Governor criticizes potential challengers Businessmen, officials set meeting to discuss opposing him in '98

September 02, 1996|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening lashed out yesterday at "gubernatorial wannabes" and powerful forces who push private interests above those of the state.

His remarks were aimed at businessmen and elected officials who are expected to meet Thursday night at the home of nursing home magnate Stewart Bainum Jr. in Montgomery County to discuss a challenge to the first-term governor in 1998.

Their meeting comes at a time when the governor, buffeted by low poll ratings and a controversial fund-raising expedition to New York, had returned from what he thought was a unifying Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

In a statement, he said:

"I cannot and will not be distracted from my duties by a group of gubernatorial wannabes and others who would have me put their provincial concerns above the welfare of this state.

"I was elected by the people of Maryland, not by a few powerful people in a smoke-filled room."

At least three of Glendening's critics said they are ready for a moratorium on "Parris bashing," but others are expected to attend the meeting at Bainum's home. Bainum is a former state senator who is chief operating officer of Manor Care, a giant nursing home company.

Glendening supporters were trying yesterday to persuade some who were invited to stay away.

The guest list includes County Executives Eileen M. Rehrmann of Harford, Douglas M. Duncan of Montgomery and Wayne K. Curry of Prince George's. Also asked to attend were Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a 3rd District Democrat, and House Speaker Casper R. )) Taylor Jr.

The businessmen, according to a story in Saturday's Washington Post, are H. Furlong Baldwin, chairman and chief executive officer of Mercantile Bancshares Corp. in Baltimore; Calman "Buddy" Zamoiski, a Baltimore businessman and president of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; and Peter F. O'Malley, a lawyer, former head of the University of Maryland Board of Regents and one-time leader of Prince George's County Democrats.

Each of the elected officials has been "mentioned" as a potential Democratic opponent for Glendening if he continues to seem vulnerable to a Republican challenger in 1998.

But Taylor, an Allegany Democrat, said he had not decided if he would attend the meeting. Calling talk of asking Glendening not to run again "premature," he said he thinks the governor has "plenty of time" to restore his political strength.

Another antagonist who plans to attend the meeting, and spoke on condition of anonymity, said he does not expect it to result in anything more than another opportunity to catalog grievances. He also said he has been struck by what others have called "a meltdown" in Glendening's status with the party.

Increasingly, officeholders are fearful that Glendening's low standing in the polls means their party could lose the State House to a Republican -- and cause other Democratic losses in a GOP sweep. Those who take that position want to deny Republicans what the GOP is frank to call a dream opponent because of the perception that Glendening is so weakened by controversy.

These concerns have been percolating in Democratic councils for months. But the opponents' chore of finding a single strategy for opposing him may be illustrated by remarkable differences in attitudes toward the governor's plight.

Some of his critics were prepared for a temporary cease-fire.

"The guy is down," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said during last week's convention in Chicago. "He needs to make some improvements, but we're not going to beat up on him any more.

"Either he uses these next two legislative sessions to regain his balance or someone is going to run against him in the primary."

Business people in the Washington area and in Baltimore have been unhappy with the governor's decision to grant limited collective bargaining rights to state employees. Some are angry about his decision to veto any effort to bring casinos and slot machines in Maryland. Others are demanding an income tax cut -- and still others have more individual demands.

The meeting in Montgomery County underscores the difficulties Glendening faces: Voters there are telling public officials they were shocked to read that the governor had flown to New York for a fund-raiser thrown by a company competing for a state contract that Glendening would have to vote on.

But Glendening has defenders.

At the convention, one of the governor's supporters said the barrage of critical news about the governor had muffled the good.

"When he's had a chance to get his message out, people will see he's done a good job for the state," said Greg Pecoraro, a Westminster town councilman and Democratic national committeeman.

Pub Date: 9/02/96

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