Paul Hartman had just moved into his house on Cedar Avenue in Towson in the summer of 1988 when the fraternity a few houses down York Road threw a Fourth of July party.
"I thought, 'Oh, that's nice, they're having fun,' " Hartman recalled. "It ended up being eight years of parties until they finally moved out."
No one would have guessed it at the time, but that summer party ultimately spurred over two decades of activism in the Towson community.
On Thursday, Dec. 20, the longtime community activist Hartman was installed as the new president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations during the group's annual holiday celebration.
The GTCCA is an umbrella organization that represents more than 30 community organizations in the Towson area. Its new board includes vice presidents Mike Ertel, of West Towson, and Jim Cosgrove, of Loch Hill; Secretary Linda Galati, of Fellowship Forest; and Treasurer Lorrie Geiss, of Greenbrier.
Hartman said he was "thrown into" community advocacy in order to help find his young daughter, whose room faced the frat house, a way to sleep while her windows were open.
"It kind of started as a personal thing, but it's a way to improve the community," said Hartman, who has long been involved with his own community association, Aigburth Manor.
Outside of the issue regarding university relations, which Hartman has seen improve with the monthly meetings of the GTCCA University Relations Committee — including representatives from Towson University, the Baltimore County Police Department and the Towson business community — Hartman said the organization has also had success recently working with developers in order to tailor new projects to the community's desires.
In both instances, the new president has found that working with partners in the community is more effective than taking an adversarial stance.
Hartman said during his term he hopes to also "include government and our other institutions in the area — the schools, the business community," he said. "If we can all work on improving Towson as a community, it's easier to do when you're working together."
Hartman has been at the forefront of Towson's latest controversy.
When residents learned suddenly of Baltimore County's plan to sell the Towson fire station property and build a new station at Towson Manor Park, GTCCA was forced to spring into action more quickly than it normally would. Typically, the association waits until its monthly meeting to take a position on issues and formulate its plan of action. But given that state Sen. Jim Brochin said the firehouse/park plan was presented as a "done deal," the GTCCA had to formulate a plan quickly.
"The immediate concern was the loss of the green space," Hartman said. "We still haven't discussed the general idea of selling the fire station land and selling the fire station (but) the no-brainer was that the park ... should remain a park. As you can see from the rallies and the pressure the community has been putting on the administration, (the community wants) to see it remain."
The county has responded to the community's concerns and began to evaluate other potential sites, though Towson Manor Park has not been removed from consideration.
The issue erupted before Hartman was elected Thursday, but since the issue will likely to extend long into his term, Hartman's predecessor David Kosak urged Hartman to take the lead on it now.
The parkland issue has helped County Councilman David Marks, who represents the 5th District, which includes Towson, develop a strong working relationship with Hartman.
Marks said he's spoken with Hartman "once or twice every day" on the issue, conversations he said have been frank and remained confidential.
"Paul is an outstanding community leader," Marks said. "I think he's going to do a wonderful job as president of the GTCCA."
Hartman demonstrated his leadership within GTCCA earlier this year when he redesigned the association's website. Hartman works as a freelance Web designer, and GTCCA had long debated hiring a designer or enlisting an intern for the task.
"We'd been talking about it forever," he said. "It was finally like, 'I'm just going to do it.' "
Hartman also hosts a two-hour radio show every Sunday evening on WTMD. The show is something of an extension of Dirty Linen, the folk and world magazine he and his wife, Susan, started. The publication grew out of their basement into a company that brought in nearly $500,000 in revenue at its peak. Hartman said the magazine merged with a larger company in 2007, a decision which led to he and wife losing control of the magazine before its demise.
Hartman's GTCCA predecessor, Kosak, said that when GTCCA convinced Hartman to be its vice president two years ago, Hartman joked that he wouldn't be the man to assume the reins when Kosak's term ended.
Kosak, who earlier this year signed on as the deputy director of finance for Howard County Executive Ken Ulman's gubernatorial campaign, said Hartman's quiet, studied style of leadership differs from his own, which he described as more vocal.
"Paul is tremendous," Kosak said. "He's been my right-hand person the entire time. He knows the community in and out."