Baltimore going forward

November 19, 2007

Baltimore invests a lot of power in its mayor, but a successful mayoralty depends as much on the caliber of top aides and department heads as who's occupying the mayor's chair. Mayor Sheila Dixon has the beginnings of a strong administration, but as she considers new and future vacancies at City Hall, her emphasis should be on accomplished managers and innovative thinkers who have a can-do attitude, in the mold of Health Commissioner Joshua M. Sharfstein.

With the departure of Otis Rolley III, Ms. Dixon is without a chief of staff, a critical appointee who oversees the operations of government and the implementation of the mayor's vision. She will need a new fire chief by year's end, and the veteran head of public works is seriously ill.

The retirement of the city's recreation and parks director offers Ms. Dixon a chance to reform the way the city serves its youngest citizens. The agency should align itself with the mission of the new school CEO so that rec and parks can be more relevant in the development of city youths, which also could have an impact on safety.

In recent years, Baltimore has benefited from a robust housing market and steady growth in its economic development. The collapse of the subprime mortgage market and fears of a recession are likely to slow the city's advances in those areas.

But the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, a joint effort by government and business to prime the economy, is pushing the city and surrounding counties to capitalize on their strength as a region and promote themselves that way. Regionalism has been a talking point in business and political roundtables for decades. But that's just it: People only talked about it. Now it should serve as a strategic selling point for Mayor Dixon and the neighboring county executives.

It makes good business sense. As a metropolitan area, Baltimore has a lot to offer, downtown and beyond, and the region's income and job sector growth support that. The region has traded in its blue-collar industries for the health care, high-tech and education economies that are transforming its job base and Rust Belt image.

Every area should have a role in promoting the greater community if an "all for one, one for all" strategy is going to pay off locally and regionally. The cooperation under way as Maryland prepares for an increase in federal military jobs is a promising indication of a change in attitude.

This is a critical time, but one that's full of potential. If an effective city administration can join, finally, with an effective regional problem-solving approach, Baltimore and its suburbs can look forward to a strengthened and revitalized metropolitan area.

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