Life beyond Sandtown-Winchester

September 27, 1993

Now that Kurt L. Schmoke has declared his candidacy for re-election in 1995, the mayor ought to redefine the mission of his government. In particular, he ought to return a sense of livability to Baltimore, a city which is visibly hemorrhaging as a result of a continuing exodus of the middle class.

Unlike his rival, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, Mr. Schmoke has never in his six years as mayor developed a rapport with city neighborhoods. Perhaps he understands how tricky it can be to work with neighborhoods, which are fickle in their loyalty but insatiable in their demands. It is far easier to handle such high-profile projects as Inner Harbor developments or to pour millions into the complete restructuring of Sandtown-Winchester, the West Baltimore community the Schmoke administration is trying to turn around.

The concentration of governmental and private resources on Sandtown-Winchester has given Mr. Schmoke lots of nationwide and international exposure. HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros is a regular visitor; last time he brought Attorney General Janet Reno with him.

The city is playing a high-stakes game. It hopes to have Sandtown-Winchester designated as one of the Clinton administration's 10 "empowerment zones," where firms would get up to $5,000 in annual tax credits for each resident they employ. From the city's standpoint, this all-out campaign for Sandtown-Winchester is understandable. If residents cannot get jobs, the costly new houses built there may soon fall into disrepair.

There is life beyond Sandtown-Winchester, however, and many Baltimoreans struggling to keep their own neighborhoods livable without much help from City Hall are getting resentful. "The rest of the city is falling down and all we hear is Sandtown-Winchester," is a typical refrain.

Those residents wonder why the city cannot act against owners of vacant properties that endanger the stability of neighborhoods; why literally blocks of vacant houses remain unboarded, open to vandals and the elements; why no action is taken against households and landlords who contribute to neighborhood noise, drug and trash problems.

All these are tough matters to solve. But they do not disappear by being ignored. As long as no action is taken, more dedicated, long-time residents will get fed up and move out of the city. They can take crime and high taxes but cannot stomach their powerlessness to resolve the lesser irritants of urban life.

If the Schmoke administration wants to stop urban blight and the continuing loss of Baltimore's tax base, it had better start cracking the whip throughout the city.

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