Hayden in the hot seat

February 07, 1994

First, Del. John S. Arnick. Then, Judge Thomas J. Bollinger Jr. Next, Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden?

The first two men should be easily recalled as Baltimore County officials whose reputations were damaged last year by their respective cases of unprofessional, insensitive behavior toward women.

Now Mr. Hayden finds himself in the hot seat for the same reason. His former personal secretary, Niculina V. "Nicki" Robinson, alleged last week that Mr. Hayden sexually harassed her when she worked for him.

Mrs. Robinson filed a formal complaint against the county executive last summer with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She said she is going public with the charges at this time, at the start of an election year, because she wants county voters to see what kind of person Mr. Hayden is. He, in turn, has dismissed the allegations as the work of political enemies who wish to defeat him this fall. That assertion might contain at least a grain of truth. Still, it indicates that Mr. Hayden might be taking the matter too lightly, ignoring the fact that three women have gone on the public record to accuse him of abusive behavior toward females. In 1994, as Mr. Arnick and Judge Bollinger might attest, such accusations are taken with increasing seriousness. Properly so.

There's one other thing Mr. Hayden can't argue away: His troublesome relationships with women, ranging from two ex-wives to female colleagues, have been whispered about in Towson for years. This may make it hard for him to wave off the Robinson charges as no more than dirty politics.

How different this Hayden campaign will be from the one in 1990, when he was the little-known challenger who stunned everyone -- including himself -- by trouncing the seemingly unbeatable incumbent, Dennis R. Rasmussen. Back then, Mr. Hayden could revel in the underdog's role, firing a barrage of criticism at Mr. Rasmussen and thus forcing him to explain his record and his enjoyment of the perks of the job. It got good media play. It also turned out to be a smart strategy in that year of the anti-incumbent.

This year, Mr. Hayden is the incumbent, and he has challengers who will hit him from many angles. The anti-tax fanatics will howl over his piggyback-tax hike. County unions will scream over the jobs cut in his 1993 downsizing of government. Citizens will shout about the services lost in the downsizing. To this list of detractors, add women's groups and other critics who will use the Nicki Robinson case to suggest that Mr. Hayden is hostile toward roughly half the electorate. The Baltimore County executive could be in for a long year indeed.

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