Ports announces committee to explore options, including Balto. Co. executive

Delegate considering a number of offices

October 06, 2001|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Weighing a number of political options, chief among them Baltimore County executive, Del. James F. Ports Jr. announced last night the formation of an exploratory committee to help him decide which office he'll seek in next year's elections.

Ports gained attention last year when he and County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger engaged in a series of debates about Senate Bill 509, the east-side revitalization measure that would have expanded the county's power to condemn land. Since then he has weighed in on local disputes throughout the county, fashioning himself as a champion of individual rights.

In a county executive campaign, he said, he would focus on the same thing: His belief that politicians serve the people and that government should be attentive and courteous to all residents.

"Many politicians or individuals running for office all of a sudden are talking about gathering input from people, talking about how they are going to involve citizens in the process, and talking about how government should be more inclusive," Ports said in his speech last night at a fund-raiser in Fullerton. "Actions speak louder than words. So while others are talking about involving citizens in the process, I have a proven record of doing it."

Although Ports, a Perry Hall Republican, says he is considering running for everything from Congress to County Council, his primary interest is in the county executive race. Ruppersberger cannot run again because of term limits.

As a state delegate, Ports often has worked on county issues and is generally given high marks for attentiveness to constituents.

"Another thing that is attractive about him to many people is that he is seen as a fighter, someone who's not afraid to use his influence on the issues," said David Marks, a Perry Hall activist.

But if Ports, a 42-year-old sales manager for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., decides to run for executive, he'll be taking a risk.

He would be the third candidate in the race, with Douglas B. Riley, a Republican and former county councilman from Towson, and James T. Smith Jr., a Reisterstown Democrat and former circuit judge. Two other Democrats also are considering county executive bids: state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell and Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder.

Riley said that although he'd prefer to run uncontested for the Republican nomination, a primary would be good for the party.

"The primary is ... the way to have the party nominate somebody who is a little more moderate than the recent right-wing candidates we've had who can't win elections," Riley said.

Community leaders in Towson, one of the more heavily Republican areas of the county, speak highly of Ports. But they are more interested in seeing him challenge Republican Councilman Wayne M. Skinner than Riley, who has significant support in the area.

"Jim knows I could not support him for county executive because I'm committed to Doug," said Don Wright, a west Towson community activist.

If he did win the Republican primary, Ports would then have to overcome the county's history of electing Democratic executives (only two Republicans have won the post).

The debates with Ruppersberger over S.B. 509 and his efforts to change the county's redistricting system and to fight expansion of the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson have given Ports countywide name recognition. But his political base is in the east side of the county, where he has campaigned and where opposition to S.B. 509 was strongest.

Ports' geographic advantage would evaporate in a general election fight against Bromwell, who could likely mobilize the east side's strong Democratic voter base. In fact, Ports has said he wouldn't run if Bromwell entered the race.

Bromwell has been publicly silent on his plans for months, and political observers say he's unlikely to announce a run for any office at least until Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the General Assembly complete the state redistricting process in the spring.

Bromwell could not be reached for comment.

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