Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) was set to become vice chairman of the National Governors Association yesterday, a job that puts him in line to run the high-profile national organization during next year's presidential election.

Glendening's election was all but assured in St. Louis, where the nation's 50 governors are concluding a four-day conference. He has been actively campaigning for the job since his own Maryland reelection in November, had lined up the support he needed by spring and was called a shoo-in by top aides to Indiana Gov. Frank L. O'Bannon, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. "I think we'll win the election," Glendening said with a smile just before he departed Annapolis last week.

He was to be elected by his fellow 17 Democratic governors for the job, which alternates between Republicans and Democrats each year. This year's vice chairman, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt (R) ascends to the top job, replacing Delaware Gov. Thomas R. Carper (D) who had been chairman.

Glendening will assume the top job next summer during the midst of the presidential campaign. Although the NGA chairmanship is strictly nonpartisan, the timing is good for Maryland's governor to be in the high-profile position during a presidential year, when more voters than usual are paying attention to politics and public policy.

"It's definitely a prestigious post, and it puts him in the national spotlight," said Keith Haller, a Bethesda-based pollster. "There's no political downside. It is always a great platform."

The NGA chairman represents the governors' interests in Washington, gets face time on network news programs and is sought out by reporters, helping to raise the profile of whoever the incumbent is.

Past chairmen include President Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas, who used the job to elevate his national reputation.

Glendening's active campaigning for the job has prompted speculation in Maryland's political community that the governor is looking to use the job for a platform to take him to his next political position--whatever that might be. Aides have said privately that the governor wouldn't mind being in the next presidential administration, if Vice President Gore is elected, as secretary of Education or Interior.

Publicly, Glendening demurs. The governor is happy being governor and wants to concentrate on that, said his spokesman Michael Morrill.

Glendening, a policy wonk by nature and a political scientist by training, is anxious to use the job to highlight his work in controlling suburban sprawl--his Maryland program called "Smart Growth" has been copied by other governors--and education. In Maryland, Glendening has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into school construction.

The chairmanship will "allow him to articulate nationally the message he's been delivering in Maryland on Smart Growth and education," Morrill said. "It allows him a national leadership role on these issues."

Alarmist's Letter

State Sen. Alexander X. Mooney (R-Frederick) is sounding the alarm, hoping his conservative constituents will rally around him in a time of need. His Aug. 1 fund-raising letter, written on Senate of Maryland letterhead, gets right to point:

"I need your help," the four-page letter begins. "The militant homosexual lobby is targeting me for defeat because I led the charge against their 'special rights' bill earlier this year in Annapolis.

"Allow me to explain what happened. Like my dear friend Ellen Sauerbrey, I ran a campaign for State Senate on a conservative platform of lower taxes, smaller government, and traditional values.

"But during my first few weeks in office I was shocked when I discovered that the tall blond female testifying before my committee was--contrary to all appearances--a man!

"The militant homosexual community calls this 'cross-dressing' or 'dressing in drag.'

"Well, I don't think it should be considered normal business attire for a man to show up for work dressed like a woman."

Frederick voters elected Mooney to the Senate last year over a more moderate Republican incumbent, John W. Derr.

Mooney devotes much of his letter to outlining his charge against the gay rights bill that Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) made a top priority during the last legislative session. The measure, which would have granted homosexuals legal standing to pursue discrimination claims, passed the House but died in the Senate. At one point, Mooney boasts that he "personally had 19 amendments drawn up to help gut the bill."

But now Mooney is worried, and he is seeking financial support from constituents who believe he is fighting the good fight in the exotic state capital.

Bottom line: "I hope you'll let me know you support my efforts by sending the most generous gift you can afford to my campaign."

Livid Living Wage Supporters

Montgomery County's living wage bill is dead, but the wrath of its supporters lives.

In a recent newsletter from the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO, union leaders call on County Council members Michael L. Subin (D-At Large) and Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large) to consider resigning after they voted against the bill. The article is headlined: "Betrayed!"

The two council members pledged last year to support living wage legislation, which would have more than doubled the minimum wage paid by companies who receive county contracts or economic development grants. But they decided to oppose it this month out of fear that it would hurt the county's economic development efforts and ultimately provide little help to poor working families.

Unions have been active supporters of living wage legislation nationwide because the measures preserve public-employee union jobs by making it more difficult for governments to privatize operations. The reason: Companies interested in running government agencies would face higher payroll costs in living wage jurisdictions.

Of course, Subin and Silverman have no plans to resign. Meanwhile, living wage advocates are planning to push legislation in the District and Prince George's County in the coming months.

Staff writer Scott Wilson contributed to this report.