`Utility infielder' takes swing at Baltimore

Planner coordinates revitalization report

July 27, 2000|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Matthew D. Gallagher was just a face in the crowd Tuesday, standing near the door of the mayor's ceremonial conference room, looking on as the politicians and businessmen talked about the city's future.

But two hours earlier, Gallagher, 27, was the center of attention, running the news briefing and answering questions about the 500-page study of city government presented by the Greater Baltimore Committee, which includes the region's largest businesses, and the President's Roundtable, representing about two dozen African-American business leaders.

In January, the GBC hired him to take charge of the project, which looks at ways to revamp and improve city government. It was a homecoming for Gallagher, who grew up in Hamilton and attended St. Dominic's School. He's the hometown boy who made good someplace else, the 1990 Calvert Hall College graduate who went to Philadelphia, learned about public policy and became an assistant deputy mayor during that city's revival. For the past six months, he has scrutinized Baltimore's municipal life.

"It's been great," he said. "I'm like the utility infielder for this all-star team of business leaders for the city of Baltimore."

Officially, he's staff coordinator for the GBC. It's a behind-the-scenes job, perfect for someone with little interest in the spotlight. Let the heavyweights from the GBC and the Roundtable, or Mayor Martin O'Malley, get the glory. Gallagher prefers the challenge of finding ways to improve city government.

He's "very much a man about business," said Ken E. Lawrence Jr., a graduate school buddy who is manager of public affairs for Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical company. Lawrence also said Gallagher is a funny guy, a practical joker with a wicked sense of humor. But when asked for an example, he fell silent. He wouldn't offer a favorite joke. He just laughed and said he could think of "nothing fit for print." It is hard to square that image with the rangy, 6-foot-3-inch young man who seems all focus and intensity.

Gallagher has been a policy junkie since high school. But it was not until graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania's Fels School of Government that the field became his life. Within the first month, he had an internship with the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., part of the city's Commerce Department.

Philadelphia was the perfect laboratory. Business leaders and Mayor Edward G. Rendell's administration were trying to rescue the town from crushing debt and near-bankruptcy. Gallagher soon took a full-time job with the city and kept attending school full time. When he graduated, he was hired to head the city's $20 million Productivity Bank. He was 24.

The Productivity Bank funded innovative approaches to improve the city's information-technology services. The 22 projects it funded will save the city an estimated $72.5 million over the next five years.

When Rendell's second term drew to a close in the fall, Gallagher applied to Temple University's law school. He needed a fall-back position. He wanted to return to Baltimore. News reports made the old hometown sound like Philadelphia in the Rendell days: a city in a slump, a new mayor seeking fresh ideas, an inspired business community.

During the winter, he met with GBC members who were visiting Philadelphia for a look at the city's transformation. He wrote a letter, told them he wanted a job. By Jan. 31, he had the task of putting together a study of key city departments. He was probably half the age of some of the 250 business leaders who volunteered for the project. Every Friday, he collected whatever needed to be read and hauled it back to the home he kept in Philadelphia.

Now, except for some loose ends, he's done. The mayor has the report. The public and the politicians will chew it over and decide what to keep and what to throw out. And he will move on, if only to the new home he and his wife, Helene, bought in Mount Washington. "I really haven't given too much thought to what happens next," he said about his career. "It's been great. I've had a chance to come home and ... have a seat at the table."

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