Given his past interaction with many business leaders, Gov. Parris N. Glendening might have been expected to wield a switch rather than offer an olive branch as he did earlier this month to the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

Speaking at a chamber meeting in Ocean City, Glendening (D) called for a new partnership between state government and business and even asked the media to join in, to avoid the bickering that has left many business executives with a bad impression of the state.

"In some cases," Glendening acknowledged in the speech, "we were our own worst enemy."

Instead, the governor said, "I want us all to understand that our continued success together depends upon our ability to form a productive working relationship, a true partnership."

Glendening has been labeled anti-business by some executives, and the chamber has had a frosty relationship with the governor. It sued him during his first term, when the governor used his executive powers to grant collective bargaining rights to some state workers.

Many chamber members backed Ellen R. Sauerbrey, Glendening's Republican challenger, last year, though the organization itself remained neutral.

"Disagreements among us are certain," Glendening told the group. "It does not mean one of us is good and the other evil. It simply means we disagree. But on the larger issues--on the issues that truly matter to the future of Maryland--I think it is safe to say we have broad agreement."

He cited his efforts to improve education and worker training as areas in which they had common ground.

Glendening is taking the recent appointment of Kathleen T. Snyder as the chamber's president as a new sign of cooperation from the business organization.

Snyder was executive vice president of the Prince George's Chamber of Commerce when Glendening was county executive, and the two have a good working relationship.

Snyder replaced Champe McCulloch, a tough lobbyist with a sometimes adversarial style that left him on the outs with many lawmakers.

Most recently, Snyder had been president of the chamber in Alexandria.

She started work in Annapolis last week, becoming Maryland's first female chamber president and only the third female president of a state chamber in the nation.

The chamber's chairman, Anne Arundel County insurance executive Arthur Ebersberger, has acknowledged a need for the organization to "communicate better," adding that business interests should "keep in mind that the governor has to respond to a broader constituency."

Never Too Early to Poll

It's only three more weeks until it's only three more years until the next gubernatorial election--so it can't be too early for a poll, right?

Mason-Dixon has come through for the political junkies with a statewide telephone poll of 620 registered voters, conducted Sept. 30 through Oct. 5, that shows to almost no one's surprise that Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) is the front-runner.

The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

She has a 50 percent favorability rating--higher than her boss, Glendening--and nearly twice as high as her nearest Democratic rival, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who drew 27 percent.

Duncan is slightly ahead of Baltimore County Executive C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger at 26 percent and Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry at 19 percent.

However, U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.--considered by many to be the leading GOP contender for governor--leads all the Democrats but Townsend with 29 percent.

Townsend's strong showing is a reflection of her name recognition after two statewide races as lieutenant governor and her Kennedy family connection (she is Robert F. Kennedy's oldest child), said J. Bradford Coker, Mason-Dixon managing director.

The others remain well known on their home turf but have work to do--and three years to do it--to raise their visibility, he said.

"If one of those guys is going to break out, they're going to need to get some support outside their home base if they're going to take [Townsend] on," Coker said.

They have their work cut out for them, according to a subset of the poll.

Among the 403 likely Democratic primary voters, Townsend drew 53 percent, Duncan 12 percent, Ruppersberger 11 percent and Curry 8 percent. The rest are undecided.

As for a matchup between Townsend and Ehrlich, if the election were held now, the poll puts her ahead, 49 to 37. But Ehrlich runs nearly a dead heat with the rest of the Democrats, even edging out Curry, 40 to 36.

"Ehrlich can run even with those guys because his base is about the same as theirs is," Coker said.

Switching Parties

New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Jay Gullo Jr. is now a Democrat. The onetime Republican from Carroll County, who is the current president of the Maryland Municipal League, announced his switch at a news conference earlier this month surrounded by Glendening, Townsend, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany) and Democratic Party Chairman Peter Krauser.

"This is a teaser," Glendening said at party headquarters. "We anticipate this to be one of several upcoming announcements."

Gullo, 31, is in the middle of his second term and said he left the GOP because he felt that both locally and nationally, the party was too "obstructionist."

"I can be a progressive conservative in the Democratic Party," he said.

State GOP Executive Director Paul Ellington said later, "Good riddance," and blasted Gullo for politicizing the role of Municipal League president.