A presidential mystery

Visit: President Bush will make a stop at a Home Depot in this Baltimore County town Friday. But nobody seems to know why.

December 03, 2003|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

Before word trickled out this week about President Bush's plans to visit Halethorpe, the most celebrated event in this well-kept corner of southwest Baltimore County was probably the Fair of the Iron Horse back in 1927.

Not to say that Halethorpe residents have minded the lull between that much-revered fair -- which attracted crowds from around the country and railroad exhibits from around the world -- and the presidential entourage that will descend on the Commerce Drive Home Depot on Friday.

Neat and quiet is how people like this small patch of the county, said 72-year-old Joseph P. Kinsey, president of the Halethorpe Improvement Association. Neat and quiet, even as the hum of surrounding interstates and passing trains envelop it, and as the traffic on Washington Boulevard zooms down its spine.

Which leads to the question that even Kinsey and his wife, Halethorpe boosters for decades, cannot answer. Why would the president stop here?

"It's weird!" exclaimed Helen "Stormy" Kinsey, whose nickname comes from being born during a 1933 hurricane. "Why would he come to Halethorpe?"

Answers are hard to come by.

The White House confirmed yesterday that the president will stop at the Home Depot and that the store is, in fact, in Halethorpe -- a relief to some of its 20,000 residents with secret suspicions that it might really be in Lansdowne, or even Patapsco. But the details ended there.

Local politicians had equally scant information.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a native of neighboring Arbutus who will be attending the president's fund-raiser in Baltimore that day, had not been informed of the Halethorpe jaunt, his press office said.

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. was given clearance to attend, but no more information about why the president picked this particular store in this particular neighborhood, said Renee Samuels, his spokeswoman.

Besides, Samuels said, the Democratic county executive will not be able to attend the Republican president's event: He had previously scheduled a meeting with state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer.

"And you know, all politics is local," Samuels said.

Workers at Home Depot, the spot where the president is expected to make his private appearance, offered no explanation why the Halethorpe Home Depot might be an appealing stopover for the president.

According to Kinsey, who is working on a history of his neighborhood, and the new "Welcome to Halethorpe" sign residents put up a few years ago, this region was given its name in 1890.

The area began as a development venture of railroad executives, and now has houses ranging from spacious Victorians with grand porches to bungalow-style homes. The access to highways and the MARC train make the neighborhood convenient to Baltimore and Washington -- perhaps as much a factor in the presidential visit as anything else.

Halethorpe's main commercial area is a short strip on Washington Boulevard, a quick drive from the Home Depot. There sits a sprawling business park built decades ago on the fields where, in the early 1900s, Halethorpe held well-attended air shows.

This is where the president should talk about the economy, said Alex Marconi, the owner of Halethorpe Discount Liquors, which is across the street from the business park.

He, as well as H.J. Chang, the owner of the competing liquor store next door, said they have seen their business slow as workers in the business park have been laid off.

Halethorpe "needs economic development, that's for sure," Marconi said. "It would definitely help things."

But as for the president coming to this area, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans more than 2-to-1, Marconi thinks it's great, if inexplicable.

"Hopefully he'll stop in here and pick up a six-pack," he said. "I'd like to meet the president."

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