Outside the West Wing, they see each other. But seeing is not the same thing as wanting to see. Momentarily crossing each other's space, the two men make sure their gazes don't meet, in that proud way of estranged people who won't give the other the satisfaction of being noticed.
As animosity goes, theirs rises to an art form, particularly the way Parris N. Glendening and James S. Gilmore III can convey such mutual scorn while looking so solemn and serene.
This gathering of the nation's governors at the White House is just another day when the chief executives of Maryland and Virginia have nothing to say to each other. The tall, bespectacled former professor from Annapolis and the shorter, stockier man from Richmond with the pugnacious bearing haven't spoken since July.
As governors of neighboring states expected to work on regional challenges such as transportation and land use, theirs is a marriage made in political hell. They have warred with each other over a bridge, a bay and electoral politics -- matters that while often dividing their predecessors did not prevent political accommodations from being made in the interests of both states. Glendening and Gilmore gleefully jab over the other state's labor policy, environmental regulations, school funding, abortion rights -- in short, most of what's important in modern politics.
Democrat Glendening remains angry about Republican Gilmore's forays over the border into Maryland in 1998 to campaign for Glendening's opponent. "He tried to see that I would be knocked out of office," says the aggrieved Glendening, making it sound like a failed mob hit.
Gilmore, whose zest for skewering Democrats helped him soar into the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, alludes to Maryland's "comfort with higher taxes."
In return, Glendening -- a political scientist relishing his chairmanship of the National Governors' Association -- frequently mocks what he regards as the paucity of Gilmore's Virginia agenda and its centerpiece, a car-tax rebate.
The winter conference of the National Governors' Association would do nothing more for their relationship than to point out its awkwardness.
On this February day at the White House, the two men share the presidential driveway with chatty politicians, acting out the ritual of swapping flattery and handshakes for cameras. But for each other, Glendening and Gilmore have summoned their best long, glassy stares, the kind used by politicians and great white sharks to look clear through foes. Glendening's gaze is fixed on microphones, Gilmore's on the ivory edifice of the West Wing. Anything so that each will have a plausible reason when reporters asked why they didn't speak.
"Well, really, unfortunately, I didn't particularly notice him," Gilmore says a few minutes later.
Neither man has ever been great at repairing damaged political relationships, or worked terribly hard to do so, even within his own party. Compromise is not something that comes naturally to the 58-year-old Glendening, a former professor of government, or to the 51-year-old Gilmore, a former prosecutor.
"They're pit bulls -- a lot more alike than either of them would care to admit," said a former Glendening adviser.
Others in the two state governments seem to get along. Maryland's Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) has good relations with her Virginia counterpart, John H. Hager (R). And historically, governors with very different personalities and interests have come together on important issues. In 1987, Maryland's William Donald Schaefer and Virginia's Gerald L. Baliles, both Democrats, forged an alliance to begin cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.
The steely approaches of the current governors are the products, at least in part, of dogged climbs from modest circumstances -- Gilmore as the son of a Richmond butcher; Glendening so affected by a hardscrabble Florida childhood that even now he has difficulty talking about it.
Charisma-free, each has long been underestimated by opponents. Glendening has successfully pushed through parts of an educational and environmental agenda by threatening to withdraw support for the pet projects of wavering Democratic legislators.
Gilmore's reputation as a savvy, focused strategist derives from his successful 1997 election campaign, in which he relentlessly focused on one issue. "Somebody could have said to him, 'There's life on Mars,' " said Gilmore consultant Dick Leggitt. "And he would have said, 'The good thing is that there's no car tax on Mars.' . . . Jim Gilmore's focused, and he just won't back off once he thinks he's right. . . . I get the feeling Glendening is like him at least in that way."
As his party's national chairman, Gilmore is in ascension, the subject of speculation about his future with the Bush administration. His political struggles in Virginia, where he has gone to war with Republican senators bucking his call for a 70 percent rebate on the car tax, might actually help his national reputation among Republicans, according to Bush adviser Karl Rove, who said, "He looks like a disciplined, determined tax fighter."
Partisan Fighters The origins of the men's fights are as old as their states' attitudinal differences -- a chasm as basic on occasion as liberal vs. conservative. Or, less acknowledged, North vs. South.
Gilmore groans about excessive regulation. Glendening, who casts himself as an architect of the anti-sprawl philosophy "smart growth," derides what he characterizes as Virginia's neglect of open land, encouraging the impression of a state where growth is mistaken for progress. He reminds his audiences that if a developer wants to build willy-nilly in rural areas, Maryland won't pay for the developer's sewers, roads, schools.
"I'd like to take some of my Virginia friends on a tour of the Potomac so they can see all the Virginia silt on the Virginia side," he said one day to an audience that came to hear him rhapsodize about smart growth. "Now, I never speak ill of any of our friends in another state, but . . . "
Then he spoke ill, saying that Virginia had paid inadequate attention to the river.
"Look at what's going on right now," Glendening said in his Annapolis office one day, drinking cherry-flavored water out of a coffee cup and sucking on a lozenge. "I'm fighting for, and getting more money to be invested in, education and the environment. He's fighting for tax cuts -- that's what [he] thinks [Virginia] should be [about]."
Glendening scratched his head and shook it, incredulous, sucking hard on that lozenge and smiling with puckered lips, as though holding a joke in. "Just a tax cut," he finally said, managing a look both amused and disdainful.
Each man and his state appear to be his rival's best foil, a perception acknowledged by Gilmore, who said he never fails to get applause when he tells a Virginia audience of "higher taxation" in the neighboring state. His allies call their foe "Spendglening," and Gilmore said, "I think Maryland, at least for now, is more comfortable with high taxation and a larger government . . . which is part of why I think we've been able to attract technology and other businesses like we have."
Both governors have shown a willingness to annoy prominent people within their own parties. In 1998, Glendening uninvited President Clinton to a Maryland fundraiser during the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and his own reelection campaign, later to reunite with Clinton out of political need.
Gilmore has had to confront accusations of arrogance from Republicans. Last year, during a private working luncheon of the National Governors' Association, he spoke passionately about his opposition to any Internet taxation, then bristled after two fellow Republican leaders, Mike Leavitt of Utah and Don Sundquist of Tennessee, made the case for not ruling out levies.
According to observers in neither man's camp, Gilmore chastised Sundquist, telling him that the people of Tennessee expected him to go back and "fight against these taxes." An outraged Sundquist shot back that Gilmore had no business lecturing him on how to govern.
Glendening has not been exempt from criticism at the governors' conferences, with an aide to one Democratic governor complaining: "He has these big events where he talks about smart growth that seem singularly designed to promote him. . . . You get the sense with both Glendening and Gilmore that they're looking for the next thing."
The relationship between Glendening and Gilmore has been cool since meeting shortly after the latter's 1998 inauguration.
Besieged by complaints from Northern Virginia technology companies about traffic congestion, Gilmore broached the possibility of building a new crossing over the Potomac, often referred to as the western bypass.
To Glendening, so concerned about preserving open space, the idea was anathema. Gilmore recalls Glendening responding, "Look, don't take up the western bypass anymore with me, ever."
Glendening remembers: "I told him, very firmly but cordially, we couldn't do it."
When the two governors came together on a multistate commission overseeing the future of the Chesapeake Bay, Gilmore resisted a land-use clause, disdainful of Glendening's anti-sprawl language, and argued the provision potentially infringed on property rights.
In response to Gilmore's resolve, Glendening stiffened.
When the report was finally softened, making the fight against sprawl a goal of states rather than a duty, Gilmore signed. But he did not attend the commission's formal signing of the report. "You gotta understand," Glendening said, "we had a lot of disagreements. . . . And then there were other, well -- let's call them complications."
In 1998, Gilmore stumped for Glendening's opponent, Ellen R. Sauerbrey. But after Glendening trounced Sauerbrey, relations between the two governors seemed slowly to improve, until they had a terrible falling-out last summer over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
The old span is slowly crumbling, and for a while, the two adversaries had aligned to pressure the federal government into doling out more money to build a new one.
Then came a surprise phone call from Glendening in July. Gilmore listened as his counterpart, being driven at that moment to Washington for meetings with the media, told him that he would be announcing plans for Maryland to proceed, unilaterally, with the first steps toward building the new bridge.
Glendening, frustrated with the federal government's unwillingness to provide more than $900 million for the $2.2 billion project, believed that if Maryland began work without sufficient funds, Congress would make up the difference.
"I'd thought we'd been partners in this," Gilmore said. "But it broke down when he basically said they were going into the water to dredge and that was that."
Glendening said that if the bridge project did not start immediately, there would be neither the time nor money for it before the Wilson Bridge became structurally unworthy. "Other people wanted to wait," Glendening said. "Maryland said, 'Let's go, we're going to move.' That's the way we work in Maryland."
Glendening's implication was that Maryland characteristically moved while Virginia and Gilmore were gripped by inertia and a short-sighted stinginess. In time, Congress would authorize the full $1.5 billion, which even Gilmore would applaud.
But by then, Glendening had announced that Maryland would require its bridge contractors to conform to union rules, in a Project Labor Agreement. Gilmore groused about Glendening's rashness, union labor and PLAs. When President Bush banned the use of PLAs on the project, a triumphant Gilmore trumpeted the move. The governors' alienation was complete.
During an interview in Richmond, Gilmore dismissed questions over whether the disagreements between the governors have become a contest of egos. He sees history as accounting for many of his problems with Glendening. "We're a conservative state, concerned about not being imposed upon," he said.
Gilmore stood, asking what a visitor thought about "my pictures up there." He meant an oil portrait of Patrick Henry, among others, on his office wall. There was no small trace of awe in the butcher's son when he talked of the paintings, or when, a few moments later, he added -- a trace disbelievingly -- that he was sitting in the same office that Jefferson and Madison had. "The same spot," he repeated.
In such moments, he and his cross-border rival seem like kindred figures -- two unflashy guys in suits from life's harder side, each unable to resist marveling over his climb -- Glendening rhapsodizing in his Annapolis office about how scholarships sprung him from that Florida hovel, Gilmore musing about how the overlooked need to work harder. All their lives, they've measured themselves against foes, human and otherwise -- a bridge, a bay, an election opponent -- until, in one another, each found someone similarly implacable.
With neither able to claim a real victory, each looks to settle the score now the only way that savvy politicians really can -- slyly, demurely, passive-aggressively. "At the least, I would have thought a partner would have given some communication before going ahead on something as important as the bridge . . . just as a courtesy," Gilmore said, smiling.
Hearing that, Glendening smirked. "Courtesy?" he snapped. "Like the same courtesy he showed when, without warning, he came over and campaigned against me? That kind of courtesy?"
Their freeze, outlasting winter, is into month nine.