They had a big, colorful parade through the streets of Baltimore yesterday -- an anti-drug parade filled with cute, healthy kids playing drums and carrying signs against illicit chemicals that kill the mind, spirit, and body.
Under the direction and blessings of the Housing Authority of Baltimore, they marched from the state office building complex on Preston Street to the Inner Harbor, demonstrating what it's like to be happy and straight.
And in between all the kids -- poor kids, mostly, growing up in O'Donnell Heights, Westport Homes, the Latrobe projects and other public housing where people shoot dope and guns -- were politicians.
There were pols in office, pols running for office, and pols retired from office.
"Treatment and education in people's formative years should be the major emphasis against drugs," said Representative Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.-7th. "A parade like this builds self-esteem. It might yank some people back from the edge."
"You come to this kind of thing to show your support for it, and you benefit as a politician by showing your support," said City Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers, D-3rd, who who wants to become the next city comptroller.
Mr. Landers said the comptroller's office can help fight drugs by seeing that city revenues go to agencies involved in the drug battle: police, the housing authority, and the health department.
And more money is needed, he said, particularly with the issue of drugs as a health epidemic.
"We still have waiting lists for drug treatment programs and that's outrageous," Mr. Landers said. "You have to put money into priorities, and if someone is stepping forward and saying they need help, we should be able to give it to them. One thing's for sure: What we're doing now to stop drugs isn't working. Saying no is important, but you have to go beyond that."
Parren J. Mitchell, who represented Baltimore as its 7th District congressman for 16 years before stepping down in 1986, said, "I think whenever possible that elected officials ought to be part of things like this, they ought to be part of every good cause. If you can save 50 kids with a parade, it's worth it. You don't win everyone simultaneously. We let the drug problem go too long. A parade like this keeps the pressure on kids to stay straight."
In with the successful politicians were several first-time candidates, little guys with big plans.
"I've been in 15 drug marches since last year, ones where we walked around with a casket and one in the rain. I didn't ride in a car; I walked without a raincoat," said Phillip A. Brown, 37, an owner of laundromats and Democrat seeking a 3rd District council seat.
"While the other politicians were waving to the parents, I was on the sidewalk shaking hands with the kids, telling them they were going to be our next doctor, our next mayor, our next president. You don't need your name on a car in a parade to stop drugs. This is campaigning here, and I think it's a disgrace," Mr. Brown said.
Bernard C. Young, 36, an employee in the radiology department at Johns Hopkins Hospital who wants to represent Baltimore's 2nd District in City Council, had an idea: Get all of the professional basketball players who graduated from Dunbar High School and are now making "mega-bucks" to give time and money back to the troubled communities that fostered them.
He, too, took a shot at the incumbents. "This is the only time politicians show their face -- anything that can get them exposure," Mr. Young said.
Led by a quartet of police officers on motorcycles, the parade reached the reviewing stand at Rash Field. Once there, Mr. Brown and Mr. Young directed their ire at Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, for riding rather than walking the route.
Mr. Ambridge was nursing a swollen ankle.
The council hopefuls brought a young East Baltimore mother into their discussion and turned her into an ally.
"We walked all the way down here -- they should too. We're fighting drugs in our own neighborhood, and the politicians will take credit for what we do," said Marie Jones, a 27-year-old mother of two young children.
Mr. Ambridge, smiling and confident on a bright afternoon, dismissed Mr. Brown and his criticisms.
"Brown obviously doesn't know what each of us [incumbents] have done to fight drugs," Mr. Ambridge said. "I've spent hundreds and hundreds of hours in elementary schools. I've been in every elementary school in my district.
"This parade is a nice event -- I rode down in a public housing truck -- but the schools are where it's at. We make a difference with parents and teachers in the schools and there's never any publicity about it.
"That," said Mr. Ambridge, "is the guts of government."