Glendening's Foes Look Into the Past
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 15, 1998; Page B01
If you listen to Parris N. Glendening's critics, he's done a poor job of managing public money, promised things he didn't deliver and watched idly as public schools deteriorated into a crowded, poor-performing mess.
But political rivals are not exactly focusing on his record as Maryland governor. Instead, to a surprising extent, Glendening opponents are reaching back into history and trying to poke holes in Glendening's 12-year tenure as Prince George's county executive.
In speeches and television and radio advertisements, critics have charged that Glendening (D) mismanaged county money to fuel his successful 1994 gubernatorial campaign, allowed the school system to deteriorate and basically left Prince George's in disarray.
Yesterday, his leading Republican challenger, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, traveled to Prince George's to blast Glendening for his "neglect" of county schools. Under Glendening, she said, once-respected schools in Prince George's declined and thousands of children now attend school daily in temporary buildings.
"These temporary classrooms, really barracks, lack sewer and water facilities and house over 10,000 students in the county," Sauerbrey said during a news conference in front of more than a dozen temporary buildings at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt. "This is Parris Glendening's legacy for Prince George's County."
Glendening allies fired back at Sauerbrey's own record on education. "For years, she has voted against additional funding for our public schools. Now she is trying to tell Marylanders that was all a mistake," said Peter Krauser, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party. "No one has done more than the governor to increase school construction spending, which has benefited every school system in the state."
To some extent, charges such as Sauerbrey's reflect the reality that times are good -- the economy is up and welfare and crime are down -- making it more difficult for her and others to go after Glendening's record as governor. But revelations since the 1994 election have raised questions about the rosy picture of Prince George's County that Glendening tried to paint four years ago, giving new ammunition to the governor's opponents in this year's elections.
Soon after the 1994 election, Glendening's successor as county executive -- Wayne K. Curry (D) -- announced that the county was facing a $107 million projected deficit. News of an unusually generous pension plan for Glendening and top aides further roiled the waters, while the deteriorating condition of the county's schools soon became a major issue in the General Assembly.
Fueling the anti-Glendening fire has been Curry, who is backing Glendening's main Democratic primary rival, Eileen M. Rehrmann, the Harford county executive. Since taking office, Curry has complained frequently that Glendening left the county in dire fiscal straits, criticism Rehrmann has amplified in her own appearances. When Curry endorsed her candidacy recently, Rehrmann pledged pointedly that she would not forget Prince George's.
Last week, Curry began running radio ads saying the governor "shortchanged" the Prince George's public schools as governor. Now a new radio accuses Glendening of leaving county finances in "sad shape."
Glendening supporters dispute those contentions and say detractors are rehashing old issues because they have gained little traction attacking Glendening's record as governor.
In an interview last week with Washington Post editors and reporters, Glendening defended his stewardship of Prince George's County, saying it is undisputed that his last budget left Curry with a $45 million reserve fund. He also said the financial situation in Prince George's resembled those of neighboring Montgomery and Fairfax counties, which also experienced projected shortfalls because of a downturn in the economy.
"It had nothing to do with my decision making," Glendening said.
Prince George's Board of Education Chairman Alvin Thornton (Suitland), a Howard University political science professor and ally of both Glendening's and Curry's, said the revival of past controversies must be viewed through the prism of a nasty governor's race. He said efforts to tar Glendening alone for the problems of Prince George's are unfair.
Thornton said, for example, that Glendening cannot be blamed for a property tax cap that did not allow the county to build the necessary schools to keep up with development.
"I think that it's legitimate to access both experiences, obviously with primary attention being given to what has been done as governor, because he's not running for county executive," Thornton said. "Electoral politics requires that we assign unique responsibility to any kind of problem we want to highlight. But trying to reduce blame to one person is impossible."
In an interview, Curry said he is being more than fair with his ads. Glendening "went on a tear that destroyed the fiscal integrity" of the county, Curry said. "He planned deficit spending. He knew that in subsequent years he would be creating deficits, but he didn't care because it was fueling his bid for governor. If it ravaged the county he was leaving, so what? Who cares? The reason history goes into play is because they keep trying to recast history."
Few now debate that when Curry took office in December 1994, the county was facing a projected shortfall of $107 million for the next fiscal year. In other words, if spending and revenue had continued at the rate budget analysts expected, the county would have run a deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 1995.
Some legislators who initially questioned those numbers sanctioned an audit by fiscal analysts with the General Assembly that confirmed Curry's projections.
As frequently happens with projected government deficits in Maryland, an actual deficit never materialized, in large measure because Curry imposed a new round of budget austerity that included layoffs of more than 100 county workers and a freeze on wages.
Major F. Riddick Jr., Glendening's top aide in Prince George's and now in Annapolis, said Curry sought to politicize the deficit problem rather than work with the administration to solve it.
By contrast, he noted, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) faced an $80 million shortfall the same year. Instead of just handling the problem, as Duncan did, Riddick said, Curry chose to blame the governor because of his "deep-seated hatred" for Glendening. Once friends, Curry and Riddick now have a relationship that is strained, at best.
Other county officials said Curry is angry because Glendening saddled him with financial obligations that ate up the ostensible $45 million reserve fund and more. In particular, they said, Glendening had agreed to an income tax cut that reduced county revenue while signing several unusually lucrative contracts with county employee unions that gave Curry little flexibility in trimming expenses.
Sauerbrey said Glendening's record in Prince George's shows he can't be trusted as governor. "There is no better indication of what you're going to do in the future than what you've done in the past," she said. "What is important as we go forward is that he's doing the same thing to the state as he did in Prince George's County."
She added: "I agree with Wayne Curry that we need a drastic change in Annapolis next year."
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