Activists fight county for accepting funding for housing people with AIDS

January 29, 1995|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

The two Rosedale men who made Moving to Opportunity the hottest political issue in Eastern Baltimore County last summer still are stoking public outrage -- but now about housing money for AIDS victims and automobile emissions testing.

The furor they caused in trying to stop the federal housing program that will move 285 poor inner-city families to better neighborhoods faded after the November election, but Jerry Hersl and Raymond C. Shiflet haven't faded with it.

They're opposed to the county accepting federal money to prevent homelessness among county AIDS victims and their families. And their Eastern Political Association is holding meetings and collecting signatures to protest the state's new auto emissions testing program.

"The organization is an issue organization," said Mr. Hersl, 39, a civil engineer with the federal General Services Administration. Mr. Shiflet, 68, a retired railroad worker, said the group's aim is "to put on notice people who put out bad bills." The men claim 1,000 association members, but said they have no membership rolls and personally organize the meetings and choose the issues.

For example, Mr. Shiflet said he was disturbed last month to learn that the County Council would be voting on two bills to accept nearly $1 million in federal funds for rent subsidies for AIDS victims. He and Mr. Hersl said the money should go all seriously ill people or none. Several council members offered similar views but the council narrowly approved accepting the money Jan. 17.

"AIDS is a self-inflicted illness, mostly from careless sex or use of needles," Mr. Shiflet said, not a "bona fide" disease like cancer. "Why should they pick out a select group?"

Many people who get AIDS "are funny people," he said, adding that he meant homosexuals. He also suggested that the money might be used to buy homes for AIDS victims, which county health department officials said is untrue.

Mr. Hersl said he doesn't share Mr. Shiflet's views about AIDS but the county should have rejected the federal money "on principle."

Garey Lambert of AIDS Action Baltimore, said people with AIDS were selected for special help because they need it more. AIDS causes hardship and homelessness, he said. Unfortunately, he said, some of the ways the disease is transmitted hit "people in their moral zone."

"It's a disease," he said. "Who cares how people got it?"

Health officials have a list of about 30 county residents waiting for housing help from an $838,354 federal grant, which the county won in a federal competition. The council also approved accepting another $152,005 to continue paying rent for AIDS victims already getting help.

The tone of debate was reminiscent of the MTO fight. Mr. Hersl and Mr. Shiflet still defend their unconfirmed claim last summer that the program was the prelude to the migration of 18,000 city public housing residents to new homes, many in the eastern county. That fear in white working-class neighborhoods drew hundreds of angry residents to meetings. The meetings moved Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski to push through the cutting of $149 million earmarked for national expansion of MTO.

Mr. Hersl and Mr. Shiflet now are collecting signatures on petitions asking for a federal grand jury investigation into how the General Assembly was "duped" into approving the new auto emissions program.

Mr. Hersl said he worded the petitions that way because County Councilman Louis L. DePazzo said he was "duped" into supporting the program as a state delegate.

The program was to have begun Jan. 3 but was delayed.

Mr. DePazzo, who reaped a political profit in his council race from their MTO campaign, now dismisses the men as political wild cards. "They're a peach of a pair," he said yesterday. "I don't deal with them any more. I can't read where they're coming from."

Council Chairman Vincent J. Gardina of Perry Hall also questions their impact. At the height of the MTO fuss, Mr. Gardina had worried about his re-election chances, but he easily won the primary and general elections over candidates endorsed by Mr. Hersl and Mr. Shiflet.

"I don't think they have much credibility," he said. "They're just trying to be rabble-rousers. That's their hobby. It keeps them busy."

State Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. of Dundalk, who had opposed the new emissions control program in 1991, still was lambasted by angry constituents at the pair's Jan. 14 meeting.

"They're just voicing their frustrations," Senator Stone said. "I don't think there's any harm to it."

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