Where was the president? No one knows for certain

Halethorpe appearance, or Lansdowne, or Arbutus

December 06, 2003|By Andrew A. Green and Stephanie Hanes | Andrew A. Green and Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

It seemed so clear cut - at first. The White House announced that President Bush would stop in Halethorpe after his Baltimore fund-raiser, shooting pride - and not a small bit of wonder - into a small corner of Baltimore County.

But then, after days of secrecy, the White House announced the exact location of his appearance: the Home Depot on Commerce Drive.

Was that, in fact, the Lansdowne Home Depot? The Arbutus Home Depot? Or was it in Halethorpe after all? It was a question for the highest levels of government.

After its initial Halethorpe announcement, the White House seemed to hedge its bets, saying Thursday in the president's official schedule that, at 1:15 p.m., he "participates in a conversation on the economy" with workers at the "Lansdowne Home Depot" in Halethorpe.

But Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who should know geographical distinctions in the southwest part of the county, where he was born, begged to differ.

"I've corrected the president, by the way," shouted the Arbutus native soon after he arrived at the Home Depot, before Bush took the stage. "We're actually in Arbutus."

Asked to step in and mediate the dispute, County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s office pledged a thorough investigation. "We'll get our best people right on that," said Sterling Clifford, a member of the executive's communications staff.

But in the end, Smith, a Democrat, shied away from correcting either of the Republican executives, but not from political squeamishness.

"You know how in the city someone took the time to map [the neighborhoods] out? Not so in the county," Smith spokeswoman Renee Samuels said. "To us, the important thing is, he's in Baltimore County."

But tell that to the proud residents of Lansdowne, who stake a claim to the Home Depot and the president's visit.

"That store is clearly located in Lansdowne," e-mailed Michael D. Young, who expressed displeasure at a Sun article earlier in the week that placed the Home Depot in Halethorpe. "The misconception comes from the fact that the 21227 ZIP code in which the store is located is serviced by the Halethorpe Post Office. This is mainly due to the fact that some time ago the Lansdowne Post Office was closed."

The Ehrlich administration defended its stance yesterday afternoon. "If you can see the Burger King, you're in Arbutus," said Ehrlich spokesman Greg Massoni, referring to a restaurant across the Baltimore Beltway from the store.

Massoni acknowledged that the people of Halethorpe might try to claim said Burger King, but after all, what is Halethorpe if not a suburb of Arbutus?

Ehrlich, it seems, has the Census Bureau on his side. It makes no mention of the Burger King, but the bureau's maps show Arbutus to include all of what some might claim as Halethorpe - and the Home Depot site.

"Halethorpe, Arbutus, it's one big happy family. The president went to this Home Depot because it's closest to the governor's hometown," Massoni said. "We just attempted to simplify the whole thing and call it the Arbutus Home Depot."

Sun staff writers David L. Greene and Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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