Vote results illustrate power shift to D.C. area

Md. power center shifts toward D.C.


Maryland Votes 2006 -- The Primary Election

September 14, 2006|By Jennifer Skalka | Jennifer Skalka,Sun reporter

Tuesday's primary appeared to cement a political realignment expected for decades: Maryland's next generation of Democratic leaders won't hail from the state's largest city or its surrounding area, but from the populous Washington suburbs.

With the elections of Douglas F. Gansler as the party's nominee for state attorney general and Peter Franchot for comptroller, it appears that Montgomery County (or MoCo, as it's known in political shorthand) is surging in prominence.

Gansler, the county state's attorney, and Franchot, a state delegate, bring new energy and ideas to positions held by longtime fixtures of Baltimore politics.

By contrast, Baltimore's influence is waning. Attorney Gen. J. Joseph Curran Jr. is retiring after a career born in the city's Irish Catholic political machine. And William Donald Schaefer, the former Baltimore mayor and one-time Maryland governor, was turned away by voters, ending a 50-year string of victories.

"It represents a huge power shift in the state," said former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a past Prince George's County executive. "I don't think anyone in the future would be able to talk about running statewide without having good credentials in the Washington area."

Gansler and Franchot face credible Republican challengers. But if either is victorious in November -- a clear possibility given the state's 2-1 voter registration edge for Democrats -- it would mark the first time in 87 years that a Montgomery County resident was elected to statewide office.

E. Brooke Lee won the comptroller's position in 1919 and served until 1922. His son, Blair Lee III, also from the county, was lieutenant governor and then acting governor in the 1970s. But he won office on a ticket with Democrat Marvin Mandel, not on his own.

Montgomery has long been perceived by residents from other jurisdictions as out of touch, too liberal and, in recent years, too wealthy to produce leaders with a deep understanding of the state's economic and social diversity.

But the county's population continues to boom, its steady growth buffered from economic downturns by an influx of federal money.

"This is just another manifestation of a process that has long been in the works," said James G. Gimpel, a professor of government at the University of Maryland, College Park. "What accounts for it? With the growth of government in the post-World War period, you have the creation of a recession-proof economy in the Washington suburbs."

Baltimore's population, meanwhile, peaked in 1950 at 949,708, 41 percent of the state's 2.34 million people. It has declined in every decade since then and now stands at 635,815, according to the most recent Census estimate.

Montgomery County in 1950 had 164,401 people. It currently has 927,583, a more than five-fold increase. That is about 17 percent of the state's 5.6 million people.

"The balance has shifted to Montgomery County, and it's appropriate that that be reflected in people who hold statewide office," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, the chairman of the judicial proceedings committee who represents the county.

At the same time, the city's wealth has plummeted. Baltimore relies on infusions of state tax dollars to run schools and provide social services, and Montgomery is a provider of that cash.

Curran said he believes that Montgomery's leaders will be able to keep Baltimore's interests in mind.

"My experience in all the years I was in Annapolis, on most issues, the representatives from Montgomery County were always very sensitive to what was the right thing to do in other sections of the state that didn't have the wealth that Montgomery did," he said.

But the nominations of Gansler and Franchot don't tell the whole tale.

A Democratic candidate for governor, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley selected his running mate, Del. Anthony G. Brown, from Prince George's County, which also borders Washington. Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate, also resides in Prince George's. Their ascendence is further evidence of the emerging influence of the Washington region.

Even O'Malley, who was born and raised in Montgomery, has played up his Rockville boyhood on the campaign trail. Blair Lee, a columnist for the Gazette newspapers whose father and grandfather were those historic Montgomery officeholders, said O'Malley is symbolic of the "ambidextrous" new power-sharing between the regions.

Lee also said that if Baltimore's leaders want to continue to hold sway in Annapolis, they would be wise to link arms with Montgomery's rising stars.

For Baltimore officials, he said, "the days of running Maryland single-handedly are over."

"The city is going to have to partner up with people from other jurisdictions," Lee said. "And believe it or not, Montgomery is the cheapest date in town. We're these knee-jerk liberals that like helping the down-and-out."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.