Inaugural speech hits perfectly inoffensive pitch

January 19, 1995|By MICHAEL OLESKER

OK, so it wasn't Parris when he sizzles. The sky was drippy, and the crowd was chilly and wet, and Parris Glendening's inaugural speech had all the daring you might expect of a guy who lost 21 out of 24 jurisdictions and doesn't want to offend anybody else.

If you wanted pizazz yesterday, you had to pick your spots. There was a 21-gun salute, which sounded like a firing squad taking out Ellen Sauerbrey. There was Harry Hughes telling the crowd, "I'd like to recount the ways I like Parris, but I fear the word 'recount' has gone out of fashion."

And there was Glendening's musical salute to his wife, Frances Anne. Oh, my. It was a rendering of the syrupy "The Wind Beneath My Wings," as the new first couple hugged in front of everybody for 3 1/2 minutes, followed by Glendening asking his 15-year old son, Raymond, to step forward.

"You're not gonna do the same thing to me, are you?" Raymond asked. The poor kid's gotta show his face in the schoolyard tomorrow.

OK, so it wasn't Parris in the spring. The new governor's speech matched the day's leaden skies, but so what? Glendening has heard the voice of the people, and what they said was, back off. William Donald Schaefer declared, do it now; Glendening quietly suggested, judge us by what we do over the entire course of the next four years of "re-engineering government." Can this guy get poetic, or what?

The day had its poignant moments. As he emerged from his office for the final time, the retiring Schaefer descended the Statehouse staircase with the Glendenings behind him. Warm cheers swelled from below. The Glendenings waved happily. Schaefer never looked up, as though it didn't occur to him that the cheers might be his, too.

"I thought I'd be weeping all over the place," Schaefer said a few minutes later in a crowded corridor, "but I had my time. I was ready for this, psychologically and every other way. The people are ready for a new direction. . . . I didn't think I'd be as calm and as happy as I am."

Then, when almost nobody was looking, he exited a side door and was gone before Glendening gave his inaugural address.

"It's not gonna be 'do it now' any more," Baltimore Del. Sandy Rosenberg acknowledged, "so much as, do it at the right time and in the right way. Just as Schaefer was the contrast to Harry Hughes, Glendening's the response to Schaefer. From laid back to activist to laid back."

This governor takes office without a sense that everybody loves him: a 6,000-vote margin out of 1.4 million votes cast, a legal challenge from Sauerbrey, the knowledge that 21 counties didn't like what they'd heard from him. Maybe that accounted for the generic feel of yesterday's speech, the sense that Glendening wished to venture out on no shaky limbs.

Improve education, he said. Create new jobs, he said. Make our communities safe, he said. Make our government efficient and effective, he said. Then he called these "the agenda of the Glendening administration." Even among his detractors, could anybody take umbrage?

"Well, every governor has his own style," Marvin Mandel said afterward. The former governor looked tanned and slightly heavier than when last seen. Asked about Glendening's shaky mandate, Mandel said, "There's an old saying about winning elections. 'One's a majority, and two's a hell of a majority.'What's the difference if you win by one or a million? He's the governor."

Mandel's a lobbyist now. Another pol turned lobbyist, the outgoing lieutenant governor, Melvin "Mickey" Steinberg, strolled about the crowd for awhile. He confessed a sense of relief that he'd lost to Glendening.

"I started to worry during the campaign," Steinberg said. "'Can I really fix the schools? Am I really gonna stop crime? What happens when they start doing cartoons of me in the newspaper?'" Steinberg's voice rose liltingly. Then he spotted Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

"Hey," Steinberg cried, "I used to have curly hair like that."

"Watch out," Miller warned bystanders, "he's a lobbyist."

"Hey, Miller," Steinberg called back, "you owe me two bills."

So there's a new governor, but a lot of the old players are still here. A new administration, but nothing in the air yesterday suggesting any bold initiatives just around the corner. For now, Parris isn't sizzling. He is the wind beneath our anticipations.

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