A political novice when elected four years ago by voters in a throw-out-the-bums mood, Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden has been largely what he promised to be in the 1990 campaign: a manager who would run the cash-strapped county as though it were an ailing corporation.
To his credit, the Baldwin Republican balanced budgets amid huge reductions in state aid, even resorting to the first layoffs and government downsizing in county history. The Hayden administration can also take pride in its sensitivity to the north county preservation areas and its pledge to revitalize Baltimore County's aging urban pockets.
Still, we feel the job of running Maryland's fourth-largest jurisdiction requires more than the dike-plugger Mr. Hayden has been, particularly when the county is undergoing profound changes. The post today calls for a political leader with good people skills -- a characterization that does not fit the incumbent, a self-described anti-pol.
It does, however, apply to Mr. Hayden's opponent, Democrat Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, a councilman from Cockeysville since 1985. During each of his two council terms, Mr. Ruppersberger has served as chairman, displaying skills as a leader and facilitator. He knows the ins and outs of county agencies and has prepared assertive approaches to public safety, economic development, education and revitalizing neighborhoods.
Mr. Hayden says reviving older communities also would be a major thrust in his next term. A Ruppersberger administration would push a similar program, though, most likely with the same planning official who has worked with Mr. Hayden and the Democratic executive before him.
While some observers say the two contestants are more alike than not, we think the deciding difference is that Mr. Ruppersberger has the greater willingness to do the networking that can make the county an aggressive player again -- in economic development, at the State House and on regional panels. Regionalism, so vital to the success of this entire metropolitan area, is now dead in the water -- in part because of Mr. Hayden's reluctance to work with neighboring jurisdictions on solid waste disposal and other issues.
As to concerns that Mr. Ruppersberger would shift county government in the wrong direction, his election twice as a Democrat in the county's most conservative council district is instructive. His friendship with prominent county Republicans, including gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey and congressional candidate Robert Ehrlich, and his coolness toward Democratic standard-bearer Parris Glendening distance him from the liberal wing of his party.
In making our recommendation, we found the wide difference in people skills to be decisive in The Sun's endorsement of Dutch Ruppersberger as the next Baltimore County executive.