Former Federal Maritime Commission Chairman and Congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley was honored & roasted Sunday at 90th birthday cele- bration at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. (VoB Photos/Bonnie J. Schupp)


Ex-Congresswoman praised by GOP
and Democratic officeholders alike

By Alan Z. Forman
“Loved and Feared” — It was hard to tell which emotion was more prevalent Sunday afternoon as 500 Maryland politi- cians, admirers, colleagues and employees past and pres- ent, gathered at the Baltimore Museum of Industry to roast and honor Helen Delich Bentley on her birthday.

The former presidential appointee and five-term Republican congresswoman, who is known equally for her raspy voice, no-nonsense businesslike attitude, crusty demeanor and “salty” language — that could embarrass a sailor — will turn 90 on Nov. 28th.

Chronicled by Baltimore photographer Bonnie J. Schupp, the event was billed as a roast, and in fact the printed invitation termed it so. However most of the speakers praised Bentley for her unique ability to get along with both sides of the aisle in politics to “get things done” and for her extreme advocacy of the Port of Baltimore.

Then-Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who was her political protégé back in the day — succeeding her in Congress when she left to run unsuccessfully for governor in 1994 — named the port after her at its 300th anniversary seven years ago.

It may have been the first time a port was named for a person; airports are typically named for people, but not ports. The signs — “Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore” — may be seen on highways all around the area.

Ehrlich humorously referred to the 500 in attendance Sunday as “a roomful of people who both love her and fear her — and not in that order.”

She gave him “dating advice,” he said, never approving of any of the young women he went out with — “until Kendel,” the young lawyer he ultimately married and who became the first woman of Polish descent to be Maryland’s First Lady.

The former governor, along with ex-Democratic Gov. Marvin Mandel, was honorary chairman of the event.

Maryland’s senior U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski led off the chain of elected-office speakers — all Democrats except for Ehrlich — which included former Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and his son, Rep. John P. Sarbanes; and Congressmen Steny H. Hoyer, the House Minority Whip; Elijah E. Cummings and C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger.


Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and 11th District Councilman William H. Cole 4th, who represents the area comprising the Museum of Industry, were in the audience but were neither acknowledged nor asked to speak.

U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, left, and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski listen to remarks by former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley at her 90th birthday party.

Former Republican officials, includ- ing Representatives Marjorie S. Holt, 93, Gladys N. Spellman, now deceased, and Roscoe G. Bartlett, who was defeated in 2012, were mentioned by several speakers.

Others referred to Bentley’s era in Congress when half the Maryland delegation was made up of Republicans.

In 2013, the only Maryland Repub- lican in Congress is Andy Harris. The other seven members are all Democrats, as are both U.S. senators.

The final political figure called to address the crowd, following an endless parade of Bentley friends, ex-associates and various maritime owners and officials, was Barbara H. Franklin, former President George H.W. Bush’s second Secretary of Commerce.

By that time however Franklin had left the museum and did not speak. Nor did numerous other people who had been invited to discuss their relationships with Bentley, but were not called because few, with the exception of Governor Mandel, adhered to the three-minute timeframe they were given.

One, the daughter of a Port of Baltimore business owner, now deceased, who was one of Bentley’s first and best news sources when she initially became the Baltimore Sun’s maritime reporter and later editor, and produced a weekly television show on the port, was invited to talk about her father’s early recognition of Bentley’s insight regarding the importance of the port to Maryland commerce.

Probably more than anyone, Michael R. Cataneo introduced the young Helen Delich to port insiders and officials, management and labor, and was one of her closest advisers not only when she was starting out but well into her career.

A trusted friend, he was one of the best sources of inside waterfront information a reporter could wish for. He was also one of the few who could tell her the truth, and survive her ensuing wrath. Few if any political hangers-on in her entourage, then and now, can claim that.

Other speakers referred to Bentley’s four-letter vocabulary, which has been said to be the envy of sailors and dockworkers alike.

Congressman and former Baltimore County Executive C.A. ‘Dutch’ Ruppersberger said he considers Bentley a good friend despite the fact they ran against each other in 2002 for Bob Ehrlich’s seat in Congress.

Ruppersberger, however, who defeated her when she attempted to reclaim her congressional seat in 2002, when Ehrlich was elected governor, called her a “lady.”

Bentley had given up the seat after 10 years to run for the Republican nomina- tion to oppose Democrat Parris N. Glen- dening for governor in 1994.

She lost that campaign to Ellen Sauer- brey, then a relatively unknown Maryland State delegate known by the nickname “Winkie,” who subsequently lost a close, contested election to Glendening.

Bentley, who had Democratic support that Sauerbrey lacked — including that of outgoing Gov. William Donald Schaefer — may well have defeated Glendening in the general election had she gotten the chance to run.

Sauerbrey was not in attendance Sunday. Unlike Ruppersberger, who ran a high-minded campaign against Bentley focused solely on the issues — and who told the Sunday gathering that he and Bentley remain good friends — Sauerbrey and the former congresswoman do not speak.

Ruppersberger — said to be considering a run for governor in next year’s Democratic primary scheduled for June 24th — revealed that Bentley is currently one of his political “advisors,” a bipartisan relationship virtually nonexistent in new millennium Washington.

Cummings said the same. He told the story of how several years ago then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi offered him the chairmanship of the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, but that he wasn’t going to take it.

“I know nothing about maritime,” he told Bentley when she called to tell him of the Pelosi offer — which she knew about even before Cummings — “so I’m going to refuse it,” he said he told her.

“Don’t be a goddam fool!” she ordered him. “Take it! I’ll help you.”

So he took the appointment — and she did help him. And is still doing so now.

Former FMC Chairman and Congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley turns 90 Nov. 28th.

According to Barbara S. Yeninas however, another of the many speakers Sunday, who was a maritime reporter for the now-defunct Newark Evening News and currently runs a maritime public-relations and advertising business in New Jersey, Bentley was not always so helpful.

In 1969, when the two of them were invited by Exxon (then known as Esso, Standard Oil) and the U.S. Maritime Administration to join a press contingent aboard the tanker SS Manhattan, which had been outfitted with icebreaking equipment to become the first commercial vessel to cross the Northwest Passage, Bentley got Yeninas “kicked off the ship,” she said.

“Helen didn’t want to be simply ‘one of the women on the trip,’” Yeninas told the Sunday gathering. “She wanted to be ‘the only woman on the trip!’”

The two have since become “good friends,” she said.

However Bentley told Voice of Baltimore this week in an email that she never requested that Yeninas be bumped from the ship and that the former Newark News reporter was “never mentioned in any conversation” that she, Bentley, ever had with Humble Oil regarding the SS Manhattan.

In an email to Yeninas, Bentley asserted the story was inaccurate, that “Humble Oil never asked me about you. They did not want you so they blamed it on me.

“They pulled the same stunt on me re[garding] the telephone from the Northwest Passage when they did not want the press to use the phone anymore and said it was my fault for swearing on the phone.”

Bentley’s alleged four-letter tirade apparently caused the FCC to shut down the press’s ship-to-shore communication from the Manhattan.


After leaving The Sun in 1969 to become the highest-ranking woman in the Nixon Administration, Bentley served until 1975 as the youngest and first female chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission, the U.S. agency that regulates American shipping.

She was elected to Congress in 1984 by defeating longtime Democratic Rep. Clarence Long by a narrow margin after having lost to him in the two previous elections.

Long, who was known to be as crusty as Bentley, had alienated the Maryland State Legislature around the time of the 1980 Census and so they gerrymandered the congressional district to remove his stronghold, Pikesville, thereby enabling Bentley to defeat him.

In the next election she defeated Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who later became Maryland’s first female lieutenant governor.

It was the first time a member of the Kennedy Family had lost a general election.

In brief remarks at the end of the four-hour birthday bash, Bentley said she was delighted to be so honored “while I’m still above ground,” and thanked all those in her entourage, telling the crowd that a biography seven years in the making had gone unfinished.

Hopefully it’ll be done “by the time I turn 100,” she said.

Voice of Baltimore Managing Editor/Content Director AL Forman worked with and for Helen Bentley at the Baltimore Sun, wrote hundreds of speeches for her in Washington, D.C., and served as her campaign spokesman and media director when she first ran for Congress in 1980, ’82 and ’84.

He is in awe of her ability to get along well with both Democrats and Republicans alike, to mediate between management and labor, and to utter a four-letter turn of phrase unlike any other man, woman or teenager.

When she was famously cut off the air by the Federal Communications Commission allegedly for using expletives-deleted, he was working rewrite at The Sun and was the recipient of her wrath, on the other end of a ship-to-shore telephone line from the SS Manhattan on its historic voyage through the Northwest Passage.

He refuses to acknowledge any of the words she used that night, only to note that she was capable of “cussing a blue-streak for 20 minutes at a clip — without ever repeating the same word twice!”

At The Sun he recalls seeing her many times at her desk with a telephone at one ear talking to a shipping executive, and another phone cradled at the other with a union leader on the line. A third phone was usually in her hand or lying on the desk, with a government official on hold, while she typed her story with her other, free hand.

She could generally be heard yelling the same four-letter words into each of the three telephones.

4 Responses to ““LOVED AND FEARED” — Former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley feted on 90th birthday”

  1. Mim Bizic

    How honored we were to be present for this incredible tribute to a great lady! The stories told on the stage and at the tables among the guests showed a woman who truly made a difference on the American stage. She broke through the glass barriers repeatedly, with guts and determination, integrity and honesty. So many of the people told of her mentoring the young and inexperienced, always lending a helping hand. Crusty, a little, nevertheless, she was always able to get things accomplished no one else thought possible. Over and over she was praised for her vision and steadfastness on the importance of making Baltimore one of the best ports in the world. She truly deserves to have her name there: THE HELEN DELICH BENTLEY PORTS OF BALTIMORE! Thank you for a most informative article. The whole evening was great, and I personally thank the SUN for the great coverage!

  2. Editor, VoB

    For additional detail on the Bentley birthday bash, check out Dave Ettlin’s blog, “The Real Muck” — Ettlin is a longtime Baltimore Sun reporter, rewrite man and editor, now retired.

  3. jenny lee

    my aunt helen is truly a pioneer of our family. Growing up with an aunt like helen bentley was very educational

  4. Bill Hughes

    My earliest memory of Helen Bentley was in the late 50s. I lived on Hull Street in Locust Point across the street from Local 829 ILA. I was a member at the time. There was a meeting, at night, of the membership and Bentley insisted that she, as a reporter for “The Sun,” should be allowed in. The sergeant-at-arms told her “to hit the road…get lost.” She was at the front door, knocking away. A police sergeant from the Southern District showed up. I think his last name was Burke. He told Helen that she wasn’t going to be allowed in and that it was best for all concerns that she “should leave.” After a discussion, she walked away as a crowd of ILA supporters got larger and larger outside the front door. In those days, “The Sun” was despised in South Baltimore as an enemy of the working class.

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