City Council candidates in the 3rd District, take notice: Sandra and Oscar Tapp want someone to do something about cars speeding down Northwood Drive.
City Council candidates in the 1st District, hear this: Sam Culotta (the barber, not the politician) wants someone to clean the street outside his shop in Locust Point.
Lofty issues? Not exactly. But typical of people's concerns as candidates for mayor and City Council campaign for Baltimore's Sept. 12 primary election.
Interviews across the city, most with people relaxing in the shade on their steps or porches, support the truism that most voters, or potential voters, define their issues from the narrow view out their front doors.
Redistricting this spring gave the 3rd District a black majority of voters for the first time, but residents selected at random in New Northwood, the heart of the district, downplayed the prospect of electing their first black council member.
"I'm color blind," said Oscar Tapp, 61, a retired mechanical foreman for Bethlehem Steel Corp. "As long as they're doing the job. . . . "
"That's my point," said his wife, Sandra, 54, as they sat on the porch of their Glenwood Avenue home, where they've lived 22 years. "I don't see anybody doing the job."
What she doesn't see, she said, are policemen setting up speed traps on Northwood Drive. Northwood Drive, the Tapps said, is a speedway through their predominantly black neighborhood.
But along the city-county line on Walker Avenue, in a mostly white neighborhood, the Tapps said, policemen catch speeders by radar two or three times a week.
What's more, Oscar Tapp said, down along Loch Raven Boulevard south of Cold Spring Lane, city workers rake the grass after they mow the median strip.
soon as you cross Cold Spring and come this way," Oscar Tapp said, "they cut it and leave it out there till it looks like hay."
Do city grass cutters and policemen overlook New Northwood because most of its residents are black? "That's the only reason I can see," said Oscar Tapp.
But the Tapps, as their white poodle Snowball joined them on the porch, said they don't believe a black council member would serve their neighborhood any better than the three current council members, all of whom are white and none of whom the Tapps could identify.
"I tell you I don't pay any attention anymore," Sandra Tapp said. "I vote. I still vote. But I don't believe in anybody I vote for."
Across town in the 4th District, Henry Johnson summed up his No. 1 concern with one word: Drugs. Johnson, 57, a receiving clerk for a government agency, lives on Clifton Avenue near North Pulaski Street in Greater Mondawmin.
He said he sees drug peddlers on the street, but they always seem to vanish when police come. He said he sometimes hears gunshots.
"When you send your children out the front door, you send them out on faith," said Johnson, who has a 14-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son.
He said his mother raised "12 of us, and she always taught us whatever you do, do it honest. I was brought up not to be cool all the time, to back away from cool when you know it's wrong."
Johnson and one of his brothers shined shoes for 10 cents at Camden Station during World War II. Now, from his yellow kitchen chair on his small metal porch, he sees boys admiring drug dealers and teen-age girls raising babies.
What can Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Johnson's three council members do about it?
OC Johnson said he really couldn't think of anything, except maybe
greater use of undercover officers by the Police Department and longer prison sentences for drug dealers.
Erwin Rubin has a few suggestions. He owns Pratt Discount Home Furnishings in the 1900 block of W. Pratt St., in the 6th Council District, and is vice president of the West Pratt Street Merchants Association.
L He said the mayor and the council must do more for children:
"I believe the junkies are a lost cause. I hate to say it, but I believe we can write them off. I think we have to concentrate on the kids."
The city should support community associations whenever they do anything for children, he said. Rubin is an organizer of a children's festival Aug. 11 in southwest Baltimore, and he said the city "hasn't done a thing for us," even though the organizers have asked the city for a stage and booths and money to hire an anti-drug rap group.
The drug problem in Baltimore is out of control, Rubin said. Although he initially opposed Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's call for a debate on the legalization of drugs, Rubin said the idea now makes more and more sense.
"Maybe it's the only way for this crime to stop," Rubin said.
The problems are massive, he said, and require aggressive, creative thinking by private citizens and public officials.
"Things are in despair," Rubin said. "But can we give up? Really, can we give up?"
Culotta, the barber in Locust Point, acknowledges that there are big problems, but he'd be happy if someone from the city came down and cleaned his street.