Glendening Achieved Much, Alienated Many
Md. Governor's Foibles Detract From Record
By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 10, 2003; Page A01
Through his 30 years in politics, Parris Nelson Glendening has been something of a paradox. As governor of Maryland, he has assembled a remarkable record of accomplishment, including a renaissance for higher education in Maryland and a visionary initiative to combat suburban sprawl. "Smart growth" has become so influential nationally that Glendening is sometimes compared to former Wisconsin governor Tommy G. Thompson (R), the father of welfare reform.
At the same time, Glendening (D) has repeatedly tarnished his record with a surprising gracelessness. Many lawmakers describe him as a vindictive bully. His loyal lieutenant governor hasn't spoken to him since election night, when he publicly trashed her losing bid to replace him. Next week, when the governor leaves office, most Marylanders will be glad to see him go, polls suggest.
Despite his failings, even detractors say history is likely to remember Glendening, 60, as an effective leader. He came to office with a clear and aggressive liberal agenda, quickly found the levers of power on the second floor of the State House and manipulated them with authority and a steely indifference to those who disagreed with his vision.
"He always charted this course and never wavered from it. He just had this tremendous confidence in his own opinion," said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D). That self-confidence "added to a lot of the frustration with him," Duncan said. "But it helped him get his agenda through, and now he's able to point back and say, 'Look what we did.' "
In a state founded on tobacco, Glendening banned smoking in the workplace, and he raised taxes on cigarettes not once, but twice. Then Glendening, an ardent opponent of smoking, engineered a state-funded buyout of tobacco farmers to "end Maryland's history as a tobacco state."
Glendening rammed some of the nation's toughest gun-control laws through a sometimes hostile legislature, restricting buyers to one handgun a month and requiring that new handguns come with built-in trigger locks and that ballistic fingerprints be kept on file by the state police.
He pushed through a ban on discrimination against gay men and lesbians. He appointed the first African American chief judge in the history of the Maryland Court of Appeals and named black and female judges to lower courts throughout the state.
He poured cash into public schools. He poured even more cash into the University System of Maryland, helping to transform the state's flagship university in College Park, where he once taught political science, into an academically competitive institution in less than a decade.
Glendening's most enduring legacy, many predict, will be the package of so-called smart growth policies that he maneuvered through the General Assembly in 1997. The laws declared that state government would no longer subsidize sprawl development with roads, schools and other infrastructure. Instead, developers who focused on revitalizing existing communities would be rewarded with state support.
The state is now spending nearly four times as much renovating schools as building new ones, an indication that education dollars are no longer encouraging an explosion of new neighborhoods on the outskirts of developed areas, according to the state Department of Planning.
During Glendening's tenure, Maryland also has preserved more than 300,000 areas of farmland and open space, by buying it outright or acquiring development rights. Such deals have allowed family farmers in fast-growing Southern Maryland to stay in business and reject lucrative overtures from developers looking to subdivide the land.
It is too soon to tell whether the initiatives have enough force to reverse 50 years of development patterns. But Glendening's ideas have proved so compelling for a society weary of traffic jams and two-hour commutes that at least five governors elected last fall made smart growth a central plank in their campaign platforms.
Glendening "captured the public mood," said Bruce Katz, director of the Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy at the Brookings Institution. "There weren't people running around with signs saying, 'End Sprawl.' But he captured the mood and translated it into concrete policy reforms. That rarely happens."
As his stature has grown nationally, Glendening's image at home has been badly battered. For months, he would not take action as a sputtering economy sent Maryland into a financial tailspin. He leaves the state with a projected shortfall of nearly $1.2 billion in the next fiscal year.
More damaging, perhaps, is what has been seen as the public betrayal and abandonment of several people who helped engineer his rise to power. Pollsters say Glendening's personal behavior has contributed to a drop in his approval ratings, which now hover around 30 percent.
He left his wife, Frances Anne, who had been one of his closest political advisers and headed his transition in 1994.
Their divorce became final two days shy of their 25th anniversary. Two months later, in January 2002, he married his deputy chief of staff, Jennifer E. Crawford, then 35. A daughter, Gabrielle, was born in August.
Then came election season. During the primary, Glendening paid for radio ads that blasted a Democratic icon and former governor, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, as a misogynist and racist. Glendening failed to support his former chief of staff, Major F. Riddick Jr., a man who had been with him for more than a decade, in an unsuccessful bid for Prince George's County executive.
And on election night, he shocked the Democratic establishment by blaming Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for her gubernatorial loss to Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., saying Townsend had "one of the worst-run campaigns in the country."
As chairman of the Democratic Governors' Association, Glendening was the party's point man for electing governors. Losing his own state to the Republicans for the first time in 36 years was an embarrassment he had to explain.
But the comment was particularly galling, given that Townsend, with her Kennedy panache and fundraising appeal, had been vital to Glendening's election in 1994 and 1998. Moreover, polls showed that Glendening's plummeting popularity had hurt Townsend badly, but she did not criticize her political partner of eight years.
Since then, Townsend said, she has not spoken with Glendening. She did not attend yesterday's unveiling of his official portrait or a political reception he hosted Monday for Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont.
Asked this week about their relationship, Townsend said, "There is none."
Her lips tightened. She shrugged. "You know what?" she said. "I'm moving on."
Frances Glendening has had some time to recover from her break with Glendening. In a recent interview at the Hyattsville home she shared with him for many years, she appeared relaxed and comfortable with the turn her life has taken. She declined to discuss the divorce but confirmed that she is dating again. She said only kind things about her former husband, with whom she has a son, Raymond, 23.
"I don't feel sad at all," she said over a steaming cup of pumpkin-spice coffee. "It's been an honor and a privilege to be first lady. I have no regrets."
Of her former husband's legacy, Frances Glendening said: "As time passes, the legacy will ultimately speak for itself. So many good things have been accomplished. Other things," she paused. "Some things may take more time."
Joel D. Rozner, a prominent lobbyist who served as Glendening's chief of staff when he was Prince George's County executive, said the governor's disloyalty to family and political allies has damaged his reputation, as has his penchant for making every fight personal.
Rozner has known Glendening for more than two decades. Yet the governor twice vetoed a bill Rozner championed in apparent retaliation for Rozner's successful attacks on two Glendening bills.
"If you view the governor's record in terms of his accomplishments in the areas of land preservation and increased funding to higher education, most would agree he was quite successful," Rozner said. "If, however, his record is viewed in the broader context of the public arena, including his apparent lack of concern about maintaining loyalties, his legacy would be quite different."
Glendening declined to be interviewed for this article. Through a spokesman, he said he "has no confidence in the objectivity of The [Washington] Post." Glendening has rarely granted interviews to the paper since it published a story in 2001 revealing his relationship with Crawford.
In an interview this week on WTOP radio's "Ask the Governor" program, Glendening said he is proud of his time in the governor's mansion.
"I've enjoyed it. I truly have," he said. "We got every single thing on our list done. We positioned the state for today and for the future."
The mystery of Glendening has always been how a man so disliked by his colleagues and so consistently unpopular in polls has gotten so much done.
Glendening was a shy bookworm raised in poverty by aloof parents. He is known to be keenly intelligent and politically cunning but rarely comes across as empathetic. Yet during 30 years in politics, he has never lost an election. He proposed dozens of bills as governor, and only three were defeated.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) said the key to Glendening's success was his accessibility, his willingness to meet with anyone about any problem and the exceptional competence of his team.
But others say Glendening simply benefited from luck and timing. During much of his tenure, the stock market was booming, and the state was awash in capital-gains cash. Maryland is the only state in which the governor has sole authority to add items to the budget. The legislature can only cut. So if lawmakers wanted a piece of the action, they had to see Glendening.
"Parris was able to appeal to the basic sense of, well, greed is the wrong word. But people wanted money for projects for their district," said Sen. Thomas McLain Middleton (D-Charles), who served as chairman of a budget subcommittee that oversees spending on community colleges, recreation centers and other projects that tend to make lawmakers popular back home.
"Money was the thing that got the job done for Parris," Middleton said. "The moon and the stars were lined up for him. He had a very aggressive agenda, and he had a whopping surplus to give away."
The 1997 passage of Glendening's smart growth package offers a case in point. The powerful Maryland Association of Counties opposed the legislation, accusing Glendening of interfering in county land-use decisions. A House committee kept the bills bottled up.
So Glendening threatened to withhold the "supplemental budget," an addendum to his original spending plan that typically includes millions of dollars for projects sought by individual lawmakers. That year, the supplemental included nearly $200 million in aid to the counties for public schools that was a priority for the House speaker.
"It had never been done, at least not in recent memory, where a budget was withheld to pass a bill," said Ron Kreitner, Glendening's planning secretary at the time, who helped shepherd the smart growth package through the General Assembly. "It created almost a pressure cooker in Annapolis, because everybody had something they wanted in the supplemental."
In the end, Glendening got his smart growth bills, and lawmakers got their cash. But it was the start of a trend of buying votes for his priorities that would only become more pronounced as the cash piled into a surplus that, one year, exceeded $1 billion.
Those the governor didn't buy off, he tried to bully, some lawmakers said. Former House majority leader D. Bruce Poole (D-Washington) tells of being summoned to the second floor after criticizing the governor over proposals to use state money to build stadiums for the Ravens and Redskins.
"He was sitting at his desk, and he had all these various newspaper articles spread out, editorial pieces I'd written . . . where I was critical of his administration," Poole said. "I walked in and said, 'Well, can I help you?'
"He looked up and said, 'Bruce, your governor is very unhappy with you.' . . . It was like he was trying to be the school principal," Poole said. "It seemed silly that he wouldn't say, 'Look, let's talk about this.' "
Beyond Annapolis, Glendening's leadership style has grated on other regional politicians. Without fully briefing Virginia officials, he decided in 1997 to shut down a stretch of the Pocomoke River because of health concerns about the microbe Pfiesteria piscicida in Chesapeake Bay tributaries.
Then there was the day in 1995 that Glendening announced a deal to bring NFL football back to Baltimore. It was a coup for the freshman governor, but a bittersweet victory for the city. Thrilled to have a team to replace the Baltimore Colts, wooed away a decade earlier by Indianapolis, many were also hurting for Cleveland, whose beloved Browns had agreed to move to Baltimore, where they became the Ravens.
As local officials offered a subdued welcome to the team, the nuance of the moment was lost on Glendening. "This was fun!" he crowed, describing the "Kissinger-style shuttle diplomacy" required to steal the team. "This is a great day to be governor."
Next week, Glendening will surrender the power and trappings of the state's highest office, trading the Persian carpets and manicured lawn of the governor's mansion for a rented townhouse in an Annapolis waterfront development.
He has declined to reveal what he will do when he leaves office, except to say that he has prospects for a national role in the smart growth movement. Without a job, Glendening would rely primarily on his gubernatorial pension of a little more than $60,000 a year.
Glendening seems content, despite the sourness surrounding his departure. In late November, he attended the opening-night University of Maryland basketball game at Comcast Center, a $108 million arena he fought to bring to College Park. In a pregame ceremony, he and a handful of other politicians were summoned to mid-court to be recognized for their contributions to the new arena.
When the announcer called out Glendening's name, a capacity crowd of nearly 18,000 began to boo. Glendening just smiled, and gave a little wave.
"It is an interesting thing and, in a way, sort of a sad thing to see
his last days in office not be more celebratory," said William E. Kirwan,
chancellor of the university system. "Despite some missteps here at the
end, though, I think history will treat him well."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company