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Mayor Accused Of Prejudice Against Koreans In Liquor Store Fight

P. Kenneth Burns

The head of a Korean business association has accused Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of prejudice as she butts heads with Governor Larry Hogan over whether recovery loans should go to certain liquor stores damaged during riots after Freddie Gray’s death in April.

The mayor laid tough, new requirements for 23 non-conforming liquor stores Wednesday to receive interest-free loans through the Maryland Business Recovery Program.

The stores lost their zoning when the city overhauled the zoning code four decades ago, but were allowed to continue operating under the non-conforming status.

David Kim, chairman of the Korean-American Grocers & Licensed Beverage Association of Maryland, said the mayor is targeting “particularly” Koreans because she is “definitely prejudiced.”

He said that while there was a time when all of the liquor stores in the city were Korean-owned, that is no longer the case.

“There are a lot of Indian-owned liquor stores; there’s a couple of Hispanic people; they’re integrated right now,” Kim said, “I don’t know why she is targeting specifically Asians and Koreans.”

Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday that she is following the wishes of community leaders.

“They shared my sympathies with the store owners of these businesses that have been damaged,” she said. But “they also agree that the city should not put tax dollars or donations into helping non-conforming liquor stores reopen as liquor stores in those same locations.”

The mayor also said the city would not give final approval to state loans unless the stores receive letters of support from the city-recognized community association, the city council member representing the district and that council member’s pledge to work towards rezoning the area where the store operates.

Mayoral spokesman Howard Libit said she is concerned about liquor stores in residential areas, not who owns them.

“I think if you go out and talk to our neighborhoods, they say we need fewer liquor stores, not more,” said Libit, who added that the store owners could rebuild their operations in a new way with support of the city.

Governor spokeswoman Erin Montgomery said the owners, who are mostly minorities, are crime victims who deserve the full support of the city and state.

“Using their tragedy as a political tool is wrong and needs to stop,” Montgomery said, “We strongly encourage [Rawlings-Blake] to allow [the loans] without condition.”

Kim conceded that some in the community would like to see fewer liquor stores, but argued a majority of people believe there are bigger issues, such as crime.

He said there were no police officers around when break-ins occurred in three stores at a shopping center near his sub shop in Cherry Hill last week.

“The Sheriff’s Department actually came to Cherry Hill,” Kim said “I said how come you guys were over here and they said we just got the order to patrol this area,” Kim said.