New alliance of local clergy members puts forth agenda for election campaign

Group's concerns include regional cooperation, homeowner incentives

June 24, 1999|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

A newly formed alliance of Baltimore clergy issued an election-year agenda yesterday that challenges candidates to divert public money from Inner Harbor development to the city's neighborhoods, provide drug treatment on demand and return the schools to local control.

The Greater Baltimore Interfaith Clergy Alliance, in a news conference at West Baltimore's Union Baptist Church, also called for greater regional cooperation and urged the next mayor to appoint a commission to study implementing a regional tax structure or a commuter tax.

"We are touching on the issues that must be addressed by any person who would lead this city," said the Rev. Douglas I. Miles, a Baptist minister who is president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and co-chairman on the newly formed clergy alliance.

The Rev. William A. Au, a Catholic priest and co-chairman of the alliance, said its organizers got together to provide a common moral voice on issues and problems facing the city.

"We must overcome the lines of race, denomination, neighborhood and economics which divide our people, obstruct united action for the common good and leave our people vulnerable to manipulation by special interests," he said.

The alliance's agenda is based on an earlier platform issued by Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), a 15,000-member coalition of church, labor and neighborhood leaders. The BUILD agenda includes demands to restore city recreation funding to 1990 levels; provide more money for counselors, librarians, art, music and physical education teachers and nurses in city schools; and a proposal that 50 cents of every dollar of public subsidy in downtown development go to a fund for neighborhood commercial development.

In addition to the BUILD agenda, the alliance proposals include: Drug treatment on demand for any city resident.

Mayoral appointment of a commission to examine a regional tax structure or a commuter tax.

Creation of incentives, such as tax credits, to retain homeowners and to encourage others to buy homes in Baltimore.

Return the Baltimore public school system to local control within three years.

Incorporation of conflict-resolution training for youth as a part of all programs offered by the city's Department of Recreation and Parks.

Organizers of the clergy alliance say it represents more than 200 congregations in the city. It grew from discussions between the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, a coalition of predominantly African-American city pastors headed by Miles, and the Greater Homewood Interfaith Alliance led by Au.

The alliance also includes representatives from Clergy United for the Renewal of East Baltimore (CURE), the BUILD Clergy Caucus and the Baltimore Board of Rabbis. Clergy alliance officials said it will continue to function as a cohesive moral voice beyond the election.

"This is an historic moment in the history of the Baltimore region," said Rabbi Martin Siegel, an alliance member. "For the first time since the '70s, a group of clergy of diverse backgrounds have joined together to become a force which seeks to overcome the barriers of race, region and economic status which have divided us for so long."

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