Ravens fill gaps in slow start to General Assembly

Whether in a meeting of the state’s gambling regulators, in a recurring House of Delegates trivia segment or in the opening statement of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s State of the State Address, talk of the Baltimore Ravens has been unavoidable in Annapolis.

Even when government officials aren’t talking about their purple pride, the colors of Baltimore’s team accent state lawmakers’ attire and light state buildings at night (see my colleague Alissa Gulin’s story on the purple lighting business).

But there’s more. The Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee displays a Raven screensaver on its projection screen in the panel’s hearing room. The canteen in the State House basement on Friday served a Ray’s Raven Wrap with chips and a drink for $7.99.

Cheery talk of the Ravens has filled the gaps between partisan bickering about the the governor’s agenda, a potential shortfall in expected lottery revenue and general inaction among some lawmakers in the face of a dwindling Transportation Trust Fund.

“I remember back to that first Super Bowl run in 2001 — that gave us such a lift in Baltimore,” said O’Malley, who was then the city’s mayor. “There was a sense that we were back. You could see it reflect in everything from investor confidence,  the business confidence the consumer confidence, and that’s what this sort of playoff run does for us.”

You can see it reflect in the demeanor of members of the General Assembly, too, who for weeks have dragged their feet introducing bills in the Senate and House of Delegates, a malaise some attribute to legislative fatigue caused by holding three sessions last year.

The energy level ticked up this week — even if, still, few bills have found their way to the full House and Senate — as the Baltimore delegation to the House entertained (and sometimes tortured) members of the chamber with a “Super Bowl: Did you know?” series of presentations and Republicans and Democrats posed together for a very purple picture while joining in a re-enactment of Ray Lewis’ famous pre-game “any dogs in the house?” chant, led by Del. Shawn Z. Tarrant, D-Baltimore.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George’s, said the Senate would celebrate the Ravens’ win Monday, even if lawmakers were suffering from a “hangover.”

And even as Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency Director Stephen L. Martino was forced to tell the state gambling commission last week that traditional lottery sales were running off projections, he was buoyed by the business opportunity the Ravens afforded him.

“We are looking at opportunities to maximize our sponsorship,” Martino told the Lottery commission. “We’re very excited for their success.”

Many elected officials — O’Malley, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, among them — are planning trips to the Super Bowl. So is Donald C. Fry, who wears hats that range from state Port commissioner to slots commission chairman to president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

That’s good news for Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, where traveling Ravens fans have made a ticket to from Baltimore to New Orleans a hot commodity.

“I do think that, beyond the value of bringing people together to celebrate the victories, I think it also will inspire a lot of consumer and business confidence in our state in a way that’s hard to measure,” O’Malley said, before relating the Ravens’ impact to a story he was told by Appointments Secretary Jeanne D. Hitchcock, who used to work in Dallas.

“Their business community had an expression in Dallas, that so goes the Cowboys, so goes business in Dallas,” O’Malley said. “I do think there is a psychological kind of shot in the arm that comes from this.”

That psychology will be missed in the weeks to come, as attention in Annapolis will soon return to the business at hand and the difficult legislative battles that loom on issues such as transportation, wind energy, gun control and a repeal of the death penalty.

But denizens of the Capital City can enjoy one more weekend of Ravens fever, whether its spent here in Maryland or — in the case of a few, including this lucky reporter — in New Orleans.

See you when I get back.

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