Coalition tries to re-BUILD as force in Balto. politics Volunteers take message to vote in November to city neighborhoods

September 27, 1998|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Patricia Gladden tugged at the sleeves of her bright yellow T-shirt and knocked firmly on a neighbor's door on Terra Firma Road in Cherry Hill. Dorothy Steedley, a 59-year-old bus driver, arrived at the door, looking perplexed.

"I'd like to talk with you about the governor election," Gladden explained, and for three minutes, the two women chatted. Before leaving, Gladden asked for Steedley's name, address and phone number -- and the bus driver complied, adding a name to a fledgling political organization that is both old and new.

Gladden is a member of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, a citywide coalition of churches, workers' groups and community organizers. Content in the past to organize on specific issues such as living wage laws and after-school programs, BUILD is taking the first, difficult steps to make itself a force in electoral politics.

'Informed choices'

BUILD members, who have often decried the power of political machines, are modeling their effort on old-style precinct organizations common to Baltimore's Democratic clubs. The coalition has 500 volunteers spread over 50 city precincts; each has pledged to contact voters and get at least 20 people to the polls. If the drive is successful, 10,000 additional voters will show up Nov. 3, and BUILD will be a force in the mayoral election next year.

"It is ironic in a way that we're using the elements of political machines," says Rob English, a BUILD organizer. "But we think we can create a political organization that, instead of defending patronage, will get people to vote and make informed choices."

BUILD organizers are officially nonpartisan. But members are asking candidates and voters to support the group's decidedly liberal agenda, which calls for $35 million for Baltimore school construction, the creation of 1,000 public jobs and state support for Head Start programs.

Many of the volunteers say they joined BUILD out of desperation over low voter turnout in the city and the negative impact that could have on Gov. Parris N. Glendening's bid for re-election this fall.

Mixed results

Yesterday, volunteers met at a Cherry Hill church and then, many for the first time, fanned out over the city to sign up voters for the organization. The experience often was frustrating. "A lot of people either aren't home or aren't answering their doors," said Malvin Neal, 47, who knocked on doors in Cherry Hill.

But Gladden, an environmental services worker at Harbor Hospital Center, received a warm reception in a middle-class section of the mostly African-American neighborhood of Cherry Hill. Many residents said her knock was the first visit they had received about the governor's race.

"I'm interested in what they're doing, though I don't agree with their agenda," said Jessie Anderson, a 25-year-old counselor who talked with Gladden. "I don't trust the Democrat. I will come out to vote for Ellen Sauerbrey."

Pub Date: 9/27/98

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