Parris' promises

June 16, 1994|By Frank A. DeFilippo

PARRIS Glendening has been running for governor quietly and unobtrusively for the past two years without a ripple of controversy or a hint of deception.

Now, all of a sudden, when the campaigning gets serious and the big picture emerges, the Prince George's County executive is being undercut. The villain: Parris Glendening.

Which is the genuine Mr. Glendening? The doubt arises from the generic how-do-you-do television commercial that's been running on Baltimore and Washington stations.

Still more concern has been prompted by Mr. Glendening's munificent gestures to teachers and government unions -- as well as to Baltimore City -- in exchange for union endorsements and that of Mayor Kurt Schmoke. He's being tagged as 1994's Walter Mondale -- the candidate of the special interests.

In his own backyard, Mr. Glendening has been microscoped by the Washington Post, whose reporters know him and have examined him up close. And in Baltimore, there's been a chain reaction to Mr. Schmoke's endorsement of him and to Mr. Glendening's apparent overpromising of government largess at a time when Maryland is facing four years of built-in debt and an increase in the gas tax next year.

Mr. Glendening has been characterized as the front-runner, the man to beat. But the numbers tell a different story. After two years of methodical campaigning, he has not moved ahead substantially in the polls.

Depending upon which poll you read, with 40 percent to 50 percent of the voters still undecided three weeks before the filing deadline, there is no clear front-runner. The contest for governor is still wide open.

Begin with that smarmy commercial. It's designed mainly to gain name recognition, but in it Mr. Glendening administers his own knife-in-the-back. Embracing the anti-crime mantra, he describes himself as a former "police commissioner." In fact, as a former Hyattsville City Council member, he was merely the council's liaison with the police.

Mr. Glendening also brags in the commercial that he's responsible for creating "108,000 new jobs" in Prince George's County. But during the recent recession, Prince George's actually lost 28,000 jobs. Mr. Glendening also says county income doubled during his tenure. In fact, it grew by only 17 percent.

But what is most troubling is Mr. Glendening's wish list of promises. Some quick arithmetic shows they add up to more than $200 million. Maryland simply doesn't have that kind of money.

Mr. Glendening has promised Baltimore City increased funding for police, for the courts and a youth job-training program ($50 million). He's promised to restore state funding of Social Security payments for teachers and librarians in Montgomery County ($170 million). And he's promised teachers and government unions that he'll boost spending on schools and give the state's 70,000 employees collective bargaining rights. This will push up personnel costs.

How will Mr. Glendening pay for all of his political good will? Not with a tax increase, mind you, but by reducing the state work force "through attrition" and promoting economic growth. Those are very iffy ways to pay the bills.

They're not likely to impress those who establish Maryland's bond ratings. Paying off Mr. Glendening's $200 million in political promises could well threaten the state's coveted Triple-A rating.

There are other questions. Mr. Glendening and Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller are political enemies from the same county. How, then, could the State House function with two of the three top players using smile-and-dagger politics?

So being described as the front-runner is not always the blessing that it appears to be. To paraphrase Tommy D'Alesandro the Elder, front-runners get kicked in the rear.

While the professorial Mr. Glendening schmoozes his way around the state promising millions in pixie dust at every stop, the heat is up and the kitchen's getting hotter.

What Mr. Glendening had been demonstrating is that he has a game plan and sticks to the script. He has been organizing virtually block by block, because organization is what wins primary elections. He's collected a number of high-decibel endorsements and raised a ton of money. But under close inspection, Mr. Glendening's campaign is beginning to fray a tad because of a hyperbolic television script and a bunch of campaign promises nobody believes he can keep.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes from Owings Mills.

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