Four years after failing to unseat one of Baltimore County's most entrenched Democratic state senators, former Del. John J. Bishop still seems like an earnest Republican outsider with an appetite for uphill struggles.
Bishop, a little grayer and a bit heavier, is hustling through Towson's summer, trying to stage a political comeback that even some in his own party have discouraged as he challenges Democratic County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger. Many believe that Ruppersberger, a highly effective campaigner, will easily be re-elected, particularly with the economy surging and public money going to nearly every county neighborhood for long-awaited school repairs, streetscapes, new parks and infrastructure.
But the 50-year-old Parkville mortgage broker is undaunted by all that, along with arguments that his campaign against Ruppersberger will merely rev up the incumbent Democrat's organization and hurt Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey's gubernatorial campaign in Baltimore County.
"I don't see him as being as invulnerable as everyone [does] who paints that picture," Bishop says confidently, finishing a piece of lunchtime pizza recently at Towson Commons food court.
"I called the elections board the other day to see if Dutch has withdrawn, but he hasn't," he said, jokingly.
Despite a healthy economy, Ruppersberger, 52, has failed to reverse the income tax increase of 1992 and he hasn't been responsive enough to community groups fighting congestion, Bishop says. In addition, he criticizes the county executive for trying to remove jobs from the merit system to make them executive appointees.
The former two-term delegate -- who lost a bid to unseat state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell in 1994 -- tags the county executive "Boss Ruppersberger," a label that Michael H. Davis, Ruppersberger's spokesman, dismisses as rhetoric.
"We'll put up Dutch's record of accomplishment against what he's done," Davis said.
Bishop has no official campaign headquarters, operating out of his home instead. He has no large corps of volunteers, no professional managersand only a tiny election fund compared to Ruppersberger's $800,000 campaign fund.
But Bishop is starting to organize and hopes to forge a unity ticket with Republican county council and courthouse candidates in the next few weeks.
"We're 100 percent supportive. We've voted to give his campaign $4,000," says Christopher R. West, chairman of the county GOP state central committee. Seeking unity and common themes, West helped organize a meeting of Republicans earlier this month at retiring county Councilman Douglas B. Riley's Towson office.
"Everybody's going to be singing their own verses," West said, "but when it's time for the chorus, everybody's going to be together."
Bishop also has the promise of $1,000 from Republican former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, with whom he has worked to strengthen the Republican party.
Since he's not independently wealthy, Bishop says, he plans to campaign mainly in the mornings and evenings, leaving midday for his Oakdale Avenue, home-based mortgage brokerage business.
And brushing off past criticism that his campaign lacked vigor, Bishop says he still doesn't plan to miss any of his younger daughter's high school volleyball games this fall. Family still comes first, he says. The daughters he and his wife, Sally, raised are nearly grown at ages 19 and 17.
As a delegate, Bishop championed reform-minded, centrist bills advocating tighter campaign finance regulations and a commission to promote more efficiency in government. He also backed a maximum security program at the Patuxent Institution for violent youthful offenders.
As a Republican, however, his political path has been rough. General Assembly Democrats were sometimes unwilling to back his bills. After the 1990 census, the Democratic-controlled legislature redistricted him out of his Towson political base, pushing him farther east to create a one-delegate Towson sub-district for Democrat Gerry L. Brewster.
Now, mindful of upstart Republican Roger B. Hayden's 1990 upset victory over entrenched Democratic County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen, Bishop is attempting what most people see as an even tougher challenge against Ruppersberger.
The key -- and toughest chore-- for an uphill campaign like Bishop's, says Hayden, now an employee of the Baltimore Orioles, is putting together a dedicated cadre of volunteers. "The challenge is putting yourself out as a credible candidate. There's no easy way to do that," Hayden said.
Why make such an uphill effort against a popular, well-financed Democratic incumbent recently termed the political equivalent of a "500-pound gorilla" by one Republican stalwart and a "a sleeping giant" by another?
"I think there are issues out there to be addressed," Bishop said. The idea of leaving Ruppersberger unopposed -- a strategy urged on him by supporters of Sauerbrey to keep Ruppersberger sidelined -- is "unconscionable," he said.
"People feel they have been ignored," he says about the county's often-reformed process for development. "It's not working."
That, he says, goes hand-in-hand with another issue -- the need for a law guaranteeing adequate public facilities, such as schools and roads, before developers are allowed to build new homes. Ruppersberger has opposed such a law, arguing that it would hurt the business climate and discourage new businesses.
Bishop is also adamantly opposed to Ruppersberger's efforts to change the county charter to allow dozens of county merit system jobs to be converted to exempt, appointed positions.
Pub Date: 7/27/98