President Bush brought his quest for an urban policy to Baltimore yesterday, announcing another $600 million in relief for the newly homeless in Los Angeles and touring an East Baltimore health center which he pronounced a model for inner cities across the nation.
"We've got to take action to bring hope and opportunity to Los Angeles and to all American cities," the president said in a speech to health care professionals at Dunbar High School. In all, Mr. Bush has pledged $1.4 billion to the riot-torn West Coast city.
The president flew in a helicopter to a landing site in Northeast Baltimore and rode through the city, where he found hundreds of curious citizens, a few of them waving small American flags as his motorcade passed.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who rode in the presidential limousine, said he urged Mr. Bush to recognize the pressing needs of the people who came to see him.
"You know, you're not getting real information, you really aren't," Mr. Schaefer said later of his conversation with the president. "The real information is those people on the streets, the jobs [they don't have], the kids. That's something we've got to [address] right now."
Mr. Bush's first stop was the East Baltimore Medical Center in NTC the 1000 block of E. Eager St., a health maintenance organization run by the Prudential Insurance Co. and staffed by doctors from the Johns Hopkins Hospital under a contract with the state.
"This problem-solving partnership advances coordinated care -- the future of health care in this country," the president told the audience.
Coordinated care, Mr. Bush said, means "better care for a kid who steps on a rusty nail on Orleans Street. Before belonging to a coordinated-care center, he would have gone to the Hopkins Emergency Room. They'd be seeing him for the first time, so they wouldn't know if he had had a tetanus shot, or if he were allergic to penicillin.
"They'd have to spend time and money doing unnecessary tests and double treatment. Now, when he shows up at his center's urgent-care center, they just check his history and treat him faster and at a fraction of the cost."
He chatted briefly with women enrolled in "The Better Beginnings Program," an effort to reduce the city's high infant mortality rate and cut the high cost of treating low birth weight babies.
As he was leaving, the president asked Cherella Lee, 18, of East Hoffman Street, "Do you know if you're having a boy or a girl?"
"A boy," said Ms. Lee, who had learned the sex of the baby from a sonogram.
Moving on to a nutrition class, President Bush spotted two varieties of the dreaded broccoli, a vegetable he detests despite a Hopkins study suggesting it may help the body ward off cancer.
"Who's in charge of putting all this broccoli on the table?" the president asked as he sat down. "I think I'm being set up."
Health and Human Services Secretary Louis W. Sullivan, who accompanied him, recalled the Hopkins findings.
"I read about it," Mr. Bush said. "It's the worst news I ever had."
Asked by a reporter if he might re-think his position on the leafy subject, he shuddered and said, "No."
Governor Schaefer eagerly endorsed Mr. Bush's pursuit of health cost containment. The number of Marylanders enrolled in the Medicaid program of health care for the poor has grown from 341,000 in 1986 to a projected 441,200 this year. By next year, the figure will be 475,000, or one in 10 Maryland residents. Medicaid costs now consume about $1.5 billion per year, more than 12 percent of the state's budget.
While some have criticized Mr. Bush for failing to see the importance of cities until Los Angeles burned, Mr. Schaefer did not join them.
"I don't think he's late, but I think he's really got to push his urban policy, and I hope he does. The Congress has got to do it too. The Congress can't sit and wait. . . . They got a warning. They got a warning in Los Angeles."
With the upheaval in Los Angeles, the Bush administration has advanced a modest package of proposals that would lead to tax breaks for businesses that invest in "enterprise zones," policies to encourage homeownership among families in public housing, and a $500 million "Weed and Seed" program to root out crime and replace it with improved social services in inner cities.
Presidential press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said yesterday that the White House wants to resist a deadline for sending its urban policy legislation to Congress.
"It's not a problem you want to measure up against a deadline. It's a problem you want to solve," he said. At the same time, he said, the president wants to act soon, while "the consensus for action is more acute."
That consensus was palpable yesterday among elected officials from the poor neighborhoods around Dunbar High School. But they reacted to the president's comments with skepticism, recalling earlierspeeches in which he warned urban leaders not to look to Washington for a cure.
"It's the things that I didn't hear him say that struck me most," said state Delegate Hattie N. Harrison, a Democrat and director of a community service center housed in the high school.
"I would love for the president to have been there today to listen to a mother who is living in a rat-infested house," she said. "If he really wants to do something, he should send us the money to fix up some of these abandoned houses."
Meanwhile, as the president zipped in and out of Baltimore, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and nine other mayors met with congressional leaders yesterday in Washington. They called President Bush's urban proposals inadequate and also said Congress must do more to help the cities.
"The cities are in crisis," said Boston Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, president of the Conference of Mayors, after the meeting. "We want somebody who is going to stand with us."
The mayors and congressional leaders plan to hold a working session within the next 10 days to devise an urban package.
With President Bush favoring business incentives to aid the cities and members of Congress advocating jobs programs and other direct aid, "we have a long, long way to go," said House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, a Missouri Democrat.
"We need not the pittance that the president spoke of . . . that is woefully inadequate," said New York Mayor David Dinkins.
The mayors dusted off a $34.8 billion emergency jobs and assistance package they proposed to the Congress in January that includes $15 billion for education and housing, $5 billion for public works projects and $2.8 billion for job training.
"Where do we get these resources from?" asked Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who took part in the meeting. Congress recently defeated a measure that would shift defense savings to domestic programs. Mr. Lewis doubted there was support among lawmaker for such a move.