Missing in Action on regionalism Summit on race: Interfaith group's event missing major players, but still a good step.

March 14, 1997

WHAT IF you held a summit on regionalism and only half the region showed? Or, put another way, if the proverbial wall between city and suburb fell like a tree in the forest and no one was around to hear it, would it make a noise?

Those are the philosophical questions a Baltimore-based group called Interfaith Action for Racial Justice can ponder Tuesday when it hosts an event it has dubbed, "A Call to Community: An honest conversation about race, reconciliation and responsibility."

The group -- founded 18 years ago as Baltimore Clergy and Laity Concerned -- has arranged the summit to encourage regional cooperation and combat racial divisiveness.

Its mission is laudable, but a tall order, especially considering only half the local governments in the area have signed on. Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and executives Charles I. Ecker of Howard County and Eileen M. Rehrmann of Harford County have lent their names. But C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger and John Gary, who lead the region's largest suburbs, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, respectively, are conspicuously absent from the group's list. So are the Carroll County commissioners, who formally rejected the overture, the group says.

A spokesman for Mr. Ruppersberger said he never got an invitation -- the group contends he did -- and Mr. Gary is taking a wait-and-see approach, he says. Not an auspicious start for a crusade in need of credibility. While area leaders have become more collegial on economic development, social matters arise regionally only when it is time to choose sides in a fight, as in the Moving to Opportunity housing controversy of 1995-96. David Rusk, former mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and an authority on regionalism, has often cited Baltimore as an area stunted by its historic factionalism.

Even without all the king's horses and all the king's men, the Interfaith group has lined up the leaders of dozens of area churches and universities. Tuesday night's speaker at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland is Kweisi Mfume, the CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Talking alone won't solve racial imbalances, urban poverty and crime. But it is a start -- and a far better approach than ignoring the problem in the false hope it will fix itself.

Pub Date: 3/14/97

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