March of Dimes Walk Skips City

January 28, 1993

The March of Dimes walk-a-thon was a harbinger of the spring in Baltimore City for 22 years. By bringing as many as 30,000 walkers to the streets every April, it produced crowds and enthusiasm not often seen since the memorable Easter Parade promenade tradition ended in the 1950s.

This wonderful event -- one of the most successful walk-a-thons in the nation -- has now fled the city. The local March of Dimes says it cannot afford to share the costs of policing and cleanup required under a new city policy.

Instead, this year's Baltimore walk-a-thon will be conducted on a 15-mile route that begins at White Marsh Mall and winds its way to Essex Community College in Baltimore County.

On the surface, this may seem like another attempt by the city to deal with its financial crisis that backfired. Except that Lucy Skeen, a spokesperson for the local March of Dimes group, says that the walk organizers never even tried to get hard figures on the new infrastructure costs from the Baltimore City government. "We frankly didn't have the time to work with the city," she said.

We find this attitude inexcusable. Over the years, Baltimore and its citizens have been good to the March of Dimes walk-a-thon. It shouldn't be too much to ask that before making a far-reaching decision to change the route of the walk that the group get its facts and figures straight.

This ought to be a lesson to the local March of Dimes (which now says it will sponsor a walk-a-thon in Baltimore City next year) as well as the municipal government. Better communications are needed. But such communications are a two-way street. The city, for its part, needs to redouble efforts to contact organizers of important private events who may be tempted to skip Baltimore altogether without even testing the new fee policy.

The Baltimore walk-a-thon was a charity event husbanded by Hyman A. Pressman, the long-time city comptroller. When he retired, the event lost its City Hall champion. Meanwhile, frequent staff changes filled the local March of Dimes with personnel who are not familiar with the city or the walk-a-thon's symbolic significance.

Festivals are important for Baltimore City's image and well-being. The March of Dimes experience suggests some groups may have prejudged the Schmoke administration as being so hostile to their causes that they don't even want to try to keep their events in Baltimore City. That's unfair. These groups owe the city too much to just walk away.

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