Pecoraro's departure will leave a void

Two-term councilman will resign Jan. 13 to take Baltimore County post


January 05, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Evidence of L. Gregory Pecoraro's contributions to Westminster can be seen among the scaffolding and construction fencing surrounding the most prominent projects transforming the city.

He worked to bring two $2.5 million garages to a downtown area where shoppers and workers complained of an inability to conveniently park. He helped the city win more than a half-million dollars in state grants to build a community center, install streetlights and revitalize a struggling neighborhood.

And the two-term city councilman simplified the bureaucratic task of creating partnerships and finding money to convert a historic art deco theater on West Main Street into a performing and community arts center - a downtown revitalization project that city officials believe will breathe new life into the less-bustling end of town.

As news spread last week of Pecoraro's new job as Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s chief of staff and his impending resignation from the Westminster Common Council, community leaders, business owners and local developers lamented the loss of a dedicated politician and advocate who took particular pride in economic development and downtown revitalization.

"Greg is like a company guy. If the city were a company, he'd be our company guy," said Harry Sirinakis, owner of Harry's Main Street Grille, a Westminster restaurant and a Main Street fixture since World War II. "I'm just stunned."

Pecoraro, 43, a lifelong Westminster resident, has served on the town's council for eight years. But the top-tier post in Baltimore County government will leave Pecoraro without enough time to devote to his duties as an elected official, he said.

He intends to resign his post at the next council meeting, Jan. 13. The five-member council will have up to six weeks to appoint a replacement.

"I have mixed emotions," said Pecoraro, whose wife, Cyd, teaches at Hampstead Elementary School. "I'm very excited about this new opportunity because I think it is going to be very challenging. But I also know it will be the kind of full-time job that is not going to leave me the free time I'd need to continue to serve the people of Westminster."

Influence will be missed

His colleagues and business contacts in Westminster said they will particularly miss Pecoraro's influence with and ties to state government. He has a history of government work dating to the early 1980s, including nearly eight years with the Maryland Department of Transportation, where he has worked as the assistant secretary since 1998.

"He's extremely smart, he's a great team player and he's very well-connected to government officials throughout the state - all of which has benefited the city tremendously," said Damian L. Halstad, president of the Westminster council and a close friend of Pecoraro's.

"He has a keen understanding of how government works and how everyone's interest must be served for projects to move forward," Halstad added. "Greg is a student of government. He likes it. And at the local level, he was just a terrific councilman, responding to constituent concerns and helping us to map out a vision of where the city needs to go in the future to continue to grow."

Ehrlich's effect

Friends and colleagues said they had wondered what would happen with Pecoraro, a devoted Democrat and longtime member of the county's Democratic State Central Committee, when Republican Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. takes office next week.

"One never knows because a new governor is entitled to put his new team together," Pecoraro said. "I viewed this as a good opportunity to look around and see what else was available to me."

Although many of Westminster's community leaders were pleased that Pecoraro landed such a prominent post, they were nonetheless disappointed that it will pull him from the city in the middle of so many projects they say never would have gotten off the ground without his help.

"He was instrumental in the development of the Carroll Arts Center and very aggressive about having redevelopment in the downtown," said developer David Max, whose real estate company owns and develops commercial property in Maryland and Pennsylvania. "He understands how important it is, he has been very business-minded about how things are done and the city has come a long way in the last five years. This is a darn shame."

Pecoraro was chairman of the council's parking committee and pushed development of plans for the two parking decks under construction on either side of Main Street. He also served on a committee last summer that suggested improvements to the Lower Pennsylvania Avenue area, a neighborhood targeted for improvement because of its struggles with crime, declining property values and a large number of municipal code violations. The state announced $510,000 in grants in October for the community center and other neighborhood projects.

Some within city government bemoaned the departure of Pecoraro, the council's budget expert, at the same time the city is losing its longtime finance director, Stephen Dutterer, and gearing up for its annual number-crunching budget sessions.

`Very special guest'

But Sandy Oxx, executive director of Carroll County Arts Council, which soon will move into the 64-year-old theater the city helped renovate, said such news never arrives at a good time.

"This is not the phone call I wanted to get," she said. "I really credit him with forging relationships between the city and the arts council, making sure the council understood the potential economic impact and not just seeing us with our hand out and needing financial support. He'll be sorely missed."

But no matter Pecoraro's title, Oxx said, "When we open the new arts center in April, he'll be one of our very special guests."

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