Reserved Hayden winning with no-style style

November 08, 1991|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

It's easy to characterize Baltimore County's low-profile county executive as a bland, colorless financial expert, a businessman who got lucky in a strange political year.

Roger B. Hayden fits the stereotype, with his straight, dark hair, his pale skin and his normally calm, expressionless face.

He adds to the impression by his habit of avoiding making colorful public statements. When the state legislature and Gov. William Donald Schaefer, for example, doubled an already sizable state cut of the county's budget with only two days' notice last month, Hayden brushed off a request to comment by saying, "When I understand the rationale, I'll comment further." The response was typically cautious.

But it's not the number-crunching that he likes best about the job, he says in an interview. It's working with people that he enjoys the most -- trying to solve their problems and cutting through governmental red tape to do it.

Hayden holds monthly "face-to-face" meetings in which any county resident may meet with him to air a grievance.

"I've been educated and trained as a manager. That's my whole life," he says. He doesn't make public statements on his feelings because as a good manager, he says, he wants to avoid putting county residents "on a roller-coaster" of emotions as defined by his own views on issues.

If his political style is to have no style, it seems to be working for him.

His unpretentious approach, his effort to deal directly with county workers, with state and county elected officials and with the public, are winning him praise.

County workers who received no across-the-board pay increase last year haven't a bad word to say about him publicly. That is so despite the fact that state budget cuts and reduced county revenue may keep them from getting one next July and despite Hayden's campaign criticism of his predecessor for giving workers only a 2 percent pay raise in 1990.

Hayden last year soundly defeated Democrat Dennis F. Rasmussen, an entrenched incumbent with a $1 million campaign fund, on a budget of $130,000 and a resume of a businessman and 12-year member of the county school board.

"People perceive him very well, a competent manager," says state Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, R-Balto. Co., a fellow Republican. "Roger is right in his assessment that the way he can best lay the groundwork for the GOP is by doing a good job," Boozer adds. "He's cautious, he's not a gregarious guy by nature. He's not a publicity hound," the Towson senator says.

Hayden's "face-to-face" meetings have added to his aura of accessibility, even as he has shied away from the politician's favorite public outlet, the press.

Hayden often speaks to reporters only "off the record," which means his comments may not be used in print. He has even told jokes off the record.

Hayden, 46, is determined to keep his private life private. He carefully keeps his grown daughters out of the limelight, he says. Although he acknowledges the breakup of his second marriage, he refuses to discuss it.

At work, he keeps reporters from casually wandering into his offices by keeping the doors locked, and even asked Judith E. Scheper, his chief of staff, whose office is closest to his own, to move her desk out of the line of vision from the lobby to further protect his privacy.

An admitted workaholic, the executive says he has spent 80 hours a week or more on the job. Hayden can sometimes be moody and irritable in private, according to sources.

At a recent posh political fund-raiser where tickets sold for $250 for a private reception or $125 each for the more public one, Hayden introduced himself from the stage, spoke for one minute or less, and never mentioned his political career. He urged his supporters to work harder with him for a better county government. He so far has collected over $200,000 toward what is expected to be a re-election campaign in 1994.

One aide was amazed to find the executive doesn't regularly read about himself in newspapers as most politicians do, and another marvels at Hayden's lack of pretense and his determination to keep the political side of his life as separate from county government as possible. One county department head who attended the fund-raiser said he had to assure the executive that he had bought a ticket to the event because he wanted to, not because he thought he was "expected" to buy a ticket.

Having a personality and way of doing business that is the direct opposite of the governor's hasn't hurt his popularity, either, suggests County Council Chairman Douglas B. Riley, R-4th. Still, Riley, Boozer and others think Hayden is still getting used to the idea that he's the county's top elected official.

"He knows how to do it [the job], and he has no idea of how to look good doing it," sums up Riley, himself a freshman officeholder.

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