For Glendening, a sudden return to the spotlight

Former governor's name surfaces repeatedly at Chapman fraud trial

Implications subject of debate

July 27, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

His two terms ended and his party abruptly out of power, former Gov. Parris N. Glendening slipped from the state's political spotlight last year, hopeful that time would treat his legacy kindly.

This surely wasn't the return he envisioned.

Glendening's name has arisen in the public arena more in the past two weeks than at any time since leaving the State House in January last year. In a federal courtroom in Baltimore, defense attorneys for indicted money manager Nathan A. Chapman Jr. repeatedly reference Maryland's 59th governor as they try to portray their client as the victim of a political inquisition.

Federal prosecutors are as interested in potential wrongdoing by Glendening as they are in Chapman's alleged misuse of state pension funds, defense lawyers suggest. Was the governor the big fish that eluded the hook?

Glendening, a Democrat, has not been charged in the case, and has not spoken about it in public. Still, courtroom testimony about the ex-governor's relationship with Chapman and his exhortations on the manager's behalf add to the body of knowledge of how his administration operated, and affect his reputation, political observers say.

Supporters of the former governor say the trial references are inconsequential and may be blown out of proportion in news accounts.

"Just because the name is mentioned doesn't mean it is relevant to the actual case," said state Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat who has known Glendening for years. "I'm not sure there has been a nexus between the Glendening connection and the things Chapman is being tried for."

In one respect, Glendening has become a victim of an aggressive defense capitalizing on missteps by U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio. This month, The Sun reported on internal U.S. attorney's office correspondence showing DiBiagio sought three "front page" public corruption indictments by the week of the November presidential election. His superiors reprimanded the Republican appointee for the demand.

Defense lawyers "are injecting Glendening to underline the possibility that this prosecution was originally politically motivated," said Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University.

But the former governor cannot credibly distance himself from Chapman, Crenson said. Glendening accepted campaign contributions from the investment banker for years, appointed him to the university system Board of Regents and later made him its chairman. And according to courtroom testimony, the governor personally encouraged members of the state pension board to invest more money with Chapman's firm despite its poor performance.

"For those decisions, he can be blamed," Crenson said. "But he can't be indicted."

For Glendening's critics - and there are legions across the state - the trial proceedings supplement what they saw as business as usual during his eight years in office.

"I don't know anything more than I read in the newspaper, but it is very troubling to continue to see the former governor's name arise in these very serious matters," said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the Republican minority whip from Southern Maryland. "The state lost a significant amount of money related to this case. I would hope in the end that high officials in the former administration were not involved, but as the old adage goes, normally where there is smoke, there is fire."

An early political supporter of Glendening, Chapman is accused of funneling state pension money into his company,, at a time when its stock price was plummeting. The system lost $5 million on the investment. Chapman, a prominent African-American business leader from Baltimore, was part of a group of minority money managers making financial decisions for the retiree plan.

For Glendening, the Chapman affair is the latest in a string of scandals that have undermined the accomplishments of the aloof and professorial technocrat, who remains admired in some circles for his commitment to the environment and education.

Shortly after his election in 1994, it was revealed that Glendening, a former Prince George's County executive, and top aides joining him in Annapolis were collecting generous benefits because they characterized themselves as "involuntarily separated" from the county government. The classification was supposed to assist workers who had been laid off.

The governor later drew the wrath of then-Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and others for reneging on a promise to legalize slot machines in Maryland, with proceeds going to city schools.

In his second term, Glendening packed the regents board with allies - Chapman among them - and said publicly that he would be interested in being named university system chancellor, a position that pays $375,000 and comes with use of a mansion. He divorced his second wife and married an aide 20 years his junior who had been promoted to higher-paying administration jobs.

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