Friday, September 10, 2010

Tony Campbell and Helen Bentley: Great Leaders Both

Two of the most memorable Maryland politicos I have encountered over the years are former Congresswoman Helen Bentley and activist/candidate Tony Campbell.

Mrs. Bentley helped launch my political journey by offering me a college internship, and later a job as a junior aide on her staff. Over the years, my opinion towards this curmudgeonly former Nixon Administration official and five-term congresswoman has zigzagged between respect for her accomplishments, appreciation for the role she played in my professional development, and occasional anger at her behavior.

Today, my respect and appreciation for her endure. Still, she does things that mystify me at times. Once, she was quoted praising her former opponent Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for having “positively matured as a candidate” – a comment which set me off on a letter to the editor frenzy.

Tony Campbell is one of those people who keeps popping up on the political landscape, and you're really not sure why. He briefly volunteered for Congressman Ehrlich at the same time I worked for him. Campbell’s job-seeking calls to Ehrlich’s congressional and gubernatorial offices became something of a running joke. I remember them finally informally offering him something at VEIP, but he demurred.

Later, Campbell tried climbing into the political arena himself. The apex of his electoral career came in 1999, when he scored an “historic 14 percent” (Campbell’s own words) against Sheila Dixon in the race for Baltimore City Council president.

Most notably, Campbell served as a spokesman, national officer, and Maryland State Director for “Republicans for Obama.”

In a February 2008 press release, Campbell called Obama, “principled, steady, and is a breath of fresh air in today’s partisan atmosphere.” He later told a blogger that “Obama is more conservative than the media sometimes express.” Campbell has since repudiated his pro-Obama past, claiming that his support was merely a Machiavellian ruse to prop up the candidate he regarded as the weaker challenger to Senator John McCain. Translation: Oops!

In light of their shared maverick history, I suppose part of me wasn’t surprised when Mrs. Bentley endorsed Campbell’s bid to become chairman of the Baltimore County Central Committee, and agreed to tape a robo-call for him.

Still, I am definitely disappointed.

Being an effective party chairman is a big responsibility. It requires hard work, dedication, and leadership, as well as a willingness to perform a myriad of thankless, party building tasks. When a party chairman succeeds, he is relegated to the background as winning candidates reap all the rewards and adulation.

Tony Campbell lacks the experience, humility, or leadership skills the job needs. His history demonstrates that his priorities are garnering status, publicity and self-promotion. Hell, I’m not sure he’s even a Republican.

Complicating matters is the fact that Chris Cavey, the incumbent county chairman, is running for reelection at a disadvantage. Cavey presently serves as Field Director for the Ehrlich campaign, which has banned him from engaging in any reelection-related activities. Instead, Cavey is forced to rely on surrogates to campaign for him.

Upsets have occurred in past Baltimore County GOP chairman races. The absurd prospect of a “Republican for Obama” doofus being elected to party office in such a strong anti-Obama year would be laughable if it wasn’t such a real possibility.

I wish Tony Campbell would just go away. And, I wish Helen Bentley would find other ways to expend her pot-stirring energies. Maybe she needs to get another dog or head down to the Port of Baltimore. I hear they named it after her.

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