Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen chose th setting of a partisan crowd of supporters in Overlea last night to reply to criticisms of his personal style that have dogged him throughout his re-election campaign.
"This will be my first and last response to some of the really pressing issues. . .," Rasmussen told supporters at an Overlea catering hall in the 6900 block of Belair Road.
"Issues like shirts," he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "Shirts," he repeated. 'White shirts -- and this is important -- they're monogrammed," he deadpanned to the laughing crowd at the event sponsored by the county firefighters, Rasmussen's staunchest supporters among county workers.
"I like white shirts and I like monogrammed shirts. I wear a 16 1/2 neck and 35-inch sleeves and they cost $35 each and I have 12 of them. You should not blame me if you don't like my shirts. My mother is responsible," Rasmussen said.
He explained that his mother, who was present and nodding in agreement, could never tell which shirts belonged to which of the four Rasmussen brothers or their father, Charles. So she wrote each of their initials on the sleeves of their shirts.
"It's all her fault," Rasmussen said.
The style of shirt he wears "isn't key to the job you do," he added.
"The next big issue is the Lincoln Town Car," Rasmussen said, adding that B. Melvin Cole, the late county administrative officer, recommended the car for safety, size and resale value. Rasmussen said the Lincoln costs about $1,500 more than a Chevy Caprice.
Until last night, Rasmussen had refused any public comment on criticism of his style from Roger B. Hayden, his Republican challenger, saying that he always ran positive campaigns.
Rasmussen continued through the list of criticisms, ridiculing each for its pettiness.
He said that he rejected an elaborate security arrangement suggested by Police Chief Cornelius J. Behan in favor of two plainclothes officers who split his 16-hour days into two shifts to save money
"It makes more sense for them to drive me," he said, answering criticism about the officers duties as drivers. The other alternatives, he added, were for him to drive the officers' duties -- as drivers. The other alternatives, he added, were for him to drive the officers about, or for them to follow him in a separate car. He said he spends about 1,000 hours a year in his car on county business, using the vehicle as a mobile office.
The much maligned county Office of Communications, Rasmussen said, was created to spread information about the county to the public, to help make government less mysterious to citizens. He said the county spent more money on building parks in Dundalk than in landscaping the Towson courthouse lawn. He said the project was requested by Towson residents who view it as a community park.
Rasmussen said the 16 percent pay raise for the new executive is deserved because pay raises for county employees over the last four years amounted to an average 22 percent while the executive got only 4.2 percent. The executive now makes $73,000, which will increase to $85,000 in December.
Hayden has said he would donate the increase to charity.
Rasmussen then criticized Hayden. "I wish Roger would chill out, go get a hot dog and walk around and meet all the great people who work in county government and who spend a few minutes in the park each day," he said.
The incumbent said that Hayden "has no ideas, no proposals." He said his opponent is a "mystery man" without programs of his own who is seeking to distract voters from issues of substance by dwelling on style.
Hayden and Democrats supporting him were also harshly criticized at the event.
Del. Joseph "Sonny" Minnick, of Dundalk, who lost his September primary, said renegade Dundalk Democrats backing Hayden are "hypocritical."
State Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell criticized Hayden's former employment at Eastern Stainless Corp. and his tenure as county school board president. He said the steel-maker was the No. 1 polluter in Baltimore County and that Hayden was "a rubber-stamp for Bob Dubel," the county school superintendent.
Eastern Stainless Steel, in the southeast county, has bee repeatedly cited over the years by state environmental officials for contaminating groundwater and a stream with chrome and other toxic chemicals. The company paid a $50,500 civil fine this year in the latest case.
Hayden, who rose to vice president of operations in his 22 years at Eastern Stainless, has said that he had no direct responsibility for pollution.