The Baltimore Advantage

May 21, 1994|By DANIEL BERGER

The complaint has been heard from Washington and its suburbs that metropolitan Baltimore dominates Maryland politics and ought to cut it out.

It is important to examine the extent to which this may be true, now, before it ceases to be.

I believe that the charge is correct, although passing, and that there are two main reasons for it. Neither relates to character failings on this side of the Patuxent River.

The first is the nature of the respective media.

The mayor of Baltimore and county executive of Baltimore County are major figures in The Sun and broadcast media of Baltimore, and as a result are celebrities throughout the metropolitan area. County executives of Anne Arundel, Harford and Howard counties are reasonably well known here as well.

A political advertisement in The Sun or on Baltimore stations delivers its money's worth. Their whole market is Maryland voters.

By contrast, the Washington Post and Times and Washington stations cover Virginia and the District of Columbia as well as Maryland and divide their attentions in ways they think their readers and viewers will tolerate. It's all they can do to make the governors and D.C. mayor reasonably well known.

As a result, the county executive or prominent state senator in Montgomery or Prince George's counties is not as well known in the next county as a comparable figure is in the Baltimore region.

An ad or commercial in Washington media means high costs for wasted exposure in Virginia and D.C. It is more money less well spent.

A real test of this effect is where the politicians of Howard and Anne Arundel counties are recognized. The subdivisions may be more suburban to D.C., but the characters are better known in Baltimore.

This does not stem from moral deficiency of anyone in Baltimore media. Nonetheless, we at The Sun may be doing something to && correct it.

By zoning news in sections appearing only in Anne Arundel, Howard and Carroll counties, The Sun is beginning to give their politicians more fame within their counties, but less beyond their borders.

Whether The Sun completes zoning for the remainder of the metropolitan area, and how rigidly, will determine to what extent this inherent advantage of Baltimore metropolitan politicians may erased.

But the other and very major advantage of Baltimore politicos over suburban Washington rivals is not within the ability of anyone in the Baltimore area to correct.

That is the hopeless divide between Montgomery and Prince George's counties. They have more voters than Baltimore County and City and could dominate Maryland if only they talked to each other.

That barrier is even more insuperable than the one between metropolitan Washington and Baltimore.

This was true when both counties were white Washington bedrooms, Montgomery for fat cats and policy makers, Prince George's for the clerks. Now those stereotypes are obsolete. Prince George's has a black majority and Montgomery is Maryland's most populous subdivision with private workplaces and foreign-born people. Yet the gulf between counties is wide as ever.

William Donald Schaefer entered the gubernatorial fray eight years ago with all metropolitan Baltimore as a base. Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg potentially had it now, along with statewide name recognition, if only to fritter away. That's what made him the front-runner.

Parris N. Glendening, the Prince George's County executive, does not start with Montgomery as part of his base. He must win it, as he must Baltimore, from the outside.

State Sen. Mary H. Boergers may hope her past work on women's issues transcends county lines. Otherwise, she is just a provincial politician facing a hard time getting out of Montgomery County.

There is a widespread feeling in Montgomery County that Baltimore is an evil bottomless pit of demand. This does not translate into solidarity with Prince George's.

Similarly, PG people feel under-represented in the corridors of power, which fails to inspire common cause with folk in Montgomery.

Absence of regional solidarity over there makes them resent what they perceive of it over here.

There! It was important to get this said. Because Mr. Glendening's act is much more together than Mr. Steinberg's and Mr. G. may well overcome the Baltimore advantage -- after which it would be declared to have vanished.

Daniel Berger writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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