Local Democrats cheer 'wonderful' Clinton speech, look forward to increased aid CLINTON'S ECONOMIC PROGRAM

February 18, 1993|By Holly Selby and William F. Zorzi Jr. | Holly Selby and William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writers

Salesmanship was the buzzword last night among the nearly 300 state and local Democrats who gathered to watch President Clinton's address and to celebrate the birthday of Councilwoman Vera P. Hall, the state Democratic Party's chairwoman.

"You forget what a great salesman he is," said Baltimore developer Daniel Henson. "He has pointed out the cost of not doing these proposals -- not in terms of black and white or in terms of gray, but in terms of investment."

Across town, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was ebullient over Mr. Clinton's speech, which he watched studiously in a city office with more than 40 of his top aides and agency heads last night.

"He exceeded my expectations with his speech," Mr. Schmoke said afterward.

At times the atmosphere in the room seemed more like that of a revival meeting than that of a Cabinet meeting, with the aides erupting in applause and laughter, and punctuating their exuberance with cries of "All right."

"We're Democrats," said a beaming Mr. Schmoke. "We haven't had much to cheer about for a while."

Around the country, hundreds of similar speech-watching parties -- minus the birthday cake -- were held as part of a nationwide effort by the Democratic Party to put a pro-Clinton spin on local news coverage of his address.

Last night's speech-watching and birthday party at Camden Club at Oriole Park, which was attended by local government officials and friends and family of Mrs. Hall, initially was to be a 56th birthday party for the 5th District city councilwoman.

But the birthday fete quickly took on increased political importance when national party headquarters called last week for local "watch parties" to be held.

The viewers applauded and whistled as the president outlined his plan to provide more jobs, reform the health care system and change the welfare program. Mr. Clinton's recommendation that the budget reductions begin in Washington was met with rowdy cheers.

"The speech was wonderful," said state Sen. Julian L. Lapides of Baltimore.

But the hope offered for more jobs and increased security met with the most approval.

"He didn't pull any punches," said Mrs. Hall. but I think he made it clear the public has a stake here, and when they realize it they will be willing to pitch in."

"The most important point he made was that we want people not to need us anymore," said Mary Pat Clarke, president of the City Council. "And to do that there are two things he is going to have to address: health care for the family and child care."

Not everyone was convinced that the president's economic strategy was sold across the board.

"The plans are broad-based enough for the public to support, but I don't know if Congress is ready to enact it boldly without addressing the special interests, and that's where it falls apart," said Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham of the 3rd District.

At the mayor's gathering, Mr. Schmoke broke into a broad grin at one point during the speech and, turning to Finance Director William R. Brown Jr., said, "This man speaks my language."

Much of what Mr. Clinton said came as no surprise to Mr. Schmoke. The mayor was briefed last week by the president and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry G. Cisneros.

Mr. Schmoke, in turn, assembled a 14-member panel of department heads -- what he calls his Economic Stimulus Work Group -- to watch the speech and develop a "coordinated plan of how we use the money . . . for job development and economic development."

If Congress approves the Clinton plan, Baltimore will get about $13.5 million more in federal block grant money than the $27 million it now sees, Mr. Schmoke said.

Mr. Schmoke said he wants Baltimore to be ready if Congress gives Mr. Clinton the green light to cut loose the money for cities, which have suffered from federal aid cuts during the last 12 years under the Republicans.

The mayor's work group is in the process of developing a list of housing programs, highway and bridge rehabilitation projects, and school improvements that will meet Mr. Clinton's criteria.

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