Parading politicians hear critics of housing program CAMPAIGN 1994

September 12, 1994|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Sun Staff Writer

With the primary election nearly at hand, residents of the Dundalk area used the "I Am an American Day" parade yesterday as a chance to pelt campaigning politicians with criticism of the federal plan to move some poor, inner-city residents to stable neighborhoods.

Along the parade route in Dundalk, spectators made it clear with signs and shouts that they want no part of the Moving to Opportunity program, predicting that a flood of poor people from the city will bring down their property values.

"You got to stop MTO," one man yelled to Del. Louis L. DePazzo, a Dundalk Democrat hoping to win election to the Baltimore County Council. He has been an outspoken critic of the MTO program.

"I'm going to get them," Mr. DePazzo yelled back, grinning.

The parade -- held in Dundalk for the first time after more than a half-century in Baltimore -- featured more than two dozen military units, several marching bands, a Philadelphia string band, a Christian rock group on the back of a truck, and at least three pint-sized beauty pageant winners.

Many of the spectators saluted as flag-carrying honor guards marched through the heart of theold Dundalk commercial district.

Though organizers of the parade tried to keep politicking to a minimum, many politicians couldn't resist the opportunity it posed.

Melvin G. Mintz, a Democratic councilman seeking the party nomination for Baltimore County executive, had supporters handing out "mints for Mintz," while House of Delegates candidate William C. Batton, also a Democrat, passed out small bars of soap "for a fresh and clean approach."

And a beaming Ross Z. Pierpont, a perennial Republican candidate who is running for the U.S. Senate this year, threw candy, Mardi Gras style, from the back of a vintage fire truck.

If any of the candidates supported the MTO program, none was saying so.

Opponents passed out bright green "Say No to MTO" fliers along the route.

"We want to have a sign on every door in Dundalk," one said as he handed out the leaflets.

"Once you start messing around with people's property values, you're asking for trouble," said Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, a Republican candidate for governor, who said she was peppered with comments about MTO along the parade route.

"Even though the tradition of this parade is that it's not political," she said, "there was a frustration that they are being stifled."

Mrs. Sauerbrey said she opposes the program as "social engineering" and noted that Rep. Helen Delich Bentley -- the Republican gubernatorial leader in a statewide poll released Saturday -- had voted for a bill that included the MTO program in Congress in 1992.

Mrs. Bentley has said she was unaware of the MTO program when she voted for the housing bill. Mrs. Bentley, who received a warm greeting from much of the crowd, has said she opposes the program.

The group that is fighting it has endorsed her over Mrs. Sauerbrey.

Mrs. Sauerbrey and Mrs. Bentley both got out of their cars for the parade to work the crowd, seated largely in lawn chairs.

The poll released Saturday showed Mrs. Bentley leading Mrs. Sauerbrey in the Republican race by a margin of 45 to 32 percent, with 16 percent undecided.

A third candidate, former diplomat William S. Shepard, trailed badly.

"This is a real horse race," said Mrs. Sauerbrey, who plans a blitz from Frederick to Salisbury today. "We're coming down the stretch and closing fast."

After 56 years in Baltimore, the parade was moved a few miles east to Dundalk this year when organizers decided they could not afford new city fees.

Del. Anthony M. DiPietro Jr., a Baltimore Democrat who was among the parade organizers, said the modest turnout of spectators was "satisfactory" considering that it was the first year in Dundalk.

"It could have been a little better," Mr. DiPietro said. "But being the first time, we're treading water. They didn't know what to expect."

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