At Locust Point, presidents come and presidents go Observers: Residents near Fort McHenry have watched a succession of chief executives delivered by helicopter for a motorcade to downtown.

December 24, 1998|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

At the corner of Fort Avenue and Andre Street yesterday afternoon, citizens of Locust Point, as is their custom, waited for a passing glance of Bill Clinton.

Pete Bianca, a Locust Pointer for 40 years, handed out home-baked Christmas cookies. George Boykin, 49, an electrician, took pictures of the motorcade. Ameil Ruffini, 70, speculated on whether a state police helicopter overhead was carrying CIA agents.

"I've never seen an impeached president before," said Douglas Potts, 31, a computer programmer, just before the president waved in his direction. "And hopefully, I won't see one ever again."

In the Locust Point section of the South Baltimore peninsula, waving at presidents is as much a tradition as the Domino Sugars sign, Little League games at Coke Field or a walk in Latrobe Park. For at least 30 years, presidents who travel by helicopter from Washington to Baltimore have landed at Fort McHenry, the eastern tip of Locust Point.

Presidential arrivals typically touch off impromptu street parties of 100 or more at the corner of Fort and Andre. But yesterday, on a bitter cold morning, only 34 residents in this stronghold of the Stonewall Democratic Club showed up to welcome Clinton as he drove through.

"It's not even half as many people today as Clinton had when he flew in a few years ago, and that tells you something about how people are feeling," said Hank Melnick, 60, a retired distillery worker. "But I think people gotta support him more, at least until ++ he's found guilty."

Named for the trees that once covered the South Baltimore peninsula, Locust Point has long been a gateway to Baltimore. Neighborhood streets -- Armour, Andre, Decatur, Hull and Towson -- are named for seafarers and military men. Many of today's 2,532 residents descend from the 19th-century Germans, Czechs, Poles and Irish whose first steps in America were on piers here.

Helen Benevicz, who has lived at the same Fort Avenue house for most of her 82 years, says she has seen every president since Kennedy go by.

"They don't stop in Locust Point," she said, as Clinton waved to her. "They have more important places to be."

But that does not stop residents -- longshoremen, truck drivers and veterans -- from passing judgment on the passing presidents.

Yesterday, most folks at the corner were sympathetic. Boykin, the camera-toting electrician, praised Clinton's handling of the economy. Ruffini, a retired state worker, joked that if he had Clinton's job, "I would have a woman in every room of the White House."

The Rev. Roger W. Haskins Jr., the South Baltimore-based regional superintendent for the Free Methodist Church of North America, said he had asked congregations to pray for Clinton.

Shelby McElroy, a disabled factory worker, said the president puts enough money in her pocket to finance cash gifts for her two grandchildren. "I wish he'd run again so I could vote for him a third time," she said.

A few were less charitable. Marie Syczurowski Foster, a 48-year-old mother of six, credited Clinton for the low interest rates that allowed her to refinance her home, but said his personal conduct "offended me and went against the Catholic Church."

Potts, the programmer, said he wouldn't mind seeing the president removed from office.

But even the critics in the crowd showed considerable devotion to the president in waiting for Clinton, who was, as usual, running more than an hour late. John Sparra, 67, resisted the temptation to get out of the frigid weather, even as the metal rods that hold together his auto accident-damaged legs grew colder and colder inside of him.

"What could be more exciting than the president coming to your neighborhood?" said Domino Sugar Corp. secretary Kathy Finley, as Clinton gave a thumbs-up sign to her 8-year-old neighbor, Christine Weber. "This puts us on the map."

Pub Date: 12/24/98

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