WASHINGTON – Marylanders are worried about increasing crime, the state of their schools and the economy, they said in interviews on the eve of the presidential elections.
“It’s gotten so bad you can’t even go shopping – in the middle of the day even,” said 53-year-old Thelma Hopkins, a food service worker in Salisbury.
“You have to go together, like we are now,” said Barbara Chatham, 61, of Salisbury, as she loaded groceries into the trunk of her car.
Hopkins and Chatham were among 144 Marylanders interviewed last week in public areas in four regions of the state: Baltimore and three of its outlying counties; the Eastern Shore; Western Maryland; and the D.C. suburbs of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
The residents were asked about national problems that needed fixing and their choices for president.
At least 50 of those interviewed – chiefly from Prince George’s and Montgomery counties and the Eastern Shore – said they were the most concerned about crime.
Crime statewide increased 4 percent from 1994 to 1995, according to the Maryland State Police’s uniform crime report. Violent crime, which includes murder and rape, increased 5 percent.
Prince George’s County resident Julia Healy, 87, said she felt safe in her Greenbelt neighborhood a decade ago. “I could come home at two in the morning, dark streets, and no one would even bother to look at you,” she said.
She said she feels differently after her car and four of her neighbors’ cars were stolen this year.
Some said crime results from drugs and guns. Drug legalization and increased funding for drug and alcohol education in schools were suggestions for crime prevention.
“People want to feel like they live in a safe place, and I know I’m not,” said Jennifer Berkman, a 37-year-old Salisbury resident and director of the student health center at Salisbury State University.
Not all were as worried about crime. At least 40 of those interviewed, including Baltimore resident Matthew Hooker, said the economy, and especially a lack of jobs, is their main concern.
“Congress is going to have to cut taxes to create jobs in this country,” said Hooker, a 30-year-old who recently became unemployed.
Hooker joined residents in Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Western Maryland counties who said the government should take more responsibility for job growth.
“They should open up more job training programs,” said Isaiah Peayne, 46, an unemployed painter from Rockville in Montgomery County. “There’s no jobs for people who have been living here all their life.”
The unemployment picture has actually been improving in Maryland. About 5 percent of the Maryland workforce was unemployed in January of this year, compared to 6.5 percent in January 1993, when President Clinton took office.
Harry Grandinett, owner of a sandwich and coffee shop in Hagerstown, said he and other Hagerstown business owners are working with local government to “protect and encourage jobs.”
The 44-year-old said he spends about 60 hours a week working in his shop, ‘Round the Square, yet hasn’t paid himself a salary in almost a year.
“Every time I think I’m getting ahead, I have to write a big check to the government. It’s very disconcerting,” Grandinett said.
About 20 residents, mostly from Anne Arundel, Frederick and Washington counties, said the government should be doing more to improve education.
Washington County resident Charlene Cipolla, 35, wants to shift funds from social services to education to “reduce teen pregnancy, drug addiction and disease.
“Make education our social service and eliminate the drain” of those who create problems with their own bad habits, the full- time Hagerstown Junior College student said.
Twenty-five of the 144 interviewed said despite their concerns, they will not vote in the Nov. 5 election.
But for some planning to vote, they saw clear-cut choices.
“[Former Senate Majority Leader Robert] Dole has been talking like he’s honest. And nothing is wrong with a 15 percent tax cut,” said Russell Blair, a 41-year-old Republican from Hagerstown.
“Clinton is younger and more aware of everything,” said Louise Sherod, 63, of Pasadena, a registered Republican who said she will vote for the Democratic president.
Clinton is 50; Dole is 73.
But the choice for president isn’t so easy for others, like retired Baltimore resident John Frederick.
“Clinton is too crooked, and Dole is too old,” said the 58- year-old Democrat. Capital News Service reporters Loren Goloski, Jennifer McMenamin, Paul Rosynsky, Janet Burkitt, Sheryl Kennedy, Gabriel Margasak and Kristina Schurr contributed to this report. -30-