Leaders in the Washington area have adopted "regionalism" as a mantra for solving myriad transportation and environmental problems and finding a permanent funding source for Metro.
But put thousands of local defense jobs on the table, as the federal base-closing commission did last week, and watch leaders from Maryland, Virginia and the District turn provincial and as vicious as cats vying for the same ball of string.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) was "very, very disappointed" with the decision to move Walter Reed Army Medical Center just 5.94 miles away to Maryland. Virginia successfully lobbied to keep some Defense Department researchers from moving to new digs 10 miles away in Bethesda. Meanwhile, members of the self-styled "Team Maryland" congratulated themselves for picking up thousands of jobs beggared from their neighbors.
In most places in the country, these moves would be considered to be just across town, but local officials fought just as strongly as if the jobs were moving to Wyoming. If last week showed the strength of local politics, it also exposed the limits of regional ties. Now the challenge is whether area officials can dust off from the tough fight and work together to solve area-wide challenges -- not the least of which are traffic problems that will be caused by the shift of jobs to the outer suburbs.
It might not be so easy. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), whose district will lose as many as 20,000 jobs, said he has detected a little bragging on the part of Maryland officials.
"Maryland made out like bandits; Virginia got kicked," he said, "It seems a bit immature for Maryland to be gloating, because over the short run it may make you feel good, but we're all involved in an interdependent metropolitan area where employees live in one state and work in another."
Aris Melissaratos, Maryland's secretary of business and economic development, said that with a gain of 8,000 to 10,000 jobs, state officials have a right to be proud. He said most of the positions are coming from Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, which will be closed, so Moran should have no issue with the state's lobbying campaign.
"Some decisions went Virginia's way; some went our way," Melissaratos said. "He can't deny me the right to brag."
Still, Melissaratos added, "the real challenge tomorrow is how we can accommodate the influx of new jobs, build appropriate transportation, housing and education, and cut down on the traffic nightmares. And I think all of it has to be collaborative."
The recommendations approved by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission now go to President Bush, who can accept the list in its entirety or send it back once for revisions before sending it to Congress, which must vote on the list as a whole. If approved, the closings and job shifts would occur over the next decade.
For years, such organizations as the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments have worked to foster regional cooperation by changing the way local leaders see issues that affect all three jurisdictions, including protecting the Chesapeake Bay.
Jay Fisette (D), vice chairman of the Council of Governments and chairman of the Arlington County Board, said the Pentagon's base-closing plan has set regional planning back a decade and hurt cooperation.
"Before the [base-closing] decision, I didn't feel much parochial competitiveness," he said, citing cooperation after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and on homeland security. But when local jobs are at stake, "leaders fall back to base instincts, which is protecting short-term jobs."
But even then, Washington area leaders came together to fight the Pentagon plan to move 20,000 transit-friendly jobs in Arlington and Alexandria to Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, which is beyond the Capital Beltway and reachable primarily by car.
"I didn't see Fairfax jumping up and saying, 'Yes, yes, send them to Belvoir!' " Fisette said. "It could have broken down a whole lot more than it did."
D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) said the District's attempt to save Walter Reed Army Medical Center did not reflect provincialism as much as the concern that another large facility was being moved from the region's core. Much of the staff at the Northwest Washington hospital would be moved to the campus of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.
"I don't think it makes sense to close the venerable institution and put it in far-out Bethesda,'' said Mendelson, chairman of the National Capital Transportation Planning Board. "But that is not as egregious as moving offices from Arlington to Belvoir."
After all, the Navy hospital in Bethesda has its own stop on Metro's Red Line. But Maryland could pick up 5,000 more jobs at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County, a base miles from any Metro stop.
Officials at Fort Meade and Fort Belvoir have said they want to explore extending rail service to the bases -- efforts that would undoubtedly take regional cooperation.
Mendelson said that if there is one thing that can unite officials, it is the realization that the Pentagon's moves will create more traffic headaches in a region that is already the third most-congested in the country.
"In every case," he said, "the Pentagon disregarded notions of urban planning that have evolved over decades."