Whoever said being mayor is simply patching potholes, plowing snow and playing politics has not been to lunch lately with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
If they had, they would know that mayoral concerns these days have more to do with the human tragedy that abounds in pockets of Baltimore than with what once were considered the nuts and bolts of government.
As part of a series of public lunches he recently began as he gears up for next year's re-election campaign, Schmoke yesterday spent an hour at Lexington Market listening to his constituents. He never got a chance to eat his fruit salad, but he received an earful of requests from people who stopped by his table.
Some were down on their luck and looking for a bit of mayoral magic in the form of a job or a home. Others had the puffy, leathery hands of people hooked on heroin and seemed to just want the ear of someone important. One was suffering from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome and wanted to serve as a volunteer. And another man said he was sick of the dirty bathrooms in the Lexington and Cross Street markets.
"I have three children," said one man. "My daughter is in Essex Community College and I have two others. But what kind of example am I to them? I don't have a job. I need a job."
All Schmoke could offer the man were a few warm, reassuring words, some cold facts about the city's hiring freeze and a blue flier about a city program that matches people with jobs offered by private employers.
He also gave the man, and every other visitor, one of his trademark City that Reads bookmarks.
Merry Canady asked Schmoke to help her find out when her son will be released from state prison; the mayor promised to have his staff get back to her.
A couple of people wanted to know about getting into drug-treatment programs. "How come, if there is supposed to be a drug epidemic out there, you keep getting put on waiting lists when you try to enroll in methadone programs?" asked one man, who said he was a veteran.
Again, all Schmoke could offer was an explanation -- "in Baltimore, we have 30,000 opiate addicts and 3,500 treatment slots" -- and a promise to work with the Veterans Administration to find treatment.
Betty Jordan said she lives with her sister in a one-bedroom apartment on Edmondson Avenue and she wants a place of her own. She also said she wants custody of a relative whose mother is in jail. Schmoke promised to investigate and put Jordan into touch with a city program that informs people about home-ownership options.
But Schmoke remained positive, despite being able to offer direct help to very few people. "Sometimes people just want to get something off their chest, and this helps," he said. "Other times, we are able to get information to them or maybe solve a problem. That makes it worthwhile."