Who are these guys?

July 24, 1995

Douglas M. Duncan and Wayne K. Curry. Their names may be unfamiliar in this neck of the woods, but as first-term county executives in Maryland's largest jurisdictions -- Montgomery and Prince George's counties -- they have managed to shake up local politics in their first six months in office.

Both men started in a deep hole not of their making. Each county had huge projected budget deficits, with worse prospects down the road.

In Montgomery, Mr. Duncan used a $70 million deficit to restructure departments and fire a raft of agency heads. He borrowed a page from the William Donald Schaefer school of do-it-now politics by showing up at a stump dump fire and demanding action to extinguish the nagging, smoldering fire. He got his way.

As for Montgomery County's long-range prospects, the former Rockville mayor has been aggressive in trying to change the hostile local attitude toward private business development. Steep federal cutbacks will hit hard at Montgomery, where 11 percent of workers are on the federal payroll. Only private-sector firms can fill the job void.

His activist style has succeeded in changing the political, government and business climate in Montgomery, while energizing an office that had been virtually somnambulant in recent years.

In neighboring Prince George's, Mr. Curry's first six months have been a revelation. The Prince George's deficit topped $100 million, which forced him to take on the strong municipal employee unions. His predecessor, Parris Glendening, had given the unions anything they wanted. In contrast, Mr. Curry played hardball: Either forgo pay raises and give up the cherished no-layoff clause, or layoffs will follow.

With Prince George's in deep fiscal trouble, Mr. Curry had little choice but to talk tough. Most of the unions went along with him. Mr. Curry and an assertive county council regained power ceded to the unions under Mr. Glendening. The executive -- a newcomer to elective office -- also reduced some county services, started reshaping government to cut costs and brought a non-politican's outspoken perspective to Upper Marlboro.

For each Washington-area executive, it has been an eventful start. They are part of a new breed of local officeholders intent on shrinking government's role and making it run better.

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