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TOPIC: "ACORN's Maryland chapter is shuttered" (Brent Jones, Baltimore Sun, 3/16/10)


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"ACORN's Maryland chapter is shuttered" (Brent Jones, Baltimore Sun, 3/16/10)



ACORN's Maryland chapter is shuttered

Group is undone in national scandal sparked by videos showing illegal activity

ACORN office

An undated sign hangs on the entrance to the ACORN offices at 16 W. 25th St. A former Maryland ACORN official said the office ceased operations late last year. ACORN offices in other states announced plans Monday to rename themselves. (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr. / March 15, 2010)

By Brent Jones | brent.jones@baltsun.com, March 16, 2010

A former leader of Maryland's ACORN chapter said Monday the group will no longer operate in the state, doomed by an embarrassing national scandal six months ago from which the organization never recovered.

Sonja Merchant-Jones, former co-chairwoman of the state chapter of ACORN and a board member since 1999, said there are no plans in Maryland to rebrand under a different name, a move undertaken Monday by several ACORN affiliates across the country.

Maryland ACORN ceased operations late last year, Merchant-Jones said, and all the offices in the state have closed. The group has not held a board meeting in Maryland since November, she added.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now came under scrutiny in September, when videos recorded in Baltimore showed workers counseling two conservative activists pretending to be a pimp and prostitute. Two staff members of the Baltimore office were fired because of the video, which was broadcast on major networks throughout the country and showed the employees giving tax-evading tips to the man and a scantily dressed female partner.

The incident effectively shut down local and state offices, Merchant-Jones said, and the branches were forced to cease operations after dues-paying members fled.

Congress reacted to the video by stripping ACORN's federal funding. Last week a federal judge upheld a ruling that a law blacklisting ACORN and groups allied with it was unconstitutional, but observers doubt ACORN will recoup any money.

With its federal dollars gone, ACORN's national budget went from $24 million last year to $6 million this year.

"The ACORN brand is probably ruined for life, and the only way they can operate is under a different name," Merchant-Jones said.

The Maryland chapter became active in 1999 amid a national push to expand. At its peak in 2006, the state chapter claimed about 6,000 members, with several thousand living in Baltimore. ACORN operated on an $850,000 budget and hosted a gala every year to raise money.

Although the chapter was known for its outrageous antics - dumping a beat-up sofa on the steps of City Hall to highlight Baltimore's trash problem in low-income neighborhoods, parading an employee around in a rat costume to showcase rodent infestation in the city - defenders say the group's housing program has assisted hundreds of residents.

Continues @ The Baltimore Sun


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