Hagerstown and Baltimore similar, Schmoke says

November 26, 1997


Staff Writer

Baltimore City has about 20 times the population of Hagerstown, but the two municipalities have several things in common, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said Wednesday.

Like Baltimore, Hagerstown gets jobs and other economic benefits as a result of transportation along Interstate 70 and trade through the Port of Baltimore, he said.

The two cities also wrestle with a drug problem, although in much different degrees.

"We share some of the same problems, but we also share some of the same opportunities," Schmoke said during a speech before about 200 civic and business leaders at a joint meeting of the Hagerstown Rotary and Kiwanis clubs.


Schmoke, 47, a Democrat who is serving his third term as Baltimore's mayor, has been mentioned over the years as a possible candidate for statewide office, but he told the audience he wasn't announcing a candidacy.

Instead, he spoke about economic development issues and how they can help urban areas if business and government work together.

For example, Schmoke spoke of the many projects under way or planned for Baltimore, such as expansion of the city's convention center and a plan to have two new downtown hotels built by 2002.

But he said Baltimore, like other cities, has to address the issues of blight, crime and drugs.

Just blocks from the downtown tourist district of shops, restaurants and museums are some of the state's poorest neighborhoods, he said.

"For all the wonderful things we have in the city, and we have some great things, we also have weaknesses," he said.

He said the best way to improve Baltimore is to improve literacy skills, thus providing a better work force and attracting more employers to the city.

As for drugs, Schmoke has stirred controversy by voicing support for the decriminalization of drugs, a step he maintains will reduce violence related to the drug trade.

Reducing violence will allow society to attack the aftermath of drug use, such as addiction and AIDS, he said

"I've simply argued that the war on drugs should be a public health problem rather than a criminal problem," he said.

He said the state has helped ease the problem by approving a needle-exchange program, which has saved the state money it would have spent to treat AIDS patients.

"As we move forward, we're hoping that we're viewed as a contributor to the state and not just a place where a lot of state aid (goes)," Schmoke said.

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