Council members face big issues like stolen trash

MICHAEL OLESKER

June 24, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Here is the telephone ringing at Baltimore City Hall.

Ring, ring, ring.

Here is Nicholas C. D'Adamo, the city councilman from East Baltimore, picking up the receiver. Soon, he will wonder why.

"Trouble with bulk trash," says the voice on the line. It's the annoyed voice of a voter. He says he and his wife were cleaning out their basement, where they had three old television sets, long since forgotten, which have not functioned in years.

"If they don't work, throw them out," says the man's wife. "Call bulk trash."

She means the city's Bureau of Solid Waste Customer Service Section, which carries away items too large for the Sanitation Department to handle.

Please pick up these old television sets, the man tells the Solid Waste people. He gives them his address, and they tell him to place the old TV sets by the trash cans in his back yard.

But the three sets are not picked up. So now the man has telephoned D'Adamo of the 1st Councilmanic District, hoping he will flex the marvelous political muscle we give to our elected officials.

"Solid waste," D'Adamo tells the man. "Right. I'll call and see if they can come in the next couple of days."

And, just like that, we have the great system of representative government in the city of Baltimore at its finest, a system historically personified in D'Adamo's East Baltimore by the likes of a Clarence "Du" Burns bringing strangers together, a Barbara Mikulski helping the elderly, a Mimi DiPietro fixing the streets and alleys.

Except, in the case of Councilman Nick D'Adamo and the old television sets, there is this:

Before Solid Waste can arrive, irony rears its head. Somebody really brilliant comes along overnight, and picks up one of these worthless old television sets, and steals off with it.

And the next morning, at City Hall, Councilman D'Adamo's telephone is ringing again, and it's the man with the annoyed voice again, who says:

"Somebody came and stole one of my television sets."

"One of the sets you're throwing out?" asks D'Adamo.

"Yeah, and the solid waste people still haven't picked up the other two."

"They should be there tomorrow," says D'Adamo.

"Does that mean," the man asks now, "that I gotta stay up all night and watch the other two sets so they don't steal them, too?"

This, naturally, throws D'Adamo for a moment.

"If the sets don't work," he asks, "what do you care if they get taken?"

"I pay good taxes," declares the man. "I want the city of Baltimore to pick them up for me."

"Yeah, but. . . ."

"Listen," says the old man, "I voted for you, and I pay taxes."

In the life of a Baltimore City Council member you were expecting, maybe, James Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"? You were anticipating a life of political glamour?

"Nah," D'Adamo was saying yesterday. "It's a job of helping people with neighborhood problems."

The council and the mayor of Baltimore have spent weeks agonizing over one problem -- whether to drop 5 cents from the city's property tax -- but the bulk of day-to-day council work involves the stuff which never makes headlines.

D'Adamo, for example, recently climbed a telephone pole to rescue a kitten dangling from telephone wires. He's trimmed weeds in the back yard of a wheelchair-bound man. He's personally hauled such bulk trash as old sofas, hot water heaters and cases of empty liquor bottles in the trunk of his old Lincoln, all in an unwritten understanding that this is the stuff of government. Also, when a frantic bride-to-be arrived in his office the day before her scheduled wedding, having thought of everything except the acquisition of an actual marriage license, D'Adamo helped her get the license and still left enough time for the bride to get her hair done.

Do we chuckle at any of this? Well, yes and no.

The great strength of the Baltimore City Council has never been its ability to grapple with the pressing social issues of our time, which it has frequently botched, but its accessibility to citizens in need.

It's all about council members who answer their telephones and, only later, sometimes wonder why.

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