Waving photographs of rodent-infested garbage and chanting "Trash Brings Rats, Can Your Trash," 110 rat-weary Baltimoreans staged a loud and light-hearted demonstration in front of City Hall last night.
The rally's organizers -- members of a new coalition group, Baltimoreans Against Rats, which includes at least 20 neighborhood associations -- said the event was meant to remind officials and residents of the virtues of rat control.
During the hourlong event, participants playfully taunted passing city officials and read from a list of demands, including closer supervision of city sanitation workers, stronger enforcement of city codes on trash cans, and an increase in the number of employees dedicated to rat baiting.
"In my entire life, the rat problem has never been as bad as it is right now," said Gloria Morton, who has lived in Franklin Square for all of her 65 years.
Leading the residents was Dr. Rat, the enigmatic anti-rat crusader who had not been seen in public since 1982. The doctor, now with more than a fair amount of gray hair, emerged from behind a white subcompact on East Fayette Street, wearing his familiar khaki uniform with rat trap epaulets.
"I thought this war was over, but it's not," he told the crowd, without explaining his absence from public view. "I'm sad to say that there hasn't been the decline in the rat population that I once fought for."
The singing, sign-carrying marchers gave the event the feel of a street party. One bright green placard showed a picture of two rats and the words, "We are taking over the city, and we're not voting!" A nearby sign said: "Baltimore the city that BREEDS -- Rats!"
One marcher, Richard Burton of West Baltimore, led around a 12-foot-tall rat built with wood, a table cloth, and a horse-sized papier-mache head. Janice Jacobs of East Baltimore told anyone who would listen about the rats who disabled her 1998 Chevy Malibu by chewing through wires under the hood. Joining these residents was former state Sen. Larry Young, who prominently sported an orange Baltimoreans Against Rats sticker.
Organizers added to the rally's numbers by handing stickers and placards to pinochle and chess players at War Memorial Plaza. "The problem is that rats have lost their fear," said Terrell Veney, 34, a cook from West Baltimore. "They don't run from us no more. We're running from them."
Twenty minutes into the rally, Public Works Director George G. Balog emerged from his office to speak to television cameras, though he declined shouted suggestions that he address the crowd. Balog took credit for progress in reducing the rat population: Budget and staffing for rodent control has doubled in the past year, and weekly complaints have dropped from about 500 to 60.
Balog has agreed to meet with Baltimoreans Against Rats on April 28.
As Balog spoke, Dr. Rat stood in back of the crowd, patiently spelling his name for a TV reporter. Derek C. Neal, the actor who played the doctor 20 years ago and again yesterday, said he had struggled to find the badly stained old uniform after rally organizers asked him Tuesday to reprise the role.
His voice scratchy, he thought better of singing the familiar Dr. Rat tune, "Pestilence."
"I can't believe I'm doing this," said Neal, 46, a middle-school teacher. "I never thought I'd be Dr. Rat again."
Pub Date: 4/08/99