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No health grades for Baltimore restaurants

A City Council bill that would have required Baltimore eateries to post grades based on health inspections was defeated Monday night, failing by one vote after three council members switched their positions amid intense lobbying by restaurant owners.

"The loser is the citizens of Baltimore," Councilman Brandon Scott, the bill's lead sponsor, said afterward. "I'm very, very angry some of my colleagues changed their votes, but you keep fighting for transparency."

Gino Cardinale, owner of City Cafe in Mount Vernon, said he called or emailed every council member over the past week to urge them to amend or vote against the legislation, which he believes is misguided. He said he called more than 100 restaurant owners to get them to lobby against the bill. Some owners worried posting a bad grade could stick them with a "scarlet letter" that would take months to reverse, while hurting business.

"Restaurants are either clean and fit to be open or they're not," Cardinale said.

Scott's bill would have required every restaurant and carryout in the city to post its health rating based on a city review of its cleanliness. Under the bill, establishments would have been given grades of "excellent," "good" or "fair." The legislation would have applied to most places were food is prepared and sold, including grocery stores and food trucks. The bill also would have required the Health Department to post a searchable online database of restaurant inspections.

Earlier this month, the council gave preliminary approval to the measure by a vote of 10-5.

But three councilmen who had supported the bill — Eric T. Costello, James B. Kraft and William "Pete" Welch — changed their votes Monday night. The bill mustered only seven votes on the 15-member council, one shy of passage.

All three councilmen expressed concern that the legislation could negatively impact restaurants. Kraft said he worried that the health department wouldn't have enough resources to quickly re-inspect restaurants that got a bad grade.

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