Federal agency workers say they feel safer in suburbs Employees rally to keep HCFA in Woodlawn area

March 14, 1992|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Staff Writer

The reason Don Abramson doesn't want the U.S. Health Care Financing Administration to move downtown from Woodlawn is as simple as the title of the book he held up when he was asked the question.

The book? "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets," a chronicle of a year in the life of Baltimore's homicide squad.

"It's not safe in Baltimore," he said, pointing to the book by Sun reporter David Simon as proof.

Mr. Abramson, a program analyst for HCFA, joined about 200 other employees of the agency that runs the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs in a lunch-hour rally yesterday to pressure the government to keep them in the suburbs.

The agency's 2,800 headquarters employees are scheduled to move out of the nine buildings they occupy at the Social Security complex on Security Boulevard and into a single building in Woodlawn or downtown Baltimore. The General Services Administration, which makes the federal government's real estate decisions, is expected to choose a site this summer.

The employees, politicians and business people who joined them yesterday say the two Woodlawn locations that GSA is considering would offer them free parking, easier commuting and more peace of mind.

"I go over the 695 Beltway and the jam [headed for Interstate 95] is already starting," said Joe Flynn, a program analyst, vice president of Local 1923 of the American Federation of Government Employees and a Howard County resident who commutes on Interstate 70.

John Gage, president of Local 1923, said the workers are trying to gather 30,000 signatures to demand that the headquarters stay in the suburbs.

The rally was the latest stage in a campaign by Baltimore County to hang on to HCFA. A development team led by the Rouse Co. has offered to construct a building for HCFA on city-owned land near Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The county has also sweetened the pot for the agency, offering to pay for road improvements for a new county site.

"Baltimore City should have never been included in the bid," Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd told the crowd. "We are with you. We want what the employees want, and we know what you want."

None of the sites under consideration is in Mrs. Bentley's district. Both the Woodlawn and city sites are in the district of Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.-7th, who said yesterday that he supports the workers' efforts to keep the agency in Woodlawn.

"I'm a union person; I've supported working men and working women organized in unions for years," Mr. Mfume said. He said the GSA should "defer to the wishes of the persons who are most affected."

But not all of the advantages claimed for the suburbs are as clear as Woodlawn backers would make it sound.

The city site also would offer free employee parking. The Maryland Stadium Authority has agreed to let HCFA use the parking lots at the new stadium during the day. The Rouse team's proposal also calls for an employee parking garage.

An aide to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said HCFA workers are using fear-mongering tactics to whip up opposition to downtown.

"To escalate it to fear, racial, whatever, is not the proper way to discuss it," said Peter N. Marudas, the mayor's executive assistant for intergovernmental relations. He noted that there was a murder less than a year ago at the Westview Shopping Center on Route 40 near Woodlawn and added, "Things unfortunately happen everywhere."

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