Ruppersberger hires a $95,000 executive officer

April 21, 1995|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

Michael H. Davis, a 35-year-old lawyer, political strategist and lobbyist for Baltimore County, has emerged as a key player in the administration of County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III.

Mr. Davis, a partner at the Baltimore law firm of Venable, Baetjer & Howard, will become a full-time county employee June 1 with the new title of executive officer at $95,000 a year.

That's $5,000 more than the executive earns and at least $10,000 more than the salary of any other member of Mr. Ruppersberger's staff. To earn it, Mr. Davis will take over jobs now done by three people in his official capacity as communications coordinator, Annapolis lobbyist and labor negotiator.

The Owings Mills resident is a longtime Democratic activist who came to the forefront during Mr. Ruppersberger's s successful campaign to unseat Republican incumbent Roger B. Hayden in November. He also served under contract as the county's lobbyist with the General Assembly.

"He's a [political] scientist," Mr. Ruppersberger said. "He came in during the campaign and set the strategy and goals and ran the polls. His instincts are great, and I give him a lot of credit for what we did in Annapolis this year."

Mr. Davis, who got his first taste of politics as a student at the Gilman School, said yesterday that he always has been interested in public service. "I don't view it as a job. I enjoy it," he said.

The money for his salary will come from savings achieved by ending the county's $74,880 lobbying contract with Venable and by the removal of Robert W. Hughes as county communications director and Arthur K. Davis as county labor commissioner. The Davises are not related.

Mr. Hughes, 45, who served three county executives and makes $66,000 a year, is moving to the county library system. Mr. Davis, 58, has been labor commissioner, a job that pays $69,770 annually, since 1987. His status could not be determined.

Mr. Ruppersberger said the shuffle will produce a $50,000 savings overall, and defended Mr. Davis' salary, saying county government must pay more money to attract the best talent.

Although Mr. Davis' salary is high by county standards, sources said he will take a substantial pay cut from his partner's position at Venable, one of Baltimore's most prestigious law firms.

John B. Howard, the firm's Towson office director, described Mr. Davis as "a superb lawyer."

"Dutch thinks the world of him and we're going to miss him," Mr. Howard said.

James L. Shea, the Venable managing partner who recruited Mr. Davis seven years ago after his graduation from Harvard University and the University of Maryland Law School, agreed. "Mike's terrific. We try to make sure people feel free to do public service," he said.

The new job formalizes the duties Mr. Davis has quietly been assuming since the election. He became the county's contract lobbyist in December, and was closeted with county labor union presidents several weeks ago. He has also handled public relations work for the executive.

"I felt very strongly that he was doing so much work for me that he could not continue that without Venable being upset," Mr. Ruppersberger said.

Mr. Davis grew up in Randallstown, the son of a Baltimore police officer. He attended Gilman on scholarship, where he played football and got his first exposure to politics with another Gilman student, U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. The 2nd District Republican was his upperclass adviser, Mr. Davis said.

One of his courses required volunteer work in a political campaign, and he chose U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes' 1976 effort.

"I was precinct captain at a couple Randallstown precincts. I caught the bug," he said.

He interned with Mr. Sarbanes after high school, and after his graduation from Harvard he worked in former Gov. William Donald Schaefer's 1983 mayoral election campaign.

He met Mr. Ruppersberger in 1990, when the Schaefer campaign assigned him to help former state Sen. Francis X. Kelly. Mr. Kelly was running on a ticket with Mr. Ruppersberger, who was then a county councilman.

Their friendship flourished, and Mr. Davis helped kick off the executive's 1994 campaign.

"He values my judgment. He's easy to work with and for," Mr. Davis said of his boss.

County Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican, praised Mr. Ruppersberger's new executive officer. "I think this guy is great," he said. "He's obviously top-notch. Dutch really relies on him."

Janice Piccinini, the former Democratic state senator who won that 1990 primary race against Mr. Kelly, said she was unaware of Mr. Davis' role in the campaign but respects his abilities.

"He's got a lot of energy, and he's very ambitious, very friendly and very aggressive," she said.

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