Misplaced priorities


THE governor goes out and courts still another big-money man to buy an NFL football team. Hysterical calls flood the sports talk shows. The newspaper runs an article speculating that Baltimore will suffer a nervous breakdown if it doesn't get the ball.

Meanwhile, the Maryland Conference of Social Concern has a list that should arouse similar anxiety and attract comparable capital from patriots seeking to improve Baltimore's quality of life and boost its economy. Unfortunately, this list is greeted with yawns instead of yells.

Besides crime, drugs, children having guns and children having children, here are a few of MCSC concerns:

* Intolerable living conditions in crime- and drug-infested neighborhoods that are crying out for attention.

* A shortage of affordable housing for the poor, working poor and elderly.

* A court system flooded with cases -- about 270,000 pending before only 125 judges. About three-fourths of the cases involve families. A family court system is desperately needed in Maryland.

* A health system that leaves thousands of Marylanders without coverage.

* A lack of parent involvement in the schools, to create a safe, healthy and gun-free climate.

* A lack of neighborhood cohesion. Large and small communities must come together to promote racial harmony and respect for law.

* Urban decay and the crumbling of the infrastructure, particularly in Baltimore City, which must be recognized and supported as Maryland's primary city.

The list could go on.

Can these matters get some attention while we're fixed on getting the ball? Will they be addressed if we do get the ball? Or is it that we just don't get it?

Two groups of investors and now a multimillionaire from Cleveland stand ready to put up millions to buy a football franchise and millions more to operate it. Baltimore ticket buyers already have committed millions more. And lottery ticket buyers and others already have coughed up millions for a new stadium.

How much private money, time and energy are available to rid Baltimore of its potentially fatal diseases, to restore it to health and make it more livable for residents and more attractive for tourists?

Bread or circuses? A steady diet or a shot in the arm? Which will benefit Baltimore the most in the long run? What are our values?

Can we cheer only for a so-called Baltimore team actually composed of out-of-town strangers confronting another motley crew of mercenaries nine Sunday afternoons a year -- or can we learn to cheer for a genuine home team tackling real challenges?

On which ball should we keep our eye?

Jack L. Levin is a Baltimore businessman.

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