Gore touts 'new chance to succeed'

January 11, 1995|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Because of an editing error, Eric Byrd, director of the Family Place, was misidentified as Eric Boyd in a photo caption on Page 1B of yesterday's editions

The Sun regrets the error.

Vice President Al Gore heard East Baltimore residents plead for jobs, drug treatment programs and an end to violence yesterday, as he toured blighted streets in a neighborhood targeted under a new federal aid program.

He responded by touting the $100 million federal empowerment zone grant, awarded to Baltimore last month, as a "new chance to succeed."


At a community meeting, Mr. Gore said the empowerment zone would succeed in reversing urban decay where other federal programs had failed. The difference, he said, was the program's emphasis on grass-roots participation and public-private partnerships.

"It's not a government program," he said of the centerpiece of the Clinton administration's urban policy. "It is a community program facilitated by government."

"That's fundamentally new," he added.

With Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke at his side, Mr. Gore walked several blocks in the Middle East neighborhood, just north of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

He stopped to talk to two men standing on the steps of a rowhouse in a block with several vacant houses, and asked them how they would spend the federal money.

"Jobs are the thing we need here," one of the men, Albert Cherry, answered. "You got people that want to work. Not everybody wants to sell drugs."

"I'm looking for a job myself," added Mr. Cherry, 37, who said he had been laid off from his job a month ago.

"That's what we're trying to do," Mr. Gore assured him. "Get some businesses in here. Bring the community to life."

Middle East is one of 33 neighborhoods in parts of East, South and West Baltimore that make up the city's empowerment zone. Besides the $100 million in federal grants, the zone is expected to trigger $800 million in additional government and private support and provide an estimated $225 million in corporate tax breaks. According to the city's application, 8,885 new jobs will be created in a decade, at an average annual salary of $17,056. The unemployment rate in the zone is about 19 percent.

Later, at a community meeting at The Family Place, a nonprofit support center for children and parents, Mr. Gore listened as several elementary school students suggested that empowerment zone funds be used to end drug dealing and violence.

"I would like to stop the shooting," said Donald Owens, 9, a fourth-grader at Elemer Henderson Elementary School on Wolfe Street.

"We're going to do everything we can," Mr. Gore said. "You know one way to stop the shooting is not only to have good and effective law enforcement, but also to create more opportunities for jobs in the community and to make it easier for families to stay stronger."

Another Henderson fourth-grader, Michael Washington, 10, said, "I would like people who are homeless to get a home."

Mr. Gore replied, "We saw some of the homes that are boarded up in this community. And one of the principal purposes of this program is to take those boards off those windows and doors and create new homes."

Lucille Gorham, head of the Middle East Community Organization, said increased treatment for drug addicts must be a priority. "As we address all the issues that is one we cannot let slide back," she said.

The community meeting also was attended by top state and city officials, including Maryland Gov.-elect Parris N. Glendening; Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski; and the newly named head of Baltimore's empowerment zone program, Claude Edward Hitchcock.

Within a year, Mr. Gore said, residents should notice a difference in their neighborhoods. But, he said he didn't expect everything proposed for the zone to work perfectly.

"We want new approaches to be tried," he said. "We want innovation. That means we have to expect some mistakes."

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