Urban renewal is goal of hometown boy

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 conferenceand 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 Presidents' 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 grad 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 Presidents' 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 grad school buddy who is manager of public affairs for Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical company.

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.

When Mayor 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.

In 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.

"He was relentless," said Donald C. Fry, the GBC's executive director.

Gallagher didn't bother decorating his office. The only decoration amid the papers, boxes and reports is a small, framed illustration of Camden Yards.

"I'm too busy to worry about keeping a clean office," he said. "I'll clean my office when I'm done."

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