City Council member Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (D 5th District) isn’t a big 9-5 guy. Exhibit A: “I was up until midnight last night with a homeowner who had the neighborhood water shut off so his pipes could be fixed,” he told Jmore recently. “That was supposed to be done during the day but the plumbers didn’t show up. So, on this sweltering summer night, 60 families were without water.”
“’This is the City’s problem,’” the vendor was saying to anyone who would listen. “’Where is the City?’” he wanted to know.
“I’m the City, and I’m here with you right now,” Schleifer responded.
Nights like this aren’t unusual for 28-year-old Schleifer. Jmore caught up with him recently, to learn more about what makes this up-and-coming civic leader tick.
Isn’t being a member of Baltimore City Council a part-time job?
Yes, that’s how it’s classified. But I’m co-owner of a software company [Raffle Ready] with a terrific staff and a process that’s mostly automated. So, I can spend full time serving District 5. I love focusing on local issues, being hands-on, getting things done that improve the quality of life and resolve the problems of people.
Some of the issues you face are really tough. Any new items on your to-do list?
In Baltimore and all around the nation, there are a growing number of house rental scams that hurt homeowners and renters. Rental scams happened twice last week in my district and they’re happening multiple times across the city.
The scammers take the photographs of houses for sale off of Zillow and put the homes on Craig’s List for rent. Sometimes, the scammers make duplicate keys, other times they don’t even bother.
Changing some of the information [about the home], they advertise in the rental section on Craig’s List and tell prospective renters to drive by immediately to see the house from the street. They must rent it fast at this low price or someone else will take it right away. The scammers provide phony rental papers and demand money up front, sometimes two month’s rent, in exchange for the keys.
When the money arrives, the scammers disappear. Sometimes they send the keys to the renters, who move in and, suddenly, they find out that the real owners never rented the property. So, the money is gone and the renters are forced to move out.
Sometimes the scammers meet the people wanting to rent, take them into the home, get them to sign papers that are phony, get their money and are gone.
Police are investigating how the scammers get into the homes. I’m working closely with the Police Department to inform the community about this growing crime and help combat it. We need to nail the guys who are scamming people, and we need to come up with good policies to protect the would-be renters and the homeowners.
Anything new that’s positive?
I’m working with Mayor [Catherine] Pugh. She’s juggling things well. She’s very interested in feedback. She listens well, sees facts, gets information, and then sometimes changes positions.
One thing I’m working with her on is Hatzalah of Baltimore, an emergency medical service that arrives at the scene fast [usually within three minutes]. Now you either call the city at 911 or you call Hatzalah for service in Northwest Baltimore. [Contact their office in advance: 410-585-0054. They will send you the emergency number for this free service]. It saves the city hundreds of calls to 911 each month.
It used to take 20 or more minutes for an ambulance to respond. Hatzalah can immediately dispatch an ambulance, whatever is needed, 24/7, 365 days a year. Seconds in response times can make a difference.
In the 5th District, we have the fastest medical care because of Hatzalah. I’ve already secured an ambulance with Mayor Pugh’s help, and we’re working on paying for the second one by the community. This is the first time in Maryland that an ambulance will be paid for by public donations.
What are you doing to combat crime in Baltimore?
Public safety is my top priority. In Judaism, there’s nothing more valuable than human life. I continue to advocate for more resources for the crime lab, increased police presence on the streets, and being able to treat every crime scene to catch repeat offenders.
But here’s something that bothers me. Many people express more concern with the people who pull the trigger than for their victims. We have to take crimes using illegal firearms very seriously. But I’ve heard people say, “He only shot a person one time.”
If you don’t believe me, go to Facebook. Look at the news feeds. You’ll see people who are more concerned about the person who pulled the trigger than the person who was shot. “If you convict him, that’ll cause problems when he gets out of prison and tries to find work.”
The person who picked up that illegal forearm chose to be in possession of it and to use it. The person who got shot didn’t chose to get hurt or killed.
Peter Arnold is an Olney, Md.-based freelance writer.
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