Political attention gratifies Woodlawn

Area that felt ignored receives candidates for county executive

`Going to be on the map'

January 22, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Woodlawn residents liked what they saw in the county executive candidate who spoke at their community council meeting last week.

But what they liked even more was what they saw about themselves. After years of feeling ignored, residents of this community on Baltimore County's west side feel as though they're coming into their own as a political force.

The appearance by James T. Smith Jr., a Democrat and former circuit judge from Reisterstown, was the first by a county executive candidate at a meeting of the Woodlawn Community Council. Next month, Smith's opponent, Douglas B. Riley, a Republican and former county councilman from Towson, will meet with the group.

Van D. Ross, president of the council and the Woodlawn High School PTSA, said community members want to be involved with the campaign from the start so candidates will know which issues are important to them.

"You heard it here first -- Woodlawn is going to be on the map," she said.

Smith and Riley have been making the rounds of community associations for months, but it's easy to see how candidates might have overlooked the Woodlawn group.

More than 80 percent of voters in the 10th Legislative District, which includes Woodlawn, are registered Democrats and have voted reliably for the party's candidates. But judging from last week's meeting, those days are over.

"Too often, black people just pull that lever `Democratic' when they're in the ballot box," said Clara A. Hayes, a past president of the Woodlawn High School PTSA and secretary of the community council. "I've been guilty, too. But no more."

Two days before the gathering, the group sent Smith a list of 10 questions asking how he would relieve crowding in schools, ensure that schools and community institutions in Woodlawn and other parts of the county are funded equitably, eliminate the achievement gap between African-American and white students, ease traffic congestion and more.

Residents at the meeting said they were impressed with Smith's answers. But they are eager to hear what Riley has to say, too.

In recent years, the community successfully lobbied the county to build a $13 million addition at Woodlawn High School. Despite the success of that campaign, some residents remain skeptical that government will respond to their needs.

"People say a lot of things," Ross said. "But action is another thing."

Still, she said, she is impressed by Smith's stance on some issues. She likes his idea to create smaller schools (Woodlawn High has about 1,900 students). She likes his idea of setting up community focus groups to meet with the county executive and department heads. And she likes that he did his homework on the questions they asked.

Woodlawn resident Gail M. Jones said she was "looking for a little more meat" from Smith's presentation. She said she wants to know about Smith's record as a county councilman during the early 1980s to learn what he accomplished.

"I want to know his track record, because that speaks for the future," she said.

What will matter to Woodlawn more than what county executive candidates say is how well the community is able to make its voice heard, Hayes said.

"I think he said all the right things, but unless the community gets together and stays behind it, that's all that is, is words," she said. "Is there going to be some follow-through? I'm sure all the new communities are going to have those nice, small schools he's talking about."

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