2nd District debate features collegiality, jabs

October 29, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Republican Helen Delich Bentley sought to link congressional opponent C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger with Gov. Parris N. Glendening last night during a debate in which the candidates largely agreed on most other matters.

Bentley had been promising to take the gloves off in what has been, except for a handful of ads in recent weeks, a markedly polite contest for the 2nd District seat she gave up eight years ago in an unsuccessful bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

In her opening and closing remarks, Bentley sought to link Ruppersberger with Glendening, who polls show is exceptionally unpopular in the district, saying they colluded to draw new legislative maps to favor the departing Democratic Baltimore County executive.

Bentley said she has always liked Ruppersberger as a friend and colleague, but took exception to "how much he and his special-interest allies have distorted my record" in negative television ads focusing on her environmental record and vote on adding catastrophic coverage to Medicare.

"You will see, 90 percent of them were bought and paid for by Parris Glendening and his minions, hardly a credible source, when you consider the governor and Dutch Ruppersberger drew this district just to give Dutch a safe seat," Bentley said. "Well, governor, you didn't count on Helen Bentley."

Ruppersberger, for the most part, didn't respond to the barbs.

In his closing, he came as close as he has in the campaign to addressing Bentley's age, saying she has missed a lot in the eight years since she retired from Congress. Bentley is 78 and Ruppersberger 56.

"I think you need to take a new look at where you need to be," he said. "You need somebody who knows the local issues backwards and forwards."

The debate, sponsored by Towson University and the Baltimore County League of Women Voters, was broadcast live on Comcast and will be rebroadcast at 7:30 tonight. It was the candidates' 12th joint appearance of the campaign.

In between the jabs at beginning and end was a lengthy and collegial discussion of issues that has been a trademark of the candidates' previous encounters. They discussed the possibility of war on Iraq, gun control, the economy, the drug war, energy policy, crime, gay rights and foreign trade. They agreed substantially or completely on all, often declining to take advantage of rebuttals.

The only real area of debate was over who started the negative campaign ads and a question about whether they would have done anything differently in their years of public service.

He said he would have tried to communicate his intentions better in the revitalization and condemnation plan he proposed two years ago, known as Senate Bill 509. She said she has been "so perfect" that she wouldn't change a thing.

But Bentley did take the opportunity to launch into a critique of SB 509, accusing Ruppersberger of attempting to condemn relatively new, well-constructed homes while leaving dilapidated properties owned by the family of a political ally.

He denied the charges.

Afterward, the candidates came to the center of stage to shake hands and ended up in a mock arm-wrestling match, to the delight of the crowd. Ruppersberger let her win.

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