Glendening a friend to local folks

March 28, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

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Glendening in Hagerstown

A week ago Washington County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers introduced Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening to a group of government officials, business leaders and union members gathered in downtown Hagerstown.

The reason for the gubernatorial visit was the announcement that $1.4 million in state funds was to be spent on downtown streets, sidewalks and other improvements.

Bowers' introduction was highlighted with a list of county projects Glendening agreed to fund - roads, schools and urban improvements totaling more than $30 million.


Glendening joked to the audience on Public Square that his trips to the county were getting costly.

"The way you describe it," he told Bowers, "I'm almost afraid to visit in the future. It's going to cost me more money."

But Glendening's commitment to the county has been no laughing matter, Bowers said later. He noted the governor's support in securing funds for renovating South Hagerstown High School, improving the Interstate 81/Halfway Boulevard Interchange and constructing a new interchange at Downsville Pike and Interstate 70.

"This governor has been one of the finest governors in the history of the state of Maryland for Washington County," said Bowers, a longtime Glendening supporter.

But critics say such gifts of government pork, be it in Washington County or elsewhere in the state, are part of a carefully orchestrated campaign for Glendening to be re-elected this fall.

"It's obviously buying votes," said H. Victoria "Vikki" Nelson, the county director of Glendening's likely rival in the general election, Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

It's a charge that Glendening flatly denies.

"That's nonsense. The reason I say it's nonsense is I have always done it that way," Glendening said during a recent interview with The Herald-Mail.

Glendening said he has made many visits to the county over the past three years, not just in the past year, and not all of those have been for the purpose of handing out state money. But if a project is worthy of state funds, it should get them, he said.

"My reaction (to the critics) is this is what the governor is elected to do," he said.

Nelson believes Glendening's overtures aren't so much about gaining grass roots voters - he was beaten by a nearly 2-to-1 margin in the county in 1994 - as it is about neutralizing the local business leaders who might otherwise back Sauerbrey.

"Being a good politician, he's covering his bases," she said.

One of those bases would be Wayne Alter Jr., president and CEO of Dynamark Security Centers. Alter, one of the county's business leaders, generally considers himself a conservative Republican. But he said Glendening's role in the two interstate interchange projects and other economic development efforts in the county has won him over.

"I think Washington County has benefited tremendously under the Glendening administration," Alter said.

Nonetheless, some people have grumbled about Glendening's political style. For example, when county school officials came to the State House earlier this year to plead their case for state funds to renovate Clear Spring Elementary School, Glendening checked to see if county members in the General Assembly voted for his budget last year.

The implication was clear: The governor was keeping score.

And area Republican lawmakers have noted they are often not invited to events like last week's downtown visit by Glendening. Or if they are invited, it's not uncommon to be notified just hours before the event, they said.

"His lack of people skills has certainly created some problems for him," said Del. Robert A. McKee, a Halfway Republican who represents the western part of the county.

But, McKee added, "He's certainly been very good to Washington County."

Even Nelson said while she questions Glendening's motives, it's hard to argue against more money for schools and roads in the county.

"How can I get mad?" she said.

Bowers, who has known Glendening since 1977, believes a lack of flamboyance on the governor's part might be misconstrued. He said Glendening doesn't always get credit for the role he has played in the ongoing development of the I-81 corridor, including the recruitment of the Staples distribution center and other businesses.

"Maybe he's not like a (former Gov.) William Donald Schaefer, who goes out and demands attention," Bowers said.

Glendening said he and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend are simply prepared to stand on their records when the voters head to the polls this fall. He talks of issues such as a good economy, more money for schools and tax cuts.

"We're doing to the things we were elected to do as governor and lieutenant governor," he said.

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