Clarke spends the night at Lexington Terrace Politician finds grit, spirit, strength during her stay

January 25, 1993|By Melody Simmons and John Rivera | Melody Simmons and John Rivera,Staff Writers

A caption accompanying Monday's report on Lexington Terrace incorrectly identified Cya Ray, a resident of Building 770, as Bernice Robison, a resident of Building 221 of the high-rise.

The Sun regrets the error.

She walked through blighted apartments, vacant hallways and the dim, trashy stairwells of Lexington Terrace in West Baltimore. She even got stuck in a dingy high-rise elevator and sought comfort from her rosary before being rescued by the fire department.

The morning after City Council President Mary Pat Clarke stayed overnight with residents of the dilapidated public housing project, she recalled the experience with concern and a little humor.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"It was like 'Saturday Night Live' without a television set," Ms. Clarke said yesterday.

The politician accepted an invitation to spend the night during a Lexington Terrace residents' meeting Thursday. The group insisted that Ms. Clarke, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and housing authority Executive Director Robert W. Hearn experience the frustrations of lax maintenance and management problems first-hand.

The mayor has promised to spend the night Thursday.

When Ms. Clarke arrived Saturday at 6 p.m., the event was a media circus. Local television stations were broadcasting live as about 75 people, most of them residents and their children, shouted complaints to the Clarke entourage.

Resident Bernice Robison showed Ms. Clarke extensive water damage on the ceiling of her 12th-floor apartment and a faucet that has been constantly leaking for months.

"My spigot has been running since last year. And all I need is a washer," Ms. Robison said.

City Councilman Melvin Stukes, who accompanied Ms. Clarke on the tour, borrowed a screwdriver from Ms. Robison and went upstairs to the 14th floor to fix a faucet that was going full force, spewing hot water into a vacant apartment.

He returned to the group about 10 minutes later with a big smile on his face and proclaimed: "Mission accomplished!"

"I think I'm just going to take a day and get some plumber friends of mine and take care of some of this," Mr. Stukes told Ms. Clarke.

"If we had a pocketful of washers tonight and a wrench, we could solve half of the problems we've seen," she replied. "We need to get these women trained in minor plumbing and `D carpentry."

In another apartment, resident Doris Jackson showed Ms. Clarke the damage done to her walls by water that has been leaking for what she said was five years. All of her furniture was elevated 3 inches off the floor by 2-foot-by-4-foot planks.

"It took them over two years until they did anything about it," Ms. Jackson said. "That's when they told me to go down and get some two-by-fours and put my furniture up on them."

Charnette Williams took Ms. Clarke into her living room, where her 2-month-old daughter, Charnette Farmer, lay in a bassinet that was placed on a couch. Little Charnette was released from the hospital about two weeks ago after contracting pneumonia, her mother said.

She blamed the illness on a lack of heat in the apartment. "We have no business being up here," she said. "But we're up here because we have no place else to go."

Ms. Clarke cradled the infant in her arms. "She's all congested," Ms. Clarke said as she rocked the baby. "She's sick. She's a sick baby."

Another resident, Romona Jolly, showed her faucet, which was recently repaired -- and water was gushing out so fast that Mr. Stukes estimated the flow at about 60 gallons an hour.

"This is going on like this all over this building," Ms. Clarke said. "All for lack of a washer."

Four hours into her tour, Ms. Clarke became trapped in a broken elevator for about 10 minutes.

"It went 'ka-bunk, ka-bunk,' and then it got stuck," she said. "The one thing I feared was to get stuck on an elevator, but too many of us got on [at once]. I always have my rosary in my pocket, and I touched it in the elevator. I said, 'Holy Mother, get me out of this elevator.'

"When the fire department came to get us out, they said to me, 'Welcome to Lexington Terrace, Mary Pat!' "

Her tour of the troubled development was preceded by an announcement from Mr. Schmoke that a city housing authority plan to close one of the high-rises and move its 69 families to another blighted building was "dead."

Mr. Hearn proposed to close one building at Lexington Terrace and spend $500,000 to revitalize another high-rise in the development. That announcement sent the residents into a fury because they said they were not consulted by the housing authority.

The mayor told the residents -- who were angry because they did not want to live in another high-rise -- that they would be relocated to safer low-rise apartments scattered throughout the city.

"We are singing and rejoicing on account of what Mr. Schmoke said," said Lorraine Ledbetter, president of the Lexington-Poe tenants' association.

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