WASHINGTON -- Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who likes to remind voters that he "has a friend in the White House," saw his friend yesterday and collected $14 million in federal aid to Baltimore, plus a little national exposure.
For a Democratic mayor facing a primary election challenge in less than two months, it made for a pleasant political day.
Mr. Schmoke's friend, President Clinton, and another friend, Vice President Al Gore, both made a point of mentioning the Baltimore mayor by name at a White House conference on empowerment zones. And Mr. Schmoke was selected to give a brief presentation on Baltimore's revitalization efforts to 150 officials from across the nation.
"Well, let's say I was pleased," Mr. Schmoke said afterward while doing interviews on the White House lawn. "We've got a unique situation here now politically where this mayor has a friend in the White House and a friend in the State House [Gov. Parris N. Glendening], both of whom care about cities. They intend to provide assistance to us. That's something people shouldn't discount."
Baltimore was one of six cities tapped last December to receive $100 million in federal aid to revitalize low-income neighborhoods. The city's empowerment zone covers 33 neighborhoods that are home to 72,000 people in three different areas -- East Baltimore, near Johns Hopkins Hospital; West Baltimore, centering on Sandtown-Winchester, and the old Fairfield industrial area of South Baltimore.
The timing of Baltimore's selection was fortuitous for Mr. Schmoke's attempt to win a third term this fall. He can take credit for a successful campaign to get the federal money, but he can't be expected to have produced much in the way of concrete results with it.
The federal government approved the release of the first $14 million in empowerment zone funds to Baltimore this month. Mr. Schmoke said citizens will be able to see results in the zone by "next spring or summer."
Yesterday, the mayor said the city also had received a separate $14 million federal loan to rehabilitate vacant houses in Sandtown. That money is part of $33 million awarded to Baltimore over the past three weeks by federal housing officials.
Andrew Cuomo, assistant secretary of housing and urban development, said Baltimore's empowerment zone designation gives the city preference in getting other federal aid, such as the Sandtown loan.
An additional $200,000 came yesterday from the Environmental Protection Agency, to assist Baltimore's effort to redevelop abandoned industrial land in Fairfield. The EPA announced that Baltimore is one of 15 cities to receive grants under the agency's initiative to stimulate reuse of so-called "brownfields," tracts with possible contamination.
With Republicans in control of Congress and moving to cut programs, there was a sense at the White House yesterday of being in a time warp: Big-city mayors had come to Washington to talk about spending big federal bucks.
"I think this is the last major urban program for possibly the next decade, and that's why the stakes are pretty high," Mr. Schmoke said.
President Clinton gave the group a pep talk. He said the "empowerment zone concept embodies everything we have to do as Americans: create economic opportunity, solve social problems, and pull people together who have been apart."
Mr. Clinton issued a parting challenge to the officials: "You want to do something for your country? Make your empowerment zone work."