NOI Security vows to fight to stay in Baltimore Group plans to sue HUD over order to end contract

November 11, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich and and Norris P. West | JoAnna Daemmrich and and Norris P. West,SUN STAFF

With its future of policing big-city housing projects on the line, the Nation of Islam's security enterprise vowed yesterday to fight to stay in Baltimore and blamed pressure from Congress and Jewish groups for a federal order revoking its contract here.

The day after Baltimore officials reluctantly agreed to hire another company, the Nation of Islam Security Agency announced plans to sue the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in an attempt to keep NOI's disciplined guards patrolling the public high-rise buildings.

"We do not intend to leave," declared NOI Security's attorney, Abdul Arif Muhammad, to the cheers of several tenant leaders at the Flag House Courts development near Little Italy.

NOI Security plans to ask Monday for an injunction in federal court to block the city from severing its $4.6 million contract and turning over security at a dozen build-ings to Wells Fargo Guard Services, which bid to do the job a year ago for $1.1 million less.

Mr. Muhammad said he would seek to demonstrate in the suit that the ruling was politically motivated, the result of lobbying by members of Congress and a "conspiracy" by Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith and the American Jewish Congress.

The security agency is affiliated with the Nation of Islam, which is led by Louis Farrakhan, who has been criticized for making anti-Semitic remarks.

Mr. Muhammad said cancellation of the contract "had everything to do with bowing to the pressure of Jews. We are not going to accept this."

His remarks quickly were denounced by local Jewish leaders. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who has called the federal ruling "tremendously disappointing" and attributes it to congressional pressure, also distanced himself from NOI's rhetoric yesterday.

Meanwhile, the American Jewish Congress lauded the cancellation and charged that the city's hiring of NOI Security was tinged by racism and favoritism.

NOI Security "was engaged to provide security at Baltimore City housing projects, not despite its racist views but because of them," the group's leaders said.

Federal officials found that Baltimore "arbitrarily" chose NOI Security, even though Wells Fargo had a longer track record and submitted a lower bid. They notified the city of their order Wednesday.

Residents of the city's high-rise developments have rallied behind NOI Security. They credit the unarmed guards with restoring calm and reducing violent crime.

At a news conference at Flag House Courts, Mr. Muhammad was joined yesterday by Carlos Muhammad, the minister of the local Muslim mosque, and the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., who worked with Minister Farrakhan last month to organize the Million Man March in Washington. All called for uniting black support for the embattled company.

Calling the order a "callous disregard of the people who live here," Dr. Chavis said, "This company has brought a valuable service, a life-serving service to the residents. I want to be very clear that the black community is not going to stand idly by."

Dr. Chavis, coordinator of the National African American Leadership Summit, said he will ask for a meeting with Housing Secretary Henry G. Cisneros to voice his concerns.

The contract in Baltimore was questioned from the start. Two years ago, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City hired NOI Security in a no-bid arrangement, which drew sharp criticism. Later, housing managers hired it over 10 others, even though it was not the low bidder.

After Wells Fargo protested, HUD reviewed the contract and concluded the selection process was flawed. The Housing Authority agreed to re-evaluate the proposals and again selected NOI. Federal housing officials said the review panel made arbitrary decisions to award higher points to NOI.

Mr. Schmoke said he didn't want his criticism of the ruling to be misunderstood. "The record of congressional pressure is very clear, and my comments were directed there and nowhere else," he said.

Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said he was not surprised that NOI blamed Jewish leaders.

"Their anti-Semitism and hatred is again evident in this comment and further demonstrates why they are undeserving of the contract they maintained with the city of Baltimore and why the federal government did the right thing in terminating the agreement," Mr. Abramson said.

NOI affiliates -- which once had $15 million in contracts in nine cities, including Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Los Angeles -- have received high marks for lowering violent crime rates in public housing.

But over the past two years, they have been outbid in some cities and their contracts were canceled in others. In Washington, an NOI security agency went into bankruptcy, and off-duty police officers took over at a Capitol Hill complex. Now, NOI guards only patrol public housing projects in Dayton, Ohio, and Chicago -- and they may soon be leaving those cities.

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