Time is running out. With mere days remaining in the gubernatorial campaign, we have yet to see Parris N. Glendening or Ellen R. Sauerbrey wear a funny hat.
So much for the heyday of William Donald Schaefer, when one never quite knew what would turn up on the governor's head at any given moment: a straw boater, a derby, a pith helmet, a Lamont Cranston big-brim job.
If one can predict nothing else about the outcome of the governor's race, it is that the Madcap Era of Maryland state politics will soon be suspended until further notice.
Picture Ellen Sauerbrey in a safari hat. Picture Parris Glendening slipping into a striped Victorian bathing suit, grabbing a rubber duck and leaping into a seal tank.
Better yet, try to imagine Mr. Glendening wearing something other than that gray-blue suit with the white shirt and the rep tie.
The Democratic candidate makes Secretary of State Warren Christopher look like one of the Blues Brothers. Is Parris boring?
"I tend to be very low-keyed," says the silver-gray, 52-year-old Prince George's County Executive who also teaches political science at the University of Maryland. "Some people might even say boring. I acknowledge that."
Mr. Glendening has made his life in government -- studying it, teaching it, working in it. He has published two books and 20 articles on public policy, works with such titles as "Pragmatic Federalism," and "Municipal Finances: Change and Continuity." He still teaches a course in government at College Park.
And what of Mrs. Sauerbrey, 57, the House of Delegates minority leader from Baltimore County? Her tax-cut pledge electrifies many voters, but it's delivered with all the voltage of a candidate for sewer commission.
"I'm certainly not flashy," says Mrs. Sauerbrey.
The best we can do for colorful copy here is to point out that for years she was known by the childhood nickname "Winky," but dropped the handle when she got into state politics in 1978.
Winky or the Wonk, that's the full menu. Even when they get testy in the debates, they sound like they're reading cue cards.
What an act to follow the storm and passion of Willie Don. Willie, who stood in the national spotlight even before he became governor by making it onto the cover of Esquire: "Who Is the Best Mayor in America and Why is He So Annoyed?" Willie, dubbed by the supermarket tabloid Star "The wackiest governor in America."
All right, maybe Mr. Glendening makes the cover of Intergovernmental Perspective, or in view of his close relationships with developers, perhaps a spread in Real Estate Record & Builder's Guide Weekly. Maybe Mrs. Sauerbrey, a gun-control foe, gets a layout in Guns & Ammo.
No wonder city voters seem a tad uninspired as election day approaches. Just the other day, state Sen. Larry Young was saying he's worried about turnout in Baltimore.
"We were concerned that there was no action, no excitement," the Baltimore Democrat told a reporter. He was planning a one-day blitz of coffee gatherings across the city, featuring a video about Parris Glendening.
Hey senator, make it double espressos all around.
Glendening: Man with The Plan
When you first see Parris Nelson Glendening you have a feeling that maybe you've seen him before. One of those guys getting the morning business shuttle at BWI or hustling into the Legg Mason tower with the 9 o'clock herd. You think banker, insurance guy, Rotary Club guy, white guy.
His friends like to say he's got the look of a governor -- 6-foot-1, slim, gray. He's sort of got the sound of a Southerner, a voice that lately is muffled by a head cold.
You read the biography and are surprised to learn he was born in the Bronx. You don't see Bronx in the man. His father, Raymond, took Parris and the rest of the family out of the Bronx in 1947 and that apparently took the Bronx out of Parris.
The boy was 5. Raymond Glendening was struggling. Lost the lease on his gas station on the New York Thruway -- politics, his son believes it was -- and headed to Florida where his parents lived.
Parris Glendening tells the story about the family's highway accident on the way down south. It's an image out of Steinbeck: an old Army truck containing everything they owned flipped on its side into a roadside ditch, burning.
The family of six children eventually made it to Florida. They settled in Hialeah and rented a house without indoor plumbing. Raymond Glendening worked a variety of jobs and died at 50 owning a machine shop.
Hardship and ambition
The hardship may explain something about Mr. Glendening's powerful ambition. For so many years he's known what he wanted to do, for so many years he's had The Plan.
Why government? Why politics? He can't tell you there was a moment when he saw the path. He remembers being inspired by Adlai Stevenson, the eloquent, professorial governor of Illinois, the one they called "egghead" in the 1950s before anyone had heard of a wonk.
"I was impressed with him," Mr. Glendening says of Stevenson, who lost the presidential election to Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and again in 1956. "His intellect, his depth of understanding."
After transferring from a junior college in Fort Lauderdale, Mr. Glendening went on to complete his doctorate in political science at Florida State University. He was 25.
The Parris Glendening you see now is pretty much the same one you'd have seen on the Florida State campus, says John Wesley White, who went to school with Mr. Glendening and served as his chief administrative officer during his first term as county executive. Not much fooling around, not many wild parties, no school sports. He was married at the time to his first wife, Lydia, whom he divorced in 1968.
"He was pretty consumed by his work, by school work," says Mr. White, now county administrator for Sarasota County, Fla.
The public Glendening could play straight man to a coat rack. But in private, say his friends, he loves to kid around -- puns, dry witticisms, that sort of thing.
"He has more personality than anyone gives him credit for," says Joel Rozner, a Prince George's County lawyer and former chief of staff to the county executive. He remembers when the boss and a bunch of guys would go off and play volleyball, play cards. Mr. Glendening was seen drinking a beer or two, preferably Heineken.
He is said to relish time with his son, Raymond, 14. They throw the football, play basketball, go see Terrapins basketball at College Park, go see the Orioles.
Mr. Glendening and his second wife, Frances Hughes Glendening, a lawyer for the Federal Elections Commission, live in University Park in -- surprise -- a brick colonial with two white pillars out front. You were expecting a rowhouse? That's the governor, the one with the hats.
The Glendening home is right near the University of Maryland, where Mr. Glendening has taught since 1967. Once settled in Prince George's, he started pursuing The Plan.
First a term on the Hyattsville City Council. Two terms on the county council. Then county executive.
Lance Billingsley, a lawyer and longtime Glendening confidante, remembers a lunch with Mr. Glendening early in 1982 at a Best Western in College Park, when Mr. Glendening talked about his plans. He wanted Mr. Billingsley's help in the county executive race. As Mr. Billingsley recalls, Mr. Glendening said he would spend 12 years in that office, then run for governor.
Things have fallen into place for Mr. Glendening. In Prince George's County elections, he has blown away one opponent after another for 16 years. By most accounts, he has not faced serious opposition in an election until this year's contest with Mrs. Sauerbrey, who came out of nowhere to beat Rep. Helen Delich Bentley in the Republican primary in September.
Mr. Glendening and other Democrats attack Mrs. Sauerbrey as a fringe right-winger, an anti-government zealot peddling a tax-cut gimmick." Gimmick or not, the tax-cut pledge is working, and its creator is giving Mr. Glendening the race of his life.
Sauerbrey: Up from suburbia
She stands 5-foot-3 and has one of those hairdos that doesn't reveal wind direction -- a prim version of actress Rue McClanahan. The hair is restrained, the voice is restrained, the manner is restrained.
You hear how she's stirred people up with her big primary election upset and her tax-cut pledge. You hear that columnist George Will has dubbed her Maryland's Margaret Thatcher. You show up looking for the revolution and here's this woman who looks and sounds like she's giving a high tea.
But then, there were all those years of doing the Republican Woman Drill, keeping it nice and polite.
In the early 1960s Mrs. Sauerbrey was president of a Baltimore County Republican women's group called the GOP-Hers, as in gophers. As in set up the coffee klatches, answer phones, stuff envelopes, ring doorbells and do whatever else the men tell you to do. Thus the political journey began for a schoolteacher who would one day seek to become Maryland's first female governor.
It was not what she had in mind decades ago when she was studying English and biology at Western Maryland College. She figured on maybe becoming a veterinarian or a teacher. Maybe raising a family. Politics? Who knew about politics?
She tells about the early October day in 1957 when her mother and father picked her up at college in Westminster. They were driving to Bethlehem, Pa. and the radio news reported an update on the two-day-old flight of Sputnik. Sputnik? the 20-year-old college woman asked. What's a Sputnik?
"My father almost ran off the road," says Mrs. Sauerbrey.
"We didn't read the paper in depth then," says Patsy Anderson, who lived across the dormitory hall from Mrs. Sauerbrey at college. The young Ellen, says Mrs. Anderson, "did not show a great interest in the politics of the land."
Ellen Sauerbrey was affable, good- humored, a good friend, but as Ms. Anderson recalls "she didn't do the ridiculous things. I think the rest of us did that."
Mrs. Anderson remembers that Mrs. Sauerbrey worked hard at school work, which she helped to finance by working in the college dining hall. Back in Baltimore County, her mother, Ethel, had picked up secretarial work to make extra money. Her father, Edgar Richmond, worked at the Bethlehem Steel plant in Baltimore.
When she graduated from college,she married the neighborhood's former paper boy, Wilmer Sauerbrey. Ellen's mother first spotted him tossing papers onto the lawn and liked his looks. So did Ellen.
Unlike his new wife, Mr. Sauerbrey, an engineer, had a keen interest in politics -- conservative politics. He gave her books to read on economics, and she took an interest. She was teaching high school in Towson at the time, still figuring on raising a family. But the couple was unable to have children. Over time, Mrs. Sauerbrey's attention turned toward politics.
Why? Mostly two words, she says: Barry Goldwater.
The turning point
Mr. Glendening had his high-minded Stevenson. Mrs. Sauerbrey had Goldwater, the conservative icon, the man who opposed the censure of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and argued that government was too big, too intrusive.
"It was really Goldwater who sparked my interest," she says. She read "The Conscience of a Conservative," in the early 1960s, and it struck a chord.
In 1964, she worked for the Goldwater presidential campaign in Towson. In 1966, she visited her husband's relatives in East and West Germany. The trip made a strong impression on her.
East Germany was a place, she says, where "government would do for people, but people would not do for themselves."
Despite her modest beginnings, she looks at home in the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, where the patina of old money settles on the drapes, the furnishings, the painted portraits of Republican presidents. About 150 members of the Republican Women's Club have gathered for lunch to hear Mrs. Sauerbrey. You scan the crowd and wonder if the Mayflower just unloaded all passengers.
Mrs. Sauerbrey steps to the podium in front of the portrait of George Bush and launches into The Speech. Mr. Glendening is "Mr. Taxman," another in a long line of free-spending Maryland Democrats. Government as it gets larger and larger "takes away our freedom." When the framers of the constitution "set up the system of checks and balances, they didn't mean a blank check."
The performance is years in the making -- the public speaking, the campaigning, the mingling. All this took personal struggle, Mrs. Sauerbrey says days after the luncheon.
'How did I get here?'
"I was shy right through my teaching days," she says. "I'm a reserved and rather private and fairly shy person. There are times I look back and say 'How did I get here?' "
Her mother, Ethel Olsen, remembers how her daughter turned reticent in college, withdrawing as a way of coping with a bad case of acne. That was a switch for the child who got the nickname "Winky" from her habit of winking at people, who was so outgoing and bright that one day when she was about 8 or 9 her father looked at her and said: "'Some day you're going to be president.' "
More than 30 years later, she took her first step into elective politics. She ran for the General Assembly in 1978 in a district that included parts of Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties, and won.
Her message of cutting taxes and government is unchanged from that first campaign. People give her credit for consistency, if not originality.
Her gubernatorial campaign act is sort of a not-as-funny, not-as-acerbic version of Texas Gov. Ann Richards, sprinkled liberally with recycled Reaganisms. In a press conference in Towson on fighting crime, she invokes Mr. Reagan's 1980 anthem by asking: "Is Prince George's County safer today than it was 12 years ago?" Listen for the homey Reagan syntax in the stock "checks and balances" line. Then there's her exasperated Papa Reagan rebuff: "Parris, you just don't get it."
It's like listening to scratchy gramophone recordings from the Reagan Ranch.
But as Prince George's County Democrat Del. Timothy F. Maloney says, "You always know where she stands. . . . One of the most forthright people you'll ever meet."
Mr. Glendening's critics, on the other hand, say he's Clintonian in his tendency to shift course to suit the moment. He calls himself "a consensus builder."
Allies say he does not anger easily, doesn't hold grudges, or berate people. If elected, he's not apt to approach Willie Don's propensity for emotional display. Don't expect him to show up at the door if you write a letter to the editor criticizing him.
On the campaign trail
But what's this happening in the closing weeks of the campaign?
The Wonk gets personal, Winky fires back. It would be intense if it didn't sound so forced.
"Parris," she keeps saying during debates televised on cable in Montgomery County and on Maryland Public Television. She keeps turning to him. She's hitting him for being beholden to his campaign contributors, calling him "the $6 Milllion Man."
Mr. Glendening is not looking at her, not calling her by name. He's saying "she, she." He's calling her a "millionairess" with big investments in such polluting industries as chemicals, oil. He's suggesting that explains her poor environmental record.
What's this? Professor Glendening on the low road? What would Adlai Stevenson say?
"We very deliberately decided to step it up a notch," Mr. Glendening says later. Sure, he's a policy wonk, he says, "but the reality of the world is you have to have good old fashioned politics."
After the first debate, Mrs. Sauerbrey's media director, Carol Hirschburg, is asked about the slip of the professorial demeanor.
"I thought he was going to pop a blood vessel," she says. She draws a parallel with none other than Willie Don.
Mr. Glendening, she claims, "is a very authoritative personality. We had enough of that with our last governor. I'd say there are a lot of similarities."
Sure, sure. We'll believe that when we see the funny hats.