Deliver or stand aside

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

June 25, 1991|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

The city's delegation to the General Assembly seems a particularly worthless group.

Impotent. Incompetent. Indolent.

Every year, for as long as I can remember, the members of the city's delegation have pronounced equality in education funding their number one priority.

Yet, every year they get diverted, turned around.

Every year, someone else sets the agenda in Annapolis and the delegation, like obedient little puppies, trots along behind.

In fact, one study showed that while the city's legislators were assuring their constituents that they planned to fight the good fight on their behalf, the gap between the rich school jurisdictions and the poorer ones, such as the city, had actually widened.

So, go ahead -- sock it to 'em. Call 'em what you want. Call 'em a stumbling, bumbling, bunch of bunglers. Call 'em a whimpering, simpering, collection of chimpanzees.

No sobriquet seems too harsh. No criticism seems unfair.

Call 'em a galumphing, harumphing club of humbugs.

Hold on, though, maybe we shouldn't.

After all, it often has been said that people get the representation they deserve. Calling our delegates names might be too much like shouting insults into a mirror.

I suppose that's why BUILD, the most influential community-based organization in the city, elected to go back to basics this weekend.

Sunday, BUILD summoned the governor, the mayor, and each of the city's delegates to the Convention Center and read them the riot act: deliver or stand aside.

The members of BUILD took it upon themselves to hold themselves responsible for holding their elected representatives responsible -- a radical new concept in electoral politics.

The political folks didn't exactly fall to the floor weeping when they heard the news. But, on the other hand, several of them looked noticeably pale and wobbly about the knees.

"We have our eyes on the city delegation," thundered the Rev. Curtis Jones, of BUILD, "and our vision is good and our memory is eternal."

"We know how to reward and we know how to punish," Jones continued. "We'd rather reward you with re-election than punish you with unemployment."

The 2,000 church people in attendance exploded with applause. Those politicians on stage smiled shakily, and, as I've noted, their knees began to wobble.

It was that kind of afternoon for our legislators -- and high time, too.

"If you need to filibuster, then do it!" said Carol Reckling, also of BUILD. "If you need to vote against a road in another county in order to gain leverage, then do it! Be militant!"

One by one, leaders of the city delegation mounted the scaffold, er, stage, and attempted to mouth the same old platitudes on behalf of their colleagues.

"It's easy for me to pledge that equity in funding will be my personal, best priority because it has always been my priority," said Sen. Clarence W. Blount, with no apparent hint of irony. "I shall support this initiative with everything that I have."

But he wasn't to get off that easy.

"Senator," responded Reckling, as Blount looked longingly toward his chair, "they say that you are a gentleman, greatly respected by your colleagues in Annapolis. But now, we need the gentleman to remove the gloves."

"I know that money isn't everything but it comes awfully close to it, " quipped Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, going for a lighter touch. "But you're preaching to the converted. But we're only 24 votes. It takes more than that to get anything accomplished."

"What we saw last session, senator," retorted Reckling, "was that when the governor tried to get this going [through the tax reform package recommended by the Linnowes Commission] we didn't see our own city delegates standing up on this issue."

Hoffman's shoulders drooped as she slumped back to her seat.

And when Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings tried to boast of his past support of education, he was told firmly: "With all due respect, Delegate Rawlings, what you've done in the past hasn't worked."

Given a choice, I suspect the city's delegates would have preferred to have been down in Annapolis wowing it up with their colleagues, to sitting on stage being roasted by their constitutents.

But it was exhilarating to watch. Up to now, representing the city has been far too comfortable a job and our elected officials have been much, much too secure.

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