James P. Gleason called reporters into his office yesterday, poured wine for everybody, slouched comfortably into his chair and delivered himself of the conclusions drawn in eight years as Montgomery County executive.
"No elected official, individually, can make a difference. Realistically, I decided that after many years in public service I could not do what I wanted . . . So I will write about it, and maybe people will listen then." he said.
He has received a fellowshop from the John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics at Harvard University to develop and teach a one semester seminar, beginning in February on "the breakdown in government."
"I've lived it literally in Montgomery County," he said. "To me, governments is like the Theater of the Absurd. There is a lot of activity, some meaning, but nobody knows what it is."
The philosophical Gleason - a Republican lawyer who first entered public service 27 years ago - stood in remarkable contrast yesterday to the county executive who has been known for his mercurial moods and occasionally fesity entanglements with his all-Democratic County Council and leaders of other local jurisdictions.
Already Gleason looked the role of professor in his button-down shirt, loosened tie, tweedy sweater and disheveled hair as he carefully groped for the words to explain his personal experiences."
"I could have run for governor," said Gleason, 57, who was frequently mentioned as a potential candidate in Maryland this year. "But I couldn't have done it there either. The system bogs you down, you get so you can't move . . ."
"I'll have been wasted time for me if I don't do anything (toward reaching his goals) in the next four or five years . . . My point is, I've struck out. I haven't done it in eletced office. If I can go on now and write about it. I'll feel some progress."
After he completes his term at Harvard next year, Gleason said he intends to return to Montgomery County, with hopes of finding a part-time job teaching government. "It's regrettable the turnoff in the political world among young people," he said."I would like to develop a course for people who want to pursue an elective career . . . to try to raise it to a level it's not been in this country. People come to this office without the slightest idea of what they're going to do."
But writing is Gleason's chief goal in the future. He said he has begun work on a political novel and has a play "in mind."
He leaves office after Dec. 4.
Gleason said that the academic environment in Cambridge, Mass., will "give me an opportunity to get away from this scene to start hopefully this serious writing."
"People have lost their bearings in government," he said. "Everybody has a part of the action, but nobody achieves anything."
He cited as an example the sewer battles that have beset his entire two terms. The county has fought with federal, state and other local governments over how to provide enough sewage treatment capacity to accommodate new growth and economic development.
He recalled that two years ago he tried to convince D.C. Mayor Walter E. Washington to support Gleason's unsuccessful campaign to build the huge Dickerson sewage treatment plant in western Montgomery, but Washington refused.
"I told him he'd need it someday," said Gleason. "A week ago he staked out a larger claim than he's entitled to a Blue Plains (the regional sewage treatment plant in southwest D.C.) "causing a new explosive round in the areawide sewers wars.
"Where is the Environmental Protection Agency in all this, working out a solution? Everyone is in there," said Gleason, "but no one is making the decision."