In the five months that he has been Baltimore County executive, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger has enjoyed remarkably smooth sailing. A honeymoon cruise, one might say.
His relations with the County Council have been marked by mutual respect. No surprise there. Like the new executive, most of the members of the new council are lawyers with moderate to conservative views. Also, Mr. Ruppersberger served for nine years on the council. He was one of them not long ago.
The county unions likewise seem to admire and trust the guy, mainly because Mr. Ruppersberger has shown union leaders the courtesy of consulting them before announcing plans that would affect workers.
The business community, too, is on board with the executive. Business leaders back his plan to privatize -- and, they hope, revitalize -- the county's once-moribund economic development office.
Officials from other jurisdictions like the cut of Mr. Ruppersberger's jib for his regular appearances in Annapolis during the General Assembly, and for his willingness to put his county in a regional context. He'll be even more prominent as a booster of regionalism when he becomes president of the Maryland Association of Counties in 1996.
To be sure, the man is not without detractors. Some can be found in the county school system. Mr. Ruppersberger has had run-ins with school officials over budgetary matters from his first weeks in office. But these Towson-Greenwood clashes are so rooted in local custom that they tend to elicit yawns more than any other reaction. Besides, few people outside Greenwood think the executive was wrong to grill Superintendent Stuart Berger about the $10 million surplus the system accrued from its health-insurance plan.
These early successes result from more than good luck. Mr. Ruppersberger is an experienced, skillful politician both able and willing to use the bully pulpit of his office to make Baltimore County more of a forward-looking, forward-moving place.
Not that good fortune has eluded him entirely. During his first winter as executive, the area experienced only one significant snowfall. His predecessor, Roger B. Hayden, suffered through two terrible winters in a row. Mr. Hayden's poor handling of snow removal contributed in no small way to his own removal by the voters last November.
Mr. Ruppersberger did much more, though, than keep his fingers crossed all last winter. One of his first actions as executive was to order a study of Mr. Hayden's mistakes, along with a detailed snow plan that would avoid a repeat of them. This time the county road crews were ready. Mr. Ruppersberger even visited the workers at their shops to say thanks. On the campaign trail last year, he had boasted of his ''people skills;'' he proved it with that simple gesture of dropping in on the road crews.
In all, not a bad five months for the new executive. A recent development, however, has threatened an abrupt end to the honeymoon cruise.
Naming the reduction of local closing costs as a priority of his administration, Mr. Ruppersberger has put forth a plan to halve the property-tax discount received by county homeowners before September 1. With the resulting savings, the county would exempt the first $22,000 of every house sale from the local transfer tax. A county homebuyer would then see a reduction of up to $352 in closing costs -- perhaps more for first-time buyers under a new Maryland law that also would lower settlement fees.
It's a small amount, but Mr. Ruppersberger sees it as a key first step to making the county more affordable, and thus more appealing, to potential homeowners. Wisely, he doesn't want the county to undergo the sort of middle-class exodus that has afflicted Baltimore city.
The County Council, which votes on the proposal this Monday, has balked at it. Even supporters of the cut say they might vote for it only because they like the executive and don't want to hand him an embarrassing setback so early in his term. But in the past weeks, a few councilmen have been working on an alternative that they claim would reduce closing costs and maintain the current discount rate.
''A big thing here is not to let Dutch end up looking bad,'' one of these councilmen said. The implication was that a showdown over this issue would hinder Mr. Ruppersberger's ability to fulfill his agenda.
Any government executive would love to have that kind of faith and support from his legislature. So far, Dutch Ruppersberger has earned it.
Patrick Ercolano writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.