Schmoke lambastes Congress Democrats accused of 'fraud on cities'


Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke accused Democratic leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday of playing "cotton-candy politics" with the problems of the cities.

"It looks so nice and you bite into it and there's nothing there," the mayor said at the annual civil rights breakfast of the Baltimore Community Relations Commission.

"It is not a Republican problem that we face," Mr. Schmoke said. "I met yesterday [Wednesday] with the Democratic leadership of the House, and these people just don't get it.

"With all due respect to the speaker of the House, I sat in front of him and said that what is being presented right now by the national leadership is really a sham and a fraud on the cities and the people living in the cities," the mayor said.

Mr. Schmoke was one of nine mayors who met privately in Washington Wednesday with House Speaker Thomas S. Foley and other Democratic leaders, including Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.

Democrats and the White House said Wednesday that they had reached an accord on broad themes of an urban agenda. Democrats and Republicans began the task of finding specific areas of compromise and finding ways to pay for them.

"They seem to want to cut a deal with President Bush to . . . put a Band-Aid on these problems and get the cities issues off the agenda," Mr. Schmoke said.

Mr. Hoyer said yesterday that the mayor's comments were "unfortunately harsh" and "reflect obvious frustration" about urban problems.

The congressman said that Mr. Foley sympathized with the mayors' concerns about the plight of the cities, but that he was trying to explain the difficulty of winning enough votes for their agenda.

"What the speaker was trying to tell them was that no matter how right you are, you've got to have 218 votes or a presidential signature, or 290 votes [to override a veto]," he said. "As a political and fiscal matter, with a $400 billion deficit, it is going to be a difficult thing to do."

Mr. Hoyer said the leadership was not looking for Band-Aids.

"Cutting a deal with the administration on doing something that needs to be done . . . is, I think, appropriate," Mr. Hoyer said. "That is not to say [the leaders] agreed that was the only thing they would do."

He said the Democratic leaders would meet with the mayors again in 10 days.

Mayor Schmoke urged Baltimoreans to take part in the Save Our Cities march tomorrow in Washington to spotlight what he called the cities' need for federal help.

Mr. Schmoke said later in an interview that the federal budget agreement would block fresh infusions of aid to the cities unless Congress passes with a veto-proof majority a declaration of national emergency that would authorize switching funds from defense to domestic affairs. The budget agreement now mandates that any defense cuts be applied to reducing the deficit.

"They can make all these pronouncements about programs they would like to institute to help the cities, but if they don't invoke these mechanisms in the budget agreement, it can't be done," the mayor said.

Mr. Schmoke said the Democratic leaders "weren't aggressive and positive. They did not display the sense of urgency we thought they would have. Everybody is feeling their way on how does this play politically."

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has drawn up a $34.8 billion plan to aid cities through public works and job creation. The mayor pointed out that the House Armed Services Committee gave conditional approval yesterday to the final four B-2 bombers in a 20-plane fleet at a cost of $2.3 billion per plane, money that he suggested would be better spent on the cities.

However, Mr. Hoyer said the House has been unable to muster a majority -- much less a big enough majority to withstand a presidential veto -- to move $5.8 billion in defense funds to domestic spending. He said the size of the mayors' wish list would make doing so even tougher.

Mr. Schmoke called on Democratic leaders to react to the plight of the cities with the same urgency they accorded the Persian Gulf war and the savings and loan crisis.

"Nobody bothered to talk about . . . whether the budget agreement would allow it," he said. "They saw the emergency, and they solved the problem. That's what they ought to do with the cities."

In the wake of the Los Angeles riots, the mayors warned the congressional leaders that unless "serious attention" was paid to the cities, "we may see outbreaks like Los Angeles again in the near future," Mr. Schmoke said.

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