No Cigar For Youth In Delaware Dust-Up Over Tobacco Funds

Bill Alexander
July 1, 1997

This so-called "smokeless state" has become a battleground for an in-your-face coalition of churches who are hell-bent on doubling Delaware's tobacco tax to fund youth development programs and the state's political and health establishment.

The rambunctious all-stops-out effort has resulted in a schism between nationally known health advocate agencies — such as the American Cancer Society — who target teen smoking and the Wilmington Interfaith Network (WIN), a multiracial, interdenominational community organizing project of 18 churches that has become impatient with the lack of youth development programs in a state where, the Democratic governor, who is opposed to the tobacco tax, this year boasted of a $100-million budget surplus that will go to "future debts, future interest and penalty charges... and prisons." At the end of its session in June, Delaware's Legislature did indeed commit half the surplus — $50 million — to prison construction in the state.

The haggling over a method to finance youth programs, the nature of the programs, or even whether to finance them at all, has earned the disdain of youth workers and teens who point to inaction on youth initiatives as a reason for the "youth crisis" that exists in the state. And a controversial victory crab feast hosted by Phillip Morris Inc. for state legislators at a Sambo's restaurant the day after they voted not to take action on a hiked tobacco tax bill that would have provided additional revenue to fund youth programs added insult to injury.

According to the Baltimore, Md.-based Annie E. Casey Foundation's state-by-state "Kids Count Data Book," Delaware's juvenile violent crime arrest rate jumped 105 percent between 1985 and 1994. Between 1993 and 1996, youths on probation increased 74 percent. The state's high-tech service economy requires workers to have at least a high school diploma, yet Browntown, a working-class neighborhood in Wilmington has a 52 per-cent school drop-out rate.

'The politicians don't want to listen," says Mary Winn, a participant in Girls Inc.'s Project Pride teen mothers' pro-gram in Wilmington. "I offered to take Governor [Thomas] Carper on a walking tour to show him that there is nothing here for teenagers...that youth centers are needed. I was going to show him the open-drug markets and where the violence took place. He wasn't interested." Winn made her offer when she was allowed to join, as a community resident, a meeting of WIN leaders and the governor at his office.

In equally blunt terms, Duane Brown, a civilian youth and family intervention specialist assigned to the Wilmington Police Department, says, "We are in a state of emergency in terms of the youth population...this is a city with no movie theaters, no skating rinks...and the few community centers that do exist close at dusk. The result is more violent crime and more state dollars for prison construction. The city, county and state political leadership needs to take its blinders off and re-direct resources into prevention programs."

Needs Are Different

The WIN-proposed $30-million Delaware Youth Investment Fund, which would spend no more than "3 percent to 5 percent" on administration, would make grants and loans to eligible institutions as well as support training, work, technical assistance, research, and other activities "deemed necessary to aid Delaware youth." Out of the $21 million to be raised by increasing the current per-pack rate from 24 cents to 49 cents, some $1 million annually would be reserved to support teen anti-smoking and health education initiatives sponsored by various non-profit and public sector agencies.

"Anything that helps is admirable, but we have a different agenda" says Victor DeNoble, a former research scientist for Phillip Morris who is now pro-gram manager for Tobacco Free Delaware, a teen anti-smoking effort under the Smokeless States program funded by the Princeton, N.J.-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"Our program is for education...we don't deal with inner city violence," said DeNoble. His organization was launched this year with a nearly $800.000 RWJ foundation grant in a state that has the second highest cancer rate in the country and where it is estimated that 90 percent of those smokers addicted to nicotine became so before their 18th birthday. The American Cancer Society, along with the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association of Delaware are partnered in the project, one of 31 states (and the District of Columbia) who received RWJ Smokeless States funding via the American Medical Association.

Martin Trimble, WIN'S lead organizer, says after three meetings with the American Cancer Society of Delaware (ACSD) "all initiated by them" to explore areas of cooperation, "the idea was rejected and WIN was dropped like a hot potato."

Months later, Patricia Hoge, the ACSD executive vice president who called the meetings, said, "There was a potential for inter-section, but our needs were different."

Says Hoge: "We knew that teenagers were price sensitive, so we wanted an increase of at least 25 cents in the tobacco tax. But WIN was locked into this $30-million youth fund, but an excise tax is the point — so we declined gratefully and said, “We cannot come together to join forces.'"

Trimble said Hoge told him the discussions ended with WIN being perceived as "anti-business" and that associating with his organization would cause corporate donations to allied non-profits to dry up. He was also told by others in ACSD that since the governor was opposed to the tobacco tax, it would be "more astute politically" to align themselves with the governor's stance.

Little Switzerland

For generations, the slogan of the DuPont Corporation — the munitions and chemical company that has been central to the state's economy for two centuries — has been "Better Living Through Chemistry." A better slogan for this rich state would be, "Better Living Through Money." Although the tiny state of Delaware, the First State and second smallest in the nation, is often disparagingly referred to as a suburb of Philadelphia because of daily commuters and its reliance on that city's VHF stations to beam in TV programming — a long-ago slight by the FCC that denied the state a frequency — it is, in fact, smothered in money.

Aswarm with DuPonts and corporate lawyers, Delaware is known as "Little Switzerland" and the "Corporate Capital of America" because of its hassle-free, tax-exempt business incorporation laws that make it the legal home of half the Fortune 500. Income from companies chartered in Delaware totaled $330 million last year — one-fifth of the state's budget. Two-thirds of its 704,000 population lives in the mostly wealthy, mostly suburban county of New Castle.

Wilmington, a city of 72,000, the home of WIN — and where Gov. Thomas Carper (D) spends at least half the year — is located in this county.

The tobacco industry maintains a high-profile presence in the state. According to WIN research, Phillip Morris, for instance, has incorporated 29 companies in Delaware (Phillip Morris of Asia, Phillip Morris of Columbia, etc.); while Brown & Williamson has registered "12 to 14"; and Uggett & Myers, 15. Between 1993 and 1996. it doled out more than $37,000 in campaign contributions to candidates for the state's legislature, which meets in Dover — a large amount considering that the maximum donation allowed per campaign is $600. Carper received $1,200, the maximum for his two successful runs for governor. Lieutenant Governor Ruth Ann Minner received $600.

The Business and Commerce Committee of Delaware's General Assembly voted in June. by 10 to 2, to table a bill submitted by freshman representative Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington) calling for doubling the tobacco tax and placing the revenues in a general fund to provide more money for youth programs.

"There were 40 supporters of the bill and two tobacco lobbyists present during the vote...but the-legislators' minds were made up before they walked through the door of the Capitol," said Keeley. They chose to ignore the problem of kids living in an unstructured environment. Our jails are over-crowded now. What will it be like in two years? We've got to do something."

Although WIN, in loud terms, made clear that Keeley's bill didn't go far enough because it didn't target youth development efforts, it lobbied hard for passage as a way of making legislators "think about the youth crisis in this state."

Among those organizations that did not lobby Keeley were Tobacco Free Delaware and its Big-Three partnership. "We support the excise tax. but we had no position on the Keeley bill," explained DeNoble. "We want some of the money for tobacco prevention and control...we're working on our own bill. We are on the same path as the Keeley bill and WIN, but we're on parallel tracks."

'Hopelessness and Despair'

Keeley, a Wilmington resident, has witnessed on many occasions "the scary sight of seeing five-, six-, and seven-year-old little guys just walking around the city late at night with no parent or adult anywhere around."

"There is much hopelessness and despair here." says Rev. Lawrence Livingstone, senior pastor at the Ezion Mount Carmel United Methodist Church, a WIN member. "Too many youth growing up here see no opportunity for moving beyond their circumstances."

Livingstone, an African-American who was beaten senseless in front of his church recently by a white Wilmington police officer after a routine stop for a traffic violation, relates how "it is dispiriting to pass by a street comer, at any given time, and see 100 young people standing around not doing anything."

Says Wilmington's Mayor James H. Sills Jr. (D), a close friend of Livingstone's: "There needs to be some dramatic changes in the operating hours of many of the nonprofit youth-serving agencies in the city in order for them to be more relevant to the needs and timetables of urban young adults."

Somnolent is Wilmington after 6 p.m. on a weekday as the out-of-city professionals zip home. Deserted and bare — save for an always large gathering of youths in front of Rush's Grocery Store across town on the city's Market St. strip — it is possible in the downtown area to hear one's own footfalls as they echo and ricochet off buildings, park areas and avenues that have been sucked dry of all life. Even pigeons are in short supply.

'People in Marginal Circumstances'

Out of these conditions rose WIN. Its genesis was immediately after the notorious 1992 Rodney King beating by Los Angeles' police officers when racial tensions flared high in urban areas nationwide. "We did not want that here,' remembers Bishop Thomas Weeks, senior pastor at Greater Bethel Apostolic Temple and one of the first WIN coordinators. "We were all drawn together — Protestant, Catholic, and Muslim — some 50 clergy who eventually decided to become proactive and in a position to change deteriorating conditions, rather than constantly being reactive."

The following year, WIN members — mindful of being in a city with one high school (to close next year), a school busing program that deposits city youngsters twelve miles away in suburban schools where many claim teachers pay no attention to them, and a working-class neighborhood within its boundaries, Browntown, that has a soaring school drop-out rate — affiliated with the Chicago-based Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), the largest and oldest national community organizing network in the country (see page 23). WIN is funded by member dues, ranging from $400 to $4,000, from participating congregations, plus church and foundation grants. It is nonpartisan and does not accept government money or endorse candidates for political office.

Bishop Cabell Tennis of the Episcopal Diocese of Delaware, an early WIN supporter, feels WIN is an "emerging new church" that can "heal the painful racial chasm" in the state. Says Tennis: "Here are black, white and Hispanic congregations working together to enable neighborhood people in marginal circumstances to ask for and receive their fair share of governmental and community resources."

The Jacksonville, Fla.-based Jessie Ball DuPont Fund has given a $130,000 four-year Partnership Grant to Wilmington's Trinity/Old Swedes Episcopal Church to support its participation in WIN. "We're supporting Trinity's involvement with WIN to organize citizen involvement in the democratic process," said Sherry Magill, the fund's executive director.

WIN, for the second time in four years, is also the recipient of a $70,000 grant from the U.S. Catholic Bishops Campaign for Human Development.

The organization has one staff member. A streak of chained lightning in human form named Martin Trimble, an IAF lead organizer.

Youth Agenda Prioritized

Bespectacled with a close-cropped salt-and-pepper beard, the camera-shy 40-year-old Trimble, son of an Episcopal priest and a Harvard graduate, is everywhere. He is untroubled and not slowed down by an untied shoelace or a recently acquired ink stain on his shirt.

Movement. Pop-in house calls in all of the city's neighborhoods where church members and their families reside is routine. He drops in on youngsters such as 16-year-old Andrea Lynn Carter to check on her newly created "steppers" unit — march-and-drill team —that is a city favorite. He drops in on the homes of city council members and state legislators who are solidly ensconced in mostly white neighborhoods highly populated with resident city policemen. He honks his horn in greeting at those he knows on street comers and freely strides in areas known to be open-air drug markets.

"It is the WIN leader's agenda to help youth in this city. It's my job to show them how to implement it," says Trimble. Alluding to the homicide jump from seven in 1995 to thrice that last year, Trimble said, "The kids can't wait...they're dying too rapidly."

Since Trimble joined up at $62,500 yearly, and, like many of those who work in Wilmington, began his daily commute from Philadelphia, over 100 lAF-mandated "housemeetings" involving over 800 people have taken place, along with more than 1,000 one-on-one sessions.

These "relational" and "get-to-know-one-another-face-to-face-across-boundary-lines" meetings resulted in a focusing on how to bring about a comprehensive youth development initiative that, in the words of Bishop Weeks, "will save this generation and the one that follows."

It was Weeks who pointed out at one of the housemeetings that his church's prison outreach program was hearing from outraged and frustrated fathers that "their sons were ending up in the same jail with them."

Smoke Gets in Their Eyes

Aggressive tactics by WIN that included rallies and heavy lobbying efforts caught the state's political class by surprise. "Some of them looked upon WIN as a representative of Satan," recalls generally supportive city councilman Kevin Kelly(D).

In line with their high-visibility tactics, WIN leaders decided the answer to attacking the "despair" of Wilmington's youth was for the state to create a new public corporation called the Delaware Youth Investment Trust to administer their proposed Youth Investment Fund. The trust would be governed by a non-partisan public board of 15 members — young people, church leaders, youth workers, youth agency executives, teachers, and other citizens — appointed by the governor and other public officials. Representatives from WIN, youth organizations, schools, youth groups, and parent organizations would constitute 75 percent of the board. All members would serve rotating 5-year terms. No board member would serve more than two terms, and the board would have proportional representation from the state's counties, urban centers, suburban areas, small towns, and rural communities.

Specifically, the fund would be charged with:

-Supporting quality youth enrichment programs;

-Expanding after-school and week-end youth programs;

-Training and deploying youth workers (plus in-service retraining) and volunteer youth workers;

-Creating living-wage jobs for youth; and

-Funding capital projects serving youth.

WIN orchestrated, up until last December, a well-publicized "Tithe for Youth" campaign to persuade state politicians to establish a corporate franchise tax to finance this comprehensive youth development effort. But the fierce negative blowback from Carper, corporate attorneys, even community-based youth organizations dependent upon corporate largesse, and the city's News journal newspaper persuaded WIN members to substitute a doubled cigarette tax as the funding mechanism for addressing what the organization calls "Delaware's youth crisis."

Three meetings were held with Carper and his cabinet that included WIN members and concerned private citizens, such as Girls Inc.'s Mary Winn.

"As soon as Carper heard us mention the corporation tax, he went tone-deaf," said Alice Harris Marsh, a WIN leader from St. Mary/St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church. "After that, he didn't want to hear anything else." Trimble voices the irony that "it was a member of Carper's own cabinet who came up with the tobacco tax."

Thomas Eichler, Carper's secretary of the Department of Services for Child, Youth and Their Families, recalled that he voiced the suggestion at the meeting that "there was more than one way to get objectives met and the tobacco tax was a more likely avenue of raising funds."

Says Trimble: "When we put the corporate franchise tax on the back burner and pushed full-speed for the tobacco tax, we lost some allies and gained others."

"The tobacco tax is a far better target," said Bishop Tennis, "I thought we were on our way to getting support from the American Cancer Society and mainline community groups." But that was not to be.

At the next meeting, Eichler had retrenched and Carper said the state does not earmark designated funds, as all monies go into a general fund. Trimble pointed out that money was set aside for highway construction and, he said, he reminded the governor that "young peoples' lives were more important than roads." There was no response. But Eichler reformed his thoughts to say, if there was an increased cigarette tax, the monies should go to health care insurance "for all those working who don't have it." Youth, he said, would also benefit.

This is not precisely what WIN had in mind. They were mad because our plan was a great idea and they didn't think of it," says Marsh. "I could just feel it...'Who are these everyday people coming here and sticking their noses in our business?' We weren't representing the right children."

Carper's Mentoring Efforts

Several WIN leaders said Carper's opposition was "doubly disappointing" because he has been a strong proponent of a state mentoring program. The governor had made headlines by outlining an ambitious program to come up with 10,000 mentors for Delaware youth by 1998 in an April speech given at the Presidents' Summit for America's Future in Philadelphia. Carper now claims to have over 5,000 mentors signed up to spend 45 minutes a week with at-risk youth.

"You can do an awful lot in 45 minutes," said Carper's deputy press secretary, Andrew Lippstone; who is himself a mentor. "It's better than nothing."

Critics, like some WIN leaders, say this type relationship is "useless" because a Public/Private Ventures study has shown that a successful program, such as that offered by the Big Brothers/Big Sisters, costs the sponsoring agency $1,000 per mentor in screening, training and supervisory expenses, and involves a "relational" or ongoing interaction that takes in several hours during the week, plus trips and weekend and holiday activities. "Carper's current budget translates to five to seven dollars a mentor," says Trimble.

One of the prime beneficiaries of Carper's mentoring efforts is the for-profit Vancouver, Wash.-based Help One Student to Succeed (HOSTS) program, who, with the governor's help, has cornered the market in Delaware by signing up 41 schools with its $35,000-for-the-first-year project. HOST schools have all been selected by the governor as "specially targeted" schools.

The collapse of the talks with Carper notwithstanding, several local community groups endorsed or came close to endorsing WIN'S youth fund concept. George Krupanski, for example, the director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware, said. 'There is a real need for expanded youth programs...the tobacco tax could help address this situation. Although this will have to be discussed at the board level, we will look closely at collaborating and supporting this effort."

Katherine Borland of Delaware Futures, a tutoring program for inner-city students that guarantees free four-year college scholarships to those who successfully navigate the program, also openly endorses WIN'S efforts.

Washington Reps Say 'Hands Off'

Delaware's politicians on the national scene pointedly refuse to state publicly their views on WIN'S efforts and an increased tobacco tax.

Sen. Joseph Biden (D), for example, says "They [the local politicians] don't tell me how to vote on Bosnia, and I don't tell them how to run the state." He is a strong supporter of the Boys and Girls Clubs nationally, however. When asked if he was a proponent of a comprehensive youth programs approach, as opposed to a single-funded program, or categorical, approach, a spokeswoman replied for him by saying he supports, the current juvenile justice reauthorization as "a comprehensive approach," although its punitive aspects far exceeds its emphasis on prevention efforts. In addition, the senator has opposed a proposed Youth Development and Community Block Grant, expected to be reintroduced this session, that consolidates a host of federal categorical programs.

Rep. Michael Castle (R). the state's lone congressman and a former governor, takes a similar tack by going into a my-record-speaks-for-itself stance on youth issues.

But Delaware legislators couldn’t avoid WIN'S heat when over 500 Youth supporters rallied at the State Capitol building on June 25.

No Last Words

Aside from the perplexed reactions from the likes of RWJ Foundation's project director for the Smokeless Slates program, Joseph Marx, and Charles Royer of the Seattle-based America's Promise on the non-cooperation between WIN and the major health-oriented nonprofits, there is no last word on WIN'S efforts or Rep. Keeley's legislative efforts to increase the tobacco tax to help youth in Delaware.

Marx said the Smokeless States grant is "not prescriptive" in that it tells the states what approaches to take. "We simply ask whether they have made strategic alliances and whether they are politically savvy. Since we fund Faith in Action, an interfaith volunteer care-giving network and the Smokeless States program, I am a bit bewildered by what is happening in Delaware."

Royer, a former mayor of Seattle, whose group deals with urban youth health issues, says forthrightly, "If communities are going to make any headway, they must enter into a collaboration, put down narrow self-interests and work on a broader agenda — that is the ultimate test."

Freshman legislator Keeley says, "I have all summer to work on my bill...this [passage] won't happen overnight. But now it's out there before everybody to think about. But, I'll be back."

WIN'S Bishop Weeks is just as emphatic. "We will not let this effort die. The issue has been addressed. A bill has been tabled. We will...to invest in a generation and those who come after...follow through. We're not going away."

Neither is the unspoken battle between the well-paid credentialed professions, wed, along with so many politicians such as Biden and Castle, to categorical funding streams and the so far out-gunned proponents of comprehensive youth development. The First State isn't the first state in which kids come last, nor will it be the last.

Resources

Martin Trimble

Wilmington Interfaith Network

1108 N. Adams St.

Wilmington, DE 19801

(302) 652-5959

Andrew Lippstone

Deputy Press Secretary

Office of the Governor

Tatnall Building

Dover. DE 19901

(302)739-4101

Fax: (302) 739-2775

Rep. Helene Keeley

House of Representatives

Legislative Hall

Dover. OE 19901

(302)739-4351

Fax:(302)739-2313

Rev. (Dr.) Lawrence Livingstone

Senior Pastor

Ezion Mount Carmel United Methodist Church

800 Walnut Street

Wilmington, DE 19801

(302)654-3103

Victor DeNoble

Tobacco Free Delaware

1021 Gilpin Ave.-Ste.202

Wilmington. DE 19806

(302) 655-7258

Fax: (302) 655-8546

Duane Brown

City of Wilmington

Youth & Family Intervention

Public Safety Bldg

300 N. Walnut St.

Wilmington, DE 19806

(302} 573-5726

Bishop Cabell Tennis

Diocese of Delaware

2020 Tatnall St.

Wilmington. DE 19802

[302)656-5441

Bishop Thomas Weeks

Senior Pastor

Greater Bethel Apostolic Temple

2900 Van Buren St.

Wilmington. DE 19802

(302) 762-5600

Sidebar:

No Cigar For Youth In Delaware Dust-Up Over Tobacco Funds: Industrial Areas Foundation Spans Over Half Century


Alexander, Bill. " No Cigar For Youth In Delaware Dust-Up Over Tobacco Funds." Youth Today, July/August 1997, p. 1.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.

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