JOHN G. GARY has been through some bruising battles of late, but only his most blindly optimistic opponents are pronouncing him politically dead. Two years ago, the former state delegate campaigned for the job of Anne Arundel County executive as a blunt-spoken fiscal conservative who would follow the path of his predecessor, Robert A. Neall. Midway into his term, Mr. Gary has run the county as he promised. Reports of his demise are exaggerated.
In a tight fiscal environment, any executive routinely makes budget decisions that are guaranteed to make more enemies than friends. Mr. Gary has not raised public employee pay. It should be no surprise that union leaders -- from police to teachers -- revile him.
The last increment of Mr. Gary's comprehensive effort to reform county pension systems has stalled. Mr. Gary may have wanted this measure enacted as quickly as possible -- to reduce taxpayer contributions and end guaranteed cost-of-living increases to pensioners -- but members of the County Council are prepared to take their time on this, as they should.
Still, blaming Mr. Gary for reducing the Annapolis tax differential is like blaming the moon for the end of the day. Several years ago, as a political payoff on the issue of siting the jail, the difference between city and county tax rates was increased beyond the appropriate level. Mr. Gary has been shrinking the differential to end the subsidizing of Annapolis taxpayers. Although a few Annapolis politicians have attempted to capitalize on this issue, city residents have yet to rally behind them.
Anyone familiar with the long debate over locating Anne Arundel's second detention center knows that Mr. Neall, not Mr. Gary, made the tough decision to place it in Glen Burnie. Despite the opposition of North County residents, Mr. Gary said he would he would not reopen this can of worms. He kept his word.
With a style of demanding things his way on his schedule, Mr. Gary has been derisively dubbed "King John." Unlike absolute monarchs, Mr. Gary does suffer some political defeats. He lost the battle to appoint the school board and hasn't been able to impose his control over school construction. However, Mr. Gary is neither politically isolated nor defeated. He has, in most cases, lived up to his promises.
Pub Date: 9/10/96