Rising stars in state politics County executives: Montgomery's Duncan heads list of newly assertive local leaders.

September 08, 1996

THAT "SMOKE-FILLED" ROOM where "back-room deals" were going to be cut to mount a challenge to Gov. Parris Glendening turned out to be less than advertised. No smoking was allowed (the host won't permit tobacco for religious reasons); guests talked over the dinner table, and as far as anyone knows no "deals" were hatched.

But the gathering of three local political leaders and two corporate leaders worried by the direction of the Glendening administration highlighted concern among Democrats about the governor's policies and vulnerability. In the process, the meeting showed the growing influence of county executives in state politics.

All three executives at the dinner -- Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore County, Eileen Rehrmann of Harford and Douglas Duncan of Montgomery -- have statewide ambitions. So does one of the no-shows, Wayne Curry of Prince George's. They are popular, effective executives and pivotal players in Annapolis.

Mr. Curry used hard bargaining to get his way on the Redskins stadium deal. Ms. Rehrmann and Mr. Ruppersberger delivered crucial votes for the governor's Ravens football stadium. Mr. Duncan exerted leverage to gain $35 million in school construction funds, a convention center and a deal on road funds for Montgomery that didn't punish Baltimore City.

Mr. Duncan stands out as the fastest rising star. In just two years, he has given Montgomery strong executive leadership after decades of dominance by the county council. He's been a whirlwind of activity. He has cut the size of county government, aggressively reversed the county's anti-business attitude, relentlessly pursued economic development and displayed bridge-building skills in the State House.

At age 40, he's been mayor of Rockville and a telephone company executive for 16 years. He understands the private sector and has applied those lessons to government. He doesn't get bogged down in parochial concerns. He is able to look at the big picture.

For instance, he dropped efforts to win a bio-tech plant for Montgomery and instead lobbied for a Frederick location to keep the jobs in Maryland. He works well with Mayor Kurt Schmoke and his fellow county executives. He was one of the few Montgomery politicians to support a Baltimore football stadium. He could in future years end the animus in Montgomery toward the city, unifying the Washington and Baltimore regions for the first time in decades.

With county executives exerting more muscle, it's no wonder Parris Glendening is concerned. Mr. Duncan could be the one to watch.

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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