Curry rejects former ally Prince George's executive to endorse Rehrmann ticket

Rift with Glendening

Governor's camp downplays latest campaign defection

Campaign 1998

June 25, 1998|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry will endorse Eileen M. Rehrmann for governor today, sources close to her camp say, dealing a blow to the re-election bid of Gov. Parris N. Glendening in his home county.

Curry, who succeeded Glendening as executive of Maryland's second largest jurisdiction in 1994, has been a frequent and vocal critic of the governor and has been rumored for some time to be leaning toward Rehrmann, the Harford County executive.

With the endorsement, Curry becomes the second executive of a major jurisdiction -- and the second key black political leader -- to back Rehrmann over Glendening.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke threw his support behind Rehrmann in April, noting as one reason her support for legalizing slot machines at Maryland's horse racing tracks, with a portion of the money going toward education.

But with Schmoke, as with Curry, the endorsement appears more of a rejection of Glendening on a personal note -- both men have publicly questioned whether the governor can be trusted -- than one involving policies. Another key thread is that both Schmoke and Curry are closely aligned with political adviser Larry S. Gibson, who is Rehrmann's campaign manager.

Curry is scheduled to make the announcement at 2 p.m. today at his re-election headquarters in Largo, sources said. Aides in Curry's county government and campaign offices declined to comment yesterday.

George F. Harrison, the Rehrmann campaign spokesman, also declined comment but did say his candidate would be "campaigning in the Largo area all afternoon."

The Glendening campaign has been bracing itself for the defection since Curry's bitter sniping at the governor over school funding during the General Assembly session this year. The governor's campaign aides yesterday downplayed the importance of the endorsement.

"This is an insignificant event that we have fully expected," said Peter S. Hamm, the Glendening campaign spokesman.

Regardless of Curry's endorsement of another candidate, "We're going to win Prince George's County, and this governor is going to be re-elected," he said. "This is the favorite son from Prince George's County."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's Democrat and supporter of Glendening, dismissed the endorsement as well, and chalked up the Curry-Glendening rift to personal differences between the two men.

"Every once in a while you see a situation in politics where people don't get along," Miller said. "And these two people just don't get along."

Miller predicted Glendening would carry the county -- which he ++ presided over for 12 years before being elected governor -- by a larger margin than he did in 1994.

Donald F. Norris, professor of policy sciences at University of Maryland, Baltimore County and a longtime political observer, also said he did not believe the endorsement would prove important, given the support that Glendening has in Prince George's.

"I just don't think it does Glendening that much damage -- or Rehrmann that much good," he said.

"Endorsements don't always carry that much weight. They're really only valuable for bragging rights," Norris said. "They're only valuable if the endorsee can deliver the votes -- and we won't know that until Sept. 15," the date of the Democratic primary.

One effect the Schmoke and Curry endorsements could have is splitting the state's black vote, a core constituency for Glendening and his running mate, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

About a third of Maryland's registered Democrats are black -- and most of those voters are concentrated in Baltimore and Prince George's County -- but whether that is enough to help Rehrmann in the primary remains to be seen.

As governor, Glendening has been generous to Prince George's County and Baltimore, and his being rebuffed by Schmoke and Curry is seen by some as ungrateful and disloyal. Some officials in each jurisdiction have expressed concern that if Glendening wins re-election, retribution will follow.

But if Glendening is the Democratic nominee, help from Schmoke and Curry will be critical to keeping the State House Democratic in what promises to be a hard-fought general election in November -- likely against Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, who narrowly lost the governor's race in 1994.

Plus, like Baltimore, Prince George's County senators are supporting Glendening for re-election -- so the governor is unlikely to turn his back on his own county merely to punish Curry.

Curry's rejection of Glendening might be rooted in local Prince George's politics, from as long ago as four years, though relations between the two men have grown more sour since then.

In 1994, as a candidate in a crowded Democratic primary for county executive, Curry backed Glendening for governor, but Glendening did not return the favor, choosing instead to stay away from endorsing in the local race at home.

That was exacerbated after the general election, when Curry complained that Glendening had left him with a deficit of more than $100 million, though the governor had campaigned saying that he left the county with a $38 million surplus.

This year, those strained relations turned frostier during the past session of the General Assembly.

Glendening had committed $140 million to build new schools in Prince George's County to help end a quarter-century of court-ordered busing. But when lawmakers put restrictions on how the money could be spent, Curry assailed the governor for failing to stop them, saying Glendening was trying to "trick, bamboozle and hoodwink" his home county.

Just Monday night, Curry fired another shot across Glendening's bow, when he weighed into a Prince George's County state Senate race by throwing his support behind a challenger to Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah, one of the governor's strong supporters. Curry, instead, endorsed Del. C. Anthony Muse.

Pub Date: 6/25/98

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