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Flair for consensus distinguishes Md.'s new economic chief 'KEEP WORKING, KEEP TALKING'

On one block of Gun Hill Road in New York's Bronx borough, the street signs outside the East Chester Public Library say "Betty Brady Way," named for a daughter of Irish immigrants who fought to get the library built and earned a name as a community activist.

Until cancer ended her life in her 70s, Beatrice Brady was carrying picket signs and pestering mayors to oppose parking structures and demolition projects that she saw as threats to her neighborhood.

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Last week, Gov. Parris N. Glendening chose Betty Brady's boy Jim to run one of the cornerstones of his month-old administration, a stripped-down and souped-up Department of Economic and Business Development.

Ask anyone who knows James Thomas Brady, and the first thing that becomes clear is that Betty Brady's need to fix up the world -- and her instinct for the limelight -- live on in her son.

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"This is a man who feels a very profound obligation to serve, who lives to see how much he can accomplish in civic activities, who never gives up, who takes things one step at a time and always is full of good spirits no matter how steep the challenge," said Freeman Hrabowski, chancellor of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, whose business advisory board Mr. Brady heads.

Mr. Brady says the sense of obligation comes from his mother.

"A lot of my interest in public issues comes from my mother, and I also learned from her that if you keep working and keep talking and keep making contacts, you can get a lot of things done that nobody believed would be possible," he says.

Mr. Brady's role in public issues began to expand on the golf course at Hillendale Country Club one summer day in 1992.

Edwin Crawford, an investment banker and longtime Glendening confidant, urged Mr. Brady to invite Mr. Glendening to a meeting of the Greater Baltimore Committee's Public Policy Council, of which Mr. Brady was chairman.

"Parris was the outsider, and the other candidates [getting ready to run for governor] were all Baltimore-area 500-pound gorillas, and we needed someone who could help Parris make at least some inroads into the city, where the business community is mostly Republican," Mr. Crawford recalled.

For Mr. Glendening, Jim Brady was a dream contact. He was a self-described "Tsongas Democrat" who had been a member of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's first-term transition team in 1987, but also a member of dozens of local boards and a man whose job and civic activities had built a network of contacts throughout the city's power structure since he arrived here in 1985.

Even with some of Baltimore's most conservative Republicans, Mr. Brady helped Mr. Glendening make headway.

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"Glendening was extremely lucky to find his way to Jim Brady, because here is a man who has served businesses for decades and knows what businesses and the business climate need," said H. Furlong Baldwin, chairman of Mercantile Bankshares Corp. and a Republican long critical of Maryland as an anti-business state.

"A few days after the meeting at the GBC, Parris came to my office," and from their first talk they saw the same problems in the state's business climate and agreed on many solutions, Mr. Brady said.

They talked about things they are now preparing to do -- stripping the labor and statistical bureaucracies out of the Department of Economic and Employment Development, bringing business executives to the center of policy making, creating a strategy.

"I thought he seemed to get it," Mr. Brady said.

Soon he invited "about 20 of my cronies" to talk economic development with the then-Prince George's County executive at the downtown offices of Arthur Andersen & Co., where Mr. Brady is the national accounting firm's Baltimore managing partner.

After that, the candidate and the accountant met periodically, sometimes to discuss development issues and sometimes when Brady invited Mr. Glendening to "various events here in Baltimore, to sit at our table and meet people we knew."

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Mr. Brady also collected "perhaps $15,000" in contributions to the Glendening campaign.

For Mr. Brady, who expects to move from the Bank of Baltimore Building to a state office somewhere downtown by April, the switch from the private sector to the public sector comes at age 54, which is turning out to be a time of many big transitions in his life.

One will be away from a sylvan dream home he and his wife, Frances, built on a 7.5-acre site in Cockeysville, overlooking the Loch Raven Reservoir watershed.

After a lifetime in the New York area, where "if you owned a quarter-acre, you were a land baron," they went for a five-bedroom contemporary -- "lots of glass to catch the views, a deck bigger than my first apartment and a kitchen smack in the exact center of the place, because it's always been the center of our lives, the place where we relax together," Mr. Brady said.

Next month, they will leave that behind for a three-bedroom house on a city lot in Baltimore's Guilford.

"Living out there was like taking a pill -- we don't need that any more.

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"Our lives are in the city, and we want a smaller house with less land, and want to live in a neighborhood, the way we did before," he said.

Another mid-life change will be a hefty pay cut when he changes jobs.

The precise state salary is not yet set, but it is expected to be "around $120,000" -- about one-fourth of his income as a managing partner at Arthur Andersen, he said.

"This is a tremendous coup for Glendening and outstanding news for the state, because it's very rare to get an executive of Jim Brady's quality to take that kind of salary hit and accept all the public scrutiny that goes with working in the public sector," said Mayo Shattuck, president and chief operating officer of Alex. Brown and Sons Inc., the Baltimore-based investment house.

What makes a senior business executive walk out of a highly paid 32-year business career and into the daunting job of heading Maryland's drive to rewrite a reputation as an anti-business state and kick-start an economy that is growing far more slowly than the rest of the country?

"Whenever our kids were thinking about what kind of work to do, we always told them they should never end up wishing they had tried something," Frances Brady said.

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Following that advice, son Jim became a sportswriter at the Washington Post, and daughter Linda is working on her second compact disc as a rock singer. Mrs. Brady is a painter with a studio in a former factory building in Hampden.

"Now it was Jim's turn to face that kind of decision, and I reminded him of what we've always told the kids. This job is perfect -- for his talents and for his inner self -- and I told him he'd be crazy if he didn't take it," Mrs. Brady said.

Jim Brady's talents begin with an ability to bring people together, even people who start out working against each other or disliking each other, his associates on boards and committees say.

"Before every meeting, he spends literally hours with the staff getting to know the issues, and getting in touch with other board members to get their views," UMBC's Mr. Hrabowski said.

At the meeting, he first lays out what he knows, then spends time listening to the other members.

"Then you see him start to sum up the situation, and then he starts drawing out ideas and building a consensus," Mr. Hrabowski said.

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"You can't hand decisions down," said Mr. Brady, "you have to get a consensus to emerge, make everybody leave the room ready to implement a decision that he feels he was part of."

Sometimes joking, sometimes cajoling, he "never uses pressure, never takes himself seriously, and never lets anyone give up on the goal," Mr. Hrabowski said.

Not taking himself seriously is almost a lifestyle.

On the wall of his office is a framed newspaper page from 1991, showing TV weatherman Norm Lewis in top hat and tails next to a guy wearing a red-and-white rugby shirt, blue pants with white polka-dots, a Goldilocks wig, a gigantic red plastic nose and a clown hat.

The one in the clown suit is Mr. Brady, kicking off the 1991 United Way campaign, of which he was chairman.

Opposite the clown picture, a red metal stand holds up a plastic basketball backboard with a half-sized foam ball partway through the net. It is a reference to one of his lifelong passions, as a fan of the New York Knicks basketball team.

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"When I moved us to this office, the other partners set up that basket. The same day, delivery men arrived from the shop where was bought, and started setting up a second one, and I asked if they'd made a mistake," he said.

The second one was from his wife.

When his partners and his wife sent the same office-warming gift, "I concluded that I must not be a very complex person," he said.

Mrs. Brady, who paints in a modernist style, has helped him expand his leisure-time horizons beyond life as a self-confessed sports nut.

"Before we were married, I thought a work of art meant the Knicks in a smooth, fast break," he said.

Today, he frets about the future of the arts much as he worries about the Maryland business climate.

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A member of the boards of the Walters Art Gallery, Center Stage and Maryland Public Broadcasting, he shudders at what he thinks the new Republican majority in Congress has in mind for the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and public broadcasting.

"The arts are where we turn to explore our souls, and if we make it national policy that the arts have to support themselves the same as a commercial show like 'Murphy Brown,' that is some really scary stuff," he said.

A performing artist, the late folk singer Harry Chapin, was almost as great an influence on his life as his mother, Mr. Brady says.

They met as members of a local professional theater's board in Long Island, and the singer soon was showing the businessman how to raise money and make things happen.

At one point, Mr. Brady suggested that they ask for help from a local business figure, "because he doesn't seem too busy these days."

"Harry looked at me and said, 'You really don't get it, do you. If you want to get results, you go to somebody really busy, because if somebody is not busy there's probably a reason.'

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"Harry always stopped us at some point and reminded us that what we had to do was figure out how we could make a difference, and ever since then I've made it a point to stop and ask that question in every civic activity I get into," he said.

Local civic activities are only one dimension of a fascination with public issues that Mr. Brady says makes him "a compulsive politics junkie."

After decades in private business, his political orientation is still centrist Democrat. These days, that orientation makes him worry about overreaction from the right as much as he does about social programs that he thinks have gone too far.

"Until someone creates a society where the have-nots are equal to the haves, there will always be a role for government," he said.

Politics and social issues, especially Maryland economic development questions, go everywhere Jim Brady goes, his associates say.

"We've done amazing things on the golf course -- built a high-speed train from Baltimore to Washington, completely rebuilt the airport, moved any number of federal agencies to Baltimore -- everything but play golf as well as we'd like to," said George Stamas, general counsel of the Orioles baseball club.

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Mr. Brady says he shoots "about 90" for a round of 18 holes at Hillendale, where he is a member.

"He has real athletic ability, and I think golf frustrates him because he can't get time to work on it, but he's a gracious loser," said Chuck Dunlap, president and chief operating officer of Crown Central Petroleum Corp.

Athletic ability has been a source of some emotional tugs in his life.

A varsity pitcher at All Hallows High School in the Bronx, he caught the eye of a scout for the Giants baseball team and was invited to a tryout.

But the Irish Christian Brothers, who ran the school, had "pushed me to be everything I could academically, at a time when I didn't especially want to," and by the time he graduated he had a chance to be the first person from either side of his family ever to go to college.

As the oldest, and the only boy, in a family of five children, he "didn't see how I could do anything but go to college," he said.

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The next spring, he went out for the freshman team but hurt his arm throwing "too hard when the weather was still too cold." He never played varsity baseball in college.

"He's a complete sports nut," said son Jim, who went to every New York Jets football game with his dad from 1975 to 1985.

"His fanaticism for sports is probably why I feel that being a sportswriter, sometimes putting in hours and hours you know you won't be paid for, is a way to make a living without really working," he said.

At Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, also an Irish Christian Brothers school, Mr. Brady "thought for a while about doing something bizarre like becoming a journalist." He thought better of it when a friend of his father cautioned that, "you have to be awfully lucky to succeed" as a reporter."

So he turned to his only other strong interest, business, which may have been whetted by his father, James Joseph Brady, who started with Chemical Bank in 1925 as a messenger and retired 47 years later as vice president in charge of all the bank's midtown branches.

Another friend of his father told him the best business tool he could acquire in college would be accounting, and that became his major.

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"I thought of accounting as something to use in a business career, and I surely had no notion that 32 years later I'd be here talking with you about my life as an accountant," Mr. Brady said.

His business career has made him "the kind of person who is at full speed the minute my feet hit the floor in the morning," he said.

"I get up at 6, Wheaties and skim milk and a banana, and within 45 minutes I'm out of the house and at the office soon after 7 a.m.," he said. His pace makes life hectic for Joyce Sobus, his executive assistant, who leaves him behind at the office after 5 p.m. and finds him already an hour into his day when she arrives the next morning.

He eases the pace on weekends.

"We've fallen into a routine where Saturday is reserved to go out to lunch with Fran, a time to just talk and relax together," he said.

"We also play golf on an occasional Sunday -- she never keeps score and may skip a hole completely, or skip driving from some of the tees, or just putt some of the holes, but it's a great way for us to be outdoors together on a nice day," he said.

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On weeknights, he relaxes with a televised game or a book.

His book right now is "Compelling Evidence," a novel by Steve Martini, but "there's no predictability about what I read.

As he prepares to take over the state's economic development efforts, Mr. Brady already knows what he wants from this phase of his life.

"If, two or three years from now, just one person would come up to me and say, 'I never believed you could accomplish much in this system, but you've done more than I ever would have expected,' that would be all I could ask for," Mr. Brady said.


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