Calvert Institute comes of age Bellwether: A recent report by the Calvert Institute of Policy Research turned heads, an indication, some say, of conservative growth in Maryland.

May 26, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

A recent report criticizing Baltimore's government for having too many workers has thrust the Calvert Institute of Policy Research into Baltimore's political forefront as another sign of Maryland's conservative political growth.

Executive Director Douglas P. Munro and a college friend, Dr. Ronald W. Dworkin, started the institute three years ago after meeting as political science students at the John Hopkins University. In a state and city long dominated by Democrats, the two men wanted to create an agency with a conservative slant to offer alternatives to long-held liberal Democratic policy positions.

The partners named the institute after Lord Calvert, the Maryland founder who governed with the conservative principle of less government involvement.

"The goal of the institute is to bring conservative ideas into the discussion of state policy," said Carol Hirschburg, a Republican campaign consultant who is an original member of the institute's 17-member board, which includes Democrats.

Such "think tanks" have sprouted across the nation over the past 15 years. Munro estimates that Calvert is the 40th such group.

Over the past three years, the institute has issued reports on why residents leave Baltimore and a position paper supporting school choice. The institute regularly sponsors speaker luncheons and publishes a quarterly newsletter.

But Calvert made its biggest splash three weeks ago by releasing "Padded Payroll," a report that criticized the city government for having 5,500 more workers than cities of comparable size.

City leaders and union officials criticized sections of the report, saying the institute used unfair comparisons. But Calvert is standing by its basic finding that city government is bloated, carrying a work force 70 percent larger than that of other industrial cities of similar size.

"This may sound sanctimonious, but there is a good-government angle to the institute," said the 34-year-old Munro, who has lived in Baltimore for 10 years. "And the reaction to this study shows that we hit a raw nerve."

The institute's heightened visibility can be attributed to the growth of Maryland's Republican Party. In 1994, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey came within 6,000 votes of defeating Democrat Parris N. Glendening. Since then, new Republican voter registrations have outpaced those of Democrats by 53,000.

That conservative growth is giving Calvert a larger, more receptive audience, supporters say.

"We're probably at a jumping-off point now that people are recognizing us and considering us a player in policy discussion," said Hirschburg, who is managing Sauerbrey's gubernatorial campaign this year. "That this report got the attention is an indication that we've arrived."

With that emergence comes heightened criticism from opponents, who scoff at the institute's policy research label. Foes claim the institute begins with a preconceived political goal, then looks for the statistics to back it up.

Stephan G. Fugate, president of Baltimore Fire Officers Association Local 964, has been the most outspoken critic of the group. Fugate points to the institute's link with groups such as the Baltimore Homeowners Coalition as evidence that Calvert serves as a mouthpiece for large-property owners in the city who are eager for a property-tax cut.

Its first three years, Calvert operated out of Munro's Charles Village home, but it recently opened an office near Hampden.

"I don't think the 'think tank' label applies, it's a boiler-room operation" Fugate said. "The Calvert Institute is simply producing what they are paid to produce."

Munro has worked for the Heritage Foundation in Washington. Dworkin, 38, was a fellow at the Institute for American Values in New York, which focused on family policy. Some board members of the institute have ties to the libertarian Cato Institute.

"This is a group of people who have eyed a market for a product, and they're capitalizing on it," Fugate said. "I don't degrade what they do; you just have to take it with a grain of salt."

But Calvert appears to have staying power. Over the next few weeks, the institute plans to release a report on the Maryland budget. It also plans to create high school scholarships for needy students in September.

Through such efforts, the institute hopes to play a role in making Baltimore and Maryland a better place to live.

"I live here, and I plan to make a life here," said Dworkin, an anesthesiologist at Greater Baltimore Medical Center who moved from California. "I want the city to thrive."

Pub Date: 5/26/98

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