Elections Sharpen Region's Profile
Sunday, November 19, 2006
As Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley prepares to assume the governorship, some politicians in Southern Maryland are hopeful that the new Democratic administration may be more receptive to the needs of the tri-county region, particularly on transportation initiatives.
Buoyed by Democrats' strong performances in Southern Maryland -- particularly in its most populous county, Charles, which O'Malley won -- local leaders believe the new governor may be more inclined to deliver for the region than his Republican predecessor.
O'Malley "was absolutely very impressed with his margin in Charles County. It's higher than we expected it to be," said state Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles).
Charles, which has emerged as a more Democratic jurisdiction, will become more important in Democrat-controlled Annapolis, Middleton said.
"A lot of people in Annapolis couldn't get over that every Democrat on the ballot got elected," Middleton said. "The fact that Charles County now is on the radar screen for any statewide candidate . . . I would expect that it can mean nothing but good things for Charles County."
Southern Marylanders also are celebrating Rep. Steny H. Hoyer's rise last week to majority leader in the U.S. House. Many local leaders said they believe that the longtime Democratic congressman, who lives in Mechanicsville and whose district includes all of Southern Maryland, will be in a better position to funnel more federal resources to the region.
"I think it puts Southern Maryland in an absolutely wonderful position," said state Del. Sally Y. Jameson (D-Charles). "We all understand how those things work, and Steny will certainly be in the front of the line when it comes to trying to do things for Maryland and for Southern Maryland."
Southern Maryland remains the state's fastest-growing region and its leaders have long sought state and federal funding for infrastructure projects. Although Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) delivered the Hughesville bypass, some local leaders have felt thought that Ehrlich overlooked the region's other transportation needs in favor of higher-profile projects such as the intercounty connector linking Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
The most pressing transportation project for Charles's elected officials is a bypass to U.S. 301 in Waldorf. This project also would benefit residents in neighboring Calvert and St. Mary's counties, many of whom commute through Charles to work.
Several Southern Maryland lawmakers said they believe O'Malley will be more likely to set a higher priority for this project, which has been on the table for more than a decade.
"I think that you're going to find that that project will surface to the top," Middleton said. "I'm hopeful that that will be done in the next 18 months or so."
O'Malley and Lt. Gov.-elect Anthony G. Brown are spending the next few weeks putting together their administration and plan to announce Cabinet appointments soon. O'Malley has said he will reach out to all regions, and some Southern Maryland politicians are hopeful he will appoint people from the region.
Del. John L. Bohanan Jr. (D-St. Mary's) said he has spoken with Brown, who is heading O'Malley's transition committee, about including Southern Marylanders in the Cabinet.
"We're going to be talking to them about some good people that we might want to see afforded that opportunity," Bohanan said. "Without getting into any specific names and specific examples, just generally I think that there are some people in the Southern Maryland region who could definitely serve them and benefit them in their administration."
Local lawmakers also are hopeful that changes in the General Assembly could help Southern Maryland. Bohanan, for example, is being discussed as a possible successor to Brown, who has been majority whip in the House of Delegates.
Bohanan said the whip will be appointed by House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and that no decision has been made.
"I've had conversations with the speaker . . . but my focus has been on my role on the Appropriations Committee," Bohanan said. "That's where I am right now, and I'll leave it at that."
Southern Marylanders could benefit from local lawmakers rising in the leadership in Annapolis. Middleton recalled something that Louis L. Goldstein, the late Southern Maryland politician and longtime state comptroller, told him when he assumed his first committee chairmanship in the state Senate.
"Louie Goldstein told me, 'You don't have to take the crumbs off the table anymore because you hold the knife that cuts the bread,' " Middleton said. "Any type of leadership helps. Leadership means to carry the agenda for the body, and there are perks that go with that."