Eight Folks in a Room

November 12, 1994

Business and civic leaders can tout the benefits of regionalism until they turn blue. They can cite all the studies they want to prove that metropolitan areas that work together are more prosperous. They can talk about the savings of shared trash disposal, of the moral imperative of spreading the costs of quality-of-life amenities.

But ultimately, regionalism in this community is about eight folks in a room: the mayor of Baltimore, the executives of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard and Harford counties and the trio of commissioners from Carroll County. If they don't see the shared value in working in concert, if they can only compute it in terms of individual political costs, regionalism remains dormant.

The political Class of '90 didn't set the world on fire regarding this issue. The mayor and executives may have met every couple months, but they exuded little sense of a commitment to working together. We're no closer to a regional approach to solid-waste. The pact the suburbs signed years ago to more equitably fund city-based cultural gems was penned in disappearing ink.

Can we expect better from the Class of '94? We hope so. Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, newly elected as Baltimore County executive, has a reputation for consensus-building. Re-elected incumbents Charles I. Ecker in Howard County and Eileen M. Rehrmann in Harford County already seem to possess an appreciation for regionalism. Coming off big wins for second terms, they may have a stronger base to act on that conviction. (Plus, if Mrs. Rehrmann has eyes for statewide office down the road, it would serve her well to demonstrate an appreciation for the problems of her more urban neighbors.) Carroll County seems to have installed more forceful leadership this time around.

The two largest question marks are Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who hasn't been the regional quarterback he needs to be and who has a tough election to worry about next year, and Anne Arundel County executive-elect John G. Gary. Mr. Gary alarmed regional business boosters with his xenophobic "protect our borders" campaign literature this election. But the 12-year delegate describes himself as one of the state legislature's biggest city boosters, pointing to his support for city school reform and the state bailouts of the City Jail, the Baltimore Zoo and the Community College of Baltimore. He describes some of these as "Fram oil filter" issues -- pay now or pay (more) later.

The current political climate may not bode well for regional progress. Parochialism coursed through several of the referendums approved around the region Tuesday. Still, residents need to be reminded that in an ever-competitive global and national marketplace for business, the area they call home is made weaker, not stronger, if their leaders can't see beyond their own boundaries to work together.

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