With 2019 just behind us, we can take a moment to remember the passing of the last Republican elected Baltimore County executive and one of the few individuals to serve on the county school board in both the 20th and 21st centuries. Roger Hayden was a statistical anomaly, but his career is worth remembering for more substantial reasons.
Hayden was born in a year of American triumph. Across the world, people who had never heard of Essex or Dundalk or Curtis Bay found themselves armed, clothed, sheltered and fed by the plants and workers of Baltimore. The future looked bright for the son of a GM pipefitter. The world seemed solid enough for a 1962 graduate of Sparrows Point High School. With a degree from the University of Baltimore, Roger Hayden worked his way up at the Eastern Stainless Steel Co. to vice president for operations.
His working life included George Transportation, trucking and Durrett Sheppard Steel Co. Lives built on smoke and bricks seem remote now and it takes imagination to recall the noise and heat that must have filled Roger Hayden’s early years.
Hayden first served on the Baltimore County School Board as an appointee of Marvin Mandel from 1974 to 1987. He was chair for 12 years. Baltimore County struggled with racial discrimination and with a deluge of economic, social and political change. There are many almost forgotten names and stories from those years that we think still matter.
At some point, Hayden became a Republican and upset a popular incumbent to become county executive in 1990. The period 1990-1994 is called a “mild recession” nationally, but Maryland was affected by changes in federal spending and Baltimore County was affected by changes in spending by Annapolis. News accounts and editorials from those years report rising unemployment, increased public assistance cases and layoffs at Westinghouse, Bendix and Martin Marietta. Heavy industry in Baltimore County and across the region showed unexpected weakness and a relentless decline. If Roger Hayden reflected on it, he might have sensed that the world into which he had been born was coming to an end.
The new county executive took steps to slow the growth of county government as tax receipts dropped. He had known management problems and he worked at reducing costs while preserving core functions. He is remembered for closing branch libraries in Baltimore County, but schools, law enforcement, fire protection and sanitation continued without disruption. In an entirely different set of actions, Hayden worked effectively to control development in Baltimore County with the Honeygo Plan and the Community Preservation Commission. Hayden was not re-elected in 1994 and he left public life until Gov. Larry Hogan reappointed him to the Baltimore County School Board in 2017, 30 years after Hayden had left the board.
There is something inconclusive in Roger Hayden’s life. Clearly, he guessed wrong about the Republican Party. It never became the wave of the future it promised to be in 1990. The solid, prosperous communities in eastern Baltimore County that gave Hayden his start in life remain as aging neighborhoods too often marked by silent commercial and industrial space and vacant storefronts. The bright expectations for Hayden’s Sparrows Point never became reality. Even the public schools in Baltimore County remain troubled as the county strains to finish long-deferred construction and maintenance.
Hayden’s assumption that the scale of government should reflect the ability of taxpayers to support it is yet another failed idea, as the federal public debt has exceeded $23 trillion and there is no plan to control its increase. If anything, his time as county executive is a cautionary tale about the political peril of responsible public policy in a bad economy.
We find ourselves at the beginning of a decade wondering if Roger Hayden’s day is long past. Has history claimed the man, his ideas and his world? Or do all three have lasting lessons to teach?
Editorial Advisory Board member Michael Hayes did not take part in this editorial.
EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS
James B. Astrachan, Chair
James K. Archibald
Arthur F. Fergenson
Ericka N. King
Stephen Z. Meehan
C. William Michaels
Angela W. Russell
Debra G. Schubert
H. Mark Stichel
Michael P. Van Alstine
The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, or if a conflict exists, majority views and the names of members who do not participate will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.
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