County executive, new aides visit Essex

Smith stops by businesses to shake Towson-centered schedule, educate staff

January 31, 2003|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Kim D. Albright got a surprise yesterday afternoon while she was cleaning up the files on her desk at her Essex title company: Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. strolled in and asked how good a job the county was doing helping her to renovate her building.

Albright, who owns Goldstar Title Company on Eastern Boulevard, is no political high roller. She'd never met Smith, didn't donate to his campaign and only voted for him on her husband's recommendation.

Her office was one of the stops on a tour Smith organized to help ensure he doesn't become too Towson-centered. The executive headed to Essex yesterday hoping to make sure people like Albright aren't taken aback if he pops up at their business, community association meeting or school.

After more than a year of crisscrossing the county during the campaign, Smith acknowledges that he's been a little overwhelmed in the first two months of his term trying to set up his administration, prepare a budget and work with the county's legislative delegation.

But he said maintaining contact is a priority.

"This is something I want to do. It's going to go on my schedule, and other things will have to yield," he said. "I can't be everywhere to the same degree [as during the campaign], but I certainly want to be out in the Baltimore County communities. I want to be present, I want to be in touch."

Smith was accompanied by his three new top aides -- administrative officer-nominee Beverly Swaim-Staley, senior aide George A. Shoenberger and chief of staff Gregory Pecoraro.

Smith has been criticized by County Council members and in letters to the editor for choosing top aides who are not from Baltimore County; part of the reason for the trip was to help acclimate them.

The tour focused on areas into which Smith's predecessor, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, poured millions of dollars in an effort to revitalize the county's aging waterfront. Smith's new staff said they were impressed.

Pecoraro said it had been a few years since he'd been to Essex and Middle River, and he was struck by how much new housing is going up and by the eagerness of business owners to invest in the area.

"I thought both of those things were very positive signs," Pecoraro said. "The few people we did talk to over there are pretty upbeat, and they're interested in talking with the county about what the community wants to see happen over there and how the county can help fulfill the community's needs."

Traci Sullivan, who owns River Watch Restaurant on Nanticoke Road with her brother, had some warning that the executive and his entourage would be stopping by. As a businesswoman, she took it as a compliment that the executive would visit and a sign that he will pay attention to what the community wants.

"Usually, they just fly over you in a helicopter," she said jokingly.

It was in this part of the county that Ruppersberger faced harsh criticism from residents who complained that he tried to force a property condemnation law on them without first getting their input. The law was overwhelmingly voted down in a referendum.

Smith campaigned on a theme of more inclusive government, and said he heard loud and clear from residents yesterday that they are eager for revitalization but want a community-driven process, such as the one taking place in Dundalk.

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