Even before newly elected Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening arrived at a conference of county officials last week, his counterparts from around the state were singing his praises.
"He's a good man. I like him," said the usually gruff Mayor William Donald Schaefer of Baltimore. "I find him to be open, straight."
"I admire him," said Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist. "I think he ran a good campaign. I am supportive of what he's trying to do for Prince George's County."
"Parris Glendening is a good man," said Baltimore County Executive Donald P. Hutchinson, with great heartiness. "He's been around local government long enough to know the machinations you go though. Plus, he's very intelligent."
Barely a month after being sworn in as the new county executive, Glendening has already begun to travel the state, hobnobbing and conferring with most of the other county executives and meeting with leaders of the General Assembly. In early December he attended the inauguration of Anne Arundel County Executive O. James Lighthizer. Later that month he met with the leaders of the "Big Five" subdivisions (Baltimore City and County, Prince George's, Montgomery, and Anne Arundel) at Hutchinson's invitation.
He has had several private meetings with Schaefer and several with Gilchrist, and recently enjoyed a private dinner with Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg and House of Delegates Speaker Benjamin Cardin at the home of John Toll, president of the University of Maryland.
Last week, at the 12th annual Maryland Association of Counties conference, he chatted with Hutchinson Thursday morning about possible state aid for counties, huddled with Gilchrist after lunch about transportation funding problems and dined with Schaefer on Friday to hash over proposals they might make jointly through their respective legislative delegations.
His aim, he said, is to make Prince George's "a full regional partner," which, he feels, the county has never been.
"In a state like Maryland and a region like this it's essential that you function like a community," said Glendening. "Government has not always done that here. We lose when when we're isolated, whether it's Metro funding or state aid formulas."
More importantly, Glendening wants the help of other local leaders as he seeks state aid or greater taxing authority to help him fill a projected $30 million deficit in his county budget. With a tight cap on property tax revenue and a group of state legislators that has been hostile toward him in the past, Glendening is casting a wide net in his search for supporters. There is political capital to be made if he is successful in his search for state aid, since Glendening has made an open secret of his desire to be the county's first two-term county executive.
So far, at least, the other leaders are showing him the support that some Prince George's politicians have denied him at home. Glendening "let it be known that we had some common problems and we ought to continue to work," said Gilchrist. "I like his attitude, which is that he's got a tough problem but he's trying to do something about it."
Glendening has benefitted from the contrast with his predecessor, Republican Lawrence J. Hogan, whom many of the others considered hostile or, at the least, uninterested in other people's problems. While some of their anger might be partisan, since Hogan was one of only two Republicans among them, the executives say the reason was simply Hogan.
"Larry Hogan loved confrontation. Larry Hogan loved what was going on in Washington," said Baltimore County's Hutchinson. "Parris Glendening is rooted in local government. Larry Hogan couldn't care less . . . . His politics weren't the politics of the rest of us--including Bob Pascal," former Republican executive of Anne Arundel County.
Montgomery officials were particularly disenchanted with Hogan during a fight two years ago over a forumla for the distribution of state aid for Metro. Hogan threatened to hold up a $26 million package because he objected to Montgomery's desire to use about $400,000 for its Ride-On bus program, even though Prince George's would still receive most of the money.
A two-year agreement was finally reached after a few months of negotiations. According to Gilchrist and other Montgomery officials, Glendening agreed to continue the formula about five minutes into a recent meeting, then met with Montgomery officials later to hammer out a unified position on another question of state funding for Metro.
"On the Montgomery side, we're very impressed," said a high-ranking Montgomery official. "You couldn't sit down and talk to Larry Hogan like that. It was impossible. He would have called a press conference and said, 'You're not going to make Prince George's the fall guy for the entire region.' "
Montgomery leaders also are pleased that Glendening has continued to talk to them as well as to Baltimore City, which is demographically and politically more similar to Prince George's than Montgomery is and could present a more powerful ally in negotiating aid.
"That to me shows maturity," said the Montgomery official. "He wants to try to get along with both and to solve some problems, instead of just going for the money."
At the same time, Baltimore's Mayor Schaefer enjoys having a potential ally with similar problems. "He understands what we're going through," Schaefer said.
While some members of the county's delegation to Annapolis have seemed to resent Glendening's out-of-town ramblings, some of that criticism has abated for now. "I think it's a good thing, both for the county executives and for the county," said state Del. Charles (Buzzy) Ryan, chairman of the county's delegation. "Who knows, they may come up with some solutions. Maybe Charlie Gilchrist will give Parris a check for $30 million."