MAJOR F. RIDDICK Jr., Gov. Parris N. Glendening's chief aide for a decade, is considering a run for Prince George's County executive in 2002 -- a possibility that raises questions about how long he can function in his current role.
Riddick, Glendening's chief of staff, said he has embarked on a "journey of listening" and is not close to a decision on whether to enter the race to succeed two-term executive Wayne K. Curry.
"I have to weigh this very carefully," Riddick said. "I don't want to be part of any racially divisive efforts. This is not an ego trip for Major Riddick."
The powerful Glendening aide, who is also the administration's information technology expert, is an African-American from a majority black county. He would be entering a campaign in which at least two strong black candidates face a credible white contender.
Riddick said he is weighing a possible race against a move into the private sector -- where his experience in management and technology could easily fetch a hefty salary.
But critics are questioning whether he should be openly entertaining thoughts of a candidacy while remaining in Glendening's inner circle, where he could potentially influence matters affecting the county.
"I don't see how he could do both," said Del. Rushern L. Baker III, who is running hard for the Democratic nomination in a county in which Republicans are an embattled minority.
The fast-talking, hard-working Riddick has been a contentious figure within the Glendening administration.
As the governor's chief enforcer, he has made more than a few enemies. During the rocky early years of Glendening's first term, questions were frequently raised about his abilities and ethical sensitivity. But Glendening stuck by him, and Riddick has generally steered clear of controversy during the second term.
While Riddick, 49, has not held elective office, he would bring an imposing resume to the campaign. Before moving from Prince George's to Annapolis, he served then-County Executive Glendening as county administrator for four years, budget chief for four years and housing director for three.
"I've had a very strong history in the county," Riddick said. "I've been in the thick of a lot of things."
That could raise problems for him because one of those things was the 1995 issue in which Glendening and several of his chief aides were awarded generous early pension benefits after leaving county government. Riddick, like the governor, decided to forgo about $21,000 in payments until reaching retirement age.
Riddick also could be vulnerable to questions about his role in the $108 million budget shortfall Glendening left behind when he moved to the governor's mansion -- forcing Curry to make painful cuts.
The governor and Riddick have contended the fiscal problems were the result of a regional downturn that also affected other jurisdictions.
If Riddick enters the race, he would face at least three well-known county officeholders -- Baker, State's Attorney Jack B. Johnson and County Councilman M. H. "Jim" Estepp. They were joined over the weekend by former Del. C. Anthony Muse, who announced that he expects to run for executive.
County politicians say Riddick would be a formidable candidate -- particularly because of his ability to raise money.
Del. Joanne C. Benson, a Prince George's Democrat, said Riddick is an accomplished political strategist whose "brilliance" is well-known in the county.
"While there may be people who dislike him, you can't help but respect him," she said. "He's a perfectionist. He likes to see things organized and done."
Benson, who is also close to Baker, said a Riddick candidacy would "create a lot of heartburn" for people who respect both men.
Estepp, the only white candidate among the leading contenders, said Riddick's decision would have no effect on his determination to run.
"Major who?" he cracked.
Baker also said he is in the race to stay. Johnson, who did not return a phone message, is making rounds of the churches.
Riddick said he has no plans to leave his position in Annapolis. "The bottom line is I have a job to do," he said. "I have an administration to serve and a governor to serve."
Riddick said he has not formed an exploratory committee or begun to raise money. He said he is mindful of the laws on use of the prestige of his office and would be in close contact with the state Ethics Commission. He gave no timetable for a decision, and noted that Mayor Martin O'Malley jumped into the Baltimore race less than six months before the general election.
If Riddick followed the same pattern, he could serve through two more budget cycles and legislative sessions while keeping his options open.