With this year's gubernatorial election possibly riding on the outcome, representatives of Gov. Parris N. Glendening have begun discussing demands for millions of dollars in new state aid in hopes of winning the active campaign help of two disaffected Democratic leaders.
Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry -- represented by their political adviser, Larry Gibson -- have urged the governor to assume control of circuit courts across the state, according to both State House and City Hall sources. Such a move would cost about $73 million.
Glendening confirmed yesterday that discussions are under way enlist the political organizations headed by Schmoke and Curry into his campaign, but he declined to elaborate.
"Everyone is listening," he said. "I think everyone will be together. We have had a number of discussions, and I think everybody is going to be together."
Schmoke was in Europe yesterday and could not be reached for comment. Curry's office did not return telephone calls.
Democratic unity has a high priority for Glendening this year because his rematch with Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey appears at least as competitive as it was in 1994, when he won by 5,993 votes out of 1.4 million cast.
The governor's victory four years ago was built on huge margins in Baltimore City and Prince George's and Montgomery counties -- with Schmoke, Gibson and Curry working hard to turn out the vote on Glendening's behalf.
Since then, the governor's relations with Schmoke and Curry have soured. Both men complained that Glendening went back on promises and both supported Glendening's primary opponent, Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann. Rehrmann withdrew from the race, but neither Schmoke nor Curry have endorsed Glendening.
Without their support, Glendening's hopes of winning in November would be diminished.
The reports of a multimillion-dollar deal for a circuit court takeover put the incumbent governor in an awkward position: He could deny that he's helping and risk once again putting off Schmoke and Curry -- or he could acknowledge willingness to put state money in service to his personal needs.
The governor and members of his campaign staff said no deal had been struck. But as word of the negotiations leaked out, the governor's Republican opponents eagerly decried reports of the Schmoke-Curry demands.
"I think it is distasteful," said state Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard Republican, "for the governor to be making major
commitments of taxpayer money in a desperate attempt to win endorsement from leaders of his own party."
Carol L. Hirschburg, spokeswoman for Sauerbrey, said, "I don't care what Parris promises them. I don't think it will do him much good."
Sources say the Glendening camp and Gibson have discussed the court takeover in detail, but the governor's campaign manager, Karen White, would acknowledge only that Glendening has discussed it with the Maryland Association of Counties, which wants him to make it a priority of a second term.
"There are a lot of issues the governor and the lieutenant governor care about that the mayor and Mr. Curry care about. The MACO board asked the governor to make [the takeover] a priority in the second term," she said. "Obviously it's an important issue for the municipalities."
She said the governor has made aid for education and public safety funds the "cornerstones" of his administration. It would be in keeping with that record, she suggested, for Glendening to give careful consideration to the takeover proposal.
Any effort to help cash-strapped Baltimore and Prince George's County would have to be statewide -- and therefore more costly -- because the General Assembly would have to approve it, and lawmakers would be unlikely to support it if their home counties did not benefit, too.
Top Maryland Democrats eager to see Glendening re-elected have tried to convince Schmoke and Curry that their best interests lie in seeing their party's incumbent governor re-elected, notwithstanding personal problems with him.
U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore, one of several Democrats trying to bring Glendening and the two local leaders together, said yesterday that he believes good politics and good policy may be converging in the matter of a state takeover of the courts. He said Schmoke and Curry have been looking for the circuit court takeover for some time to save money for libraries and playgrounds.
"I don't think this is an unreasonable thing," Cummings said of the proposed state takeover.
The negotiations have almost certainly been complicated by the personalities of the three men involved and by the antagonism born of the primary.
"I think it is a face-saving move on the part of Larry Gibson," said one high-ranking Democratic official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"The consequences of Glendening losing are so important to both Prince George's and Baltimore City. The county executive and mayor should have been on board a long time ago," the Democratic source said.
One leading Democrat, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, has said he would oppose a deal as "too expensive."
But House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said he thought the proposal might gain approval in the Assembly if county governments were willing to consider "rebalancing" other financial responsibilities shouldered by the state but perhaps more properly handled by local government.
Pub Date: 10/02/98