Carrying signs reading "We Love Walter" and singing, supporters of Baltimore school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey rallied on the steps of North Avenue headquarters yesterday to defend their chief against calls for his dismissal.
About 200 people, most of them employees of the city school system, gathered at the system's headquarters in the midday sun for more than an hour. The rally, organized by PTA and church groups, began with a prayer and ended with the superintendent greeting his admirers and posing for photographs.
Supporters carried signs reading "We Love Walter," "Amprey Spells Leadership" and "Clarke Must Go, Amprey Must Stay," a reference to City Council President and mayoral candidate Mary Pat Clarke's demand that Dr. Amprey be dismissed.
At least three bus loads of school employees arrived at the rally from Lake Clifton-Eastern High School, but Nat Harrington, Dr. Amprey's spokesman, said no public money was spent on the rally. The buses, he said, were paid for by companies "interested in supporting a community event like this one."
Mr. Harrington said no employees were ordered to attend the rally, which he and several others pictured as a show of community support for education as the system prepares for the opening of the fall term in a few days.
"I'm here to support the youngsters," said Rhoda Jones, principal of the Luther C. Mitchell Primary School on East Chase Street. "If we're to be successful, all of us have to work together. It has to be a team effort."
The superintendent swept out of the front door of the headquarters building about 40 minutes into the rally. Wearing a rose boutonniere, he embraced several supporters and picked up 4-year-old Danesha Patterson, a prekindergarten student at Edgewood Elementary School. Dr. Amprey then addressed his supporters with Danesha in his arms.
"I only heard about this rally a few days ago, and it scared me to death," he said. "I'm overwhelmed by your support. This is our city, these are our children. We are trying to make a difference, and we'll keep doing that." The crowd responded, "Amprey! Amprey!"
In contrast to his dour mood in recent days as he sparred with a court-appointed team overseeing his special education program, Dr. Amprey was cheerful yesterday. "I don't consider myself a pawn" in the mayoral race, he said. "I appreciate the support of Mayor [Kurt L.] Schmoke, but I respect Mrs. Clarke, too."
Mrs. Clarke could not be reached immediately for comment.
Dr. Amprey said he had nothing to do with organizing the rally. Asked if he thought it was appropriate for his staff to spend 90 minutes of paid city time in a rally in his behalf, Dr. Amprey replied: "This is about more than Walter Amprey. It's about the support we need to move forward. If it accomplishes that, on balance it's a plus."
RTC A number of those who attended and spoke at the rally were recently promoted or hired by Dr. Amprey, who begins his fifth year as superintendent this fall.
One counter-demonstrator, Phillip A. Brown Jr., a City Council candidate in the 3rd District, stood on the North Avenue sidewalk throughout the rally, shouting in a bullhorn: "Farfel is a rubber stamp. Amprey must go!" None of 10 school system security officers watching over the rally bothered Mr. Brown.
Mr. Brown's reference was to Phillip H. Farfel, the school board president, who did not attend the rally, though he said he was "fully in support." Also absent were officials of the Baltimore Teachers Union, which has clashed bitterly with Dr. Amprey over his support of the city's school privatization efforts.