City honors long-time civic conscience and GBC advisor Walter Sondheim with a splash

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Baltimore City Mayor Sheila Dixon and two former mayors honored the memory of civic leader and long-time Greater Baltimore Committee senior advisor Walter Sondheim on July 28 by dedicating the city’s newest attraction — an interactive, “dancing-waters” fountain on the Inner Harbor’s west shore in Sondheim’s name.

Governor Martin O’Malley, who was Baltimore’s mayor when he was elected governor in 2006, and Thomas D’Alesandro III, who served as Baltimore Mayor from 1967-1971, joined Mayor Dixon, Sondheim’s children, grandchildren and others in dedicating the walk-through $1.4 million “dancing jet” fountain.

The fountain features more than 50 vertical streams of water shooting up from the floor of the plaza between Baltimore’s Visitor Center and the Maryland Science Center. The dedication ceremony ended with dignitaries turning on the fountain and children splashing among the jets, which squirted on and off in time to music.

All who spoke paid tribute to Sondheim’s legendary dedication to the city and the Inner Harbor in particular. “So much of our city is marked by Walter Sondheim, not only by his hands, not only by his fingerprints, but really by his spirit,” Governor O’Malley said. “Through his work on education, his passion for the Baltimore renaissance, Walter never stopped looking forward.”

Sondheim’s two great passions were addressing issues of poverty and education, said Mayor Dixon. “It’s phenomenal for us to be able to stand here today and acknowledge and feel his spirit and his presence.”

Former Mayor D’Alesandro praised Sondheim for having “no hidden agenda whatsoever.” D’Alesandro noted that, when he was president of the City Council, the ordinance to enable the Inner Harbor project passed by only two and that the deciding votes came from two council members that had been personally persuaded by Sondheim.

Sondheim’s son, John Sondheim, acknowledged that his father would “for sure” not have wanted a statue of himself in the Inner Harbor, but that he would have been delighted by the fountain because it is “something that brings families and children to the Inner Harbor.

For decades Walter Sondheim was “the conscience of Baltimore,” said David Gillece, who chaired the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore’s committee that raised more than $300,000 in private-sector funding to enable the city to finish the fountain. “Walter was fastidious in his commitment to do the right thing, said Gillece.

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