Glendening's tap dance doesn't endear voters

August 27, 1996|By MICHAEL OLESKER

The governor of Maryland's in Chicago this week, where many people do not know him. This is considered a blessing for Parris Glendening, who finds himself increasingly scorned around here, particularly by those who know him best.

He's on the outs with Kurt L. Schmoke, the mayor who helped put him into office and now must wonder why. He's flirted with bribery accusations by attending a fund-raiser at the home of a New York corporate chief who's bidding on a lucrative state contract here and wished to ice the deal while nobody was paying attention.

Only weeks before this, the governor looked sneaky and dishonest taking money from racetrack owner Joe De Francis that arrived under assumed names. De Francis caught the legal flak, but nobody bought Glendening's lame claim that he was "shocked" that checks from strangers in Buffalo, N.Y., turned out to be local racetrack money.

And, as the governor attempts to tap dance around the De Francis awkwardness, and his various political debts to Schmoke, and his own core beliefs -- if he has any -- about the proper role of government, he's taken at least three different positions on bringing slot machines to Maryland.

None of this is considered endearing by voters. His job performance was called "poor" by 25 percent of those polled early this month by Mason-Dixon Political Media Research. And that was before news of the New York trip, and before an angry outburst from Schmoke, and before some of the gambling flip-flops.

The word "liar" hasn't explicitly been mentioned in public, but euphemisms have. When he met with Schmoke, whose bereft city schools are desperate for state money, agreement was reached (says the mayor) to fund the schools with money from slot machines at Maryland racetracks.

Wait a minute, Glendening said a day later, the mayor was overstating their agreement. First, the governor said, he wanted to check the impact of Delaware slots on Maryland's racing industry. (Boy, there's a tough call: Delaware's doing cartwheels over all its new gambling money, while Maryland's tracks feel like undernourished orphans and Joe De Francis is talking like Art Modell before he bolted Cleveland.)

But, a day or so later, Glendening changed his mind again: All gambling is out, he said. Never mind what's happening in Delaware. He would reject any gambling initiatives that crossed his desk. The mayor of Baltimore had simply misinterpreted their discussion.

This, said Schmoke, is a crock. The mayor has told friends there was "no possibility of misunderstanding," that the two of them shook hands on a deal that would bring slot machines to Maryland and use gambling profits to help boost the staggering schools.

You can find this an appropriate method of funding education or not -- that isn't the immediate issue. The issue is Glendening's record of truthfulness. He unquestioningly takes campaign money from unknown people in Buffalo, N.Y., but only considers it "shocking" when it becomes public knowledge that it's actually Maryland racetrack money.

He's bankrolled by big New York City money people who hope to strike it rich in Maryland, and he thinks we'll buy the excuse that he didn't know the sponsor of the fund-raiser, whose corporate jet he used, was a bidder on a big mental health care contract.

He meets with Schmoke, whose efforts in the last election catapulted him into office over the wishes of almost every other county in the state, and agrees to help the mayor's schools -- and then thinks we'll buy it when he says he never actually made the agreement.

"The thinking," says one man who has been a Glendening loyalist and is reluctant to speak on the record, "is that, if he could do this to Schmoke, then who among us is safe?"

Last week, the mayor offered a rare show of public anger and wondered aloud if Glendening thought their relationship could survive such duplicity. He's not alone.

"If this is election time," says a Glendening financial backer who also is reluctant to talk on the record, "then Schmoke dumps him right now. And I'll tell you what I hear from people who backed the governor big-time two years ago: They don't sell tickets for him anymore."

But the only election now is presidential, which is why Glendening's in Chicago this week. He can identify with Bill Clinton, who's survived his own misfortunes. Also, the governor can lose himself in a crowd of people who do not particularly know who he is. Right now, that's his best bet.

Pub Date: 8/27/96

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