Ruppersberger says he 'loves challenges' 2 new faces appear on executive scene ELECTION 1994

November 10, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

On the morning after, with his son leaving for college and two other phones ringing as he spoke on a third, Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III compared his win in the Baltimore County executive's race to his most dramatic victories as a City College football player.

"It's kind of the same feeling," he said, recalling how a long, hot summer of practice gave way to the season's first games, and after months of daily toil, "It came down to the ultimate game."

"You feel very satisfied," he said, "but there's another day." That means getting back to his plans for running the county government and proving he has the leadership and vision that he said incumbent Roger B. Hayden lacked.

"I love challenges," the 48-year-old Cockeysville councilman said.

The 6-foot-1-inch, affable former prosecutor is in some ways the stereotypical politician, particularly suited to a county that confounded political stereotypes by voting for a hometown Republican gubernatorial candidate while throwing out a Republican executive in favor of Mr. Ruppersberger.

He's a moderate Democrat who gets along with Republicans, a financially secure lawyer always ready with a smile and a handshake.

"Dutch genuinely loves people," Republican Councilman Douglas B. Riley of Towson said yesterday. "He's a big-hearted guy."

He said that quality is a key to Mr. Ruppersberger's reputation as a legislative bridge-builder who finds consensus and avoids conflict. Indeed the close legislative alliance between Mr. Riley, a partisan Republican newcomer, and Mr. Ruppersberger -- one of two incumbent Democrats to survive the 1990 Republican election tide -- is testimony to his adaptability.

Like his football seasons and his long campaign for county executive, however, Mr. Ruppersberger's climb to high public office wasn't built on a smile and a wave.

A North Baltimore native who moved to Baltimore County with his family after completing high school in the city, Mr. Ruppersberger worked summers as a sun-bleached lifeguard and seasonal police officer at Ocean City, where he and his wife Kay, a county schoolteacher, own a condominium.

He attended the University of Maryland College Park and went to law school at night at the University of Baltimore, passing the bar in 1972. He spent the next nine years as an assistant state's attorney in Baltimore County, and it was during that part of his legal career that a near fatal auto accident changed his life.

Mr. Ruppersberger was driving his county car home one night in 1975 when the vehicle swerved across the center line of Dulaney Valley Road and hit another vehicle head on.

His near-miraculous survival at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he shrank to 145 pounds while being treated for more than 20 broken bones and internal injuries, eventually inspired him to seek public office as a way of trying to help the then-new facility.

In 1978 he lost his first run for office against conservative Democratic Sen. Francis X. Kelly. But the challenger's interest in Shock Trauma impressed Mr. Kelly so much that the two became friends and political allies. Mr. Ruppersberger worked on Mr. Kelly's 1982 campaign, and the senator helped get his protege appointed to a County Council vacancy in 1985.

After nine years on the council, including two as chairman, Mr. Ruppersberger said he was approached in early 1993 by several Republican businessmen who were unhappy with Mr. Hayden's performance.

That, he said, began his long effort to win the county executive's job. It was a textbook campaign, built on early organization and success in winning key endorsements from the county police union and from several eastern Democratic clubs, proving that Mr. Ruppersberger had appeal outside his north county home.

His block-by-block effort piled endorsement upon endorsement. Brushing past three other Democrats in the primary, he built a solid, 54 percent majority in the general election by winning big in the northwest and garnering a respectable vote everywhere else.

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