Beyond 'Baltimore and Beyond:' More Detailed Analysis Needed

May 26, 1991|By GARLAND L. THOMPSON | GARLAND L. THOMPSON,Garland Thompson is an editorial writer and columnist for The Sun.

I approach "Baltimore and Beyond: A Special Report" -- published in this newspaper May 5 -- with mixed feelings. Syndicated columnist Neal Peirce and his co-author Curtis W. Johnson, head of the Minneapolis-based Citizens League, admit deliberately writing a "prickly or rawly prescriptive" summation of their impressions of the region and its needs, and its prescriptions certainly are "prickly."

For such a report, this feels, to me, unfinished. Rather than the comparative, fact-choked reportage and analysis that has made Mr. Peirce's commentaries a gospel in state and local governments across North America, "Baltimore and Beyond" reads more like a collection of first impressions. Anecdotes, tidbits and first-looks at actors and factors in a breaking story have proper places in developing a major piece of analysis. But they are not the story. They are a starting place.

What's missing is hard-headed charging through the numbers that track the changes. Who moved, how many, what potentials did this shift in the balance of economic, political and cultural power? Who needs, how much is needed, where are the reservoirs of supply? What political levers are left, for whom?

In his well-respected column, Mr. Peirce typically compares a city like Baltimore to say, St. Louis, goes to Memphis for some new ideas, crosses the Atlantic to show a different approach in Rotterdam. He brings in the national statistics to paint a backdrop, shows you where you are in relation to other cities and other areas. Not so, this time.

There's also a time to get past the statistics and the big, sweeping trends to talk to the little people affected by all the factors being sleuthed out. What's it like from their perspective? What is their perspective? What do they think should be done? What little people crept into this report?

Let's zero in on one prickly point, the contention that "Baltimore City and its neighbors . . . oftentimes exhibit sheer indifference to each other -- and, on occasion, outright hostility."

Did Mr. Peirce find this hostility in the city, or among suburbanites who know little of what actually goes on? Individuals, even groups of citizens, sometimes do exhibit such hostility, but municipal officials rarely do.

In but one example of cooperation, after last year's fractious state elections Baltimore's City Council invited members of neighboring county councils to City Hall to discuss regional issues, especially solid-waste recycling. Another is the Baltimore City-County proposal for a joint "container tax," which the City Council enacted, only to see its county counterpart suddenly shift course.

Maryland's public libraries already have a reciprocal book-lending agreement, so that a card-holder of any one can borrow materials from another. And there are regular city-county contacts on the city's water and sewage plants, which serve many suburban communities.

About the only recent time hostile, fear-ridden statements came out of a Baltimore suburb came when Baltimore County officials attacked a proposed deal to move some federal offices from the enclave on Security Boulevard to a vacant building downtown. City Hall never escalated the acrimony.

As to the fear of city officials getting "pilloried for giving up an ounce of the city's autonomy now that blacks are finally in full control," it was a nice image, but the facts don't bear it out. Mr. Peirce and Mr. Johnson would do well to study the recent state takeover of Baltimore's municipal jail and the Community College of Baltimore.

Then there is the "onus on Baltimore City to change." It must "earn outsiders' support by radically improving its schools."

Let's look at some of those numbers I mentioned earlier. A bTC Gallup poll reported that more than 80 percent of the American public believed education must be improved in poor communities and that a majority was willing to pay higher taxes to achieve this goal. That's in the abstract, and Marylanders probably agreed with it.

Confronted with an actual demand to raise taxes for education, however, the Maryland General Assembly in March defeated the Linowes commission proposals to do just that. It was pretty clear at the time that the legislators had their pulse on the public's reaction, too, after a contentious election brought to the fore vociferous opponents of raising taxes for any purpose.

Baltimore's schools desperately need new funding if they ar ever to fulfill the expectations Mr. Peirce and Mr. Johnson found in the suburbs, however. One indicator of the city's willingness to improve its schools is putting its money where its mayor's mouth is. The Schmoke administration has managed to find more money for the schools every year, starting with a 1989 move, when Mr. Schmoke was mayor-elect, to add $18.6 million in city funds to a school budget which was below $400 million but now stands at $540 million from all sources.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.