Bentley receives state contract to consult on maritime issues

January 13, 1995|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Sun Staff Writer

Former 2nd District Rep. Helen Delich Bentley has been hired by the state as a consultant on maritime issues, a move that should assure the port of Baltimore continued influence in Washington.

Mrs. Bentley, a five-term Republican congresswoman and widely respected expert on maritime issues, confirmed last night that she will work on an hourly contract with the state. The job will pay up to $75,000 a year, she said.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Mrs. Bentley's longtime friend and political supporter, is expected to announce the hiring today.

Former members of Congress are barred from lobbying the first year after leaving office, but they are free to consult with elected officials if their advice is sought, she said.

"If a member [of Congress] asks me to come in to talk, I can do it," the 71-year-old Mrs. Bentley said. "Already several have. I can also call an office and arrange for someone to go in and talk with them."

Mrs. Bentley chose not to run for re-election to Congress last year, instead making a bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. After her defeat by Ellen R. Sauerbrey in the primary election, many speculated that she would get a port-related job in state government.

Among the posts mentioned was state transportation secretary, a position that is expected to be filled today or Monday by Gov.-elect Parris N. Glendening.

Mrs. Bentley's absence in Washington -- particularly with the Republican takeover of Congress -- was seen as a serious loss for the maritime industry and for the port of Baltimore.

"She's highly respected by everyone in the industry," said William K. Hellmann, a former Maryland Secretary of Transportation and a member of the Maryland Port Commission, which approved the hourly contract with Mrs. Bentley in a closed meeting this week.

"She's had great access to the various federal agencies and was able to get answers in a very quick time," Mr. Hellmann added.

Mrs. Bentley, who served as chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission from 1969 to 1975, shepherded much of the maritime and port legislation in Congress, sponsoring as many as two-thirds of such bills at any given time.

"You could almost talk to her in bullet shorthand and get a matter resolved," said Gloria Cataneo Rudman, executive director of the American Maritime Coalition, the official voice of the industry in Washington.

Mrs. Bentley said last night she also will serve as a consultant to that coalition.

During her tenure in Congress, Mrs. Bentley was a relentless supporter of the port of Baltimore and shipyards, lobbying for contracts and jobs. According to Mr. Hellmann and others, she pushed through the agreement to dredge Baltimore's harbor channel to a depth of 50 feet.

Again this year, dredging is expected to top the list of port-related issues in Congress.

Mrs. Bentley, a tough-talking politician, has influence in the maritime industry that spans an unusually diverse group. She has maintained close personal friendships with union leaders such as John Bowers of the International Longshoremen's Association and with top shipping company executives throughout the world.

In Baltimore's 1991 longshoremen strike, Mrs. Bentley intervened, helping to break the impasse that had paralyzed the port.

"She talked the talk and walked the walk," MPA Executive Director Michael P. Angelos once said about her relationship with dockworkers. "She's one tough lady."

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