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  •   Political Partners Off to Rocky Start

    By Eugene L. Meyer
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, January 25, 1995; Page D01

    It has the makings of a grand political marriage: The chief executive of Prince George's County enters the Governor's Mansion, largely on the strength of an overwhelming vote in his home county, and vows to work hand-in-hand with his successor to help the county they both know and love.

    But so far, there have been no wedding bells for Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry. At times since the Nov. 8 election, the two Democrats appeared to be just barely on speaking terms. Last night, Glendening and Curry were scheduled to hold their first private post-election meeting, at Curry's request.

    Publicly, Curry avoids mentioning Glendening's name as he tries to blame the county's looming $108 million budget deficit on the preceding administration. Yet Curry's not-so-subtle references to Maryland's new governor often drip with sarcasm, and the anger lurking behind them is barely concealed.

    Listen to Curry when he was asked how it could have come as a complete surprise, after the election, to learn that Prince George's would be facing a deficit.

    "I grew up in the real world, so I didn't expect anything to be left on the table. I didn't expect the table to be gone -- and the chairs and knife and fork," Curry told a luncheon meeting of Washington Post reporters and editors last week.

    Or listen to Curry when he was asked repeatedly whether he would attend Glendening's inaugural ball, held in his own county last Wednesday:

    "I don't know."

    "I have to check and see if I'm going."

    "We'll see."

    Well, Curry did go, but not before he had made his point. The county's new executive is mightily irked with its old one. Until last night, the two had had no direct talks about their new political roles, or about how Glendening might help extricate his home county from its fiscal stew.

    Curry's bitter feelings toward Glendening stem partly from the tension of the transition that Glendening has exacerbated by hiring away some top county officials, sometimes without notifying Curry in advance, say associates of both men. But their differences go deeper, associates say, arising from the pressure of the election campaigns and from their contrasting styles and personalities.

    If their uneasy relationship were to develop into a full-blown rift, it could threaten the special relationship between Prince George's and the first governor from the jurisdiction in more than a century. In theory, Prince George's and Curry should both benefit from Glendening's election, much as Baltimore did from the governorship of former mayor William Donald Schaefer.

    For now, both men are soft-pedaling talk of dissension, and on Friday, Glendening included in his first budget proposal an additional $28 million for Prince George's -- $8 million for law enforcement and $20 million to help build new schools.

    "I understand some of Wayne's frustrations," Glendening said Friday, "but I anticipate we'll do a fine job together and both have eight very good years."

    "I'm not suggesting I'm estranged," Curry said. "Maybe there is no conclusion to draw yet. These are evolving relationships."

    John P. McDonough, a politically active lawyer in the county, agreed. "I don't think they're at the point of rift yet," he said. "They're starting to accumulate some incidents where one feels slighted by the other. The process by which you have a rift has begun, but it's not too late to pull back and avoid it."

    Simmering tension between the two men increased during their election campaigns, when neither man endorsed the other in the early going.

    Curry withheld an endorsement of Glendening while Curry's old friend, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, was considering a gubernatorial bid. Later, after Curry backed Glendening, Glendening remained neutral in the tough primary contest for county executive. Curry felt slighted.

    Curry, a lawyer who had been active in county affairs for two decades, was one of three Democrats considered to have a shot at winning the Sept. 13 primary.

    He has strong memories of a barbecue, days before the primary, at which Glendening told a reporter that there were two good candidates in the race, referring to Curry and Beatrice P. Tignor.

    A "courageous pronouncement," Curry said last week.

    Glendening said, "Everyone was saying I wasn't really neutral, I was leaning to him, and this clearly was the case. I went to most of his {functions} until I declared my candidacy." At that point, Glendening said, he had to stay neutral "to maximize my vote out of the county. . . . "

    Still, Curry worked hard in the general election to deliver a large majority for Glendening in Prince George's, one of only three jurisdictions Glendening carried. Glendening, he said, has never acknowledged his help or thanked him.

    Sharing many of the same supporters and some of the same enemies, Curry and Glendening have been players in county politics for years, and both have been effective coalition-builders. Yet the two have never been close.

    As Chamber of Commerce president in 1990, Curry annoyed Glendening by criticizing what he regarded as the slow pace of Glendening's effort to revitalize areas inside the Capital Beltway.

    Curry said he never directly discussed it with Glendening, but "some of his people called me, expressed his indignation." Glendening now says Curry's comments did not bother him.

    Curry seethed, but privately, the next year when Glendening sought to engineer a four-year contract extension for School Superintendent John A. Murphy, who ultimately left the post. Curry said he subsequently discussed his views on Murphy's contract with Glendening, but also in private.

    And so it went, until the campaign season and the current transition.

    In his first weeks in office, Curry has been confronted with the county's flagging real estate tax revenue and a potential $108 million shortfall in his first budget. Supporters of Curry think Glendening, while campaigning for governor, saddled the county with unrealistic financial burdens, including generous union contracts. Backers of Glendening say no one anticipated that county revenue would remain flat for so long.

    Curry, struggling to staff his government, bristled as several top officials, including some whose careers he had nurtured, moved to Annapolis. Glendening supporters sympathize but say Curry should have expected that would happen.

    Cautioned John Davey, a lawyer friendly with both men, "You can only be so mad at the governor, because if the governor doesn't put funds in the budget, you don't get it."

    At the same time, Glendening would be politically foolish to chance alienating black voters in Baltimore and Prince George's by battling Curry.

    Still, inevitably perhaps, the Curry-Glendening watch is on.

    After Curry showed up at Glendening's inaugural ball, some noticed that the county executive did not stand with everyone else when the new governor and First Lady entered the room.

    Curry later explained that he was holding his infant son at the time. "I had the baby on my lap," he protested. "I don't even know when they came in."

    Staff writers Michael Abramowitz and Robert E. Pierre contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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