Executive, testing waters, declares county beach safe

`This is a real jewel,' Ruppersberger says in stunt reopening park

June 12, 1999|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger took the political plunge yesterday morning.

No, not that one.

The big guy -- who's long been rumored as a heavyweight gubernatorial contender in election year 2000 -- took a dip instead into the chilly, once-contaminated waters of Miami Beach to promote its clean bill of health. Excessive bacteria attributed to bird droppings forced county officials to close the public facility for more than a year in 1997.

Ruppersberger's antics yesterday convinced the crowd not only that the water was safe, but also that the 53-year-old was ready to take that other jump, too.

"All the water stayed in the river," quipped Bill Bissel, 57, of Bowleys Quarters. "That's enough to get my vote."

Jill Merkel, who at 11 is too young to vote but old enough to have an opinion, declared, "I could do better."

For the benefit of tardy TV cameras, Ruppersberger took the plunge four times -- in a stiff breeze and under cloudy skies. Ah, the things you do for the job, he sighed.

He had no rubber ducky. No red-and-white, shoulder-to-knee Victorian suit like that of former Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer, who jumped in the National Aquarium's seal pool in 1981 before a crowd of 300. After all, this is staid, buttoned-to-the-collar Baltimore County.

But it was a much better publicity event than Baltimore City Council candidate John Charles Armor's swimming a quarter-mile in the Inner Harbor in 1971 to prove the oil-slicked, fecal bacteria-infested waters were dirty and unhealthy. Needless to say, Armor didn't win the election.

The normally well-tailored former prosecutor -- who lost 30 pounds recently, he'll have you know -- also showed off some incredibly milky-white feet. It's the result of a really bad golfer's tan, he confessed.

"If he did that last year, he would have looked like a whale berthed there," proclaimed state Del. Mike Weir, a fellow Democrat who came to see the show. "He looks rather svelte now."

With his still-substantial girth tucked neatly into a green polo shirt and patterned swim trunks, Ruppersberger scored a perfect 10 with his employees and gave a small crowd of onlookers plenty of chuckles. He emerged soaking wet and grinning. No need for that little life guard sitting on the beach or his red rescue tube, he boasted gleefully.

"Look at that water. It reminds you of the Bahamas," said Ruppersberger without a hint of sarcasm, his blue eyes following the path of a blue heron flying across the bay.

"This is a real jewel. Our own beach on the Chesapeake in the land of pleasant living," he said. "Hey, I just swallowed a mouthful of water. If that doesn't prove this is clean, I don't know what will."

Pub Date: 6/12/99

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