Access pledged at voter forum

Korean-Americans often feel `voiceless,' mayoral hopefuls told

Businesses a main topic

August 23, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore mayoral candidates pledged yesterday to create a commission that would give Asian-American residents a voice in City Hall.

The promise was made during an appearance by nine Democratic hopefuls at a candidates forum before 75 members of the Korean-American Citizens League. Organizers of the event, held at the University of Baltimore, told the candidates that more than 1,000 shops in the city are operated by Korean-Americans and estimated that about 60,000 Korean-Americans live in the metropolitan area.

"A majority of Korean-Americans feel voiceless," said Keith Kim, a senior adviser to the group.

In response, former City Councilman and school board member Carl Stokes promised to create a commission that would address the concerns of Korean-Americans.

He said it was most important that the next mayor listen to organizations such as the league.

"You will tell me what you need and in what form and what structure it will be," said Stokes, a leading candidate.

The other mayoral candidates agreed with Stokes and said they would support such a commission.

Stokes also pledged to increase police attention to the Korean-American community.

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III told the group that he would create liaisons for Korean-Americans in each of Baltimore's nine police districts if elected. Bell thanked merchants in the group for committing their businesses to the city.

"You kept your businesses alive while others fled," Bell said. "We feel all of you are a great resource."

Bell's comments were challenged by candidate and community activist Phillip A. Brown Jr., who said that the livelihood of many Korean-American merchants could depend on who is elected the city's next mayor.

"Many of these same politicians, who are now asking for your vote, voted for the West Baltimore development and didn't include you," Brown said.

In May, the City Council condemned 110 buildings for a redevelopment project in a West Baltimore area north of Camden Yards and east of the University of Maryland, Baltimore. The $350 million redevelopment aims to attract developers to build apartments and shops in an 18-block region around the Howard Street retail district.

Many Korean-American shop owners oppose the move, contending that it will wipe out businesses they have spent 20 years building.

Bell, a leading candidate, voted in favor of the condemnation law as a way to spur economic renewal downtown.

Northeast City Councilman Martin O'Malley, also a leading candidate, said that he was one of four City Council members who opposed the plan.

O'Malley said he voted against the proposal because it failed to take into account the future of small businesses. He said that two of every three jobs in the nation are created by small businesses.

O'Malley used his opening at the forum to pledge again to shut down the city's open-air drug markets.

"These drug markets are killing people," O'Malley said. "These drug markets are killing business."

City Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway has also come out in support of west-side merchants. If elected, Conaway said, she would try to relocate many of the merchants to shops in The Brokerage at discounted or free rent.

A. Robert Kaufman, founder of a citizens group trying to reduce insurance rates in Baltimore, used his time to push a proposal that would allow immigrants in Baltimore to vote before they become U.S. citizens. Kaufman commended the league for holding the forum.

"I'm really glad to see the start of some political interest by the Korean community," Kaufman said. "You need to keep this up."

Pub Date: 8/23/99

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