Relocations likened to influx from Cuba

September 02, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

Dundalk Del. Louis L. DePazzo told a radio audience yesterday that the federal Moving to Opportunity housing program was like Fidel Castro's decision to dump Cuba's undesirables in the 1980 Mariel boatlift on the United States.

"My concern about this program is much like Castro did when he opened the prisons, and the mental institutions and sent us the AIDS patients. If I were mayor of Baltimore City, believe me, I think I would be derelict in my duty if I did not send out the worst of the worst," Mr. DePazzo, a 7th District Democrat, said.

But Baltimore City Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, a 2nd District Democrat who debated the merits of the MTO program with Mr. DePazzo on station WWIN, asked him to give up his "inflammatory comments that make everybody look bad."

"Don't we have to help uplift people?" he said. He urged Mr. DePazzo, who has made MTO a major issue in his campaign for the County Council, to stop "pouring gasoline on the fire."

The DePazzo rhetoric has been par for the course lately in a debate over an experimental federal housing program that is expected to move 285 poor inner-city residents to better neighborhoods in the city and surrounding jurisdictions.

Baltimore is one of five cities in the program, which uses federal Section 8 rental subsidies to give selected residents access to private rental housing in areas with better schools and job opportunities.

Although MTO rules allow recipients to choose where they will relocate -- in the city or five suburban counties -- many politicians and other opponents in eastern Baltimore County's white, blue-collar communities have portrayed MTO as part of a plot to relocate thousands of poor black city residents to their neighborhoods.

Almost nightly meetings packed with angry residents have built the opposition to a frenzy in Dundalk, Essex and Middle River. About 600 angry, shouting people packed the Hawthorne Elementary School gym Tuesday night, and another aroused, overflow group spilled out of Dundalk's Church of the Brethren on Yorkway Wednesday. Yet another anti-MTO meeting was held last night at Chase Elementary School on Eastern Boulevard.

The anger and political pressure prompted Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden to ask the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last week to postpone the MTO program in Baltimore.

Until then, Mr. Hayden had refused to take a stand on MTO, saying the county was powerless to stop a program that was put together by city and federal housing officials.

Yesterday's radio debate followed a broadcast Tuesday in which WWIN mistakenly attributed to Mr. Ambridge a statment Mr. DePazzo made at a meeting in June. At that meeting Mr. DePazzo was quoted as saying that city housing project dwellers "must be taught to bathe and how not to steal."

After the station received calls criticizing Mr. Ambridge, the East Baltimore councilman called the station to complain. The station ran repeated corrections and invited both men to debate the issue.

Heavily favored to win a seat on the Baltimore County Council this year, Mr. DePazzo claimed yesterday that he was misquoted in The Sun's report of his comments at a June meeting at Chesapeake High School. However, he confirmed the accuracy of those remarks to a reporter at the time.

Yesterday, after resolutely asserting on the radio that he had been misquoted, he said, "We were concerned that the people who would be sent out [in MTO] would be those who needed serious counseling . . . would need to be taught to take baths and not to steal."

Mr. DePazzo said he would like to see recipients of federal Section 8 rental subsidies housed in the county's upscale neighborhoods, such as Ruxton, Riderwood and "the wealthier sections of the city," and not in the struggling eastern county.

Unlike Baltimore City, the county has no public housing and its low-income families depend on Section 8 rental subsidies.

Currently, the northwestern Randallstown-Pikesville council district has the heaviest concentration of Section 8 renters, followed by two eastern districts, Essex with 20 percent and Mr. DePazzo's Dundalk district with 15 percent.

MTO has been a hot election-year issue on Baltimore County's Eastside, where challengers, mostly Republicans, have jumped on it and incumbents, mostly Democrats, have found themselves dodging for cover.

Some incumbents, such as Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, have tried to lay blame at the door of Mr. Hayden, a Republican. They say Mr. Hayden heard Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke speak about MTO at a Baltimore Metropolitan Council meeting March 15, but raised no objections.

County communications director Robert Hughes said Mr. Hayden did not speak up because MTO "was a done deal."

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