No longer the booming suburban haven it had been for decades, Baltimore County daily takes on a greater resemblance to the ailing city it envelops. Its elderly and minorities, its social service caseload and infrastructure woes have risen markedly, while revenue growth has slowed. A dual challenge awaits the next county executive: Tending to an increasingly needy populace while spurring economic growth to check the flight of businesses and middle-class residents to other counties.
Seven candidates want the job. Republican contenders are incumbent executive Roger B. Hayden, Donald W. Brewer and George Egbert. None has staged a highly visible campaign, including the well-financed Mr. Hayden. His low profile can be attributed to recent brain surgery from which he has apparently made a strong recovery, and to the resource-conserving approach of an incumbent with only a mild threat in the Sept. 13 primary.
Last year, in the wake of his unprecedented downsizing of county government, Mr. Hayden was not popular. He was skidding anew this year when a former staffer charged him with sexual harassment. But that controversy fizzled. Meantime, his budget cuts alienated county workers, though most citizens seem to have accepted the reductions as a necessary sacrifice. "People aren't mad enough at Roger to want to throw him out," said a Republican politico, "but they don't like him enough to go out in great numbers and vote for him, either." Yet even Mr. Hayden's critics must concede he delivered on his tough campaign promises. He wielded the budget ax that reduced the size of county government and balanced the budget during a fierce recession. He has earned the nomination for another term.
The Democrats in the primary are C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Melvin G. Mintz, John C. Coolahan and Kevin Pearl, a LaRouchite. The front-runners, County Councilmen Ruppersberger and Mintz, have both run credible campaigns stressing a revitalized economic development program.
We view Mr. Ruppersberger as the candidate who would better provide the vigorous, inclusive leadership that Baltimore County demands. A former state prosecutor, he has proved himself a good consensus-builder on the council, having twice served as chairman in his two terms. Tellingly, this post has eluded Mr. Mintz in his eight years.
Mr. Ruppersberger announced his candidacy last spring by noting the crossroads at which the county stands. His career and campaign have demonstrated that he is now the best Democratic hope to steer the county through this crucial crossing and take it with hope and foresight into the future.