County chief on campaign money trail Though unopposed, Ruppersberger keeps raising funds

'The key to everything'

Balto. Co. executive has been mentioned in governor's race

March 16, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

He might have stacks of money and no re-election opposition, but Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger is looking for a few more friends -- and a few more dollars -- to buttress his political future.

On the heels of a $300,000 fund-raiser Tuesday that drew nearly 2,000 supporters, Ruppersberger plans to attend a series of more intimate events in coming months that could generate $5,000 to $10,000 each, mainly from smaller donors.

Those events also will expose Ruppersberger -- often mentioned as a gubernatorial contender -- to donors who don't usually attend his big, annual fund-raiser, where tickets are $125 and $500, his backers say.

"You've got to raise money. That's the key to everything," says Robert J. Barrett, Ruppersberger's assistant and former campaign manager. "If you don't, other people will raise it."

Michael H. Davis, the county executive's spokesman, notes that even if Ruppersberger runs for re-election this year, as expected, and wins, "This is not the last thing he'll run for." Any funds left over would be available for future campaigns.

With more than $500,000 in the bank before Tuesday night's affair, Ruppersberger has more than enough money for a re-election campaign -- and to make potential opponents think twice.

"He certainly is going to have enough money to run a re-election campaign," says former County Councilwoman Berchie Lee Manley, a Catonsville Republican critic weighing a possible campaign for county executive.

But money isn't everything. Baltimore County Democrats haven't forgotten former County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen's ill-fated 1990 re-election campaign, when he had a $1 million campaign treasury and no Republican opponent until late June -- and lost by a large margin.

While most observers see Ruppersberger as being in a vastly stronger position -- without the tax and development congestion protests that were gathering strength in 1990 -- they caution against overconfidence.

"In politics, I never call anything a sure shot," says Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat. "His chances [of re-election] are real good -- but it's not my opinion that counts."

Despite his repeated statements that he is running for re-election, speculation that Ruppersberger might challenge Gov. Parris N. Glendening continues and is likely to grow after the General Assembly session ends next month.

But while a draft-Ruppersberger movement is possible if Glendening falters, observers in and outside Ruppersberger's JTC camp see little chance that he would launch an open challenge.

"I personally don't see him doing that," says County Council Chairman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville-Arbutus Democrat.

U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore-area Democrat who decided last year not to challenge Glendening, says the incumbent benefits from having multiple challengers in a primary. At least three Democrats are challenging Glendening.

One Ruppersberger backer says that much of the opposition to Glendening is based on his style -- not his policies.

Ruppersberger, for example, has repeatedly praised the governor for his anti-sprawl campaign, and for bestowing millions of state dollars on Baltimore County for school construction and revitalizing older communities.

Says Towson Republican Councilman Douglas B. Riley: "He's just doing what he did last year -- leveraging the governor" for more school construction money.

Final decisions won't be made until May on the $32 million in state school construction funds the county is seeking this year, leaving little time to begin a statewide campaign for a September primary.

Other elected officials say more fund raising is entirely appropriate.

"You never take anything for granted," says Moxley, who also has no election rival.

Ruppersberger is happy to keep the speculation about his intentions alive. At his Woodlawn fund-raiser, the county executive pretended to begin an announcement about a statewide campaign -- then stopped and said, "Wrong speech."

That drew laughs from some. But Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who was standing behind him with dozens of other elected officials, didn't smile.

"He told me he was going to tell it," she later said of the joke. If she didn't laugh, she said it was "because I have a cold."

Pub Date: 3/16/98

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