A political neophyte takes on Rasmussen in country race


ROGER B. HAYDEN doesn't claim to be a politician. He doesn't come from a political family or have a political background. The Republican nominee for Baltimore County executive was in fact a registered Democrat until a month before the filing deadline. His decision to switch parties and run as a Republican came only after steadily souring at the way the Democratic incumbent, DenPeterKumpanis F. Rasmussen, ran the office.

"I got political after Dennis started to rip down the (Donald P.) Hutchinson administration," Hayden said. Hayden's list of grievances includes what he considers to be Rasmussen's extravagant personal style, arrogance and bureaucratic approach to business development.

Hayden's amateur status in the political game may be his biggest asset. The mood of the voters has swung against incumbents who seem to fumble in office, promote too much growth or appear profligate. The state has seen scattered tax protests and widespread complaints over rampant growth. In the primaries, two of Rasmussen county council allies lost their seats and a third barely managed to hang on. Down in the Washington suburbs, Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer lost to Neal Potter in a contest strikingly similar to the Rasmussen-Hayden race.

Kramer had both money and organizational support. Like Rasmussen, he seemed unbeatable a few months ago and an obvious contender for higher office in 1994. Kramer's fall was attributed to voter unease over rapid growth as well as a feeling that the county was spending too much money too easily.

Like the 75-year-old Potter, Hayden seems to be an unlikely giant-killer.

"Managing is my strong suit," he says. "Managing requires you to do things on an orderly basis. You set a goal and mark the way to get there."

Hayden does know the territory. He was born and raised on Jones Creek across from Sparrows Point. His father, a pipefitter, worked at Maryland Drydock and General Motors before retiring at 70. A 1962 graduate of Sparrows Point High School, Hayden earned an associate's degree from Essex Community College and a business degree from the University of Baltimore in 1967.

Before moving to Baldwin, he lived in the east end of the county -- Essex, Dundalk, Todd's Farm and Rosedale. Starting as a mail boy at Eastern Stainless Steel, Hayden steadily worked his way up the ladder to become vice president of operations, general superintendent and, finally, assistant to the chairman.

The father of two daughters, Hayden served on local PTAs as well as on the council of the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Rosedale. It was in 1974, with an appointment to the county school board, that he entered public service. Appointed first by Gov. Marvin Mandel, he was reappointed by acting Gov. Blair Lee and then by Gov. Harry Hughes.

During his last seven years on the board he served as president. He maintains a strong interest in education, especially pre-school programs for 4-year-olds, the best time to introduce children to the formal learning process. The trouble with the plan, which has just begun in Baltimore County, is that funding has been slow because there is no political "payback" for programs whose impact won't be felt years to come, Hayden concedes.

Hayden says he was angered by Rasmussen's attempt to take control of the school board with political appointees rather than respecting the traditional recommendations of a nominating convention of PTAs and civic organizations. The board's concern, Hayden insists, should be solely the education of children, not county politics.

Beyond such specifics, he is critical of Rasmussen emphasizing what Hayden calls "glitz and glitter" and too many "big promotions and big media events" rather than close attention to details. He excoriates what he terms the county executive's extravagant "trappings of office": "two Lincolns, a four-wheel-drive vehicle, a bodyguard who has more police covering him than the total patrolling the northern part of Baltimore County."

Hayden might be expected to join the tax protest movement that has won its battle to hold a referendum for a 2 percent limit on property tax increases. But opposes the proposed cap.

"I favor managed tax reform," he said. He wants a blue-ribbon commission to look at the whole county tax structure. He believes the Rasmussen administration is guilty of "wasteful spending" but opposes a "meat-ax approach" to the problem.

Like Potter, the soft-spoken 45-year-old Hayden has no hobbies except for his love of nature. He has a small place near Cambridge where he can watch the eagles soar over the Little Choptank River. Many now believe Hayden could match the Potter upset and soar himself.

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