'Montgomery Tilt' won't fly in Maryland

November 16, 1997|By Barry Rascovar

DOUG DUNCAN has a vision. It could be called the ''Our Fair Share'' campaign. Or the ''Greater Washington Political Alliance.'' Or simply ''Beat Baltimore.''

Behind this vision lies his desire for a fundamental shift in Maryland politics -- away from a ''Baltimore Tilt'' toward a decidedly ''Montgomery Tilt.''

Mr. Duncan wants to fashion a new coalition (sort of a Maryland version of Greater Serbia) that would propel Montgomery County into the catbird seat.

That should not come as a surprise, since the creator of this vision happens to be the Montgomery County Executive.

It makes for excellent politics in preparation for next year's election campaign. Mr. Duncan can use his crusade to good advantage in Montgomery precincts where the ''more from Annapolis'' mantra and the ''beat up on Baltimore'' rhetoric stir passions.

Beyond the county's boundaries, though, Mr. Duncan's message may not resonate nearly as well. The view from Montgomery often is at odds with the view from everywhere else in the state.

Indeed, there may be more differences than similarities in the jurisdictions Mr. Duncan seeks to meld together.

These counties are dominated by Republicans and conservative Democrats, who look with extreme skepticism at a coalition run by liberal Montgomery.

Then there is the wealth factor. Montgomery is very rich. The affluent of the Washington suburbs flock there.

There is also Montgomery's greater sophistication and Washington orientation versus the more rural, Annapolis orientation of counties Mr. Duncan is wooing.

And, finally, Mr. Duncan runs smack into a General Assembly mindset that favors statewide approaches rather than divisive regional power plays.

He faces an uphill battle.

Mr. Duncan's approach may sound good in theory, but what happens when he proposes a school-aid formula that rewards Montgomery and Prince George's far more than other coalition partners? Or a shift in the road-building allocation that stresses Montgomery's highway needs?

Maryland's long history is inextricably tied to Baltimore City. It remains by far the state's largest city, its only densely populated urban center. It also remains the economic, cultural, social and political focal point for the expanding metropolitan region.

''Going downtown'' to folks in Aberdeen, Westminster or Severn means Baltimore, not Montgomery. When Marylanders talk about ''the port,'' its the Port of Baltimore. ''The Stadium'' means Camden Yards. ''The airport'' is Baltimore-Washington International.

Maryland continues to be Baltimore-centric. Turning the state into a Montgomery-centric entity is a stretch.

There is no urban center of half-a-million people in Montgomery, no Harborplace where people congregate on weekends, no sports venue to lure people, no tourist draws, no Walters Art Gallery or Mechanic Theater, no tightly packed downtown office towers, no universities, no core.

What Montgomery does have is a wide collection of upscale neighborhoods; a number of middle-income, aging neighborhoods; outstanding public schools; a great suburban environment; booming high-tech business development, and enormous needs created by all this rapid growth and high quality of life.

But it is not, and will never be, the heart and soul of this state.

The trouble with Mr. Duncan's coalition-building is that he is talking to the wrong people the wrong way.

His county is far more a mirror-image of Baltimore County than St. Mary's County. Coalition-partner Prince George's has more in common with city politicians than with Montgomery pols. Calvert County's natural ally is Anne Arundel, not Montgomery.

That points to the need for a super-regional coalition which resolves problems through consensus-building, not by creating the impression this is an ''us-against-them'' struggle in which Baltimore is portrayed as the Evil Empire.

Mr. Duncan gave up too quickly on a super-regional alliance last legislative session in a dispute over school aid. Bringing jurisdictions in the Greater Baltimore and Greater Washington orbits together is far preferable to his recent, more modest efforts that strike some as divisive.

Identifying solutions to suburban-urban problems shared by the Big Seven subdivisions and the fast-growing exurban counties ought to be his mission. He would stand a better chance with that strategy than playing Don Quixote with his current crusade.

Barry Rascovar is deputy editorial page editor of The Sun.

Pub Date: 11/16/97

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