Rep. Helen Delich Bentley declared her candidacy for governor yesterday, pledging to strive for more jobs, lower taxes, better schools and safe streets, but offering few specifics.
At announcement ceremonies in Baltimore and Rockville, the five-term Baltimore County congresswoman said Maryland "has suffered from one-party domination for too long," resulting in the preservation of a state bureaucracy immune to innovation and change.
Describing her philosophy as "conservatism with compassion," Mrs. Bentley, 69, said, "My principles will guide my policies. My persistence and dogged determination will shake up state government for the better. And the working people of Maryland will always have the final word."
Though her formal entry into the race was greeted with cheers from many GOP leaders, she quickly encountered a barrage of criticism from rival candidates of both parties because of her ties to the incumbent Democratic governor, William Donald Schaefer.
Mr. Schaefer, unhappy with the three announced Democratic gubernatorial candidates, said last month that he had encouraged Mrs. Bentley -- a friend who shares his pro-business leanings -- to join the field of those seeking to succeed him.
If she gets further support from the governor, it could be a two-edged sword. His links to the Baltimore business community could help her tap into a major source of campaign funds. But, because his popularity has declined sharply, his embrace could be politically deadly.
Questioned about her ties to Mr. Schaefer yesterday, Mrs. Bentley moved to put some distance between the governor and herself. "The governor and I are friends, but we don't agree on everything," she said.
Mr. Schaefer praised Mrs. Bentley yesterday but said his remarks should not be taken as an endorsement. "She's a Republican; I'm a Democrat," he said. "I've known Helen, have great respect for her. She's a tough lady. She was very instrumental in helping turn around the port."
Several Republican leaders said Mrs. Bentley becomes the front-runner for her party's nomination -- at least for now -- because she is so well-known.
Politically, Mrs. Bentley occupies the middle ground between her two Republican opponents. Though an unabashed conservative, she is viewed as more moderate than Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the minority leader of the House of Delegates, but to the right of retired foreign service officer William S. Shepard, the party's 1990 nominee.
Mrs. Bentley's announcement comes after nearly a year during which she kept fellow Republicans in maddening suspense as she tried to decide whether she would run for governor, the U.S. Senate or for re-election to the 2nd District congressional seat she first won in 1984.
A number of prominent GOP figures were quick to voice support for Mrs. Bentley yesterday, most notably Rep. Constance A. Morella, the highly popular congresswoman from Montgomery County, the state's most populous subdivision.
State Sen. John A. Cade of Anne Arundel County also endorsed Mrs. Bentley. "She's the first candidate of major statewide stature to step forward," he said.
Mrs. Bentley had barely finished her announcement when opponents moved to exploit her relationship with the governor.
"Helen is the preferred choice of Governor Schaefer, and I've been fighting Governor Schaefer for the last seven years on his tax-and-spend policies," Mrs. Sauerbrey said.
Mr. Shepard said, "I think the fact that she's from the same general political background as Governor Schaefer will not be a plus for her."
On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg -- whom the governor has treated as a nonperson since 1991, when he refused to back an $800 million tax package -- said Mrs. Bentley's entry means that Mr. Schaefer "has finally found his very own hand-picked candidate."
Another Democratic contender on the outs with Mr. Schaefer, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, sounded a similar theme. "No administration ought to assume it can dictate its own successor," he said.
The third Democratic candidate, state Sen. Mary H. Boergers of Montgomery County, zeroed in on Mrs. Bentley's long wait in making a decision on whether to run. "If you can't decide whether you're going to run for governor, then I question whether you can make the tough kinds of decisions you have to make as governor," Ms. Boergers said.
In her announcement remarks, Mrs. Bentley said the state government "needs a shot in the arm to improve Maryland's business climate and create new jobs by cutting the size of government and reducing taxes."
Asked about taxes, however, she stopped short of a firm promise, saying, "I'm going to do whatever I can to reduce them."
As with the other issues she raised yesterday, she said details would be coming soon.
Helen Delich Bentley's career spans nearly a half-century and is divided into two phases -- journalist and politician.Passionate about her causes, dogged and sometimes indiscreet in pursuing them, she is a person of immense energy and drive who does not shy away from controversy.She has been a trailblazer in areas traditionally reserved for men -- the newspaper business, the waterfront and politics.
Profile on Page 4B