Kassoff walks the plank Fired roads chief: Will governor now politicize state highway projects?

July 19, 1996

NO ONE SHOULD BE surprised at the recent dismissal of state roads chief Hal Kassoff. The amazing thing is that he lasted as long as he did, given the animus Gov. Parris N. Glendening expressed toward Mr. Kassoff even before his first day as Maryland's chief executive.

The governor apparently held a grudge against Mr. Kassoff for disputes he had with the state highway administrator during Mr. Glendening's long tenure as Prince George's county executive. He never forgave, or forgot. But Mr. Glendening was told so often by politicians and transportation experts that Mr. Kassoff excelled at his job that the governor kept him on. Until now.

There's no doubt that Mr. Kassoff is headstrong and tenacious, at one point ignoring a request that he quietly submit his resignation. But the roads chief is also a principled man who is dedicated to his agency's task of building high-quality roads.

The problem may have been that Mr. Kassoff isn't a political animal. He doesn't hold fund-raisers for governors or buy tickets gubernatorial campaign events. He also doesn't like to use highway projects for political purposes.

Even legislators who disagreed with Mr. Kassoff over some of his highway decisions respected his integrity and his even-handedness. He ran a key agency with a $1.1 billion budget and 4,000 employees and did so with skill for 12 years, under three different governors.

But now he is being forced to walk the plank. The governor has hand-picked a new roads chief, Parker F. Williams, a former deputy transportation secretary in Pennsylvania for 15 years. He comes highly recommended. The question is whether the governor's office will now attempt to put its political imprint on future highway decisions.

Under no circumstances should this be permitted. Mr. Williams' reputation would suffer were that to happen. And enemies of the governor would be quick to pounce on any funny business.

One of Maryland's great strengths is its fine network of state and interstate roads. It has been a draw for many businesses to come here or to stay here. Much of the credit belongs to Mr. Kassoff and his assistants. The heat is on Mr. Williams to continue that tradition -- and on the governor -- to keep politics out of the state's highway decisions.

Pub date: 7/18/96

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