Glendening's disappointing first year Still fumbling: Election challenge, early missteps led to mixed record, muddled image.

January 17, 1996

EVEN PARRIS GLENDENING himself had to be inwardly disappointed with his first year as governor of Maryland. Knocked off stride by a court challenge to his election and some early scandals, the governor never fully recovered. His second year, which begins today with his State of the State address and delivery of a $15 billion budget, shapes up as a defining period.

For a professor of political science, Mr. Glendening made some surprisingly naive mistakes. He botched the transition from county government to the far more complex state government. Cronies from his Prince George's County days proved an embarrassment and had to be dismissed. A pension scandal in that county shook public confidence in the new governor's integrity. And the insular executive angered legislators with his go-it-alone approach that excluded them from the decision-making -- and left him alone in the spotlight.

But it was the election challenge that proved the most daunting. With his right to the governorship in doubt for months, Mr. Glendening was distracted. The result: a quickly formed administration that stumbled out of the block.

The year turned into a learning experience. On most controversies, the governor delayed action. Gun-control, tax cuts and economic development strategies were put off till now. The governor even sidestepped the matter of casino gambling for half a year; then he and a task force strongly opposed the idea.

Yet some gains were scored. Mr. Glendening stood firm on a strong workplace-smoking ban. He backed new restrictions on crabbing to foster the Chesapeake's long-term bounty. He used financial enticements to gain jobs for Maryland, the biggest coups being Dr. Robert C. Gallo's AIDS and virology institute, McCormick's distribution center, a big Saks Fifth Avenue distribution center and a huge expansion of T. Rowe Price's operations.

His biggest accomplishment came in a nuts-and-bolts area he loves -- the budget. He slashed $250 million from outgoing Gov. William Donald Schaefer's spending plan and set up a $200 million rainy day fund. Given the state's sluggish economy and federal downsizing, Mr. Glendening's cautious approach proved correct: Maryland would be in a pickle had spending not been curbed last January.

Now comes Year No. 2. Mr. Glendening is no longer a stranger to the State House. Today, he presents his ambitious agenda. He must find ways to gain stronger legislative backing if he wants the public to view him as an accomplished -- and successful -- chief executive.

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