It was supposed to be a pep rally, a morning of good cheer for a county whose school system has heard mostly bad news in recent years. But some of the 14,000 employees of the Prince George's County school system used the convocation last Friday at US Airways Arena for something else: to heckle and jeer.
Their target? County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D), who, if he isn't a political lightning rod just by being in the position he's in, has a long, stormy history with the county's teachers union.
First, the booing. As school officials and county and state leaders were introduced, the crowd--made up of teachers, administrators and other staff--cheered loudly. Until Curry was announced, and a chorus of boos overtook the smattering of applause.
Later, when Curry stood to speak, more boos.
The jeers almost certainly came primarily from teachers. Curry denied a school board request last spring to give the system an additional $17 million in county funds that would go toward raising teachers' salaries. School officials had warned that if they did not get the money, they would continue to have trouble attracting certified teachers to the county.
Curry said that although he supports teacher raises, he denied the request because the school system has not proved that it can spend its money wisely. Although the board cut back some programs and came up with an additional $7 million for teachers, many said that wasn't enough and suggested that Curry dip into his $122 million-plus surplus.
When Curry told the crowd that there were only two sources for money--property taxes and state funds--an audience member yelled, "How about the surplus?"
But Curry laughed off the boos, telling the crowd, "Despite the Bronx cheer, I'm glad to be here."
The Quiet Fund-Raiser
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) quietly has been collecting seed money for his next run for office, whichever that turns out to be.
In optional campaign finance reports filed this month with the State Board of Elections, Duncan reports raising about $226,000 eight months into this election cycle. Almost all of the money has come from inside Montgomery in what campaign aides say is a tacit push from supporters encouraging Duncan to seek statewide office in 2002.
Duncan has done little to discourage speculation about his future plans. The governor's seat will be open in three years, and Duncan is considering a bid for the job. Another possibility may be comptroller, a job he could have had last year by appointment after the death of Louis L. Goldstein. He chose to seek reelection instead, though some of his closest aides thought comptroller would be a better staging ground for higher office.
But Duncan is far behind his potential rivals in fund-raising for the governor's race. Baltimore County Executive C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger III (D) has about $800,000 on hand, according to his campaign finance report.
The early favorite, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D), did not file a report detailing her fund-raising so far. But experts say her name and incumbent's perch ensure that she will have more than enough money to finance a gubernatorial bid.
As a point of reference, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ellen R. Sauerbrey raised more than $6.5 million for last year's election. She lost to Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), who raised a few hundred thousand dollars less.
Howard County's 'Big Picture'
Howard County officials say they want to look more at the "big picture" when it comes to planning for the remaining undeveloped land in the county. That's a picture that is getting smaller and smaller all the time in Howard, one of the fastest-growing counties in Maryland.
In an effort to improve comprehensive planning, the county is carving out a new division within its planning and zoning department. The environmental and community planning division will focus on policy changes that can better protect natural resources and enhance older communities. It also will be charged with finding ways to revitalize commercial areas. The new division, which will be composed of about nine employees moved from other divisions, was part of a response to a recommendation from the county's General Plan Task Force, which suggested that an entire department be created to handle environmental issues.
"That creates a whole new bureaucracy," said Planning and Zoning Director Joe Rutter. "It was felt that this was an opportunity to provide that emphasis without creating all the bureaucracy."
Rutter said he hoped the new division would be up and running by early October. First, he must hire a person to lead it. Rutter said he will consider in-house and outside candidates for the job, and he's starting the search this week.
Staff writer Angela Paik contributed to this column.