said. “It’s imperative our children perform at a high level, and I want our schools to be held to the highest standards possible.”

Patterson Park resident Robbyn Lewis, who met Cohen when he started his council campaign two years ago, said Cohen’s background in racial, educational and socioeconomic issues make him an ideal person to do just that.

“The first thing I noticed about Zeke when we met was his sincerity, kindness and thoughtfulness,” Lewis said. “He’s a person you want to know, and he is a mensch in every sense of the word. Zeke lives what he preaches.”

Chuck Conner, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party and a resident of Patterson Park in Cohen’s district, said he is confident Cohen will make good on his promise to fight for youth, among other things.

“What we are all looking for Zeke to bring is the same type of zeal, enthusiasm and tenacious advocacy that he brought to his campaign and nonprofit work in the city,” Conner said. “When people think about Zeke, they think about how hard he fights for the things he’s very passionate about and [how he listens to] their concerns and what changes they want to see.”

The City Balloons and Deflates

No matter how Cohen and Schleifer plan to carry out their initiatives, the effects will certainly have a great impact on the city’s growing Jewish population.

The number of Jewish households in the city, particularly in the Orthodox community, have increased in recent years.

In the 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Survey, more than three in 10 Jews identified as Orthodox, a percentage that more than doubles what Pew Research Center found at the national level. Additionally, the Greater Baltimore Jewish Community survey found that the number of Jews living in Baltimore County between 1999 and 2010 declined by 5,900 but increased by 7,800 in the city.

That’s a stark contrast to the trend of the city, where the population has experienced a steady decline. Baltimore was the nation’s sixth-largest city in 1950, home to about 950,000 people. During the succeeding six decades, though, it has lost nearly a third of the population and leveled off at a little more than 600,000 residents this past year.

Inner Harbor Baltimore Maryland at night

Inner Harbor Baltimore Maryland at night

Given the increase of  Jewish Orthodox families in his district, specifically the Park Heights corridor, Schleifer — the first Orthodox Jew on the council in decades — is regarded as the face of that community.

“He’s really trying to unite the diverse community members in the district to work together to make the district as good as it can be,” Willner said.

In the 1st District, there has also been rapid growth.

Whereas Schleifer’s district has seen an increase of many Jewish families, Cohen’s district is seen as a hub where many young working professionals settle.

Nate Pretl, 33, who lives on Patterson Park Avenue at Fleet Street on the border of Canton and Fells Point, said he feels Cohen is focused foremost on the needs of the city.

“Even though the 1st District is one of the wealthiest in the city, if not the wealthiest, Zeke doesn’t think about just the needs of his district specifically, but every district,” Pretl said. “Things that are going to help his constituents are really things that are going to help everyone in the city.”

Moving Forward

On some controversial issues, such as $15-per-hour minimum wage proposal, Cohen has pledged to take a more progressive approach than his predecessor, Jim Kraft, who voted against the bill in August.

Clarke, the bill’s lead sponsor, said she plans to introduce this month a proposal to gradually raise the minimum wage in Baltimore to $15 by January 2022. After that point, it would continue to rise with the cost of living. Her legislation would also call for increased pay for tipped workers, who currently earn $3.63 per hour.

Cohen said he backs the measure — with an exemption for small businesses with fewer than 25 employees and those with less than $500,000 in gross annual income — asserting that it would help increase the wages of the working poor.

This past August, Clarke’s legislation, first introduced last April, failed to generate enough votes needed for passage from the council, which instead voted 8-6 with one abstention to return the bill to committee.

“We need to have a robust conversation about wages and labor and what is appropriate,” Cohen said. “People from labor, residents, City Hall and businesses all need a seat at the table. We need to do this in a way that doesn’t harm small local businesses and doesn’t make Baltimore uncompetitive with local jurisdictions.”

Schleifer, on the other hand, said he would not comment on any pending legislation until it is brought up for a vote.

For his part, Schleifer said he would like to see term limits for councilmembers, a measure that was supported by several members of the previous council before ultimately falling short at a hearing.

Schleifer said he would be in favor of limits of either three or four four-year terms.

By enacting term limits, Schleifer feels it would breed new generations of political leaders who otherwise may not be as engaged in the political process.

“I want to live every day like it’s our last day in office,” Schleifer said. “That’s why I want to encourage our youth to take our positions one day, and I want to encourage them to be engaged and be part of the political process. I want to show them that if they are as involved in the community as I am, they can be the leaders of their generation.”

Just Like That, Steve’s Deli Closes Its Doors


A view from outside of Steve’s Deli on Jan. 3. (Justin Silberman)

The Greater Baltimore Jewish community lost a mainstay last week with the abrupt closing of Steve’s Deli, leaving Owings Mills with just one Jewish deli.

Steve’s Deli officially locked its doors and covered two of them with brown paper on Dec. 27, according to several neighboring business owners and their employees.

Workers received a text message from Steve Saval, the store’s owner, at 2 a.m. the day of the closing informing them of his decision and telling them to seek employment elsewhere, neighbors said.

A publicly listed phone number for Saval, an Owings Mills resident, was disconnected. The Steve’s Deli Facebook page, which had 149 likes, was also taken down.

According to an employee of one of the neighboring businesses who asked to remain anonymous, two of Steve’s employees allege that Saval took most of the equipment from the store, leaving the building’s owner “high and dry.”

The source added that a maintenance worker at the building said there was food left on the counter and in a refrigerator and freezer. All the food was thrown into a parking lot dumpster on Tuesday.

Steve’s was a welcome addition to the area when it opened at the corner of Owings Mills Boulevard and Crondall Lane in 2006. In addition to serving omelets, corned beef and rainbow cookies and matzoh ball soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Steve’s also offered catering services.

According to the source and Steve’s former employees, Saval, who has family ties to the Saval Foods Corporation, will continue to cater events “using someone else’s kitchen.”

Steve’s becomes the third deli to vacate Crondall Corner Shops since its 1998 opening, following Miller’s Deli and Ellie’s Deli. Its departure makes Lenny’s Deli in the Valley Village Shopping Center on Reisterstown Road the lone Jewish deli in Owings Mills.

Sinai Hospice Unit Dedicates Kosher Kitchen


From left: Dr. Gary Applebaum, Laure Gutman’s sister Diane Liff, Ariella Gardyn and Gutman’s parents Audrey Ionta and Murray Daitchman (Provided)

On Dec. 20, the hospice unit at Sinai Hospital dedicated its new kosher kitchen to the late Laure Gutman, a local nurse, longtime volunteer and passionate advocate for end-of-life care.

Sinai only opened its inpatient hospice unit a little more than one year ago, and it is managed by Seasons Hospice and Palliative Care, a large hospice company owned by a Jewish family in Chicago. The unit at Sinai has 12 patient rooms, and Dr. Gary

Applebaum, nat-ional medical director of Seasons, said that, like the
hospital, 10 to 15 percent of their patients at any given time are Jewish.

“The key of the hospice unit is for it to be supportive and comfortable for patients, as well as family,” he said.

With that in mind, the Sinai hospice has had plans for a kosher kitchen from the beginning (the space already has a regular kitchen area), but it only came to fruition recently. As they were beginning the process, Applebaum said, he was introduced to Gutman, and she was integral in its construction.

The dedication was a way to honor her legacy, of course, but it was also seen as a way to combat the stereotype among some religious communities, including sometimes in the Orthodox community, of hospice care as “giving up,” said Applebaum.

Gutman was never one to toot her own horn, says her daughter, Ariella Gardyn, but “this was the one thing she never argued against.”

Along with Gardyn and Applebaum, the dedication included Gutman’s sister — who came from Israel and created a painting to hang in the kitchen — Rabbis Yissocher Frand, E.B. “Bunny” Freedman and Daniel Rose and other LifeBridge Health officials.

After a few people spoke, blessings were recited over two mezuzahs, which were hung on the doors of the area, and a plaque was unveiled. It read, “Kosher Kitchen: Dedicated in loving memory of Laure Gutman, a Seasons Hospice volunteer. She graced us all with her selfless devotion to her family and our entire community, using her strength and faith to make the world a more beautiful place.”

“It just feels good on my end that we did it for her, to honor her,” Gardyn said. “It was the last project she didn’t finish.”

The kitchen will be available to patients and families in the hospice unit and some food will be provided by Bikur Cholim of Baltimore, a volunteer organization that helps Jewish families facing medical challenges. Gutman was also an active member of that group, which also provides food for the kosher pantry at Sinai.

For Gutman, her Jewish faith was tied up in her desire to help people.

“She had amazing, amazing faith and amazing trust and belief,” Gardyn said. “I was lucky to be able to grow up with her.”

Mitzvahs Abound in Baltimore

Hundreds of volunteers took part in Jewish Volunteer Connection’s Mitzvah Day on Dec. 25, with some activities the previous evening.

With volunteer activities at both the Park Heights and Owings Mills JCCs, participants helped assemble 2,000 winter care packages that other volunteers delivered to various service sites throughout the Baltimore area.

There were opportunities to volunteer with seniors at various assisted living facilities, serving breakfast, having multigenerational play dates and playing games, among other holiday activities. Other volunteers served meals to the homeless and hungry, and others worked with Jewish Community Services’ special connections program, taking part in activities with adults with special needs.

At the Park Heights JCC, participants wrote letters to soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces. Volunteers at the Jewish Museum of Maryland made soup kits to donate to Living Classrooms. Others at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation made casseroles and holiday treats for Paul’s Place, and Beth Am Synagogue volunteers baked food and assembled gift packages for families in the Reservoir Hill neighborhood.

Photos by David Stuck

Mitzvahs Abound in Baltimore

You Should Know… Eric Kessler


Photo by Daniel Nozick

Eric Kessler, who turned 36 on Dec. 26, began creating art four years ago.

That may come as a surprise to many who now seek out the Owings Mills and Pikesville native for custom paintings. A former addict, he was in the midst of a depression and needed something to break from it, so he decided to pick up paints and a canvas from Michael’s and give it a try.

“I’ve never had any formal training,” he said. “I never went to school for art or had a teacher, so I just started putting paint on the canvas, and it came out pretty good. You could see that I didn’t really know what I was doing, I didn’t even know the difference between gloss paint and flat paint, so I was wondering why some parts of the painting were shiny and some parts were not.”

Since then, Kessler has had time to hone his craft. At first, he thought he would be an abstract artist, but he has since found that impressionism is more his niche.

His first commissioned work came when he was hired to do two paintings by a friend — one of Sheldon Cooper from “The Big Bang Theory” and one of the famous photo of Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue. Both were well received, and he has since been getting regular requests from people to do custom paintings.

Is painting something that has always appealed to you?

I have always liked art. Some of my influences are Leroy Neiman and Monet. In fifth grade I wrote a poem about Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist.” My grandmother would take me from museum to museum trying to find the painting — knowing it was in the Louvre, knowing that we would never find it — just as a way to take me around to every museum possible. It was just something we did together. She has been a big inspiration of mine.

By the time I was 30, I had probably lost about 30 friends [because of my addiction] to drugs and alcohol. Painting was never something I would do under the influence. A lot of times in early recovery, you don’t know what to do with yourself, you’re scattered all over the place. So for me, it was a way to focus my attention on something positive rather than on the negatives. It helped me quite a bit in getting through that. It is a very creative, positive outlet.

What have you been working on recently?

One day, I decided to try a big Ray Lewis. About three days after I had finished it, I got maybe six or seven offers. I have a Terrell Suggs painting that I recently finished too. I have been asked to paint some family members and pets of coworkers also. I don’t go around telling people that I paint; sometimes it comes up in conversation and sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t market for myself though.

What is your life like outside of art?

I have been in the mortgage business for over 15 years. Right now, I am working strictly with reverse mortgages [as a specialist with Reverse Mortgage Corporation in Reisterstown], which means I only deal with homeowners over 62 years old who [may be] in financial trouble and don’t have money to pay their bills or mortgage payments. I have a grandmother in Florida, two great aunts that I’m very close with, and being that I am from a Jewish family — they say be a mensch — I’ve learned to respect the older generation. I feel really good about what I do. I smile at work every day when people call me saying, “You gave me money for medical bills that I never would have been able to pay” or, “You saved our lives.” It feels really good.

Slowly but Surely, Ellicott City Picks Itself Up

Many buildings in Ellicott City are still in disrepair.

Many buildings in Ellicott City are still in disrepair. (Daniel Nozick)

The flood that ripped through historic Ellicott City on the evening of July 30 has been touted as a millennial occurrence. The 6½ inches of rain that drowned Ellicott City’s Main Street wreaked havoc upon many local businesses, and not surprisingly, the community is still recovering.

Today, local business owners are slowly getting back on their feet, and stores and shops are reopening. However, there is a new dichotomy in the city: Businesses on higher ground are flourishing while many of those only a block or two down the street are still boarded up awaiting significant repairs.

“It was a total disaster; water can do incredible damage,” said Sally Tennant, owner of Discoveries, a small shop that promotes both locally and nationally known craft artisans.

According to Tennant, the water level was 17 feet high in her store, having flooded the whole basement and nearly 5½ feet of the main level. Discoveries was closed for four months to clear out mud and what remained of her inventory.

“It was nasty. The first few months of cleanup were totally grueling, and there is still more to be done,” she said. “There was broken glass everywhere. I expect construction to be done soon, but we will still be cleaning up for the next year. There is no end in sight, but I did obtain one goal: to get the doors open and get enough ready for retail. So I’m OK with that.”

Arthur Sorak, a member of Columbia Jewish Congregation, was eating dinner at La Palapa when the flood hit. His car was swamped, and another vehicle was pushed into it by the rapidly rising water.

“The times we’ve been down there since, it looks pretty good other than vacant stores, but a few have reopened to much fanfare,” he said. “Things are slowly returning; it’s a popular place, I think eventually the businesses will go back in.”

David Lenz, an independent contractor who lives in the area, cleared his schedule to help Tennant.

“It could take some time to get back to normal,” he said. “There are many shops that, for one reason or another, haven’t started back up. Once the restaurants and eateries and coffee shops are back, there will be a lot more people here.”

Lenz said that it can be difficult to reopen because there are safety and health requirements that have to be met, particularly in restaurants. Additionally, shop owners in historic buildings have to work with the Howard County Historic Preservation Commission to get their repairs and renovations approved.

Erica Zoren, a Baltimore architect who grew up near Ellicott City, serves as a board member of the commission. She explained that to preserve the historic integrity of the buildings, repairs and renovations must meet the commission’s standards for anything “as extensive as roof and siding replacements or just to replace a door.” However, she is optimistic about how quickly everything can be up and running, in spite of extensive damage in many of the buildings.

“We’ve seen most of the owners come into the commission to get their efforts approved, and the county has been instrumental in helping them with the process,” she said. “We were able to get a lot of the historically preserved buildings through the process. The county has been turning around these applications, which normally take a month, in less than a week.”

Len Berkowitz shows off a stained glass panel that he is restoring in his temporary workshop provided by Dr. Bruce Taylor.

Len Berkowitz shows off a stained glass panel that he is restoring in his temporary workshop provided by Dr. Bruce Taylor. (Daniel Nozick)

“All in all, the county has done a great job with their support and their communication with the businesses, “said Len Berkowitz, owner of glass studio Great Panes. “[They haven’t] solved all of the problems, but they’re trying to keep in touch.”

Community members have been stepping up support as well.

Dr. Bruce T. Taylor, a local psychiatrist whose family manor now houses Sheppard Pratt at Ellicott City, offered an unoccupied building to a few local business while their primary locations were being reconstructed. The Ellicott City Partnership, Sweet Elizabeth Jane and Great Panes were among those he accommodated.

“It is a former group home and residential building,” said Taylor. “It was just sitting around waiting for use. I own a variety of properties on Main Street, and I am aware of the tremendous stress that the flood caused. I was happy to contribute. It is wonderful to see the outpouring of support from the city to help rebuild the town.”

There have been many local efforts to draw people back to Ellicott City. Many of the shops stayed open late for Midnight Madness on the first Friday in December, and Small Business Saturday on Nov. 26 had a nice turnout.

“The community has rallied behind the merchants and businesses, and there has been a lot of support,” said Zoren. “We are really encouraging people to get out there to bring life back into the community. The more that people support these businesses, the better it will be for the city.”

Ellicott City is recovering, but residents still live with the threat of another flood. The Patapsco River, which runs through Ellicott City, did not flood; rather, it was a failure of Ellicott City’s storm runoff system that caused the raging waters. But to install the infrastructure necessary to prevent the problem entirely would be costly and would require the closure of Main Street for a least a year, which many locals would not support.

“The area is tightknit, everybody looks out for everybody else,” said Mike Johnson, owner of The Judge’s Bench. “The only downside to [living in Ellicott City] is that it is flood prone, and it will always be flood prone. You live practically in a ravine. The only way to fix it for good would require closing down the whole town for a year, which doesn’t work for businesses like us. So you live with it.

Of the 40 or so businesses ravaged by the flood, a number of them — such as restaurants Coco Lane and the Rumor Mill — will not reopen according to Johnson. Additionally, a number of businesses are in the process of relocating to larger buildings.

“For the most part, everything is going well,” said Dwayne Bouvere, general manager at the  . “There has been a lot of support with people coming in just to make sure that we’re OK and that business is up to par. We have seen an increase in business, and I think a lot of people want to come into town just to eat and support local businesses. We just need to continue to grow and to build on the success that we have had.”

Chanukah Parade Lights Up Park Heights


Rabbi Chesky Tenebaum (Provided)

Hundreds of people came out of their homes in Northwest Baltimore to wave and dance on the evening of Dec. 26 as the annual Chanukah parade drove by. For the first time, the parade took place throughout the Park Heights area, starting and ending at Cheder Chabad rather than making its way to downtown’s McKeldin Square as it had in years past.

With a caravan of 55 vehicles boasting mounted menorahs and flashing lights, this year’s parade was a true tribute to the Festival of Lights. An assortment of cars, trucks and ambulances along with a fire truck tailed behind the six-motorcycle police cavalcade and a trailer toting a 6-foot-tall menorah.

“This year, we decided to start and end the parade at Cheder Chabad due to the Chanukah Festival taking place on the 25th, when a lot of people were away,” said Rabbi Chesky Tenenbaum, director of development at Cheder Chabad of Baltimore and director of the Jewish Uniformed Service Association of Maryland. “The past six years, it has been going downtown. We’ll have to see about options for next year.”

Tenenbaum actually had the privilege of participating in one of the first Chanukah car parades in Brooklyn more than 30 years ago.

“Chanukah is also known as the Festival of Lights,” he said, “and what better way to spread light and celebrate Chanukah than with a parade of menorahs?”

Following the procession, many community members, including state Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D-District 41) and Rabbi Elchonon Lisbon, gathered at Cheder Chabad to light their menorah in lieu of the traditional downtown lighting.

Baltimore Man Charged with Child Sexual Abuse

A 35-year-old Baltimore man has been charged with child sexual abuse and multiple counts of rape and sex offenses, according to Baltimore City Police.

Joseph Goldman of the 3500 block of Taney Road was arrested at his home on Dec. 19 and was transported to Central Booking, where he was charged with first- and second-degree rape, second-, third- and fourth-degree sex offenses and first- and second-degree assault. He was also booked on perverted practice, among other related charges.

Police said they seized suspected marijuana, two handguns, one shotgun with an altered barrel, one rifle and a homemade silencer from Goldman’s home.

The investigation into the guns will continue, police said.

An Uncertain Future As new developments take off in Owings Mills, mall site remains a question mark

The site of the Owings Mills Mall (David Stuck)

Wrecking balls and bulldozers have ripped through the walls, roof and foundation that housed Owings Mills Mall, leaving the once-premier upscale Baltimore shopping center a shadow of its former self.

A pile of mostly dust and rubble now, the mall appears to be the last piece of the equation for what is likely to become, once again, an Owings Mills town center.

Elsewhere in Owings Mills, both Foundry Row and Metro Centre already have become hubs for local commerce, making the need for the mall site to follow suit even more pressing.

“It is extremely important that we get the mall right and that it is complementary of what’s been going on so far,” said Baltimore County Councilman Julian Jones, whose 4th District includes the mall. “What I call it is the Triple Crown of Owings Mills — and that third crown, the mall — needs to be complementary of those two developments [Foundry Row and Metro Centre]. We want the mall, or town center, to be something everyone is happy and proud of.”

The state of the Owings Mills Mall property has long been a topic of much debate and speculation among developers, politicians and residents. In addition, there is growing angst about the future of the vacant site and the lack of urgency on the part of site owner Kimco Realty Corp.

Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, met with four Kimco representatives on Dec. 21 to review Kimco’s redevelopment plans. At this point, Jones said, its primary focus and goal for the mall site is “a power center, a group of big-box stores.”

Jones, who said Kimco is in the process of putting together a tenant mix, expects to learn more in the next few months about the New York-based company’s plans for the mall.


Demolition at the Owings Mills Mall began this past summer. (David Stuck)

“It’s my goal to help [Kimco] be successful, because I want them to be successful,” said Jones, who added he has conducted 10 to 12 meetings with Kimco officials. “I wish things would have moved faster, but we don’t have all the cards. It’s up to the retailers if they want to come here, which is the other part of this equation.”

Talk of redeveloping the mall began publicly in 2011, when Kimco purchased half of the property from then-owner General Growth Properties. Kimco, which took sole ownership of the mall site earlier this year, was recently given preliminary approval from the Baltimore County Council for an open-air center.

But Kimco has offered few specifics regarding its intentions for the land.

In a prepared statement, the company told the JT it is “considering several different retail options … which will enhance the available shopping options and complement the surrounding community.

“A large-scale redevelopment has many moving pieces and takes an extended period of time to successfully execute,” the statement said. “We are encouraged by the considerable interest we’ve received from potential retailers at this early stage.”

Time Will Tell

Stakeholders are worried that if the mall site fails, Owings Mills will never reach its ceiling, and all of the work that has been done around the area will be diminished.

Brian Gibbons, whose Owings Mills-based Greenberg Gibbons has redeveloped Foundry Row from the former Solo Cup Factory, said he is very excited about Owings Mills.

Earlier this year, his company showed its commitment to the community with two high-profile acquisitions, purchasing the 19-acre Reisterstown Shopping Center for $34.5 million and the 104,624-square-foot St. Thomas Shopping Center for an undisclosed amount.

“Right now, there seems to be a little bit more traffic in both Reisterstown and Owings Mills, which really helps everybody,” Gibbons said. “Both of those areas, in my opinion, are going to continue to perform at a high level.”

According to the United States Census Bureau, Owings Mills, designated as a growth area by the county in the 1980s, has hit its stride in recent years. Median household income last year was $69,891 with a population of 30,622 residents.

Continued population growth and wealth are two reasons Jones feels Kimco remains committed to moving forward with its plans for the Owings Mills Mall.

In May 2015, Kimco unveiled four renderings of what could potentially replace the Owings Mills Mall. All involved two rows of retail shops with sufficient parking and plenty of green space. The site plans showed the largest retail space would be 68,000 square feet with other retail and restaurants ranging in size from 6,300 square feet to 65,500 square feet.

After his most recent meeting with Kimco, Jones said — when looking at other retailers in the area — he “would imagine Kimco is talking with retailers such as Lowes, Target and Costco.” He also confirmed Kimco officials have had discussions with Walmart about adding one of its supercenters as an anchor, but there has yet to be an agreement.

One way or another, Jones said, he is confident some type of development will start to take place at the mall site within two years after Kimco finalizes its plan with prospective tenants. He added that 2017 will be a “big year in terms of expecting something to happen.

“From what Kimco has told me, their desire would be to do the retail first and then come back later for other things,” Jones said. “The retail Kimco is talking about doesn’t even come to close what was there before in terms of the mall. That size is gone.”

As part of the redevelopment, Jones said Kimco has also vowed to spend $8 million on renovations for the AMC Owings Mills 17 movie theater, which opened to great fanfare in 1998.

Jones’ colleagues hope Kimco stays true to its word and brings further quality development to Owings Mills.

In a prepared statement, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz told the JT he was pleased that the owner of the once-vibrant shopping- destination-turned-eyesore has taken some of his suggestions into account.

“We are encouraged that [Kimco is] finally actively marketing the property, something I have strongly encouraged in many meetings with Kimco senior management,” Kamenetz said. “I have consistently urged Kimco to aim high, as they secure tenants looking to make the most of the strong Owings Mills market.”

Jones, meanwhile, held a pair of community meetings in late August to take input from community members on what they would like to see fill the vacant property. He said many residents stressed that they did not want to see a Walmart Supercenter as an anchor tenant and that Kimco should aim to lure “higher quality” tenants.

Baltimore County District 2 Councilwoman Vicki Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat whose district shares a border with Jones’ district, expressed concern that Kimco might not have the community’s best interest at heart.

If a Walmart Supercenter opened at the mall, Almond said, two nearby Walmart stores — one at 8730 Liberty Road in Randallstown and the other at 9750 Reisterstown Road in Owings Mills — would likely suffer or close altogether.

As a result, her fear is that both the current Walmart locations would then become vacant spaces, much like the Shoppers on Reisterstown Road in Owings Mills that closed in Jones’ district nearly six years ago.

“I have a problem trusting Kimco,” Almond said, “because their intent is on the bottom line. That may be good enough for them, but it is not good enough for us. Because Kimco doesn’t live in the area, they don’t understand that what goes on at the mall will affect all of us.”

Different Ideas

Residents have also shared similar sentiments, noting the importance of the mall site establishing a unique identity to avoid the shortcomings of why the mall failed in the first place.

Mike Frank, a lifelong 30-year-old Reisterstown resident, believes big-box stores or a mixed-use center in general are not the solutions Kimco should be proposing. Instead, he would like to see the land used for recreational purposes.

“Bringing a Kohl’s, for example, instead of Walmart is equally as disruptive,” Frank said. “It sounds great conceptually to build these big-box stores and apartment complexes, but how will they impact the community? It might not be as great of a financial opportunity to build recreational use, but we are littered with those other options all up and down the Reisterstown Road corridor.”

Rayna Verstandig, a 19-year-old Pikesville native whose father, Carl, specializes in the redevelopment of shopping centers around the country as CEO of Pikesville-based America’s Realty, has other ideas. She said she fully backs a concept at the mall centered on big-box stores such as Costco, Lowes and Walmart because she feels they would better serve the local population.

“The area surrounding the mall is saturated with retail stores,” Verstandig said. “So it’s important to stray away from re-establishing stores such as Macy’s or Boscov’s, which have previously failed to generate substantial revenue.”

On Nov. 21, Jones introduced a bill that would have prohibited a retail department or discount store such as a Walmart Supercenter in excess of more than 100,000 square feet in Owings Mills.

Just eight days later, however, Jones pulled the bill hours before it would have been discussed at a council meeting and then ultimately sent to the floor for a vote.

“To be reasonable with [Kimco], we pulled the legislation,” Jones said. “It doesn’t mean I can’t put in legislation anytime I want, so it was never an issue of now or never. We have plenty of time to do whatever we think is necessary.”

Jones added: “At the time, I thought it was necessary, but there were some internal agreements that were made, which is why the bill was pulled.” He said he could not elaborate on those “internal agreements” because “Kimco is under a confidentiality agreement,” and he “has to be respectful of that.”

Almond, County Council chairwoman, said she thinks the bill would have generated enough support from the seven-member council to pass.

“I have a problem trusting Kimco,” Almond said, “because their intent is on the bottom line. That may be good enough for them, but it is not good enough for us. Because Kimco doesn’t live in the area, they don’t understand that what goes on at the mall will affect all of us.”  — Baltimore County Council chair Vicki Almond

A spokeswoman for Kamenetz said the county executive declined to comment on whether or not he would sign such a bill since he does not speculate on pending legislation.

Elsewhere, Development Flourishes

Foundry Row

Foundry Row (David Stuck)

About a mile-and-a-half away from the mall, Foundry Row, the new $140 million retail center at the intersection of Reisterstown and Painters Mill roads anchored by Wegmans, has flourished.

Gibbons, CEO of Greenberg Gibbons, said nearly 95 percent of the 50-acre property has been leased with more shops opening in the coming months. By April, Gibbons said, he expects 100 percent of the 356,000-square-foot retail space to be occupied.

An additional 40,000 square feet for office buildings is expected to be completed in April and will be fully rented out to LifeBridge Health, which had originally agreed to lease 75 percent of the space.

Brian White, president of Northwest Hospital and senior vice president of LifeBridge Health, said the decision to set up a branch at Foundry Row was a no-brainer.

“What we have seen at Foundry Row is a transformative project and an opportunity too good to pass up,” said White, who also sits on the Owings Mills Corporate Roundtable, which meets monthly. “It really blows my mind how Gibbons and [Howard] Brown [chairman of David S. Brown Enterprises] have executed their visions. They are clearly committed to this area, which is something I think we need to see with the mall.”

The Metro Centre, a $200 million project of Owings Mills-based David S. Brown Enterprises, has also enhanced Owings Mills’ appeal. With construction starting five years ago on a 45-acre parcel of land located off Interstate 795, it boasts retail, luxury apartments, a branch of the Community College of Baltimore County and the county’s largest public library branch, adjacent to the Owings Mills Metro.

For his part, Gibbons said the mall property is perhaps the third and most important piece of the puzzle.

Gibbons sees a lot of untapped potential at the mall for residential homes, retail shops and office buildings, among other amenities.

In fact, specifically for that reason, Gibbons said his company attempted to acquire the site in “2014 or 2015” but was turned down by Kimco.

Brown also tried to purchase the property, according to The Baltimore Sun. His company even built a road bridging his Metro Centre project to the mall. Brown did not respond to multiple requests through a spokesman seeking comment.

After failing to secure the property individually, Gibbons told the JT that both he and Brown sent Kimco a joint proposal with a check for an undisclosed sum in an unsuccessful bid to buy the property.

Because Gibbons and Brown have so much invested in Owings Mills, Gibbons felt they had a better vision on how to effectively cultivate the 100-acre site at the mall.

“We felt that if we jointly developed [the mall], we could do it in a really harmonious way to help lift the entire area, because it’s such an important piece of property,” Gibbons said.

Time Marches On

Proponents of the area such as Gibbons have urged Kimco to come up with a sustainable long-term project, given the mall’s checkered history.


The site of the Owings Mills Mall is still being torn down. (David Stuck)

Welcomed with open arms in 1986 as the area’s go-to destination, the mall was considered a rousing success in its early years.

On its first day, the 820,000-square-foot facility opened with more than 155 shops and was patronized by an estimated 100,000 people. Champagne toasts marked the grand opening, while gold dust and pink feathers fell from the ceiling in celebration of the new “fashion mall.”

But its reputation deteriorated in later years. Some point to the death of Christina Brown as the beginning of the mall’s decline. An employee of a cleaning company under contract to Saks Fifth Avenue, Brown was shot and killed in 1992 while walking on a path from the mall to the Metro station.

Saks abruptly left in January 1996, followed by the departure of other high-end retailers such as Lord & Taylor in 2002.

At that point, a number of stores started to disappear, and by September 2015, the mall closed off its interior doors. The last two remaining tenants, department store anchors J.C. Penney and Macy’s, vacated the premises two months later.

Mark Stewart, president of the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Coordinating Council, said he wants to see the mall site adapt with the times. He hopes to see something in the mold of Nottingham Square in White Marsh, an outdoor center that features a collection of retail stores and restaurant franchises such as FedEx Office, Noodles & Co., Starbucks and Next Day Blinds, among others.

“The entity itself of a mall with a movie theater like we had in Owings Mills has gone the way of a dinosaur,” Stewart said. “Time marches on.”

BJC ‘Profoundly Disappointed’ by UN Resolution

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was criticized for telling the World Zionist Congress that a Palestinian leader convinced Hitler to exterminate the Jews, but “on one side of the room it was well received,” said Rabbi Jack Luxemburg. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The Baltimore Jewish Council released a statement Monday saying it is “profoundly disappointed” by last week’s U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The United States abstained from voting, a departure from its usual policy of vetoing any resolutions seen as too overtly critical of Israel.

The BJC called the resolution “one-sided,” claiming it didn’t capture the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“U.N. resolutions like the one approved last week — attacking the only democracy of the Middle East and choosing to focus on isolated issues — harm, rather than help, efforts to restart peaceful negotiations, by making it far less likely that the parties will come to the negotiating table,” the statement goes on. “The BJC believes that the United States’ strong support for its most steadfast democratic ally in the Middle East is both principled and strategic. Unfortunately, the abstention from last week’s U.N. resolution was neither.”

The U.S. is one of five permanent members on the UNSC, along with 10 nonpermanent, rotating members. This resolution — the first addressing “the Palestine question” since 2009, according to the United Nations’ website — was passed nearly unanimously, with all but the U.S. voting in favor. News outlets also reported a burst of audience applause in the packed room upon its passing.

The resolution did not mince words, calling out Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory as having “no legal validity” and as “a flagrant violation under international law.”

President-elect Donald Trump had expressed support for a veto and said in a tweet, “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th.” His named ambassador to Israel — David Friedman — is a more hardline Israel supporter, including pro-settlement.

Since the resolution passed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has targeted those countries who voted for the resolution, suspending, or at least limiting, working ties with 12 of the UNSC members, according to CNN. The Israeli Foreign Ministry also tweeted that it has removed the ambassadors from Senegal and New Zealand, both co-sponsors of the resolution, back to Israel as well as canceled a trip to Israel by the Senegalese foreign minister and halted its aid programs to that country.