Bentley's three 'negatives' are Schaefer, Serbia, age

Dog on a tire. That's how someone once described Helen Delich Bentley.

And it is significant that he could have been either a friend or a foe.


That description, in fact, comes pretty close to Bentley's own, which I asked her to provide yesterday.

"Tough," she said. "Determined. Caring. I like to get things done. And when I am on to something, I do not let go."


Today, she almost certainly will be on to running for governor, having served as the Republican congresswoman from Baltimore's 2nd District since 1985.

Bentley's titles and honors already run to 42 lines in the 1990-1991 edition of "Who's Who in America", which, I pointed out to her, beat Bill Clinton's entry by a whopping 29 lines.

"He's probably more modest than I am," Bentley explained.

At the end of her listing, which the honorees write themselves, Bentley includes a short homily that begins: "First of all, I always live by the Golden Rule."

But while Bentley may indeed do unto others as they do unto her, she usually tries to do it first. (Some decades ago, she socked a longshoreman in the jaw for comparing her nose to a ski jump.)

Having been a journalist herself -- on Friday she will return to the University of Missouri, her alma mater, to receive a journalism medal previously bestowed upon Walter Cronkite, Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw -- she will understand if I dwell on the negative.

So let's look at three negatives Bentley could face in a race for governor:

Negative No. 1 -- His name is William Donald Schaefer. He likes and respects Helen Bentley and she likes and respects him.


But putting aside whether an endorsement from the unpopular Democratic incumbent would do more harm than good, can Bentley actually run against Schaefer's record?

You bet. And she began to do so yesterday.

"Schaefer is a friend of mine, but we are poles apart on a number of key issues," she growled.

Such as?

"NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement]," she said. "I opposed it before most people had heard of it because it will cost us jobs. And the death penalty; I am for it. And taxes; I am against raising them. I have voted against every tax increase that has ever come before me."

L Which is a pretty inclusive platform: death, taxes and jobs.


Negative No. 2: Serbia. Though our State Department and general world opinion has labeled Serbia the aggressor in the war in the former Yugoslavia, Bentley has urged the United States "not to show bias" in our dealings there. And a Serbian-American newspaper stated last year that Bentley "had sacrificed her career to promote and fight for Serbia and the Serbs."

While a race for governor is much less likely to focus on foreign policy than a race for Congress, Bentley's championing of Serbia could be brought up as a reflection on her judgment.

Which is why she no longer talks about Serbia, where both her parents were born, except to say that she tried "to get [Serbian President Slobodan] Milosevic out of office" and "the refugees there tear at my heart -- all the refugees. If my father had not come to this country, I would be one of those refugees today."

So what is her current position on Serbia?

"I don't want to see American lives lost over there," she said, a position not likely to find much disfavor with the voters of Maryland.

Negative No. 3 -- Age. Bentley, who will turn 70 on Nov. 28, is likely to be older than any other candidate in the governor's race by at least 10 years.


Among the declared Republicans, Bill Shepard is 58 and Ellen Sauerbrey is 56. Among the declared Democrats, Mickey Steinberg is 60, Parris Glendening is 51 and Mary Boergers is 47.

Which is why, perhaps, at the end of our interview, Bentley brought up one quality about herself she had previously failed to mention:

"Terrific stamina," she said.

So if any opponent should hint that you are running on empty, you are prepared to deal with that? I asked.

Bentley laughed, a sound not unlike a gravel truck hitting a bump.

"Let 'em try to bring it up," she said. "Then let 'em follow me around for a day and see if they can keep up. Just let 'em try."