At his first neighborhood forum in the aftermath of the Great Snow of 2003 - and the rain and flooding that taxed city services and tore potholes in streets - Mayor Martin O'Malley faced a modest turnout at Edmondson-Westside High School last night, bracing himself for a verbal lashing.
"Thank you for braving the weather, for braving the potholes, for braving the traffic to join us here this evening," O'Malley told the gathering of about 100 residents and city officials. "Everyone has two minutes to ask questions - or to yell at the mayor."
But when it came to critiquing the city's response to the record 28-inch snowfall, there were no tirades, no fits of hysteria, no verbal grenades. There were, instead, requests for help with other, long-standing problems - open-air drug markets, abandoned vehicles, and improving neighborhood recycling.
As for the snow, the prevailing sentiment seemed a rather polite: Can you just do better next time?
But O'Malley was visibly disappointed by the snow woes he did hear. Residents at the Southwest Baltimore forum told the mayor and his Cabinet how they had to pool money and hire private contractors to clear their streets. Others complained that they had nowhere to put their vehicles after the city banned parking on snow emergency routes - but failed to clear secondary roads.
The audience offered a collective moan when Theresa Anderson, 70, took the microphone and told how, after contacting the city's nonemergency 311 call center at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, she waited for a plow to clear the snow-choked alley behind her house in the 2400 block of Edmondson Ave. - a precaution in case her 300-pound, paraplegic son had a medical emergency. The plow didn't show until yesterday, she said.
"I was told it was a priority by the 311 operator, even though it's not the policy to remove snow from alleys," Anderson said. "They promised me one."
Anderson told the mayor that the alley needed clearing because her son, 44, enters and exits the house from the rear where a van usually picks him up. She waited 32 hours for 311 help before she and her 70-year-husband took shovels in hand and carved a small path. Fortunately, she said, her son did not have a medical emergency during the peak of the storm.
"I hope they will consider that when a call comes in like that, they will put in a little more effort to have it taken care of," Anderson said afterward.
The mayor apologized to Anderson and instructed city department heads in attendance to get to the bottom of Anderson's 311 requests. "I wanted to know what happened," he said.
Wanda Wallace, a member of the Allendale Community Association, wanted help with abandoned vehicles on private properties that have been a blight in her community, some for as long as five years. She complained about sanitation workers who "sling garbage cans everywhere," leaving trash lying in alleys.
Young Kim Robinson of the Irvington Community Association bemoaned the loss of police foot patrols along Frederick Avenue and wanted help in combating open-air drug markets.
Kevin P. Clark, the mayor's police commissioner-designate, told Robinson that it "took guts" to come to a forum to report drug dealing. He added: "You shouldn't have to come to a microphone to tell us about drugs in your community."