Hayden says he's in the right place at right time

THE BALTIMORE EVENING SUN

Roger B. Hayden is on a political magic carpet ride.

Until this year, the 45-year-old businessman was a lifelong Democrat whose only public service had been on the Baltimore County school board. But this season, running as a Republican for the top political job in the region's largest county, he's riding a wave of public resentment against taxes, political incumbents and the personal style of Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen.

A Democrats for Hayden movement has opened an office in traditionally Democratic Dundalk, where Hayden grew up. And, he was warmly received when he spoke Wednesday night before a Democratic club in Rossville, essentially Rasmussen's DTC back yard.

If the low turnout in last month's primary repeats on Election Day, the dissatisfied voters who are almost sure to go to the polls could provide a solid block of crossover voters that any Republican would need to win in Baltimore County.

Registered Democrats in the county number 238,000 -- to 89,000 Republicans -- but only 29 percent of that total voted in the Sept. 11 primary, allowing a small group of determined voters to greatly influence the outcome.

As a candidate, Hayden offers few specific remedies for the public unease, but he says he thinks he will unseat Rasmussen by being a credible candidate in the right place at the right time.

"There's nothing extraordinary about me as a candidate," he says, adding that County Republican Chairman Richard Bennett or Del. Ellen Sauerbrey, R-Balto. Co., would have been equally able candidates.

Hayden says, for example, that he opposes the referendum question that will ask voters whether they want to cap county property tax revenues at 2 percent growth a year. So does Rasmussen.

Hayden offers no specific suggestions for paring spending, outside of promising to cut 200 appointed county jobs and to create two commissions to study waste in government and taxes. Otherwise, he says, he wants to eliminate duplication of services and responsibilities by state and county governments. He identifies inspection of underground storage tanks and multiple waterfront regulations as possible examples.

He does promise specific changes in style, however -- an area bedeviling Rasmussen in this campaign.

He promises to drive a Ford, Chevrolet or Plymouth for his county car instead of the Lincoln Town car Rasmussen uses. He says he would drive himself to and from work, instead of using a police officer as a driver, as does Rasmussen.

Hayden says he would not accept a $12,000 pay raise due to take effect in December. He says he would donate it to charity if he couldn't reverse it and leave the executive's pay at $73,000 a year.

Yet the public furor aimed at Rasmussen and his role in managing county budgets hasn't washed over Hayden, who served on the county school board from 1974 to 1986 and chaired it for the last seven of those years.

The school budget more than doubled during that time, compared with a 34 percent rise in the overall county budget during Rasmussen's first term. That, despite the fact that school enrollment dropped 37 percent during Hayden's board tenure, from 126,145 in 1974 to 80,630 by 1986, and 23 school buildings were closed.

School spending makes up nearly half of the total county budget, and county executives and councils have routinely cut millions from the board's annual requests.

Hayden says he doesn't believe such comparisons are valid.

The schools, he says, were under federal and state mandates to expand special education programs and also sought to reduce class sizes toward the optimum 20 students per teacher.

Hayden gives credit to former County Executive Donald P. Hutchinson for having had the foresight to use the declining enrollment to help reduce class sizes, in spite of the recession of the early 1980s.

In addition, he says, the school board's role is to be an advocate for the education system, not to make severe cuts of its own.

One reason he decided to run, Hayden says, was his anger at Rasmussen's unsuccessful attempt two years ago to win legislative approval to appoint school board members, an effort he took as an assault on the board's autonomy. He also was unhappy that Rasmussen early in his term publicly criticized things he felt were left undone by previous administrations. Hayden says he took the comments as criticism of Hutchinson, for whom Hayden has great respect.

Although Hayden says he feels the county executive shouldn't receive a pay raise to $85,000 a year, he sees no problem with school superintendent Robert Y. Dubel's salary of $101,000. The superintendent's raises are percentage increases equal to those that teachers receive, he says. The executive, he says, should get no higher a pay raise than county workers, even if he makes less than other county officials.

Hayden also says he would not have spent money to redesign and remodel the executive and council offices in the old courthouse in Towson, and would not have relandscaped the courthouse lawn -- spending that has come back to haunt Rasmussen.

Hayden also is critical of the $25 million the county is spending to buy and remove asbestos from the old Blue Cross-Blue Shield building in Towson to turn it into a new fire and police headquarters. Although some considered the move a stroke of genius by Rasmussen that saved the cost of building a new headquarters, Hayden says the price tag is just too high. He says he would have done nothing about the police headquarters if he couldn't find a less costly alternative.

He says he would have moved more quickly, on the other hand, to build the proposed drunk-driving jail for which Rasmussen received state money nearly two years ago. The executive has said he hasn't yet found a suitable location for the project.

Hayden grew up in the southeastern part of the county, graduating from Sparrows Point High in Edgemere in 1962. He then graduated from Essex Community College and the University of Baltimore, where he earned a business degree.

He began his career as a mail boy at Eastern Stainless Steel, and worked his way up to vice president of operations over 22 years there before retiring in 1985. He then went to work for George's Transfer, a trucking company with offices in northern Baltimore County. He moved to Baldwin in 1986 with his wife, Nancy, a county school administrator. They have two grown children.

With a hoped-for campaign budget of only about $100,000, Hayden can't match Rasmussen's $500,000 war chest. He was delayed in beginning to campaign by his job and by having to compete in the three-way Republican primary, which he easily won.

Still, he's got plenty of independently generated criticism of the incumbent to buoy what his effort lacks in money and professional polish.

"We're going to win," he says confidently.

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