The ‘Dean’ Says Goodbye Rikki Spector retires from City Council after nearly 40 years

_dsc8579

Rochelle “Rikki” Spector (David Stuck)

Often called “feisty” by friends and foes alike, longtime Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, 80, spoke of plans for another 40 years the day after being knocked to the ground in an attempted carjacking that left her with a black eye last Friday.

“I go into the biblical mode of 120 years,” Spector said. “The first 40 years was my being born and raised, having my family and developing the loves of my life. The second 40 years was serving in the Baltimore City Council, making government work for the people. Now, I’m embarking on that third 40 years, and I feel ready and inspired.”

Spector, a Democrat who represented the city’s 5th District for 39 years, surprised many colleagues last January with her announcement that she would leave the City Council after nine terms. In good health eight decades into her life, the councilwoman said she wants to shift her focus: “I’m really ready to go on wonderful paths I feel really curious about.”

The Baltimore-born-and-raised councilwoman, known for her outspokenness on issues affecting the city, was appointed to represent Northwest Baltimore in 1977 after her late husband, Allen, was appointed as a District Court judge.

She cited multiple factors for her retirement, including the election of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and the loss of her place on influential council committees.

Her popularity has held strong in the city, and in late 2015, Spector admitted she started gearing up for her re-election — feeding the widespread belief that she would, in fact, run for an unprecedented 10th term. As it stands, Spector has held one office seat in Maryland longer than any elected official in state history.

With her final term complete, many local residents and political officials alike agree that Spector and her contributions to the council will not be forgotten.

“For as much as we didn’t agree on many issues, I told her she may not miss me, but I am certainly going to miss her,” said 14th District Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, one of the council’s senior members. “What Rikki did for her district and Baltimore, you really can’t put into words.”

On the council, Spector fought fiercely for initiatives to advance Baltimore’s economic growth. She also pushed for affordable housing, partnerships between private and public institutions and improving the city’s public school system.

But when council president Bernard “Jack” Young removed Spector from two of her three committee assignments — the Urban Affairs and Aging committee and the Land Use and Transportation committee — two years ago she felt she couldn’t lead as effectively.

Rochelle "Rikki" Spector gives opening remarks to the volunteers before the clean up begins

Rikki Spector addresses volunteers before a clean-up on Good Neighbor Day in November 2012. (Justin Tsucalas)

In fact, for the first time in her political career, Spector had great uncertainty about her place in the current council’s ranks. In a sense, she saw the writing on the wall.

“I’m Jewish, but I had an epiphany,” Spector said. “I said to myself, ‘[Young] has not treated me properly.’ I didn’t want him not to win his re-election, and I didn’t want to work against him because I knew he was going to be the council president again. I couldn’t work four years under those circumstances, plus I didn’t know who the mayor was going to be.”

The rift between the two began in 2014, when she was the only council member to vote against body cameras for all members of Baltimore’s police force and a ban on plastic bags at city stores. The bills were both fiercely advocated for by Young and eventually vetoed by then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, leading to a fallout between Young and Spector.

In an interview with the JT, Young said he “regrets” stripping Spector of her committee assignments, “because she worked hard [and] showed up for all the meetings.”

Moreover, Young, 63, added that he is intent on never having to take another councilmember’s committee assignments as he enters his second full term in his role as council president.

“Our relationship, even though Rikki was upset with me, I always looked up to her and respected her,” Young said. “The thing about me is that I respect my elders. My mom always taught me to respect those people of age. [Spector] had a wealth of experience, so what I did was wrong.”

During the last year, Spector and Young have mended their political relationship and teamed together on some hot-button issues that Young opposed.

For instance, Young said, Spector was instrumental in drumming up enough support from councilmembers to send back to committee a bill that would have raised minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2022.

Through the years, Spector and Young worked tirelessly in support of one another on other legislative matters, including the massive Port Covington project and redevelopment of Harbor East and the former site of Memorial Stadium.

Rabbi Elchonon Lisbon, Rabbi Velvel Belinsky, Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, Mayor Sheila Dixon, Councilwoman, Rikki Spector and Rabbi Lev Gopin.

Rikki Spector with former Mayor Sheila Dixon and Chabad rabbis (from left) Elchonon Lisbon, Velvel Belinsky, Shmuel Kaplan and Lev Gopin (Kirsten Beckerman)

Her knowledge and experience are two things Young plans to utilize on more key issues that promise to arise in the immediate future. He said whenever Spector wants to meet with him, she won’t need an appointment, as his policy is with other former council-members.

“Rikki could charm honey out of a bee’s mouth,” Young said with a laugh. “If you sit down and listen to Rikki, she will almost convince you that she won.”

Often referred to as the “Dean of the City Council,” she became a role model for generations of women in politics, though she is quick to defer taking any credit for paving the way for others.

Baltimore County 2nd District Councilwoman Vicki Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat whose district shares a border with Spector’s, described Spector as a hard worker with a significant resumé in community service. Beyond that, Almond said Spector had a way of breaking any tension with “her incredible sense of humor.”

Perhaps more importantly, after Almond was first elected to her post in 2010, she said Spector gave her a simple piece of advice that she still carries with her: “Do your job, and don’t worry about anything else.”

“I’ve always tried to do that,” Almond said. “As far as I’m concerned, I don’t even think Rikki realized she was breaking a glass ceiling as much as she saw going into politics as a calling.”

With the new council having taken office on Thursday, the district is under the guidance of someone without the Spector name for the first time in 50 years. Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer is the district’s new representative.

Spector praised her district, which serves as a bridge from Baltimore County along its north and west borders, for its diversity, stable neighborhoods and strong businesses.

spector-rikki

Rikki Spector at a City Council work session in November 2013. (Marc Shapiro)

Art Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council from 1990 to 2016, said Spector had an uncanny knack for bringing together people from all backgrounds for the greater good of the community.

In 1968, Spector helped organize an open dialogue meeting at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC for African-Americans and Jews after riots in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination shook the city to its core in April of that year.

Those meetings eventually led to the formation of the Black Jewish Forum of Baltimore, known as BLEWS, which officially began in 1978 as an informal dialogue group to address issues of common concerns in both communities.

Abramson said Spector took the time to learn the concerns of all the ethnic groups she represented, which in turn helped build her credibility among constituents.

“She probably understood the Jewish community better than anyone on the council, but that doesn’t mean she could ignore the needs and interests of her colleagues and other residents in the community,” Abramson said. “Nobody in the African-American, Muslim or Christian communities that I know of ever complained that Rikki didn’t understand them, and that’s very much a compliment to her career.”

Maxine Webb, president of the Glen Homeowners Improvement Association, said she savored her time working with Spector.

Webb, 64, noted she was the first African-American to move into the 3000 Block of Glen Avenue in 1970 and said when Spector took office, she made her feel like a neighbor.

“I’m so happy for her. It is bittersweet for me, because when I heard she was retiring, I said to her, ‘You would go retire just right after I become president [of the Glen Homeowners Improvement Association]. You leave me when I need you most,’” Webb said with a laugh. “She said, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll still be around.’”

_dsc8625

(Photo by David Stuck)

Pre-Council Days

Spector built a Baltimore legacy before her appointment to the council. She grew up in South Baltimore’s Locust Point neighborhood, graduated from Forest Park High School and attended Baltimore Hebrew University. At home, her family spoke Yiddish.

At 9 months old, Spector said, her parents divorced when it was uncommon for Jews to dissolve a union. As she was raised by her grandfather, she attended Hebrew school at Beth Tfiloh Congregation, where she also had her bat mitzvah.

Growing up in a Polish family of shop owners, Spector said, “I could sell ice to Eskimos like they needed it.”

In the 1970s, Spector opened Six on the Square at 48 E. Sudbrook Lane in Pikesville, where she and a business partner sold clothing, jewelry, needlepoint, ladies handbags and stationery supplies. That venture, which ran from 1973 to 1978, taught Spector the importance of locally owned and operated businesses.

Years later, Spector put that business acumen to work, as businesses and state and federal agencies created jobs for residents in her district.

Just three years ago, Spector helped broker a deal that led to the opening of ShopRite in Howard Park, creating nearly 300 jobs. Plans for a grocery store in Howard Park dated back to 1999, when the Super Pride on Liberty Heights Avenue closed, leaving the area without a supermarket.

Marshall Klein, chief operating officer of Klein’s Family Markets, which owns and operates nine ShopRite locations in the Baltimore region, primarily in Harford County, said Spector understood how to effectively combine politics and business.

“She’s tenacious in a caring way,” Klein said. “As I got to know Rikki, I saw that she was not bashful or shy about expressing her opinions to anyone who wanted to listen or, more importantly, who did not want to listen. In my dealings, it’s been rare to find someone who cares for the right reasons like Rikki does, and I think a lot of that has to do with her background.”

Spector also pounced on opportunities to bring the Motor Vehicle Administration and Social Security Administration to her district when both were looking to relocate.

Here is a photo from the grand opening of Weinberg Manor South. Let me know if you need more information. Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector (middle) and Ellen Jarret, CHAI: Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc., an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, cut the ribbon at the grand opening of Weinberg Manor South, CHAI’s 15th senior living facility. They were joined by (front row left to right) Secretary Kenneth Holt, Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, Barry Schloss,The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake,, Brian Halter, Boston Capital (back row, left to right) Mitchell Posner, CHAI, Paul T. Graziano, Baltimore City Housing Commissioner, Marc B. Terrill, The Associated, Stephen Briggs, Wells Fargo and Larry Davis, Edgewood Management.

Rikki Spector is joined by various officials to celebrate the opening of Weinberg Manor South in March 2015, CHAI’s 15th senior living facility. Among those joining Spector were Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (bottom row, second from right), CHAI executive director Mitchell Posner (top row, far left) and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore president Marc B. Terrill (top row, middle). (David Stuck)

Early in her tenure, it didn’t take Spector long to realize just how much influence she could have on shaping all matters affecting the city.

Shortly after she took office, Spector worked closely with then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer on the redevelopment of the Inner Harbor. Collaborating with Schaefer in bringing the Baltimore Convention Center, Harborplace, the National Aquarium and the Hyatt Regency Baltimore Hotel to Light and Pratt streets remains among the high marks of her career.

“People had to sleep in Baltimore. They just couldn’t work here and go to school here,” Spector said. “I understood what Schaefer was doing, and I supported him. Schaefer said we needed to put everything downtown, because [Baltimore] is a walkable city. This will be the recreation dollar that we need. It gave us the tax base and the businesses that we needed.”

While Spector called Schaefer “a cheerleader for Baltimore,” she dubbed Rawlings- Blake “a role model.” Spector strongly believes Rawlings-Blake received unfair scrutiny for only having six years to implement her policies, not allowing for ample time to see them through.

“It takes 40 years to turn back the bad public policies we have seen in majors cities,” Spector said. “So it doesn’t mean you have to work less or give up. It just means that you have to keep that shoulder to the wheel. A diamond is a piece of coal that is stuck to its job.”

Kurt Schmoke, mayor of Baltimore from 1987 to 1999, said Spector took constituent service to the highest level. “It seemed like Rikki showed up at every event with more than three people there,” said Schmoke, president of the University of Baltimore. “Her care in dealing with calls and letters was just outstanding. To me, that was the hallmark of her career.”

Spector said one of her main policies was to return any phone call she missed the day she received it. She joked that the hit 1974 song “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” by jazz-rock group Steely Dan was her calling card.

During her extensive career on the council, she was known not only for her stature and sassy nature, but also for sitting on prestigious committees, serving as president of the Maryland Association of Counties in 1995. She also serves as vice chairperson of the Transportation Steering committee of the National Association of Counties, is a member of NACO’s Northeast Region Board of Directors and is an at-large member of the Maryland Economic Development Association.

In Spector’s place, Schleifer, 27, a lifelong 5th District resident, plans to carry the torch and build on Spector’s many accomplishments. “It is very important that, after so many years, we can have a smooth transition from where Rikki left off,” Schleifer said.

Outside her political career, Spector has always considered herself a strong family woman. She and her late husband Allen, who died in 1990, had three sons, Bruce, Ira and Stephen. Spector has six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, many of whom still live in the area.

City Council representative Rochelle "Rikki" Spector and Kenneth Gelula narrated the tour for the attendees.

Rikki Spector with former CHAI executive director Kenneth Gelula during a Baltimore Jewish Council candidates tour in 2007 (Andy Cook)

After Allen’s death and then Ira’s death in 1999 from influenza, Spector said “she felt vulnerable.” It was around that time she met Oscar Brilliant, 94, and moved into his high-rise luxury condo at 1000 Harborview Drive in the Inner Harbor.

While she maintains a home on Park Heights in her district, Spector has, at time, drawn criticism for not actively living at her listed addressed. She dismissed any notion of that by pointing to her rigorous schedule, walking about 30 to 35 minutes to and from City Hall every day and working as late as 10:30 or 11 most nights. Most days, she said, when she was not at City Hall, she could be found at some community event in her district, listening to the concerns of her constituents.

Before Spector ultimately decided how she would proceed in her political career, son Bruce said she had a long consultation with the family.

“She is such a family-orientated person, always has been, and we as a family wanted her to stop,” Bruce Spector said. “It was enough. She will always listen to us and take whatever we say into account, but she’ll still use her own judgment.”

Don’t count out Spector yet. Spector will have plenty of tasks to keep herself occupied by the time the calendar flips to 2017.

When the Maryland General Assembly reconvenes on Jan. 11 in Annapolis, Spector will represent Young, lobbying for pending legislation on behalf of the city. Spector said it is the first time the city will send someone to represent the council president for the 90-day legislative session.

She also has made it one of her top priorities to return to Goucher to earn her college degree.

If her plans are any indication, Spector may be even more active in retirement.

“We need to live right, be right and do right and make sure you’re giving everybody their best if you have the ability to do it,” Spector said. “That’s how I’ve always lived my life.”

jsilberman@midatlanticmedia.com

Related: Spector: ‘Give them the car? Are you nuts?’

Taking Aim At Gun Violence

Halacha (Jewish law), just like the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, states the right for citizens to own weapons for use in self-protection and to maintain public safety.

In the case of Jewish law, however, it also mandates safe and responsible use with regard to ownership for the public good.

“Safe and responsible” are weighty factors. So much so that halacha instructs that anything owned that is considered dangerous should be properly locked, confined or guarded so the use of, or exposure to, doesn’t hurt (or even frighten) anyone not intended for harm in self-defense. Jewish law also dictates a person should not sell weapons to, or make weaponry for, those who have exhibited criminal intentions or are unstable. (In current terms, this could translate to background checks.) In fact, the lauded Torah and Bible commentator Nachmanides’ (1194-1270) interpretation of a story in Genesis (4:20-24) went so far as to state, “It is not the sword that kills, but the bad choice by a man.”

What makes it possible — or probable — for a person to make a “bad choice” with respect to gun violence? Is it the easy access to guns? Is it desperation for the basic needs of day-to-day living? Or is it simply not being equipped with the emotional and mental tools needed to select a better choice?

Politicians, professors and public health professionals have been working tirelessly to answer that question in order to combat gun violence on national and local levels.

One attempt at limiting access to guns is the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act that was signed 20 years ago last month, on Nov. 30, 1993. Enacted on Feb. 28, 1994, the federal mandate “requires that background checks be conducted on individuals before a firearm may be purchased from a federally licensed dealer, manufacturer or importer — unless an exception applies.”

121313_taking-aim3A glut of statistics could be referenced to prove that 20 years later, the Brady Bill has not been nearly as effective as hoped. Some of that is due to legal loopholes and powerful lobbying, and some is due to lack of accountability and greed.

Prevention
More recently and on a state level, Gov. Martin O’Malley introduced one of the nation’s strictest gun laws, the Maryland Firearms Safety Act of 2013, which was enacted this past Oct. 1. It requires all handgun purchasers to complete four hours of safety training and pass a fingerprint-based background check before getting a license to buy a gun. Maryland joins five other states: Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey that also require fingerprint-based background checks.

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Gun Policy and Research produced data corroborating the belief that a fingerprinting method is a successful deterrent to illegal gun sales because it will decrease and prevent “straw purchases.” A straw purchase is when a person with a clean background purchases a gun for someone whose criminal background prevents him or her from legally purchasing or owning a gun.

“So if we can intervene in those sales,” said Shannon Frattaroli, associate professor and researcher at the center, “and if the laws are going to make it more difficult to buy a gun, then the cost of doing gun crimes is going to go up, and fewer people are going to be able to afford that cost.”

Frattaroli continued, “We’re realizing, though, that once a law is passed, the work isn’t done. In a lot of ways, the work really just starts. We need to make sure the systems are in place, to make sure the laws are being implemented properly and to make sure the agencies responsible are adequately trained and supported to do that work.”

According to Maryland law, an authorized gun dealer must wait seven days while conducting a background check before turning over a firearm to a potential buyer. Statewide, more than 85,000 gun-purchase license requests were submitted this year prior to the Oct. 1 enactment of the stringent Firearms Act. Gov. O’Malley pledged in September to provide enforcement agencies the resources needed to deal with the backlog in paperwork created by the thousands of requests.

The backlog has converted the required seven-day wait into months, which has led to frustration for both firearm dealers and their customers. As a result, some dealers have been releasing weapons over to people after the seven days but before the background checks are completed. As of Nov. 28, 2013 the backlog was still at 42,600, and applications being processed are from as far back as Aug. 13, 2013.

Sgt. Marc Black, spokesman for the Maryland State Police, said, “All of the resources available to address the backlog and get the applications processed are being used.”

Sgt. Black also thought most dealers are cooperating and holding onto the firearms until clearance has been confirmed. Currently, there are 40 state law enforcement officers devoted to the task of completing the background checks (data entry is done by classified employees). Gun purchasers could exercise the option to cross state lines and avoid these checks altogether, or they can purchase a gun from a private seller and get around the law as well.

Intervention
In Maryland, as in much of the United States, gun-sale laws and regulations are necessary and proven as effective evidence-based approaches to gun violence prevention.

But Dr. Carnell Cooper and the staff of the Violence Intervention Program (VIP) at the University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore take aim at eliminating gun violence at its point of impact — in the everyday lives of gun violence offenders and victims. They address gun-related and other violent crime by asking: What are the root causes that are putting people on this path, and how can they be redirected from what they’re doing?

Cooper started VIP in 1998 after noticing a high number of violence-related trauma victims being treated once and then returning, sometimes with more serious injuries. The VIP staff connects with individuals at the “social, emotional, psychological and spiritual” point of personal crisis when they’re admitted into trauma care. There, they receive an assessment, counseling and social support by a multidisciplinary team to help them begin to make critical changes in their lives. Participation is voluntary and requires completion of a lengthy intake questionnaire by the participant.

The VIP approach is to reach victims immediately following a life-threatening or life-changing event. The interdisciplinary team that ultimately works with VIP participants comes from the medical, social work, epidemiology, parole/probation and social services fields and others, too, if deemed necessary.

The VIP is designed from evidence-based research, and other hospitals in the Baltimore area have been informally recruited to refer potential clients to the program. Data from a three-year study conducted in 2000 (published in “Journal of Trauma” Vol. 61, No. 3) shows evidence from two groups that were followed: one participating in the VIP program and one not participating. The participants in VIP demonstrated an 83 percent decrease in repeat hospitalization due to violent injury (a 36 percent savings as compared to those not getting the intervention), a 75 percent reduction in violent criminal activity and an 82 percent rate of employment at the time of follow-up (compared with 20 percent employment for those who did not get intervention).

Repair The World

On a frigid November morning, six people work together to plant an apple tree, four of them carefully rolling it and two others working with shovels to break its fall into the ground so that the root ball stays intact.

A year ago, the triangular lot bound by Brentwood Avenue and Merryman Lane in the Waverly area of Baltimore was trash-strewn, with bottles more than 100 years old buried under the concrete remains of a school that closed in the 1950s. By the day’s end, three apple trees were planted, in addition to grass, flowers and bushes that had been planted the previous week.

“When everything starts to grow in the spring, it’s going to look amazing,” said Emily Benoit, wearing work boots, gloves, a hoodie pulled over her head and a scarf covering her mouth and neck.

Repair the World fellow Avi Sunshine (kneeling) helps others from Baltimore Civic Works plant an apple tree at an urban lot in the  Waverly area of Baltimore. Two fellows are working with Civic Works to transform vacant urban lots into community green spaces. (David Stuck)

Repair the World fellow Avi Sunshine (kneeling) helps others from Baltimore Civic Works plant an apple tree at an urban lot in the Waverly area of Baltimore. Two fellows are working with Civic Works to transform vacant urban lots into community green spaces.
(David Stuck)

Although it was one of the coldest mornings of the year, the group of nine was all smiles. This lot, one of six current projects, was being beautified by Baltimore nonprofit Civic Works. While these projects are usually staffed by AmeriCorps volunteers, there were two new faces in the crowd, Benoit and Avi Sunshine, fellows from Repair the World.

The new organization, which aims to do exactly what its name implies, has nine young men and women, most of whom are recent college graduates, living in Baltimore working on various volunteer and service learning projects. The mission of the organization, in addition to providing “super volunteers” for various projects in the city, is to engage Jewish young adults in volunteerism through deep and meaningful experiences, and to make volunteering an indispensable part of their lives.

“The mission is to make service a defining element of Jewish life,” said David Eisner, president and CEO of Repair the World.

The organization spent close to five years researching best practices and immersive service learning, developing resources and partnering with other groups. This year, its inaugural year, Repair the World launched in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Detroit.

“They’re all eastern because we didn’t want geography to be part of our challenge in this first generation [of fellows], they’re all post-industrial, they all have histories of Jews living in the urban centers,” Eisner said.

While the fellows will be working on various Baltimore projects and recruiting other millenials to volunteer, Repair the World also aims to look at bigger picture issues, including how the city’s history shaped economic and educational inequality, the disconnect between city neighborhoods and how institutional and structural racism has played out.

“If we can spark people to think about some of the underlying reasons [behind various issues], maybe it gets them passionate about thinking about how development is happening in Baltimore City,” said Jodie Zisow, director of Baltimore’s Repair the World group.

Zisow, who grew up in Pikesville and went to Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, has always been involved in social justice work. She’s worked on AIDS advocacy, taught Spanish to Baltimore City students and recently worked for Planned Parenthood. She felt Repair the World was a perfect fit for her and that she has as much to learn as the fellows do.

“I hold onto some of the idealism that age [early 20s] is known for,” she said. “I think that is something our world needs more of.”

The fellowships are 10 months long and have participants logging at least 50 hours per week on various service projects, 20 hours of which is spent on a main project and 10 at another project. Some fellows have taken on side projects, working with other nonprofits that cater to their interests.

Repair the World takes care of the fellows’ housing and gives them $600 each month in stipends. Currently, the fellows share three apartments at The Atrium near Lexington Market as a community house in Highlandtown is renovated. They hope to move into the community house, which is two row homes with a wall in between them cut out, in the spring.

Community Partners
Repair the World has partnered with five local organizations. Fellows are working with Civic Works on its vacant lots program, which takes vacant urban lots and transforms them into green spaces, and later, on its Baltimore Energy Challenge, which helps Baltimore residents save money on their energy bill through energy saving tips and environmentally friendly appliances such as energy-efficient light bulbs and faucets and low-flow toilets.

Ed Miller, supervisor of the Civic Works’ community lot team, said having the fellows adds another layer to the group, which includes two young men who he said have “significant prison records.”

“My intent is for those [different] people to work together in a team,” he said. “It will probably have a lifelong impact on them.”

Two fellows will be working with CHAI (Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc.) on community organizing and projects to help seniors, the specifics of which are still being refined.

Two fellows are assigned to the Incentive Mentoring Project, which builds “families” of volunteers for struggling students at the Academy for College and Career Exploration and Dunbar High School. These families are assigned to students during their freshman year and stay with them for 10 years.

“They don’t just stay with them through high school, they stay with them through college, they help them find summer employment, so they really do so much to help these students succeed,” said fellow Amalia Mark.

Mark and fellow Jared Gorin are working with struggling families and working with the all-volunteer executive board on development, volunteer recruitment and other back-end needs.

Five fellows are working with the chief service officer in Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s office on the success mentoring program, which provides mentors for students at risk of being chronically absent from school. They greet the students in the morning, check in with them during the day and spend time one-one-one with the students. The fellows will also be working to recruit other success mentors.

The specialized attention seems to be working.

“Already, one of the students is like ‘When is the next time I’ll see you?’ just from sitting in classes with her,” said fellow Talia Shifron. “It seems like it’s getting them really excited to go to school.”

Two fellows will also be working with Banner Neighborhoods to add extra capacity to afterschool programs that range from arts programming to tutoring.

“What we’re really focusing on is excellent nonprofit organizations that have already figured out how to deliver excellent programs with deep impact,” Eisner said. “Now, we’re helping them build their capacity through the work of the fellows.”

And rather than coming to these nonprofits with their own ideas, the fellows are adding extra manpower to needs already identified by existing organizations.

“What we’re really trying to do is go into the community and say, ‘We’re here to help; what do you need?’” said fellow Alli Lesovoy. “‘What does Baltimore need and what can we do to be of service?’”

Protests At The Port

Delegate Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg is leading an effort to edit the Maryland Port Administration’s  guidelines for protests and rallies. (Kirsten Beckerman)

Delegate Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg is leading an effort to edit the Maryland Port Administration’s guidelines for protests and rallies. (Kirsten Beckerman)

As early as this winter, organizing demonstrations at Baltimore’s World Trade Center could get a lot easier.

Delegate Sandy Rosenberg (D-41) is leading an effort to edit the Maryland Port Administration’s guidelines for protests and rallies at the iconic Inner Harbor building that he said could be up for review by the end of the calendar year. The move is a result of complaints from the community about the difficulties demonstration organizers face under the administration’s current code.

“Government decisions are to be content-neutral,” said Rosenberg. “That’s why you have regulations.”

A few years ago, Jay Bernstein, host of Shalom USA and an active member of the Baltimore Zionist District, sought to organize a BZD protest at the World Trade Center against shipping companies that the group had learned were trading with Iran.

“After a lot of back and forth, we were not given permission to demonstrate in the plaza in front of the World Trade Center,” said Bernstein. Eventually, the group settled on a nearby location belonging to the National Aquarium.

About a year ago, Bernstein said he again faced challenges obtaining permission from the Maryland Port Administration to arrange a demonstration on World Trade Center property. This time, the protest was against John Mearsheimer, author of the book “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” who was scheduled to speak in the building. Again, Bernstein said, the process for obtaining permission was long and arduous and required assistance from Rosenberg and the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Bernstein and two others who wanted to hand out leaflets near the building.

The biggest modification, should the changes be adopted, is that there will now be set official requirements for organizing peaceful protests at the WorldTrade Center. In the past, there were no formal guidelines to help demonstration coordinators through the process. Instead, they relied on writing letters to officials at the Port and waiting for a reply telling them what the administration had decided.

With the adaptation of new, looser regulations about where and when people can protest in Baltimore, Bernstein said the atmosphere in Baltimore is gradually warming toward public demonstrations. However, in years past, he said, “the atmosphere was very unwelcoming.”

Often, organizers wouldn’t know who to contact in the first place to begin the process of obtaining permission.

In October, the city agreed to allow groups to demonstrate or pass out leaflets at any of the city’s parks and 10 other designated locations without obtaining a permit so long as the group did not exceed 30 people. That regulation was years in the making and resulted in a city payment of $98,000 to the ACLU to settle a federal lawsuit over the rights of protesters in the city. Rosenberg doesn’t expect this regulation to be nearly as difficult to sell.

“I would anticipate that this wouldn’t be very controversial,” said Rosenberg. “The ideas have to make their way in the marketplace of ideas.”

A Helping Hand

On any one night, approximately 2,638 Baltimoreans sleep in a shelter or on the street, according to 2013 point-in-time statistics from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s office. In Baltimore City, more than four out of every 1,000 residents are homeless. Of these people, two-thirds are men, and 20 percent are younger than 25.

In a city where more than 22 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, there is a great need for those who have the funds to help. And for the Jewish community, we learn from the Torah the power of the collective to make a difference.

In Exodus 36: 2-5, the Torah describes the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness:

“Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work. They received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring free will offerings morning after morning. So all the skilled workers who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left what they were doing and said to Moses, ‘The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.’”

As autumn temperatures drop, shelter and support organizers say the need for help among the area’s most poor rises. From coat donations to warm meals, organizations around Baltimore step in to fill the void created by a lack of permanent or stable housing.

In honor of Chanukah, here is a list of eight places in the Baltimore community that support the homeless, organizations that you can work with or contribute to in order to make this Chanukah season more about spreading the light and giving warmth to those in need.

The Baltimore Station
Dedicated primarily to serving veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, The Baltimore Station describes itself as “an innovative therapeutic residential treatment program supporting veterans and others who are transitioning through the cycle of poverty, addiction and homelessness to self-sufficiency.”

Residents, all of whom are male, begin most mornings at 5:30 with chores and other work before heading to a group breakfast. The rest of the morning is spent in group therapy and acudetox, a therapy that uses acupuncture to calm patients recovering from addiction with the intent of reducing cravings.

Afternoons include group addiction meetings and education sessions, where clients learn to better understand their addictions, before 6 p.m. dinner when, about four nights a week, Director Michael Seipp said, volunteers from the community join the residents to help prepare the food and share a meal.

“What you’re doing is you’re saying to them, ‘Hey, I’m a normal person, I’m doing everything the right way, and I’m giving up two hours of my time or three hours of my time because I think you have value as a human being,’” said Seipp of the effects the volunteers have on the residents going through the program. “That begins to rebuild a sense of self-worth.”

GEDCO
This interfaith organization has partnered with congregations including Baltimore Hebrew, Beth Israel, Beth Tfiloh and Chizuk Amuno to operate programs such as CARES, which provides food and financial assistance to the needy in the Govans neighborhood of North Baltimore, the North East Food Pantry, which provides emergency food relief to the city’s Hamilton and Arcadia neighborhoods, and the Harford House, the Micah House and Shelter Plus Care, all of which are designed to help the city’s homeless find stable housing.

With more than 10 branches, there are plenty of opportunities for GEDCO’s partners to help, but Meghan Peterson, GEDCO’s external relations coordinator, says most people are interested in helping with the food pantries.

“People feel that, since they can do direct service there, they’re probably reaching the most people to serve in the community,” she says.

Since its incorporation in 1991 by seven local pastors, GEDCO’s reception in the community has been extremely welcoming, Peterson says.

“We’re all trying to meet the same mission and goals, which is to help build and serve the community,” she says. “I think that’s something we all have in common.”

INNterim House
The INNterim House, a division of the Interim Housing Corporation, provides women and children with a safe place to stay and a nurturing environment to grow and become self-sufficient. The shelter is located in Pikesville, and spaces are reserved only for women with children.

In addition to offering these families a safe and comfortable dwelling, the INNterim House also offers services such as childcare, meals and access to internships and skills classes.

The organization hosts workshops every other Thursday night, in which volunteers host sessions on things such as financial literacy, first aid and childcare.

“You name it, we have a workshop on it,” says Karla Pitchford, office manager at INNterim.

In addition to adult volunteers, the shelter hosts a number of child volunteers through school programs and families who wish to include their children in their community service. The INNterim residents especially enjoy the chance to interact with the youngest volunteers.

“The kids love it,” says Pitchford. “It’s great.”

Jewish Volunteer Connection
In addition to a number of other services the JVC offers throughout the year, the organization will host its 12th annual Community Mitzvah Day on Dec. 25.

Mitzvah Day 2013 will offer participants the opportunity to assemble 1,500 care packages of hats, scarves, toiletries and other winter necessities that will be distributed to those in need in the Baltimore area via local shelters and resource providers. In addition, participants will have access to other local volunteer opportunities.

“This is a great way for [the congregations that have partnered with the JVC] to build community within their congregations as well as to be a platform for service for anybody, whether they’re affiliated with a synagogue or not,” says Ashley Pressman, JVC executive director.

Community Mitzvah Day also allows JVC to introduce participants to some of the ways they can help their community, she says.

“The Jewish community is very generous with time and with money,” says Pressman. “There’s a tremendous enthusiasm for getting involved and for opportunities to really make a tangible difference.”

Our Daily Bread serves 700 meals per day. (David Stuck)

Our Daily Bread serves 700 meals per day.
(David Stuck)

Our Daily Bread
A soup kitchen that boasts 700 meals served per day, Our Daily Bread, a division of Catholic Charities, serves some of the city’s most needy residents.

“You get that fellowship,” says Chris Kelly, about the difference it makes to sit and talk to the men, women and children who visit the kitchen instead of simply providing them with food and shuffling them through the door. Kelly is an associate administrator in the Community Services Division of Associated Catholic Charities of Maryland.

“We could not run our programs without volunteer participation,” says Kelly.

This participation ranges from youth groups hosting fundraisers and food drives to volunteers serving daily breakfasts and lunches to local congregations cooking several days’ worth of casseroles.

Not only do the organization’s clients benefit from the supportive Baltimore — and Jewish Baltimore — community, says Kelly, but the volunteers also benefit.

Many new volunteers underestimate the extent of the need in the community, he says, noting: “For a lot of folks, it’s eye-opening.”

County Judge Approves Foundry Row Plans

Brian Gibbons and Leonard Weinberg II stand by the Solo Plant. Gibbons wants to turn the Solo Plant into Foundry Row. (Justin Tsuclas)

Brian Gibbons and Leonard Weinberg II stand by the Solo Plant. Gibbons wants to turn the Solo Plant into Foundry Row. (Justin Tsuclas)

A Baltimore County administrative law judge approved Owings Mills project Foundry Row’s development plans on Wednesday, Oct. 16.

“It was clear that we were going above and beyond and meeting all the requirements of the code,” said Brian Gibbons, chairman and CEO of developer Greenberg Gibbons.

Judge John E. Beverungen approved Greenberg Gibbons’ plan with several conditions, effectively allowing Foundry Row to move forward.

“Now we’re kind of free and clear, at least until the next step, whatever that’s going to be,” said Councilwoman Vicki Almond, referring to the numerous roadblocks those who oppose the development have attempted.

Foundry Row, a mixed-use development at the site of the former Solo Cup plant, will feature more than 360,000 square feet of retail and 60,000 square feet of office space. Wegmans grocery store will anchor the center. The Baltimore County Council approved rezoning the property for retail in August 2012, despite vocal opposition from neighboring developers. A referendum effort also failed to reverse the zoning decision.

Beverungen’s decision approved the plans with the conditions that all roadway improvements are made before use and occupancy permits can be issued, that any change to the vacant 241,000-square-foot warehouse on the property comply with certain zoning regulations and that the developer complies with American Disabilities Act regulations regarding roadway, sidewalk and pedestrian access.

Attorneys representing entities in opposition to the project called into question the safety of road improvements, ADA accessibility, parking and several other parts of the plan. After consideration, Beverungen ruled in favor of the developer. The companies seeking to have the development plans stopped, Painters Mill Executive Office Park Partnership LLP, Garrison Realty Investors LLC and 100 Painters Mill LLC, are owned by Howard Brown, chairman of David S. Brown Enterprises, Gibbons said. Brown is building massive transit-oriented development Metro Centre at Owings Mills and has been vocally opposed to Foundry Row.

“I’m disappointed by the opposition because I really believe this is a great thing for the community, and I think it’s going to provide a tremendous gateway,” Gibbons said. “I think it’s going to help the developments near it, in particularly Howard Brown’s.”

Demolition of the Solo Cup plant should be completed by the end of the year, Gibbons said. He hopes to submit detailed engineering and architectural plans in early 2014 – the next required approvals in the process – and will begin construction next summer if permits are in place.

He expects attorneys representing the opposition to file an appeal with Baltimore County, but he is moving full-steam ahead.

“I find that the Developer has satisfied its burden of proof and, therefore, is entitled to approval of the redlined Development Plan,” Beverungen wrote in his decision.

Mayor, Police Commissioner Address City Crime

Although crime in Baltimore City has been on the decline for the past three years, homicides are up 6 percent over last year, which deeply concerns Baltimore officials.

BALTIMORE MAYOR - 10.02.2013

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, speaking at a Baltimore Jewish Council meeting, says the city is taking a hard look at crime. Shown here, Rawlings-Blake addresses the community at an earlier date.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts spoke at a Baltimore Jewish Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 1 about the triumphs and challenges in keeping illegal guns out of the city, combating violent crime and gang activity and staying ahead of criminal activity.

“All of us know Baltimore deserves to be a safer city, and we know it is an achievable goal,” Rawlings-Blake said.

While there is only one gun store in the city of Baltimore, the city has seized approximately 1,500 guns so far in 2013. Still, the city’s homicide rate is up 6 percent this year, which equates to 10 more homicides than this time last year. In 2011, there were 197 homicides in the city, but that number increased to 217 in 2012. Both numbers are historic lows for the city, and overall crime is still declining.

“We can’t be every place all the time,” Batts

said. “We may not be able to stop the first shooting, but the second, third, fourth, fifth — that is unacceptable.”

Batts was referring to the fact that a lot of the city’s shootings are not isolated incidents; they are often drug- or gang-related, and they are often in retaliation for a previous shooting. When a teenage rapper was shot last month, three related shootings followed, Batts said.

“Bad guys in Baltimore come to work every day, and their career is being criminals,” he said. “They keep on top of things … We need to put them on the defensive.”

With criminals moving around and constantly adjusting to changes in policing, Batts said police need to gather intelligence faster and more efficiently. For 33 years, his police work has involved tracking gangs, and so he is training his officers to identify gang tattoos and graffiti, as well as ways to tell what groups are feuding with each other.

Batts, who traveled to Israel in 2003 to learn about combating terrorism, said he is working to update the police department’s technology and to use technology to quickly gather and disseminate intelligence. When a gang- or drug-related shooting happens, police need to identify the associates of the victim and find out who they are feuding with, He said the force can look to social networks for clues.

The mayor said the city is implementing a comprehensive violence-reduction strategy that addresses violence as a health epidemic and includes elementary and middle school programs, help for offenders and interventions with gang members.

Rikki Spector, District 5 councilwoman, said crime prevention needs to filter down from the

police department to the residents.

“You have to live, work, play and learn in Baltimore,” she said.

With 1.6 million people working in Baltimore but only 640,000 living in the city, there is a disparity in taxes, with the income tax of those who work in the city going to the state and the property tax of those who live in the city going to the city.

While her district, which includes Northwest Baltimore, grows with every population count, she wishes the same was happening in other districts.

“Vitality gives safety,” Spector said.

 

Locked In

©iStockphoto.com/selensergen

©iStockphoto.com/selensergen

The proposed changes to the teen curfew in the city of Baltimore don’t have much support in the city’s District 5 office.

“I don’t see any advantage,” said Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle Spector, adding that she will learn more about the proposal when it reaches the hearing stage. “I’m not sure that it’s building a better mousetrap.”

If approved, the new curfew, proposed by City Councilman Brandon M. Scott earlier this month, will change the times at which young people must be off city streets to an age-based system. Children under the age of 14 would have to be indoors by 9 p.m. year-round. Teens between 14 and 16 would have to be in by 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends and during summer. The maximum fine would also be increased to $500.

Curfews are not new to the city. Current law mandates that all people under the age of 17 may not be in any public place or establishment after midnight on weekends and 11 p.m. on weekdays. It is also unlawful for any parent or guardian to knowingly permit his or her child to violate this curfew. Those minors in violation of the curfew may be detained by police but not arrested, and no mark is made on their criminal record. Parents or guardians in violation of the subtitle may also receive a fine of up to $300, imprisonment for a maximum of 60 days or sentenced to community service.

The proposed system would allow minors and their families to avoid a civil citation by attending a family-strengthening program.

In her district, District 5, the Northwest portion of the city, Spector said juvenile behavior has been a problem, but she is wary of an across-the-board fix to a complicated problem. With organizations such as Northwest Citizen’s Patrol and Shomrim, along with the local police precinct, Spector said the situation in her district is better than that of many other regions of the city.

“When we identify an area or situation, it really gets focused attention and resources,” she said.

Exceptions would remain in place for minors accompanied by a parent or returning home from work or a school or religious function.

Baltimore has gained national attention over the years for its murder rate, which rests at the sixth highest in the U.S. among cities with populations of 100,000 people or more, according to FBI data. According to the city of Baltimore’s Comstat data, Baltimore police have made 32,718 arrests in 2013, and of those, 2,487 (7.6 percent) were juveniles. While this figure is almost identical to the rate in cities such as Washington, D.C., where 7.3 percent of 2012 arrests were juveniles, part of Scott’s motive behind his proposal is to help reduce truancy in city schools and improve student performance, he told Nathan Sterner on 88.1 FM’s “Midday with Dan Rodricks” last Tuesday.

Said Councilwoman Spector: “Police can’t be the answer to parents or those who are responsible for these children.”

Locked In: Curfew Proposition On The Table For Baltimore City

The proposed changes to the teen curfew in the city of Baltimore don’t have much support in the city’s District 5 office.

Rikki Spector says that for Northwest Baltimore she does not see an advantage to a teen curfew.

Rikki Spector says that for Northwest Baltimore she does not see an advantage to a teen curfew.

“I don’t see any advantage,” said Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle Spector, adding that she will learn more about the proposal when it reaches the hearing stage. “I’m not sure that it’s building a better mouse trap.”

If approved, the new curfew, proposed by City Councilman Brandon M. Scott earlier this month, will change the times at which young people must be off city streets to an age-based system. Children under the age of 14 would have to be indoors by 9 p.m. year-round. Teens between 14 and 16 would have to be in by 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends and during summer. The maximum fine would also be increased to $500.

Curfews are not new to the city. Current law mandates that all people under the age of 17 may not be in any public place or establishment after midnight on weekends and 11 p.m. on weekdays. It is also unlawful for any parent or guardian to knowingly permit his or her child to violate this curfew. Those minors in violation of the curfew may be detained by police, but not arrested, and no mark is made on their criminal record. Parents or guardians in violation of the subtitle may also receive a fine of up to $300, imprisonment for a maximum of 60 days, or sentenced to community service.

The proposed system would allow minors and their families to avoid a civil citation by attending a family-strengthening program.

In her district, District 5, The Northwest portion of the city, Spector said juvenile behavior has been a problem, but she is wary of an across-the-board fix to a complicated problem. With organizations like the Northwest Citizen’s Patrol and Shomrim, along with the local police precinct, Spector said the situation in her district is better than that of many other regions of the city.

“When we identify an area or situation, it really gets focused attention and resources,” she said.

Exceptions would remain in place for minors accompanied by a parent or returning home from work or a school or religious function.

Baltimore has gained national attention over the years for its murder rate, which rests at the 6th-highest in the U.S. among cities with populations of 100,000 people or more, according to FBI data. According to the city of Baltimore’s Comstat data, Baltimore Police have made 32,718 arrests in 2013 and of those, 2,487 (7.6 percent) were juveniles. While this figure is almost identical to the rate in cities like Washington, D.C., where 7.3 percent of 2012 arrests were juveniles, part of Councilman Scott’s motive behind his proposal is to help reduce truancy in the city schools and improve student performance, he told Nathan Sterner on 88.1 FM’s “Midday with Dan Rodricks” last Tuesday.

Said Councilwoman Spector: “Police can’t be the answer to parents or those who are responsible for these children.”

Stormwater Fee Legislation

In response to questions received since the Stormwater Fee legislation was passed by the City Council, below is an FAQ one-sheet from the Department of Public Works website.

VIEW FAQs>>

The Department of Public Works is now in the process of drawing up the precise regulations. When that is completed (later this summer), there will be an on-line application process for requesting credits. When that timeline becomes available, the JT will pass it on to you.

Stormwater fee billing does not begin until October.