State business chief quits

Melissaratos leaves post today

January 17, 2007|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

Aris Melissaratos, who led the state's Department of Business and Economic Development for the Ehrlich administration, said yesterday that he is stepping down even though some business leaders had urged Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley's incoming administration to retain him.

"It was a phenomenal four years, and I think we accomplished all we set out to accomplish," Melissaratos, 63, said. His last day will be today, he said. "I was willing to stay, but the new administration didn't indicate strong enough interest. ... I guess I got the message."

Appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in 2003, Melissaratos was charged with creating more opportunities and partnerships with the private sector, particularly small business development. He was widely regarded as an enthusiastic cheerleader of Maryland and the administration's policies.

The former Westinghouse Electric Corp. executive had no previous government experience and sometimes appeared frustrated with the legislature, which he and Ehrlich accused of stifling businesses. Last April, Melissaratos said the just-concluded legislative session was "as low a point a legislature can reach. Everything they touched was anti-business."

Early last year, the General Assembly overturned Ehrlich's vetoes of bills requiring Wal-Mart to spend more on employee health care; and raising the state minimum wage a dollar to $6.15 per hour. Business interests had said both bills made the state unfriendly to commerce.

But Melissaratos had the backing of many in the business community, and several leaders pressed O'Malley's transition team to keep him in place. Edwin F. Hale Sr., an O'Malley backer and chief executive officer of First Mariner Bancorp, told The Sun last month that he advised the governor-elect privately that "he'd be hard-pressed to find somebody better" for economic development head.

"He has a lot of reason to look back on his four years and be pleased with his work," said Donald C. Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee and a member of the transition team. "He certainly was a very good cheerleader for business in the state of Maryland."

Melissaratos apparently was irritated that he was asked to submit a resume to the transition team.

"Everybody in the damn state knows me - they want a resume?" he said yesterday. "I don't need to audition for this job. The whole state sees the performance."

His relationship with the legislature was on display yesterday at a meeting of the Legislative Policy Committee, possibly his last appearance as a public official. He thanked legislators for the past four years but chastised Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Mongtomery County Democrat, when sharply questioned about altering the terms of a loan to Marriott International Inc.

The state gave the hotel giant a $44 million incentives package in 1999 as an enticement to keep its corporate headquarters in Montgomery. Frosh expressed concern that state officials were relieving Marriott of some obligations tied to the funding.

"We've chased every corporation out of this state" except for a select few, he said.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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