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Commentary Government & Politics

Opinion: Sarbanes Contributed to the Prosperity of Southern Maryland

Congressman Steny H. Hoyer, Gary V. Hodge, executive director of the Tri-County Council, U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, and leaders of Southern Maryland’s Naval bases brief the press following the 2nd Annual Presidents’ Day Conference on Feb. 21, 1994 at the Waldorf Jaycees Community Center. Naval officers in the photo (l. to r.) are Captain David H. Maxwell, NSWC-Indian Head, Rear Admiral Barton D. Strong, Naval Air Warfare Center, and Rear Admiral Donald V. Boecker, Naval Air Station-Patuxent River. Photo courtesy of Gary V. Hodge.

I would like to add a tribute to the life and work of Paul Sarbanes, in recognition of the example he set for all public servants, and his contribution to the prosperity of Southern Maryland.

During my 20 years as executive director and chairman of the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland, and a Charles County commissioner, I had the privilege of working with Senator Sarbanes on many issues. I’d like to share a few examples of his thoughtful and unpretentious, yet very effective style of leadership.

In the decade of the 1990’s Southern Maryland’s leaders were engaged in a strategic effort to defend and enhance the federal commitment to our Naval installations at Pax River, St. Inigoes and Indian Head. The federal BRAC Commission was given the task of closing, realigning or consolidating defense installations, and the competition to keep our bases intact and growing was intense. The stakes for the region’s future were enormous.

We had three critical advantages in our campaign. First, the missions of our Naval bases were critical to the national defense, the cutting-edge work they were doing in the fields of aviation and energetics was vital, and they were doing it better than anyone else in the world.

Second, our local leaders were united in making the case that Southern Maryland was ready to take on any logistical challenges this would present, was pursuing a strategic vision for the future, and with State support would make the infrastructure investments necessary to facilitate the transfer of new activities and personnel to our bases.

And third, the members of our Congressional Delegation —Senator Sarbanes, Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Congressman Steny Hoyer — were hands down the most persuasive and effective team of advocates in the United States Congress.

This formidable team, with Senator Sarbanes’ quiet diplomacy and reputation for integrity and piercing intellect, was instrumental to Southern Maryland’s success in all three rounds of BRAC — an achievement unmatched by any other region of the country.

The Navy transferred 6,000 high-tech R&D and administrative jobs to Pax River from Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, an estimated $1 billion in payroll, and the State invested over $350 million (in today’s dollars) in the region’s transportation infrastructure, schools and higher education facilities. The success of our regional partnership of federal, State and local government leaders, allied with the business community, in facilitating the BRAC consolidations became known nationally as “The Maryland Model.”

More than 20 years later, the lasting impact of this event is still being felt in the quality of life and prosperity of St. Mary’s, Calvert and Charles counties. It was the largest economic development project in history of Southern Maryland, and in the 1990’s was the most significant economic development project in the state.

Another example comes to mind of Paul Sarbanes generosity of spirit and thoughtfulness. Many years ago as a member of the International City/County Management Association, I participated in an exchange program with the chief executive of the City of Portsmouth, England (home of the Royal Navy). He hosted me for two weeks in the UK, and I was his host for two weeks in the United States.

I made sure he saw a large slice of Maryland history and the workings of American government at all levels — local, State and federal. In Washington, D.C., we visited the Capitol and our members of Congress. The time we spent with Senator Sarbanes that day was memorable.

The few minutes of the Senator’s time that I requested became a personal guided tour into the recesses of the Library of Congress, deep into the subterranean labyrinth of rare document collections, where to our astonishment, the Senator opened a file box containing the original papers of one of my British guest’s American ancestors, who had negotiated the treaty ending the Mexican War in 1848, and his handwritten correspondence with Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

This was one of the most unforgettable highlights of his visit to America. The personal care and attention Senator Sarbanes gave to planning our visit that day left an indelible impression on my guest that he shared far and wide with his friends and colleagues in the United Kingdom.

Reflecting on the elected leaders I’ve known over the past half-century, Senator Sarbanes is one of a handful whose intellect, integrity and ability to make a difference on the most consequential national issues, and on  matters of personal importance to the people he served, left a deep and lasting impression on everyone who had the privilege to know him.

— GARY V. HODGE

The writer is president of Regional Policy Advisors, vice chair of the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition and a former Charles County Commissioner, executive director and chairman of the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland.