No D.C. government official would breach the political code of ethics by publicly taking potshots at Baltimore. Privately, however, some D.C. officials have expressed their chagrin over the national acclaim Baltimore has received for revitalizing the Inner Harbor area and adjacent central business district.

Baltimore's initiatives have generated greater publicity but not as many economic benefits as those in D.C., detractors in the District have said privately.

Recently, however, the D.C. Department of Employment Services went public with a statistical comparison that tends to reinforce the arguments of those who question Baltimore's widely acclaimed initiatives in economic development.

In a comparison of employment growth in the two cities, the department says post-recessionary recovery has been much stronger in the District.

In its "Area Labor Summary" for January, the department reports that the District's economy gained 24,500 new jobs between 1980 and 1986. Baltimore lost 7,700 jobs in the same period, according to the department.

Both cities lost jobs because of two national recessions and cuts in federal programs and employment, the department said. But it said Baltimore lost 26,700 jobs between 1980 and 1983 while the District lost 19,500.

By 1986, however, the District not only had regained those jobs but also added 44,000. Baltimore has yet to replace all the jobs lost in the early 1980s, according to the department. About 19,000 jobs have been added to the Baltimore economy since the recovery began, it added.

Of even greater significance, the department implies in its monthly labor summary, the District's private sector added 39,700 jobs between 1980 and 1986, an increase of 12 percent. Baltimore's private sector had a net gain of only 200 new jobs during the same period, according to D.C. officials.

Score one for the District's economy.

Baltimore officials have not seen the publication by the D.C. Department of Employment Services and are reluctant to discuss it until they've had a chance to compare it with their data. But an official at the Baltimore Regional Planning Council conceded: "In terms of the general path of employment in the city, {D.C. officials} are on the mark." There has been a turnaround in employment trends in Baltimore, however, he added.

About all the comparison proves is that the District has had exceptional job growth since the last recession.

Baltimore is going through a transition, from a high concentration of manufacturing jobs to significant growth in its services industry. Like the District, it is a hotbed of office development. Financial institutions, law firms, hotels and the convention and tourism business are as much a part of Baltimore's economic fabric as Washington's. Neither the District's successes nor Baltimore's transition diminishes Baltimore's position as a leader in economic development initiatives.

Defining economic development success tends to be a subjective exercise. Baltimore's Renaissance is widely regarded, nevertheless, as an urban revitalization model.

Indeed, development professionals participating in a National League of Cities survey last fall selected Baltimore as the most innovative and most successful city for its initiatives in economic development.

Certainly more office space has been built in downtown D.C. than in Baltimore since 1982. That's reflected in the increase in private-sector jobs in the District.

But office buildings don't distinguish the District from most cities. Baltimore's revitalization of its downtown area does distinguish it from most cities, however, and that's why it has attracted so much national attention.

Revitalization of the downtown area in the District is driven by market forces -- demand and speculation. Developers, rather than the public sector, dictate the shape and character of the area. It is still an office center -- alive and bustling during the day and mostly deserted at night. It has yet to become the so-called living downtown that's envisioned by D.C. officials.

In Baltimore, the redevelopment of the Charles Center commercial district and the adjacent Inner Harbor area began as a comprehensive plan conceived some 30 years ago. The plan's implementation was made possible by private-sector initiative and aggressive public-sector intervention. They have produced a thriving commercial center and a living downtown for residents and tourists. That's why Baltimore has attracted so much attention.

A study of Baltimore's economy last year wasn't far off the mark, nonetheless, when it concluded that there was still a lot of physical "rot" in that city. That puts Baltimore and the District in the same category in terms of a serious shortcoming in economic development policy.