City tenants group finds federal funding precludes politics

August 31, 1991|By Ginger Thompson

In an effort to spur political activity among public housing tenants, the Baltimore Housing Authority's resident advisory board was to endorse candidates running for city offices yesterday -- the first time the group had ever taken a political stand.

But the tenants group was told it would have to withdraw its endorsements because it operates on federal funds and therefore is banned from engaging in political activity.

"That was a mistake," said Zack Germroth, a spokesman for the Baltimore Housing Authority. "No one had given it a second thought."

zTC The residents advisory board decided on the endorsements after a candidates forum last week, and the group sent out news releases Wednesday announcing that it endorsed the re-election Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and the election of Jacqueline F. McLean as comptroller, as well as one council candidate from each district.

"We thought that if the residents heard what the candidates were talking about, they might want to get involved," said Elizabeth Wright, a resident of Westport Homes in Southwest Baltimore and chairwoman of the board. She said she was never told by officials that such actions were forbidden.

The resident advisory board is made up of representatives from the city's 32 public housing complexes who meet to discuss problems and offer recommendations to housing management. Residents of each complex elect two representatives to the board every two years, and the board gets about $50,000 a year from the federal government -- $3 for every unit of public housing in Baltimore.

Mrs. Wright said she and the other board members had viewed the endorsements as a tool to motivate public housing tenants to participate in this year's city elections. "Politics is the name of the game," she said. "The only way to be heard is to vote."

Mrs. Wright, who has served several terms on athe advisory board, said she and her colleagues were frustrated by an extremely low voter turnout among public housing tenants, and equally troubled by a lack of interest in their concerns on the part of the city.

"Police response to our calls is not good," she said. "And we need some special programs to keep our children in schools. There are a lot of dropouts -- and I mean kids dropping out of elementary school."

The endorsements were to be formally announced at a meeting yesterday at the Housing Authority. After learning that the endorsements were forbidden, however, Mr. Germroth said the meeting was limited to a discussion of other strategies for getting tenants out to vote in the Sept. 12 primaries.

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