THIRTY YEARS ago, when C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger was a policeman in Ocean City, a fellow told him, "You ought to go to law school."
"Are you kidding?" Ruppersberger replied. "I'm tired of studying."
He'd graduated from Baltimore City College, where his grades were good mainly because "I had a good memory," and he graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, where he'd gone "just to play lacrosse."
But he took a long shot at the law, going to night school at the University of Baltimore and discovering "for the first time in my life, I really enjoyed studying." He became an assistant state's attorney and a Baltimore County councilman. Then came overtures: Dutch, you gotta run for county executive.
"I didn't want this job," Ruppersberger was saying last week. "I had to be talked into it. I'd been on the council for nine years, I had a law practice. The next thing I knew, the business community was saying, 'You gotta run.' "
The point of all this history? People are asking him to run again, only this time it's for governor. But Ruppersberger's biding his time, and vastly enjoying his job, while observing the shaking-out process that has now commenced.
In Annapolis, state legislators packed their bags last week and went home after 90 days of business, and Parris Glendening readied himself for a re-election run. In Montgomery County, Democratic challenger Ray Schoenke announced he's commencing a heavy television advertising blitz this week taking direct aim at Glendening. In Harford County, candidate Eileen Rehrmann awaits official endorsement from Kurt L. Schmoke, the mayor of Baltimore.
And in Towson, Ruppersberger counts all the state money Baltimore County just received, and announces a $1.6 billion spending plan focusing heavily on schools, on construction projects, and on pay raises for county workers.
He seems a highly contented man, a man for whom good things seem to happen when he's looking the other way. For months, as Parris Glendening's popularity dropped in polls and Republican Ellen Sauerbrey made threatening gestures, Ruppersberger's had people urging him to get into the race. Consistently, his response has been that he loves being county executive.
"I mean, I'm keeping my options open," he said last week, "but I don't want to run because of ego. That's not fair. When I took this job, the first year was really rough. I had to review all these programs, straighten out the basics. I had to downsize, change department heads. That's not fun. Getting rid of people, that's the worst part of the job. But now we're straightened out, and the job's fun. Do I want to give that up?"
There are other considerations, as well. Glendening's popularity numbers are weak, but he's still a sitting governor. With Rehrmann and Schoenke already in the race, Ruppersberger's entrance would only water down the anti- Glendening vote -- unless Rehrmann and Schoenke dropped out.
Schoenke, a former pro football player and now an insurance executive, has almost no name recognition but plenty of money -- his own. Rehrmann has decent name recognition in the Baltimore area, but little outside of it. So she needs big TV money, which she currently lacks.
What she does have, though, is the prospect of important endorsements. Some say Kurt Schmoke will endorse her, perhaps this week, and that Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry may follow suit later.
Does either endorsement matter? Four years ago, they rallied voters to back Glendening. Without them, Ellen Sauerbrey sits in Annapolis. But the city and Prince George's County have done pretty well from Glendening. The city took $711 million home from Annapolis, which was $50 million more than last year. Such money ought to count for something.
Then, too, there's concern that Schmoke's endorsement of Rehrmann might be a mixed blessing. With his city's housing department about to be investigated by Washington, Schmoke has publicly blamed racial considerations. It is not a universally popular posture, particularly since the city has received more than $1 billion in federal money over the last five years and the woman heading the federal investigation was appointed by Schmoke's old friend Bill Clinton.
Four years ago, Schmoke's endorsement of Glendening was crucial. This year, Glendening searches the landscape for allies.
And, in Towson, Dutch Ruppersberger leans back and watches the shakeout process. Despite daily overtures to enter the governor's race, he says his intention is to spend the next four years as county executive. Of course, he's had intentions in the past. And then, politics being what it is.
Pub Date: 4/19/98