C.A. DUTCH Ruppersberger's name won't be on the Baltimore County ballot this fall, but some folks have made the referendum on S.B. 509 -- which would allow for condemnation in the east-side redevelopment effort -- a vote on his political future. If the measure goes down to defeat, they say, the county executive's gubernatorial ambitions go down with it.
Win or lose, the referendum on condemnation is an inexact measure of long-term political victory or defeat. Consider former County Executive Spiro T. Agnew. His career survived just fine after county voters resoundingly defeated a measure he backed calling for renewal projects in Towson and Catonsville.
Until this winter, east-side residents were generally pleased with Mr. Ruppersberger's revitalization efforts. The planning process was community-driven, and residents believed Mr. Ruppersberger was listening to them rather than to the lawyers and developers who traditionally controlled the politics of development in Essex and Middle River. Condemnation was never part of these discussions because Mr. Ruppersberger never brought it up. That was a political mistake; now he's paying the price.
Mr. Ruppersberger's plans are sound -- and that's what really matters. Opening up the waterfront to commercial development, reducing the number of apartments and increasing the number of single-family homes should stop the east-side's downward spiral. Even if the referendum fails, he might still pull off much of the redevelopment.
Mr. Ruppersberger needs to confront his critics head-on. He has to be honest with those east-siders worried about losing their homes, and he must make it clear that destruction of a neighborhood is not his goal.
By turning around this long-neglected corner of Baltimore County, Mr. Ruppersberger will not only help the community but regain any political momentum he has lost.