Curry Backs Glendening Opponent
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 25, 1998; Page A01
Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry, in an extraordinary rebuke of his predecessor, has decided to abandon Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening and endorse a lesser-known rival in the Democratic primary, officials in Curry's camp said yesterday.
Curry's decision to support Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann culminates a long-running feud with the governor that stems from clashing personalities and nasty spats over the poor financial situation that Curry contends he inherited from Glendening. But it was Curry's anger over what he considers inadequate school funding for Prince George's during Glendening's tenure that convinced him to switch to Rehrmann, the sources said.
The move means that the state's two most prominent African American elected officials -- Curry and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke (D) -- are allied against Glendening, despite his aggressive effort to woo black voters.
It also means more intraparty bloodletting for Maryland Democrats that may weaken Glendening in November's general election, even if he handily disperses his Democratic rivals as many political analysts expect.
But Curry also risks alienating a large portion of Prince George's voters who are Glendening loyalists, potentially damaging any long-term political prospects he harbors, according to some Democratic activists. Already, many Democratic leaders consider Curry an out-of-control maverick who is difficult to work with, and some reacted with dismay to news of the county executive's decision yesterday.
Curry declined to be interviewed yesterday, and spokesmen for Rehrmann also withheld comment pending the formal endorsement announcement, scheduled for this afternoon in Upper Marlboro.
Glendening's campaign spokesman and other allies questioned the rationale for Curry's decision, noting that the governor recently supported $140 million over four years in new school construction funds for Prince George's.
"Governor Glendening has produced for the families of Prince George's County and families all over this state," said Peter Hamm, Glendening's spokesman. "This is a red herring from the county executive. We did not expect to have Wayne Curry's support. We are going to win Prince George's County."
A recent Washington Post poll shows that Glendening holds a commanding lead over Rehrmann and other declared opponents in the Sept. 15 primary. But Rehrmann, who hails from a mid-size county just north of Baltimore, has waged a scrappy campaign based largely on her support for slot machines at Maryland's racetracks and on questions about Glendening's reliability.
Her efforts were boosted by Schmoke's endorsement in April, and she has been courting Curry for months, hoping to capitalize on his poor relationship with Glendening. Curry and Schmoke are close allies, and they share the same political adviser, Larry Gibson -- who happens to be Rehrmann's campaign manager.
Although Curry has made no effort to mask his dislike for Glendening, negotiations over his endorsement continued until yesterday. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) and Major F. Riddick Jr. -- Glendening's chief of staff and a longtime friend of Curry's -- urged Curry to consider staying neutral or endorsing Glendening, sources said.
But Curry agreed in the end to deliver his much-sought endorsement to Rehrmann after securing her support for a legislative agenda that includes providing more money for Prince George's schools, which rank second to last in performance on statewide tests.
Curry concluded that too much time already has been wasted fighting with Glendening and legislators to fund county schools, county officials said. Prince George's has the state's largest school system, with 125,000 students, and Curry has said repeatedly that Glendening has not fought hard enough to give Prince George's what it deserves.
Curry also has told close associates that he decided to back Rehrmann after concluding that Glendening is so unpopular with voters that he has no chance of prevailing in November's general election -- a notion many independent political analysts find implausible.
Although Curry is clearly a popular figure in Prince George's, the political impact of his endorsement remains far from clear. Most other Prince George's Democratic politicians have endorsed the governor and generally credit Glendening with helping the county during his tenure, a view at odds with Curry's. And despite criticism from Curry and Schmoke, black voters may be the governor's strongest constituency: 71 percent of black voters approve of the way Glendening is handling his job as governor, compared with 55 percent of voters overall, according to a recent Washington Post poll.
"What I say about the governor's race and what Wayne Curry says about the governor's race is totally insignificant," said Miller, a strong Glendening ally. "I can tell you right now, unequivocally, Parris Glendening is going to carry every precinct in Prince George's County."
Matthew Crenson, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University, also questioned the impact of Curry's endorsement. "Unless I see a broader movement of legislators and county leaders [abandoning the governor], I'm skeptical that it has much effect," he said.
But Curry certainly has the potential to make more trouble for Glendening, as he has at several points during the last three years. Their already poor relationship disintegrated during the recent legislative session in Annapolis, when Curry accused the governor of intentionally making promises he had no intention of keeping. At the time, Curry said Glendening was trying to "bamboozle" and "hoodwink" the county out of school construction money and told residents that Glendening would need them at election time.
"You are the biggest Democratic stronghold in the state of Maryland," Curry told a crowd of Prince George's residents. "You have the power in your hands to fight, and you don't have to take smack talk from anyone."
Staff writers Daniel LeDuc and Jackie Spinner contributed to this report.
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