NEW YORK -- In the room where the nation's outstanding college football player is honored each year, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Maryland port officials tried to convince maritime officials that Baltimore's port may have fumbled a few times, but it isn't yet out of the game.
Schaefer told about 200 industry leaders at Maryland's annual maritime luncheon here yesterday that the Port of Baltimore is rebounding from years of labor troubles and declining cargo shipments.
Schaefer was accompanied by O. James Lighthizer, his new secretary of transportation, and Adrian Teel, the new port director.
Although each year the port makes the pitch to leaders of the world's shipping lines, Lighthizer joked that this year the Maryland Port Administration officials could tell the truth.
Lighthizer told shipping executives that Maryland has adopted a new philosophy with an emphasis on customer service and erasing the port's budget deficit.
"I'm not going to tell you we're home free, but I will tell you the port has started to turn around," he said. Helping to support that contention is the port's recent success in persuading OOCL line, one of the world's largest container shipping lines, to return to Baltimore.
Yesterday port officials made little effort to hide that their next targets are major Korean shipping lines, such as Cho Yang Line, a member of the Tricon consortium that spurned Baltimore earlier this year in favor of Hampton Roads, Va.
Conrad H.C. Everhard, the chairman of Cho Yang Line U.S.A., was seated at the governor's table beside Rep. Helen Bentley, R-2nd. Although Everhard once worked in Baltimore, it was clear that the governor, Bentley and port officials had more on their mind than reliving old times with Everhard.
Everhard said the port's labor troubles had frightened the line away earlier this year, but that the climate seems to have improved. He hinted that Cho Yang might be willing to reconsider Baltimore in the future.
The $10,000-plus luncheon in the Heisman Room of the Downtown Athletic Club in Manhattan was criticized this year as an extravagance at a time of state budget cuts.
Port officials said that the luncheon, which has been held since the 1950s, is an important marketing tool.
Teel said he was unwilling to cut the luncheon from the MPA budget because his advisers had told him of its importance in attracting clients. Afterward, Teel said he believed that the contacts he made and the advice he received from maritime leaders was worth the cost of the meal.