Mayor scolds critics of city snowplowing Schmoke insists that 90% of 33,000 blocks in Baltimore cleared

Calls it 'outstanding job'

But some residents say on their roads, 'virgin snow' remains

January 19, 1996|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

On Day 12 of the snow siege, the mayor of Baltimore lost his cool.

After thousands of complaints about unplowed or slippery streets, a week of rush-hour gridlock and the novelty of the blizzard a distant memory, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke lashed out yesterday at criticism that the city snow removal efforts have been too slow and spotty.

Mr. Schmoke insisted the city has done "an outstanding job" in digging out after the biggest snowstorm in 74 years. He even went so far as to say the majority of Baltimoreans were pleased with the plowing. "I'm not going to Monday-morning quarterback this operation and say there was a failure here," Mr. Schmoke said, his voice cracking with emotion at a weekly news briefing that was dominated by questions about the city's handling of the Blizzard of '96.

"I say just the contrary," he declared. "This was an unusual event, and I believe firmly that the overwhelming majority of our citizens think we did a good job."

The mayor maintained that more than 90 percent of Baltimore's 33,000 blocks have been cleared to the point that they are passable, despite continued grumbling from some residents about piles of snow on side streets.

"In an academic setting, a 90 is an A," he said.

Mr. Schmoke did acknowledge that the pace of snow removal frustrated city dwellers more used to a snowfall of 3 to 9 inches, compared with the 26 dumped by the blizzard.

Some smaller residential streets still were treacherous yesterday, and a few major roads remain narrowed.

Some remain stranded

But the mayor's laudatory review of the city's plowing and salting work drew incredulous comments from some people stranded on snowy streets.

"When Mr. Schmoke said 90 percent of the streets have been cleared, he must have thought he was talking to a bunch of nursing home residents," said Charles Cochran, 63, who lives in the 3400 block of Rosalie Ave. in the northern corner of the city.

"Nothing has been done here," he said. "No plow, no salt truck, and I haven't seen one in 35 years."

Teresa Caruthers, 46, a massage therapist who lives on Croydon Road in Northeast Baltimore, was equally dismayed. In her block, she said, "there's virgin snow."

How would I rate the snow removal? I'd have to flunk them -- they've never come through once," she said.

Not all Baltimoreans were so critical; some said the mayor coped as best he could with the paralyzing stretch of winter weather.

James Paschall, who has lived for 21 years on Yolando Road in Ednor Gardens, would like to see his block plowed or salted. Yet he is less than irate, saying a lot of streets have been cleared and he would give the city an overall grade of C.

City Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, who represents East Baltimore, said, "I think they're doing the best they can."

Other mayors also criticized

Supporters of the mayor also said Baltimore has fared better than Washington or Philadelphia, where both mayors are under fire for failing to deliver on optimistic plowing predictions.

Still, the phone calls alone tell of the level of frustration in the slushy city.

In the past 12 days, 20,000 people called Baltimore's snow hot line, many to complain about narrow side streets packed with melting snow.

The city issued 10,000 work orders and brought in smaller plows and front-end loaders to clear residential streets.

Mr. Schmoke said he is looking into buying smaller plows and outfitting garbage trucks with plows in big storms.

But Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, who represents South Baltimore, wants to go a step further and set up a task force to evaluate the city's snow operation.

"I'm not bashing anyone," he said. "But I think it could be done better. On both sides -- I think the citizens need more education, too, on what to do."

One criticism that provoked a sharp response from the mayor yesterday was that the city had failed to ticket and tow cars blocking snow emergency routes during the first days of the storm.

Mr. Schmoke said he did not want to immediately create more misery for snowbound residents and had expected more to heed an early warning to move their cars.

"The fact that people didn't move cars can't be blamed on city government," he snapped.

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