Bentley campaign should be above games like these

June 23, 1994|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Helen Bentley doesn't need this. Her campaign for governor of Maryland soars above the Republican opposition, but her latest fund-raiser carries the look of fraud, followed by a lack of truth.

Advance advertising for the Bentley affair, held three nights ago in northwest Baltimore, claimed local sports celebrities were honoring her. But the sports guys say it's a lie, that they had nothing to do with the political affair.

Those in the Bentley campaign should know better.

They scheduled their reception, at McCafferty's Restaurant in Mount Washington, knowing two things would happen simultaneously: the congresswoman's gubernatorial fund-raiser and former Baltimore Colt Tom Matte's regular radio sports broadcast. The Bentley people tried to piggy-back Matte, and then they tried to finesse what they'd done.

At Matte's radio show, participants included Baltimore Colt legend John Unitas, Baltimore CFL Colts owner Jim Speros and veteran sportscaster Vince Bagli. Bentley's people knew they'd all be there. It was advertised in advance -- in this newspaper, and in fliers circulated around the area -- that these men and other local sports celebrities would be honoring Bentley at Monday's $50-a-head fund-raiser.

The invitation was to attend the function and support Bentley's campaign. The implication was, mingle with sports celebrities who are supporting her. The claim was bogus.

"I'm strictly here for the radio show," said John Unitas, shaking his head as he looked at a copy of the Bentley ad, during a commercial break in Matte's show.

"I'm only here because I was asked to be on the show tonight," said Jim Speros.

"This isn't right," said Vince Bagli, looking at the ad and slamming his fist on a table. "This is ridiculous."

And Bentley's response?

"I don't know how it happened," she said Monday night, in response to one reporter's question. About two dozen guests mingled nearby. "There's a fund-raiser here for me, but technically . . . "

Key Kidder, Bentley's campaign spokesman, then physically backed Bentley away to interrupt. He said it was the McCafferty's Restaurant people who'd written the ad. But McCafferty's people say it's not true. They say they were merely hosting the radio show and the fund-raiser simultaneously, but had no reason, financial or otherwise, to link the two events in any public perception.

When more reporters gathered around Bentley, some with TV cameras, Kidder stood in front of Bentley and told the candidate, Why don't you go off-camera?"

"She doesn't want to comment?" one reporter asked.

"I'll do the talking," said Kidder.

"You're not gonna let her talk?" another TV reporter asked.

"What do you want to ask her?" said Kidder. "We weren't aware of the content of the ad. Yes, we knew there would be sports figures here."

Don McCafferty, co-owner of the restaurant bearing his name, said yesterday that he feels as deceived as the athletes whose names were misused, because the ads say his restaurant was honoring Bentley. But McCafferty said:

"I didn't know anything about this until I saw the ad in the paper last week. Listen, we're not politically involved with any candidate. I'm totally embarrassed by the whole thing. I was told Bentley's people put the ad in the paper, but Bentley says she doesn't know who did it. And the people in her campaign say they don't know who did it. But the line at the bottom of the ad says her campaign did it."

On Tuesday, a Mason-Dixon Political Media Research poll of registered voters showed Bentley the clear leader in the Republican primary for governor. She had 41 percent support, compared with 11 percent for Delegate Ellen Sauerbrey and 9 percent for William Shepard. That's a 4-to-1 margin.

With such a lead, it makes no sense to play such low-ball political games. And, if it's true that Bentley knew nothing about the misleading ads ahead of time, it gives opponents a chance to say she wants to run the state but can't run her own office.

To make it worse for Bentley, only a few dozen people attended the function. And one sports celebrity who was there, and declared that he was supporting Bentley, was Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke.

But he's backing Bentley because she's backing Cooke's pro football efforts in Laurel -- which is not exactly a big voter-getter around here.

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