BUILD criticizes mayor over funding, his focus

O'Malley's office defends after-school program cuts

October 01, 2001|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

A community activist organization leveled sharp criticism yesterday at Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley during a church service and meeting also mourning the World Trade Center and Pentagon tragedies.

About 1,000 members of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) packed Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Bolton Hill and listened to speakers assail O'Malley - one dubbing him a "governor wanna-be."

The crowd prayed for the nation in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. Speakers talked of renewing commitment to the goals of BUILD including a living wage, funding for recreation centers and affordable housing. But primarily they focused on what they saw as an unfulfilled promise by the mayor to support the group's after-school program.

"As the nation rebuilds Manhattan, we must rise up to rebuild Baltimore," said Bishop Douglas Miles, pastor of Koinonia Baptist Church and co-chairman of BUILD. "We will not allow our mayor, who appears to be a governor wanna-be, to renege on his commitment."

At issue is BUILD's contention that during his mayoral campaign O'Malley pledged $2 million in funding for the organization's Child First after-school program, which serves 1,000 children in eight schools, and has backed out of the deal.

O'Malley's staff rebuffed the claim. Stephen J. Kearney, director of research and communications, said O'Malley promised to increase funding overall for after-school programs and has made good on that.

But BUILD's program has been a casualty of increased demand for accountability, Kearney said.

Last year, O'Malley partnered with area foundations, including the Open Society Institute and Safe & Sound, and pooled more than $3 million in additional funds for after-school programs. At the same time, an independent committee called the Family League - made up of foundation leaders and community members - was formed to award funds based on a program's effectiveness.

"A larger pot of after-school dollars than ever is being awarded by merit rather than political power," Kearney said. "The programs that are not judged effective are seeing their funding reduced."

BUILD's program had its funding cut by 20 percent because it did not maintain adequate accountability and performance, Kearney said. Three other programs lost all their funding.

"Foundations and funders are lined up with us on this one," Kearney said.

At the service yesterday, cards were distributed to BUILD members asking them to attend public meetings and fund-raisers to hold the mayor "accountable."

BUILD leaders want O'Malley to say whether he is running for governor, so they can better judge his commitment to the city.

"Our question to the mayor is, are you the one to lead us to a better quality of life in Baltimore or should we look for another?" Miles said.

Kearney said O'Malley is too busy doing his job to worry about running for a different office.

"The mayor has repeatedly stated that he has made a decision not to make a decision" about running for governor, Kearney said.

He questioned the timing of BUILD's public complaints as the nation mourns the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

"It's kind of surprising to me that politics is on their minds right now," Kearney said. "Most people have put politics aside."

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