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Clinton Warmly Welcomed in Baltimore

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  • By Craig Whitlock
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, December 24, 1998; Page A06

    In his first venture outside the Capital Beltway since his impeachment, President Clinton basked in the warmth of a friendly crowd that was long on cheers and short on talk of resignation or removal from office.

    The official purpose of Clinton's trip here was to declare his support for programs for the homeless, but many of the 500 supporters who packed a Boys and Girls Club gymnasium to hear him speak said they wanted to give the president's spirits a boost.

    "People were eager to see the president but also wanted to let him know we want him to hang in there," said Robert Dennis, an accountant for the nonprofit Center for Poverty Solutions, a Baltimore advocacy group for the homeless. "That's why he got those long standing ovations."

    Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), who canceled a campaign appearance with Clinton in September after the president admitted to having an affair with Monica S. Lewinsky, sat at his side Tuesday.

    "We need you at the helm," Glendening said, addressing remarks to Clinton from the podium. "The divisiveness we have seen these past few weeks is unhealthy for our democracy and our country."

    With Baltimore as a backdrop, Clinton said he would ask Congress to budget $1.15 billion -- a 15 percent increase -- for assistance to the homeless next year, a plan that he called "the biggest program ever to combat homelessness." He also announced $850 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to state and local agencies that help the homeless.

    The grants, he said, "will help to give your fellow citizens a hand up. They will help you to give them the greatest benefit of all: the promise of self-sufficiency and hope."

    Clinton recalled jogging through the District during his early years in office and encountering people living on the street. "There were homeless people everywhere," he said. "There are fewer of them now. But we still have a lot to do."

    Clinton spoke at the Pleasant View Gardens community center, part of a recently renovated public housing complex a half-mile east of Baltimore's Inner Harbor. In 1995, city officials and HUD demolished six high-rise public housing towers on the site, which had become a symbol of urban decrepitude, and replaced them with hundreds of town houses and garden apartments.

    Few residents, however, were able to attend Clinton's address in the community center gym. Most of the seats were reserved for HUD employees, advocates for the homeless and local notables.

    Gracie Brown, who lives nearby with her 8-month-old son, Javon, said she tried to get in to see Clinton but was turned away. "They were only letting in people with fancy clothes," she sniffed. "If you weren't dressed up like a businessman, you couldn't see him."

    Regardless, Brown counted herself as a big Clinton fan and said she thought the House's vote to impeach him was wrong. "He's been a great president. He's helped the system become better for blacks. He's always going to have respect in my mind."

    Also left outside in the cold were two men holding a white sheet that read: "Senators, do you duty -- convict Clinton."

    But those who did make it inside to hear Clinton gave him an enthusiastic and loud welcome. Several Maryland politicians gave him glowing tributes. Apparently enjoying himself, Clinton stuck around for several minutes afterward, milling through the crowd to shake hands.

    "I don't know how the president couldn't have gotten a lift from that crowd," said HUD Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo, who traveled with Clinton to Baltimore by helicopter. "When he walked into the room, it was electric."

    Speakers at the event made only brief mention of Clinton's legal troubles, but when they did, they urged him to hang in there.

    "We have not forgotten that in the midst of your personal difficulties, you continue to work hard every day," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.). "Please remember all your friends in Baltimore. Please remember our faith in you."

    © Copyright The Washington Post Company

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