Governor's wife, political partner First lady: Those who know the state's first couple agree that in the Glendening household, she's the natural politician.

October 06, 1998|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

In her junior year of college, Frances Anne Hughes spent hours recording neat notes on index cards. Not all were for the term papers she meticulously researched. Hundreds of others formed an exceptionally detailed portrait of a neighborhood close to campus.

It was 1973, and Parris Nelson Glendening, a young professor she admired at the University of Maryland, was trying to put his academic theories to practice in the real world of local politics. His super-organized student helped by getting the names and addresses of voters he hoped to represent on the Hyattsville council.

"This was before computers, and she hand-copied every registered voter in my ward," Glendening recalls, still awed. "She worked one side of the street, and I worked the other."

A quarter-century later, while almost everything else has changed, Glendening is still campaigning with the same partner -- the bright, intense woman nine years his junior who became his wife and closest political adviser.

Weekdays, she's a Washington lawyer. Nights and weekends, she's Maryland's first lady, playing hostess at formal parties and traveling across the state to promote the arts and women's issues.

But neither job comes close in importance to Frances Hughes Glendening to the two men in her life: her husband, Maryland's governor, and their son, Raymond, a freshman at West Virginia University.

Right now, that means Frances Glendening, 47, is deeply involved in her husband's re-election effort, despite foot surgery that's slowing her down on the glad-handing circuit -- where by all accounts she generally outshines him.

The Democratic governor is in one of the tightest races in the nation, and his once-Republican wife is doing everything she can but copy voting lists. She often stops by the campaign office to share tips, preview television ads and discuss strategy.

"That's why I have circles under my eyes," she jokes. "I accompany him to some events, and I'm working full time, and I still do my events, the things in the community, because they're very important to me for personal reasons."

Considerable sway

For the Glendenings, her role is clearly a sensitive matter. Both insist that she maintains her distance from the daily operation of the state government. Yet friends and foes alike say that while she doesn't constantly interfere, she has considerable sway over policy.

Her influence, they say, can be seen in the governor's record hiring of women, his effort to eliminate the long wait for services by the developmentally disabled and his contribution to keep the famous Lucas art collection in Baltimore. He has favored abortion rights ever since she won an argument with him 20 years ago.

"Francie certainly has strong opinions," says Lance Billingsley, chairman of the University of Maryland regents and a longtime confidant of the couple. "But I don't think she gets involved in the day-to-day decisions. Let's take, for example, gun control. She would strongly urge Parris on a type of position, but she wouldn't draft the legislation."

Those who know the first couple agree that in the Glendening household, she's the natural politician.

"Pifflesniff Parris," as she used to tease him when they first met, often comes across as a bookish policy wonk. His wife is anything but stiff or reserved.

"I saw her at a garden party in Baltimore, and she was having a wonderful time, moving around, meeting people," says her friend Roz Goldner. "She knows how to work a room."

'Indefatigable'

Jeff Emerson, another friend and CEO of a managed health care company, says she's "indefatigable" and has a "rare understanding" of the political process. Even the governor acknowledges that his wife often displays sharper instincts, relates more easily to crowds, and sizes up allies and enemies more quickly.

"She's told me things, and invariably, she's right," he says. "She's more outgoing; she brings quite candidly far more warmth, maybe even excitement and passion. When we're together, I think it's a good combination."

It's been that way through all seven of his elections, from Hyattsville to the Prince George's County Council, to the county executive's job and finally the state's highest office.

"Frances Anne," as only the governor calls her, has helped his passage to each new office. It was she who suggested Kathleen Kennedy Townsend as his running mate in 1994, and she who later co-chaired his transition team, helping to pick much of the Cabinet.

Yet after her prominent part in the formation of the administration, which set off radio talk show comparisons to Hillary Rodham Clinton, she retreated from the public spotlight.

Her first news conference was to unveil 13 forgotten portraits of Maryland first ladies. Since then, she has sought publicity only for causes she cares about: art exhibits at the governor's mansion, a book on women in state history -- and most importantly, because of family tragedies, for hospice work and suicide prevention.

Politician's daughter

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