Bentley Gets Back Into Politics, Announces Run for U.S. House
GOP Hopes Veteran Campaigner Can Help Party Hold On to Seat
By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 22, 2002; Page B05
BALTIMORE, May 21 -- Former Republican representative Helen Delich Bentley
restarted her political career this morning by announcing that she is running
for a seat considered crucial
to the GOP's efforts to retain control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R-Md.), who succeeded Bentley in Congress
seven years ago, was at her side as she vowed to win what she called "a
good blue-collar district" located
largely north of Baltimore. During a 20-minute speech on a pier at the city's port, she thanked Ehrlich for "filling the interim period" while she was away from politics. Ehrlich is running for
governor this year.
Bentley represented Maryland's 2nd Congressional District from 1985 through 1994. She gave up the seat for her own gubernatorial bid.
Democrats need six seats to gain a majority in the House, and the GOP
has pressured Ehrlich to help the party hold on to the district. Today,
he said that after consulting national party
leaders and White House officials, "it became clear that there was only one person for this seat. . . . I think many of you thought this day would never happen again. Talk about deja vu all
Republicans have held the seat since Bentley was first elected. But
state and national Democratic Party leaders believe they have the best
chance to win it in years, and many are backing
Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who announced his candidacy last month.
Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) redrew the district's boundaries
this year during the once-a-decade redistricting to favor Ruppersberger,
who had considered a gubernatorial bid
before making way for Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D). Also seeking the Democratic nomination for the 2nd Congressional District is Oz Bengur, an investment banker.
The district now contains parts of Baltimore and Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties.
Bentley blasted the governor today, saying the redistricting "smacks
of political desperation, and I trust the people of this state will see
through this ploy to manipulate the electoral
process at the expense of fairness and what is right."
A spirited and sometimes pugnacious politician, Bentley was elected to five terms by appealing to Democrats, befriending longshoremen on the docks and supporting labor unions.
During her speech on the port's Pier C, tugboats and barges drifted
behind her, and about 200 supporters cheered as she promised to "protect
America's industrial and manufacturing
base . . . so that when these industries need to be turned to support national defense, they still exist here on American soil."
In Congress, Bentley built a reputation as a staunch protectionist and
a colorful character. She once caused an international stir when she used
a sledgehammer to smash a
Japanese-made cassette player on the Capitol grounds.
If she wins, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has promised to
reappoint Bentley to the Appropriations Committee with the seniority she
had when she left Congress in 1994. She
called the appointment invaluable because the committee "is responsible for making spending decisions on the nearly $800 billion of annual federal discretionary spending."
Bentley said her decision to run was motivated in part by the Sept.
11 terrorist attacks. In the wake of those attacks, she said, "Congress
must also unite behind the president as he
reaches out and strikes those rogue states that threaten our security here at home. The Iraqs, the Irans, the North Koreas of the world must know that America will not wait for another
September 11th before we use our military might."
Bentley, who is 78, brushed aside suggestions that she is too old to
run for Congress, paraphrasing former president Ronald Reagan: "I'm not
going to bring age up as an issue to
embarrass my opponents and their lack of experience."
Before being elected to Congress, Bentley was an international business
consultant. In 1969, President Richard M. Nixon appointed her chairman
of the Federal Maritime Commission,
making her the highest ranking woman in the federal government at the time. Before that, she covered the Port of Baltimore as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun.
Currently, she is president of Helen Bentley & Associates Inc., an international trade company.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company