A guy who's not from Baltimore

Frank A. DeFilippo

July 22, 1993|By Frank A. DeFilippo

PARRIS GLENDENING has nothing against Baltimore, but . . . It turns out that's a king-size but.

The governor of Maryland is from Baltimore. The lieutenant governor is from Baltimore County. The attorney general is from Baltimore. Maryland's senior senator is from Baltimore. And so, too, is the junior senator. As if that weren't enough, three of the four presumptive candidates for governor are from Baltimore as well.

So if Baltimore politicians are so great, Mr. Glendening wonders, how come Maryland's so messed up? And why is Baltimore City going to hell in a handcart?

That's the hallmark of Mr. Glendening's message as the Prince George's county executive trundles across Maryland in the early innings of his campaign for governor. Very simply, he'd like to be Maryland's first governor from Prince George's County since Oden Bowie in 1869.

vTC And it's a refrain that plays well in the xenophobic Maryland suburbs around the District of Columbia and in the Palookavilles tucked across the state.

Part two of the script is another matter. Now in his third term as executive of P.G., Mr. Glendening likes to brag that he turned a backwater Tobacco Road county into a model of economic development, reformed a second-rate school system and gave it national recognition, enjoyed excellent race relations in a county that's a tad more than 50 percent black and cleaned the clock of the old-boy political machine that once ruled the county like a feudal dynasty.

And of course the tag line is that, given the chance, he'll do the same thing for the rest of Maryland.

Mr. Glendening is one of four Democrats who're in the running for governor. The others are Lt. Gov. Melvin Steinberg, Attorney Gen. J. Joseph Curran Jr. and Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke. All of them are from the Baltimore area. Two other prospective candidates looking on from the sidelines are Dr. Neil Solomon (Baltimore) and Sen. Mary Boergers (Montgomery County).

Mr. Glendening is the quiet man of the 1994 gubernatorial campaign. And that's precisely why he's so dangerous. While nobody's paying attention when it's 104 degrees in the shade, Mr. Glendening's moving around and turning prospective supporters out and on.

His secret weapon might well be his top campaign aide, John Willis, a reconstructed Baltimorean and expert on state Democratic politics. Mr. Willis has been involved in Democratic inner-workings both as a party official and a campaign operative since he was a member of the short-pants Young Democrats.

Mr. Willis knows every one of Maryland's 1,500 precincts intimately, and as Mr. Glendening's nomenclator he makes certain that a crowd rallies around when his boss is in town.

As for the candidate himself, Mr. Glendening is an academic who decided he could accomplish more in the county office building than in the classroom. So he hung up his Ph.D at the University of Maryland and taught a lesson in political science to the entrenched county courthouse gang. He beat them at their own back-room game.

To this day, however, Mr. Glendening is the sworn political enemy of another Prince George's County big cheese, Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller. Over the past couple of years, Mr. Miller has used his authority in Annapolis in an attempt to thwart Mr. Glendening's fund-raising efforts.

Yet Mr. Glendening is becoming a formidable competitor if for no other reason than that he already has $1 million in the bank -- more than any other candidate. He's well-regarded in his own Prince George's County as well as in neighboring Montgomery County, where he has widespread support among the business community.

As every amateur geographer knows, population as well as political power are shifting away from Baltimore City and to the suburbs, especially those surrounding the District of Columbia. Montgomery County has overtaken Baltimore City as the state's most populous jurisdiction and Prince George's and Baltimore counties aren't far behind.

Mannerly Montgomery County is just beginning to discover its newly acquired vote-pulling power as well as how to play hardball in Annapolis. Prince George's, along with Baltimore, virtually invented rough-and-tumble politics.

So with all of that money and all those voters in his back yard, you'd think that Mr. Glendening would have it made in the shade, spending the next year in the islands or some other spa while the world beat a path to his doorstep.

Yet despite all of the bellyaching about poor, down at the heel Baltimore and its cash crop of officeholders, Mr. Glendening has a problem. A serious problem.

He needs a running-mate from Baltimore.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes a bi-monthly column on Maryland politics.

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