In Maryland, Rumblings About Glendening's Truthfulness
By Charles Babington
Anecdotes about Glendening's alleged lack of candor have dogged him ever since he began climbing the political ladder in Prince George's County two decades ago. Now, with Schmoke's sternly worded defection to rival Democratic candidate Eileen M. Rehrmann, the accusations have reached a broader audience and could hamper the governor's bid for a second four-year term this fall.
His critics suggest that Glendening, a former college professor who has never lost an election, is disingenuous in his closed-door dealings with others, and slippery with the truth when describing his accomplishments. His supporters maintain that people wrongly conclude that he said what they wanted to hear, when in fact Glendening was only exploring paths to a possible consensus.
Colleagues sharply disagree. Some critics say Glendening has flatly misled them, while supporters say he sticks to his word. They similarly disagree about the governor's well-publicized reversals on several key issues, such as the proposed intercounty connector highway and plans to develop a waterfront site called Chapman's Landing. Critics say he lacks conviction and bends with political winds; supporters say he wisely shifts directions when circumstances warrant it.
The most bitter disputes have arisen from private conversations, making it impossible to conclude who is right when the parties later disagree on what was said. For whatever reasons, however, Glendening seems regularly to inspire complaints of duplicity from other politicians who deal with him.
"We need an honest governor, which rules out Parris," said state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) in a 1993 interview, before he switched from Glendening critic to ally.
In an interview Friday, Glendening declined to address Schmoke's comments or specific incidents or questions regarding his credibility.
"I ran for office saying very clearly the things that I would do, and I have done it," the governor said. "When you look at what I said I would do, what I promised I would do, I have done it." He particularly cited his record in education spending, environmental programs and economic development.
Since Miller's memorable 1993 quote, no prominent Maryland Democrat has questioned Glendening's integrity so publicly as Schmoke did last week from his City Hall portico. He told Rehrmann supporters that Glendening, whom Schmoke endorsed in 1994, "has shown himself to be unreliable, inconsistent and not credible. . . . Parris Glendening did not keep the commitments he made four years ago in exchange for my endorsement."
Specifically, he said, Glendening failed to have the state take over the costs of running Baltimore's circuit courts and failed to prevent car insurance companies from automatically charging higher rates to city residents.
In Friday's interview, Glendening repeatedly declined to address Schmoke's contention about circuit courts. As for auto insurance, the governor's aides say the administration tried to make rates fairer but got little help from Schmoke, and the General Assembly weakened the proposal.
Schmoke's sharpest break with Glendening involves a much-debated private conversation the two men had in 1996. Schmoke says the governor promised to support legalized slot machines as a revenue producer for public schools. Glendening says he made no such promise.
Neither man has budged from his story, and it seems unlikely their dispute will ever be resolved. Meanwhile, there are other instances of small, private meetings in which Glendening and others sharply disagreed on what agreements were made or intimated.
For example, when Glendening was Prince George's county executive in 1993, he asked members of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission to surrender land to build a baseball stadium for the Bowie Baysox. Lewis M. Helm, then a WSSC commissioner, said he asked Glendening in return to drop his opposition to a proposed sewer hookup fee that WSSC wanted and developers opposed.
"He said, 'I'll do the best I can,' " Helm said in a recent interview. But after the land transaction took place, Helm said, "he vigorously opposed [the hookup fee] again." Helm said that when he later confronted Glendening: "He said he never said that. But I don't think I was mistaken."
"This raised doubt in my mind" about Glendening, said Helm, who describes himself as a moderate Republican who has "mellowed" on Glendening and opposes GOP gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey.
Two other former WSSC commissioners said they don't recall a link between the hookup fee issue and the stadium site. But a third, Robert M. Potter, corroborated part of Helm's version, although with different details.
Glendening "said he would help on it," Potter said, referring to the hookup fee matter. "That's about as far as he would go. His heart wasn't really in it." After the stadium land deal was made, Potter said, Glendening "eased off of his criticism some" concerning the hookup fee but never endorsed it.
Former Montgomery county executive Sidney Kramer (D) tells a story similar to Helm's. When Kramer and Glendening were executives of Montgomery and Prince George's, respectively, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it would expand its operations in one or both of the counties. Kramer said he and Glendening met "and promised not to raid each other" in the ensuing competition.
But two weeks later, Kramer said, Glendening told congressional officials that Montgomery was unconcerned about Prince George's aggressive push to land the coveted federal jobs. "He said he forgot about that conversation we had," said Kramer, a longtime Glendening detractor. "That shows that the man is devious, that his word is not binding."
Glendening on Friday declined to address Helm's and Kramer's comments.
Some Maryland officials say Glendening has always been honest with them, in public and private. Schmoke's denunciation of the governor "is amazing to me, because the man has always been upfront with me," said state Sen. Walter M. Baker (D-Cecil), chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
In 1996, when Glendening proposed legislation to limit Marylanders to one handgun purchase a month, he knew Baker was his biggest hurdle. "He said to me privately, 'If you will give me the one-gun-a-month bill, that will be the end of [gun control initiatives] for my term,' " Baker said. "And he kept his promise."
Some officials who have dealt publicly and privately with Glendening say he often pushes, prods and questions various factions when seeking a consensus -- even when his audience may want a straight yes or no.
"He's always negotiating what is in front of him," said Del. Peter Franchot (D-Montgomery), a Glendening supporter. "That's part of where people like Schmoke can come in and hear something and walk out and say something different from what the governor said -- because there's a pragmatism to Glendening which overrides some of the personal touches that other politicians look for."
House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany), a frequent Glendening critic, says he can sympathize with Schmoke's frustration over the conversation regarding slots.
"There is a scenario that creates a deadly pitfall for any political leader, and that is the scenario when a conversation takes place that intentionally and knowingly creates a false conclusion," Taylor said. "And that's the scenario that I think Mayor Schmoke is referring to."
Taylor declined to say whether he has had such private conversations with Glendening. Because there are no witnesses, he said, "I would be asking the public to believe my version of a conversation that I can't prove."
Not all complaints about Glendening's credibility involve private conversations. Critics cite cases -- some involving comparatively minor issues -- in which the governor has appeared coy or careless with the truth. For example:
Glendening boasts that he is the first modern Maryland governor to oversee a four-year term with "no tax increase whatsoever." That claim is possible, however, only because he failed in his 1996 efforts to double the state cigarette tax and in this year's bid for a $1.50-a-pack increase.
In the final days of this year's legislative session, Glendening submitted an article to The Washington Post denouncing House Bill 678, which he said would authorize 11,250 slot machines in Maryland. The article, published April 12, left the impression that the bill's fate was in doubt. In fact, top state leaders knew the bill had been politically dead for weeks, never getting so much as a House committee vote and never being introduced in the Senate at all.
At a September 1997 news conference regarding possible legislation to combat the toxic microbe Pfiesteria piscicida, Glendening said: "We must have a program of very strong reduction of the runoff, including urban, but also crop and poultry farms." At a news conference eight days later, Glendening chastised a reporter for asking the governor why he had specified the poultry industry. "The only place that I've seen any discussion of legislation being contemplated for poultry farmers or anything else was in the newspapers," he said. "I have not discussed that."
In 1995, Glendening urged legislators to delay overhauling welfare. After the General Assembly insisted on proceeding, Glendening touted welfare overhaul as one of his top accomplishments of the year.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) said Glendening "is reluctant to commit, yes or no, when issues are presented to him." In his experiences with Glendening, Duncan said, no promises have been broken once they were firmly made.
But in discussions that lead to such commitments, Duncan said, "you've got to listen carefully."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company