Leaders of 2 states, D.C. meet at summit

Topics for Ehrlich, Warner, Williams include security

April 30, 2003|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams met yesterday to inaugurate a series of summits they hope lead to shorter commutes, cleaner air and a healthier economy for the capital region.

Officials said it was the first time in a dozen years that the heads of the three jurisdictions had gathered to discuss a wide range of common concerns.

"In our minds, that's 12 years too long," said Williams. "Three governments working in tandem can do more than just one."

Ehrlich, a Republican, and Warner and Williams, both Democrats, said they plan to gather four times a year, working from what the mayor called a to-be-developed "scorecard" of short-term and long-term goals.

During a closed-door session inside the district government headquarters, each leader addressed his counterparts on a specific issue. Ehrlich spoke on homeland security, while Williams talked about tourism and Warner focused on transportation.

The group refrained from formal announcements on agreements, and scheduled a session with the media before the private meeting instead of after -- underscoring that no major developments were expected.

But Ehrlich emerged from the session saying that several concrete steps were imminent.

The three elected officials had tentatively agreed to appear together in advertisements promoting regional tourism, he said, and the district and state governments could soon sort out responsibility for removing abandoned vehicles from bridges that link the jurisdictions.

"That sounds like common sense, but it has not been done in the past," Ehrlich said.

Ehrlich also said that he and Warner would meet soon for another attempt at resolving an interstate fight over the right to draw water from the Potomac River. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of a case over whether Virginia's Fairfax County can pump river water for 1.2 million customers.

Warner "said, `The least I can do is sit down with you and see if there's something we can do to settle this,'" Ehrlich said, adding that he only recently learned that negotiations to resolve the issue before he took office were nearly successful.

While the three leaders spoke optimistically about cooperation, reminders surfaced that many issues have the potential to divide them.

When Ehrlich spoke of his qualified support of a major-league baseball team in Washington or Northern Virginia, his colleagues seemed to scrutinize every word. Ehrlich said he believes the region can support two franchises, but that Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos may deserve compensation if a team relocates nearby.

"Angelos has a legitimate economic interest," Ehrlich said. "Depending on what study you believe, 10, 15, 20 percent of the walk-in crowd is from the District of Columbia or Northern Virginia."

As he headed for a dinner with Williams and Warner, Ehrlich said he hoped the discussions would soon become routine.

"You shouldn't get any credit for doing what should be common sense, and what you should be doing all along," he said.

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