In AA Government, Small Steps Toward Big Things

Last week's extraordinary election proved that you never know what will happen in politics. Who would have predicted the Democrats' Election Day blowout across the country given the consuming scandal in Washington? Who could have forecast that Newt Gingrich would be history?

And who would have thought that Gov. Parris Glendening would trounce Ellen Sauerbrey after his bumpy first term and his disputes with African American leaders?

But nothing was as surprising as Janet Owens' merciless dismantling of County Executive John Gary, whom she outpolled in all but a handful of Anne Arundel County precincts.

In politics, seldom is anybody as bad as you think they are or as good as you hope they will be. Gary was a smart, competent administrator in many ways who ultimately was done in by his flaws as a politician. And boy was he done in.

Meanwhile, many people are looking to Owens as a quick-fix to what ails the county; a fraying school system and unwise growth in many areas. Our suggestion is to temper expectations, at least right away, or risk being disappointed.

Owens strikes us as a decent and bright woman who seems unlikely to fall victim to the thirst for power that doomed Gary. But she has a lot to learn.

In candidate debates and newspaper interviews, Owens talked generally about traffic jams and bad development. But she didn't exactly demonstrate a compelling vision when it comes to broader growth issues or programs to highlight and preserve the Chesapeake Bay.

That's no criticism; she hasn't been engaged in recent years when these matters have become important quality-of-life issues that drive elections.

Owens is appointing cadres of experts to advise her in different areas. That's fine; we want her to get up to speed. And one key area in which she can be ready to proceed swiftly after taking office next month is filling out the small-area planning committees that will chart growth for Anne Arundel in the next century.

Ready to be constituted are the committees for South County, Deale-Shady Side and Odenton. Following on their heels will be BWI-Linthicum, Severn and Jessup-Maryland City.

During the highly charged debate last year over the General Development Plan, Gary insisted that the county executive make these important appointments. He thought the appointments would be his, of course, and that he would retain a measure of control over the outcome.

But thanks to an unpredictable election, the tables are turned. We trust that Gary won't even consider making these appointments and that Owens will announce the names as soon as possible.

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VolumeVI Number 45
November 12-18, 1998
New Bay Times

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