Over a thousand people filled the auditorium at City College High School for last night’s Neighborhood Congress. This was the first convention for the city-wide citizen’s group that seeks to change how business and politics are done in Baltimore.
Marc Steiner, the WJHU radio personality, hosted the affair. “Baltimore is in this room tonight!” he exclaimed, and said such a gathering “had never happened in the history of Baltimore before.” Over the past month, Steiner has had Congress activists serve as panels for six of his popular daytime talk show slots. He promised last night to broadcast Congress issues weekly for the remainder of the election cycle.
Speeches were made by a number of founding members of the coalition. Julia Montgomery of the North East Community Organization spoke from her wheelchair “I live here, and am not going anywhere,” she said, touching on the issues of blockbusting and elder housing.
Cleo Stuart spoke of the brief history of the Congress. Stan Edmister decried the suburban flight of those employed in the city: “Those escape artists… leave the tax burden to us urban pioneers.” He said that the Congress would change how politics would be done in this city. Currently, the city votes in a “father figure,” he said, but the politicians always help themselves first.
Bev Thomas, of the City Wide Liquor Coalition, spoke of how the city’s grime was negative imagery for the children, commenting, “no wonder they drop out of our reach.” Before beginning to cry, she spoke of the need for well-tailored community- driven complaint services.
Later, to the sounds of a Jazz trio, the gathered citizens voted for the priorities of the Congress. It was a vibrant mixture of people and process. Those crowding around the voting boards included boy scout leaders and clergy, distinguished black gentlemen and gen-Xers, elderly ladies and quakers. They signified which priorities thev
on boards eight feet high and 25 feet long.
The issues were oiganized into four categories: Sanitation; Education and Youth; Housing and Open Space; and Crime and Drugs.
An unofficial poll by the Press showed the following issues were given priority: improve children’s reading levels, and heighten children’s rights; close open air drug markets and double the available drug and alcohol treatment centers; change the leadership of the Department of Public Works and develop a method of accountability; educate all Baltimore residents on trash etiquette; give incentives to increase middleincome home ownership without gentrification; and develop a regional approach to poverty, sprawl, and the environment.
Kelley Brohawn, a commercial real estate agent who attended the Congress, said he was pleased that the Congress waS “broad-based” and felt “it stems from the horrible response from city government. It is good to keep it non-political, but eventually it will have to work out some way to measure accountability of politicians.”