Veteran civil rights leader and community organizer Leo W. Burroughs, Jr. says that Paul Graziano, housing commissioner, needs to go. (Courtesy Photo)

It was Oct. 20 and the residents of Lakeview Towers, nestled in the shadow of Druid Hill Park in West Baltimore, still haven’t had water or heat for five days.

“We don’t live in the projects, we pay our rent every month,” said Donna Powell, who has been a resident of Lakeview for eight years.

Powell was among dozens of others — many disabled and elderly — protesting outside of Lakeview on Oct. 19 the lack of running water and heat in the majority of the 306 units. According to Tania Baker, a spokeswoman for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, the issue is a broken water pump. “They had all summer to repair that pipe,” Powell said. By the end of the day on Oct. 20, water and heat were restored to the building.

Many argue the plight of most of Baltimore’s public housing residents has been perilous for decades.

Last month, a lawsuit was filed by seven women who alleged they were forced to perform sexual acts on public housing maintenance men in exchange for repairs and services at Gilmor Homes housing units. The AFRO and First Edition have reported for several months on deplorable and life threatening conditions at Gilmor, including mold, lack of heat, rodent and insect infestation, water and gas leaks and the risk of electrocution.

On Oct. 21, a coalition of public housing residents represented by the group Communities United presented a list of demands and asked for a, “comprehensive plan from the City for livable public housing.”

A major source of the misery so many in public housing have experienced for more than a decade can be traced to one man according to a veteran civil rights activist.

“Paul Graziano continues to act as a racist, demonic figure in the life of Baltimore City,” said Leo Burroughs, Jr., a veteran civil rights activist and community organizer.

“He was appointed by Martin O’Malley and retained by all of the mayors in Baltimore City and he continues to do the bidding of the rich, White developers in this city and the Greater Baltimore Committee, in trying to push poor people and Black people out of Baltimore City,” Burroughs added.

Several grassroots community organizations, including Baltimore Bloc and Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, have demanded Graziano be fired.

“Paul Graziano has been housing commissioner of Baltimore City for three administrations, and after nearly 15 years of service, many in Baltimore are now wondering what they have to show for his tenure besides broken promises and dereliction of duty,” wrote Dayvon Love, director of research and public policy for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, in a recent post on LBS’ website.

Indeed, Graziano has been a controversial figure since he was first installed by O’Malley in 2001. He had just been on the job for a few weeks when he was arrested at a Fells Point bar, after a drunken tirade rife with anti-gay slurs.

During Graziano’s tenure the Housing Authority of Baltimore City has perhaps spent millions on outside lawyers to avoid liability for lead paint poisoning of tenants (Freddie Gray and his siblings when they were children had damaging levels of lead paint in their blood while the family rented a home in Sandtown-Winchester during the 1990’s, according to a lawsuit they filed in 2008).

Yet, Rawlings-Blake has allegedly on more than one occasion claimed not to have the authority (perhaps because of Graziano’s dual employment by the state and the feds?), to fire him.

“The mayor again, is proving to be the primary flunky that she’s always been, it’s absurd,” said Burroughs. “The city pays almost half of the salary of Paul Graziano, he gets $330,000 a year,” he added.

Graziano makes vastly more than Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, whose salary is $167,449 and probably more than twice as much as Governor Larry Hogan’s base salary $150,000. But, I’m not sure anyone knows exactly what Graziano makes, given the fact he is paid by Baltimore City, the federal government, plus bonuses, etc (government agencies can be rather opaque when it comes to revealing the salary structure and figures of some officials).

However, in the minds of many one thing is clear; his record as housing commissioner is one of abject failure. What also seems clear is the reluctance of Rawlings-Blake to discipline Graziano, much less fire him.

Yet, Burroughs and others seem determined.

“It’s disgraceful, the performance of Paul Graziano and we’ve got to get him out of that position by any means necessary,” said Burroughs.

Good luck with that Brother Burroughs.

Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO and host and executive producer of AFRO First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday on WEAA 88.9