Berchie's Blackmail

October 09, 1992

Berchie L. Manley and four of her colleagues on the seven-member Baltimore County Council were swept into office

in 1990 by a tidal wave of anti-incumbent fervor. At the time, voters viewed the amateur status of the five freshmen council members as a positive attribute.

Sometimes, though, all you get from amateur politicians is amateur politics.

Case in point: Mrs. Manley's battle with her six council colleagues over a research facility proposed for the Catonsville campus of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, which is in the Republican councilwoman's First District. Backed by constituents and community groups, she aims to down-zone the affected portion of the UMBC campus from office-technology to residential. This move would effectively block construction of the facility.

Mrs. Manley plays a dangerous political game by bucking the wishes of all six of her colleagues, the administration of County Executive Roger Hayden and state officials, all of whom believe the research center will provide jobs, income and a boost to the Baltimore region's efforts to establish itself as a bio-technology center.

If that action weren't enough to get Mrs. Manley permanently frozen out by the other council members, she probably clinched it with her threat to go public with allegedly embarrassing information about her colleagues, should they fail to agree to the down-zoning.

This attempt to blackmail the rest of the council only reveals the depth of Mrs. Manley's political naivete. She clearly fails to realize that by using such a tactic, she forces her colleagues to oppose her. If they were to go along with her now, it would look as if they were admitting that the dirt she had on them was true. Smart politics, this isn't.

Mrs. Manley puzzles further by apparently refusing even to take her constituents' concerns to UMBC. University officials reportedly have reached out to local communities but have barely gotten any response. As for the councilwoman, she has truculently maintained, "I will not negotiate or deal with UMBC."

This behavior might be a hit with certain residents of the First District, and perhaps that's Mrs. Manley's motivation. However, what First District residents should bear in mind is that their councilwoman's hijinks put her in a poor position to represent their interests in Towson.

But that's what you get for electing an amateur.

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