In a series of sharp exchanges, Democrat Parris N. Glendening and Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey challenged each other's positions on a broad range of issues last night during a televised gubernatorial debate that at times turned personal.
Mr. Glendening directed his fire at Mrs. Sauerbrey's pledge to cut personal incomes taxes by 24 percent over four years, calling it a "gimmick" that would force severe cutbacks in essential state services such as education and public safety.
Mrs. Sauerbrey attacked the Prince George's County executive for his fund-raising prowess, labeling him "the 6 million dollar man," the amount he is expected to accrue before Election Day, Nov. 8, and saying the money had made him dependent on special-interest groups.
"I'm very grateful that I don't have to depend on special-interest groups. I'm not going to owe anything to anybody but the taxpayers," she said. Mrs. Sauerbrey has accepted public campaign financing, which limits her spending to slightly less than $1 million.
She also reaffirmed her promise not to take her $120,000 salary if she can't cut taxes by 6 percent next year, but she seemed to hint for the first time that the full 24 percent cut might not be forthcoming.
"My opponent says I can't cut taxes by 24 percent," she said. "I believe I can and . . . I'll put my salary on the line. But maybe you only agree that I can cut them by 20 percent, but I think that's a better direction than continuingthe tax policies of my opponent."
Because Mrs. Sauerbrey's remark came in her closing statement, Mr. Glendening -- who had already spoken -- had no chance to react on the air, but his campaign staff was quick to jump on her comment.
"She's already backing away from the tax pledge," said press secretary David Seldin. "She at least was nice enough to let us know before the election that she knows she can't keep her promise."
A Sauerbrey spokeswoman, Carol Hirschburg, disagreed, saying, "She's absolutely not backing away from the 24 percent. She was simply saying a tax cut is the right direction in which to go, as opposed to the increased spending that Glendening proposes, which would undoubtedly result in a tax increase."
The one-hour debate was sponsored by Maryland Public Television, the League of Women Voters of Maryland and the Maryland-D.C.-Delaware Broadcasters Association. It was broadcast live statewide from MPT studios in Owings Mills.
After opening statements, the candidates took questions from audiences in Owings Mills and three other locations linked by satellite: Hagerstown, Salisbury and Rockville.
Although the two traded barbs, the debate was considerably cooler than the one the night before at Montgomery College in Rockville.
It was the rough personal exchanges that stood out, attesting to increasing hostility between them.
Mr. Glendening, for example, said Mrs. Sauerbrey's promise to renounce her salary was "not a big deal" because she is a "multimillionaire." Mrs. Sauerbrey neither confirmed nor denied that, instead accusing Mr. Glendening of indulging in "Democratic . . . class warfare" and saying, "I'm glad to know I'm a millionaire. I didn't know that."
In turn, the Baltimore County legislator seemed to accuse Mr. Glendening of hypocrisy for opposing her proposal to give $2,000 vouchers to parents who send their children to private or parochial schools. His 14-year-old son attends a Catholic school. All parents should be able "to make the same choice Parris Glendening makes when he sends his son to private school," Mrs. Sauerbrey said.
Mr. Glendening, saying he resented Mrs. Sauerbrey's bringing his son into the debate, said the boy was permitted to decide for himself what school he would attend, and he chose DeMatha High in Prince George's County.
The candidates disagreed sharply on gun control, Mr. Glendening saying that "a reasonable balance" was needed to permit sportsmen to hunt and individuals to protect themselves while imposing some restrictions "to stop the slaughter going on in our communities."
Mrs. Sauerbrey questioned the value of new gun laws, saying, "If criminals obeyed gun laws, we wouldn't have a gun problem. . . . We cannot divert our attention from the criminal."