Yesterday morning, by my measure a symphony of a morning until I picked up The Sun, this newspaper's editorial page carried letters from a Mr. Ed Rutkowski and a Mr. John Huppert, chastising me for describing their East Baltimore neighborhood in accurate terms.
Two weeks ago, I wrote of troubles around Patterson Park, which is not exactly news to all those familiar with Hampstead Hill Middle School, or the Pedro Lugo baseball bat tragedy, or people cringing in their homes from such behavior, all of which Mr. Rutkowski and Mr. Huppert wish nobody would mention in public.
This is why they wrote letters to this newspaper. In 17 years of writing newspaper columns and sometimes seeing responses in Letters to the Editor, I've never written a follow-up response of my own. Today, for Mr. Rutkowski and Mr. Huppert, I make an exception.
Rutkowski's coordinator of the Patterson Park Neighborhood Initiative, and Huppert's executive director of Banner Neighborhoods Community Corp. In their letters is an implicit love of their neighborhood. As it happens, I share that love, which is precisely why I wrote the original column: Some painful things are happening to a community which is one of the city's treasures, and let's not keep quiet while it happens.
So I quoted some neighborhood people who said they wanted to move away, and others who talked of street crime, of feeling frightened as never before.
Such a column, Rutkowski writes, "was just what we needed." He is being sarcastic, which is his privilege. Then he becomes inaccurate, which is not.
"[Olesker] talks about cops being called to our middle school last year as though it were the school's fault. An adult was reportedly seen entering the school with a gun. . . . What does that have to do with the school? Is that the best he could come up with?"
The truth is: I didn't. Rutkowski is blaming me for things I never wrote. And then he minimizes such things as "bicycle thefts and an attack that occurred at 4 in the morning."
"At the end of his column," Huppert adds, "Mr. Olesker asks, 'Does City Hall understand what's happening here?' A better question would be, does Mr. Olesker understand?"
Rutkowski echoes this thrust, that: a) City Hall cares; and, b) I'm an outsider who's faking it. He writes: "I think City Hall is listening," and adds, "It was irresponsible to come into [the] neighborhood, and in one night of interviews . . . make our neighborhood seem less desirable. . . ."
For openers, my understanding of the neighborhood doesn't come from one night, and Rutkowski knows it. I'm in the neighborhood regularly, and I've written about it affectionately through the years. I was there specifically that night because residents called to talk to me about their fears.
But go beyond that. City Hall is listening? When the troubles at Hampstead Hill first erupted, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke gave moving assurance that help was coming. He showed concern and sensitivity.
But where are the changes? Last April, member of the Mayor's Task Force for Hampstead Hill Middle School sent a letter to Schmoke, listing a series of continuing problems.
Two weeks ago, there was a followup letter, this time sent to school Superintendent Walter Amprey, sadly declaring "the realization that the commitment made by Mayor Schmoke and the Baltimore City public schools will not be fulfilled."
This letter notes neighbors' continuing fears during school arrivals and dismissals. There is also a petition, signed by more than 400 residents, declaring their unhappiness with the city's efforts on Hampstead Hill.
There's more. As of yesterday, from the 2300 to the 2900 block of E. Baltimore St., in rowhouses that are marvelous because they face directly onto Patterson Park, there are nine For Sale signs in windows. In four little streets around Hampstead Hill Middle School, there are more than a dozen For Sale signs.
This used to be a neighborhood where nobody moved. When kids said they were moving out, it meant they were moving up the street. Now they go to suburbia, and mourn what they once knew.
Rutkowski and Huppert know this. In their letters, they admit there are problems. But they think it helps the neighborhood if we soft-pedal them. I think this is how we first got into this predicament.