Imagine that there was no bridge across the Patuxent River connecting St. Maryís and Calvert counties.
Imagine rush hour from Patuxent River Naval Air Station to California on a highway roughly half its current size. Or alternatively, imagine that Pax River and associated military contractors employ thousands fewer people. Rather than expanding during the last two decades, imagine that Pax River had many of its core programs stripped and moved elsewhere.
Imagine that St. Maryís College of Maryland was still a two-year school, and that the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center didnít exist.
Imagine that instead of a high-tech economy and one of the highest average household incomes in the country, St. Maryís Countyís economy was tied to unregulated gambling, with slot machines in restaurants, grocery stores and drug stores.
Imagine that St. Maryís County was nothing more than an isolated, rural peninsula that never worked cooperatively with its neighboring counties to draw investment from the state and solve regional problems.
Imagine that Virginia and Maryland watermen still shot each other scrounging for oysters in the Potomac River.
Imagine that Historic St. Maryís City didnít exist.
J. Frank Raley Jr., who died this week at 85, didnít have to imagine most of these things. They were the reality in St. Maryís County when he began his long career of public service, and he had a guiding hand in changing them.
Raley served just four years in the Maryland House of Delegates and another four years in the Maryland Senate. Both times he lost re-election bids — once because he advocated a federal compact to stop the fighting between Maryland and Virginia over the oysters, crabs and fish in the Potomac, and once because he spearheaded a successful drive to rid St. Maryís of slot machines. In exchange, he secured state support for the Gov. Thomas Johnson Memorial Bridge, the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland and Historic St. Maryís City, arguing that tourism and a geographically and politically united region offered a better hope of building a strong economy than gambling.
Raley was a lousy politician, even his friends said, and his career as an elected official ended in 1966. But he was a dedicated public citizen, and remained so during all of the 46 years after he left office.
In the 1990s, his great contribution was imagining that complacency by political and community leaders could strip St. Maryís of all or much of its greatest economic asset — Pax River. Frustrated by what he saw as an ineffective local government, he rallied defense contractors, business leaders and community members to persuade the state government to invest in roads, education and other infrastructure to allow Pax River to expand while other military bases were closing or being downsized.
Raley didnít do all these things alone. His was not the only voice calling to transform St. Maryís. But a colleague of his, John Hanson Briscoe, a retired judge and former speaker of the House of Delegates, recently called him ďthe chief architect of modern St. Maryís County.Ē
Raley didnít work to change the community where he lived for self-aggrandizement or to pander to voters. He pushed all these initiatives because he believed they were necessary for St. Maryís to prosper. And it has.