By ESTHER NGUONLY, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - The region's three top leaders formally met Friday morning for the first time to discuss regional security strategies for the high-risk National Capital Region.
Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine called himself, Maryland Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty the "three amigos," noting that the three leaders shared many similarities, including each having been city councilmen and mayors.
The trio discussed cooperative strategies for protecting the area, including improving rapid communication and engaging Guard troops in collaborative exercises in preparation for manmade and natural emergencies.
"In an increasingly small world, it is critically important that we cooperate across borders in pursuit of our common goals," said O'Malley.
All three of the leaders are Democrats now, noted Fenty, although O'Malley does not officially take over for Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich until Wednesday.
But, Kaine and O'Malley were quick to point out that their shared background as city leaders was more important than their shared party affiliation.
"There are dotted lines between the District and Virginia, the District and Maryland and Virginia and Maryland. People in these regions travel back and forth across those dotted lines every day," said Kaine. "The lines don't mean that much to them. We are all one community, and we need to act that way."
The three plan to meet with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to discuss key issues for protecting the region, which include community cooperation, public preparedness and protection for roads and buildings.
"I think that having this meeting in the first two weeks of my administration and a couple of days before Governor O'Malley is sworn in shows that we're going to be aggressive in trying to increase the funding," said Fenty.
About 25 percent of grants and funding for homeland security in the region would go toward hiring staff, Fenty said.
The 2007 funding cycle will emphasize tier-1, or high-risk, regions, Kaine said.
The possibility of expanding the boundaries of the National Capital Region to Richmond and Baltimore was also discussed. The NCR, which is defined by Congress, includes the District of Columbia; Prince George's and Montgomery Counties in Maryland and Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Alexandria in Virginia.
Additionally, O'Malley hopes to create a statewide homeland security office in Prince George's County, centrally located between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., said spokesman Rick Abbruzzese.
The other issues on the agenda for future discussion include economic development, transportation and the Chesapeake Bay, said Kaine.
"The creative crescent that wraps around the Chesapeake Bay," O'Malley said, "can compete and can win in the global community."
This is the seventh meeting between the leaders of the three jurisdictions since April 2003, which marked the first meeting between Virginia, Maryland and D.C. executives in 12 years.