Tale of two executives Curry and Duncan: Changing conventional thinking in the Washington suburbs

October 06, 1995

THEIR NAMES are virtually unknown this side of the Patuxent. Douglas M. Duncan and Wayne K. Curry. A vaudeville act? Owners of a doughnuts-and-spicy-stew joint? No, they are first-term county executives in Montgomery and Prince George's counties who have turned conventional politics in their counties topsy-turvy.

Neither started from a position of strength. Each county had huge budget deficits. In Montgomery, Mr. Duncan used a projected $70 million deficit to revamp departments and fire agency heads. Then he buried the laissez-faire approach of his predecessor, Neal Potter, by imitating William Donald Schaefer: He showed up at a stump dump fire and saw to it that the nagging fire was extinguished NOW!

Most important for Montgomery's long-range prospects, the ,X former Rockville mayor moved aggressively to change the hostile attitude toward private business development. Steep federal cuts will hit hard at Montgomery, where 11 percent of workers are U.S. employees. Along the way, he has succeeded in changing the political, government and business climate in that county, while energizing a previously somnambulant office.

In neighboring P.G., Mr. Curry faced a $100 million deficit. This forced him to confront county employee unions. Unlike his predecessor, Parris Glendening, who had given the unions what they wanted, Mr. Curry played hardball: Either forgo raises, accept higher pension and health-care costs and give up no-layoff clauses -- or hundreds would lose their jobs.

Mr. Curry had little choice. Neither did most of the unions. Mr. Curry and a more active county council regained power ceded to the unions under Mr. Glendening. The new P.G. executive also reduced county services and started reshaping government to cut costs.

The two men are part of a breed of officeholders intent on making government smaller, more efficient and less of an impediment to citizens and businesses. Those of us on the other side of the Patuxent had better keep an eye on them.

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