Howlin' Dutch plays charades

November 04, 1995|By Harold Jackson

ALL HAIL Dutch Ruppersberger, king of Baltimore County, protector of the affluent class, arch-enemy of poverty-stricken invaders. But wait a minute. Methinks yon celebrated knight must have wizard Merlin casting spells. How else can one explain the number convinced by Mr. Ruppersberger's bluster that he must be right? The county executive couldn't be more wrong.

Think about it. Informed that a tentative settlement had been reached in an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the Baltimore City housing authority, Mr. Ruppersberger feigned surprise that the pact might mean more poor people moving to Baltimore County. Surprise?

The ACLU filed two lawsuits concerning housing patterns in Baltimore; the first in January, the second in March. Both contended that the city had historically concentrated poor, mostly African-American, public-housing residents in neighborhoods that were predominantly poor and black.

The lawsuits sought to have those residents dispersed among more economically and ethnically diverse areas. It was clear from the outset that accomplishing such a change might involve communities in all the suburban counties.

attacking the first suit, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said it appeared to be designed to accomplish through the courts what the ill-fated federal Moving to Opportunity program had not. MTO was supposed to help hundreds of public-housing families move from impoverished areas, but many suburban residents objected.

Knowing the intentions of the ACLU, Mr. Ruppersberger barely uttered a peep when its lawsuits were filed. It should be an insult to Baltimore Countians that now that a tentative settlement has been reached he wants more money to hire lawyers to fight the pact.

Playing politics

The county's stake in the outcome of this litigation was never in doubt. By the time the second suit was filed, Mr. Ruppersberger should have been hiring lawyers and asking the court to allow Baltimore County to intervene. Suburban school systems across the nation legally threatened with having to share more of their education dollars have routinely intervened in equity funding lawsuits.

But Mr. Ruppersberger played politics. He didn't want to participate in a settlement that Baltimore Countians might not like. He instead let the ACLU and the city negotiate the inevitable, then howled that the litigants had unfairly excluded him.

It reminds you of former Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace, who stood in the schoolhouse door in 1963 to symbolically block the integration of the University of Alabama, knowing all the time that he had agreed beforehand to step aside and let what rightfully had to happen occur. Mr. Wallace was playing to the crowd; so was Mr. Ruppersberger. And in both cases it was the wrong crowd.

The city and the ACLU have worked out a tentative agreement that will give about 1,300 poor families federal Section 8 vouchers that will allow them to live in neighborhoods that are not mostly poor and not mostly black. Under that pact, many of those families may move to Baltimore County and other suburban counties; some may move out of Maryland.

The plan is not to establish new ghettoes, but to spread these families out and have them become as much a part of their new neighborhoods as other residents.

Studies have shown that one advantage white poor people have over their black cousins in poverty is the ability to live and go to school in neighborhoods that are not themselves impoverished. Poor children who grow up in settings where they can see beyond poverty grow up with the hope they need to want to excel. Everyone should keep that in mind.

B6 Harold Jackson is an editorial writer for The Sun.

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