The sudden resignations of the top two officials at the Port of Baltimore have thrown the Maryland Port Administration into turmoil and left Gov. Parris N. Glendening with another embarrassment, one that was not all his making.
Mr. Glendening must immediately name an acting port director in the wake of the departure of Michael P. Angelos and his hand-picked deputy, G. Gregory Russell. A strong leader, such as former Rep. Helen Bentley, would quell unease among port customers. The port is a $1 billion-a-year revenue generator that is absolutely critical to the state's economic revival.
This upheaval comes at an inopportune time. Baltimore's maritime fortunes have been rising. General cargo soared 17 percent last year. Labor harmony has led to unprecedented cooperation in steering steamship lines to Baltimore. Groundbreaking for a refrigeration facility that could generate new cargo growth is expected next year.
But now the leadership question will override all others. Mr. Angelos had been credited with fostering good labor relations. He also had success attracting more lines. He's been predicting a 7 to 9 percent port growth in each of the next two years.
That was before his investments in Baltimore Bancorp attracted the Securities and Exchange Commission over possible insider trading linked to the bank's sale last year. Not only did Mr. Angelos dabble in the bank's stock, so did his deputy. Mr. Russell's dual posts on the Baltimore Bancorp. board and the port administration blurred the line between public service and private-sector investment, especially with his large block of bank stock.
Further muddying the waters was the role of Baltimore Bancorp's chief owner, Edwin F. Hale Sr., who runs two of the port's biggest trucking and barge firms. The Hale-Angelos-Russell connections may well be part of the SEC inquiry.
Mr. Glendening reappointed Mr. Angelos as port director Feb. 9. Only in recent weeks did he learn of potential problems. To the governor's credit, he acted on Monday to suspend Mr. Angelos. Then yesterday, the port director offered his resignation to the port commission. It was accepted.
Now comes the task of rebuilding confidence in the port. Mrs. Bentley, a Republican, would be a good choice for the $105,000-a-year post. She is respected and admired by all factions, and is already a paid consultant to the port. Having a nationally well-known figure in charge would be a big advantage in boosting Baltimore's worldwide maritime fortunes.
Time, though, is of the essence. Mr. Glendening has to move with dispatch. We cannot afford to let the port lose its momentum.