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Stadium aid could be key for governor Chances improve for passage by state Assembly; Glendening optimistic; But public opposition may foretell threat in next election


Halfway through the 90-day legislative session, Gov. Parris N. Glendening seems increasingly confident he will win approval of his plans to build National Football League stadiums in Baltimore and Landover.

But his opposition says a victory in the General Assembly -- if the governor does prevail -- could prove a liability in the long run, given public opposition to the stadium deals.

Mr. Glendening could win and still lose.

"The overwhelming opposition to these stadiums could find an outlet in the next election," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican. "It'll be interesting to see how the chemistry works."

Two stadiums built at a cost of more than $200 million to the taxpayers, Mr. Flanagan and others say, could loom as symbols of big spending run amok, of government plunging forward despite the concerns of citizens who feel the state's money should be used for schools or some other public purpose.

In an interview Friday, Mr. Glendening said he thinks the chemistry of the stadiums will be good for Maryland and for him.

"In the long run, what really, really is important is that our education bill is going through, the jobs program is going through, and our main public safety bill is going through," he said.

In fact, only two of his bills, both dealing with education issues, had been approved by legislative committees as of last week. Still pending were proposals to limit handgun sales, reform the personnel system and offer tax credits to businesses locating or expanding in Mary- land. But as the pace of the session begins to quicken, the Democratic governor is optimistic that most of his agenda will pass.

Mr. Glendening disagreed that the stadiums represent a long-term political liability.

"As a practical matter, we make money on each. When they are open and people have jobs and money -- and excitement -- we'll be fine," he said.

This optimism may seem like whistling past the political graveyard to some, and even some of Mr. Glendening's aides have been saying that stadiums were not the policy arena in which he hoped to define himself. It was Gov. William Donald Schaefer, after all, who led the fight for an NFL stadium at Camden Yards back in 1987.

Mr. Glendening, however, is the architect of the current deal that brought the former Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, and it was he who proposed spending $73 million to prepare roads and parking around the Landover site of a stadium for the Redskins.

Although legislative leaders last week negotiated changes to reduce the state's cost by about $40 million, the two stadium deals remain Mr. Glendening's.

"The governor's name is on the line," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a frequent critic of the chief executive. "Somehow, some way, they have got to pass."

Mr. Miller, a Democrat, has suggested recently that the governor needs to be more aggressively involved in the political persuasions that make such bills pass. Others say the governor and his staff have been doing little else.

"They are so obsessed with the stadiums that nothing else is happening," said state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat. "Everybody's energy has been distracted by this one issue."

But the governor argues that the news media are much more obsessed with the stadiums than he is -- or, for that matter, most of the people he meets around the state.

"People come up to me and say, particularly in Baltimore: 'I'm really excited about the team,' " he said. In areas where the projects are less popular, he said he finds people are more anxious to talk to him about public safety and education, even though they may tell him they don't approve of spending for stadiums.

"No one votes on one issue unless it's an issue that's fundamental to them, and stadiums are not," the governor said.

Mr. Glendening frequently invokes the image of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, vigorously opposed in the Assembly nine years ago but widely acclaimed when it opened.

"He's correct in saying the public will accept [the stadiums] once they are built," said Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat and one of the few representatives from his county who will support Mr. Glendening's program.

"Parris Glendening is not a fragile politician. He's a governor with a lot of resources, including his political skills," Mr. Franchot said.

Mr. Glendening is hoping that his commitment of more than $130 million for school construction around the state will appease voters who don't like the stadiums, especially in Montgomery County.

The county was one of three jurisdictions that he carried in 1994. This year, Mr. Glendening did not attempt to link his school funding commitment to Montgomery with legislative votes for the stadiums -- a measure of his respect for the "good government," no-vote-trading inclinations of Montgomery residents.

"Montgomery County has a greater need for schools" than do other counties, said Del. Michael R. Gordon, also a Montgomery Democrat. "He's living up to commitments he made in the campaign. Keep in mind he won only three jurisdictions."

The governor also can build goodwill through his response to other local concerns, legislators note.

Del. George C. Edwards, a Garrett County Republican, said he has been extremely pleased with the administration's response to his county's economic plight. One of the poorest jurisdictions in the state, Garrett learned last fall that it would lose 600 jobs when the Bausch & Lomb plant in Oakland closes at the end of this year.

The governor sent economic development officials to help the county launch an effort to recruit companies.

The heavily Republican county voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Glendening's opponent, so his prompt offer of help was especially welcome. "They jumped on it right away," Mr. Edwards said. "I'm convinced it's one of the governor's main priorities."

Mr. Edwards, by the way, is a supporter of the stadiums despite the opposition he hears at home. He said he made up his mind based on the merits, but he also knows that a small county must be mindful of the larger political landscape. When he tells his constituents that killing the stadiums would not help their needs, he earns some grudging approval for his position, he said.

In the end, Mr. Glendening must hope to reverse the political fate of his predecessor, Mr. Schaefer, who arrived in Annapolis with immense public and political acclaim. He had scored a record win over his Republican opponent in 1986.

His support of stadiums, light rail and other projects contributed to his eventual plunge in the polls.

Mr. Glendening, by contrast, barely won in 1994. But if the stadiums turn out as he predicts, his power could grow.

"Three years is a long time," Mr. Flanagan said. "What you can predict is that the stadiums open in the fall of 1998" -- when the governor is up for re-election.

"They will be a wild card in the political deck," Mr. Flanagan said.

Hearings schedule

To receive a copy by fax of the General Assembly's hearing schedule for the week, call Sunfax at (410) 332-6123 and enter the four-digit code 5959.

If you would like to receive the schedule each week, call Laura Barnhardt at (410) 332-6893.

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