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Lead-ing Us On?

Posted 3/16/2005

Lead paint is the cause of the out-of-control violence in Baltimore (“Full of Lead,” March 9)? What horse manure! The leadership in this town, both black and white, will do any thing to get the blame off of their back for the mess in Baltimore.

The truth is that very little works, outside of tax collection, and that we have a dysfunctional government and infrastructure that does not work for the citizens of this community. The town is broken, and no one has a clue as to how to fix it, hence we have all of these ethereal theories about lead paint being the “problem.” Maybe UFOs are causing Baltimore’s problems.

As a person who spent 25 years pursuing a career away from Baltimore, I returned to see nothing but total confusion about what is the problem. To me it is obvious that the main part of the problem is that Baltimore’s leadership never responded adequately to the “aftermath” of the riots of the 1960s. The loss of the merchant class and small businesses, as revealed by the thousands of boarded-up stores and offices throughout the city, is clear and visible evidence of the community’s failure to respond to the carnage and “aftermath” of the ’60s.

For nearly 50 years people have run to get away from the “aftermath” and are still fleeing the city. One of the best school systems in the nation slid into a 40-year slow spiral of decay, leaving an educational holocaust for parents who are forced to send the kids to the city’s schools. I could go on and on about the horrible Police Department, or the ineffectual Housing Department, or the Public Works Department that does not work, but I think you get my point. Do you think that lead paint is the problem?

Before you can fix something, you have to know what is broken. The lead issue is an important issue, but it is a symptom of a greater illness that is destroying Baltimore.

Harold Morgan

Sucker Bet

I couldn’t agree more with the anonymous vice cop quoted as saying participants in an illegal-gambling event in Dundalk must be “clueless” (“Game Sharks,” Mobtown Beat, March 9). They apparently thought they were living in a free society, where they could spend their own money on harmless pastimes of their choosing without fear of having it confiscated by government thieves.

Meanwhile, this week’s cover story (“Full of Lead,” March 9) revealed that while Baltimore has enough money to raid gambling dens, there apparently aren’t enough funds to ensure safe housing in city neighborhoods plagued by lead poisoning, even though research suggests a link between lead poisoning and violent crime.

Anyone wondering why the quality of life in America has dropped below that of most other industrialized nations would be well advised to read these two articles.

Jon Swift

Excellent article. Have you explored the number of video poker machines in the bars in Baltimore. Are they legal? How many bar owners and/or vendors have been prosecuted for illegal gambling? Sen. George Della seems to be concerned, but maybe Texas hold ’em games are cutting into the video take. I’m sorry, that wouldn’t happen in Baltimore.

John Myers

Wait, Wait . . . Tell Me

As an alumna of casual dining restaurants, I found it easy to relate to your “Waitstaff Confidential” article (March 2). However, the servers you interviewed left out a few notoriously guilty parties. I’m talking about the guy who calculates, down to the penny, an exact 15 percent tip, even if he’s paying on a credit card, as if to state that my service was so mediocre that it didn’t merit rounding a $32.78 check to $33. (You know, because obviously overtipping, even with change, would be a crime.)

May I also mention people who refuse to control their noisy, filthy, disease-ridden children? I have cleaned up after scores of disaster areas, tripped over unattended toddlers playing in restaurant aisles, and even contracted pinkeye. Did I get tipped extra? What do you think?

This brings me to the worst offender of all: teenagers! No matter at which restaurant I was working, teenagers were the most dreaded beasts. Once I seated a table of 15 to 20 who were celebrating a birthday. They were loud, they were inconsiderate. I served them with smiles and jokes. They climbed on chairs and windowsills in futile attempts to retrieve the balloons that, inevitably, made their way to the ceiling. I gently reminded them that they were young adults in public. They dropped entire plates of food onto the floor, which we replaced at no cost. When it came time to settle up it was discovered that some had not quite paid their share, so everyone had to contribute more, since in such a large party, it was near impossible to pinpoint individual culprits. When they next realized that my well-earned compensation for the past hour and a half had been automatically included in the check, nearly the entire table groaned aloud. “I hate gratuity!” one of the girls wailed, unconcerned that I was standing right there.

Now I have an office job. It’s not much more fun, but at least I don’t have to clean up after anyone.

Nicole Brown

As a former waiter, I thoroughly enjoyed the article on the wait profession and life on the other side of the swinging kitchen door. I was also so happy to see that Richard Gorelick has revealed the deep dark secret of “double tipping.” As a patron of restaurants, nothing makes me angrier than that sly little slip of the check with no mention that the gratuity has already been added. It pissed me off as a waiter, and it infuriates me as a patron. If I am the “victim” of this in the future, rest assured that server is not going to get the double tip, and more likely than not will not be receiving the prescribed amount assigned by this dubious practice. And I loved the server’s arrogant response that this ill-gotten windfall was some sort of divine intervention and something that the server “deserves.” Last time I checked, it was tantamount to theft. So beware all you gratuity-adding servants, I’m watching.

Stephen Antonsen

Richard Gorelick’s “Waitstaff Confidential” was an entertaining and informative read. Speaking from the other side of the menu, I’d like to point out that while some waiters may think they are keeping their prejudices and opinions to themselves, sometimes they are painfully obvious.

My husband and I had dinner at a relatively upscale restaurant a few months ago, and the waiter, while superb in his service, did not look at or ask a single question directly to my husband the entire time we were seated. Not once. It was like he wasn’t even there. I’m not sure if it was this waiter’s “schtick” to only gaze intently into the eyes of his female diners, but it pissed us off, royally, and his tip reflected it.

Perhaps we can all learn a lesson in respect and congeniality from Gorelick’s article—diners and waiters alike.

Mary Alice Yeskey

Tall Gall

They say “a picture’s worth a thousand words.” How true, as evident by City Paper’s mock-up of how a 200-foot-tall building would appear on Charles Street in Mount Vernon (“Height Matters,” Mobtown Beat, March 2). A similar picture appeared in The Sun in 1986, at the time the Gould family put forth erecting a 27-story building (nearly 300 feet tall) on their lot at the corner of Charles and Read streets. Then, as now, the public was concerned about large buildings appearing on the Mount Vernon skyline. Department of Planning director Otis Rolley III suggests that developers need to know what the “community want[s]” so that they can make development plans. Apparently almost 20 years is not enough time for development interests to understand what the community wants—perhaps a good quarter of a century will do the trick.

To suggest, as your articles does, that the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association promotes the status quo on the issue of development in Mount Vernon seriously misrepresents the viewpoint of much of the new leadership in the neighborhood, many of whom are advocating for new, sensitively scaled, development on the numerous bare lots in the neighborhood. Over the past five years many new residents, in particular owner-occupier residents, have moved into Mount Vernon, investing millions of dollars in their properties, and the rehabilitation necessary to turn many of these historically poorly maintained houses into the first-class housing that they rightfully should be. This private investment increases the tax base, creates jobs, and at the end of the day makes Mount Vernon a better place to live.

Few of these new owners are satisfied with the status quo in Mount Vernon, one that has allowed the neighborhood to slide over the past half-century. They are placing their own financial and personal resources at the disposal of the neighborhood by their investment of money and time, and by advocating for more city services, code and sanitation enforcement, and by cleaning up the streets and sidewalks with their own two hands. Further, they are encouraging developers to look at buildings in the neighborhood, inviting businesses to relocate or expand to the neighborhood, and encouraging businesses to improve their street presence—even getting some of them into the facade-improvement grant program administered by the Downtown Partnership. They are doing all of this as volunteers—not hired guns—because they are committed to improving the neighborhood. Status quo? Not here— talk to the owner of those parking lots on Charles Street that have remained an undeveloped blight on the neighborhood for nearly a quarter of a century—that’s the status quo.

Lance Humphries

Editor’s note: The graphic used in the article came courtesy the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association.

Know the Odds

Political Animal’s otherwise excellent March 2 piece, “Slots Flop,” had a major problem with its central poker metaphor. It compares the current game of chicken in Annapolis between “Bobby Slots” Ehrlich and Michael Busch to a game of Texas hold ’em in which Ehrlich holds an ace and nine of clubs, Busch holds a pair of kings, and the flop has come up 10, jack, and queen of clubs. The Animal speaks of this situation as “advantage Busch.” In fact, with these cards on the table, Ehrlich would be a staggering 98.48 percent favorite to win the hand. From context, it would seem that the Animal does not wish to assess the Annapolis situation in those terms. Indeed, if the cards were lying that way, it would be the ultimate Republican home run: The legislature would be guaranteeing the installation of a personal slot machine in the home of every Marylander of limited means while repealing all taxes on every heavily enfranchised corporation and individual.

Encourage the Political Animal to keep the poignant commentary coming, but whatever you do, don’t let the poor guy sit down at a poker table. And God willing, the legislature will also keep him away from the slot machines.

John Bonn

Who’s Sorry Now?

Democrats are big on apologies, but only from Republicans. While Dems seek a pound of flesh for Iran-Contra, Trent Lott, Watergate, the war in Iraq, and Bush’s “stolen” elections in Florida and Ohio, they recoil in horror when Lt. Gov. Michael Steele asks for an apology from Howard Dean (Political Animal, Feb. 23).

I’m still waiting for an apology from the Dems for:

  • Thousands rising from their graves near midnight on election night 1948 to vote Lyndon B. Johnson a Senate seat.
  • John F. Kennedy’s father and Chicago’s mayor stealing the 1960 election in Illinois, handing the presidency to JFK.
  • U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy wiretapping the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
  • JFK betrayals: First reneging on promised air cover for the Bay of Pigs invasion, leaving thousands of Cuban patriots dead on Cuban beaches; second, betraying Jackie.
  • JFK and LBJ giving us the Vietnam War and most of the 58,245 names on the Vietnam Memorials Memorial.

  • Southern Democrat governors embracing the KKK and standing on school steps to keep black kids out.
  • Republicans having to shove the Civil Rights Act down LBJ’s throat.
  • Jimmy Carter’s inflation rates in the teens and the Iran hostage mess.
  • Bill Clinton staining a dress and the nation, and weakly responding to the first World Trade Center bombing, begetting Sept. 11.

I’m not holding my breath; Lt. Gov. Steele shouldn’t either.

Paul O’Connell

Measuring Murders and Media

The student body at the Community Learning for Life Program in Hampden was nearly unanimous in its analysis of the circumstances surrounding the recent spate of murders in North Baltimore:

  • A single murder in Remington is not newsworthy, but three murders might be.
  • The murder of a Johns Hopkins University student is by definition newsworthy.
  • The police are helpless to make Remington safer, but not Johns Hopkins University.
  • The public mourning of the deaths of three working-class former drug addicts is different from the public mourning of the death of an upper-middle-class medical researcher.
  • Newspapers are a critical part of what we—as a citizenry—believe to be true in this world.

These are stark propositions offered up by young people who became world-weary before they became worldly wise.

We, as teachers, are grateful to City Paper for honoring the lives and the best intentions of the men who died in Remington (“A Shot at Redemption,” Feb. 16). We encouraged our students to meditate on the details of the two incidents and to critically assess the response of the press to each one.

We subsequently found our students to be perceptive and articulate. However, we noted at the same time our students’ lack of emotional connection with the deceased and their grieving families—in spite of your efforts and ours.

However, one story well told begets another. We witnessed several students begin the long and painful personal process of unraveling their own sad tales of drugs, recovery, and violent death.

Teaching both to the head and to the heart is our collective mission as we raise young people in these turbulent times.

Cranston Dize
Helen Atkinson
Erik Sunday

Editor’s note: We are proud to announce that two City Paper contributing writers were honored in this year’s A.D. Emmart Awards for articles published in CP. The Emmart Awards, named for the former Sun journalist and devoted to taking note of exemplary local arts writing, gave Geoffrey Himes an honorable mention for “Orchestral Maneuvers,” his April 28, 2004, feature on the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Charles Cohen also won honorable mention for “Caught on Tape,” his June 16, 2004, feature on defense contractor-turned-anti-war-documentary-filmmaker Kent Bye. Congratulations, Geoff and Charles.

And hey, have you been to the new and improved CPblog yet? C’mon, what are you waiting for:

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