Top aide is governor's alter ego

June 25, 1995|By Peter Jensen and Marina Sarris | Peter Jensen and Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writers

His speed is always set at fast-forward. With a fondness for cybertalk and management jargon, he can be charming or unintelligible. He is disciplined, smart, confident, driven and, above all, fiercely loyal to his boss.

With the protectiveness of a Praetorian Guard and an accountant's fondness for detail, Major F. Riddick Jr. has emerged as a force to be reckoned with on the second floor of the Maryland State House. In the eyes of friends and detractors alike, he runs state government for Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

As the governor's chief of staff, the 44-year-old postman's son wields an extraordinary amount of authority, far more than his predecessors. It is an alliance transferred intact from Prince George's County, where Mr. Riddick served as then-County Executive Glendening's chief administrative officer, but it is without precedent in Annapolis.

You are a Cabinet secretary and a crisis looms? You need to check with Mr. Riddick. A legislative issue becoming sticky? Enter Mr. Riddick. He is the administration's information nexus. Little escapes his technocratic attention.

"He and Parris are soul mates," said an administration source. "They both take the long view. They plan where they're going."

For an idea or individual to land in the governor's office, Mr. Riddick or at least one of his aides typically has to be consulted first. That system has rankled some legislators and even members of the fledgling governor's own Cabinet.

Some question how Mr. Glendening can stay in touch when information flows so circuitously from Cabinet secretary to one of Mr. Riddick's four deputies to Mr. Riddick to the governor.

you have a governor who doesn't want to meet with people or get into the nitty-gritty, you run the risk of creating [another] power center," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat. "State government is not Prince George's County. It can't be operated like it's Prince George's County."

One Cabinet official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, expressed frustration at a system that creates delays.

"You have a policy that requires the governor's support, and you want to take it to the governor and you want to frame it to the governor, but you have to go through an intermediary," the official said. "If the deputy is busy, you have to educate a staffer who will educate the deputy chief of staff who can filter it to Major.

"It's a time-consuming process, and for those of us who are rapid actors, there's a system there that by its definition impedes that rapid response."

Architect and builder

Mr. Riddick and the governor dismiss such criticisms as symptoms of an organization discomfited by change. They liken their relationship to a private company's chief executive officer (Mr. Glendening) and chief administrative officer (Mr. Riddick). The CEO is the architect outlining the plan, while the CAO is the builder, setting the bricks and mortar to fulfill the architect's concept.

"State government is a big business, a $15 billion business, and this is the traditional structure of a large corporation," said Mr. Glendening. "I don't care about insiders' games and how they think it should be organized."

Mr. Riddick, for his part, downplays the significance of his role in determining who or what should have access to the governor. "I'm not a gatekeeper. I'm not a power broker," he insisted.

For many in Annapolis, the word that may best describe Mr. Riddick is enigma. A solid 6 foot 1 inch, 200 pounds and sporting a goatee, he projects an aura of confidence with a -- of rebel. Not well known outside the Cabinet, or even to some insiders for that matter, he is a complex man not easily categorized.

He is the first African-American to be named chief of staff to a Maryland governor, an accomplishment of which he is proud but also wary. The detail is all very well when it demonstrates that the governor is enlightened, not so great when the aide is seen only in the context of his skin color.

" 'Who is this African-American they have in here [taking action for] the governor?'" Mr. Riddick said, projecting the questions of his critics. "There are a number of people who are just not comfortable. I understand that."

Black lawmakers sought his assistance when a bill to increase the amount of state contracts earmarked for minority businesses faltered in the House of Delegates. He helped negotiate a compromise that ultimately raised the goal from 10 percent to 14 percent, yet some black legislators were disappointed with the result.

"Major doesn't wear [his race] on his sleeves," said Sen. Larry Young, a Baltimore Democrat. "Some of my colleagues would want him to wear it on his sleeves."

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, another Baltimore Democrat, said Mr. Riddick is a "bona fide role model" in the black community. His mind is like a computer, Mr. Rawlings said, with a "sweeping command of issues and subjects."

High profile

"He is probably the most high-profile chief of staff a governor has ever had," Mr. Rawlings said.

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