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Aid's value not visible from Capitol Hill


In the early 1980s, when he was still mayor of Baltimore, William Donald Schaefer regularly drove to Capitol Hill with a trunkful of charts and graphs illustrating his city's needs and the value of government programs.

He talked to congressmen about all he had done with Washington as a partner. He extolled Urban Development Action Grants. He promoted public service employment programs. He said revenue sharing was essential for cities with shrinking tax bases.

But his arguments did not prevail against those opposing "welfare state" programs.

"I tried to get people to come and see what we were doing, but I had to go over there," the governor recalled last week as the Bush administration fretted about what to do when the smoke clears in Los Angeles.

Mr. Schaefer's successes in Baltimore have been chalked up to his leadership, drive and vision. But he was a mayor under presidents, Republican and Democrat, who had made policy after their own confrontations with urban chaos.

"Richard Nixon had an urban policy. Jimmy Carter did," Mr. Schaefer said. "But we knew Mr. Carter's plan wouldn't last forever. Mr. Reagan's idea was 'do more yourself.' We could adapt to that. We had the private sector. But to cut programs back to nothing . . .you have to have a combination of things."

Federal programs have been widely condemned as failures. In a sense, though, they were too successful, some say.

"There clearly were things that were working," says Robert C. Embry Jr., an assistant secretary of housing and urban development under Mr. Carter.

Cities today might very well be poorer -- but not entirely because anti-poverty programs failed, Mr. Embry said. Quite the contrary.

"If you help a poor person to become not poor by job training or whatever else you do, that person will become middle class and feel the same pressure to leave the city as anyone else, " he said. "So some programs were effective -- but that didn't help the city, because people moved away."

A study by Laura Morlock at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health showed promise in the much-maligned and now-discontinued Public Service Employment Program, which attempted to prepared unemployed for the world of work. Ms. Morlock found that over time, a public service graduate did better and better in the marketplace.

A program begun by Mr. Embry to help cities encourage investment was another success that didn't last -- the Urban Development Action Grants, or UDAGs. They got Baltimore's Inner Harbor going and they worked in other places.

"Republicans denounced UDAGs as a massive giveaway program for rich people," Mr. Embry said. "But they were targeted at distressed cities and only given if they leveraged four or five private dollars for every public dollar."

"It's fine to say something doesn't work," Mr. Embry said. "But let's find out what does work. We haven't done that. They really don't want to do anything. This is not their constituency."

Governor Schaefer, who meets frequently with Mr. Bush and thinks of him as a friend, says the president has been misinformed on the health of the nation and its cities.

"I think he had his mind on Desert Storm. His staff was telling him everything was all right. I met with him two or three times and he said, 'Don, I think we're all right.'

"I said, 'Mr. President, I hear you but that's not the way it is around our area. I still go into Baltimore. I know everything is not all right.' I don't think he spent enough time out on his own."

Maybe it's time for the governor to reissue the invitation and dust off the old charts and graphs.

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