Rebuilding community is mayor's cure for city ills

November 29, 1993|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Staff Photo

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke appeared before a national television audience yesterday and expounded an intensely local theme: Rebuilding a sense of community, inch by inch.

Mr. Schmoke was a guest on the ABC show "This Week with David Brinkley" discussing the rising rate of out-of-wedlock births and its increasingly higher costs to society.

"We have the problem with the unwed teen mothers, and a lot of other problems that have led to a real breakdown of community," Baltimore's mayor said.

"We see it in the violence that we have, the number of random shootings. We see it with the drug trafficking.

"But we're also trying to combat the problem, and I guess probably the underlying effort here is trying to restore a sense of community. . . . Bringing people together, I think, is the first step toward dealing with some of these tough problems."

Mr. Brinkley looked at him and said: "That's a very large order. How do you do that?"

"Well it is," replied Mr. Schmoke, laughing for just a moment.

"But there's an old expression: 'By the yard life is hard, but by the inch life's a cinch.' Well, we try to inch along there."

Residents of Baltimore took one step Friday with "Going Out of Business Day for Drug Dealers," the mayor said. He explained how about 2,000 citizens and public officials occupied 22 open-air drug markets for 12 hours.

"The powerful message was to the community, not necessarily to the drug dealers," he said, "that we have the power to fight back, to take small steps to bring together a sense of community."

Although the show's focus was out-of-wedlock births, Mr. Schmoke talked mostly about general urban problems with Mr. Brinkley, George Will and Sam Donaldson.

The mayor's nine-minute appearance was sandwiched between those of author and political scientist Charles Murray and Surgeon General M. Joycelyn Elders.

Mr. Murray recently touched off a debate about single women having babies with an article in the Wall Street Journal titled "The Coming White Underclass."

Mr. Brinkley, quoting Mr. Murray, opened the show saying: "Illegitimacy is the single-most important social problem of our time -- more important than crime, drugs, poverty, illiteracy, welfare or homelessness."

That is so, Mr. Murray wrote, because illegitimacy drives all those problems.

Sixty-eight percent of black babies in this country are born to unmarried women, according to statistics cited on the show. And 22 percent of white babies are born to unmarried women.

Baltimore has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation.

Mr. Murray blames welfare for increased illegitimacy, because welfare and related programs enable unmarried women to support families.

He said expanded adoption programs, increased support from people in the community and "lavishly funded" orphanages are preferable to welfare.

Mr. Schmoke said the problem is far more complicated than merely blaming the welfare system.

But he did say he would welcome "new thinking" from the Clinton administration on welfare and other social programs.

In response to a question from Mr. Will, the mayor briefly discussed Norplant, the implantable contraceptive being offered at the city's Laurence Paquin School for new and expectant mothers.

Mr. Will said some people suggest that supplying Norplant to teen-agers is sending the wrong message, one that gives into the problem of promiscuity.

The mayor said the school curriculum's primary message is abstinence, but the high school-based clinics also offer information on contraceptives because city school officials realize some youths will be sexually active.

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