We're Shocked - Shocked!

Our View: Baltimore County Council Money Race Should Be A Wake-up Call To Citizens

December 20, 2009

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the report by Bryan P. Sears of the Towson Times that two development attorneys - including County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s son - are making a major fundraising push to back favored Baltimore County Council candidates in potentially open races is that they're limiting their ambition to three districts. After all, the 2nd District seat might be open, too. Why not try to buy a clear majority?

The effort by Michael Paul Smith and David Gildea to raise money for candidates in the 1st, 5th and 6th councilmanic districts might be unusual in its scope and in the dollar amounts they're bringing in. But in terms of development interests seeking influence over Baltimore County government, somebody else thought of that back around the dawn of time.

Land-use decisions are the County Council's most important power - and the area in which it has the most potential to affect people's pocketbooks. The custom of allowing council members to decide land-use issues in their districts gives each one the potential to make or break a development, so it would be shocking if developers didn't play the political money game.

Is it a good thing for the county to have so much influence - or at least the appearance of it - concentrated in a few well-manicured hands? Probably not, but there's nothing illegal about it, and there's not much likelihood that crying foul will change the situation. If this incident prompted county residents to demand public financing of political campaigns to reduce the influence of money on politics, that would be wonderful, but this is Baltimore County we're talking about, so don't hold your breath.

A more realistic hope is that county residents recognize that, for the first time in 15 years, their local government is poised to experience a major shift in power. They can find candidates they agree with on development and other issues, raise money for them, volunteer for their campaigns, knock on doors and talk to their neighbors. Money is certainly important in a council race, but the districts are small enough that a grass-roots effort could work. But if ordinary residents don't get involved, the ones who write the checks will get to call the shots.

Readers respond

Your missive should read: "This is Maryland we're talking about, so don't hold your breath."

Public financing is the only way to restore integrity to out political system. That, term limits, and a complete overhaul of all elected officials' pensions.

Jay

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