Tight race for governor If the election boiled down to strictly a referendum on Glendening's policy record, he would be far ahead, some say

Campaign 1998

October 25, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron

On a recent campaign stop at the University of Maryland, College Park, Gov. Parris N. Glendening seemed to find his element. For an hour, he talked with a group of honor students, enthusiastically outlining his proposal for a new state-funded scholarship for those who want to make teaching their career.

Glendening, who taught at College Park for a quarter century and calls education his "passion," turned to a reporter as he left and beamed.

"You can tell I really like this stuff, can't you?" he asked.

If the governor had his way, that would be the image every Maryland voter takes to the polls a week from Tuesday - Parris Glendening, Policy Maven, advancing solutions to problems such as the state's teacher shortage.

Political observers say that if the election were strictly a referendum on Glendening's policy record, he would probably be comfortably ahead of Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey in the polls - as his agenda has seemed to be in sync with public opinion.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, now an ally after years of feuding, says Glendening, 56, has had the most substantive four-year term of any governor in memory.

But over that term, Glendening has wasted valuable goodwill slogging through fund-raising missteps, political squabbles with fellow Democrats and lapses in judgment, distracting attention from seemingly popular ideas such as teacher scholarships.

The result: Glendening enters the final week of the campaign locked in a too-close-to-call race against Sauerbrey in a rematch of their 1994 battle.

"It is probably the most perplexing question in Maryland's politics, maybe in the last 20 years," said Keith Haller, a Bethesda-based pollster who is closely following the election. "Why someone like Parris Glendening, with a fairly strong record and a number of major initiatives under his belt - the state being by all objective standards sound financially - why such a politician wouldn't enjoy a more commanding lead or higher popularity ratings."

During the four-year term, Glendening:

* Led the creation of a new health insurance program for 60,000 low-income mothers and children, funded with both state and federal money.

* Committed $633 million to building and renovating schools, the largest four-year amount in a quarter-century.

* Launched a multiyear effort of new aid for the developmentally disabled, a move designed to erase the long-standing waiting list for services.

* Won passage of a law prohibiting people from buying more than one handgun a month, an effort to prevent gun-running.

* Enacted a Smart Growth policy to try to stem suburban sprawl and a runoff-control plan in response to last year's Pfiesteria outbreak on the Eastern Shore.

Finally, Glendening embraced a partial version of Sauerbrey's 1994 campaign centerpiece, steering a 10 percent income tax cut through the General Assembly.

But his successes in office have not come close to guaranteeing a second four-year term.

Glendening has explanations.

"There are a lot of reasons" why he isn't doing better in the polls, the governor said in a recent interview. "Some of them were our doing, some of them were out of our control."

Glendening attributes some of his problems to the highly competitive Democratic primary fight he had in 1994, his narrow 5,993-vote margin of victory over Sauerbrey that year, and the ensuing court challenge in which the Republicans battered Glendening and the Democrats with charges of election fraud.

While those factors clearly contributed to a shaky start to his term, Glendening had full control over two matters that have become hallmarks, for better or worse, of his time in office.

For one, Glendening repeatedly prompted questions about his character, beginning in the first weeks of his administration when newspapers disclosed an early pension plan he helped put in place for himself and top aides in Prince George's County. Other missteps followed, including his public disagreement with a key ally, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, over what happened in a private meeting over slot machines.

Last month, Glendening raised questions about his loyalty when he overtly distanced himself from President Clinton, suggesting that the president was not a good role model.

The reaction was ugly, with many Democrats blasting Glendening for abandoning Clinton to score political points. The governor has since backtracked and appeared with the president, saying that since Clinton had apologized for the Monica Lewinsky affair, it was time for the nation to forgive him.

Secondly, Glendening unexpectedly became the champion of a politically explosive idea - state funding for professional football stadiums.

Having the taxpayers help build one stadium for a wealthy team owner would be risky enough. But circumstances coalesced in a way that found Glendening pushing for state assistance for two - the Ravens stadium in downtown Baltimore and infrastructure improvements for the privately financed Washington Redskins stadium in Landover.

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