Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III may be howling about his exclusion from Baltimore's public housing settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union, but he could benefit from it politically. Hifrom Republicans and conservative Democrats alike. They say their constituents strongly back his stance.
"I commend Dutch for reacting so aggressively," said Del. Martha Klima, a conservative Towson Republican.
To settle a housing discrimination suit, the city and the federal government have proposed shifting 1,342 families from inner-city public housing to better neighborhoods in Baltimore and five surrounding counties. But almost as soon as the proposal became public last week, Mr. Ruppersberger vowed to stop it.
"Dutch did exactly the right thing," said County Councilman Louis L. DePazzo, an equally conservative Dundalk Democrat.
Del. Ken Holt, an Essex Republican, agreed, calling the county executive a "populist."
But one of the county's four African-American elected officials has a very different view.
Del. Emmett C. Burns, a clergyman who represents a new district stretching from West Baltimore to Randallstown, said the executive is "sending the wrong signals. I'm hearing [from constituents] he doesn't want certain kind of people in the county."
Mr. Ruppersberger stoutly denies that, saying, "This is not a racial issue."
His strong reaction so far has prevented any resumption of the raucous, angry meetings that a similar federal program -- Moving To Opportunity -- triggered in the east county last year. That pilot program involved offering 285 poor Baltimore families the opportunity to move to the suburbs or other parts of the city.
"We don't want this to be a shouting match," said Ruppersberger aide Michael H. Davis.
Mr. Ruppersberger is planning aseries of meetings to inform county residents about the controversial settlement proposal.
The settlement stems from a suit the ACLU brought against the city last year, charging that for 60 years public housing residents have been intentionally segregated downtown.
Known as a supporter of stronger relations with Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Mr. Ruppersberger reacted like a mugging victim after learning of the settlement.
"It was like being punched in the solar plexus," the normally affable county executive said.
Mr. Ruppersberger said he has been talking regularly to Mayor Schmoke about helping the city get more federal money to solve its problems, and was blindsided by the settlement.
"Kurt and I have to sit down," he said, describing what he sees as the only way to handle the issue. "We don't have a suburban-urban policy, just an urban policy."
Several politicians said there is political irony in Mr. Ruppersberger's situation. If he had gotten what he says he wanted -- inclusion in the city's negotiations with the ACLU -- he would have had a much harder time defending a deal that moved poor city families to the county.