Mary Boergers rubs the wound, talks of healing

February 06, 1994|By MICHAEL OLESKER

ANNAPOLIS -- Mary Boergers, the state senator from Montgomery County who wants to be governor of Maryland, says she's not running as the anti-Baltimore candidate. She says she wants to embrace Baltimore. She's just having a little trouble putting any money where her mouth is.

Yes, she admits, she did vote against funds to build Oriole Park at Camden Yards, despite the revitalization it brought to a depressed downtown Baltimore. And, yes, she admits, she voted against money to expand the Convention Center, despite the huge tourist money it should bring to Baltimore and the rest of the region.

But, no, she insists, the votes had nothing to do with the new realities of Maryland politics, in which the rich Washington suburbs not only threaten to knock off Baltimore as the traditional heart of the state but kick a little sand in the city's face in the process.

Take her vote on the Convention Center.

Simple priorities, Boergers tries to explain. There's only so much money around, and she wanted to spend it for a new wing for international flights at Baltimore-Washington Airport instead of expansion of the convention center.

"The Convention Center's a wonderful project," she says, during a midday break between committee meetings. "But it's not a free lunch. Everything's a trade-off. How do you get conventioneers to the convention center if they can't get a flight in? That's why we need the new wing. We have to compete internationally."

This begs an obvious question: Where does she think the Baltimore conventioneers are coming from, Paris?

But Boergers brushes past specifics to talk generally about tensions between the haves and have-nots, between the rich D.C. suburbs and the struggling city.

L And, perhaps inadvertently, takes another shot at Baltimore.

"The governor of Maryland," she says, "should be an honest broker. There are regional tensions. A governor has to bring us together, and not make the division of money a pork barrel crap shoot. Schaefer, for example. He has no credibility on this."

Boergers, thus, shows an interesting contrast.

She looks a little like '50s pop singer Giselle MacKenzie and talks in the flip, bubbly style of a candidate for chief cheerleader. But there are hard edges in her language.

The Schaefer remark, for example.

In one breath, she's talking of healing state divisions, and in the next she's saying Schaefer's been the governor of Baltimore, looking out for the city at the expense of the rest of the state.

Checking merely the first seven years of Schaefer's administration, this would have come as remarkable news to the mayor of Baltimore, Kurt L. Schmoke.

During his years of conflict with Schaefer, the city's had to scramble and beg for money from Annapolis, at the same time the affluent D.C. suburbs were flexing new strength and complaining about too much money going to impoverished Baltimore.

"We're all in this together," Boergers says. "In a high tide, all boats rise."

"That sounds a little like Ronald Reagan," she's told.

"It does?" she says. "God, that's frightening."

But the comparison strikes a chord. It's the old notion of trickle-down largess, a way of thinking that says, for example, that poor schoolchildren in Baltimore (or the Eastern Shore, or Southern Maryland) shouldn't begrudge extra funding to already well-endowed kids in Montgomery County because one day the benefits will reach the poor kids, too. And, if the poor have a problem with waiting, well, tough luck, because Montgomery County's time seems to be arriving.

"Baltimore," Boergers says to this, "needs to understand the importance of Montgomery County. And, of course, vice versa. But, what we need to do is harness the power of the whole state, which is the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country.

"The schools, for example. High quality schools are a real asset to the economic potential for the whole state. And there's an attitude in Baltimore that we should save their schools by hurting others."

Actually, that's not precisely Baltimore's attitude, but it's the kind of language increasingly heard by politicians pitting one part of the state against another. Boergers says Montgomery County's not competing with Baltimore, it's really competing with neighboring Virginia's Fairfax and Arlington.

"Businesses," she says, "look at school systems when they want to locate in a community. So Montgomery County has to have strong schools in order to keep the state strong."

Nobody's arguing with that. But it's the flip side of Boergers' remark about Baltimore schools: Do we let them continue to die, in order to help Montgomery County compete with Virginia?

It's a balancing act, of course. But, in the new Maryland -- where the power is shifting from Baltimore to the D.C. suburbs -- Mary Boergers finds herself in an interesting spot.

She says she wants to embrace Baltimore. But city voters want to know: Will you embrace us tonight, and then turn your back the morning after the election?

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