Tit for Tat at London Town

April 12, 1995

The London Town Publik House has stood through the American Revolution, the Civil War and the ravages of time. Now, it could fall victim to political sniping.

On Monday, the General Assembly killed a bill that would have provided $275,000 to help pay for much-needed repairs to the 230-year-old landmark in Edgewater. The bill's fate was set last week when Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary announced that he was withdrawing the county's share of money to repair the building's chimney, foundation and gardens. County officials said that they will need the funds instead to pay lawyers to fight the City of Annapolis in a dispute over some $9 million in cigarette tax revenues and back interest. But while that was the reason they gave, the decision to cut the funds for London Town smacks plainly of political retribution.

Mr. Gary expected Annapolis' lawsuit to be nullified by legislation sponsored by fellow Republican Sen. John A. Cade. The Senate approved Mr. Cade's bill and the majority of the county's delegates endorsed it. But Del. Virginia Clagett, a West River Democrat, persuaded the House Commerce and Government Affairs Committee that the legislature shouldn't get involved in the dispute. The committee killed Mr. Cade's bill. The next day, county officials announced that they would have no money for London Town Publik House, which happens to be in Mrs. Clagett's district.

Although county officials said other projects were in jeopardy, the London Town Publik House was the only one singled out for cuts. County Financial Officer John Hammond described the renovation as "one of those nice-to-do, but certainly not got-to-do projects." That reasoning rings hollow; the cigarette tax suit may never go to trial and even if it does, it could be months or years before the county would have to pay the city a cent.

Both the county and City of Annapolis achieved their top priorities this legislative session, but the county's success is marred by the blow to London Town Publik House. Because of petty political bickering, a National Historic Landmark whose cultural significance and tourist appeal transcend any single legislator's district is in jeopardy. Mr. Gary has an obligation to maintain and preserve this property, not use it as a weapon against his enemies.

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