`Parris Island' marked in red

Although Gov. Parris N. Glendening presided over historic job growth and a technology revolution, he was isolated from the business community.

January 12, 2003|By Andrew Ratner | Andrew Ratner,SUN STAFF

RICHARD C. Mike Lewin was anxious in October 2000 when he joined Gov. Parris N. Glendening for a lobster lunch at Government House, the rust-brick Georgian home of the governor in Annapolis.

The Nasdaq stock market had plunged more than 30 percent, from 5,049 to less than 3,500, during the previous six months. New high-tech companies such as Corvis Corp. and Aether Systems Inc., the economic fountains of youth expected to replace the shriveled smokestack employers, were showing vulnerabilities. Lewin, Glendening's economic director, sought to persuade the governor to increase his budget to attract business.

He had hardly begun when Glendening waved him off.

"There'll never be a recession again in this country," Lewin recalled Glendening saying. "Technology has changed the economy forever."

Lewin raised a woolly eyebrow.

"You're telling me a recession will never happen? We're listening to different music, Governor," replied Lewin, who had joined Glendening after a long career in finance and banking. He returned to his office in Baltimore and contemplated their philosophical divide - and his own future.

A month later, he quit - two years after another respected Baltimore business executive, James T. Brady, had relinquished the post in frustration.

As he departs office Wednesday as Maryland's 59th governor, Parris Nelson Glendening may be credited for possessing strong instincts and a pioneer's passion in several areas, but economic development won't be among them.

He took office in 1994 with an effusively pro-business inaugural address that exceeded expectations and was being described nationally as a "new Democrat" who grasped the potency of tax cuts and regulatory reform.

He presided over a historic period of job growth, when technology ballooned and Maryland households became the second richest in the nation.

And he departs with little of that recalled, submerged beneath red ink and bad blood. Because of a $1.8 billion deficit with which he burdened his successor and the accretion of eight years of siding with labor unions and environmentalists, many business people say, he leaves Annapolis as he arrived: unconvincing, unproven, untrusted.

"You had two really good secretaries of economic development, and both resigned in frustration," said an aide who had served both Glendening and his predecessor, William Donald Schaefer, and insisted on anonymity. "That tells you everything you need to know. Schaefer was much more economic development-minded, whatever had to be done. Glendening's was certainly not a positive business legacy."

"From a Baltimore perspective, this was really the first time maybe since Millard Tawes [of Crisfield] that the business community felt really disconnected from the governor," said Donald P. Hutchinson, president and chief executive of SunTrust Banks in Maryland who formerly led the Greater Baltimore Committee, an influential business group.

During the past three months, 30 employers and economists were interviewed about Glendening's business record, and at least a dozen more declined to comment. Some of the most recognizable executives in the state said they feared repercussions despite the fact that Glendening was a lame-duck leader.

Said one county economic development director, who also declined to be identified, "I wouldn't touch that with an 11-foot pole."

Dissatisfaction might be expected during economic doldrums, but Maryland prospered immensely for most of Glendening's watch. Job creation drew comparisons to the mid-1980s boom when the state profited from the defense buildup under President Ronald Reagan.

Many states attempted a shift from manufacturing toward technology, but Maryland succeeded more than most. Its universities lead the nation in government research grants. The Interstate 270 corridor in Montgomery County, home to companies mapping the human genome, became a major biotech cluster. In technology employment, the state is just behind California and Massachusetts, the birthplaces of modern computing.

Better income growth

An underachiever in income growth - Maryland lagged behind even West Virginia in the early 1990s - the state became much more potent. Its median household income, $55,013, is second only to Alaska, says the Census Bureau. Its poverty rate is 7.3 percent, third lowest.

Maryland climbed from 43rd in job growth in 1994 to 15th in 2001. It surpassed Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware, the neighboring states that a decade ago stole its companies and business prospects like schoolyard bullies roughing up a classmate for lunch money.

"When he took office, Maryland was one of the slowest-growing states in the country, but things began to turn dramatically," said Anirban Basu, a director at Towson University's economic research institute. "The very late years of the 1990s essentially rivaled the Maryland miracle years of the late 1980s in terms of the number of quality jobs added on a per-year basis."

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