Sauerbrey launches attack Campaign ad watch

October 08, 1998|By JoAnna Daemmrich

Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey has launched a broadcast attack on Gov. Parris N. Glendening with a toughly worded commercial that has him and leading Democrats crying foul.

What the ad says: The 30-second ad that is running on Baltimore and Washington television stations accuses Glendening of a "midnight pension scam" and building "stadiums instead of schools." It claims Glendening's long-range goal of extending the Washington Metro system in the Maryland suburbs would cost $15 billion -- and require raising the gas tax by 50 cents a gallon. The stinging conclusion: "With these priorities, he's going to need that pension."

The facts: Shortly after he became governor, newspapers disclosed that Glendening and three top aides could collect special pensions he created toward the end of his tenure as Prince George's County executive. The Maryland attorney general concluded that Glendening was not eligible for the pension, however, and his aides agreed to give up the benefits until they turn 55, or leave state service. Glendening has since acknowledged he made a mistake.

Glendening backed spending more than a quarter-billion dollars on two football stadiums -- $200 million to build the Baltimore Ravens stadium -- and $70 million for road improvements for the Washington Redskins stadium in Prince George's County. But in the past four years he also pushed through $633 million for school construction to create 4,600 new classrooms

In his re-election bid, the governor has called for expanding mass transit to ease congestion on suburban roads. Glendening supports long-discussed plans to build a rail line parallel to the Capital Beltway, linking all Maryland spokes of the Washington Metro. State transportation officials say the project would cost $5 billion to $9 billion over 20 years -- not $15 billion, as the Sauerbrey ad states. They also refute the claim of a 50-cent gas tax increase -- a figure that Sauerbrey aides came up with based on the belief that federal support for big mass transit projects will soon be a thing of the past.

The biggest controversy is over the ad's assertion that "Even the Democratic House speaker says it means higher taxes. Up to 50 cents a gallon." House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat, called it "a bold-faced, belligerent lie." The quote comes from a recent article in the Washington Post in which Taylor said, "It's pretty obvious that the current level of revenue is totally inadequate to accomplish that aggressive a program." But Taylor supports long-term mass transit enhancements -- and said nothing about the gas tax.

Analysis: The governor, Taylor and other Maryland Democrats have demanded that the commercial be taken off the air, calling it unfair and inaccurate. And only in references to the pension scandal is the commercial completely on target. Most of the other statements go beyond the facts. Herb Smith, a political scientist at Western Maryland College, says "grafting that 50 cents on to the speaker's quote should definitely get the whistle blown. It's the equivalent to a composite photograph." Beyond the controversy, he says the commercial may not be as effective as Sauerbrey's earlier ones because "it's overloaded with issues. They've left their message and are reacting to Parris."

Pub Date: 10/08/98

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