Baltimore priority is drug treatment

A Conversation With: Rep. Elijah Cummings

March 16, 2001

Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore recently spoke at The Sun with Richard C. Gross, editor of the Opinion * Commentary page, about Baltimore's needs and how the state and Congress might fill some of them.

You said the state isn't doing enough for Baltimore. What should it be doing?

One of the things the state has to do is give more money for drug treatment.

Baltimore is definitely a city that's on the move, and we are getting stronger every day. But we can get stronger faster if the state gave more with regard to drug treatment and helped us make sure that those drug treatment dollars work for or are used to provide the most effective treatment. I know that Mayor [Martin] O'Malley is committed to that.

Why is a drug treatment program for Baltimore more important than anything else? Is that the cornerstone of rebuilding Baltimore?

It's one of the cornerstones. I don't see how I could say education is not just as important, or more important. ...

I met a father the other day ... and one of the things that he said to me is that he cleaned up his life. He was only about 38 years old. He spent half of his adult life in jail because of drugs. Now he is out and is about to get a job and he [has] two sons -- one was 12 and one was 15 -- [and] he's now in their lives.

So there are two things there. One, we have somebody who is no longer draining the system. We are spending $20,000 to $30,000 to imprison them because of drugs now. So we are not spending that.

Two, he's improving the lives of two young children who, hopefully because of his participation and him showing them what he did wrong, will stop cycles of drug addiction in poverty.

Three, he's going to contribute to the tax base.

Four, he's not a crime waiting to happen. ...

I find myself going to the AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings and running into hundreds of people who have turned their lives around, are very productive and are celebrating their lives and now they are productive parts of society. So I think drug treatment is very important. ...

We've got to deal with treatment so we can recapture lives so that those lives can be productive and uplift our city instead of bringing it down.

What can Congress do for Baltimore?

What Congress can do is make sure that cities like Baltimore have the necessary funds to accomplish the things that they need to accomplish. For example, making sure that as far as housing is concerned that we have sufficient funds to get ... first-time homebuyers [and] give them an opportunity to own a house by providing money for subsidized housing and building housing that middle-income people and lower-income people can purchase.[It] can help us ... with bringing down our crime numbers by doing things [such as giving] $28.8 million so that we could put 200 more policemen on the street. [It could] provide money for our PAL centers so that our children have a place to play. And [it could provide] $2.5 million of that for drug treatment, and that would treat about 1,000 people. ...

The federal government can also help us with education dollars because we really need education dollars very badly.

What about Mayor O'Malley? What kind of report card do you give him?

The mayor is giving it the best he can. He has a tremendous job. It's a job that is basically a thankless job. He is still in a honeymoon phase.

As far as the crime situation is concerned, he is on target. He has moved quickly to address the crime problem.

When I look at education, there is more that needs to be done. We need to put just as much emphasis on educating our children as we do with regard to locking them up.

We need to put just as much emphasis on looking at the number of people who drop out as we look at people who are harmed because of crime.

But overall, his initial focus was to try to look at the crime problem and address it. He's done a pretty good job of that. Now it appears that he is moving more toward trying to address the problems of the neighborhoods, rebuilding the neighborhoods. After all, those are the people who live here and pay the taxes. So I think the jury is still out there, and we'll have to wait and see.

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