Glendening won votes but failed to win friends

Legacy: In eight years, the governor got most of what he wanted - but in the process he earned the enmity of many Marylanders.

January 12, 2003|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Darkness fell on Easter Sunday, and a select group of lawmakers crowded into a stifling Annapolis office, prepared to balance the state's budget by sacrificing one of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's treasured environmental programs.

Sensing danger, Glendening summoned the group to his mansion for an 11th-hour plea of uncertain impact.

The chest that once held so many political tools - the hammer of a redistricting map, the reward of a judicial appointment, the generosity of a fat budget - was nearly empty. The 2002 General Assembly session, the governor's last, would end in eight days.

Glendening was a wounded duck; the hounds were circling.

But when the state's most influential lawmakers emerged from Government House a half-hour later, the governor's GreenPrint land-buying initiative had been salvaged. Yet another piece of his legacy was secure.

"That was a culmination of months of positioning himself," said Joseph C. Bryce, the former head of Glendening's legislative office. "It's all a product of preparation."

Glendening, 60, leaves office this week after eight years, reluctantly relinquishing the political power wielded so effectively to the very end. The past few months saw a flurry of moves designed to polish his reputation as a three-decade political career comes to a close.

He drew maps that increased the number of Democrats in Maryland's eight-member congressional delegation by 50 percent. He orchestrated the second-largest land preservation deal in state history. He promised unionized state employees a 2 percent pay raise.

"I am - there is no other way to say it - a good, old-fashioned progressive," Glendening said in a recent interview. "I always have been."

He was a master at using the budget to achieve goals. At the Easter meeting, the governor reminded lawmakers that he had kept much of what they wanted in the capital spending proposal. It was time, he told them, to keep their end of the bargain. What was left unsaid: If they didn't agree, any of their favored items could be eliminated with the stroke of a pen.

"He is the most focused person I've ever met in my life," Bryce said. "He can walk through the minefield, without blinking."

When the door to Government House closes behind Glendening on Wednesday, the authority that he used so forcefully - "aggressively," he boasts - will abruptly end. It will be for historians to sort out the complex and confounding mix of accomplishments and failings of the state's 59th governor.

There will be many Glendenings to study: The national environmental leader. The new father who married his third wife, a former aide, while in office. The ruthless chief executive. The dry technocrat who invoked flaming passions in so many.

"Politically, people will remember him for being not the warmest and fuzziest guy in the world, and not having the best relationships with people," said Donald F. Norris, a policy sciences professor at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "But if you take a look at what he set out to do in each General Assembly session, he got what he wanted. He knew how to use power effectively."

Glendening knows how he wants to be remembered. He stayed true, he says, to his three top priorities: a commitment to public schools and universities, a stewardship of the environment, and a champion of social causes such as creating a racially diverse judiciary.

But among his political peers, it's just as likely that he will be recalled for the enemies he has made, for what some call a ruthless and uncaring style. His popularity ratings are abysmal. The state's finances are a mess. His hand-picked successor, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, suffered an embarrassing defeat in her election bid.

"He utilized the prerogatives of a governor as effectively as anybody I've ever seen, to force his will," said state Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, an Eastern Shore Republican and the Senate minority leader. "Many times it was vindictive and mean-spirited."

Others are even harsher. Glendening thinks of no one but himself, some say. He can't be trusted. His word is no good.

"He's going out the same way he came in: double-crossing and lying," said Blair Lee IV, a Montgomery County political commentator who is the son of a former governor. "I've never seen a politician tick off the entire state political community the way this one has. He's famous for it. Nobody likes this guy."

"This guy cannot meet the minimal ethical standards of Maryland politics, and believe me, they're minimal. He is an outcast among politicians. Everything he does is motivated by self-gain and his own career," Lee said.

If sentiments like that bother Glendening, he doesn't let on.

"My good friend [former Florida Gov. and Sen.] Lawton Chiles said, `I didn't come here to stay. I came to make a difference,'" the governor said. "I would modify that. I would also add: I didn't come here to be loved. I came here to be effective."

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