Time will tell, but it appears that the county executives who assume office today throughout suburban Maryland are a solid crop.
They include two repeats, Charles I. Ecker in Howard and Eileen M. Rehrmann in Harford, both savvy administrators who handily dispatched angry challenges in an angry political season.
In Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, newcomers C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III and John G. Gary are experienced politicians who possess more compassion and broader vision than their predecessors.
In Carroll County, which is served by three commissioners, Donald I. Dell, a repeat, and former Westminster mayor W. Benjamin Brown seem able to see the big picture better than the previous board, while the third commissioner, Richard T. Yates, shows considerable promise.
And in the Washington suburbs, Montgomery County has already gotten a taste of life under restless Douglas M. Duncan, a former Rockville mayor who even before his swearing-in fired a dozen entrenched administrators. Prince George's County also will be run by an aggressive, pro-business type in attorney Wayne K. Curry.
This group has some things going for it that the outgoing group didn't. They won't be hit with the cold slap of recession that greeted the Class of '90. They have one of their own in the governor's mansion, Parris Glendening, who vows not to cut local aid or impose costly programs on local government. That must be music to the ears of county officials, whose mantra these last few years has been "no more unfunded mandates."
Many of these local leaders are coming off impressive wins. Mr. Ruppersberger beat an incumbent Republican cost-cutter in a big year for Republican cost-cutters. Mr. Gary defied predictions that he couldn't beat a better-known challenger. Mr. Ecker and ++ Mrs. Rehrmann captured two-thirds of their counties' votes, even as voters rejected their personal preferences on ballot questions regarding land-use and law-enforcement policies.
Yet for all their promise and experience, these new county leaders face a more ornery electorate than their predecessors. Bobby Neall, the outgoing executive in Anne Arundel, liked to say today's voters want "plain vanilla" government. But that recipe for vanilla must also include safer streets, improved schools, a better business climate and incremental residential growth if these executives want to remain popular in office.