Congressional delegation makes City alumni proud

January 18, 2003|By GREGORY KANE

GOV. ROBERT L. Ehrlich Jr. and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele rightly pointed out Wednesday the history they had made.

Ehrlich is Maryland's first governor elected in the 21st century and the first Republican governor in 36 years. Steele is Maryland's first black lieutenant governor.

But other history may have been made this month, when Maryland's congressional delegation was sworn in. The composition of that delegation may be unique.

Which local high school -- ahem! -- has alumni -- ahem! ahem! -- who make up nearly 40 percent of that delegation?

Polytechnic Institute (or Polywreckit Institution for the Criminally Insane and Cognitively Challenged, as it's fondly known to City College alums)? The Plumbers wish. Western High School? Sorry, ladies.

That school would be -- ahem! ahem! ahem! ahem! -- none other than City. What's with all the "ahems," you might ask. Are you bragging here, Kane?

Yer danged skippy I am, and so is every other Collegian worth his or her salt. When Benjamin L. Cardin (Class of 1961), C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (Class of 1963) and Elijah E. Cummings (Class of 1969, City's best ever, or my forehead isn't the size of an aircraft carrier) were sworn in Jan. 7, it was probably a hat trick rare for any high school.

Is there some special quality about City that accounts for this phenomenon? Or is the school just a hotbed that regularly cranks out liberal Democrats?

I knew something was different about City when I walked in the doors in September 1966. George Mahoney had just won Maryland's Democratic gubernatorial primary over liberal Rep. Carlton Sickles.

Maryland was hardly a beacon of enlightenment on racial matters at the time. Two years earlier, Alabama's segregationist Gov. George Wallace got 40 percent of the vote in Maryland's presidential primary, which brought former governor and Baltimore Mayor Theodore McKeldin to tears.

Mahoney ran a nakedly race-baiting, anti-open housing campaign using the slogan "Your home is your castle -- protect it." Vote for me, Mahoney told white voters with a nudge and a wink, and I'll keep those horrible Negroes out of your neighborhood.

The day after the primary, I sat in the library as a livid Jerome Denaburg, City's principal, railed against the election results. How, Denaburg fumed at other faculty members, could Marylanders be so dense as to vote for a man like Mahoney?

Denaburg, City history teacher Samuel Banks would tell a class two years later, was no "flaming liberal" on the issue of race. So you can imagine how some of the other faculty were.

On May 10, 1967, Baltimore's teachers went on strike. Several City teachers were arrested during demonstrations, with one proudly singing "City Forever" as he was led into a paddy wagon.

City, I learned during my sophomore year, was no ordinary school.

The summer after 10th grade, I entered an Upward Bound program at Johns Hopkins University. The folks who ran the program decided to tempt several of us with an offer to attend Park School.

I mulled it over for about a day and decided I'd prefer to remain at the best school in the area. No offense to Park, a fine institution, but there was only one City College.

(John Appeldt, a good friend of mine in the Upward Bound program, decided to stay at Poly, for precisely the same reason.)

I've never regretted the decision. A little over a year after making it, I sat in Banks' "Problems of Democracy" class. For the first time in 13 years of public education, I sat before a teacher who challenged me to question accepted dogma. Banks insisted that we know the members of the City Council, the members of the president's Cabinet, who was on the school board, and to make our voices heard on the letters to the editor page of the town's three dailies.

Banks was, quite simply, the finest teacher I've ever had, one who had an impact on students long after they graduated. Former Mayor Kurt Schmoke, Del. Tony Fulton and Cummings will probably agree.

I don't know if Banks was on City's faculty when Cardin and Ruppersberger attended the school, but other faculty members -- history teacher and varsity football coach George Young, perhaps -- probably influenced them as much as Banks did City's future classes.

Banks died in the summer of 1995, only a few months before I became a columnist. Young died in December 2001. In their hearts, Collegians know that on Jan. 7, they were smiling with pride somewhere up there.

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