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C. Fraser Smith: Does Hogan bear gifts for city?

Greeks famously used a wooden horse full of soldiers to capture Troy — a bit of classical history that may well have crossed the minds of Baltimore leaders this week.

Gov.-elect Larry Hogan says he wants to help Baltimore. Baltimore must become the economic engine of the state — something he wants to develop as Maryland’s chief executive.

Grants of state money haven’t helped much, he says.

The first part of this somewhat ominous objective is certainly welcome. Baltimore needs another renaissance. Democrats in the governor’s office and in the General Assembly surely have given support to the Baltimore’s rebirth goal for decades. And, yes, the city remains needy — more like a refuge for the poor than an engine of anything but crime and drug abuse.

It’s a harsh thing to say. But Hogan can offer this still-unformed plan, knowing that many who voted for him have little regard for the city or “programs” designed to help. The programs are costly, and the Republican governor-elect has every reason to suggest a new approach.

Which is not to say that Democrats have been blind to the importance of vibrant new business and industry. At the same time, they may have suffered some level of rescue fatigue — another way of saying they’ve given up real hope for achieving what Hogan now says he wants to accomplish.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake wants to counter the city’s shrinking tax base with thousands of new residents — 10,000 families over the next few decades, she says.

That dream might have seemed lacking in real-world prospects for success. And yet, along the city’s waterfront, energetic young people and the brigade of retired empty nesters are creating an unexpected foothold for growth. Water has been the magnet for both demographic groups. Developers have not missed the trend. The old economy’s warehouse infrastructure has been repurposed almost overnight into upscale condos and apartments.

So city leaders and the new governor do have something to work with.

Will it be enough? The city’s tax base continues to shrink — to leave crucial elements of its infrastructure wanting. The General Assembly and Gov. Martin O’Malley have attempted to shore up the city’s deplorable public schools — a disgrace the city seemed helpless to face. More than a billion dollars was committed to repair and rebuilding.

Here, though, is just one point at which the governor will find conflicting priorities.

No one knows if the state’s school building assistance will fall within Mr. Hogan’s line of fire as he tries to balance the budget. The city will be hard-pressed to attract new business if its school system continues to crumble. The problem is certainly not a new one, nor has the importance of public schools been missed on the economic development front.

Similarly, Baltimore and the region need a much better public transportation system. That group of young people, divorced from the American love of cars, has to get to work. Don’t think employers don’t look at transportation when they choose to locate or relocate.

What then does Mr. Hogan do about that need? Does he stay with the expensive subway plan? Does he see it as the spine of a real system? Does it become the centerpiece of his economic engine? Or does he drop it in the face of those budget issues? Not easy choices — though some say other modes of transportation might serve just as well.

Here, then, is where we find ourselves on the second day of 2015: some of the same, old problems with a new sheriff in town. Over time, Republicans have seemed to define themselves as bean counters, budget balancers above all else..

Hogan is saying, without benefit of experience, that Democrats stopped looking for new ideas, failed to stay the course toward fundamental self-sufficiency and satisfied themselves with failed programs.

Surely, Baltimore and the rest of Maryland would welcome the arrival of a Republican governor bearing gifts — a humming, economic engine as it were.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in the Daily Record. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org.