Armed with a camera and a Twitter account, Kimberly Klacik sparked a firestorm.
The videos she posted on social media of blight and trash in West Baltimore caught the eye of Fox News and then President Donald Trump, who over the weekend launched a blistering attack against U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, beginning a multiday war of words between the Republican president and the leaders and boosters of deep blue Baltimore.
Klacik — a Middle River resident who is a member of the 6th District Republican Central Committee and cable news commentator ― watched the intense reaction.
“The President saw my work," she tweeted Saturday. “This just made my day.”
Over the next couple of days — as Trump continued to tweet insults and Baltimore leaders continued to defend ― Klacik’s Twitter followers grew from about 16,000 to close to 76,000. She said she became inundated with media requests and got word that unidentified liberal journalists were planning a “hit piece” on her.
On Monday, she said she wants to make it clear that the public’s attention should be on fixing the problems of West Baltimore, not the president’s tweets.
“Hopefully people understand I never had bad intentions,” Klacik said in an interview. “I never wanted this to become a political mess. I wanted Baltimore officials to see these conditions and to do something about it."
Klacik, who grew up in Accokeek in Prince George’s County and attended Bowie State University, said she initially wanted to become a broadcast journalist, but shifted into political activism.
Klacik said she dropped out of Bowie after being bullied over a medical condition called alopeci that caused her hair to fall out at age 15. She said she overcame her insecurities over the hair loss and now competes in beauty pageants.
She said she has aspirations of running for office.
“One day I would love to,” said Klacik, who declined to give her age. "I’ve learned a lot about the GOP and why they have issues getting more voters. "
Klacik said she got the idea to make her videos after seeing Cummings speak out against poor conditions migrants are held in at the Mexican border, while also saying on ABC News that residents in his district were afraid of Trump. She runs a nonprofit called “Potential Me,” inspired by her own struggle with alopeci, that does work at the Gilmor Homes in West Baltimore, including giving out clothes. She said she thought Cummings should show the same outrage for the conditions there.
So, she picked up her Sony camera, drove to Riggs Avenue, and started interviewing residents.
“Residents constantly call the city to remove trash, no one shows up for months. Rats & roaches are a problem in almost every home,” Klacik tweeted in one of several posts. “Illegal immigrants at the border live in better conditions than Americans in West Baltimore. This is @RepCummings district.”
With Cummings’ committee voting recently to subpoena communications from senior White House officials, a producer from Fox News called Klacik and invited her on the show “Fox & Friends” on Saturday morning.
The president is a frequent viewer.
On air, Klacik called Cummings’ district “the most dangerous district in America” and said: “Congressman Cummings, like many Democrats, are just in there for the photo-ops."
(While Baltimore is consistently among the most violent large cities in the country, Cummings’ district, which includes portions of the region’s wealthier suburbs is not statistically the most dangerous in the country.)
Shortly thereafter, Trump blasted Cummings on Twitter, appearing to echo some of the phrases on the program.
“If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place,” the president wrote.
Klacik said the response has been intense. Online, many called her an “opportunist” exploiting poor conditions in the city to raise her profile.
“The real shame here is that Ms. Klacik is more concerned with self-promotion and scoring a couple thousands retweets by shaming our city,” City Councilman Eric T. Costello said.
“It’s crazy,” Klacik said of the response to her tweets and Fox News appearance. “People are making it about Trump, when it should be about doing better for those people in those neighborhoods.”
A spokesman for Cummings did not respond to a request for comment.
Combating large amounts of litter, illegal dumping and vacant properties has long been a struggle for the cash-strapped city of Baltimore.
With 694 staff members to handle 210,000 households over nearly 90 square miles, Baltimore’s Solid Waste Bureau does not have enough resources to effectively clean up behind more than 600,000 city residents, city officials say. The agency processes 150,000 tons of trash a year from home pickups alone. That doesn’t include some 383,000 service requests the bureau received last year to clean vacant properties, abate rats, clear alleys and storm drains — a 22 percent increase from the year prior.
The number of vacant houses in Baltimore has remained stubbornly flat for a decade — almost 17,000 abandoned buildings blight the city’s streets. And for every one knocked down or fixed up, a new one appears somewhere else.
“Hopefully people understand I never had bad intentions. I never wanted this to become a political mess. I wanted Baltimore officials to see these conditions and to do something about it."— Kimberly Klacik, a Middle River resident who is a member of the 6th District Republican Central Committee and cable news commentator
City Council President Brandon Scott said he’s aware of Klacik and her work providing clothes in West Baltimore. He noted city officials respond to voluminous requests to clean up illegal dumping.
“In the past she has reached out to me and my office for assistance in helping people and we have been able to provide assistance,” Scott said.
Lester Davis, a spokesman for Bernard C. “Jack” Young, said a poor city like Baltimore, which has been losing population, needs financial help from the federal government. Instead, he said, the city is under court order to implement an expensive consent degree fixing its water infrastructure.
“The federal government under this current president has contributed to an unfunded mandate that has caused Baltimore to raise its water rate on its poorest residents," Davis said. "We’re not getting any help from the federal government. You’re taking poor cities and you’re saddling them with more debt.”
On Monday, Trump tweeted that he was awaiting a call from city leaders.
“When the leaders of Baltimore want to see the City rise again, I am in a very beautiful oval shaped office waiting for your call!” the president wrote.
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Davis said Young is willing to meet with Trump if the president is serious about helping the city financially.
“If the president of the United States is serious about using federal resources to help Baltimore, we stand ready and willing to work with him,” Davis said.
Klacik said she hopes something good comes out of the vitriol she helped spark.
“I hope everybody gets over their egos and cleans up the trash and does something about the abandoned homes,” she said.
Three days into his tweetstorm, the president’s social media attacks showed few signs of abating.
Monday evening, Klacik appeared on Fox News again, prompting Trump to tweet out more insults against Baltimore and Cummings.
This time he quoted Klacik by name.