Re-opening the HCFA Wound

January 17, 1993

Message to a former City College quarterback: Play hard before the game is over.

We're hard-pressed to understand Mayor Kurt Schmoke's request last week to the president-elect. He asked Bill Clinton to re-examine the federal government's verdict to build the Health Care Financing Administration headquarters in Baltimore County rather than Baltimore City.

To be sure, like the mayor, we thought the decision by the Bush administration was short-sighted and politically driven; such a major job center would do this region far greater good downtown than on a suburban campus.

But we were perplexed that after the General Services Administration decided to put HCFA in Woodlawn last fall that Mayor Schmoke left the appeals battle to the Rouse Co. and its development partners who were angling to build the $122 million project near Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Now, we're doubly puzzled that the mayor feels motivated -- belatedly -- to get Mr. Clinton involved.

If he has indications that his campaign work for the president-elect will pay off in a HCFA reversal naturally Mr. Schmoke wouldn't say. HCFA last year became a political offspring in an ugly and unfortunate custody battle between city and suburb. No president who was elected with the help of city and suburb alike would knowingly step into such a mess.

Reversing the decision now would be costly to Washington and would be bad symbolism for President-elect Clinton. It would reopen a wound in this region that's only begun to heal in recent months. Maryland surely would be ill-served by a years-long courtroom quagmire that could result in Washington locating the project somewhere else.

Certainly, we're no happier about the original decision than are other supporters of regionalism. And we're disturbed that the GSA recently entered into contracts for the Security Boulevard site -- even though the city developers' appeals aren't due to be heard till March. But most of all, we can't understand why a mayor who willingly sat on the sidelines with the clock winding down now all of a sudden wants into the game.

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