No advocate for the city

August 19, 1992

Baltimore no longer has a reliable advocate on federal issues, and the city suffers. The federal government's decision to keep the new Health Care Financing Administration headquarters in Woodlawn is the latest unfortunate example of what happens when no one in Maryland's congressional delegation strongly argues the city's position.

Baltimore County had a vocal advocate in Republican Helen Bentley, who pleaded the county's case at every turn. As the LTC senior Republican in the delegation, Mrs. Bentley had special access to the Bush administration. She met with the head of the General Services Administration. She wrote letters to the White House staff. To bolster her contention that the city site was dangerous, Mrs. Bentley -- who often argues the city's case when it comes to the Port of Baltimore -- even mailed news clippings of a mid-day robbery and shooting two blocks from the proposed city site. Judging from the results, she was very effective.

The city would have been well-served if another delegation member had acted as a counterweight. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat whose district includes the city's central, eastern and northern sections, used his former position on the House Public Works Committee to force the GSA to consider a city location. Once Baltimore was in the running, though, Mr. Cardin backed out of the process.

Kweisi Mfume, another Democrat whose district includes the western section of the city as well as the Woodlawn site, carefully remained neutral. Neither of Maryland's two senators participated in the behind-the-scenes political jockeying.

Congressional redistricting is in large part responsible for this state of affairs. Mr. Cardin and Mr. Mfume have split allegiances. They represent suburban counties as well the city. On city-versus-suburb issues they usually choose to remain neutral. Yet Mrs. Bentley, whose district is entirely suburban, has no qualms about arguing the suburban case.

A Democrat in the White House might change the equation. In the past, Democrats have pushed programs and policies to improve urban areas. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's early endorsement of Bill Clinton might help Baltimore -- if the Arkansas governor wins the presidency. Still, someone in the delegation will have to take up the city's cause on critical issues. Without forceful advocacy in Washington, the city's fortunes will continue to wane.

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