Curry Blasts Governor on School Deal
By Jackie Spinner and Robert E. Pierre
In an impromptu 20-minute speech in Capitol Heights that drew "amens" from the crowd, Curry rebuked the governor for not delivering on a promise to win legislative support for a school construction plan for the county. The plan is a key ingredient in the proposed settlement to end 25 years of court-ordered busing in Prince George's, one of three jurisdictions where Glendening won a majority of votes in 1994.
Curry's comments yesterday, and on Friday, marked the strongest public break yet between him and Glendening, his predecessor as Prince George's county executive. The remarks raised new questions about whether Curry, who has a chilly relationship with Glendening, will support the governor's reelection campaign. And it comes at a time when Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke (D) reportedly is considering supporting Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann (D), Glendening's challenger in September's primary.
"The governor of the State of Maryland is from Prince George's County, the president of the Maryland Senate is from Prince George's County . . . and our [school funding] deal is getting ready to go down the tubes," Curry said.
Curry never spoke of Glendening by name in his speech yesterday and later said his intent was merely to educate residents about the importance of Prince George's in electoral politics. But audience members said there was no doubt that Curry's comments were aimed at Glendening.
"What Mr. Curry said today is right," said Rick Tyler, president of the District Eight Federation of Homeowners and Associations Inc. "The governor needs to be stronger, and we have to tell him how angry we are."
Curry's remarks followed a tumultuous week in Annapolis, where both houses of the Maryland legislature last week rejected a Glendening proposal to pay for Prince George's school construction costs such as engineering and planning, which are not typically assumed by the state. Glendening agreed to the changes two weeks ago at the county's request, but lawmakers said an exception to current school construction policy for Prince George's would invite every jurisdiction in the state to ask for a similar deal.
Glendening agreed to support the funding change requested by school, county and NAACP officials as a condition of ending a 1972 desegregation lawsuit. But, Curry said, the governor has not used the "substantial power" of his office to make it happen, which amounts to what he called deceptive politics. Without the change, Curry said, the county could build only 10 of the 16 new neighborhood schools it plans.
With one week remaining in the legislative session, there is still time for Glendening to negotiate lawmakers' support.
Glendening's press secretary, Ray Feldmann, said the governor has been lobbying top legislators, including House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany), and will continue to do so right up to the last minute of the session on April 13. He said it was "outrageous" to think that the governor was not fighting for the deal.
Peter Hamm, spokesman for the Glendening campaign, said the governor "clearly wants Wayne Curry's support in the upcoming election. . . . It's early in the game."
Although it would be politically embarrassing to Glendening if Curry refused to endorse him, the governor still enjoys strong support from many county lawmakers in Annapolis. The entire Prince George's Senate delegation and a majority of the county delegates to the House already have endorsed the governor.
Prince George's voters elected Glendening as county executive three times, and in the 1994 gubernatorial race, he received twice as many county votes as Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey.
Schmoke and Curry have said they will not decide whom to endorse until the legislative session has ended. But yesterday, Curry did not sound like a Glendening supporter.
"I know what it means when three jurisdictions elect a governor," Curry told 150 residents over breakfast. "You are the biggest Democratic stronghold in the state of Maryland. Don't you think that's worth something? You have the power in your hands to fight, and you don't have to take smack talk from anyone."
Last week, delegates voted 79 to 53 to bar the governor from paying for school construction costs not typically assumed by the state. Some key lawmakers said that Glendening has lobbied them hard but that the funding change would set a bad precedent.
Montgomery County Del. Cheryl C. Kagan (D), who voted with Prince George's legislators to support the deal, said that some delegates did not believe Prince George's should get a special education deal because the county did not support a $254 million package for Baltimore schools last year.
Others believe that Curry should share the blame if the county does not receive the deal it wants because he has not lobbied enough for it in Annapolis. Even some Prince George's senators contend that the county has not made a strong enough case that the change in the funding formula is absolutely necessary.
Prince George's school board Chairman Alvin Thornton (Suitland) said he has not given up on the school construction plan and notes that state leaders have managed in recent years to come to terms on several divisive issues, including the new football stadiums in Prince George's and Baltimore.
Ultimately, Thornton said, if they are dissatisfied with the school funding agreement, Prince George's residents can express their feelings at the polls.
"These are Democrats fighting Democrats and playing around with a constituency that has been one of the most critical Democratic bases in the state," said Thornton, a political science professor at Howard University. "I think there has been a calculation being made that people of Prince George's County don't have the ability to punish such insulting behavior."
Curry's comments resonated among some residents at yesterday's community breakfast. Glendening "forgot who put him in office," said Fleeta Ruffin, a retired schoolteacher from Seat Pleasant.
"There are folks in Prince George's County who want to see Parris Glendening elected," said County Council member Dorothy Bailey (D-Temple Hills), who hosted the breakfast. "But my sense is this puts him in a bad position."
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