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Party on, governor; Ball: Among the music, food and hundreds of well-wishers at the inaugural gala last night, Gov. Parris N. Glendening told a touching story about his stepgrandfather.


There he was last night, the center of attention at a high-rolling VIP reception, sipping a beer (on ice in a wine glass), looking proud as punch as he rambled on about his 90-year-old stepgrandfather, Jerry Church, who had come up from Lake Okeechobee in central Florida to see him -- Gov. Parris N. Glendening -- celebrate his inauguration.

The heavy hitters who had paid big bucks to attend the pre-ball reception came up to offer their congratulations, touch the hem of his tuxedo, make their presence known. But Glendening first finished his story about his stepgrandfather, who had helped him through a difficult childhood lived in poverty.

After Church had arrived in Annapolis, the old man had said something that "warmed my heart," the governor said. "He told me I was a bigger man than he."

The grandson asked why, and the old man explained: "You see what has to be done to bring people together. I never saw that."

The compliment brought a tear to the his eye, Glendening said.

It was a sweet moment in a dazzling night filled with family, friends and the brassy noise of politics. Nearby, Frances Hughes Glendening stood by in a form-fitting black lace gown that she and her husband had selected. Across the room their buzz-cut and tuxedoed son, Raymond, a 19-year-old sophomore at West Virginia University, sat with an old friend from high school, Nicole Miller. Not one to over-emote, Raymond courteously admitted to being excited.

Around the Glendening family swirled hundreds of the governor's closest political supporters. There was lobbyist Alan Rifkin and Carefirst President William L. Jews and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings. There was Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Laurence Levitan, a former state senator turned lobbyist.

And soon they would all descend to the red-splashed ballroom of the Baltimore Convention Center for a party for 3,000 that stretched for acres and cost more than $650,000.

Why the lavish spread?

"I won big," the governor has crowed to the media.

Four years ago, Glendening squeaked past Ellen Sauerbrey by fewer than 6,000 votes. Last November, he trounced her by 160,000 votes.

So get down, Mr. Governor, Sir. Party on.

But "getting down" is a relative term, of course. It's hard to compare "the getting down" of a room full of Maryland movers and shakers nibbling on Maryland crab cakes to that of the crowd that posted for Jesse "The Governor" Ventura's inaugural bash last Saturday. Minnesota's new governor partied with 13,000 fans, rocker Warren Zevon, and rivers of beer.

But don't get our governor wrong. He may be a tad more reserved than the former pro-wrestler, but he and his family had stayed up until 2: 30 a.m. the night before, chatting and kicking back at Government House in Annapolis. That was pretty hard-core, he said. And everyone got up at 6: 30 a.m. for Inauguration Day!

As for Glendening's bash, Rifkin, whose firm Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan & Silver, helped sponsor the celebration, was pleased with the results. "It's one of the better receptions in inaugural history. The food is good. The company is better."

Across the room, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend glowed in a red gown bedecked with ribbons. Her daughter, Kerry, 7, also in a red-bowed dress, clung to her, while she tried to greet friends and conduct interviews. A couple months ago, a Democratic victory was far from a sure thing. "We sweated together. We worked together. And we hoped together. Now we get a chance to celebrate together," Townsend said.

Glendening's last inaugural ball was held in Prince George's County, the governor's home base. This one took place in Glendening's bedrock. Turnout in Baltimore was nine points higher than the city's 46 percent showing four years ago, thanks in large part to the well-organized effort of BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development). "Baltimore came out very strongly," Cummings said. The party is "a nice way of saying 'thank you.' "

Downstairs, guests munched tiny spinach quiches and listened to slinky numbers by the Al Maitland Questet and the Zim Zemarel Orchestra. The Dunbar Jazz Ensemble was also scheduled to perform, as were the Fabulous Fantoms, and the University of Maryland gymnastic team.

Raymond and Nicole sat alone at his father's table. More of his friends were arriving soon. He wasn't sure if his great-grandfather would get there or not. Last he knew, Church was napping.

After attending the swearing-in yesterday, Church spoke of his grandson, the governor: "I thought I'd never come to anything like this. I never thought I'd have a family member be as good to me as Parris. I hate to go home."

A half-hour off the gala's schedule, a fleet of handlers in evening gowns murmured into their walkie-talkies, preparing for Townsend and Glendening's carefully choreographed entrance.

Everywhere, friends bear-hugged and networked. And everywhere was the happy din of Marylanders plotting the next four years of health, happiness and pet bills passed.

"I don't see Ellen Sauerbrey," said Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, who had just arrived with his wife, Patty. "But I see everybody else. Democrats and Republicans. ... Everyone else wants to be with a winner."

Pub Date: 1/21/99

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