2nd District draws outside attention

Groups, political stars try to sway House race voters

October 30, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

With less than a week to go and polls showing a dead heat in the congressional race between Republican Helen Delich Bentley and Democrat C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, outside forces have descended on the 2nd District with rallies, protests and advertisements designed to tip the scales in the race and, possibly, in the House of Representatives.

House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri stumped for Ruppersberger last night at the Baltimore International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Hall, urging union members to turn out to elect the Baltimore County executive and help his party take control of the national agenda.

"What this country needs right now is a House of Representatives controlled by a majority ... that votes on every issue for the working families that made us great, and that's what you get when you go Dutch," Gephardt said.

The race is one of about 16 toss-ups in this year's midterm elections that will determine which party controls the House.

Not to be outdone, Bentley will get a last-minute boost from Rudolph W. Giuliani, New York's former mayor, at a fund-raiser Sunday in Baltimore.

Two advocacy groups have stepped up their opposition to Bentley in the last week, saying she protected polluters and sought to cover up Serbian atrocities when a member of the House.

A group called Tell the Truth, made up largely of Albanian-, Croatian- and Jewish-Americans, started appearing at Bentley appearances a week ago, distributing leaflets critical of the former congresswoman's pro-Serbian stance in the early 1990s. The group alleges that she improperly used her congressional office and staff to cover up Serbian atrocities.

"For four years, she remained the No. 1 spokesperson and mouthpiece for the Serbian agenda on Capitol Hill," said Steve Rukavina, the group's chairman. "The depth of her behavior in the last five years she was in Congress really shows a character flaw and a reason to be very concerned about how she would represent the 2nd District again in the U.S. Congress."

In news reports and speeches on the House floor at the time, Bentley said she personally asked Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to resign and sought to discourage a rush to judgment against the Serbs, saying that no side in the conflict was innocent.

She said that she now believes a credible body of evidence has surfaced that Serbian forces engaged in war crimes, and she supports Milosevic's prosecution. Moreover, she said she has not been involved in Serbian affairs for a decade and would not seek to be involved if elected.

"I have never been back, never contacted anybody since except to send clothes to the needy people," she said.

Following through on its criticism of Bentley's environmental record, the national League of Conservation Voters has begun mailing glossy brochures to 2nd District voters saying that she "has a record of siding with corporate polluters -- and against us."

The brochures say Bentley voted against requiring corporate polluters to inform residents about the release of toxic chemicals into the environment and against holding polluters more accountable for the environmental hazards they create. They also criticize her for voting against wetlands protection.

Last summer, the league named Bentley to its "Dirty Dozen" list of the most anti- environment congressional candidates in the nation. Echoing the group's concerns, the Sierra Club endorsed Ruppersberger.

League spokesman Dan Lewis said members are walking through 2nd District neighborhoods, distributing literature and talking to voters.

Bentley shrugged off the criticism, saying the groups don't understand the need to balance environmental protection with economic growth.

"I'm not an extremist," Bentley said. "People need to work. People need jobs."

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