Glendening, minus Young, walks political tightrope Supporter's expulsion will affect campaign

January 23, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron and JoAnna Daemmrich | Thomas W. Waldron and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Seven months ago, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and then-Sen. Larry Young stood arm in arm at a South Baltimore union hall as Young offered an early endorsement of the governor's re-election bid.

Now, with Young expelled from the state Senate for ethics transgressions, Glendening is doing his best to say nothing about the downfall of the man who had been one of his most ardent supporters in the General Assembly.

"I wish everyone well on this," Glendening said yesterday in a brief interview. "Beyond that, we have to move on."

The political collapse of the West Baltimore Democrat creates a no-win situation for the governor as he faces a bruising campaign, according to legislators and State House observers.

If the governor criticizes Young for the ethical missteps that cost him his Senate seat, Glendening risks offending Young supporters in Baltimore and, potentially, black voters elsewhere who believe that Young was treated too harshly.

At the same time, if Glendening somehow reaffirms his political alliance with Young, other voters around the state could be just as turned off.

"The governor is in between a rock and a hard place," said Del. Frank D. Boston Jr., a Baltimore Democrat.

Glendening has managed largely to skirt the problem.

After Young was ousted in a historic vote by the Maryland Senate last week, the governor issued a one-sentence statement that called the occasion "unfortunate" but didn't even mention Young by name.

Wednesday, in his State of the State address, Glendening avoided any mention of the emotional vote to oust Young that had convulsed the State House five days earlier.

Yesterday, Glendening again had little to say on the subject.

Frustrating

"Obviously, it's frustrating for everyone," Glendening said of Young's troubles. "It's frustrating for the whole legislative process.

"I have a great deal of concern for the senator and his family," the governor continued. "But my focus has been on preparing" for the legislative session.

Such a stance by Glendening is to be expected, said Herb Smith, a political scientist at Western Maryland College.

"He's doing the pragmatic thing," Smith said yesterday, adding that the governor seems to be carefully considering the political fallout of anything he says about Young. "Glendening plays the percentages."

The 48-year-old Young lost the seat he held for a decade by a 36-10 vote and is the subject of state and federal criminal investigations.

But he apparently remains popular in his legislative district and might run to regain his seat in November.

Balancing act

In that case, Glendening could face a tricky balancing act, and his advisers concede that the governor could have to say more about his one-time ally as the campaign progresses.

"I think what we've got to do is wait and see what the future brings," said Tim Phillips, Glen- dening's campaign manager.

He said the most important factor in the governor's re-election effort will be Glendening's record. "This race is in the governor's hands," Phillips said. "It's about how he communicates his successes to the people. All of the rest of this stuff is arcane."

Before his recent troubles, Young was regarded as a key player in the governor's re-election effort. Glendening won the 1994 election by fewer than 6,000 votes, and Baltimore was one of three jurisdictions he carried. Young was credited for getting Democratic voters to the polls on the city's west side.

Earlier loss

He was seen as even more important this year because Glendening has lost the services of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's political strategist, Larry S. Gibson. Gibson is orchestrating Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's challenge to Glendening.

Now, Glendening's arm's-length stance is the subject of some complaints among Young's supporters in the black community, said Del. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, an ally of the former senator.

"There's been some criticism," Mitchell said, "but we have said that it is very hard for the governor to come out publicly on this."

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, who has faced criticism as the only African-American senator not to vote against Young's expulsion, said she believes the governor's record will play well among Baltimore voters.

"The governor did not create this situation," said Kelley, a Democrat who represents parts of Baltimore and Baltimore County. "I expect him to survive whatever associations people might draw."

Pub Date: 1/23/98

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