Former governor breaks his silence
Glendening speaks freely on growth, fatherhood; quiet on state politics; 'I'm loving this right now'

By Michael Dresser
Sun Staff

September 21, 2003

For eight years, Parris N. Glendening openly reveled in being governor of Maryland. If ever there was a man happy in his job, it was he.

Nine months later, he doesn't seem to miss it at all.

He's traveling the country promoting his signature cause of Smart Growth. He's a businessman for the first time in his professional career. He's bragging about his 1-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, or Bree. He's writing two books -- one of them a parenthood guide for men who become fathers late in life.

After keeping almost complete silence in the local media since January, Glendening spoke freely about all these topics in a wide-ranging interview with The Sun.

"The only thing I'm not doing is entering into Maryland gubernatorial debates," Glendening said.

No criticizing his successor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. No responding to his longtime nemesis, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, who continues to blame "that guy" for many of Maryland's woes.

"Those things are largely irrelevant," Glendening said during lunch in an Annapolis restaurant.

The former governor appeared fit and trim as he ate a turkey sandwich (reports of his vegetarianism having been exaggerated) and indulged in oversize french fries. He's been working out, he said -- something that's important when a 61-year-old father is lifting a baby in and out of a crib.

True to his word, every time his views were sought on a Maryland-related question the former governor smiled knowingly and steered the conversation to "the larger national picture."

Daniel M. Clements, a friend and longtime political ally, said Glendening's silence on Maryland politics doesn't surprise him.

"One of Parris' great strengths is that he's always moving forward," said Clements, a politically active trial lawyer. "He's not going to pay a lot of attention to sniping from the new administration or old enemies like Schaefer. He's quite comfortable, as he should be, with his accomplishments."

Glendening said he's frequently on the road on behalf of the Smart Growth Leadership Institute, the Washington-based nonprofit he heads. Massachusetts, Maine and Michigan have been among his recent stops. Later this month, he's traveling to Vermont.

When he's home, he said, he typically works two days a week at Washington's Dupont Circle and two days out of the modest Annapolis office -- about one-sixth the size of his old State House digs -- of his for-profit Smart Growth Investments LLC.

Glendening said he spends most Fridays as part of his three-day weekends at his bayside Annapolis home with his wife, former aide Jennifer Crawford, and Bree. His office desk and bookshelves are full of pictures of his new family and of Raymond Glendening, his adult son from his first marriage -- now a political organizer for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

"I enjoy so much watching my son succeed and my baby grow up," the ex-governor said.

As it was during his final years in office, Glendening's favorite topic is Smart Growth, the anti-sprawl movement in which he is considered a national leader.

In Maryland, Glendening is still remembered as a bare-knuckled partisan who would barely give the time of day to most Republicans. But the former governor said that at the nonprofit group he's working with Republican and Democratic officials throughout the country to develop Smart Growth strategies.

"It's as easy to work with Republicans as Democrats on this because this issue transcends party," he said. He has particularly high praise for Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, for stressing Smart Growth in his inauguration speech.

At Smart Growth Investments, his focus is on making money by putting together development projects that adhere to the movement's principles: mixed-use projects, reuse of existing structures, high-density development in areas that already have infrastructure.

Glendening shares his office suite at SGI with his former chief of staff, Eugene R. Lynch. He said that together they work to identify projects that work and also raise capital to get them off the ground. Right now, he said, the firm is getting ready to do a brownfields reclamation project in Savannah, Ga.

"Smart Growth isn't anti-growth," he said. "Anyone who says Smart Growth ought to be no growth is totally misunderstanding the concept."

Besides his Smart Growth ventures, Glendening is taking a lively interest in the race for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. He hasn't endorsed any candidate, but mentioned that he's particularly pleased with the emphasis on Smart Growth in former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's environmental position paper.

Asked whether he was interested in a federal job if the Democrats take the White House next year, Glendening did not rule it out but said it's not in his thoughts.

"I'm loving this right now," he said.

Glendening, a published author during his former career as a University of Maryland professor, said he loves writing and is now at work on two books.

One, he said, will be on the environment. He said it would be "very aggressive, very militant," with a focus on land use.

"I believe it's time for a new environmental revolution," he said.

The second, he said, is his "fun" book: Pregnancy and Fatherhood for Older Dads. Glendening said he figures it will take about two years of actually raising his daughter to write such a book, for which he has not yet lined up a publisher.

Glendening said he still takes pride in his career in politics and his string of 17 primary and general elections without a defeat. But it's a pleasure, he said, to have control of his own calendar.

"After 30 years, I'm excited about being able to do things unrestrained by the requirements of public office," he said. "I can speak with passion from my heart and talk about what ought to be done."

And when might he dive back into the Maryland political debate?

"When all of the national environmental problems are totally solved," he said.

Copyright © 2003, The Baltimore Sun