Annapolis Mayor's Payback

October 26, 1993

Gov. William Donald Schaefer's decision to kill the state aid for an expansion of the Anne Arundel County Detention Center in Parole boils down to this: a political gift from one Democrat to another.

Officially, of course, the governor's office denies that the decision has anything to do with next Tuesday's Annapolis mayoral election. Democratic Mayor Alfred Hopkins is fighting for his political life in what appears to be a tight race with Republican Larry Vincent and former Mayor Dennis Callahan, an independent.

However, the motivations at work here are pretty transparent when you consider a) the timing, and b) the fact that the state virtually never refuses to finance a portion of a new jail once the local executive and County Council have agreed on a location.

Consider, too, who announced the governor's decision last Friday. Not Mr. Schaefer himself, nor the members of the Annapolis delegation to the General Assembly.

Normally, they make sure they get their share of the credit for a coup such as killing an unpopular jail project, but in this case they let Mr. Hopkins reap the full political benefit.

Many Annapolitans are so thrilled about the governor's decision, however, they haven't stopped to consider the ramifications.

First, it means that abominable conditions currently existing at the Jennifer Road facility won't get better for at least another year, and probably longer. The $11 million the county had asked the governor to provide during the 1994 General Assembly session would have paid for 192 maximum-security beds. The jail now has 28.

Violent inmates are routinely housed in dormitories with the general jail population -- a mixture that leads to trouble. As the number of inmates grows, so does the risk.

The governor's decision is also troubling because it continues the political gamesmanship that has driven this Arundel jail debate for the last two years. Elected leaders should be trying to determine the best site for a new detention center. Instead, they continue mustering forces to keep it out of their own back yards without taking responsibility for finding a better site.

The Jennifer Road jail site has some liabilities, but the governor's decision had less to do with these drawbacks than with the politics of the mayoral race. This is a simple case of a community issue degenerating into a political chit.

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