Glendening is hoping that memories are short

January 20, 1998|By MICHAEL OLESKER

On this day, the governor of Maryland prepares his State of the State address and hopes that no one has any memory. He and Larry Young were once pretty good pals. He and Young had a mutual friend in Merit Behavioral Care Corp., which attempted to buy them both. Now Larry Young is gone from Annapolis, and Merit is part of the reason, and its shadow still hovers over Parris Glendening.

Whatever this governor's virtues, there is the continuing sense of a man outrunning his own sneakiness: the secret pension deal, the money that arrived under the table from racetrack interests, the heavy-handed fund raising. And, not to be forgotten as long as Ellen Sauerbrey walks the earth, the matter of Merit Behavioral.

They are the folks who flew the governor of Maryland to New York a couple years ago for an intimate little fund-raiser at the apartment of a fellow named Albert S. Waxman, who heads Merit. The apartment was very lovely. This fact we learned from Larry Young, who happened to be there the evening in question.

Nobody is supposed to think about this tomorrow, when the governor gives his State of the State speech. The governor will speak of better schools and clean environment, both of which are important, and attempt to distance himself from Young, newly expelled from the Senate, for reasons that are also important.

The governor will perhaps dance around the Young issue entirely, or else utter a generalized call for purity in government, but the chances are not great that he will mention either Larry Young or Merit Behavioral by actual name.

While he wants to show himself firmly opposed to all political wrongdoing, Glendening does not wish to make too fine a point of such things. The Merit business, for example.

In the course of pursuing a $25 million mental health care contract with the state of Maryland, Merit was putting more than $115,000 into Larry Young's pockets and calling it consulting fees. Young was chairman of the Senate subcommittee on health. In the course of pursuing the same $25 million contract, Merit attempted to put money into Glendening's pockets while calling it campaign contributions.

Merit put Glendening on a corporate jet and took him to Waxman's New York apartment for a $1,000-a-person fund-raiser. The governor was poised to collect $60,000 this one evening. Among those present was then-Senator Young, who later said he had merely dropped in because a pal of his invited him, and certainly not because the governor was there, or because either he or the governor suspected Merit was trying to buy its way into the Maryland health care business.

No one is supposed to point out: It is their job to know such things.

Two weeks after the event, after reporters began asking embarrassing questions, Glendening held a news conference. He said he would not accept any donations associated with the event and would reimburse Merit for the plane trip.

And he said - Get this! - that he had no idea that Merit was simultaneously bidding on a contract to provide mental health services for state workers. No idea! No one was supposed to notice the governor sits on the three-member Board of Public Works, which was considering the contract.

Perhaps, we were expected to believe, the governor merely thought there were these nice people in New York who looked around one day and said, "Say, this fellow Glendening down in Maryland seems like a nice chap. Why don't we hold a fund-raiser for him?"

This was, after all, the same rationale offered when Glendening was getting some of that "other" money from New York. Remember? That was the money he was slipped under the table by Maryland racetrack interests who, having handed Glendening all they could legally contribute to his election campaign, then sent him illegal money in the names of New York relatives.

The governor said he was "shocked" when he learned the truth. He'd simply assumed that these strangers in New York had looked around one day and said, "Say, this fellow Glendening down in Maryland seems like a nice chap." And decided, with no other motive save good government, to pad his pockets.

Last week, for all the angst over Larry Young's expulsion, there was a sense of overture in the air. There was political music yet to be played.

Some of it will come from Ellen Sauerbrey, eager to attack Glendening as the next election season approaches, and some of it might well come from other Democrats with their own gubernatorial ambitions, who see Glendening as newly vulnerable in the wake of Larry Young and can't wait to jar the memories of voters.

Pub Date: 1/20/98

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