BUILD launches city voters drive

Registering 6,000 is goal to restore neighborhood voice in the mayoral race

June 02, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore citizens group that successfully pushed for the nation's first "living wage" law five years ago said yesterday that it intends to register 6,000 new voters to restore a neighborhood voice to the mayor's race.

In addition to the voter registration drive, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) -- whose 2,000 members come from churches, labor unions and community groups -- also issued a six-point program for the next mayor.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is stepping down in December after a 12-year tenure. The mayor's race is the first without an incumbent in 28 years.

BUILD said it wants to turn the focus of city government away from the Inner Harbor toward its neighborhoods.

"We are concerned about the needs of our citizens, not about the personalities of our mayoral candidates," said the Rev. Joe Muth, a priest and a BUILD leader. "For the city to retain its tax base, it must make the changes we propose."

About 300 BUILD members attended the meeting at Union Baptist Church, 1219 Druid Hill Ave., where the program for the next mayor was outlined.

Key points include:

* The city should spend 50 cents for neighborhood commercial development for each $1 of subsidies to downtown development.

* All businesses receiving $100,000 or more in city funds should pay employees the living wage of $7.90 an hour. This is an extension of the initial living wage proposal that required any company hired by the city to pay the rate to employees.

* To make streets cleaner, the city should invest $1 million to purchase industrial strength vacuum cleaning machines for public works employees. The money would allow the city to purchase 50 of the machines, which cost an average of $20,000 each.

* The city should dedicate $24 million for some school programs. BUILD wants $1 million for high school counselors, hoping to double the number of city students who attend college, and $21 million for full-time librarians and art, music and physical education teachers, and school nurses at least three times a week. BUILD also wants at least $2 million for its "Child First" after-school program.

* The next mayor should restore $15 million in budget cuts to the recreation department. The city has closed 18 recreation centers over the last two years and opened 27 Police Athletic League Centers.

* The city should provide 2,000 new home ownership opportunities for living-wage earners.

Marvin Cheatham, Baltimore Elections Board chairman, swore in the first 500 new BUILD voters at yesterday's meeting.

With the new voters, the 22-year-old group is hoping to continue the effort that aided the re-election of Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

As a result of its activism, BUILD reported last night that city programs it supports received $50 million in additional state aid since November.

"What we did in 1998 was not an accident," Muth said. "To be real, we have to repeat it in this election."

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