Not long after his father died, Parris N. Glendening found himself confined to a hospital bed on a diet of Maalox and cream. He was working two jobs, writing a dissertation and coming to terms with his personal pain when he began hemorrhaging from a stomach ulcer.

His doctor offered a stern warning: a lifetime of internalized stress, of stretching himself to meet rigorous self-imposed goals, was quietly killing him. He was 23 years old.

Glendening decided to change his ways.

Each day would have a manageable schedule, a rule so strictly enforced that even now, his secretary pencils in "family time" in his official calendar. His life would be structured around a series of goals, each carefully weighed and analyzed, with an appropriate fallback position.

"Someone once said, 'You've got to know where you're going or how will you know when you get there.' You've got to know what it is you want to do, or how will you know if you've ever achieved anything," Glendening said.

Right now, Glendening's goal is to win election to a third term as the executive of Prince George's County.

With a campaign chest of $750,000, he is considered a virtual shoo-in in Tuesday's Democratic primary, in which he faces veteran County Council member Floyd E. Wilson Jr. and two little-known opponents, Arthur B. Haynes and Artie L. Polk. There is one Republican candidate, Charles W. Sherren Jr.

But those who know Glendening and who have watched his eight-year tenure in the county's top job have little doubt that his sights are set on higher office, most likely the Maryland governorship.

For years, Glendening, 48, talked openly of his hopes for statewide office.

But in keeping with the structure of his life, he acknowledges there is a fallback plan: leaving the fray of politics to return to the safety of his tenured teaching job at the University of Maryland.

The past term has been one of dramatic ups and downs for Glendening, long viewed as one of the Washington area's most progressive leaders.

He was named Best County Administrator in the Nation by a government magazine, launched an ambitious recycling program and helped fund encouraging improvements in the school system.

But the demographic and political changes in the county, which has a black population approaching 50percent, have prompted a variety of attacks on his administration.

Some blacks called him racially insensitive for his handling of contract talks with a white school superintendent.

He saw the county erupt in racial protest over an allegation of police brutality against a black man, Gregory Habib, who died during an attempted arrest.

And neighborhood activists accused his administration of giving favored treatment to politically connected developers, an allegation that gained strength after a grand jury issued a report criticizing his office for its handling of land transactions.

The stress of the last year has taken a toll.

The man who decided 25 years ago to carefully manage his anxiety, that the "mind can control anything," now finds himself straining to understand the criticism by those who do not share his vision of the county -- or of himself.

Sometimes, when his anger rises to the surface, his critics call him "thin-skinned," "arrogant" and "insensitive."

What they do not know, Glendening says, is that more often than not when he retreats to his office, flushed and silent, his anger is directed only at himself.

In his early life, Glendening wanted to become governor of Florida.

The second of six children, his family had moved to Broward County from the Bronx when he was 6 years old. Growing up poor, in a house with no indoor plumbing, the children saw their father work three jobs to keep the family afloat; he died of a heart attack at age 50.

Married at 19 and working part time at a drugstore and part time as a teaching assistant, Glendening enrolled in Florida State University and decided to seek a doctorate in political science after the school offered him a fellowship. He specialized in urban management, a field that was in high demand by the time he earned his doctorate in 1967. Courted by three universities, he decided to teach at the University of Maryland in College Park.

Although he had long dreamed of seeking elective office, he stumbled into Prince George's County politics. A university colleague sought his help on a poll she was doing for a congressional candidate, former Maryland secretary of state Fred Wineland, the father of council member F. Kirwan Wineland.

Glendening analyzed the numbers and went to Wineland. "Fred," he told him, "the bad news is you're going to lose," a prediction that proved accurate. But the contact with Wineland gave Glendening entree into a circle of county movers and shakers.

In 1971, the same year his first marriage ended in divorce, Glendening was named to a vacant seat on the Hyattsville City Council. Concerned that his association with the university might give him a liberal image, he asked for an appointment as the city police commissioner. "They handed me a gun and badge, and I gave the gun back to them. I said, 'I don't need that.' But I kept the badge. That was kind of fun," he said.

He was elected to the County Council in 1974. After eight years in the job, including two as council chairman, Glendening was elected to the executive's job in 1982.

Faced with a $30 million budget shortfall, his early initiatives were aimed at cutting government costs and raising revenue while improving the quality of then-threadbare government services.

But his ideas, including a short-lived effort to institute a county sales tax, generated open hostility from some members of the county legislative delegation, who criticized him for failing to consult lawmakers before proposing major legislative changes.

In a much-quoted analogy, Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., now the Senate president and a Glendening defender, said Glendening was proof of the old saying that "the higher up a tree a baboon climbs, the more he shows of his ass."

Glendening says his performance in the job has been on target with the goals he set for himself in 1982. Many agree.

"Overall, I'd have to grade him an A- or a B+," said County Council Chairman Jo Ann T. Bell. "He sat down with the council in 1982, and we came up with a common goal: to enhance the quality of life in Prince George's County. He's done much of what he set out to do at that time."

One of his first priorities was to improve the quality of the county's beleaguered school system, no small task in light of the county's fiscal constraints.

He worked to improve relations with the teachers union, hired an innovative school superintendent, John A. Murphy, and funneled a larger percentage of the county budget into education, raising the per pupil expenditure from $2,952 in 1983 to $5,250 in 1990.

In 1984, he won an important victory, persuading voters to modify the property tax limit and thereby increase the county's tax base.

Glendening's successful campaign illustrated what his advisers say is his greatest political strength: the ability to gauge public sentiment, to strike when the time is right.

"There are several dimensions to selling. One is the purely charismatic, and Parris may not be the ultimate in that regard. But the other part is the vision, the strategy, the theme," said his longtime friend and former deputy, John Wesley White, now a county administrator in Sarasota, Fla. "Parris didn't win on the strength of personality, but it would be wrong for anyone to deny the leadership role he played in that whole effort."

Glendening also has devoted much of his effort to increasing the size and strength of the county's police force.

With 200 officers slated to join the force this year, Glendening says he is two years ahead of schedule in his original plan to provide 1,400 officers, two for every 1,000 county residents.

But Glendening's aggressive management style has angered some in the community and on the County Council, which has often complained of being left out of major decisions.

He has come under fire for his active recruiting of industry and development, a major component of his goal to bring prosperity and sophistication to a county saddled with a negative image.

With office parks and shopping centers sprouting in the once totally rural county, his critics believe he forged ahead without adequate citizen input on an issue that dramatically affects the quality of everyday life.

Virginia Bird, a conservation advocate for the Patuxent Group of the Sierra Club, has similar complaints. "Developers have been allowed to come in and pollute the water, the air, to destroy the wetlands, to make traffic a nightmare in Prince George's County. Glendening is big on proposing legislation, but it's never enforced. It's been so much easier for him to hobnob with developers than to listen to the people," she said.

Glendening denies that he has ignored the views of neighborhood groups. He also says that while he has actively recruited development, many of his policies, such as impact fees and an ordinance requiring the planting of trees in areas under development, prove that he is responsive to citizen concerns.

Glendening's foes say one of his major faults has been what they say is his tendency to surround himself by a circle of powerful advisers while shutting out the views of others in the community.

He came under fire this year for his failure to consult black leaders before offering a 10-year contract and pay raise to Superintendent Murphy, who was considering leaving.

"Parris feels he's sort of like the prince who doesn't have to answer to the king. Sometimes, you can be in office so long you begin to think that everything you do is supreme," said Ralph Clark, a businessman and a member of a special task force studying ways to improve the performance of black males in the county schools.

While Glendening concedes he erred in handling the Murphy contract talks, he rejects the notion that he routinely excludes minority views in making his decisions. But he says he will make a "concerted effort" to reach out to the black community if elected to another term.

His defenders feel differently. "His approach is to be accessible around the clock, 24 hours a day and I think he's been remarkably sensitive to reaching out, to involving people on a day-in and day-out basis," said former deputy White. "But frankly, you don't always have the luxury of consultation when it comes to making a decision."

In many ways, Glendening sees his life now as the best of all worlds. "There's very little I would change," he said. He likes being county executive, particularly at what he calls "an exciting time" for the county. Happy in his second, 14-year marriage, he dotes on his son, Raymond, 10, mentioning the child at virtually every stop on the campaign trail.

Although he has a reputation as a methodical, even boring, man, Glendening says he relishes quiet pleasures, like yard work at his University Park home or fishing trips with his son. On weekends, he says, Raymond comes to him for the family "game plan," which, on a typical summer Saturday, amounts to a few hours of yard work followed by a trip to the pool.

At work, he continues to manage county affairs in typical fashion, trying hard not to be flustered by criticism. "I will not react in anxiousness or anger," he vows. "I go back and measure publicly and privately how well I did against what I set out to do."

Age: 48.

Birthplace: Bronx, N.Y.

Education: Broward County Junior College (A.A.), Florida State University (B.A., M.A., PhD.)

Work Experience: Associate professor of political science, University of Maryland, College Park.

Political Experience: Hyattsville Council member (1971 to '74), Hyattsville Police Commissioner, (1973 to '74) Prince George's County Council member (1974 to '82), Chairman, (1979 to 1981) County Executive (1982 to present.) Civic and Professional Organizations: Kiwanis, Knights of Columbus, Board of Directors of the Maryland World Trade Institute, First Vice President of the National Council of Elected County Executives.

Religious Affiliation: Catholic.

Marital Status: Married, one son.

Favorite Reading: Science fiction. STAND ON KEY ISSUES

Education: Vows to raise $125 million for new programs, including those recommended by a task force on black male achievement.

Drugs and Crime: Favors a three-pronged approach to battling drugs, with increased law enforcement, educational programs in the schools and rehabilitation programs for drug abusers.

Taxes: Opposes abolishing TRIM, the charter-mandated limit on property taxes.

Development: Supports quality development, including new shopping centers for county. Believes developers should pay impact fees to finance new roads and infrastructure.