The official start of the 1998 race for governor of Maryland lies more than a year in the future, the competitors only guesses, but the incumbent is speeding the length and breadth of the state with the energy of a driven man down in the polls.
Carefully scheduled and equipped with everything but campaign buttons and bumper stickers, Gov. Parris N. Glendening is targeting factories, vocational schools, biotechnology research centers, military bases, warehouses, subway stops and state service outlets.
A dinner, an awards ceremony, a conference, a career day or a streetscape groundbreaking -- he's there.
Yesterday, Glendening was in Bel Air and Middle River, announcing in person almost $30 million in school construction and renovation grants recently approved by the General Assembly.
"There is nothing new about this," he says. "I did it as county executive after our budget was adopted in Prince George's. I would go to different communities, and I'm doing the same thing now as governor."
Tuesday, he was in St. Mary's County, promising $643,000 for a commuter air passenger terminal to serve the growing community around Navy facilities.
Today, he is scheduled to unveil a Motor Vehicle Administration self-service kiosk at Beltway Plaza in Greenbelt, in Prince George's County. Tomorrow, he will be at the dedication of Southwest Baltimore's Work Force Development Office, then at the grand opening of the Columbus Center on East Pratt Street.
Although the events are devoted to the needs of Marylanders, Glendening's political needs -- and the power of an incumbent governor to give himself a political boost -- are unmistakable and sometimes explicit.
As he had in suburban Washington and Southern Maryland over the previous 10 days, the governor stood yesterday with local political leaders, legislators and public school administrators to extol the political teamwork that yields big money for public works projects -- $4.5 million for 18 projects in Harford County and $25 million for 18 in Baltimore County.
"We're happy to have you," said Jeffery N. Grotsky, Harford County's school superintendent, "because we know you've traveled here with good news."
Equally warm and welcoming words awaited him at Middle River's Kenwood High School, where, Glendening said, the state will spend almost $3 million to rewire classrooms for computers, improve lighting and generally restore a failing physical plant.
"I want everyone to know of this governor's devotion to education," said state Sen. Michael J. Collins, a Democrat who represents the area and taught at Kenwood High for 30 years. "Everyone in the community needs to know that. I challenge you to go forth in the community to let everyone know."
After the brief ceremony, Collins said Glendening might be finding new momentum as he aims for a second term.
Challengers in the wings
Others have questioned whether the first-term Democratic governor can be renominated by his party and win re-election. Several Democrats are openly considering a 1998 party primary challenge -- unless trips such as yesterday's and others make Glendening look like a better bet to keep the governor's office out of Republican hands.
One of those who might challenge him, Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, was in the audience yesterday at Harford Technical High School. Glendening turned toward her at one point and said good-naturedly, "In time. In time."
Asked whether she thought the governor had helped his cause yesterday, Rehrmann said, "It's always nice to share good news." The bad news -- the needed projects that weren't funded -- will come in the governor's absence, she said.
Harford and Baltimore counties were among the 21 Glendening lost to Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey in 1994, and he apparently has his work cut out for him again for the 1998 election.
He and his staff say trips such as yesterday's are routine gubernatorial business, but others in the Democratic Party say Glendening needs to behave as much like a candidate as he can.
'A good record'
"He has a good record," said Michael H. Davis, a spokesman for Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, "but he has to do a better job of getting his record known."
And he must do it over an extended period, said Del. Donald C. Fry, a Harford County Democrat.
"People in the education communities know of his commitment to education," Fry said. "But a day like this, in and of itself, doesn't do it. People make their decisions on overall directions, not on a single visit."
Although the governor's commitment to education draws praise, he continues to face difficulties even in the three jurisdictions that gave him victory in 1994. State Treasurer Richard N. Dixon observed yesterday that in Prince George's County, where the governor went last week to announce $20 million in construction funding, County Executive Wayne K. Curry did not attend.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who did show up for the governor's stop there, and Curry have been unhappy with what they consider a shortchanging of poor children in their counties while Glendening and state legislators doled out millions in operating funds for schools in Baltimore.
Praise from Ruppersberger
Ruppersberger defended the governor on that score yesterday, saying, "I'm sorry certain people don't understand what you've done for education throughout the state."
Glendening said Maryland must save its aging schools, and he produced a graph to show how his administration has been doing that in Baltimore County.
From 1991 to 1995, state aid for construction averaged $3.5 million a year. Since then, it has totaled $16.5 million annually. In a state budget that has grown 3 percent in the past year, education spending will be up about 8 percent next year.
"We must prepare our students for jobs we cannot even imagine," Glendening said, quoting President Clinton.
Pub Date: 4/24/97