New county executives took office yesterday in Montgomery and Howard counties warning of worsening financial times, while Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening began an unprecedented third term already feeling the effects.
The inauguration of county executives in the Maryland suburbs comes against a backdrop of fiscal uncertainty that threatens the money and people that fuel local government and its services.
Montgomery Executive Neal Potter and Howard Executive Charles I. Ecker, who won uphill victories in a time of voter discontent with politics as usual, delivered solemn speeches that dwelled on the challenges of the months ahead.
"There are no quick fixes, no Band-Aid solutions," said Ecker, 61, a retired school administrator and the first Howard executive elected as a Republican. Ecker broke with tradition by moving last night's ceremonies from the county government complex to Howard High School's 1,300-seat auditorium.
Potter, a 20-year member of the County Council, told more than 1,100 people in Rockville's Richard Montgomery High School that "I come to this job of county executive with a tremendous sense of humility, a sense of my limitations and of those of the office itself."
The audience, which stood and cheered as the 75-year-old Democrat became Montgomery's fourth executive, included D.C. Mayor-Elect Sharon Pratt Dixon, who said she wanted her presence to signal a new era of cooperation with her city's neighboring jurisdictions. "Everybody is ready to work together," Dixon told reporters, saying she also planned to attend last night's inaugural gala for Glendening. Dixon said deepening economic woes make it more important than ever for Washington area communities to try to solve problems of homelessness, transportation, drugs and crime.
Glendening, a Democrat who survived the fervor of anti-incumbent sentiment that cost Sidney Kramer his reelection bid in Montgomery and Elizabeth Bobo hers in Howard, made no mention in his speech of the problems facing his county.
Glendening, soon after his overwhelming reelection, became the first area county executive to meet increasing deficits by shrinking the public payroll, laying off 190 workers and freezing 649 vacancies to help alleviate a $49.9 million shortfall in tax revenue.
The county also is faced with finding a new school superintendent after a racially divisive controversy over the contract renewal of Superintendent John A. Murphy. Allegations of favoritism in the county's land dealings also continue to be an issue, and yesterday two activists picketed in the rain outside the county office building. "We demand affordable politicians," said one sign.
Glendening, however, struck an optimistic note. "I like what I see," said Glendening, a 48-year-old Democrat who is seen by many as positioning himself to run for governor in four years. He pointed to "a renewed and vigorous county, a proud community, a diverse but united people," and said the shared "vision of a better Prince George's County is being realized."
The swearing-in was held against the backdrop of a large American flag. Glendening was sworn in with the nine council members, including two additions: James C. Fletcher Jr. of Glenarden and Stephen J. Del Giudice of Takoma Park.
There was a hometown flavor at the ceremonies for Potter and Ecker.
At Ecker's inauguration, high school students were ushers and entertainment was by a high school band. A children's chorus from Chevy Chase Elementary School was on the decorated stage at Potter's inauguration.
Also yesterday, a new nine-member Montgomery County Council was inaugurated. The council includes five newcomers -- Democrats Derick Berlage, Gail Ewing and Marilyn Praisner, and the first Republican members in 20 years, Nancy Dacek and Betty Ann Krahnke.
In Howard, a five-member County Council, which included one newcomer, District 2 Republican Darrel Drown, was installed. At a council meeting after the ceremonies, members selected council member C. Vernon Gray (D-District 3) as chairman, a largely ceremonial post.
Staff writers Dan Beyers and Eugene L. Meyer contributed to this report.