Mayor tells renewal board to act fast Says empowerment effort could be campaign issue

February 16, 1996|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Saying empowerment zones could be an issue in the 1996 presidential campaign, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday told the board overseeing Baltimore's federal renewal effort to "feel a real sense of urgency" in getting programs in place by spring.

Mr. Schmoke said that Baltimore and the five other cities that were granted federal empowerment zones in December 1994 "carry a burden for urban America to show that this process is going to produce results."

In only his second appearance before the empowerment zone board, Mr. Schmoke praised the group's work so far.

But he noted that there are "really strong critics out there" of the Clinton administration's key urban initiative, which provides $100 million in grants and tax breaks worth $225 million to each city.

"I think what they are doing is waiting to say, 'We gave them all this money and nothing is happening,'" the mayor said.

Describing himself as a "strong Democrat" who wants to see President Clinton re-elected, Mr. Schmoke said Baltimore needed to put into operation empowerment zone initiatives, such as a Business Empowerment Center offering advice to small firms and start-up companies.

"I'm not just speaking for myself," he said. "Federal officials I've talked to feel that sense of urgency, too."

Board chairman Mathias J. DeVito said most of the last year had been spent getting organized and meeting federal requirements, but he added the board is ready to make just the kind of progress the mayor described.

"I pledge to you that this will be the year in which we go for broke," he said.

As if to underscore Mr. DeVito's point, Diane L. Bell, president of the quasi-public corporation set up to disburse empowerment zone funds, said that proposals already have been solicited for a number of programs, including administration of a $1 million high-risk loan fund and a master plan for the Fairfield industrial area of South Baltimore.

Mr. Schmoke made his comments to a 30-member board that includes 11 members who did not serve last year.

Nine of the 11 have been selected by the communities in East and West Baltimore and Fairfield that make up the empowerment zone; two are appointees of Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

The other 19 were appointed by Mr. Schmoke and include a handful of community residents as well as city, foundation, labor and business leaders.

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