Ruppersberger uses Hayden's 1990 strategy CAMPAIGN 1994 -- COUNTY EXECUTIVE

October 24, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

Monogrammed custom shirts, Lincoln Town Cars -- and now flip-flop shower sandals.

They're important symbols in Baltimore County politics as the race for county executive enters its final weeks.

Democrat Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III is using the "flip-flops" to attack Republican incumbent Roger B. Hayden, just as Mr. Hayden's troops used the fancy shirts and car to attack the man he defeated in 1990, Dennis F. Rasmussen.

Mr. Ruppersberger waved a pair of the sandals over his head to the cheers of hundreds at his October fund-raiser. There he accused Mr. Hayden of changing positions on such diverse matters as his political party and campaign promises not to close senior centers or lay off county workers.

Mr. Hayden, 49, was a lifelong Democrat until he switched parties to run for executive in 1990. He also laid off hundreds of county workers, closed senior centers and shut down libraries in 1993 after two years of recession and state aid cuts depleted the county treasury by $90 million.

Mr. Hayden and his supporters insist he did well under tremendous pressure that no one could have foreseen. Former County Executive Dale Anderson, a Democrat, praised Mr. Hayden, arguing that he kept his main promise to the voters by cutting the payroll and reducing spending increases -- regardless of political consequences.

Management issues aside, Mr. Ruppersberger is attacking Mr. Hayden's vision and ability to lead an urbanizing county of 700,000 through tough economic times and growing social problems.

Unlike Mr. Rasmussen, who virtually ignored his critics, Mr. Hayden has counterattacked, charging Mr. Ruppersberger with being a do-nothing, rubber-stamp councilman and a big-spending Democrat in disguise.

"I feel good," Mr. Hayden said at a small fund-raiser at a Towson restaurant Oct. 17. "I have a comfortable feeling that we're going to win. We've done our homework. You give your best answers . . . and move forward from there."

A Republican candidate for executive would expect to get help from a Republican gubernatorial candidate from the same county. But Mr. Hayden was an early ally of U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who lost to north county Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey in the GOP primary.

Mr. Hayden was left "backing the wrong horse," in Mrs. Sauerbrey's words, and he has not moved to ally himself with her campaign.

Although he now lives in Baldwin, the incumbent has his roots in the county's blue-collar Eastside. He grew up in Edgemere and graduated from Sparrows Point High School.

In 22 years at Eastern Stainless Steel, he worked his way up from mail boy to the top management ranks before moving on to George's Transfer, a northern county trucking firm, in 1986. He served 12 years on the county school board, including seven as chairman. But he never sought elective office until he switched parties and launched what most thought was a long shot bid for county executive in 1990.

Mr. Ruppersberger, 48, grew up in North Baltimore and was a high school athlete at City College before his family moved to Timonium. He spent summers as an Ocean City lifeguard and seasonal police officer while earning a law degree from the University of Baltimore.

He worked as a county prosecutor for nine years until 1983. Two years later, he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the council and has been elected to the seat twice.

The challenger is confident, and by many traditional measures -- endorsements, television ads and organization -- he seems to be ahead.

"We're really doing just what we did in the primary," he said, referring to his easy victory over three opponents. "All we're doing is talking about his record. . . . Roger came out negative -- he started negative."

Mr. Hayden has raised more money than his Democratic challenger over the past four years, but he's spent much of that $700,000 on routine things such as campaign office rentals and salaries that past incumbents have charged to the county.

His television ads are scheduled to hit the air today, but he's looking for money to buy more time. The same goes for Mr. Ruppersberger, who raised more than $550,000 but recently sent out an appeal for $50,000 to buy last-minute ads.

Whoever wins, the results are expected to be much closer than in 1990, when Mr. Rasmussen outspent Mr. Hayden by a 10-to-1 margin but lost by more than 46,000 votes in a wave of anti-incumbent sentiment that swept the county.

There are several important differences this time around.

* The taxpayer anger of 1990, sparked by large state property assessment increases, is missing this year. Many voters seem apathetic about the race. Given Democrats' 2 1/2 -to-1 voter registration edge, that could work for Mr. Ruppersberger.

* Mr. Hayden has a record to defend. In 1990, he was an unknown and won an easy upset victory on a wave of anti-Rasmussen sentiment.

* Mr. Ruppersberger benefited from the exposure from a lively four-way Democratic primary, while Mr. Hayden faced only token opposition.

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