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City pulls out all stops in bid for HUD grant


WASHINGTON -- There comes a time when a city has to play hardball to protect its political interests. No more hand-holding. No more sweet-talking. No more kidding around.

There comes a time when a city has only one choice: Bring out the go-go boots and the marching band.

That's exactly what Baltimore did yesterday. Baton twirlers and high-steppers jumped and gyrated in front of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in a high-decibel effort to win a $100 million federal grant for an empowerment-zone project. The money can be used for services including education, housing and job training.

Baltimore is considered a front-runner for one of the six urban grants available. But with more than 300 cities vying for them, the competition is ferocious, and nobody is taking anything for granted.

"We're here to get money," said Baltimore's drum major, Dennis Yancey, his feathered cap limp on his head in the afternoon heat. Then, with a flash of sequins, he was whisked into service for his city.

"Have them end up right here," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, ushering the band to the spot where Henry G. Cisneros, the HUD secretary, would soon be cheering on the performers.

Mr. Cisneros sent some bureaucratic cheering Baltimore's way as he accepted the city's application.

"I believe this is the first time . . . an application has been submitted by bringing half the city to Washington," Mr. Cisneros told the more than 200 Baltimore community activists who stood around him. "If people are looking . . . it's because they've never seen anything like it here."

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski was partly responsible for the HUD secretary's expansive good cheer. The Maryland Democrat had the crowd chanting some decidedly partisan slogans such as, "We love you, Henry Cisneros."

Mr. Cisneros bounced on his feet during the speech and kissed Ms. Mikulski when she finished.

Even though the applications aren't due until the end of the week and a decision by Mr. Cisneros is not expected until fall, some Baltimoreans were all but declaring victory yesterday. "We love you, we love HUD, we love the decision-making process," said Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th.

Some cautioned that yesterday's lovefest could leave Baltimore with a broken heart, that Mr. Cisneros has room in his embrace for more than one city.

"Well," said Mike Dawson, a spokesman for Gov. George V. Voinovich of Ohio. "the secretary came to Cleveland to participate in a workshop, and I think that's a good sign, and he said some very encouraging things about Cleveland's chances of landing an empowerment zone."

Was it an early crop of sour grapes that prompted him to pooh-pooh Baltimore's lobbying effort as cute and nonthreatening?

"No," Mr. Dawson said, adding that the battle for the grants will be won on paper, not at the HUD pavilion. "We're certainly hopeful that the federal government won't make the decision based on hoopla."

Deborah Wood Dorsey, a lobbyist for Los Angeles, which is considered to have a lock on one grant, said the home of the stars is steering clear of histrionics. "A rally? Why? Who put them up to this?" she said over the the telephone, laughing. "It seems an unusual thing to do, maybe because I'm cynical and I live and work in Washington."

One Baltimore demonstrator, Martha Benton, who works for the city's Housing Authority, said she has no doubts that the city's sis-boom-bah performance will pay off.

"I don't think we're going to win it," she said. "I know it."

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