Baltimore's firefighters are in the streets, passing out brochures and urging citizens to call City Hall to protest dramatic budget cuts that mean layoffs and closed fire companies. The firefighters hope the mayor's office will be flooded with complaints.
The problem is: The mayor's office is holding back the deluge.
It simply isn't taking the calls.
Yesterday, a receptionist briskly and politely transferred callers complaining about Fire Department budget cuts right over to the fire chief's office -- even though the mayor, not the fire chief, is responsible for the final budget.
Callers who wanted to protest cuts in the city schools' budget or the libraries were told to call the office of Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
"The governor's the one who made the cuts," the receptionist said cheerfully.
No fuss. No muss. And, apparently, no complaints logged in the mayor's office.
But in the office of the fire chief, the phones rang all day with calls transferred from City Hall.
"They're not supposed to" transfer the complaints, said a weary firefighter who was answering phones in the chief's office yesterday afternoon. "We may be cut too. We may lose our jobs. We're not the solution.
We're part of the problem."
By midafternoon, 25 to 30 calls had been directed to the chief's office from City Hall. The chief's office was sending them back.
"The mayor, for whatever reason, is having them sent here," said the firefighter, who declined to give his name. "Maybe he doesn't want to take the calls. Or maybe he's busy. But they're sending them here."
A receptionist in the governor's office said that they'd received two calls yesterday from Baltimoreans protesting city budget cuts. The governor's aides suggested the callers try City Hall.
But Frank Traynor, Governor Schaefer's press secretary, said Baltimoreans' protests would be welcome at the State House.
"We've been handling constituent calls from all over the state," he said. "We're in the people business. The governor sure sympathizes with Kurt."
Mayor Schmoke's spokesman, Clint Coleman, said late yesterday afternoon that the mayor's staff had not meant to pass the buck, but had simply been overwhelmed with calls that unexpectedly jammed two lines -- one used by the mayor's chief aide and one by his scheduling office. Those numbers were on the firefighters' brochure.
Callers, he said, should have been told that the cuts came from reductions in state aid and that complaints should be sent to state legislators. "For those citizens who did call and received that treatment, I can only apologize," he said. "This has never happened before."