Hayden, foe both show tiger claws

October 09, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

What's happened to the mild-mannered, low-profile Roger B. Hayden that Baltimore County voters have come to know?

Faced with a tough, well-organized challenge from Cockeysville Councilman C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, the Republican county executive has suddenly changed into a political tiger, attacking his foe at every opportunity.

Mr. Hayden said he has become more aggressive after watching several Ruppersberger campaign ads just before the primary election which criticized his administration. "I'm not going to sit back and listen to his criticisms. We're going to defend our record," Mr. Hayden said.

In response, the Democratic challenger has begun his own attacks without waiting for Mr. Hayden to strike. During a string of candidates debates so far neither candidate is ducking the other, and the result is lively campaign that many believe will go down to the wire. The next public forum is Tuesday night at the Carver Center for Arts and Technology, 938 York Road, at 7 p.m.

Hayden backers and Republican leaders say the executive has to wage a spirited defense if he wants to keep the job he won in a 1990 upset.

"Roger has got to fire people up," said county GOP Chairman Kent Swanson. "The troops get complacent. I have to agree that at this point in time, it's a close race."

The escalation of hostilities became evident Tuesday night in a debate on WCBM radio.

Mr. Ruppersberger drew first blood by accusing Mr. Hayden of being a politician -- something the executive has always insisted he is not.

He followed with accusations about Mr. Hayden's "flip-flopping" on 1990 campaign promises, charges of "no leadership," especially in Annapolis, of hiring back more than 400 workers after laying 290 off in February 1993, and of striking out against the Moving to Opportunity housing program when it was too late -- purely for political gain.

"Roger took a position when it was a political issue. That's a politician," he said.

Mr. Hayden claimed that Mr. Ruppersberger was misrepresenting crime statistics and branding the councilman as supporter of what he labeled former Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen's free-spending ways.

"Who is the real Dutch? Ask the real Dutch to stand up," he taunted. He charged that Mr. Ruppersberger represents the Democratic "old boy" characters voters threw out in 1990.

Mr. Hayden attacked Mr. Ruppersberger's proposals to have the county executive appoint school board members and to hire a private firm to run the county's Economic Development Commission.

"There is nothing more harmful to Baltimore County than having the executive appoint the school board," Mr. Hayden said. The governor now appoints school board members.

County legislators rejected an attempt to give the county executive the power to appoint school board members years ago when Mr. Rasmussen suggested it, and Mr. Hayden, a former school board president, has long opposed the idea.

Privatizing the Economic Development Commission was suggested two years ago by Towson Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Republican.

Mr. Riley said the executive opposed the idea then, and said Mr. Ruppersberger counseled him at the time to wait on the idea. Now Mr. Ruppersberger says the county could get money from business groups and do more with a private firm than it can now on its own.

Mr. Hayden made plain his campaign strategy last month when he attacked Mr. Ruppersberger as someone who has "done very little as a county councilman except rubber stamp my budgets and my legislation."

Late last week, Mr. Riley called that assessment unfair.

He said it was to Mr. Hayden's credit that he worked with Mr. Ruppersberger and other council members of both parties.

"He [Mr. Ruppersberger] didn't rubber stamp things. We cut a lot of deals with Dutch. Some things he didn't go along with." Mr. Riley said.

What the voters will think of these two formerly quiet, cooperative public officials who now trade barbs so freely remains to be seen.

Bob Barrett, Mr. Ruppersberger's campaign manager, said his candidate's attacks Tuesday night were not a reaction to Mr. Hayden's, but part of a long-range strategy the Ruppersberger campaign has been following for more than a year.

"We've had a game plan . . . we're really attacking his record," Mr. Ruppersberger said yesterday. "When he [Hayden] gets scared and when he gets mad, he seems to overreact. I have not attacked him personally."

According to several fellow Republicans, Mr. Hayden had little choice but to come out swinging.

"Roger is fighting for his political life," veteran Towson Republican Del. Martha S. Klima said. "I'm glad to see him take an aggressive approach. If he laid back . . . he'd look weak. It indicates he feels very threatened by the challenger, and indeed he is."

Mr. Swanson, the party chairman, noted that Mr. Hayden had a relatively quiet primary election, while Mr. Ruppersberger many speaking opportunities and ran weeks of television advertising in a lively four-way primary contest.

If Mr. Hayden can energize his workers -- who were left reeling by the loss of their close ally, gubernatorial candidate Helen Delich Bentley -- and "show people that Dutch isn't everything he says he is," it will work to his favor, Mr. Swanson said.

But Mr. Riley and Republican state Sen. Vernon F. Boozer of Towson also sounded a note of caution about a negative campaign.

"I always try to stress what I'm about," Mr. Boozer said, adding that while he's in favor of aggressive, active campaigns, he's unsure about contentious ones.

Unwilling to comment on his fellow Republican's strategy, Mr. Boozer said an incumbent's record is always fair game at election time. Mr. Ruppersberger "is a respected councilman. You don't want an open, running battle," the senator said.

Mr. Riley also cautioned against too much tit-for-tat fighting or personal attacks on Mr. Ruppersberger.

"That's kind of a dangerous thing to do with Dutch," he said. "When he gets going, he can be tough."

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