After weeks of escalating warfare between the senators from Prince George's County and their county executive, Parris N. Glendening, both sides sat down here for a breakfast peace conference yesterday on the fifth floor of the Hilton Hotel. There, over bacon and eggs, the seven senators and Glendening agreed, in the words of one who was there, "to war no more."
"It was very conciliatory," said Sen. Frank Komenda, head of the Senate delegation, who acknowledged that as a result of the public wrangling, "We were all looking bad."
During the meeting, there was talk about the differences in political styles and about perceived slights of the past, slights that could over time affect the money and support the county gets from the Maryland legislature.
Several senators said they didn't appreciate hearing from newpaper and radio reporters last week that Glendening was holding a press conference on new tax proposals with Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer, observers said.
And Sen. Tommie Broadwater advised Glendening that he shouldn't get so upset when Sen Thomas V. Mike Miller, Glendening's longstanding antagonist, calls him a liar. "He doesn't hate you," Broadwater told Glendening, "It's just a matter of style."
Glendening, for his part said he "couldn't function in an arena where every time he picks up the paper he's being sniped at," according to observers.
Said Glendening, "I wouldn't say all eight people walked out of there madly in love and in awe of each other but we walked out with an understanding of what has to be done."
The breakfast produced three agreements: Glendening would keep in touch with Komenda so legislators would not first hear from the media about what the county was doing; Glendening and his staff would brief the senators Thursday on the county's legislative package; and periodically the same group would get together for similar meetings during the session.
The problems between the legislators and Glendening began just after Glendening took over the job last November. Faced with a $35 million budget shortfall and the threat of hundreds of layoffs, he made it known that he favored a one-cent increase in the state sales tax to help bail the county out of its financial troubles. He immediately was faced with fending off complaints from the state legislators who said he was committing them to financial rescue plans for the county before he had consulted them.
That rift then mushroomed into an explosion last week when Glendening--to the surprise of some of his hometown legislators--joined with Mayor Schaefer for a press conference in Baltimore to declare that a coalition had been forged between the county and the city leaders.
Their goal, they said, in another rude shock to the county legislators, was to push for state tax increases and extra educational aid to help their financially troubled local governments.
The hometown critics in Annapolis bitterly complained that Glendening had ignored them again and was instead trying to curry favor with the powerful Baltimore delegation. And they were immediately skeptical of one of the proposals, which would raise the state income tax. They said it had no chance of passing in the legislature, and they were suspicious that Glendening was really grandstanding in Baltimore and had plans to put the blame on the legislature when the measures failed to pass.
Glendening made no secret of his doubts that the tax measure would pass, but he insisted that he wanted to open the idea up for public discussion. And he denied that he was setting up the legislature to be the scapegoat for the county's financial woes. "It doesn't do me any good to say we didn't get it because" of somebody else's failure, Glendening commented later.
After last week's press conference, which Glendening aides have defensively characterized as "the mayor's show" and not Glendening's, there followed a barrage of accusations from irritated senators. In turn the usually bland Glendening, by then privately furious, insisted that he had briefed several delegates and council members on the eve of the press conference and that he had been hamstrung by Schaefer's demand that no news be leaked about the announcement.
Glendening's aides protested that Komenda, who had been invited to the briefing, did not show up but then complained bitterly when he heard about the tax proposal on the radio on his way to the Senate.
"We make a play and they cry foul," said one Glendening aide. In the meantime, this aide said, Glendening "can't bring county government to a halt and not do anything until he has cleared it with the senators."