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At debate on renewal law, sparks, paper fly


AT THE SECOND Dutch Ruppersberger-Jim Ports debate last week in Baltimore County, an interesting character emerged from the audience: Bill Bralove, 49, part-time appliance salesman, president of a Randallstown community group, Renew, and a provocateur with poster board.

Bralove opposes Senate Bill 509, Dutch's ambitious neighborhood renewal law that critics have blasted as a "land grab." County residents get to vote on the issue Nov. 7. Dutch and Ports, another opponent of the law, have been debating it at public forums. They did so at Randallstown High School on Wednesday night.

Bralove brought 8 1/2 -by-11-inch fliers to hang in the school lobby - one asked, "When did 'We the People' become 'Me the County Executive'?" - and he brought poster board and a marker to make new signs as the debate went on, like a judge at the Summer Games. During an intermission, Bralove hoisted a sign that was a scorecard: "Ports 2, Dutch 0." Another sign said, "Vote Dutch off the Island." Another sign - ridiculing Dutch's debate performance in scatological terms - went up toward the end of the debate.

Afterward, Bralove stood at the back of the auditorium, chatting with some people. A woman with white-blond hair approached, grabbed two of his signs that were leaning against a railing, tore them in half and threw them on the floor. She then ran down the aisle to rejoin her entourage.

The ripper? Kay Ruppersberger, the county executive's wife.

"Kay is not a political animal," said Elise Armacost, the county executive's communications director. "But she saw the signs and was horribly offended and upset by them and by other things that were said during the debate, and this pushed her apparently a little over the edge."

Bralove learned later that the sign-ripper was Mrs. Dutch. "I'm happy in a way," he said. "I'm glad to see someone in that family has some emotion." Bralove said he plans to attend the next debate.

Fasten your seat belts, friends. Gonna be a bumpy ride to November.

Pollster's prediction

Frank Luntz, Republican pollster and strategist, has been traveling across the country interviewing thousands of undecided voters for "The News with Brian Williams" on MSNBC. Last week, he was in town as the featured speaker for "Newsline Night," a glittery fund-raiser and banquet at the National Federation of the Blind's headquarters in South Baltimore.

Luntz predicted Al Gore would win the presidential election. He thinks Gore has gained enough support among American women to give him the edge over George W. Bush, and the vice president's famous eight-second smooch with Tipper Gore at the Democratic National Convention did the trick.

"A lot of women didn't like him until that moment," said Luntz, conceding that such analysis sounds comically superficial but, as a political symbol, the nationally televised kiss was just the human touch Gore needed to connect to voters, women in particular.

Bush, on the other hand, was hurt by a relative's affection last winter.

Luntz noted that during the primary campaign in New Hampshire, Bush's father, our former president, referred to him as "my boy." That solidified for a lot of people a belief that the Texas governor is little more than a child of privilege who got somewhere in life because of his daddy.

Not that the Republican Party has many choices, Luntz said. In recent years, the party's record of producing appealing candidates has not been good. "Bob Dole was so old it took him an hour and a half to watch '60 Minutes,'" Luntz said. "And Newt Gingrich? The Unabomber had a higher favorability rating."

Voters might like George Bush's policies and ideas. "But they don't trust his intelligence," Luntz said.

Voters might not like Gore, but during a time of prosperity they want competence and continuity in the Oval Office. The choice for many, said Luntz, "is between 'a guy I don't like' and 'a guy I think is an idiot.'"

Public is pro-parks

By the way, Luntz has written and supervised more than 400 surveys and conducted almost 200 focus groups for political and corporate clients in six countries since 1992. Last year, one of his national polls found huge public support for parks and open spaces, a favorite subject of this column.

"The poll shows no issue speaks more directly to Americans' 'quality of life' than their ability to enjoy open spaces, parks and wilderness areas," Luntz reported. "Delivering tangible results on a topic of broad public appeal seems to be the best kind of politics and policy. Since the conservation of land and water and open space is a strong, winnable issue, almost any political leader can run on it and win with it in November 2000."

Truth about energy woes

The Vent:

Wasn't that nice of Bill Clinton to tap into the strategic oil reserves to take the heat off his buddy Gore on the campaign trail? I'm still waiting to hear Gore talk about energy conservation as a way to battle the rising price of oil. All he seems to talk about is oil company profiteering. What about making public transportation work better? If all of us who could used mass transit, in some form, once a week, we wouldn't have a crisis. I'd take light rail more often if it were faster and had a better reach. Where is the double-tracking? Where are the timed lights on Howard Street? And where are the energy conservation tax credits? And when is Gore going to get the nerve to tell American families - including, I'm sorry to say, mine - that we shouldn't drive gas-guzzling vehicles and shouldn't even be allowed to buy one that can't do 30 miles to the gallon. Like Pogo said, "The enemy is us."

Lesson at halftime

It's a new week, but I'm still grinning about what happened at halftime of last Monday night's NFL game between Dallas and That Team With the Offensive Name: During a ceremony to honor former Washington players instrumental in three Super Bowl championships, the team's boy-owner, Daniel Snyder, got booed big-time by the crowd at FedEx Field; there were cheers and big laughs when Snyder's microphone kicked out, too. He and many wealthy owners of sports franchises - one in Baltimore comes immediately to mind - keep missing some of life's basic lessons: You can't buy success. Money isn't everything. You can spend millions on a team and high-priced stars, but behave like a tyrant or a brat - or charge your fans admission to training camp - and you get humiliated on national television.

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