Glendening cool to aiding track owners

Their push for slots, backing of Sauerbrey draw governor's ire

`Bet on the wrong horse'

He touches on sprawl, taxes in talk with Sun editorial writers

January 19, 1999|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening made clear yesterday he is in no hurry to help the racetrack owners who spent more than a million dollars last year in what many saw as an attempt to unseat him.

In a wide-ranging talk with Sun editorial writers -- touching on sprawl, taxes, education and civil rights -- Glendening reserved his most pointed remarks for his political enemies in the racing industry.

The governor did not hide his irritation at their quest to legalize slot machines at tracks and their support of Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey in the gubernatorial race. He put no money for horse racing in his proposed budget for the next fiscal year, and he said he would continue to withhold his support barring a change of position by the industry.

"As long as they hang on to this `only solution is slots' and all, they're not going to have a partner in the governor's office," Glendening said, adding later with a smile: "They took a gamble and bet on the wrong horse."

Glendening was particularly upset that racetrack owners spent between $1 million and $2 million on advertising for slots and pro-Republican causes last year just after he and legislators decided to give the owners $10 million in state aid, including $1.5 million to promote the industry.

"If they said they didn't even have enough money to promote the industry, and we give them $1.5 million, and then they spend $2 million promoting slots coming into Maryland, something's not right," said Glendening. "A lot of the taxpayers resent that."

Racetrack owners have known since last fall's election that their relationship with Glendening, a staunch opponent of slots, would be less than warm.

In the months leading up to the November election, Joseph A. De Francis, the majority owner of Pimlico and Laurel racecourses, spent more than $1 million on a television and direct-mail campaign for slot machines that many Democrats considered a thinly veiled attack on Glendening.

Near the end of the campaign, De Francis sent more than $200,000 to the Republican National Committee and prevailed upon Hilton Hotels Corp., owner of Bally's at Ocean Downs harness track near Ocean City, to give a similar amount to the national GOP. About the same time, the national Republican Party launched a major ad campaign on Sauerbrey's behalf here, though De Francis and the GOP denied there was a connection.

De Francis said yesterday he was not surprised by most of Glendening's comments.

"I would hope that any personal animosity that he might have because I supported his opponent -- as he said, I bet on the wrong horse -- wouldn't spill over into policy judgments that he makes as governor," De Francis said. He said he continues to support legalizing slots because he sees that as the elixir for Maryland's sluggish racing industry.

De Francis said that "not one nickel" of the state's racing aid helped pay for his advertising and political efforts, especially since his tracks have yet to receive their $1 million share of the $1.5 million in promotion money.

In his talk yesterday, Glendening had some spirited remarks about his anti-sprawl initiative called Smart Growth, which encourages growth near already developed areas.

After noting that the anti-sprawl issue has become something of a national cause, Glendening complained that some Maryland counties have not bought into the state's initiative.

Glendening said he will announce a decision by next week on whether he will pursue a gas tax increase this year or next year to fund transportation projects. Legislative leaders say they believe he has decided to wait until next year in order to build legislative support for such a tax increase.

The governor, who will be sworn in for his second term tomorrow, offered a preview of his inaugural and state-of-the-state speeches to come this week.

He said he will focus in his inaugural speech on three issues that the state must address in the coming years: education, the environment and inclusion and fairness. His state-of-the-state speech will also include his emphasis on funding education initiatives to spur economic development and his push to extend state civil rights protections to gays and lesbians.

Sun staff writer Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 1/19/99

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