Mayor picks Hitchcock as the $100 million man

January 06, 1995|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke tapped a longtime political associate and city legal adviser yesterday to run daily operations of a new multimillion-dollar revitalization program for some of the city's most delapidated neighborhoods.

Corporate lawyer Claude Edward Hitchcock will leave his partnership at Tydings & Rosenberg by the end of January to administer the nonprofit corporation overseeing $100 million in federal empowerment zone grants.

The money targets impoverished areas of East, West and South Baltimore that contain about 10 percent of the city's population.

In announcing the appointment, Mr. Schmoke said he has been impressed by the management skills of the 50-year-old Baltimore native, who has done a wide range of contracted legal work for the city.

"One of Mr. Hitchcock's strengths since I've known him over 20 years is as a manager and an implementer, just getting things done, keeping people on task, making sure they get the job done," the mayor said.

Mr. Hitchcock's salary as president of the empowerment zone management corporation has not been set, the mayor said.

He added that it "will be in line with some of the major department heads of the city" -- roughly $100,000 a year.

"I can tell you that this will be substantially less than what he makes as a partner at Tydings," Mr. Schmoke said.

Mr. Hitchcock, a graduate of Morgan State University and the University of Maryland School of Law, said he accepted the post because of his loyalty to and affection for the mayor. He also said he wanted to improve the West Baltimore neighborhoods where he grew up and others like them.

"I think the world of Kurt Schmoke," said Mr. Hitchcock, who played an important role in Mr. Schmoke's successful political campaigns -- two for city state's attorney and two for mayor.

"He gave me a terrific compliment in asking me to do this," Mr. Hitchcock said.

He added, "This may sound kind of hokey, but I'm a lifelong citizen of Baltimore. This is a chance to give something back."

Mr. Schmoke also announced 24 board members of the zone's management corporation, including top city officials, and business, community and foundation leaders.

The board will be headed by retiring Rouse Co. chief executive officer Mathias J. DeVito, whose appointment was announced last week.

The empowerment zone grants, spread over several years, will pay for a wide variety of health, job training and economic development programs.

The federal designation entitles businesses to tax breaks worth an estimated $225 million and is expected to trigger an additional $800 million in city, state and private funds.

Mr. Schmoke said William E. Carlson, a lawyer with Shapiro & Olander, would serve as legal counsel to the corporation, dubbed "Empower Baltimore!"

Mr. Schmoke said compensation has not yet been set for Mr. Carlson, whose law firm is headed by the mayor's campaign chairman, Ronald M. Shapiro.

The mayor said Michael V. Seipp, author of the city's empowerment zone proposal, would continue to help manage the program after Mr. Hitchcock takes over as president.

And Mr. Schmoke said Vice President Al Gore would be in Baltimore next week to check on the city's progress and offer technical support.

"All of this underscores the fact that this is not only an important local program but a significant national program," the mayor said.

In recent years, Mr. Hitchcock has handled many legal issues for the city, including the settlement of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed by a West Baltimore bottling company over a 1985 relocation deal.

He also has handled the settlement of a lawsuit by bar owners on The Block, a deal that paved the way for new rules regulating their operations; and the creation of a company to operate Harrison's Pier 5 after the city took over the hotel-restaurant complex.

He served as a hearing examiner for several contract disputes that came before the Board of Estimates, and, two years ago, conducted a study of the city's Housing Authority for the mayor.

Mr. Hitchcock, a resident of Bolton Hill, said he couldn't recall how much money he has received for the legal work.

City officials were unable to say immediately how much public money he has received.

According to published accounts, contracts for his work on Harrison's and the Housing Authority totaled $75,000.

Lawyers and officials familiar with Mr. Hitchcock, a former U.S. Small Business Administration attorney, had kind words for him yesterday.

Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, author of legislation to regulate bars on The Block, said Mr. Hitchcock "did a good job" negotiating a settlement that allowed the new regulations to take effect.

"He kept me informed; he kept in touch with the mayor's office," said Mr. Cunningham, a 3rd District Democrat.

J. Hardin Marion, managing partner of Tydings & Rosenberg, said Mr. Hitchcock has been a "terrific partner" at the firm.

"He has a kind of quiet strength that encourages people to want to work with him."

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