Schmoke gets down and dirty with city trash crew

December 03, 1991|By Martin C. Evans

It must have been an odd sight to the residents of Sidney Avenue in Westport who peered out their back doors -- groggy-eyed and in their bedclothes -- as dawn was breaking yesterday.

The trash crew that passed in the alley collecting leaking bags of turkey carcasses and soggy crusts of bread was followed by a string of security guards, television crews, a host of City Hall high-hats and an unmarked police car. But then, its not every day that one of the orange-suited men slinging the smelly bags is the mayor of Baltimore.

No, Kurt L. Schmoke was not trying to ease the city's fiscal problems by moonlighting as a trashman.

Rather, the mayor spent about an hour working alongside the sanitation department regulars to re-familiarize himself with what they go through, he said, and to let them know that he appreciates their hard work. "I'm not planning to quit my day job," the mayor said, as a bag he heaved toward the back of the trash truck scattered some of its foul-smelling contents onto his shoes.

Some of the people who were up as the mayor passed about 7 a.m. said they were impressed by Mr. Schmoke's willingness to spend part of the day picking up trash.

It was the third time the mayor has pitched in with a Baltimore trash crew in the past three years.

"It means he is concerned, not just about certain areas of the city, but about everybody," said James E. Brown, who lives in the 2300 block of Sidney Avenue. "Some people just give orders and don't see what the working man has to go through. He's the type of mayor that doesn't mind getting his hands dirty."

Maybe not. But, let's face it, this is not pleasant work.

The mayor, whose trademark is a broad grin, spent much of the time grimacing at the aromas that greeted him along the three-block collection route he walked yesterday morning. A dozen paces behind him, sanitation department supervisors regaled reporters with tales of the awful things -- such as battery acid, paint and even dog droppings -- that sometimes spray the work crews when plastic trash bags burst.

"There's got to be a better way," the mayor said at one point.

One option the mayor said he is not considering, however, is turning the city's trash collections over to a private firm.

Although some cities have turned to private trash collections as a way of saving money, Mr. Schmoke said studies he has seen show that costs usually rise and service generally declines after the first two years of privatization.

Before leaving the Reedbird Avenue sanitation yard to begin his collections, Mr. Schmoke told a gathering of about three dozen trash collectors that by keeping the city's streets and alleys clean, they are an important first line of defense against the proliferation of rats and the spread of disease.

"It is really out of respect for you and my appreciation for what you are doing that I'm out here today," Mr. Schmoke told the men.

Norman T. Green, a 23-year veteran of the sanitation department, said the mayor's appearance heartened his fellow workers, many of whom are still smarting over the mayor's decision to rescind a 6 percent pay increase to city workers earlier this year to help balance the city budget.

"It means a lot to the guys," Mr. Green said.

"But they still have a lot of grievances."

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