The Block's doors reopen amid scorn for Schaefer

January 19, 1994|By Michael James and Norris P. West | Michael James and Norris P. West,Staff Writers

Dancers whirled around poles, booze flowed, and customers denounced Gov. William Donald Schaefer yesterday as The Block sprang back to life after Friday's large-scale raid

"I'm glad I don't come from Maryland. They say Maryland is for crabs, and they're right -- Schaefer is a crab," said Aaron Kuhns, 26, sitting with a scantily clad dancer at the Club Pussycat.

Business was brisk at the Pussycat, where customers and employees talked about the raid and whether The Block will bounce back.

"This is a working-class place," said Mr. Kuhns, a Kentucky native who attends welding classes at the Maryland Rehabilitation Center in Baltimore. "Let me come down to The Block and enjoy myself.

"Schaefer's just trying to make money to put into office buildings. But I know one thing he doesn't: The Block will never die."

Joseph Swain, 41, bartender at the Pussycat and father of two, said the governor "is trying to put me out of a job."

"I don't have a college education. I need this job because I'm trying to feed two little boys. So the other night, I'm handcuffed like a criminal, and here comes Schaefer, walking through like a saint, and he just looks at me like I'm a scum bag.

"I'm not a scum bag. I'm just trying to make a living."

State and city officials say the raid -- which included 500 state troopers and 15 National Guardsmen -- was not aimed at closing down The Block, but instead at prostitution, drugs, and other crimes. More than 50 arrests were made.

But the overwhelming show of force had many suspicious of the state's intentions in going after an area with little violent crime. The Block did not have a single homicide last year, during which the city set a record in that category.

Ron Bell, owner of the Midway, said he thought the governor ordered the raid to bring attention to himself.

"I think it's because the governor wants to go out in a big way," Mr. Bell said of Mr. Schaefer, who is in the final year of his term.

Rodney Price, 42, a Hagerstown resident who also is a student at the rehabilitation center, said The Block has been unfairly targeted.

"The biggest misconception that the general public has is that these are low-life people," said Mr. Price, gesturing to the customers crowded around the Pussycat bar. "People come down here to make friends. They have good times.

"Yes, there's nudity. But nobody's trying to hide that. There's no mystery about this place."

Summer Dehlitsch, 21, a dancer at the Pussycat, said she realizes that there is crime on The Block -- and that she doesn't condone it.

Still, she said, "I didn't like what happened. [The police] were much too rough on people who have to work here. Some stuff does go on down here, but most of us aren't involved in illegal activity."

Yesterday, angry club owners picked up copies of their liquor licenses and prepared to reopen for business. The licenses were seized by state troopers during the raid, but Judge Ellen M. Heller allowed the establishments to reopen after paying a $1 fee to the city liquor board for duplicate documents.

Twenty-two of the 24 owners picked up their duplicates yesterday. While at the liquor board office, some complained that police had been too rough, holding club owners and employees on the ground for hours and leaving bars in shambles.

They charged that the raid was part of an effort by city, state and business leaders to clear a prime downtown district.

"It's a property takeover, nothing but a property takeover from the Commerce Building to the mayor's building," said John M. Delawder, owner of the Glass Slipper at 14 Custom House Ave. He said he was convinced that city and state officials conducted the raid to please corporate tenants at Commerce Place, an office tower at South and Baltimore streets.

"It's definitely going to hurt us," Mr. Delawder said. "Any time you raid a place and throw innocent people on the ground, there's got to be an effect."

Mr. Swain, the bartender, said business was "about average" yesterday, adding that a few customers came in "because they were curious."

"I had people come in to say, 'What's going on?' " he said. "There's been a lot of publicity. But whether it will be good or bad is too early to say."

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