Good news as a perk of office Press releases give Glendening's view of his accomplishments

September 23, 1998|By Laura Lippman and Thomas W. Waldron | Laura Lippman and Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

All news is good news, according to the press releases streaming out of the governor's office these days.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend are daily reminding citizens just how much they have done over the past four years -- and how much more they could do if re-elected.

The duo's official calendars, which had been light in recent weeks, are now studded with events all over the state -- including the "grand opening" of a driver-training track for the state's police officers, a celebration of Glendening's $118 million initiative for the developmentally disabled and the kick-off for "Reading Across Maryland," featuring the governor and dozens of his administration's top officials.

So far this week, the governor's staff also has sent out a press release heralding the completion of a fourth lane on a four-mile stretch of Beltway -- two months ahead of schedule. And don't forget those sound barriers that were part of the project in Northwest Baltimore County, benefiting communities from Annen Woods to Whisper Woods, or the $875,000 in anti-crime grants for Frederick and Washington counties.

Nothing is too small to celebrate, it seems -- not even the distribution of 400 Polaroid cameras so police can document evidence of domestic violence at the scene. The lieutenant governor is to announce this initiative today, according to a press release that describes the program as a "new statewide weapon against domestic violence."

Such events are an incumbent's prerogative, and the announcements will be welcomed by many community and advocacy groups.

But, more importantly to the Glendening campaign, the announcements create a steady stream of so-called "free media" -- that is, publicity that doesn't cost anything -- for the re-election effort. Every bit of good publicity is important to the governor, who is locked in what polls show is a dead heat with Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey six weeks before the Nov. 3 election.

A campaign spokesman said it was unavoidable that some of the "official" announcements would look rather political.

He's 'also a candidate'

"They are events involving his duties as governor. But there is no escaping the fact that the governor is also a candidate," said Peter S. Hamm, the Glendening spokesman. "At those events, he's going to talk not only about his job as governor he's going to talk about what he's going to do for four more years."

Take Townsend's visit yesterday to the Public Safety Training Center in Sykesville, where she touted the center's value to police statewide and also pledged $3 million for a program to help local jurisdictions get guns off the street.

More than 200 people, including elected officials and dozens of law enforcement officers, showed up for what was billed as a "grand opening." Yet the track has actually been in use for months. The morning program included such camera-friendly images as Townsend cruising around the new track, and media types were invited to try it for themselves.

"Maryland is now safer than it's been in a decade. You know, it's one thing to talk about getting tough on crime," Townsend said, the only apparent reference to Sauerbrey during her official remarks. "It's quite another to provide the resources to local law enforcement to get the job done."

It was implicit that the $3 million that Townsend promised for the anti-gun program -- as well as the additional $16 million needed to ensure completion of the training facility by 2002, five years ahead of schedule -- can be guaranteed only if the Glendening-Townsend ticket wins in November.

Actions 'not unexpected'

"This is vintage Parris, using taxpayer dollars to blow his own political horn," said Jim Dornan, a spokesman for Sauerbrey. He added, however, that it was "not unexpected" that an incumbent governor would use the perks of office in a campaign.

But one ranking agency official said common sense dictates that bureaucrats will find ways to spread good news about the Glendening administration in coming weeks. After all, most of them support the programs the governor has championed -- and should Sauerbrey win, she would be unlikely to retain many top Glendening appointees, or their public relations staffs.

"The implicit message is that this is an election time, and you want to do stuff that puts your best face out there," said the official, who asked not to be identified.

Pub Date: 9/23/98

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