If not Glendening, then who?


IT HAS BEEN A tough year and a half for Parris Glendening. He got off on the wrong foot as governor and every time it looks like he's headed in a more positive direction -- bam! -- something crops up that shatters months of good work.

This summer started quietly enough. Mr. Glendening got good marks for stressing growth control as a focus of state concern. Then all hell broke loose.

Business leaders started complaining about the governor's relentless push for campaign funds. One donor from 1994 got caught making illegal contributions to the governor. Then stories broke about a July fund-raiser in New York hosted by the CEO and lobbyist for a company seeking a huge state contract.

Waffling over slot machines

Finally, there was the waffling over slot machines. He's for it -- sort of; then his staff isn't sure; then he's flat-out against it.

Meanwhile, Mayor Kurt Schmoke swears the governor told him he'd back slots to raise funds for city schools. The governor's chief of staff confirmed part of the mayor's recollection -- only to have the governor say it was a huge misunderstanding.

All this soured the public and political leaders on Mr. Glendening. Too clever. Too eager to solicit campaign funds. Too anxious to change positions to look good.

An opinion poll before the slots- Schmoke brouhaha shows disillusionment. Only 5 percent in a Mason Dixon poll felt the governor was doing an excellent job, 25 percent rated his performance poor.

The summer buzz is over possible challengers. Some savvy political leaders have joined the ABG ("Anybody But Glendening") club -- even former allies Mayor Schmoke and Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry.

He looks so vulnerable now that Democrats fear a Republican landslide in 1998. The problem is that no incumbent governor in modern times has been knocked off in the primaries.

Still, a number of politicians are contemplating a run:

House Speaker Casper Taylor. He's itching to do it and worried that Mr. Glendening might lock up the fat-cat contributors early. But an early move would poison the legislative atmosphere.

He suffers from being on the wrong side of issues championed by state Democrats: He is anti-abortion, pro-guns and pro-casinos. He's far more conservative than most Democratic voters, too -- a drawback in a primary. And his base in rural Western Maryland is small.

Harford County Executive Eileen Rehrmann. She's been a popular and effective local leader but she's not well known outside her mid-sized suburban county. She wanted to run for state comptroller, but the unbeatable Louis L. Goldstein is seeking another term.

Pragmatic conservatism

Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger. He'd love to take on the governor and he's been vocal in his criticisms. His pragmatic conservatism has proved popular and his strong base in the largest Baltimore suburb gives him an edge. But Mr. Ruppersberger would be giving up a sure second term. And he has never run outside his county. The rest of the state is foreign to him.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan. He's energetic, fiscally tough and wants to project a statewide image. He proved highly effective in Annapolis, too. Yet any politician from elitist Montgomery would have a tough time running statewide. Besides, Mr. Duncan looks like a lock for a second term.

State School Superintendent Nancy Grasmick. Her crusade for school reform is a hit. Being a non-politician is a real plus. But her husband, pro-casino businessman Lou Grasmick, would be a millstone. One worry: Would he be the shadow governor, handing out contracts and jobs?

Congressman Ben Cardin. He's the wild card. If Republicans retain solid control of the House in November, Mr. Cardin could decide to conclude his congressional career rather than remain in the minority. He is extremely popular in a metropolitan Baltimore district that takes in three counties and the city. He's fondly remembered in Annapolis as an astute, consensus-building House speaker. He stands the best chance of uniting the opposition.

But Mr. Cardin has never been a political gambler. Still, he'd have little to lose. If he decides to retire from Congress, why not take a chance on winning the job he's always coveted -- the governorship?

Mr. Glendening is hoping that his big lead in fund-raising will silence most challengers and that his early missteps will be forgotten by 1998. He could be right, but only if he starts building bridges instead of burning them.

Barry Rascovar is deputy editorial-page editor of The Sun.

Pub Date: 8/25/96

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