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The Mysterious Funding of ‘Say No To Solo’

The community group opposing the proposed Foundry Row development will not name its backers. Others say a rival developer is helping to support the Say No To Solo Coalition.

On a hot July day, three teenagers distributed free bottled water at the intersection of Owings Mills Boulevard and Reisterstown Road.

But these were not ordinary bottled waters. They were political statements.

The labels featured  phone number, the words ‘What’s the Rush? Vote No on Foundry Row!’ and the website address for the . As they distributed the bottled water, the teens collected signatures for the coalition opposing , the Wegmans-anchored development proposed for the vacant Solo Cup plant on Reisterstown Road.

The teens said the Say No To Solo Coalition was paying them for their efforts. But they did not know who had paid for their supply of nearly 10,000 bottles of water, which cost somewhere between $4,992 and $6,656, according to figures provided by Seth Koretzky, owner of Baltimore-based H2O Custom, the company that produced the bottles.

Koretzky would not say who wrote the check for the bottled water.

“I’ll tell you, they’re not poor,” he said.

In less than four months, the Say No To Solo Coalition has sprung up to lead the opposition against  in Owings Mills from manufacturing to retail. The group’s leader, Shirley Supik, has been a frequent presence at meetings of the Baltimore County Council, which votes on the rezoning measure on Tuesday.

While Supik has formally requested that Almond she has refused to say who is financing her new group’s sophisticated efforts to kill the rezoning measure—a position that dovetails with a rival developer that some claim is bankrolling her coalition.

“The funding has come from a person who is on Reisterstown Road who has property that they are worried that Foundry Row is going to put out of business,” said Supik, a 66-year-old resident of Randallstown, which is several miles southwest of the proposed development.  

The coalition’s efforts resemble well-financed political campaigns more than the typical shoestring operation of neighborhood groups, according to community organizing experts.

The coalition has used mailings, signs, petitions, a Facebook page and a website that includes links to send letters to elected officials and to media organizations. The group has also hired political strategist Jamie Fontaine, who managed Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin’s congressional and senate campaigns.

Robocalls, which several communications companies said cost between 2 and 5 cents per 30-second call, have also been used to support the opposition. But Supik said her group did not finance that tactic. She also said she did not finance the bottled water.

Supik said she doesn't know which organization financed the robocalls and the bottled water.

Some observers, including the chief executive of the developer of Foundry Row, say that a rival developer—Kimco—and its politically-connected public relations firm, , are behind the Say No To Solo Coalition. 

“It’s pretty clear to just about anybody that’s involved in this process that developers are supporting the community battle, or using them as a front to be in opposition of this,” said Carroll Holzer, an attorney who represents about 150 community associations in Baltimore County. “…Very seldom do you have a group that suddenly springs up and can afford some heavy dollars in terms of a battle.”

A KO Public Affairs representative would not say whether it is supporting Say No To Solo Coalition. If Kimco or KO is supporting the coalition, council members voting may not look at the group as a wholly unbiased voice of opposition as it considers the rezoning measure on Tuesday.

‘Extraordinary Opposition’

Officials from Greenberg Gibbons, the developer behind Foundry Row, believe hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on Say No To Solo’s campaign. CEO Brian Gibbons said he believes Kearney O’Doherty (KO) Public Affairs, mall developer Kimco’s PR firm, is bankrolling the effort.

“Kearney and O’Doherty—it’s the public relations firm orchestrating this,” Gibbons said. “They have Jamie Fontaine full-time orchestrating this.”

Fontaine said in an email she has been working with the coalition in an advisory role since she met Shirley and Jeff Supik at a planning board hearing earlier this year.

“I have an arrangement with them that is fair—but honestly represents much less than my commitment to making sure the good people of Owings Mills don’t get stuck with horrible traffic, an over-saturated retail market and a lost opportunity for the redevelopment of a longstanding county priority: the Owings Mills Mall,” Fontaine said via email.

KO Public Affairs is owned by Steve Kearney and Damian O’Doherty. The political strategy and public affairs consulting firm helps its clients “succeed where commerce, government, politics and media meet” by “tailoring political campaign tools to achieve business goals,” according to its website.

Kearney has been a longtime political operative of Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, serving as his communications director when O’Malley was mayor and governor. O’Doherty is the former chief of staff for former Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith, also a Democrat. In a politically incestuous twist, Smith is the attorney for Greenburg Gibbons' Foundry Row project.

Howard Libit, KO’s chief operating officer, would not say whether or not his firm is bankrolling the coalition as part of an effort to support their client, Kimco Realty. Kimco wants to  to prevent perceived traffic woes and so that it can  without Foundry Row competition.

“As much as Mr. Gibbons would like to make this about developers, consultants and politics, ultimately, it’s about the substance – and about the almost 10,000 Baltimore County residents who have weighed in to demand better planning,” Libit said via email.

Gibbons’ claim that KO Public Affairs is orchestrating the coalition’s efforts is not the first time the firm has been accused of ‘astroturfing,’ propping up a seemingly grassroots community group in a cause that benefits one of KO’s corporate clients. KO helped set up a community group that lobbied the Baltimore County Council . But the firm never publicly disclosed that the community group’s Facebook page and website were set up by KO, which was representing the company that held the county speed camera contract.

Councilwoman Almond said she has been suspicious of a connection between Say No To Solo and KO Public Affairs, since “most community groups do not have money,” she said.

“The marketing firm – Damian O’Doherty – that [Kimco Realty] hired, that seems to me that would the logical place where the funds are coming from” for the coalition, she said. “I think it’s rather ironic that they accuse me of being in the pocket of the developer, and what are they doing?”

Almond said she has stopped listening to the coalition because of attacks on her that she said are outrageous and bizarre.

Supik, however, is trying to show that Almond's position is influenced by Greenburg Gibbons. Supik filed a  for records of communication between Almond and Greenburg Gibbons and Smith. Almond said she will respond to the request within the 30 days required by law, but said she is in no hurry.

, who has also called for Greenberg Gibbons to release a traffic study like Say No To Solo has, also criticized Almond in a Baltimore Sun op-ed for cheering on Foundry Row ahead of public hearings.

“And this announcement of retail plans for the Solo Cup property was accompanied by an immediate public endorsement from Councilwoman Vicki Almond, whose district includes the Solo Cup property — prior to any public hearings or studies, despite the fact that the new retail center was in conflict with the Master Plan and would be placed on a persistently gridlocked intersection, just blocks from the county's treasured Greenspring Valley,” he wrote.

Mysterious Group

Supik insists that KO Public Affairs and Kimco are not funding her coalition, which lists thousands of Owings Mills and Reisterstown residents as members on its website. Those are the names of people who signed the group’s petition, not members paying dues that could be used to finance the coalition.

“There has always been another group right from the beginning when we were being blamed for the robocalls,” said Supik. “We never did those. That was two or three weeks after we started.”

Supik had never mentioned another group until last week when asked about who funded robocalls and bottled water. 

Donna Spicer, a longtime Loch Raven area activist, said Say No To Solo is a highly unusual group.

“I’m always amazed when you have something like [Say No To Solo] when a group from nowhere, no grassroots background…all of a sudden come up with websites and sign boards, much less robocalls and things that are completely out of the league of normal and average community association things,” Spicer said.

While Spicer has advised a lot of groups outside of her area, she never fought their battles for them, like Supik, a Randallstown resident, is doing in Owings Mills.

“It’s highly irregular that someone will come out of their home area and fight in someone else’s home area for them,” she said.

But Supik said that the issue is bigger than just Owings Mills. Issues like traffic, fixing the mall, environmental concerns at Solo Cup and public process reach far beyond the immediate area, she said.

“You have to look at every problem along the way,” she said. “There are underlying things that are more important that just District 2 and District 4. This will affect all of Baltimore County.”

JBC August 24, 2012 at 01:19 PM
BrownGirl, I'd love to see any kind of evidence to support that bold claim...
JBC August 24, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Shirley, once again you work to distract from the real issue. Wegmans and Gibbons have no "community" group to pay off. On the other hand, do you really expect us to believe that your group had no idea who funded water bottle with your group's name, slogan, logo and website on it? And that these water bottles magically appeared in front of the teens your group was paying collect signatures on hot summer days? I'd also love to hear any support that would make me believe your Gibbons/restaurant claim is anything but a lie.
underwater August 24, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Well, thank you Seth Koretzky. Forget what side of the fence you are on this issue. What right do you have to release financial information from a customer? Can I get figures such as these from each of your clients?
Shirley Supik August 24, 2012 at 10:06 PM
To JBC: If you don't believe that Mr. Gibbons is so desperate that he has to bus in and buy dinners to get supporters, just email info@votenoonsolo and request a copy of the email he sent out.
Maryland August 25, 2012 at 01:05 AM
Shirley, I signed up and get your emails, and what you sent out looked like a personal email from an employee (not Gibbons) to friends and neighbors. He offered to pick up dinner for them after if they decided to come. If we wanted to see desperation, we could look no further than the August 6th hearing, which had nothing to do with zoning but was flooded with your paid representatives. You can't win on the merits, so you poison the debate with stuff like this.
Chuck Burton August 25, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Why won't I be at the Council meeting Tursday evening, even though I support Foundry Row and Wegmans, and hope to live to see them come to OM? Simply because I'm in my 80s and find it a bit risky to drive at night anymore., so only do so in an emergency. I just hope Mr. Oliver, Mr. Brown and others realize that this development is potentially positive for everyone in this area, creating jobs and bringing money to the area in the same way as White Marsh Mall did to that area.
DSBlies August 26, 2012 at 01:06 PM
Howard Brown is the money behind the anti Foundry Row coalition.
anan7 August 26, 2012 at 01:06 PM
The bottom line this is not the USSR, and there is no reason this project should be prohibited based on the nonsense I have read from that chief Politburo spokeperson Shirley Supik. Who in their right mind wouldn't want a Wegman's in their community - unless you work for one of the competing businesses?
Robin Nicole August 27, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Wait...so the person at the head of this whole anti-Wegmans effort doesn't even live in Owings Mills? That alone makes their entire effort suspect.
BrownGirl71 August 27, 2012 at 04:39 PM
You don't have to live in OM to have a vested interest... This is a county-wide issue. Otherwise, you would not need the whole Council to cast a vote.
Daniel August 27, 2012 at 06:18 PM
She's obviously a hired hand of Kimco or some other competitor.
Shirley Supik August 27, 2012 at 06:55 PM
To Maryland: The person on that Gibbons email is Mark. His last name happens to be Gibbons.
PM August 27, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Shirley, Give it up, we know where you are coming from and all of your protests fall flat.
Shirley Supik August 27, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Maryland, You are not telling the story straight. It says they will bus the people from Solo to the council session then treat them to dinner afterward so they feel comfortable. It even has an RSVP to the developer's firm. I am proud to say the Coalition does not have to bus in anyone. These people come because they love their community, not a grocery store. They come because they have looked at all the facts and they know that this not not just about a grocery store. They are worried about the patrons along Reisterstown Road and their livelihood, the safety of the residents who use that corridor, the intergrity of the Master Plan and the $157,000 worth of infrastruture surrounding the OM mall. We won't be buying dinner, but we will be there because we all care.
Chuck Burton August 27, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Shirley, doesn't the Master Plan call for redeveloping the ex-SOLO plant for retail, and maybe residential use (though I can't imagine anyone wanting to live there)? But you and your backers think you have it right and the county is wrong. Even though the Foundry Row developers have addressed the main problems (traffic) that you bring up. You want the county to support the owners of a failed Mall instead of a development that promises to bring new hope to a struggling area and that might even ultimately help that dead Mall by bringing in development that makes people want to live in the area. Or maybe another big auto dealer will take over the SOLO property, if you can kill off the Row. Just what we need.
Maryland August 27, 2012 at 08:59 PM
I guess you don't read what KO Public Affairs writes for you, because his last name is not Gibbons.
Maryland August 27, 2012 at 09:04 PM
Yawn. Everyone knows you're a front for Kimco. Save the pandering for your 184 fans on facebook.
BrownGirl71 August 27, 2012 at 09:19 PM
GG website lists Mark Bomse as a Leasing Agent. He is an agent of the company ...Can we now admit that GG is paying for dinner for supporters?
Shirley Supik August 27, 2012 at 09:54 PM
You know Chuck, you are starting to sound just like Brian Gibbons. He would have the entire corridor look like a "Vegas" of retail as long as he could do the building of it. The Master plan speaks of mixed use if manufacturing is phased out. The only way manufacturing will be phased out is if the council votes to rezone that site. Until that happens, Mr. Gibbons bought a manufacturing site and he could be a real hero to OM if he put manufacturing back in there so people could earn a good income with great benefits instead of putting in more retail that takes money out of our pockets. Just because he will have some offices at that site does not qualify his plan for mixed use. Mixed use is "live, work & play". The county has already said there will be no living facilities there. All of the people responding here seem to love Huntvalley, but it was a failing mall the first time around. And Towson has been redone over and over. No one said they were dead and but they were given a second chance. The taxpayers have invested $157,000 in the infrastructure for the mall and that trumps Mr. Gibbons $7M for roads around Foundry Row that will only cause gridlocks farther up the road.
Maryland August 27, 2012 at 10:29 PM
Yeah, let's squelch private investment because we don't want to waste the $157 million we've already spent on Howard Brown's parking garage. You must be confusing Howard with Brian Gibbons, because Gibbons has repeatedly gone on record in support of the mall and Metro Centre. Kimco and Brown are the only ones holding their projects hostage along with the rest of Owings Mills.
Daniel August 27, 2012 at 10:32 PM
Shirley, please explain this article: http://www.jewishtimes.com/index.php/jewishtimes/breaking_news/32417 I went to the facebook page looking for an explanation, it simply got deleted. I guess truth plays no role in your campaign. Shame on you for lying about a venerated Jewish Institution that wants no part of this debate. Go back to Randallstown and leave the good people of Pikesville and Owings Mills to decide to to spend their own money where we want - not where your employer wants.
Shirley Supik August 27, 2012 at 10:52 PM
This is the first I have seen this. This is not the Coalition. I would not lie about this school. This is a fine institution and they have my utmost respect. I do not know who put this here but I will try to find out. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.
Chuck Burton August 28, 2012 at 12:44 AM
I'm quite happy to sound like Brian Gibbons - just wish I had his bucks! His company seems to have a pretty good rep for finishing it's projects on time and being good neighbors to those around them. And is it better to provide admittedly higher paying jobs for likely no more than 1 or 2 hundred workers in a mostly automated factory, or somewhat lower paying jobs for a thousand or more (est. 3200, but that seems optimistic) in Wegmans and the other businesses in the Row. At least people will be working and making some income, not on unemployment rolls. As for moving the traffic problems elsewhere - at least that part of the Reisterstown Rd traffic will be improved, and without cost to taxpayers, unlike Mr. Brown's project. Why not?
Daniel August 28, 2012 at 12:54 AM
First time? Then why did you delete it from when I posted it on the "Say No to Solo" facebook page and then change the setting so others can't comment? You are in so deep you can't even keep track of your lies.
Chuck Burton August 28, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Shirley, I forgot to ask you, below, what manufacturing company has expressed an interest in moving into the old SOLO location? Manufactuing has been moving out of the RR corridor, not into it. Unless converted to retail, the location will just be an empty eyesore for years, paying minimal or no taxes to the county and state. Is that preferable?
Charles Kane August 28, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Zoning maps PASSED by a 6-1 vote. Common sense prevailed over the dirty politics!
Daniel August 29, 2012 at 01:44 AM
Great to see it pass. Glad 6 of the members of our county council favor growth and the free market over the lies and distortions of the say-no-to-solo campaign.
Sher Katz August 29, 2012 at 11:47 AM
Oliver may have doomed his next election by being the only no vote.
Concerned too August 29, 2012 at 08:50 PM
Actually, I was glad to see Oliver stick up for his principles and defy the councilmanic courtesy. I wish there had been some opposition for some of Mr. Huff's decisions for the 3rd District, exposing hundreds of acres to development!
Chuck Burton September 04, 2012 at 05:18 PM
To Mr. Brown: Do you realize what is going to happen to your Metro Centre if the ex-SOLO location becomes a Dead Zone? You will have the garages and the Library/Commumity College - maybe an apartment building or two - maybe even a hotel, then it will slowly die, along with the Mall, next door. But development of SOLO, along with Metro Centre will be good for both projects, and maybe even for the Mall. Think about it, sir!

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