So, I just returned from the Helen Delich Bentley 90th birthday celebration and roast at the Baltimore Museum of Industry.
The event was a who’s who of current and past political leaders, and individuals from the many different phases of her career. My old colleague Michael Kosmas was one of the main organizers and played the emcee role. Senator Barbara Mikulski, Representatives Elijah Cummings and Dutch Ruppersberger, and Maryland Parole Commission Chairman David Blumberg were among those delivering standout speeches.
I greeted Mrs. Bentley as I entered the event, and she asked me to speak. I’d prepared remarks just in case, but time did not permit me to do so. No harm, no foul....it was a great event and I was just pleased to be there.
In any event, here is what I would have said had I made it to the dais. Please keep in mind I crafted them with both snark and affection – as I do most things.
Helen Bentley Roast Remarks
Well, I prepared for these remarks by watching old episodes of the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast, so forgive me for my snark.
I'm Richard Cross, political troublemaker, Frederick News Post columnist, and oped contributor to The Sun.
I'm proud to honor the person Baltimore Magazine dubbed "The Cranky Congresswoman."
As a shy and callow intern, HDB launched me on my political journey three decades ago. That journey included multiple stops in the U. S. House of Representatives, and time spent working as a gubernatorial speechwriter.
And, I’m sure some of the people in this room haven’t yet forgiven her for that.
Now, Mrs. Bentley, a word of advice: Have fun tonight, but no twerking, please.
That goes for you, too...Governor Mandel.
What sets HDB apart?
First, she really cared about young people.
She even let her younger staffers commandeer her signature "Office on Wheels" van in order to – as they put it – “take in a show.”
The show in question: A Grateful Dead concert at RFK stadium.
I’m not sure that was the kind of constituent outreach she had in mind when she bought that thing.
She also hired at least two really hot schedulers over the years – a source of fun and occasional peril for me.
She had many colorful characters in her political orbit – including many who have since passed away.
Her Towson receptionist was a cross between Golden Girl Estelle Getty and a Jim Henson creation.
A published poet, she shared that fact with everyone who visited the office. And more often than not, constituents left the office with photocopies of her work, courtesy of the office copy machine, whether they wanted them or not.
And day, she used the office microwave to irradiate the most foul-smelling meatloaf sandwiches imaginable.
Thirty years later, I can still smell that effing meatloaf.
HDB was always willing to teach me new things.
At a gas station in
late one night, I filled her car and was cleaning the windshield when the
passenger door swung open violently. She confiscated the squeegee and cleaned the
windshield herself because she didn't like my technique.
"How do you clean your own windshield?" She sharply inquired after we’d gotten back in the car.
"The process is much easier in my car," I replied. "I just push that little button on the dashboard and it all happens kind of automatically."
My snarkiness didn’t go over well that night.
Speaking of driving…did you know that, years before he named the
Port of Baltimore
after her, then-Congressman Ehrlich even tried to get the Baltimore beltway named in her honor?
But for some reason, the name his chief of staff suggested didn’t pass muster with Congressional leaders.
I didn’t get that at the time … who wouldn’t want to drive on a highway called “The Bentley Girdle”?
In all serious, there are two things I learned from Mrs. Bentley that I have carried with me ever since.
First, her "the job is done when the job is done" mindset.
Second, our shared affinity for President Richard M. Nixon.
So it's fitting that I present to her - straight from the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in
- a cap
like the one I’m wearing. Yorba
And Mrs. B, if you don’t like it, don’t take it out on me. Please take it out on a process server.