Return to Governor's Race
State-Paid Air Time Gives Political Lift to Glendening
By Charles Babington
Glendening, who once boasted of his intent to keep his name off highway welcome signs, had his face and title appear at the end of three recent TV spots that the state paid to air at heavily watched times. One dealt with seafood safety, and two others launched an unprecedented multi-state promotion of Maryland tourism.
His name and title also appear on a brief movie trailer that will be shown in cinemas nationwide with films made in Maryland. And the governor is featured on several public service announcements, which get less prominent air time because the state asks television stations to show them free.
In a dozen spots produced this year, Glendening reads to youngsters, urges parents to immunize their children, warns beachgoers about hurricanes and touts features of his "Smart Growth" development initiative and his prepaid college tuition program.
Glendening aides say the television exposure has nothing to do with election campaigns. Rather, the governor realizes that it's important for a chief executive to welcome travelers to a state, reassure consumers about food safety and encourage parents to read to their children, said Judi Scioli, Glendening's press secretary.
"When you are governor, whether you like it or not, people recognize your name, and it does have meaning," Scioli said. "It is important for people to know that the governor is putting his own person forward" on matters both symbolic and contentious.
Glendening, like any governor, enjoys many other benefits of incumbency, such as the power to appoint hundreds of people to commissions and boards. With the state's budget surplus exceeding $300 million, Glendening also is positioned to hand out major political gifts, such as new school buildings, to local jurisdictions in the 1998 election year.
But it's his frequent state-paid appearances on TV that most seem to irk his rivals, who must use precious campaign dollars to build name recognition on radio and television.
"He's exploiting every state program for the taxpayers to pay for his political commercials," said Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, who is challenging Glendening for next year's Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
It's fine for Maryland to buy ads extolling the safety of its seafood after this year's outbreak of a fish-killing microbe, Rehrmann said, but why should the governor's face and name be included?
Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the Republican who narrowly lost to Glendening in 1994 and is seeking a rematch next year, questioned one ad that "had the governor with Kelly Ripken [wife of baseball star Cal Ripken Jr.], and he was reading to some children, and the message was parents should read to their children."
"What does that accomplish, except show the governor as a warm and fuzzy person?" Sauerbrey asked. "It's certainly not going to encourage people to do something they don't already know they're supposed to do."
Scioli said it took courage for Glendening to acknowledge the potential dangers of the microbe Pfiesteria piscicida and then personally vouch for the safety of Maryland's seafood industry. "His face and name were important to people," she said, "and gave them confidence in the safety of the product."
As for Sauerbrey's claim that a gubernatorial endorsement isn't going to prompt more parents to read to their children, Scioli said, "That's highly debatable."
There's nothing new about governors using the office's prestige to get their names and faces before the people. Glendening's predecessor, William Donald Schaefer, had a knack for getting on television, sometimes luring cameras by wearing a goofy hat, a Roaring Twenties swimsuit or a campy pair of bug-eyed spectacles.
Glendening's frequent appearances on televised commercials are notable, however, because he originally had contrasted himself with Schaefer, saying he was shy and uninterested in spreading his name before the people.
When he took office in 1995, Glendening said he was dropping Schaefer's practice of placing the governor's face on official road maps and the governor's name on welcome signs at Maryland borders.
Such trappings serve no public purpose, Glendening said in a 1995 Baltimore Sun article, headlined "Camera-shy Glendening missing on map."
"I'll be judged on the quality of my work and not on how many places my name is plastered," he said. "I really do tend to be relatively shy."
By early 1997, with his popularity sagging, Glendening's color photo began appearing on state road maps, precisely where Schaefer's had been.
The administration also replaced at least nine highway welcome signs, at a cost of $68,000, with new versions displaying Glendening's name in block letters. His name and photo appeared on several new state publications, including the "Student Guide to Higher Education in Maryland" and the "Maryland Bay Game," a traveling game for youngsters.
The state government paid about $500,000 to buy television advertising time this year in Maryland and nearby states for the two tourism commercials that feature Glendening's photo at the end.
The commercials mark the first significant TV campaign promoting Maryland tourism, state officials said. The seafood safety commercial was a key part of a $200,000 campaign to stabilize Maryland's seafood industry after the pfiesteria scare.
Like many other governors, Glendening manages to get some trouble-free television time by granting interviews for programs where he's virtually certain to avoid tough questions.
He recently sat for 90 minutes in the governor's mansion with Suzi Slye, producer of a religious-oriented program that airs on cable television channels in many parts of the state.
Slye, whose weekly program is called "In Touch with Suzi," described the upcoming two-part series as "a very rare heart-to-heart interview and in-depth look at his faith in God, his personal family values, touching moments in his life and his personal goals for 1998."
Scioli said Glendening doesn't shy away from tougher interviews with reporters covering state government and politics.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company