Man who aided Philadelphia offers to assist transition

Mayoral candidates ready to look at proposal

October 22, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The man who helped turn Philadelphia's $230 million deficit into a $70 million annual budget windfall has volunteered to help the next Baltimore mayor bring fiscal order to city government.

David L. Cohen, former chief of staff for Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, has told Baltimore's two mayoral candidates that he is willing to serve on the next administration's transition team.

Mayoral nominee Martin O'Malley jumped at the offer, meeting with the fellow Democrat Oct. 15 to discuss the offer.

"He indicated that he's ready, willing and able to give any advice he can give," O'Malley said.

Republican mayoral nominee David F. Tufaro also welcomed Cohen's offer. "There is nothing like taking [advice] from someone who has the experience," he said.

Cohen served as chief aide to Rendell, who faced a projected $1.4 billion, four-year deficit when he was inaugurated in 1992. The Rendell administration eradicated the red ink by gaining pay and health benefit concessions from city workers, allowing private companies to bid on city services and creating a labor-management committee.

The administration's efforts became the subject of the 1996 book "Prayer for the City," by H. G. Bissinger. With Rendell's term expiring, Cohen left and now serves as chairman of Ballard, Spahr, Andrews and Ingersoll, a Philadelphia law firm with a 50-member office in Baltimore.

Cohen told members of the Greater Baltimore Committee business coalition last week that he could help Baltimore's incoming government apply lessons learned from his five-year stint in Philadelphia.

Baltimore faces a projected $153 million deficit over the next four years, although the city's property tax rate is double that of surrounding jurisdictions.

A critical piece of the Philadelphia solution, Cohen said, was creation of the Mayor's Private Task Force on Management and Productivity, a group of about 300 executives on loan from local businesses to City Hall to spot government waste.

"Government is not a business, but government can be made to function in a more businesslike fashion," Cohen said.

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