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News Opinion Editorial

Baltimore's fading clout [Editorial]

Twelve years ago, when the General Assembly was debating the enactment of the Thornton school funding formula that has done so much to support the advances of Baltimore's schools in recent years, the city's delegation in Annapolis included 10 senators and 29 delegates. Among them were the chairs of the budget committees in both the House and the Senate, plus a number of other committee chairs and top leaders in both chambers.

During the next General Assembly term, the legislature is due to revisit the Thornton formula, but thanks to population losses and the sharp curtailment at court order of districts that cross the city-county line, Baltimore's delegation will have six senators (only five of whom will live in the city) and 16 delegates. Moreover, thanks to the results of Tuesday's primary, Baltimore city and county will fail to hold any of the four state-wide elected offices — governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller and attorney general — for the first time since Francis C. Burch became the state's top lawyer in 1966.

Baltimore-area voters seem not to be overly concerned about the general shift in Maryland's political center of gravity toward the Washington suburbs. To wit, Brian Frosh of Montgomery County handily beat Jon Cardin of Baltimore County in the attorney general primary in both the city and the county. In fact, much of the political establishment here backed Mr. Frosh with endorsements; in some cases, incumbent senators and delegates in competitive races even transferred some of their own campaign funds to him.

To some extent, this lack of parochialism is reasonable. The Baltimore and Washington regions are perennially becoming more intertwined culturally and economically, and so long as Baltimore City retains its important role in Democratic primaries and Baltimore County remains critical in general elections, gubernatorial candidates are going to pay attention to the area. Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, this year's Democratic nominee, has focused on the need to foster economic development in Baltimore, as has Republican nominee Larry Hogan. In contrast to some previous Republican gubernatorial candidates who have taken to Baltimore City bashing, Mr. Hogan is actually quite complimentary of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's efforts on tax cuts and pension reform.

Nonetheless, there is no substitute for having a seat at the table in the highest echelons of state leadership, nor of having a block of votes that command attention. Both of those factors were crucial in the most important success for Baltimore during the last four years: its new funding scheme to provide $1.1 billion for a blitz of school construction and renovation. Gov. Martin O'Malley's support for the plan was necessary, but so was the ability of the city's House delegation to provide enough votes to make or break an increase in the gas tax to fund new road and transit spending. There was an explicit quid pro quo between the transportation bill Montgomery County wanted and the school construction bill Baltimore wanted. The 16 delegates Baltimore will have next year are significant but two fewer than the city has now.

For that reason, it's important that Baltimore voters retained what members of the legislative leadership they have now. All three of Baltimore's committee chairs — Sen. Joan Carter Conway and Dels. Pete Hammen and Maggie McIntosh — faced challengers but were re-nominated, which in the city means re-elected, for all intents and purposes. So were Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, the senate president pro tem, and Sen. Lisa Gladden and Del. Talmadge Branch, the majority whips in the two chambers. It also doesn't hurt that Mayor Rawlings-Blake was an early endorser of Mr. Brown (something that cannot be said of the executives of Montgomery and Prince George's counties). She was conspicuously visible on the stage behind Mr. Brown as he gave his victory speech Tuesday night.

Still, there's more Baltimore can do to maximize its influence. Despite the mayor's deep connections in Annapolis — her father was one of those committee chairmen back in 2002 — she has not always succeeded in getting the city delegation to rally behind her priorities. She needs to work on that relationship. Likewise, Baltimore city and county both benefited from the kind of unity they exhibited during the days of extensive cross-border districts, but Ms. Rawlings-Blake and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz have exhibited little tendency toward collaboration with each other. House Speaker Michael E. Busch has given them an opening by establishing a task force on regionalism. They need to embrace it. The shift of power to the Washington suburbs may not spell doom for the Baltimore region, but it never hurts to have a little more clout.

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Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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