Questions linger over executive's 1998 plans Ruppersberger to run for governor, 2nd term?

March 11, 1997|By Ronnie Greene | Ronnie Greene,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Larry Carson contributed to this article.

A political cartoon is circulating in Towson with three people in a race, sneakers afoot, heading toward the governor's mansion in Annapolis. Two have made the dash before -- Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, his 1994 opponent and potential 1998 foe.

The third politician in the picture: C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Baltimore County executive.

The sketch is meant as lighthearted fare, appearing on an invitation to a County Council fund-raiser.

But it illustrates a question about Ruppersberger's political future, one likely to make the rounds this evening at his fund-raiser at Martin's West, an event expected to draw more than 1,000 supporters paying $100 to $500 each.

As Ruppersberger heads into the backstretch of his first term as executive, will he attempt a run for governor in 1998? Or will he seek re-election, waiting until 2002 to seek higher office?

Publicly, Ruppersberger has announced plans to seek re-election. He declined to comment for this article.

In interviews during the past week, some of his strongest supporters -- along with politicians from both parties -- say they believe he will run for re-election.

Some view his chances of winning another county term as a lock, but the governor's mansion a long shot. Others wonder whether he would oppose a sitting Democrat, potentially splintering his party. Still others believe Ruppersberger will want another term to finish county programs involving schools, police, neighborhoods and economic development.

"I think he's going to run for re-election," said Edwin F. Hale Sr., a banker and political supporter. "He's doing a good job, and I think he's going to keep on doing it."

Another supporter, businessman Hanan "Bean" Sibel, agreed. "A lot of people have asked for him to run for governor, but at this point I think he's going to run for county executive."

Sibel, Ruppersberger's campaign finance chairman, said last week that he expects tonight's event to raise "in the neighborhood of $300,000." That would put it on par with 1996's fund-raiser, which brought in more than $360,000 for the campaign.

By the end of 1996, Ruppersberger had raised more than $572,000. With tonight's fund-raiser, he is on a pace to far exceed the $741,000 he raised in the 1994 campaign.

The Ruppersberger camp sent an invitation for the fund-raiser to Glendening. However, the governor is scheduled to induct members into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame in Annapolis and won't be able to attend, said spokesman Raymond C. Feldmann.

Does Glendening anticipate Ruppersberger as a foe in the 1998 Democratic primary? Feldmann said the governor is not focusing on who might challenge him, with his attention "very focused on his legislative program."

"At some point, he will focus on who's going to run and who's not going to run in '98," Feldmann added. "And he's very confident he'll be the Democratic nominee in 1998."

Some state office holders suspect Ruppersberger will seek the governor's office -- but not until 2002.

"I don't think he'll run for governor in this upcoming election," said Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, a Towson Republican. "I don't think it will bode well for him in the Democratic Party. You don't take on the incumbent.

"But I think after that, you'll see him in the next election."

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Democrat who represents Woodlawn and Randallstown, said she has "a feeling at this point that he's going to run for county executive again."

"In meetings with the delegation, he has talked about what he'd like to accomplish in another term. He's a broad-vision person. There's a lot of things in one term you just can't finish up."

Still, the door might not be closed for a governor's bid in 1998 -- especially if polls several months or a year from now show Glendening trailing Sauerbrey.

"Obviously, a lot of people feel the governor is vulnerable and that's the reason for all the interest on both sides of the field," said Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican who is co-chair of Sauerbrey's 1998 campaign.

"When you look at the field of potential Democrats, he's in the top five, no doubt about it," said Ehrlich, whose district includes part of the county.

If Ruppersberger runs for governor, it would open the door for a wide-open race for executive.

Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican, is one possible candidate.

It's on an invitation to Riley's March 14 fund-raiser that the sketch of the footrace to Annapolis appears. The cartoon has Sauerbrey in the lead, with Ruppersberger sprinting behind. In last place is Glendening, standing still.

The cartoon also has Riley heading toward Towson.

"It's intentionally ambiguous and intended to be fun," Riley said. "Obviously I'm running toward Towson. I could be running for re-election or I could also be running for county executive. The assumption is I would be running for executive only if [Ruppersberger] ran for governor."

Pub Date: 3/11/97

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