Each wants to be governor. But whoever wins, the color of Schaefer era will fade to gray WINKY OR THE WONK STORY

October 31, 1994|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Sun Staff Writer

Time is running out. With mere days remaining in the gubernatorial campaign, we have yet to see Parris N. Glendening or Ellen R. Sauerbrey wear a funny hat.

So much for the heyday of William Donald Schaefer, when one never quite knew what would turn up on the governor's head at any given moment: a straw boater, a derby, a pith helmet, a Lamont Cranston big-brim job.

If one can predict nothing else about the outcome of the governor's race, it is that the Madcap Era of Maryland state politics will soon be suspended until further notice.

Picture Ellen Sauerbrey in a safari hat. Picture Parris Glendening slipping into a striped Victorian bathing suit, grabbing a rubber duck and leaping into a seal tank.

Better yet, try to imagine Mr. Glendening wearing something other than that gray-blue suit with the white shirt and the rep tie.

The Democratic candidate makes Secretary of State Warren Christopher look like one of the Blues Brothers. Is Parris boring?

"I tend to be very low-keyed," says the silver-gray, 52-year-old Prince George's County Executive who also teaches political science at the University of Maryland. "Some people might even say boring. I acknowledge that."

Mr. Glendening has made his life in government -- studying it, teaching it, working in it. He has published two books and 20 articles on public policy, works with such titles as "Pragmatic Federalism," and "Municipal Finances: Change and Continuity." He still teaches a course in government at College Park.

And what of Mrs. Sauerbrey, 57, the House of Delegates minority leader from Baltimore County? Her tax-cut pledge electrifies many voters, but it's delivered with all the voltage of a candidate for sewer commission.

"I'm certainly not flashy," says Mrs. Sauerbrey.

The best we can do for colorful copy here is to point out that for years she was known by the childhood nickname "Winky," but dropped the handle when she got into state politics in 1978.

Winky or the Wonk, that's the full menu. Even when they get testy in the debates, they sound like they're reading cue cards.

What an act to follow the storm and passion of Willie Don. Willie, who stood in the national spotlight even before he became governor by making it onto the cover of Esquire: "Who Is the Best Mayor in America and Why is He So Annoyed?" Willie, dubbed by the supermarket tabloid Star "The wackiest governor in America."

All right, maybe Mr. Glendening makes the cover of Intergovernmental Perspective, or in view of his close relationships with developers, perhaps a spread in Real Estate Record & Builder's Guide Weekly. Maybe Mrs. Sauerbrey, a gun-control foe, gets a layout in Guns & Ammo.

No wonder city voters seem a tad uninspired as election day approaches. Just the other day, state Sen. Larry Young was saying he's worried about turnout in Baltimore.

"We were concerned that there was no action, no excitement," the Baltimore Democrat told a reporter. He was planning a one-day blitz of coffee gatherings across the city, featuring a video about Parris Glendening.

Hey senator, make it double espressos all around.

Glendening: Man with The Plan

When you first see Parris Nelson Glendening you have a feeling that maybe you've seen him before. One of those guys getting the morning business shuttle at BWI or hustling into the Legg Mason tower with the 9 o'clock herd. You think banker, insurance guy, Rotary Club guy, white guy.

His friends like to say he's got the look of a governor -- 6-foot-1, slim, gray. He's sort of got the sound of a Southerner, a voice that lately is muffled by a head cold.

You read the biography and are surprised to learn he was born in the Bronx. You don't see Bronx in the man. His father, Raymond, took Parris and the rest of the family out of the Bronx in 1947 and that apparently took the Bronx out of Parris.

The boy was 5. Raymond Glendening was struggling. Lost the lease on his gas station on the New York Thruway -- politics, his son believes it was -- and headed to Florida where his parents lived.

Parris Glendening tells the story about the family's highway accident on the way down south. It's an image out of Steinbeck: an old Army truck containing everything they owned flipped on its side into a roadside ditch, burning.

The family of six children eventually made it to Florida. They settled in Hialeah and rented a house without indoor plumbing. Raymond Glendening worked a variety of jobs and died at 50 owning a machine shop.

Hardship and ambition

The hardship may explain something about Mr. Glendening's powerful ambition. For so many years he's known what he wanted to do, for so many years he's had The Plan.

Why government? Why politics? He can't tell you there was a moment when he saw the path. He remembers being inspired by Adlai Stevenson, the eloquent, professorial governor of Illinois, the one they called "egghead" in the 1950s before anyone had heard of a wonk.

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