What are union blessings worth?

June 22, 1994

By scoring endorsements from the police and teachers unions in Baltimore County, as well as from the local AFL-CIO and the Battle Grove Democratic Club of Dundalk, Third District Councilman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Cockeysville can put some distance between himself and the other Democratic candidates for county executive.

The union and political club backing means more than funds and volunteer troops for Mr. Ruppersberger; it also helps convey the impression that a bandwagon has begun to rev up and might rumble away from the opposition before long.

A police union's endorsement is one of the most important a political candidate can receive this year, given the widespread fear of crime. That's why Mr. Ruppersberger's rivals -- who include Second District Councilman Melvin G. Mintz of Pikesville, state Sen. Nancy L. Murphy of Catonsville and former District Court Judge John C. Coolahan of Halethorpe -- did not bother to hide their disappointment over the police officers' choice.

Endorsements might prove particularly crucial in the 1994 Democratic primary because of the absence of a favorite son or daughter from the east side who could readily tap into the huge bloc of votes in that part of the county. The eastern political clubs, though lacking the clout they enjoyed in the machine days of old, could still have a major say in the outcome of the primary, especially if they unite behind a single candidate.

Mr. Ruppersberger's opponents can take some comfort from the memory of the 1990 general election, when then-County Executive Dennis R. Rasmussen had gained the approval of more than 30 labor, business and environmental groups. A year before the election, in fact, City and State magazine named Mr. Rasmussen the top county executive in the United States. In the summer of '90, he appeared unbeatable.

Yet, that fall, he lost to his relatively unknown Republican challenger, Roger B. Hayden, who did not even enter the race until early summer. The angry electorate did not so much vote for Mr. Hayden as they voted against Mr. Rasmussen for his raising county taxes, his alleged aloofness, even his fancy attire and choice of automobile. Granted, Baltimore County citizens aren't so hostile this time around. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that voters are any more enamored of government or of the interests of public employees. These endorsements might have given Mr. Ruppersberger the early lead, but the race is far from over.

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