Former Gov. Parris N. Glendening strolled onto the Annapolis City Dock and back into the spotlight yesterday, declaring that he will spend the coming months making sure candidates who fight for the environment will win in November.
Once the dominant force in Maryland government, known for his ability to get what he wanted, help friends and punish enemies, Glendening has been in self-imposed political exile for nearly four years.
But now, the former governor says he has been raising money and giving advice. He pledged yesterday to be a visible presence in the next few months, rallying his historic base in the African-American and progressive communities to support candidates he believes in. On the City Dock, he made his first public endorsement of the year, giving his support to Democrat Kweisi Mfume in the U.S. Senate primary.
"I thought about this over the last several months: Who do I want on the floor of the U.S. Senate?" Glendening said. "I want somebody aggressively, passionately fighting for things that are critical to our future."
Glendening's emergence led many in the state's political community to wonder: Does a man who left office four years ago amid a sex scandal and a budget crisis, whose proteges in the last election all lost, still command much of a following in Maryland?
"No," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. "But again, he is a public figure, and people are certainly interested in what he has to say."
When Glendening left the governor's office after serving the two consecutive terms allowed in Maryland, he had recently left his wife of nearly 25 years for a top aide in his administration, the state was plunging toward huge budget deficits, and he had public approval ratings not even President Bush would envy.
His anointed successor, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, became the first Democratic nominee to lose a governor's race in nearly 40 years, and his hand-picked candidate for comptroller, John T. Willis, lost to the incumbent, Glendening nemesis William Donald Schaefer.
On his way out of the governor's mansion, Glendening struck a gentlemen's agreement with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. -- don't criticize me, and I won't criticize you. Both have largely stuck to their word.
Since then, Glendening has continued work to promote Smart Growth, the anti-sprawl ideology that was the defining feature of his governorship, and kept his nose out Maryland politics.
A relaxed Glendening showed up by himself at the dock several minutes early for the Mfume rally. He stood in the shade, joked with reporters who had covered him years before and chatted with environmentalists.
In the middle of his speech, his wife, Jennifer, and their just-turned-4 daughter, Bri, strolled into the public plaza and took up seats on a bench.
Clad in khakis, a navy blazer and an open-necked shirt, Glendening spoke for several minutes about how far astray he believes the state and nation have gone on environmental issues and said he thinks Mfume is the "change agent" the country needs. Over the years, he has had some bad blood with Mfume's chief rival in the primary, U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who considered running for governor against Glendening in 1998. But Glendening said yesterday's endorsement was based solely on his belief that Mfume would be the more dynamic leader.
After the endorsement rally, Glendening said he has been fielding calls for months from candidates who look at him as an elder statesman of the Maryland Democratic Party. Sometimes they have taken his advice, sometimes not, he said.
Several months ago, Del. Peter Franchot called to talk about his interest in running for comptroller, Glendening said. The former governor said he advised against a strategy of declaring that he would run if the incumbent -- Schaefer -- bowed out.
Franchot took the advice, abandoned his safe seat in the legislature and took on Schaefer. Franchot said yesterday that he's happy to have Glendening's help and thinks the former governor will have a big influence at the polls.
"The environmental community statewide appreciates Parris Glendening's leadership on the signature issue of Smart Growth," Franchot said.
Glendening said another candidate who sought his advice is Montgomery County Councilman Thomas E. Perez. Glendening said he thinks highly of Perez but told him he thought the time was not yet right for him to run for attorney general. Perez didn't take Glendening's advice and is now running in a three-way Democratic primary.
Perez said he thinks Marylanders' appreciation of Glendening has only improved over time as people recognize the value of his accomplishments. Moreover, no matter how low Glendening's approval ratings were when he left office, he won two campaigns for governor, Perez pointed out.
"Governor Glendening went from a county stage to the statewide stage, and that's exactly what I plan to do," Perez said.
In the governor's race, Glendening gave his emphatic support to Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, He said he talked with both the mayor and former contender, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who bowed out this summer.
"I'm for Martin O'Malley, no question about it," Glendening said. "I've talked to Martin three or four times since Doug's withdrawal, and I'm going to do everything I possibly can for him."
O'Malley, speaking through spokesman Rick Abbruzzese, said he has received invaluable advice from the former governor on environmental issues and growth management.
"I have been blessed with the willingness of former governors [Harry] Hughes and Glendening to provide advice and input on a whole range of issues," O'Malley said. "I'm proud to have their support."
Ehrlich campaign spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver declined to comment on what she referred to as "the emergence of Team O'Malley/Glendening."