Does the D.C. Chamber of Commerce have a Benedict Arnold in its midst?

Attribute it to an inferiority complex, or neighborhood bullying, or the effects of just too much Old Bay seasoning: Baltimore needs constant reassurance that it’s just as good as—if not better than—the District of Columbia. Like former Orioles first baseman Boog Powell rounding third base after a 438-foot homer, residents of my hometown demand constant pats on the backside for their folksiness, their charm, and their working-class authenticity.

Unfortunately, some Washingtonians actually buy into this pipe dream. Take this large-font headline from the front page of the Baltimore Sun’s Real Estate section on Aug. 27: “Washingtonians prefer Baltimore.”

“Fed up with the capital’s pricey real estate market and traffic,” reads the subhead, “many who work in the district now call Baltimore home.”

Typical Charm City propaganda, right? Here’s the rub: To lead off its story with a real zinger, the Sun introduces readers to a certain F.T. Burden, D.C. commuter and proud owner of a red row house on the 1900 block of St. Paul Street in Baltimore. And just what does Burden commute to Washington to do? Why, to promote Washington, as the chief operating officer for the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.

One word: traitor!

Doesn’t Burden know that D.C.’s where it’s at right now, boasting a sizzling-hot housing market, improving services, and cultural vitality? He should. He spends his 9-to-5 hours proclaiming that news to the world, fer crissakes: “The District of Columbia provides the excitement of a dynamic professional life at the seat of power and all the attractions of a vibrant urban center without the congestion and concrete mazes of other major cities,” reads the District of Columbia Chamber of Commerce 2000-2001 Annual Report. “The city’s excellent healthcare system, its many cultural and recreational opportunities, and its temperate climate make the city not only a great place to visit but also a great place to live.”

Damn straight. So what’s good for the goose ain’t good for the gander?

Not so fast, Burden explains. He also owns a house in LeDroit Park, near Howard University, and lives part-time in the District. “I’m a lover of old houses,” Burden says. Last year, he read an article in the Sun about a Baltimore church that was unloading decaying mansion-style properties for bargain-basement prices. “And when they talked about the amenities of this place—oak and mahogany floors, stained glass, skylights…You don’t get that [in Washington], at least not for under a couple million dollars. I wouldn’t have the opportunity to live like that for 50 or 60 years,” he says.

So what did Burden’s fellow D.C. cheerleaders at the chamber think of his, um, defection? “They all thought it was great,” he says.

Not all District boosters agree. “I don’t buy this. This is silliness,” responds Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans after seeing Burden’s profile in the Sun. “There are plenty of neighborhoods in the District of Columbia that are affordable and within easy walking distance of downtown or a Metro—say, Shaw or Brookland.”

“So you don’t need to go to Baltimore,” Evans adds. “And the train is still a hassle.”

In order to supervise contractors, Burden says, he tries to spend as much time as possible in Bawlmer. After purchasing the row house for $57,500, Burden is now in the process of restoring it to its former grandeur—replacing plumbing, heating, and electrical systems to start. He estimates that the final price tag will be around $200,000.

Burden seems to buy into the Baltimore myth a little, too. “I find the people a lot realer,” he says. “It’s a real blue-collar place. People don’t care what you do or what you can do for them. It’s a real, regular old city.”

Yeah, right. As aging starlet Honey Whitlock announces in the new John Waters film, Cecil B. DeMented: Enough with the crab cakes. And with the charm. And with all that blue-collar, Brooks Robinson, Diner-inspired nostalgia that makes Baltimore oh-so-much-more real and genuine and municipally worthy than the District. Fact: Johns Hopkins—that white-collar-producing, elitist-training, U.S. News and World Report top-ranking university—is Maryland’s largest private employer, not Bethlehem Steel or Domino Sugar, hon.

“We in the District of Columbia are doing a great job of getting the District back, and now we find out that our own chamber of commerce official has moved to Baltimore,” says Evans. “When Mr. Burden comes back to his senses, he’ll flip his house in Baltimore and come back to the District.” CP

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