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Tables turn, Harry Hughes is back

When William Donald Schaefer was governor, the nicest thing you heard about his predecessor, Harry R. Hughes, was that his dog ruined the rugs in the Governor's Mansion.But with a new governor in Annapolis, it's Mr. Schaefer who is in the doghouse and Mr. Hughes who enjoys a warm welcome.

Mr. Hughes has been named to the governing board of the University of Maryland System, while Mr. Schaefer can't get himself appointed to the board of a small rural college.

Such is the topsy-turvy nature of politics in Maryland.

After being unappreciated and downright criticized during the Schaefer years, former governor Hughes now has a friend in the State House.

Mr. Hughes' re-emergence on the political scene began last fall, when Parris N. Glendening, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, engineered his chairmanship of the state Democratic Party.

Last week, Governor Glendening rewarded his friend -- and sometime "kitchen cabinet" adviser -- with a seat on the University Board of Regents. Yesterday, Mr. Glendening named

Mr. Hughes to the board of the Chesapeake Bay Trust, a nonprofit group that provides grants for environmental programs.

Mr. Schaefer has not fared so well under the new governor, who refused to appoint him to the St. Mary's College governing board. The reason? In Mr. Glendening's eyes, Mr. Schaefer is a potential political candidate because he has talked of running for mayor of Baltimore.

"He says I can't be on the board because I'm in politics," Mr. Schaefer fumed. "With [Maryland Congressman] Ben Cardin sitting on the board, I can't be because I'm in politics." (However, it was Mr. Schaefer, not Mr. Glendening, who appointed the congressman.)

It's no secret that Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Glendening are not chums. Although a Democrat, Mr. Schaefer never got around to endorsing Mr. Glendening's bid for governor, while Mr. Hughes was one of Mr. Glendening's earliest supporters.

"It doesn't surprise me at all, given the support that Harry Hughes gave to the Glendening campaign, that he is emerging as a figure as the result of this new administration," said Donald F. Norris, policy sciences professor at University of Maryland Baltimore County.

"Governor Hughes' personality dovetails more with Parris Glendening's than does Governor Schaefer's do-it-now approach," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat. "Mr. Hughes is quite thoughtful."

Mr. Glendening said he barely knows Mr. Schaefer, while "I know and trust Harry Hughes because I've known him for 25 years."

A much younger Parris Glendening met Mr. Hughes when Mr. Glendening was courting his wife, Frances Anne, whose maiden name coincidentally was Hughes. (No relation.)

Harry Hughes was a friend of her father, the late George R. Hughes Jr. The two men met as teen-agers at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, where they were sent before embarking on Navy training, Harry Hughes recalled.

They met up again in 1955, this time in Annapolis. "He [George] had been elected to the House of Delegates from Allegany County as a Republican, and I had been elected to the House from Caroline County," Mr. Hughes said. In the intervening years they had both married women named Patricia.

Despite their different party labels, the delegates found they had JTC much in common and became good friends. "When Frances Anne was a little thing, they spent two weeks with us down at the beach," said the 68-year-old former governor.

The two men later moved to the Senate, but Harry Hughes stayed in politics and George Hughes left to become a tax court judge. George Hughes committed suicide in 1978, the same year his friend was elected to the first of two terms as governor.

Governor Hughes' eight years in office are perhaps best known for his environmental initiatives. Those efforts culminated in late 1983 when the states around the Chesapeake Bay and the federal government agreed to a major bay cleanup.

But his administration hit a low in 1985 with the near collapse of the savings and loan industry.

"I thought he was a good governor," Mr. Glendening said. "He was unfortunately caught up in the savings and loans, which we later came to learn was part of a national phenomenon."

But because the crisis happened on Mr. Hughes' watch, "he took the blame," Mr. Glendening said.

"He has handled himself as a former governor with a great deal of dignity and respect," the new governor said.

That wasn't an easy thing to do at times, when his administration -- and even his dog -- came under attack by his successor in the governor's mansion.

Mr. Schaefer rapped Mr. Hughes' trade development efforts and his commitment to Baltimore, among other things. Even Mrs. Hughes' decoration of the mansion, which won critical acclaim, became a target. Mr. Schaefer's longtime companion, Hilda Mae Snoops, called the mansion "seedy" and accused the Hughes family's cocker spaniel of urinating on the rugs.

"They made it sound like the mansion was in a mess, and that is an absolute, outright lie," said Mr. Hughes, now a lawyer in the Baltimore office of Patton Boggs.

Mr. Hughes said he has no idea why Mr. Schaefer dislikes him. "I think he has a way of just determining whether he likes someone or not, and it may not have a rational reason. He's the only person in my 30 years in public office that I couldn't get along with. The only one."

As Mr. Schaefer's time in Annapolis was drawing to a close, Mr. Hughes lent a hand in the 1994 gubernatorial campaign of Prince George's County Executive Glendening. His early endorsement helped boost Mr. Glendening's status as a contender. "It helped take me out from being just a regional candidate," Mr. Glendening said.

After winning the primary, Mr. Glendening asked Mr. Hughes to lead their party.

Mr. Hughes initially said he would stay "at least" until Mr. Glendening was in office, but later decided to stay longer after seeing "things that had to be done."

When the dust settled after the November general election, the party found itself faced with the near loss of the governorship to Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey, as well as GOP gains on county councils and in the legislature.

Under Mr. Hughes, the party is upgrading its computer technology. And Mr. Hughes is traveling around the state to drum up enthusiasm among party regulars, said Richard N. Parsons, the party's executive director.

The mission is not new for Mr. Hughes; he was party chairman in 1969 and 1970.

His appointment to the Chesapeake Bay Trust also brings him full circle as he joins an organization he helped create while governor. He is worried about proposed cuts in federal environmental programs and a leveling off of public interest in the bay cleanup.

Mr. Hughes said he has not asked the new governor for any more jobs. "My plate is full," he said.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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