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  •   Municipal Leaders Focus on Governor

    By Robert E. Pierre and Daniel LeDuc
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Thursday, July 2, 1998; Page M05

    Gubernatorial politics took center stage this week as 500 municipal officials from across Maryland descended on Ocean City for their annual ritual of schmoozing and exchanging governing tips with colleagues.

    The yearly meeting of the Maryland Municipal League included seminars about record keeping, restructuring of the electric industry and code enforcement. But all the buzz in the hallways and at nightly receptions surrounded the governor's race, and a decisive majority of participants appeared to be solidly behind the reelection of Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D).

    Glendening, a former member of the Hyattsville Council, has been coming to the MML convention for years, and he is close to many of the mayors, town council members and other local officials who flocked to this resort. And Glendening was the clear winner in one of the most important convention indicators: He had the biggest party.

    The receptions sponsored by Democrat Eileen M. Rehrmann and Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey were both sparsely attended. But so many people arrived for the governor's dessert reception that Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend did nothing but greet supporters at the door for the entire 90-minute function.

    And convention-goers such as Cheyenne Watson, of District Heights, also gave Glendening the edge at the candidates forum, the first time all the candidates have debated one another. "In my opinion, the governor came through," Watson said, expressing a common sentiment this week.

    But as they huddled, many loyal Democrats expressed concern about dissension within the party. The most baffling development to many leaders, especially those in Prince George's, was the decision by County Executive Wayne K. Curry to back Rehrmann, Harford's county executive, in the Democratic primary.

    Publicly and privately, many leaders have contended that Curry is carrying out a personal vendetta against the governor and has no basis to argue that Prince George's has not benefited from having a political native son in the State House. But Curry, who sponsored his own well-attended soiree, maintains that Glendening has not done enough, specifically in providing money to build and maintain the county's ailing public schools.

    Some officials worry that rhetoric may be turned up so high in the primary campaign that it will become impossible to have a unified Democratic Party in November. "We're going to need everybody for the general," said Bladensburg Mayor David Harrington.

    "When you go out and support an opponent, it cuts very deep," added Bowie City Council member Jack Jenkins. "Politicians don't forget easily."

    But one hopeful sign for Democrats may have come after the Glendening and Curry receptions Monday night. Curry was having dinner with several supporters at the same Ocean City restaurant as a group of Glendening's staff members and campaign workers. The Glendening table bought a round of drinks for Curry's table, and Curry chatted with Glendening's campaign aides for about 30 minutes.

    De Francis Changes Horses

    Four years ago, racetrack owner Joseph De Francis liked Parris N. Glendening so much that he laundered a few thousand bucks through his friends and family to contribute more money than the law allowed to the governor's election campaign.

    But this year -- after pleading guilty to the laundering, paying a $1,000 fine and serving a year's probation -- De Francis is putting his money elsewhere. He showed up at a recent fund-raiser in Baltimore for Glendening's Democratic rival, Eileen M. Rehrmann. And last week, he attended a fund-raiser, headlined by House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

    De Francis said he is trying to promote Maryland's horse industry and believes putting slot machines at racetracks is key to the industry's survival. He notes that competing tracks in Delaware and West Virginia have slots.

    Rehrmann has said she supports slots at the tracks. Sauerbrey has said that she wants to help the horse industry but that slots would be a "hard sell" for her. But that's better, as far as De Francis is concerned, than Glendening, who has flatly ruled out slots at the racetracks.

    Asked if he would be attending any fund-raisers for Glendening, De Francis said, "There's none on my schedule right now."

    Staff writers Scott Wilson and Peter Goodman contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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