Encounter with mayor reverses transfer of Hispanic inspector

May 16, 1991|By Ginger Thompson

When letters of complaint to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke don't work, Norma Albert suggests, corner him at the grocery store.

Ms. Albert, 42, is Baltimore's only Spanish-speaking housing inspector. For 10 1/2 years she had worked in Southeast Baltimore, home to most of the city's Hispanic population -- many of whom speak little or no English.

Ms. Albert, a Puerto Rican, developed close ties to the community's Hispanics, and she helped hundreds of people solve disputes with unattentive landlords or inconsiderate neighbors.

But two months ago, she was transferred out of Southeast Baltimore to Northwest. And that transfer incited widespread anger in the Hispanic community.

"People from all over the community wrote letters to the housing department and made phone calls," said Ms. Albert. "But they were ignored."

Dozens of residents -- including members of the mayor's Committee on Hispanic Affairs -- wrote letters to Mayor Schmoke, saying the transfer demonstrated his administration's insensitivity to the needs of the Hispanic community.

Ms. Albert remained in Northwest Baltimore, and she had begun to losehope that she would ever return to the neighborhoods she loved.

But Saturday, she went to the Farm Fresh store at Belvedere Plaza to shop for dinner. As she and a friend picked through the beef in the meat counter, she looked up and saw Mayor Schmoke.

"He was campaigning," she said. "I thought, God must have sent me to the store for this very reason."

As she approached the mayor, he eagerly shook her hand and smiled as he gave her a bookmark that said "Baltimore, The City That Reads."

"I took his hand and said, 'Mr. Mayor, do you know who I am?' " said Ms. Albert. "His eyes got big. And I said, 'I am the Hispanic housing inspector you've heard so much about. I want to go back to work with the Hispanic people. They need me.' "

She said Mayor Schmoke was taken aback. "He said he would look into it, and then he went off to shake other hands," she said. "Then, two minutes later, he came back and told me he would take care of things."

Yesterday, Ms. Albert said she was summoned to the city's housing headquarters and was told to return to Southeast Baltimore on Monday.

"I felt I had to fight because I am Hispanic and I speak English," she said, after announcing her reassignment at a meeting of the Mayor's Committee on Hispanic Affairs.

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