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The Dripby Mark Reutter7:45 amNov 18, 20130

Rawlings-Blake off to Panama with Veep

Rawlings-Blake will tour canal whose expansion is expected to bring new port business to Baltimore.

Above: Vice President Biden was in Baltimore in September hawking the importance of port expansion for job growth.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is a member of the official delegation accompanying Vice President Joe Biden on a two-day tour of the Panama Canal expansion project.

Leaving this morning, the party will first examine the port of Houston, before continuing on to Panama. The purpose of the trip, according to the mayor’s office, is to gain firsthand knowledge of the $5.6 billion canal expansion, which will allow the passage of super-cargo ships when completed in 2015.

Rawlings-Blake called it “an extreme honor to be one of the few cities” chosen by the Obama administration to get a close-up view of the work.

Other members of the delegation include Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz of Florida.

Up-and-Comers, Plus one Republican

Lest anyone think of the trip as a partisan junket of Democratic Party up-and-comers (Wasserman Schulz is chairman of the Democratic National Committee, while Rawlings-Blake is its secretary), the delegation includes a single Republican – U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

Rawlings-Blake exercises little direct power over the port of Baltimore (the facilities are administered by the Maryland Port Administration), but has been an active promoter behind the scenes.

She and Gov. Martin O’Malley have encouraged CSX Transportation to expand and convert its rail yard in Morrell Park to a rail-truck transfer center to prepare for the expected influx of cargo containers arriving on the mega-ships. The state has promised to pay $32 million of the $90 million expansion price.

The mayor’s office said the costs of the two-day sojourn will be borne by the federal government. Vice President Biden was chided earlier this year for spending $585,000 for one-night’s stay in a Paris hotel during a diplomatic trip to Europe.

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