Montgomery eyes payoff for gubernatorial votes CAMPAIGN 1994 -- THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR

August 07, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Sun Staff Writer

From the gritty streets of Baltimore, Montgomery County looks like the land of plenty -- an upscale populace, one of the finest school systems in the nation, a gleaming high-tech corridor and well-tanned executives in plaid pants whacking golf balls over lush green turf.

Up close, the picture takes on greater definition and depth of field, revealing the bumps and bruises associated with a burgeoning county on the rim of a major urban center, in this case Washington, D.C., a city with more than its share of crime and other societal ills.

Montgomery, now the most populous jurisdiction in Maryland, is having growing pains. In years past, it has gone along with an outflow of tax dollars to aid the state's poorer subdivisions -- notably Baltimore.

Now it is looking for help itself. County voters expect the next governor to provide some.

Because of its size and the heightened awareness of voters as to the role state government plays in their lives, most political observers view Montgomery as a major battleground in the gubernatorial primaries and perhaps the biggest prize in the general election battle to follow.

"The general election for governor is going to be settled here," said Blair Lee IV, developer, political commentator and self-proclaimed "suburban guerrilla," who has maintained for years that Montgomery is routinely fleeced by the state to prop up Baltimore City.

Two of the candidates -- Democrat Mary H. Boergers, a state senator, and Republican William S. Shepard, a retired Foreign Service officer, reside in the county. The other hopefuls are attempting in various ways to court voters there.

U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, the GOP front-runner, punctuated the importance she attaches to Montgomery by tapping Howard A. Denis, a veteran Bethesda state senator, as her running mate despite philosophical differences on such issues as abortion and gun control.

Last week state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski of Baltimore devoted five days to a 30-mile walking tour of the county in hopes of persuading Montgomery voters to take a look at his campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

In recognition of Montgomery's importance, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, who polls show is leading the Democratic field, has been organizing in the county for more than a year, according to his campaign manager, Emily Smith, and now has workers in every precinct.

Baltimore displaced

As of the 1990 Census, Montgomery displaced Baltimore as the most populous of the state's 24 major subdivisions while remaining the richest. Nationally it ranks seventh among large suburban counties in per capita income and ninth in average family income.

But the population explosion the county experienced in the past decade and a half has brought with it a more diverse mix of residents, accompanied by concerns relating to school crowding, traffic congestion, taxes and crime.

"Montgomery County faces all the range of problems any metropolitan area faces," said County Councilmember Bruce T. Adams.

"I'm not saying they're of the magnitude of Baltimore or Washington, D.C., but they're all out there. Violence, AIDS, crowded schools --you name it, we've got it."

The result has been new pressure on the county government for services -- social programs, education, transportation, police and fire protection. Montgomery's delegation to the General Assembly, in turn, has been challenged as never before to bring state dollars back home.

"Montgomery County will need to have active state financial participation from now on," said Robert W. Marriott, the county's planning director. "The days of Montgomery County financing everything for itself are gone forever."

A slap in the face

Montgomery's complaints against the state are symbolized by action two years ago, when Gov. William Donald Schaefer, struggling to balance a recession-battered budget, terminated a program dating back to 1958 under which the state paid the employer's share of Social Security taxes for teachers, librarians and community college workers.

That cost Montgomery about $28 million and was widely viewed as a slap in the face to a county that had historically taken a progressive view of its responsibilities to more needy subdivisions.

Mr. Glendening has promised to restore the Social Security funding -- gaining the endorsement of County Executive Neal Potter and other local officials in the process.

Mr. Miedusiewski, for his part, has said that he will double the $21.6 million the county received this year in state funds for new school construction for a student population growing by 3,000 a year and projected to continue at that rate through the end of the century.

But county officials are likely to look to a new governor for help in other areas as well.

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