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Political Animal

We'll Always Have Parris

By Brian Morton | Posted 1/15/2003

Perhaps we should have known.

Perhaps we should have known long ago, when he ditched his first wife for his second, a student of his at the University of Maryland.

Perhaps, we should have known when we saw him, back in the 1980s, coming to teach his classes at the University of Maryland, in the county police-driven cruiser with the two sets of cell-phone antennae (one for the cell phone, the other for the fax machine in the car) parked arrogantly and illegally on the sidewalk beside the South Campus Dining Hall.

Perhaps we should have known when, despite being the executive of the county where the university is located, and despite being a political-science professor there, he always rooted for Florida State (where he claims to be the youngest person ever to graduate with a Ph.D.) over Maryland when the Seminoles entered the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Perhaps we should have known when he left the executive job in Prince George's County for the governor's mansion, when he gave out all those fantastic pensions and bonuses while, unbeknownst to many, the county was about to head into a fiscal death spiral.

Perhaps we should have known when he went through press secretaries in his first term like a fat man doing wind sprints goes through oxygen. (This writer parted ways with him after two months of working on his 1994 campaign. After hiring Bill Clinton's 1992 state campaign director, scheduler, and press secretary, the candidate wanted Clinton-like press, without ever taking into account that he didn't have Clinton-like charisma).

Perhaps we should have known when he pushed the panic button on election eve in 1994, when polls showed he very well could lose to Ellen Sauerbrey, and he sent trucks and made recorded calls throughout black West Baltimore, claiming Sauerbrey would all but rescind the Civil Rights Act of 1964, so he could win with a hair-thin margin of 6,000 votes.

Perhaps we should have known, seen it coming, when he had a Maryland National Guard sergeant belt out "Wind Beneath My Wings" to his wife at his first inaugural--a painfully awkward public moment that becomes all that more cringe-inducing when viewed as foreshadowing.

Perhaps we should have known when, after supporting the idea of an Inter-County Connector road--an idea near and dear to the traffic-clogged Montgomery and Prince George's constituencies that originally gave him the base vote to beat Sauerbrey the first time--he withdrew his support for the ICC, once he had safely won re-election.

Perhaps we should have known when he made a secret deal with Mayor Kurt Schmoke to support slot machines (always a dumb idea) in exchange for the revenues going to help Baltimore's schools--only to leave Schmoke hanging out to dry when the deal was exposed to daylight.

Perhaps we should have known when, at Camden Yards, he crowed like a rooster first discovering the sunrise at the announcement that he had arranged to steal the NFL franchise of some of the nation's most loyal football fans and bring it to Baltimore, without any consideration of the people left behind.

Perhaps we should have known when he ditched his second wife for his third, his 35-year-old chief of staff.

Perhaps we should have known when he sent a loyal lieutenant, John Willis, the secretary of state and an old pal, out with a few thousand dollars and a nasty ad campaign, to try and knock off bête noir William Donald Schaefer in the 2002 comptroller primary--using a good man on a fool's errand. Schaefer pulled in total numbers higher than the beloved late comptroller Louis Goldstein did in the general election.

Perhaps we should have known when he stabbed his loyal lieutenant governor in the back. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend gave him just what he needed back in 1994--a little bit of sparkle (yet not enough to outshine him, which is a hard thing to do), access to a lot of capital, and a dedicated and hard worker. During their eight-year tenure, she did what he asked and steadily worked toward the day when she could run on her own. Then, when all that was required of him on election night was to be a gentle spinmeister--to graciously say she fought hard and lost--he trashed her in the national media, saying she had "the worst-run campaign in the country."

And perhaps we should have known when, after the election, he finally began an effort to correct the state's projected half-billion-dollar budget deficit, something that if done during the election season, would have deprived now Gov.-elect Robert Ehrlich of critical ammunition during the end of the campaign season. Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings, the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, was quoted in The Sun two weeks after the election saying, "I wish he had said that two months ago. We would have had a Democratic governor."

Parris Glendening may, in time, be looked at as one of Maryland's better governors in terms of accomplishments. The state had steadily rising fortunes and a pot of money with which to do good works. But in the end, the man has yet to know humility, or loyalty.

Perhaps some day he will. But we doubt it.

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