A year has elapsed since Roger Hayden, a little-known convert to Republicanism, beat Democrat Dennis F. Rasmussen and became Baltimore County executive in a landslide. During his campaign, Mr. Hayden said little about his plans, except to pledge that he would apply his business experience to local governing. Voters who wanted "anybody but Rasmussen" did not ask for specifics.
As the recession deepened, this vagueness served Mr. Hayden well. Since he had not made any big promises, he did not have to worry about fulfilling them. He could be a low-key executive without anyone making a big stink about it. As his marriage fell apart and his mother died, he could even occasionally withdraw from public life, as he did last summer. Despite his much-ballyhooed face-to-face meetings with citizens, Mr. Hayden was an invisible man for much of his first year.
Mr. Hayden's state of the county message this week appears to be a calculated move on his part to begin building new visibility. If he is going to stay in politics, he will need a strong image. (There is growing speculation that he is interested in seeking the GOP nomination for governor in 1994).
Those who know Mr. Hayden well say he is the ultimate bean counter, a man who loves to tinker with budgets. His state of the county address avoided panicky rhetoric about the county's predicament in the wake of sweeping budget cuts by the state. But it was interesting to see Mr. Hayden suggest that the counties be given relief from the scheduled start of well-meaning but costly programs mandated by the state when Maryland's economy was booming.
"These mandated programs, like recycling, landfill capping, community college maintenance-of-effort provisions and school bus replacements, embrace goals with which we concur. So please understand that I did not ask that they be abolished, only that we get a broader or extended time frame of implementation," Mr. Hayden declared. "Baltimore County has acted responsibly and we deserve consideration instead of additional impediments."
This cry has been heard from Towson before. County executives from Spiro T. Agnew to Mr. Rasmussen have gone to Annapolis, unsuccessfully begging legislators to understand that taxpayers are fed up with property tax increases. They have argued that if local governments are saddled with state-mandated programs, jurisdictions should be given a mechanism to finance them without the danger of triggering a taxpayers' revolt.
Other counties may join Mr. Hayden's call. But they are unlikely to get much sympathy from the state, which is battling its own fiscal problems.