Ruppersberger 'not intimidated by much in life' CAMPAIGN 1994

September 06, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

The turning points in Baltimore County Councilman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III's political career have been marked by near-disasters, both personal and political.

But he has always recovered and come back stronger than before.

To look at the burly former lacrosse and football player today, it's hard to imagine him at age 28, in late 1975, lying near death at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore after a head-on auto accident on Dulaney Valley Road.

"I broke 20 bones. I was down to 145 pounds," the former prosecutor said.

The very fact that he survived inspired his first run for public office. It came after a suggestion by Dr. R Adams Cowley, founder of the Shock Trauma Center, that he channel his gratitude into a political career that might help the then-fledgling center.

Mr. Ruppersberger did just that, and now the former prosecutor and nine-year councilman is running for Baltimore County executive.

"I'm not intimidated by much in life," he said.

As a Democrat from a district with a large Republican registration, Mr. Ruppersberger developed a reputation as the County Council's peacemaker and consensus builder.

He was elected chairman twice -- in 1990, when the Democrats controlled the body, and again in 1993, when Republicans dominated.

"He's the consummate consensus builder. Sometimes I used to pull my hair out at what I thought was his procrastination," said former County Councilman William R. Evans. "But he's made a believer out of me. He's been extremely successful."

Mr. Ruppersberger's theme this year is that the county is at a crossroads between its rural and suburban past and its increasingly urbanized future.

Without leadership to fight the pressures of crime, congestion and infrastructure decay, general decline is inevitable, he says.

Generally considered the front-runner in the Democratic primary, Ruppersberger has spent most of his campaign attacking Republican incumbent Roger B. Hayden.

"He's taken the county farther down the road of economic despair," Mr. Ruppersberger said, accusing Mr. Hayden of "decimating public works" with layoffs and otherwise harming the county's infrastructure with budget cuts that depleted the Police Department and closed libraries and senior centers.

After 16 months of planning, organizing and fund-raising, the affable 48-year old councilman is confident that he has the money, key endorsements and momentum that will make him a winner in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary.

"I have hordes of people," he said of his volunteers and paid consultants.

But to win the right to battle Mr. Hayden in November election, he has to beat three other Democrats:

* Councilman Melvin G. Mintz, 47, of Pikesville is running a well-funded campaign based on the theory that he can win the primary if he gets a large enough majority in his own Democrat-rich council district and trails respectably elsewhere.

* John C. Coolahan, 61, of Halethorpe, an outspoken former state senator and retired District Court judge, is running a lightly funded, nearly one-man effort, but he remains popular in his conservative southwestern district.

* Kevin Pearl, 28, of Woodlawn is an articulate and devoted follower of Lyndon LaRouche.

Reared in a North Baltimore rowhouse, Mr. Ruppersberger played lacrosse and football at City College and spent his summers as an Ocean City lifeguard and, later, as a summer police officer.

After attending the University of Maryland, he attended the University of Baltimore law school at night part time while working days on city school truancy problems.

He passed the bar in 1972 and joined the county state's attorney's office, where he stayed for nine years

before entering private practice.

Mr. Ruppersberger's first try for elective office, -- a 1978 campaign against Francis X. Kelly, then a state senator -- ended in a resounding defeat.

But Mr. Ruppersberger's accounts of his 1975 accident ordeal so impressed Mr. Kelly that the two became fast friends, political allies and advocates for the trauma center.

That alliance eventually led to Mr. Ruppersberger's appointment fill a vacancy on the County Council in 1985.

He won a hotly contested 1986 council election with 51 percent )) of the vote and was re-elected in 1990, despite a political disaster that struck the Democratic Party.

Five of seven incumbent council members and County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen were defeated, leaving Mr. Ruppersberger the senior council member.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Ruppersberger is not a polished speaker, often so eager to make points that he blurts them out in stream-of-consciousness style.

Occasionally, he gets so involved that he forgets the initial point he's trying to make. Aware of the problem, he now has a professional speech coach.

Oratory aside, Mr. Ruppersberger has assembled a professional campaign machine, with professional pollsters, consultants and public relations staff working with scores of volunteers from the groups that back him.

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