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The Suburbs' Stake


You live, work and shop in the suburbs. Outside of an occasional trip to the Inner Harbor or a ballgame, if Baltimore City goes down the drain, it would make no difference in your life. Wanna bet?

Ask C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the Baltimore County executive, whose recent plea to bond-rating houses to improve the grades on county bonds fell on deaf ears; in part, they told him, because Baltimore's problems spill over into the county.

Ask John Gary, the Anne Arundel County executive, who hopes the city's "empowerment zone" plans for the Fairfield industrial area heightens job prospects for northern Anne Arundel countians as well as Baltimoreans.

Ask Chuck Ecker, the Howard County executive, whose garbage disposal dilemma might have been remedied had area leaders agreed on a plan to expand the Pulaski incinerator in East Baltimore.

Ask Eileen Rehrmann, the Harford County executive, whose ability to attract out-of-state businesses has been due partly to the Baltimore-based cultural attractions that are enticements to corporate executives looking to re-locate.

The 1.5 million residents of the counties around Baltimore cannot vote in this fall's city election, but they hold a stake in it. The city's ability to retain residents, fight crime and educate children bears on the growth of population and crime in the suburbs, and on the dispersal of state aid. Marylanders take pride in the symbols of Baltimore: the Orioles, the Inner Harbor, Johns Hopkins, even the kitsch celebrated in film by John Waters and Barry Levinson. As Baltimore gets eaten away, so does the identity of Marylanders.

David Rusk, a former mayor of Albuquerque, N.M., who has studied American cities and is writing a book on Baltimore, puts Charm City on his list of 24 cities "beyond the point of no return," due to their hemorrhaging of population and their racial and economic disparity with the suburbs. Baltimore's slide isn't as great as in Detroit, Cleveland and some others, but that should be of little solace.

On a positive note, area leaders seem more cognizant that they must work together because the American marketplace is a competition between regional economies, not local ones. Baltimore and the counties have joined in efforts to lure new business, to battle crime and to save money through bulk purchasing. Further cooperation is badly needed in the areas of solid waste disposal and funding cultural attractions. Baltimore County's new executive, Mr. Ruppersberger, seems acutely aware of the city-suburban link, which is fortunate because he will preside over the Maryland Association of Counties next year. He recognizes what all of us must -- that suburban residents hold a financial and psychological stake in the quality of leadership city voters are about to install.

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