This was to be the era of harmony in Prince George's County, when the acerbic political rhetoric of the last four years would vanish into calm.
Lawrence J. Hogan, the confrontation-prone Republican who made a trademark of battling the all-Democratic County Council, had retired from politics and his successor, Democrat Parris Glendening, announced at his first press conference on Nov. 8 that he would bring "peace and harmony" to the beleagured county government.
But with the dust still settling from the shuffling of offices, controversy is beginning to rage anew, this time between the new executive, who once led the battles against Hogan, and his all-Democratic colleagues in the state legislature.
In the past many legislators viewed Glendening as overly ambitious and now they say he is ignoring them to build his own power base while preparing to blame them for the county's economic woes.
"Glendening is starting to make Larry Hogan look like a statesman," said Sen. Thomas V. (Mike) Miller, a longtime Glendening antagonist. Miller recently raised the level of rhetoric when he told a reporter, on the record: "Parris Glendening is a perfect example of the old saying that the higher up on a tree a baboon climbs, the more he shows of his a--."
Responded Glendening, a University of Maryland professor who never has been part of the county Democrats' back-slapping political crowd:
"On an individual basis I feel I have good relations with members of the state legislature and I am quite close to some of them . . . I don't know where Mike is coming from."
The immediate issue is Glendening's call for the state legislature to consider a local option sales tax.
The tax would give Prince George's, strapped by a voter-approved cap on property tax collections, new money to offset a projected $32 million budget shortfall and avoid an otherwise harsh round of cuts and layoffs.
Glendening first pushed the sales tax idea in press conferences and in meetings with leaders of other jurisdictions. And a "citizens' committee" set up by Glendening pronounced its suppport of the idea.
All of this was done without consulting Prince George's legislators, who would have to introduce such legislation.
"That's somewhat akin to having a citizens' committee planning next Sunday's Redskins' game and not inviting (Coach) Joe Gibbs or the players," said Del. Gerard Devlin.
Yesterday, Glendening finally sat down with five delegates and senators whom he selected--and a handful of county bureaucrats--to lay out the county's fiscal picture. At that meeting, which several participants labeled "conciliatory," the new executive was told forcefully of the "probable nonviability" of the sales tax, as delegation chairman Charles J. Ryan put it.
Some legislators believe Glendening has been pushing the tax idea, knowing it has little chance of approval, simply to shift blame to the legislature when the county is forced to lay off teachers and other county workers. Glendening firmly disputes this notion.
"I think we followed the correct course," he said. "We made a calculated decision right after the election that our initial step would be to stimulate public debate . . . It wouldn't do any good to have a secret meeting which would have been leaked out in a matter of minutes and the headlines would've been, 'Glendening seeks tax increase.' "
The sales tax is not Glendening's only relationship problem these days.
Recently the new county executive ran afoul of the county's powerful Democratic congressman, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, who was upset that Glendening failed to consult him before appointing a new school board member from Hoyer's old senate district.
Several legislators also were piqued at Glendening's failure to contact them or include them in any transition work. And Glendening has been faced with a running war of words from Miller.