Welcome to Washington-Baltimore -- the pride of federal bureaucrats

December 31, 1992|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

It's official: Today you become a Washington-Baltimorean.

For this you can thank your federal government.

Starting now, government statisticians will no longer consider Baltimore and Washington separate metropolitan areas. Starting now, for purposes of calculating federal statistics, the Office of Management and Budget has merged the two cities into a megalopolis that sprawls across three states.

Consider: the District, Hagerstown, Spotsylvania County, Va., and Jefferson County, W.Va. -- they're now all part of the same metropolitan area as Baltimore.

And in another blow to civic self-confidence, the new entity will be called the Washington-Baltimore Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area. Baltimore, long carrying a second-city chip on its shoulder, now is second for real.

Some of us deal with this better than others.

Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg loves it. "By making it 'the Washington-Baltimore area,' Baltimore is the last word," he says.

"It's like Burns and Allen," he adds. "Would that combination have been any less successful if it was Allen and Burns? No. It's the partnership that's important, not the name."

In Washington, at the Office of Management and Budget, officials acknowledge that their usual practice in combining metropolitan areas is to put the larger city's name first -- which would give Baltimore star billing.

But not this time. After all, it's Washingtonians in charge at OMB. And they decided that the nation's capital should rank second to no one.

Like Baltimore needs this. The homicide rate sets a record. The school drop-out numbers climb. The civic renaissance is stalled. (The mayor and the governor can't even agree on lobbying for the expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center.) You can't get a seat at Camden Yards. And now, it's Washington-Baltimore.

From the Washington suburbs, that doesn't look so bad. "Wouldn't you be proud to be connected with the nation's capital?" asks Montgomery County Sen. Mary Boergers.

But from downtown Charm City, the perspective's a little different:

"Baltimore definitely shouldn't take a second seat to Washington, of all places -- the reputation it has," says Andrew Hammond, 29, of West Baltimore. "The prestige of Baltimore is going to drop."

At Baltimore Studio of Hair Design (not the Washington-Baltimore Studio of Hair Design) on North Howard Street, administrative assistant Pete Lebowitz calls the change "the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. We gave them Washington way back when. That's a part of Maryland they're sitting on. It's absurd."

What does this mean in our everyday lives? Will we drink less beer and yearn for chardonnay? Will Interstate 95 become Main Street? Will the Greater Baltimore Committee, the business group representing the area's largest companies, have to change its name to the Greater Washington-Baltimore Committee?

Uh, don't count on it, says Walter Sondheim, senior adviser to the GBC.

"I think this is the wrong thing for them to have done. With Baltimore-Washington airport and Baltimore-Washington Parkway, it just makes sense to put Baltimore first," Mr. Sondheim says. "But I don't think this is going to have any great impact on people's opinion of Baltimore."

There are some advantages to consolidation. Baltimore, the 18th largest metropolitan area in the country, is merged with Washington, the eighth largest, to create the nation's fourth-largest market.

"The concept is beneficial to the state of Maryland," Lieutenant Governor Steinberg says. "It enlarges our marketplace. It enhances our vitality. It makes us more important. In a competitive arena, it gives us more clout."

Mark Wasserman, Maryland's secretary of economic and employment development, says that "from a strict marketing point of view, the consolidation of the two SMSA's [standard metropolitan statistical areas] is nothing but pure opportunity. When we present the Maryland story, particularly to people overseas, pointing to the fourth-largest market in the United States will turn heads. That's what we're interested in: turning heads."

But the name. What about that name? "Subsume the identity of Baltimore? No way," he says. "The Orioles, the Inner Harbor, neighborhoods -- they're all part of the community's identity and none of that will change."

Joe Harrison, a spokesman for Gov William Donald Schaefer, concedes that Washington-Baltimore "wasn't our first preference. But the name is not the big issue. Baltimore has the character and tradition to stand on its own next to anyone in the country. Baltimore can't be overshadowed by anyone."

"It just puts us on a bigger map," says City Council President Mary Pat Clarke.

Mrs. Clarke is skeptical of anything that comes out of the federal government. "Aren't they the people who said ketchup was a vegetable?" she asks.

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