Three Empty Chairs

April 21, 1995

There is growing likelihood that by July all of Baltimore City's most important economic development posts will be held by caretakers.

Honora M. Freeman will be gone from the Baltimore Development Corp., which is being reorganized. Wayne C. Chappell will have left his job as executive director of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. And C. Edward Hitchcock may have been eased out from his briefly held post as president of the $100 million empowerment zone.

Ms. Freeman and Mr. Hitchcock were Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's choices for their respective posts. Mr. Chappell, hired by an independent association, survived several changes at City Hall in his 17 years on the job. He eventually ran into trouble with Mr. Schmoke over such issues as an increase in the hotel tax and efforts to secure adequate funds to promote Baltimore's expanded Convention Center. As his office's budget was slashed, Mr. Chappell decided he would be happier promoting Kansas City.

We are sorry to see Mr. Chappell go. He established a good record in a frustrating job here. So many convention promoters are flashy fly-by-nighters that Mr. Chappell's low profile was reassuring. He worked hard; he developed an encyclopedic knowledge about Baltimore's difficult hospitality market, the strengths and weaknesses of its hotels, restaurants and attractions. We have a feeling that he will soon be missed even by his detractors.

Ms. Freeman has presided over the Baltimore Development Corp. for the past three and a half years. She was picked for the complicated job as head of three merged development agencies because of her allegiance to Mr. Schmoke. Loyalty also was the chief qualification for the mayor's selection of Mr. Hitchcock as the empowerment zone's day-to-day manager just five months ago. While Mr. Hitchcock's future plans are unknown, Ms. Freeman's faithfulness will be rewarded with a job as the mayor's deputy chief of staff.

It became quickly evident that Ms. Freeman lacked the seasoning for dealing with the sensitive development needs. The mayor thought she did a good job, though. Mr. Hitchcock was the wrong man from day one, a corporate lawyer uncomfortable with publicity.

Having three top economic development positions vacant close to the Sept. 12 primary is a prospect any incumbent would ordinarily fear. Unless Mr. Schmoke wants to be constantly reminded by his rivals of his administration's obvious weaknesses, Baltimore should find worthy successors soon for the departing officials. The key qualification should be performance, not personal loyalty.

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