State aid bolsters leaders' support Record largess fuels fervor for Glendening

July 12, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the executives of Baltimore and Montgomery counties are getting along famously these days in the kind of relationship politicians like to call a "win-win" situation.

The executives -- Douglas M. Duncan of Montgomery and C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore County -- have received record millions of state dollars for schools, parks, older neighborhoods and economic development. In return, Glendening got their endorsements in his difficult re-election campaign.

Glendening portrays his relationship with the two as a selfless partnering. But others say it's pure pragmatic politics -- a governor doling out aid to two of the state's most populous jurisdictions in exchange for political support from executives who not long ago were potential challengers.

"I watch those nature shows with the animals that eat bugs off the backs of other animals -- there you go," jokes Catonsville Republican Del. Donald E. Murphy about the trade-off.

But for Montgomery and Baltimore counties, the payoff is undeniable. Collectively, for instance, they received $78 million out of $222 million in state school construction funds this year. The $28 million Baltimore County received for school construction this year is more than four times the amount received the year before Glendening took office.

"The county gets the biggest benefit, though [Glendening] is going to get a good benefit out of this," says Duncan. "My main job is being an advocate for my county."

The largess also has helped Duncan and Ruppersberger as they seek second terms to head the state's largest and third-largest jurisdictions. And it is likely to help their gubernatorial prospects in 2002, when they could compete for the Democratic nomination.

"It's in their interest to have [the governor's] term run out at the same time their terms run out," says Donald P. Hutchinson, director of the Greater Baltimore Committee and former two-term Baltimore County executive.

In Montgomery, Glendening needs Duncan to help build a margin of victory. Glendening won the 1994 election by 44,000 votes.

"It's one big, happy family. Glendening needs Montgomery County in this election more than we need him," said Del. Mathew Mossburg, a Republican from the county. "With Doug as popular and powerful as he is, he would have sway over the voters."

Observers say the same thing is true with Ruppersberger in Baltimore County -- which could be the key to a Glendening re-election. In 1994, Glendening lost to Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey by 32,000 votes in the county. The governor hopes Ruppersberger's popularity will help him cut into Sauerbrey's support in her home county.

Meanwhile, the governor continues to rely on the two executives not only for political support but also for advice.

"On tough issues that face the legislature, like Pfiesteria or our Smart Growth program and how to get them through the legislature, I confer with Dutch, and he not only gave us help in pulling some votes together, but he gave me very, very wise advice," Glendening told the partisan crowd at the Towson Armory rally where Ruppersberger endorsed his re-election bid last week.

Glendening said he also asked Ruppersberger's advice on whom to name comptroller after Louis L. Goldstein's death, though he didn't mention that he ignored it. Ruppersberger had advised him to choose Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, Glendening's primary rival.

His influence later, however, helped sway Glendening to abandon former Montgomery County Congressman Michael D. Barnes for former Gov. William Donald Schaefer for comptroller.

Likewise, the governor seeks Duncan's advice on statewide issues, according to Duncan spokesman David S. Weaver. The Montgomery County executive, he noted, was offered the chance to be state comptroller after the death of Goldstein, and Glendening consults with him on other issues, such as gun control.

Ruppersberger has become an influential figure through his ability to deliver his county delegation's votes in Annapolis, and his penchant for consensus building through his Maryland Association of Counties contacts.

Without the statewide consensus that Ruppersberger helped build for Glendening's Smart Growth bill in 1997, the measure would have died, says David S. Bliden, executive director of the association. "It really wasn't a Baltimore County issue," he says, noting the county began its own program years ago. "He could have kept his focus narrow and reaped all the benefits."

The Pfiesteria debate was another example of Ruppersberger's work, Bliden says. "It had no direct impact on Baltimore County, but he saw it as having a wider economic development impact. He's a conciliator, facilitator, a consensus builder within the community of counties. He likes doing that."

Even some Republicans agree that Ruppersberger's personal stock is high. "I think Dutch is very well thought of by this governor," says Del. Martha S. Klima, a Towson Republican. "I think it shows that Dutch has political might."

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