Mayor Schmoke offers apology to project residents Clarke goes ahead with night visit

January 24, 1993|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke apologized to residents of the city's drug- and damage-plagued Lexington Terrace public housing complex yesterday, promising immediate steps to improve living conditions.

Mr. Schmoke said he would immediately move residents from one high-rise building, which is in the worst condition, into other city-owned housing while it undergoes extensive renovation.

The mayor met with about 50 residents at a hastily arranged meeting at the Mount Olive Baptist Church after he toured the building at 734 W. Fayette St. with State Sen. Larry Young and Del. Ruth Kirk.

In what could be interpreted as political one-upmanship, the mayor met with the residents just 2 1/2 hours before City Council President Mary Pat Clarke was to arrive at the Lexington Terrace complex to tour apartments and spend the night with one of the residents.

Ms. Clarke went ahead with her visit, nevertheless, calling the mayor's announcement "nice."

But she also observed: "I didn't just jump on this train in the last week. All across this city, public housing is deteriorating. Security stinks, sanitation stinks, and people who want to keep their places clean are fighting against terrible odds."

For the first hour of her visit last night, she was trailed by about 75 people, including three television cameras, reporters, some residents and a myriad of children.

On Thursday, angry residents issued an invitation to Ms. Clarke, Mr. Schmoke and Housing Authority Executive Director Robert W. Hearn to spend a night in the complex to, in the words of one woman, "wake up the same way we do."

Ms. Clarke, who attended that meeting, immediately accepted the invitation.

Yesterday, Mr. Schmoke said he also would spend a night at the complex, probably next Thursday or Friday. "I don't just want to come and sleep," Mr. Schmoke said. "I want to spend the evening meeting with people."

The embattled Mr. Hearn has not accepted the invitation.

The residents of two of the high-rise buildings had threatened arent strike to begin on Feb. 1 if city government did not take immediate action to clean up unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

As Mr. Schmoke toured two of the high-rise buildings yesterday afternoon, what he saw were trash-strewn hallways, uncollected garbage piled so high it spilled out of trash chutes, apartments with exposed wiring, broken windows, and water damage.

The mayor said the building had deteriorated seriously since he toured it nine months ago.

People in one apartment after another told him of submitting numerous work orders to the maintenance department for repairs that were never done.

The city's interim director of housing management, Emmanuel Price, accompanied the mayor, writing down necessary repairs as the group toured apartments.

xTC Resident Cya Ray showed him a light switch in her living room with exposed wiring that has given both her and her 10-year-old son shocks. "Oh, geez, that's dangerous," Mr. Schmoke said, peering at the switch.

She also showed him a hole in her wall from which water pours whenever it is turned on nearby.

L "I've put in a thousand work orders," she said, to no avail.

"I couldn't believe what my eyes were seeing," Mr. Schmoke told the residents. "No wonder you're angry. It looks like a place we forgot. Let me apologize to you first of all, because there's no explanation for the way things are."

"We're going to take action and take it properly," he promised.

He said 69 households at 734 W. Fayette would be relocated to low-rise public housing scattered throughout the city. Residents had earlier complained about a proposal to move them into other high-rise buildings while repairs are made.

"We're not going to take anybody from one high-rise and put them in another high-rise," Mr. Schmoke said to loud applause. "You don't have to worry about that. That idea is dead."

Mr. Price said that public works crews would descend on all five Lexington Terrace buildings in the next week to catch up on work orders and make necessary repairs. "We're going to do this comprehensively. Stop-gap will not work," Mr. Price said.

Mr. Schmoke said he will meet Thursday night with residents of the housing complex to work on more long-range plans to improve safety and living conditions there.

After most of the media left Ms. Clarke's visit last night, she entered the building at 221 North Fremont Ave., got into an elevator with a dozen others -- and the elevator promptly got stuck about a foot above the first floor with the door closed.

They remained about 10 minutes while the fire department was called and forced open the door.

Councilman Melvin Stukes of the 6th District stood outside as the rescue proceeded and said, "This is like the commander seeing what the troops are going through at the front, actually seeing, actually feeling the frustration. You can't get much better testimony than this."

Ms. Clarke was almost ebullient, but occasionally while hearing someone's complaint, she would rest her head against the wall as the enormity of the problems sank in.

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