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Baltimore County's Ugly Spat


Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden won election in 1990 partly by campaigning against the imperial demeanor and spendthrift ways of the Democratic incumbent. The county's anti-tax protesters made Mr. Hayden their standard-bearer as they helped him unseat Dennis Rasmussen -- "Taxmussen," as they called him.

In the 19 months since, Mr. Hayden has gone from darling of the anti-taxers to sworn enemy. When the executive's economic development director was found earlier this year to have hosted Falstaffian business meals, the protesters pitched a fit. Later, when Mr. Hayden did the responsible thing in raising the local income tax to help offset a state aid shortfall, anti-taxers went ballistic and redubbed their former hero "Roger Rasmussen."

Now the protesters and their newsletter, The Challenger, have made it their business to publicize any impropriety they find in Hayden's administration. One incident involves Saverio A. Cortese, the highways chief in the county's Department of Public Works -- a Rasmussen-era appointee.

It seems Mr. Cortese ordered a work crew from the highways bureau to install a curb outside his Parkton home. Mr. Cortese claimed there was nothing illegal about the job. Protesters countered that it was an abuse of power by a county official who used his position for personal benefit.

A small-potatoes issue perhaps, but Mr. Hayden realized it was politically a hot potato. He agreed with his highways chief that there was nothing shady about the curb work. Nonetheless, the executive announced that any future construction that touches on the personal property of a public works official will have to be cleared by an outside party, to avoid the hint of improper activity.

The anti-taxers aren't satisfied. They want Mr. Cortese's head. So continues the ugly public spat between the protesters and the man they believe jilted them.

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