Hickey faults Bentley on leadership Democrat hopes to ride anti-incumbent mood into Congress.

April 07, 1992|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Rep. Helen Delich Bentley says she has never used the blank personal checks that she got, unsolicited, from the now-defunct House bank when she first went to Congress in 1984.

"She handles all of her personal affairs locally," said Thomas K. O'Neill, Mrs. Bentley's campaign manager. "It's one of the advantages of being so close to Washington, D.C."

But it also gives the 2nd District Republican a political advantage over scores of incumbents who wrote penalty-free overdrafts at the bank and, as a result, are facing angry voters this year.

So where does that leave Michael C. Hickey Jr.?

Who, you ask?

Michael C. Hickey Jr., 45, is a Harford County attorney and U.S. Marine Corps reserve colonel who in March won a five-way Democratic primary -- and with it the right to run against the feisty Mrs. Bentley, 68, in this year of the Great Anti-Incumbent Mood.

The task before the challenger is a daunting one, he concedes. Even if he meets his fund-raising goal of $50,000, Mr. Hickey will have about one-tenth the amount Mrs. Bentley expects to amass.

Moreover, Mrs. Bentley, a well-known public official who often appears on television and sends voters reams of government-financed mailings, trounced Ronald Bowers, another little-known Democrat, in the 1990 election by winning 74 percent of the vote.

But if Mr. Hickey needs an election dream to hold onto, he doesn't have to look far. Just last month Rep. Beverly Byron, a 6th District Democrat, lost in the primary to a lesser-known candidate, state Del. Thomas H. Hattery, D-Frederick. Mr. Hattery played the anti-incumbent card, running biting radio ads criticizing the $35,000 pay raise House members voted themselves and the trips Mrs. Byron took over the years at taxpayers' expense.

But although Mr. Hickey has been deprived of one of the best weapons available to use against incumbents -- the House bank scandal -- it doesn't show. A smiling, friendly man who practices from a modest law office along a congested stretch of Route 40 near Aberdeen, he is not reluctant to find other faults with Mrs. Bentley. And armed with his campaign slogan, "Let's Give Congress A Hickey," he is doing just that.

Mr. Hickey calls his opponent "a social worker" who depends on constituent services to keep her in office. He charges that Mrs. Bentley is so busy serving constituents and avoiding controversy that she has sacrificed the national interest. "She's not a leader," he said.

Mrs. Bentley sharply rejects that criticism: "Does Mr. Hickey's question mean he wouldn't take care of constituents?" she responded.

Mr. Hickey also criticizes the incumbent for following President Bush's lead on the tax-cut package approved by Congress last month, which the president vetoed. "She's tied to Bush," he charged. "Whatever he does, she follows."

And, he added, Mr. Bush is weak and vulnerable. As evidence Mr. Hickey cited the president's decision to remove American troops from the Persian Gulf War too fast, which failed to put an end to the rule of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Mrs. Bentley flatly denied Mr. Hickey's charge that she is a rubber stamp for Bush, noting that she voted against the 1986 tax-reform plan and against the 1990 budget-balancing deal in which Mr. Bush broke his 1988 "no new taxes" campaign pledge.

She said she opposed the Democratic budget package because it "really gutted our defense. The defense industry is very important to Maryland, you know," she added.

But Mr. Hickey argues that if members of Congress worry about pork-barrel projects in their own districts at the expense of the national interest, "we'll be a third-rate country in 20 years."

Mrs. Bentley said she is indeed a leader, especially on an issue vital to America's long-term future -- strengthening this nation's industrial base. "I'm way out there [in front] in saving a number of American companies from . . . Japan Inc.," she said.

But Mr. Hickey said, "You can break all the Japanese radios you want," referring to his opponent smashing a Toshiba radio on the Capitol steps several years ago. "It won't create one more job. She hasn't done anything."

In addition, he charges, Mrs. Bentley has a "terrible environmental record. And she's not pro-choice."

The challenger said he favors the federal government giving $50 billion saved from defense and foreign aid cuts to state and local governments to rebuild their infrastructures. These projects, and the jobs they produce, will get the economy humming again, he said. He also wants a national health-care plan.

Mr. Hickey is not new to politics. He ran for Congress in 1990 in the 1st Congressional District, which included part of Harford County. But he finished last. Because of changes in district lines this year, the 2nd District now includes all of Harford County, a small portion of eastern Anne Arundel County and the eastern half of Baltimore County.

Mr. Hickey plans to buy billboard space, print literature and appear on cable television a few times. But, he said, "I don't think I'll ever get up to affording regular TV." He is hopeful that once a Democratic presidential candidate is chosen, he will get some aid from the party and the national campaign.

Mr. Hickey expects to do well in his own Harford County, and in the Anne Arundel County portion of the district. But he knows he must do well in eastern Baltimore County to win.

To the blue-collar Democrats in that area who have voted Republican for the past 12 years, Mr. Hickey said he has a simple message: "You voted Republican, and now you're unemployed."

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