Transition teams get more people involved

November 28, 2006|By JEAN MARBELLA

When Harry Hughes was elected governor in 1978, his transition team consisted of himself and a few trusted advisers.

Today, though, Hughes is co-chairing a 47-member transition team helping Peter Franchot ease into the Maryland comptroller's office, as well as serving on the 42-member transition team of Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley. He somehow escaped being named to the third transition team that is in business these days - City Council President Sheila Dixon's 47-member group, marshaling her move into O'Malley's soon-to-be vacated mayor's office.

Can transitioning into a new office really have gotten that much more complicated over time? Surely taking elected office is more complicated than getting the keys to the executive bathroom and tips on that door to the conference room that sticks. But what is behind this transition team bloat?

"I really don't know the answer to that," Hughes said.

Giving it more thought, Hughes speculates that part of it is "an effort today to get people involved, to open up the process and make people a part of the process." Plus, he says, there's a lot to get done in not a lot of time - from figuring out the budget to filling Cabinet positions.

The teams are full of the kind of high-powered civic names that tend to attach such groups with the descriptive "blue ribbon." There are the usual wise men - Walter Sondheim, the longtime civic leader, is on Franchot's team, as is Bob Embry of the Abell Foundation, who is on Dixon's as well. Another double-teamer is Donald Fry, the Greater Baltimore Committee president, advising both O'Malley and Dixon. This being a Democratic year, there are labor union representatives, environmentalists, feminists and even a columnist for Vegetarian Times, Lucie Snodgrass. There are lawyers and bankers and business and nonprofit leaders, from Verizon, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Venable, Bank of America, Provident, Under Armour, Hopkins and the University of Maryland.

"I felt like a peon," said Edie Brown, the decidedly non-peon PR woman and special events planner who knows a thing or two about A-lists. She was impressed with her company on Dixon's transition team, and thinks the council president "covered all the bases" in town.

But it's not all glamour - Brown says her dining room table is covered with notebooks and papers related to the committee she was assigned to - the Office of the Mayor and Constituent Services - and she and other members began interviewing officials from city departments like Public Works yesterday afternoon and will make recommendations to Dixon on "what works, what doesn't work."

The teams are truly transitional - they include both people who helped the candidates get elected (campaign workers, fundraisers), and those who the new officeholders would like to have on board as they start governing (businesses, interest groups).

"You want to do something for people who were of value to you during the campaign," said Alan Ehrenhalt, executive editor of the Washington-based magazine Governing. "It's an honorific. People like to say, `The governor listens to me.' You're giving small rewards, particularly to people you might not be able to reward any other way."

Transition teams have grown along with government in general, he believes - there are simply more positions to fill these days.

"It's not just Maryland," Ehrenhalt said. "The new mayor in D.C. has a giant transition team."

In Washington, Adrian Fenty started with about 40 "pre-transition" team members (so named because they started working before the general election, since it was all but certain that Fenty, the Democratic nominee, would become mayor), and they've since been joined by 20 or 30 additional people for the real transition into January, said spokeswoman Mafara Hobson.

Big transition teams aren't new to this election cycle - when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich was elected in 2002, he named a six-person executive board to oversee a transition team of 50 to 70 people, according to stories in The Sun at the time. But his predecessor, Parris N. Glendening, made do with a 12-member transition committee, co-chaired by his then-wife, Frances, after he was elected in 1994.

Perhaps it's semantics - Glendening also said at the time that, including the Marylanders who would serve on various policy subcommittees, his transition team would actually number 200 to 300.

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