Jim Lighthizer has called it the "best job in American politics," but it wouldn't be hard to find politicians who disagree. Dennis Rasmussen for one. And probably Liz Bobo. Lighthizer relinquishes the title of county executive today unscathed by the wave of anti-incumbency fervor that washed over Howard and Baltimore Counties and ended the tenures of Rasmussen and Bobo. So too Habern Freeman, who had served out his two-term limit. Had Freeman and Lighthizer been allowed to run for another term, there is every reason to believe that they would also have struggled with a frustrated electorate.
So now the torch is passed. Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden will probably have to hear himself referred to by that title for a while before he intuitively responds to it; so too Executive Ecker. Both were considered long-shots throughout the campaign and, partly as a result, neither candidate's agenda was clear. Not that it mattered; the voters, lumbering under the cynicism wrought by the federal and state deficits, the S&L; scandal and increased demands on local government, registered their disgust with the status quo. If Ecker and Hayden have a mandate, it is simply this: Don't do more of the same. By that voters mean spending, uncontrolled growth, taxing. It is a message, we trust, that was also clearly heard by Arundel County Executive Bob Neall and Harford County Executive Eileen Rehrmann, who now know full well that not responding to these sentiments spells a one-term tenure.
The dilemma, of course, is that the job the new executives have been sent to do may, in fact, not be doable. Particularly with the economy in a slump and the state's population (read: new services) projected to increase. Ecker has already admitted that as a result of a $17 million estimated deficit he may have to raise property taxes, and Hayden faces similar challenges as a result of a 4 percent assessment cap which is, ironically, the legacy of the Rasmussen administration.
As a new political era begins today in metropolitan Baltimore, the new leaders face a daunting challenge: a discerning electorate that wants high-quality services and lower taxes -- concepts that in the past have been incompatible.
"The best job in American politics?"
Don't bet on it.