Flight to Suburbs Isn't Exclusive

June 03, 1995

Comments that ordinarily might be ignored can be inflammatory when spoken in the heat of a mayoral campaign. Such rhetoric must be assessed in proper context to prevent misunderstandings that destroy good will. Let that be the case with statements attributed to Baltimore Housing Commissioner

Daniel P. Henson III concerning past migration of Jewish families from lower Park Heights.

Mr. Henson is denying he made remarks to Sun columnist Michael Olesker that seemed to blame the economic decline of lower Park Heights on the outmigration of former Jewish and other white residents to the suburbs. But if Mr. Henson wants to make such an assessment, he should include African Americans when discussing suburban flight and its impact on the city.

Baltimore's black population grew from 46.4 percent to 59.2 percent between 1970 and 1990. But the number of blacks in town didn't increase that dramatically, only improving from 420,210 residents to 435,768. Blacks became the majority in Baltimore because the white population declined to its 1990 level of 287,753. The city lost 134,724 white residents between 1970 and 1980 and another 57,360 left between 1980 and 1990.

Whites weren't the only ones leaving town, though. Baltimore's African American population grew despite the flight of many black families from the city. The result of this black migration can be seen in the sizable African American populations now found in areas that 20 years ago had fewer black residents. Howard County is now 13 percent black; Baltimore County, 12 percent; ** Anne Arundel County, 12 percent; Harford County, 9 percent.

These bedroom communities attracted middle-class African Americans for the same reasons they attracted middle-class whites or just about anyone else who moved from the city to its suburbs. The suburbs offered a lower crime rate, better schools and, in many instances, cleaner streets. Ironically, losing these families and the taxes they paid has hurt Baltimore's ability to deal with the same problems that caused them to leave.

It would be a shame for the mayoral campaign to devolve into a shouting match over what Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's housing commissioner did or did not say. The city will benefit more by Mr. Schmoke and his opponent, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, staying focused on who can do a better job fighting crime and grime and improving the schools. The one who can accomplish those feats will bring families back to Baltimore.

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