Tale of Two County Executives

April 07, 1994

In Baltimore County, political candidates began lining up nearly a year ago to take a shot at unseating Republican County Executive Roger Hayden this fall.

In Howard County, Republican incumbent Charles I. Ecker seems to be preparing not so much for a re-election campaign as a coronation. To date, no one from either the Republican or Democratic side is ready or willing to try to dethrone Mr. Ecker as he seeks to become the second executive in county history to win a second term. (J. Hugh Nichols was the first.)

These two executives from neighboring counties nonetheless have more in common than their varying re-election prospects might suggest. Both were Democrats who switched to the GOP just before their 1990 races and then went on to upset victories in that angry year of the anti-incumbent. Both campaigned against the bloated bureaucracies of their opponents and, since coming to power, have turned recession-made budget deficits into surpluses. Both also had chalked up long careers in public education -- Mr. Ecker as a deputy school superintendent, Mr. Hayden as a school board member and later as board president.

Yet what different jurisdictions they lead. Certainly Mr. Ecker has had his run-ins with critics of his policies. For the most part, though, he has been able to enjoy leading one of the most affluent subdivisions in the United States, a county with a great location, a first-rate public education system and dream demographics that lure new residents and, significantly, new businesses.

Mr. Hayden, on the other hand, leads a struggling jurisdiction whose young middle class is being squeezed between the second-fastest-growing elderly population among all U.S. localities and a rapidly expanding group of children and others on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. No doubt the demands of the numerous constituencies in what is one of Maryland's most diverse jurisdictions account for Baltimore County's high level of political strife.

Like his subdivision, Mr. Hayden has his contentious side, while Mr. Ecker is as mellow as his largely contented county. Indeed, some of Mr. Hayden's problems could be blamed on his shortage of warmth. Would a more genial, Eckeresque approach help him in battling Baltimore County? We have our doubts. After all, their similarities aside, the two executives play in very dissimilar arenas. Mr. Ecker, for one, must be glad of that.

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