August 09, 1994

Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro was a rough-hewn ward politician in the best sense of that term. He was close to his people in East Baltimore, understood their problems and saw his primary function as helping them deal with a remote municipal bureaucracy. Today what is known as constituent service is too often performed by paid staff members on behalf of buttoned-down legislators who value a few minutes in front of a TV camera more than hours talking to their constituents. Many voters all over Baltimore who hardly ever see their council members between elections would be happy with a Mimi DiPietro.

Mr. DiPietro, who died Friday at 89, was an easy man to underestimate. He hardly ever originated a piece of legislation in a quarter century on the City Council. But he understood what was good for his constituents and what was not. He grew up in a highly insular society but understood when its days were numbered. Those who were transfixed by his free-wheeling use of English syntax and vocabulary missed the fact he could converse comfortably in four foreign languages heard on the streets and in the homes of ethnic East Baltimore.

The passing of the Mimi DiPietros from politics is a sign that times have changed irrevocably and their services have become superfluous. Municipal government still collects the garbage and paves the streets. But by and large a citizen with a problem heads for a state or federal agency far more often than to City Hall. There the citizen confronts what is often an intimidating, impersonal bureaucracy. Not the same thing as Mr. DiPietro getting a city bureau chief on the phone while a constituent sat by his side. Who's to say the new way is better?

Though he was an elementary school dropout, Mr. DiPietro was a practicing social worker whose instincts and experience made up for his lack of professional training. He would have snorted disdainfully at that description. He never passed himself off as anything other than a neighborhood politician whose mission was to keep the voters happy. And to keep them voting Democratic.

The voters of East Baltimore decided they could do without Mr. DiPietro in the last election. He was of their parents' and grandparents' world, not theirs. His successors can parse a sentence, but can they serve their constituents as well?

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