Glendening: a front-runner fighting 2 obstacles CAMPAIGN 1994 THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR

August 29, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Sun Staff Writer

"We've got a convert," Parris N. Glendening exclaimed happily on a recent Saturday as he finished his pitch to a man leaving B. J.'s Wholesale Club in Columbia.

Mr. Glendening was wrong. Gregory J. Morgan, a salesman from the Catonsville section of Baltimore County, had listened to the Prince George's County executive, asked a few questions and departed enlightened but not fully persuaded.

"I told Mr. Glendening I feel uncomfortable with someone from Prince George's County," said Mr. Morgan. "We've benefited for years from having a governor from the city."

He added, "The other concern is, how can you promise everybody everything without being taxed to death?"

Geography and promises. Unprompted, Mr. Morgan had put his finger on two sizable stumbling blocks on Mr. Glendening's path to the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and, if he survives the Sept. 13 primary election, the Governor's Mansion.

A bespectacled, self-proclaimed policy wonk, Mr. Glendening is trying to become the first Maryland governor elected from the suburban Washington area in more than a century, and the first lacking roots in the historically dominant Baltimore region in nearly three decades.

After 12 years as the highest elected official in Prince George's, Mr. Glendening is running as the only candidate with significant executive experience, touting his ability to guide the county through hard economic times while managing to steadily increase spending on schools and police.

For his campaign, he has put together a strong organization of political professionals and has outdistanced all his rivals in fund raising, amassing a stunning $3.4 million by early this month.

He has also accumulated a daunting array of endorsements from politicians and special interest groups, often from organizations that seem natural adversaries -- environmentalists and developers, labor unions and business groups.

Along the way, he has promoted a sweeping, if expensive, agenda for change, promising to make education his highest priority for attention and dollars, but also pledging to beef up law enforcement, recharge the state's economy and protect the environment.

Those promises, and others, have been flung back at him by his rivals, who say he has made commitments that ignore the reality of the state's ragged fiscal condition, with a shortfall of $160 million projected for next year, then $300 million annually through 1999.

In response, he says he has no plans to raise taxes while conceding that he could not honor all his commitments overnight, or even next year. Many would have to be phased in over four or eight years as he reshaped the state budget to reflect his political priorities, he says.

But Mr. Glendening has made it clear, on the stump and in interviews, that he would be an activist chief executive, grappling with fiscal problems not simply to make ends meet but free the funds to initiate and expand the programs he hopes will define his governorship.

"If you're not going to invest in education, public safety and jobs," he says, "then why are you running for governor?"

At 52, Mr. Glendening embodies the stereotype of the mild-mannered college professor, which he has been at the University of Maryland College Park since 1967, in recent years teaching one political science course a semester.

Not a pushover

But he is nobody's patsy. Beneath the bland veneer burns a formidable ambition ignited by poverty, forged in academe and tempered in the internecine and often impenetrable political wars of Prince George's County over the past quarter-century.

"He may be a wonk, but he can go toe-to-toe with the best of them," says Gerard E. Evans, the county Democratic chairman.

Born in the Bronx, one of Mr. Glendening's earliest memories dates from age 5. He was standing on the edge of a road in the deep South, watching as an old Army truck that contained all his family's possessions lie on its side burning in a ditch.

The family was on its way to Florida after his father lost the lease on the gas station he ran on the New York Thruway. The Glendenings settled in Hialeah, a racetrack town near Miami. The house they rented had electricity in just two rooms and no indoor plumbing.

Mr. Glendening's father worked two jobs, machinist and milkman. Eventually, he bought the machine shop, but kept the milk delivery route. Mr. Glendening, one of six children, started working early, but quickly realized that education was the escape route from privation.

By 1967, he had earned a doctorate in government and urban studies at Florida State University and was on his way to College Park to begin his teaching career. Soon after, he entered politics.

Changing P.G. County

During his tenure as county executive, Prince George's has experienced dramatic demographic changes, becoming a majority black subdivision and gaining a reputation as a mecca for middle-class African-Americans.

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