Helen Delich Bentley



…of Baltimore, the Port That Built a City, State & Nation

Before there was a Harborplace or Pratt Street Pavilion…

Before there was a fabled Inner Harbor attracting tourists far and wide…

Before there was a Camden Yards with Orioles replacing railroad cars…

There was a Port of Baltimore… a Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore… although it would not be known by that illustrious name until the new millennium.

A Republican Governor of Maryland, the first to be elected in more than 35 years, so designated it in 2006 to honor his political mentor for her many years of service to the city, state and nation, a woman who first educated Baltimoreans and Marylanders on the importance of the port and its effect on every industry and person in the state living within its radius.

That radius extends to Maryland’s borders on all sides, which the youthful Helen Delich instinctively recognized after being told by an editor of the Baltimore Sun — where she came to work near the end of World War II in 1945 — who was looking for an assignment that would be appropriate for a young female reporter back in that day, to “go down to the harbor and see if anything is going on.”

She did. And what she found “going on” and wrote countless newspaper stories and syndicated columns about for nearly 25 years would lead to Baltimore’s becoming one of the great American seaports of the 20th Century… and to her becoming one of the great female journalists (print and television) — presidential appointee and decade-long Republican Member of Congress — from a state that’s had just two Republican governors since the resignation of Spiro Agnew in 1969 when he left to become Vice President under Richard Nixon, prior to both of them resigning in the early 1970s.

She was appointed by then-President Nixon during his first year in office to be Chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission and for much of his administration was the highest-ranking woman in the U.S. government.

But despite huge fanfare when Nixon named her to the post — he made the announcement from the Oval Office with national media in attendance and pictures on front pages of many of the country’s newspapers, most notably the Baltimore Sun, where she had risen to become a syndicated columnist and Maritime Editor — the President refused to personally swear her in because of his subsequent embarrassment by her salty language.

It was four years before the Watergate scandal and presidential tapes that revealed Nixon, to everyone’s surprise, to be a prolific purveyor of the “expletive deleted.”

Years of highly successful dealing with longshoremen and seamen, union representatives and tugboat captains, and virtually all elements of the American Merchant Marine and U.S. Navy afforded Bentley a vocabulary that was the envy of the sailors, stevedores and seamen she reported on, not to mention anyone else who could appreciate a good four-letter turn of phrase.

More than one person who encountered her over the years has commented that she has the uncanny ability “to cuss a blue streak for minutes at a clip — without ever repeating the same word twice!” ….

Bentley would have been governor had she not lost a disastrous 1994 GOP primary to Ellen Sauerbrey, a State of Maryland Delegate largely unknown to the electorate of that day but known to friends and foes alike as “Winkie.”

Sauerbrey never had the wherewithal to head the state; she lacked Bentley’s ability to get along and work with Democrats, the overwhelming majority of Free State politicians.

In Greater Baltimore districts, Republicans rarely if ever get elected; the Baltimore City Council has not had a GOP member since 1936. And only one Republican has been Mayor in the seven-and-a-half decades since that period: Theodore R. McKeldin, who served two terms — one in the 1940s, the second in the 60s, bookending his two terms as Governor in the 1950s.

The state’s only Republican governors since that time have been Spiro Agnew for two years in the late 1960s and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Bentley’s protégé, for a single term in the opening decade of the new millennium, followed by the current Governor, Larry Hogan, who was elected in 2014.

Bentley had the support in 1994 — and openly tacit endorsement — of outgoing Gov. William Donald Schaefer, a two-term Democrat prevented by term limits from running again, who intensely disliked his party’s nominee to succeed him, Parris Glendening, then-Prince George’s County Executive.

Schaefer later, as State Comptroller, would become a thorn in Gov. Glendening’s side, lambasting the hapless former P.G. County Executive at every opportunity.

Sauerbrey nearly defeated Glendening in the general election of 1994. (She didn’t do as well in 1998.)

Bentley would have accomplished it….

She was never easy to work for, rarely if ever complimenting any of her employees on their efforts. But sometimes, on rare occasions, she inadvertently let her (unspoken) appreciation seep through, and on the most unexpected occasions.

At the Federal Maritime Commission, following a heated exchange she fired longtime speechwriter AL Forman, who had written several hundred speeches for her as a consultant to the Commission, and the two parted company never to speak again. Or at least that’s what Forman thought.

The next morning, he received a phone call from her secretary asking when her speech for later that week would be completed and in the mail.

“I don’t work for her anymore,” Forman replied.

“She needs the speech by tomorrow night,” the secretary, Tina Driver, responded, as if she hadn’t heard what Forman said.

“I don’t work for her anymore,” he repeated. “She fired me yesterday afternoon. There is no speech.”

“I don’t know anything about your being fired,” Driver said. “And she needs the speech asap.”

“Well you better double-check with her then,” Forman said. “When’s the last time you talked to her?”

“About two minutes ago,” Driver replied. “She told me to call and find out where’s her speech.” And then, as an afterthought, “And she wants to know if you have any questions about next week’s speeches.”

“Let me talk to her,” Forman said. “She was pretty clear about firing me.”

“Oh no, she’s not talking to you,” Driver replied; “she’s really pissed at you. Any questions you might have, tell me, and I’ll relay them and her answers back to you.”

It was more than two months before Forman saw or spoke directly with Bentley again. In the interim he wrote some 50 speeches — she often delivered between eight and 10 a week — and he went on to write several hundred more, despite being fired and/or quitting several times.

In the future, whenever he was fired he simply kept on working, on one occasion even getting a raise in salary the very same week.

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READ VOICE OF BALTIMORE’S COVERAGE OF HELEN BENTLEY’S 90th BIRTHDAY BASH — click here — and check out her Aug. 6, 2016 obit  by clicking here.

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