Ruppersberger, Hayden trade fighting words

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Their first debate was a verbal slugfest, with criticisms flying back and forth. Last night, a second debate between the candidates for Baltimore County executive featured politeness and cordiality.

But even when they agreed, there was still friction.

After last night's polite, 90-minute session at Oregon Ridge park, incumbent Republican Roger B. Hayden still jabbed at his Democratic challenger, Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger 3rd.

"The guy [Ruppersberger] agrees with me about everything. You can't complain about that," Mr. Hayden said after the debate, which was limited to land-use topics.

The candidates had squared off in a debate last week sponsored by Patuxent Publishing and Essex Community College, with Mr. Hayden painting Mr. Ruppersberger, a nine-year council veteran, as a disciple of what he called the tax-and-spend administration of his predecessor, Dennis F. Rasmussen.

Mr. Ruppersberger painted Mr. Hayden as a middle-management bean counter who lacks the leadership qualities to guide the county as it turns into an increasingly urbanized subdivision.

Mr. Ruppersberger said he's trying to run a positive campaign, and does not plan to attack the incumbent. Of the sparks flying in the debate last week, which can be seen at 10 p.m. today in Baltimore County on cable Channel 17, Mr. Ruppersberger said, "He [Mr. Hayden] came out negative and swinging and I had to defend myself."

The earlier television debate revealed a combative streak in two men otherwise known for their calm, deliberate political style.

When not attacking Mr. Ruppersberger, the incumbent touted his achievements in keeping down the property tax rate, fulfilling his pledge to reduce the size and cost of government and his initiatives in and commitment to older communities.

Mr. Ruppersberger, when not lobbing verbal bombs at Mr. Hayden, trumpeted his leadership on the County Council and his dedication to putting more police on the streets and returning calm to the county educational system.

Uncharacteristically for an incumbent, Mr. Hayden immediately attacked his challenger.

He noted that his administration was swept into office four years lTC ago by angry citizens tired of the "big spending machine which was bank rupting the future of the county."

"As a member of the County Council for eight years, my opponent was a big part of that spending machine which allowed government to grow at an alarming rate," said Mr. Hayden.

According to county budget documents, the local property tax rate rose by 4 cents during the Rasmussen administration. On top of that, sharp increases in state assessments of land in 1990 sparked a taxpayers' revolt that led to Mr. Hayden's surprise election.

Rubber stamping

Mr. Hayden accused Mr. Ruppersberger of not only rubber stamping the budgets of the Rasmussen administration -- which saw spending grow at an annual rate of 7.7 percent, but of also rubber stamping Hayden budgets that reduced the rate of growth to 1.5 percent.

Budgets during Mr. Hayden's term were kept low partly by the effects of the recession, which cost the county about $90 million in lost tax revenue and state aid.

Mr. Ruppersberger also accused the incumbent of not living up to promises he made while running for office in 1990. Mr. Hayden said he made no promises other than to bring a sound, businesslike approach to government.

Whipping out a campaign pledge card distributed by the Hayden campaign in 1990, Mr. Ruppersberger read: "I will work within any constraints paced on me by the voters without laying off or cutting programs. I will not cut senior citizen programs or close any senior centers."

In 1993, however, Mr. Hayden laid off 290 county workers and closed four senior centers, along with nine branch libraries.

Mr. Hayden replied that circumstances change and that one of the responsibilities of office is to react to those changes.

Mr. Ruppersberger accused his opponent of botching the layoffs and of robbing the county of experienced and knowledgeable workers.

Mr. Hayden denied that the lay-offs produced a "brain drain" and maintained his administration did an excellent job of keeping down the number of county employees laid off.

On the public safety issue -- a prime object of Ruppersberger attacks -- Mr. Hayden said that by the end of this year, there will be more police officers on the street than at any other time in the county's history. He also said that the number of Citizen On Patrol programs jumped from five to more than 50 during his administration.

Mr. Ruppersberger said he found it interesting that after doing very little for the police department during his first three years in office, Mr. Hayden put through two police academy classes in his fourth year -- an election year.

As a former prosecutor, Mr. Ruppersberger said he had first-hand experience dealing with the police and crime.

"We re-structured the police department based on what police professionals had to say, not prosecutors, about how to do police business," Mr. Hayden shot back.

The two also sparred over the the controversial federal Moving To Opportunity program, which will relocate 285 low-income residents of city housing projects to better neighborhoods in Baltimore and the surrounding counties. The program has provoked heated protests in eastern Baltimore County's blue-collar communities.

Mr. Hayden said he wrote letters to Henry G. Cisneros, secretary of housing and urban development, demanding information and objecting to the program. He said the county was denied any chance to participate in planning it.

Public outrage

Mr. Ruppersberger countered that the county executive knew about the program as early as January but chose to ignore it until the issue created public outrage.

"You have to bring the issue out on the table then show the leadership to deal with those issues," said Mr. Ruppersberger.

"You can't get involved in everything up front or you won't have time to do the things you're supposed to do," responded Mr. Hayden.

The incumbent, borrowing a theme from Councilman Melvin G. Mintz, who lost to Mr. Ruppersberger in the Democratic primary, challenged his rival to tell citizens what he had promised county employee unions in return for their endorsement.

"We've heard that you promised everything from 3 percent in the upcoming year to 3 percent a year [for the entire term of office]," Mr. Hayden said. "Where do you plan to get the $237 million it will cost the taxpayers of Baltimore County?"

"I have made no promises as far as percentage of raises to any county employee groups," answered Mr. Ruppersberger. "However, I did promise to do my best to raise the level of pay to match those in other jurisdictions if we can afford to do that."

DEBATE SCHEDULE

Here is a schedule of debates in the Baltimore County executive's race.

Today, 7 p.m., WCBM radio, 680 AM.

Tomorrow, 7:15 p.m., candidates' forum at Joppa View Elementary school, 8727 Honeygo Blvd.

Tuesday, 7 p.m., League of Women Voters Forum, Carver Center for Arts and Technology, 938 York Road, at Fairmount Avenue, Towson.

Oct. 13, 7:30 a.m., Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce breakfast, Hunt Valley Inn, 245 Shawan Road.

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