Ruppersberger, Bentley discuss issues of port

Democrat ventures into Republican's waters

September 18, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

For their first meeting after the primaries, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger went deep into Helen Delich Bentley's turf yesterday for a meeting of a local maritime group and, by most accounts, held his own.

Bentley, a Republican and former congresswoman, and Ruppersberger, the Democratic Baltimore County executive, addressed many of the same issues in their speeches to the Propeller Club, a group that has worked with Bentley for decades.

Both emphasized the need to find a place to put material dredged to deepen shipping channels in the Chesapeake Bay, the challenges of port security in the post-Sept. 11 world, and the need for federal support to keep the maritime industry - and its jobs - strong.

Bentley is a legend at the port of Baltimore. She has been working on maritime interests since she was assigned to cover the port for The Sun in 1948.

She has said that the inclusion of the port in the redrawn 2nd District, which includes parts of Baltimore and Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties, was a major reason she decided to run for the seat she gave up in 1994 when she unsuccessfully ran for governor.

Ruppersberger has had some experience with the port as executive, but Bentley was able in her talk to note the effects of 1950s legislation or to list the cost per cubic yard for various dredged deposits in the area.

"I think Dutch had done his homework," said Geoffrey Tobias, an attorney focusing on maritime issues with Ober-Kaler. "She didn't have to do any."

Ruppersberger's speech focused on issues of immediate concern in Congress, such as the extension of the federal Maritime Security Program, loan guarantees for ship construction, reducing taxes for maritime companies and workers and port security bills being considered in the House and Senate.

"I don't want to take anything away from Helen Bentley and what she has done for the port. She has done a good job," Ruppersberger said. "The only difference is, the last eight years I've been working hard, working on these issues."

Although Bentley's speech was cut short due to time considerations, she took a more global view of the port's needs. She talked about port security but spoke mostly about finding new sites to deposit dredged material and her belief that the port should be an independent state agency.

She also traded heavily on her years of advocacy for the port, both in office and out.

"In the last eight years when he's been county executive - and he kind of makes it look like I've been in a tomb somewhere - but in the last eight years I've been very active in the port," Bentley said. "I have not only written about it and talked about the port longer than anybody in this room ... I've actually done something about it."

Some members said that despite Bentley's experience, Ruppersberger did a better job of focusing on issues facing Congress, as opposed to issues of concern for the governor and General Assembly.

"Dutch was more focused on a federal campaign," said John Singleton, general council for the International Organization of Master Mates and Pilots. "Helen was focused on issues that were more of state importance."

But others said it will be hard for Ruppersberger to win over the maritime industry, simply because of Bentley's long record of service to its interests.

"He was hitting some very important points, and I'm sure he could get cooperation with people if elected," said Charles F. Hughes, chairman of Vane Brothers Co., who has known Bentley since the 1950s. "But knowledge is nothing like experience."

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