Good riddance to Parris the pariah

January 03, 2003|By Frank A. DeFilippo

AH, THE loneliness of being Gov. Parris N. Glendening. He's spending his final weeks in office in neo-baronial isolation, an outcast within his own party and a reject by more than half of his constituents.

Mr. Glendening will depart the State House the most disliked governor in modern Maryland history, with 58 percent of his constituents disapproving of his job performance and a Democratic Party that is leaderless and lacking a central intelligence. His only influence on politics these days is bad karma.

He leaves behind a deficit of more than a billion dollars and a CliffsNotes sham to fix it, a couple of grand jury investigations, an attempt to rig the Board of Regents for personal gain, a divorce and quickie marriage, a pension scam, a discredited redistricting plan, cheap-shot remarks about the defeat of his understudy and just a general bad feeling that folks are unhappy and glad to see the Glendening era end. Nobody wants the man around.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend absorbed the wrath of the voters' unforgiving mood, too. As she groped for a resume upgrade, Mr. Glendening's lite guv had attempted to remove herself from her boss's lengthening shadow. But the tatty stench stuck like Super Glue.

But, as the saying goes, when a fish goes rotten, it stinks from the head. There was, too, the feeling that Democrats had been in charge for too long - 36 years - and that what's left needed a good swift kick in the butt.

Mr. Glendening's eight years have simply reinforced the notion that power corrupts. During those years, however, Mr. Glendening successfully depoliticized the Democratic Party as an institution and reconstituted it as the party of Glendening. And he did it like some manic Machiavelli, using state funds as the political equivalent of walk-around money, buying up groups the way political bosses used to buy votes on Election Day.

Begin with labor unions.

Mr. Glendening unionized the state's college campuses by passing out bargaining rights that at some point will have to be settled with tuition increases. And he awarded collective bargaining to state employee unions that will be a future burden to taxpayers, much as they caused Mr. Glendening to leave Prince George's County broke and in debt. Service unions are the new Democratic Party in Maryland.

But there's more than any single deed that has caused Mr. Glendening to be an outcast in his own state. Distrust has been the watchword in the State House. It used to be said that a politician's word is his bond. As applied to Mr. Glendening by legislators, the dictum became: If you go up to visit the governor, make sure you take a witness.

As if to underline Mr. Glendening's mendacity, recall that he pulled the old dipsy-doodle on Kurt Schmoke, then Baltimore mayor, on slot machines. Then, after being trapped by his own lie, he became puritanically anti-slots - after presiding over the biggest gambling operation in Maryland as Prince George's executive.

Add to that Mr. Glendening's subscription to the political dictum "Don't get mad, get even." To wit: In Dundalk, the good burghers can testify to the meaning of getting even on redistricting because of the vote by state Sen. Norman Stone, against Mr. Glendening's gay rights bill. And U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin can explain how considering running against Mr. Glendening cost him half of his familiar congressional district.

Many returning legislators are moaning over having to clean up the mess Mr. Glendening is leaving behind, when, in fact, they were willing accomplices for eight years.

Even idiosyncratic Comptroller William Donald Schaefer managed to turn public sentiment against Mr. Glendening by using the Hilda Mae Snoops fountain as a metaphor for a petty, vengeful governor.

The sum of Mr. Glendening's transgressions adds up to a large constituency of relieved citizens, legislators, lobbyists, state employees, Democrats, Republicans - you fill in the remaining blanks. So from now until Jan. 15, Mr. Glendening is almost a forgotten man - confined largely to ceremonial occasions, walking his pet pooch on the mansion grounds. Whatever budget he presents will be largely undone by his successor, Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who already smells a setup.

Instead of being remembered for Smart Growth, Mr. Glendening will be remembered as a smart aleck. And nobody likes a smart aleck.

Moral: What goes around comes around.

Frank A. DeFilippo, press secretary to former Gov. Marvin Mandel, has been writing about Maryland politics for 40 years.

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