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SCOPE vs. Hope

Posted 3/22/2006

With all due respect to Sandra Newman of Johns Hopkins University, you most certainly can redevelop a city by attracting homeowner-rehabbers and shunning cynical, profit-minded flippers (“End of Their SCOPE,” Feature, March 15). As the good citizens of countless city neighborhoods will tell you—both young rehabbers and the brave homeowners who have braved drugs and violence for years—it’s the only way to achieve real change.

Imagine, for a moment, if Baltimore were to establish Homesteading Zones in certain distressed areas of the city. The city would condemn the worst properties in each zone: the crackhouses, the shooting galleries, and the most egregious housing code violators. The city would then send the word that thousands of properties are available for free, with two caveats: 1) that the property meets certain standards within one year, and 2) that the owner lives in the house for three years. If the building does not meet code within one year, the city takes back the property, without penalty; if the owner cannot live in it for three years, the city buys it back at a fair price.

Don’t you think that people would go for that? This city could add hundreds of taxpayers practically overnight! It would also be a great opportunity for working-class Baltimoreans to become homeowners.

This begs the question: Why did the city pursue SCOPE, rather than a homeowner-friendly policy?

Because “SCOPE was an initiative of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, which . . . urged the city not to give away its surplus properties, but instead sell them.” The city agreed, then “promis[ed] the realtors a minimum $2,500 fee per sale or an 8 percent commission—higher than the standard 5 percent or 6 percent.” Also, the property listings intentionally exaggerated “the repair costs of the building—which often appear[ed] much higher than [what] a developer would spend. The city examines potential bidders to make sure they have enough money to complete the repairs.”

So, not only was SCOPE a freebie for real estate and development interests, but the city made sure that only the rich got the chance to participate! One look at Reservoir Hill’s obscenely priced slums will show you how well that turned out. Meanwhile, we have Baltimore heroes like Bryan Taylor and Vaughn Vigil giving up because nobody will help them out. It’s shameful.

I challenge Sandra Newman—or anyone else—to look me in the eye and tell me that greedy flippers and slumlords are better for Baltimore than eager, responsible homeowners.

Chris Merriam

We’re Your Neighbors

As I was named in a letter to City Paper (“Neighborhood Threats,” The Mail, March 8), I would like to correct some misinformation. The Save Middle East Action Committee (SMEAC) was formed five years ago by Middle East residents, with the purpose of organizing residents to communicate the demands and wishes of those being displaced by the East Baltimore biotech park to those controlling their futures, i.e. Baltimore City, Johns Hopkins, and East Baltimore Development Inc. (EBDI).

When residents first read about the biotech plan (May 2001) in The Sun, there was no democratic organization functioning to represent their concerns. The residents formed an organization that was accountable to its membership, sought a fair and just relocation package for those being displaced,and has actively campaigned for low- and moderate-income replacement housing so that those choosing to move back could afford to do so. From SMEAC’s beginning, residents have run the organization and have represented themselves at meetings with EBDI, the city, and Hopkins. They learned about their rights under the Uniform Relocation Act (URA), passed by Congress in 1970 to ensure fair relocation when federal funds were involved. They read hundreds of pages of relocation policies put out by EBDI and developed counterproposals that were fairer.

The first elections for the SMEAC board were held in August 2002, with 85 members in attendance. Two elections have been held since. The bylaws, approved overwhelmingly at a 2002 membership meeting, require that a majority of the board members be residents from the redevelopment area. The entire executive committee during each term has been made up entirely of neighborhood residents. SMEAC also understood from the beginning the importance of building alliances in the city and learning from others who were facing similar challenges. Initially there were three “affiliates” on the board out of 11—people who did not live in the biotech area, but could bring knowledge and skills and were committed to work under the direction of the affected residents. Currently I am the only nonresident serving on the board; I was elected by and continue to work under the direction of the residents. Throughout these processes, residents have gained leadership and organizing skills that they are putting to use in their continuing fight for justice.

Betty Robinson

My name is Mary Molock. I am a senior citizen and a Middle East resident.

I am highly upset and insulted that this Nia Redmond referred to the seniors in the area as elderly uneducated and socially despondent, hypnotized by storefront-revival tactics. She has no idea of the accomplishments in my life. Nor does she know my background in education.

She is jealous of SMEAC’s work because it is the only organization that truly represents and fights for the community. I think this Nia has a hidden agenda and is working for someone to undermine and go against the residents and SMEAC. She has no plan of action; if she did, it should have been laid out. I would not follow her anywhere.

For her to say such negative things about SMEAC and the residents is uncalled for.

And as for the person who lives in Towson, he must work for EBDI. If not, then he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Mary Molock

Ebony and Irony

Vincent Williams’ mild parochial upbringing clearly must have precluded his interaction with the “cool” kids while growing up (Social Studies, March 8). This lack of release of his inner Angry Black Man at an early age has led Vince to some pretty ham-handed exhortations in his attempt to catch up on missed angst while jumping on the bandwagon of today’s extremely vocal high-profile black spokespeople who are hard at work finding racism and hatred in places we never even thought to look. From breakfast cereals to broken levees, apparently all America is just one giant conspiracy to keep the black man down.

As a second-generation Irish-American whose family survived in the same East Baltimore slums as the freed blacks, I understand fully the amount of hurt and degradation suffered by African-Americans on our soil, but we all need to move on at some point. This is what your pop-culture heroes are doing, Mr. Williams, as documented in your latest article, “Children’s Story,” and it is clearly confusing you, so let me help.

There is no evolution of the “Scary Black Guy.” There is, however, an unmasking. The same guys who sold you violence, profanity, and anger are now selling you children’s books and movies because under their hard, dark killer’s shell is the soft, greedy capitalist just like everyone else, regardless of their skin color. (Didn’t I just see 50 Cent doing a bar mitzvah?) The whole so-called hip-hop culture is a sham. It is little more than a marketing campaign of rage and segregation to disenfranchised youth not unlike the way the imams hold thrall over Muslim youth by promising great rewards for complying with their violent agendas. With power secured and money obtained, they move on to other endeavors with nary a glance back at their former message or the hypocrisy of their new lives.

Mr. Williams has pondered why there are no lasting, epic songs that serve as hip-hop anthems. This is why. They were never recorded to last. They were made to touch a base element in humanity and sell records. But like all things that appeal to our base of violence, greed, and lust (pornography and gambling come to mind), there are no lasting anthems because there is no discovery; there is only simple reiteration of the same theme over and over, ad nauseam, put to much the same fake music.

I enjoy reading Vince’s column and I wish him well, but he would be well served to concentrate on being a great writer as opposed to a black writer, which is, unto itself, a racist endeavor that requires discarding a lot of available fact—a poor quality for a journalist. Black America as a whole will never admit that it was a mistake to promote misogynistic “gangstas” as its leading image, but it saddens me when intelligent, educated adults like Vince continue to pay lip service to this bullshit in an effort to be accepted.

We all get it, dude. The cops got shot, the weed got smoked, and the bitches got fucked. Yadda yadda. But tell me, Vince, besides books for your kid that are based on Spike Lee’s plea for pussy, what’s new, brother?

Mike Peters

Branch Out

The campaign finance report filed by Supporters of Paula Johnson Branch in March 2004, described by the Nose as the committee’s “last” report, was in fact the only report ever filed by this entity, in spite of the fact that it remained open over a period of years (“No Money,” The Nose, March 8). Glenn L. Ross, Branch’s Green Party opponent in the general election, repeatedly petitioned for an explanation as to why Branch’s committee was never required to file the 11 overdue reports (the first of which was due in 2001) and to pay over $2,000 in late fees. Linda Lamone and the State Board of Elections have refused to address this and other issues relating to Branch’s campaign finance entities. The list of irregularities is so extensive it’s hard to keep count.

Meanwhile, Branch may be stuck. When and if she attempts to open a new campaign finance account, her candidacy will be subject to an eligibility challenge on the basis of the missing reports and fees. On the other hand, filing the reports and paying the fees would acknowledge the discrepancy and renew questions about the legality of Branch’s controversial swearing-in over a year ago.

Baltimore Green Party, champions of the equitable application of election law, look forward to a resolution of this tiresome and expensive battle for honesty in campaign finance reporting. With the approaching trial of Momoh Abu Conteh and its star-studded witness list, the ultimate goal of some sunshine in East Baltimore politics may be in sight. Green Party watchdogs will certainly be in attendance in the courtroom that day.

Kathryn Parke

Spite the Power

I read with interest “Fighting the Power” by Christina Royster-Hemby (Feature, Feb. 1 and">Feb. 8). Most intriguing was the amount of infiltration suffered by the Black Panthers in Baltimore. As a longtime protester against the National Security Agency, I was stunned to read that Larry Gibson discovered that Warren Hart was an NSA employee.

Some City Paper readers may be aware that the NSA, through the Maryland Terrorism Task Force and the Baltimore Police Department Intelligence Unit, has been monitoring the activities of the Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore. City Paper’s Edward Ericson Jr. covered the trial of two Pledge members arrested at the NSA (“Under Protest,” Mobtown Beat, Sept 1, 2004). At the trial, NSA documents were released confirming the monitoring. We were aware we were being watched, but these documents were actual proof.

It should be noted that the NSA intercepted conversations between two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, but didn’t translate them until after the terrorist attack. Because of its data-mining process, it is inundated with superfluous information. Not one official of the NSA lost his/her position after Sept. 11 or even apologized for its colossal failure to stop the terrorists.

So it is particularly galling that members of the Terrorism Task Force would be spying on pacifists engaged in constitutionally protected speech. We know the NSA has many files on Baltimore’s peace community, as this was acknowledged through a Freedom of Information Act request. However, the agency wants $1,915 in copying charges before it will release the documents.

The shredding of the Bill of Rights will continue unless more citizens get active and join Pledge members in challenging the Bush administration and its minions. If Larry Gibson is still interested in exposing the wrongdoing of the National Security Agency, he should get in touch with the Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore.

Max Obuszewski

Correction: The addresses of two houses Todd Wetzelberger is rehabbing in Reservoir Hill were misreported by a block in last week’s feature, “End of Their Scope.” They are located at 2334 and 2338 Madison Ave., not 2234 and 2238.

Address letters to The Mail, City Paper, 812 Park Ave., Baltimore, MD 21201; fax: (410) 523-0138; e-mail: Only letters that address material published in or policies of CP, are no more than 500 words long, and include the writer’s name, address, and daytime phone number will be considered for publication. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

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