'Bentley Building' at center of dispute Cummings blocks push to put her name on HCFA headquarters

August 02, 1996|By John M. Biers | John M. Biers,STATES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- She won the war but could lose the monument.

The plan to designate a new federal building in Baltimore County the Helen Delich Bentley Building has hit a snag. U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings is blocking an effort led by Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and supported by the other six Maryland House members to '' name the new Health Care Financing Administration building after the fiery former congresswoman.

Late Wednesday, Cummings, a 7th District Democrat, asked Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a 1st District Republican, to put on hold the effort to name the building, which is in Woodlawn, in Cummings' district.

A Cummings spokesman said the lawmaker was angered that neither Gilchrest, who chairs the subcommittee with oversight of the building-naming process, nor Ehrlich consulted him about the legislation.

"The congressman is objecting to the process," said Vernon Simms, a special assistant to Cummings. "Historically, you don't name a building after someone without at least talking to the member whose district it's located in."

Simms said Cummings is blocking the bill for now. He said he did not know whether the congressman is open to negotiations.

Bentley, a Republican who fought hard three years ago to ensure that the building would be situated in Baltimore County and not in Baltimore, said she was surprised at the development. She said she phoned Cummings about a month ago and that he approved of naming the building for her.

"I have no idea what happened," she said. "This is the first I've heard about it."

Bentley said she thinks the naming of the building is appropriate because of her leadership in the original effort to get the building for Baltimore County.

"I'm the one who led the fight," she said.

"Naming bills" are usually among the least controversial in Congress. The House typically approves about 60 designations a year for federal buildings and courthouses, a congressional staff member said.

Although there are no written rules, lawmakers follow a number of guidelines. For one, lawmakers defer to the House member in whose district the building is situated.

Spokesman Richard Cross said Ehrlich did not consult with Cummings regarding the bill because Bentley had discussed the matter with the new congressman. Cross said Ehrlich promoted the bill to honor Bentley for her role in the HCFA building and to recognize "her service and accomplishments in the area."

Gilchrest said that Kweisi Mfume, whom Cummings succeeded when Mfume resigned to become president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, originally was listed as a co-sponsor but withdrew his support, saying his name had been added by "staff error."

Bentley, however, said yesterday that she spoke to Mfume after he withdrew his support and persuaded him to support the bill again. Mfume could not be reached for comment yesterday.

When Cummings succeeded Mfume this year, Gilchrest said an effort was made to revive the legislation. Cummings appeared to support the bill until this week, Gilchrest said.

The controversy is the latest in the contentious history of the HCFA building.

In 1992, Baltimore and Baltimore County waged aggressive lobbying campaigns aimed at winning the $120 million complex for the federal agency that runs Medicare and Medicaid. Construction started in 1993 and was completed in September.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke led the city's fight, arguing that the city needed the jobs the building would provide. City advocates proposed a site just north of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Bentley, meanwhile, lobbied for a site near the HCFA's old Woodlawn site, an area outside, but close to, the 2nd Congressional District, which she represented before Ehrlich.

Bentley won.

She said she didn't know whether her 1992 battle with Schmoke affected Cummings' decision to hold up action on the building-naming bill. "I don't know. That's way over," she said. "That ended three or four years ago."

Bentley said she was taking the latest controversy in stride.

"No matter whose name they put on that building, it is my building because I am the one who carried the fight on that building, and I am the one who led the delegation," she said.

"It's fine, but I'm not going to die if it doesn't happen."

Pub Date: 8/02/96

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