MARYLAND

Fire Forces Evacuation of High-Rise

About 300 people were evacuated from a nine-story apartment building in Silver Spring last night after an electrical fire swept through a fourth-floor unit, Montgomery County fire officials said.

The blaze at the Summit Hills Apartments complex, in the 8400 block of 16th Street, was reported just before 10:30 p.m. The blaze was quickly brought under control in the efficiency apartment where it started, and no injuries were reported.

Investigators said the fire apparently was caused by a malfunctioning refrigerator motor and caused about $7,000 damage. Fire officials said the apartment's occupant was not home at the time.

Residents were evacuated for about 90 minutes.

Religious Groups Sue State Panel

Members of the Seventh-day Adventists and Unification Church have filed a federal lawsuit against a state task force studying religious cults on college campuses.

The suit, filed in Baltimore, says the task force is violating constitutional rights and conducting a "religious inquisition."

The plaintiffs, which include the International Coalition for Religious Freedom, funded primarily by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, allege that the Task Force to Study the Effects of Cult Activities on Public Senior Higher Education Institutions is violating the establishment and free-exercise clauses of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Maryland Declaration of Rights.

William T. Wood, a member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents and chairman of the task force, said it has not targeted religious groups or so-called cults, as the lawsuit alleges, but rather groups that "may be causing problems."

W.Va. Reaps Benefits of Md. Cigarette Tax

Maryland's recent increase in the cigarette tax has West Virginia retailers near the state line counting their money.

An increase in business was sparked by Maryland's decision to raise its cigarette tax 30 cents to 66 cents a pack July 1. West Virginia's tax is 17 cents a pack.

Sean Hagenbuch said the change has been great for business and there's a sign out front of Hages Market in Ridgeley, W.Va., thanking Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) for the increase.

"Our sales have tripled," Hagenbuch said.

Schaefer Endorses Mayoral Candidate

Former governor William Donald Schaefer, who got his start in politics as a Baltimore City Council member and went on to serve four terms as mayor, has endorsed council member Martin O'Malley for mayor.

"He's young, energetic and visionary," said Schaefer (D), who is now state comptroller. "When I asked him what he would do as mayor, he didn't give me a bunch of stuff that I know he can't do."

Schaefer made the announcement yesterday before a crowd of about 60 O'Malley supporters at Lyndhurst Elementary School, which Schaefer attended.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke (D) announced in December that he would not seek a fourth term. The Democratic primary is Sept. 14.

THE DISTRICT

Federal Program Aims to Spur Renewal

U.S. Small Business Administration chief Aida Alvarez has announced a federal empowerment contract and program designed to stimulate economic development in distressed neighborhoods throughout the country.

The HUB (Historical Underutilized Business) Zone initiative, introduced yesterday at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church on Martin Luther King Avenue SE, will include 8,000 locations across the country, including 84 in the District.

All of Ward 8 and parts of Wards 4, 6 and 7 will be designated as HUB Zones, Alvarez said.

The thrust of the program is "creating economic development opportunities in communities that have traditionally been left out of the process," Alvarez said.

"The District of Columbia is ripe for this program," Alvarez continued. "There is a commitment on the part of the Clinton administration to tap untapped markets." The way to revitalize the city generally and D.C. neighborhoods in particular, she said, is "to build communities one small business at a time."

Only small businesses headquartered in the HUB Zone and employing at least 35 percent of its employees from among HUB Zone residents are eligible for the program.

Groups to Hold Forum on City Schools

A number of education advocacy groups will hold a public, citywide forum from 6:30 to 9 p.m. tomorrow on how the District's public school system should be governed. The forum will be at the University of the District of Columbia auditorium, Building 46 at 4200 Connecticut Ave. NW.

The gathering comes at a time when some public officials have questioned whether the elected D.C. Board of Education, which lost its power to oversee the school system in 1996, should get that power back. The board is scheduled to regain its power next June.

The D.C. school superintendent is now monitored by five different oversight bodies, more than any other school chief in the nation, and activists say a change is necessary.

VIRGINIA

Agricultural Disaster Areas Declared

Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman declared five Virginia counties agricultural disaster areas yesterday, making farmers there eligible for emergency low-interest loans to cover losses due to the drought.

The declaration applies to Alleghany, Buckingham, Page, Rockingham and Shenandoah counties. Also eligible for the aid because they are contiguous localities: Albemarle, Appomattox, Augusta, Bath, Botetourt, Clifton Forge, Covington, Craig, Cumberland, Fluvanna, Frederick, Greene, Harrisonburg, Madison, Nelson, Prince Edward, Rappahannock, Rockbridge and Warren.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"Hello, my name is Precious Thomas. I am special for many good reasons. I am a child of God. My family loves me very much, and I am a beautiful, proud African American young lady. I am also special for one not-so-good reason. I am HIV-positive."

--Precious Thomas, 8 , who has become the public face of children with AIDS.

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