Governor absent as Clinton visits a Montgomery school Glendening pleads scheduling conflict, draws media queries

September 09, 1998|By Laura Lippman and Jay Apperson | Laura Lippman and Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Susan Baer and Paul West contributed to this article.

SILVER SPRING -- Gov. Parris N. Glendening was conspicuous by his absence yesterday when President Clinton visited a Montgomery County elementary school to reiterate his support for the kind of educational initiatives Glendening has long favored.

The governor's name was spoken from the stage at Pine Crest Elementary School exactly once, when Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend assured the president that the "Glendening-Townsend administration shares your vision for schools."

But while Glendening may share the president's vision, he decided over the weekend not to share the podium, pleading a scheduling conflict. He also canceled plans for an October fund-raiser with Clinton and stepped up his rhetoric on the Monica Lewinsky scandal, calling the president's behavior "inappropriate" and "wrong."

The national news media seized on the story, with some pundits theorizing that Clinton must be in serious trouble if he's losing the backing of a Democratic governor in what has been a Democratic stronghold. Maryland was second only to Arkansas in its support for Clinton during the 1992 presidential election.

But Glendening, who was inundated yesterday with interview requests from across the country, "wants to let last weekend's announcement speak for itself," said campaign spokesman Len N. Foxwell.

At the suggestion that he had skipped the president's visit, the governor appeared irritated.

"What kind of question is that?" Glendening said, before speaking at a luncheon promoting an African-American cultural festival in Randallstown. "You want to word a positive question: 'Why did I stick with my commitment of many months to come here to the community?' Right?

"I stuck with my commitment of many months and came to the community because I had a commitment of many months to come to the community. I don't mean to be facetious but, I mean, this was a commitment," he said.

Asked yesterday about Clinton's reaction to Glendening's sudden coolness to the president, White House spokesman Mike McCurry said: "The president has made it very clear that there's nothing that anyone can say, critical about him, that he hasn't said to himself. So I think he probably understands why the governor feels the way he does."

McCurry also said that since Glendening canceled an October fund-raiser that was to feature Clinton, other Democrats have requested the president's presence on that date.

Other Maryland elected officials turned out in force for the president's visit yesterday, but few were inclined to criticize the governor for staying away.

"I can't make a judgment about how the governor campaigns," said Rep. Albert R. Wynn, the Maryland Democrat who sent out the Friday news release announcing that Clinton, Glendening and U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley would be at the school together.

Pressed for his reaction, he joked: "I have an opinion, but it's off the record."

'I believe him'

Many state and local officials said Glendening's absence was meaningless.

"I believe him, he had a scheduling conflict," said Del. John Adams Hurson, a Montgomery County Democrat and House majority leader. "This is my district, my precinct and he [Glendening] is going to win this precinct. I think he made the right decision."

Others said they had decided to stick by the president no matter what.

"I'm not one of those fair-weather friends," said Del. Dana Lee Dembrow, a Montgomery County Democrat. "I am troubled by what he did. A lot of my constituents are troubled by what he did, and it will probably cost me some votes. But I was a supporter of Bill Clinton's and I'm still a supporter of Bill Clinton's. I'm disappointed in his private life but, frankly, I never wanted to know about his private life in the first place."

The event itself could not have been more innocuous, or more controlled. Although a group of parents stood down the street holding signs that said, "Liar Liar," "Time to Resign" and "You're Fired," those inside the school would have been hard pressed to find evidence that the president is weathering tough times.

The only allusion to the Lewinsky scandal came when Wynn said to a round of applause: "I am pleased and proud to stand with this president today."

In his remarks, the president referred to Townsend as his "good friend," but made no mention of the governor.

Despite repeated attempts, Townsend could not be reached for comment yesterday.

National event for schools

Clinton was at the school for a national event billed as School Modernization Day. As part of his budget request before Congress, the president wants $22 billion to build and renovate 5,000 schools; $12 billion to pay for teachers in grades one through three to reduce class size; and $550 million to ensure that all schools are connected to the Internet by 2000.

During the weekend, Glendening said he would still like to have Vice President Al Gore visit Maryland on his behalf, but White House aides said yesterday that no such plan is in the works. The governor's request for fund-raising help from Gore was made before Glendening decided to distance himself from Clinton.

A last-minute Gore foray into Maryland remains an outside possibility. The vice president's campaign schedule in the final weeks leading up to the election will be devoted, at least in part, to shoring up Democratic candidates in close races around the country.

Pub Date: 9/09/98

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