FORT WASHINGTON, Md. – Vanessa, a little girl in a purple velvet dress, smiles at the man handing her the glue. Her eyes widen, cheeks dimple.
A fifth-grader at Apple Grove Elementary in Prince George’s County, Vanessa is building a model forest for her social studies class.
And the man with the glue, Gov. Parris N. Glendening, is helping her, smiling and chatting as he picks over the sticks and dirt, which will become the trees and soil in Vanessa’s small world.
This is not the aloof, distant and professorial Parris Glendening some would portray him as. Not the Parris Glendening who’s teased about his conservative gray suits.
But, staffers and friends say, it’s the real Glendening.
“He has a very reserved personality that seems to be at odds with his record as a forceful leader,” said Len Foxwell, a Glendening spokesman. “But after speaking with him, voters find him to be a relaxing man who likes a good joke.”
Some say the key to the gubernatorial contest could lie with his ability to convey this other side to voters.
“If Glendening has a problem, it’s not in the areas of issues and policy,” said Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University. “It’s his image.”
He likened the Democratic governor to Vice President Al Gore, a lover of policy and process, who resonates more with academic eggheads than politically weary voters.
Del Ali, senior vice president of Mason- Dixon Political/Media Research Inc., said the deciding factor in this campaign will likely not be education proposals or tax cuts – but whether or not people like the governor.
Others agree Glendening has his work cut out for him between now and Nov. 3, with polls showing him in a statistical dead heat with GOP nominee Ellen R. Sauerbrey.
“Glendening is not keeping in touch with people,” said Walter S. Orlinsky, a Democrat and former president of the Baltimore City Council. “No one knows who he is, and no one cares.”
“I have never seen in my 28 years [in public life], that many people want to run against an incumbent governor” in the primary, said former Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, a Democrat who endorsed Sauerbrey.
Sentiments like those are problematic for Glendening. The latest Mason-Dixon poll, of 821 likely voters Oct. 15-17, showed the governor leading Sauerbrey 46 percent to 44 percent, with a 3.5 percent margin of error.
While both candidates have 100 percent name recognition, they also have high unfavorable ratings: Glendening, 37 percent; Sauerbrey, 38 percent. Which is why now, if the governor expects to win reelection, he needs to start connecting with people, Lichtman said.
“The governor needs to keep the emotion,” he said. “He needs to speak to people’s guts and hearts.”
Foxwell disagrees that policy will not play a larger role in the race’s outcome. He said that voters want a governor who’s more substance-oriented than flashy.
But, he said, the governor will try to meet as many Marylanders as he can before the election, showing his more personable side. This weekend, for example, the governor will visit churches on Sunday, attend the Suitland Festival, knock on doors in Annapolis and attend a birthday party for NAACP President Kweisi Mfume.
But Joyce Lyons-Terhes, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, said Glendening’s efforts are transparent and late. She said the governor has no core set of principles and that voters see that.
“When you don’t stand for anything, it’s very hard to come across as caring and principled,” she said. “He’s been meeting people for four years and he still has an image problem. … What difference is 10 days going to make?” HUMBLE BEGINNINGS
Glendening’s story is classic Americana – a story of rags to respectability, said John Willis, Maryland’s secretary of state and a long-time Glendening friend.
Born into a family of little means, Glendening, 56, often recounts growing up in a house near Miami, without electricity and indoor plumbing. Despite his less-than-ideal home environment, the governor flourished in school. In 1960, he graduated from high school and enrolled at the Junior College of Broward County in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. He received his associate’s degree in 1962.
He received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida State University in 1964. A year later, he earned his master’s degree, and by 1967, Glendening was awarded his Ph.D. in political science – the youngest Ph.D. in the history of Florida State University. He was 25.
“I have always felt that education is the greatest equalizer society has,” Glendening said.
In the fall of 1967, he accepted a position at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he would teach politics courses for 27 years – well after the start of his political career.
In 1971, the young professor was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Hyattsville City Council. In 1972, he ran his first successful campaign for City Council, and in 1974, he was elected to the Prince George’s County Council, where he served two terms.
During this time, Glendening met his wife, Frances Anne Hughes, a bright and attractive student in one of his courses. The 30-year-old professor began courting Hughes after her graduation in 1974. Two years later, they were married.
The Glendenings couldn’t have been more opposite, she said. He was bookish and quiet; she was vivacious and outgoing. He came from humble beginnings in Florida; she came from a wealthy family in Cumberland, Md. He was a Democrat; she was a Republican.
But the couple clicked, and according to Mrs. Glendening, she’s been one of the governor’s closest advisors from the beginning. A lawyer with the Federal Election Commission, Mrs. Glendening, 47, likens their marriage to a partnership.
“Relationships are living things. We don’t like to be apart,” she said, adding that since Glendening took office in 1995, they’ve only spent two nights apart.
They split their time between the governor’s mansion in Annapolis and their stately two-leveled brick home in University Park, which they purchased in 1988 for $285,000.
In 1982, Glendening was elected county executive and was re-elected in 1986 and 1990, the year he won more than 80 percent of the vote. In 1994, the county executive ran the toughest political race of his career, beating Sauerbrey by only 5,993 votes for the governorship of Maryland. This year, he faces a repeat of the same battle. A FAMILY MAN
Friends and family say there’s a Parris Glendening that many of us don’t know: a friend who plays poker, a husband who loves sushi and a father who hangs out with his son at baseball games.
It’s a man who looks a lot like average Marylanders, Riddick said. It’s a man who, when he learned in 1992 that his brother, Bruce, was dying from AIDS in a Florida hospital, was on a plane within hours.
“When everything else is done, when your career is finished, all you have is your family,” Glendening said.
Though typically reserved, Mrs. Glendening said, her husband is also warm, affectionate and funny. But, she said, he can be shy.
“Parris has never been one to say, `Well gee, look at all this stuff,’ ” Mrs. Glendening said. “My husband is a very simple, humble man.”
She described her husband – who earns $120,000 a year as governor – as frugal. She said he once wore a suit until it was threadbare because he didn’t want to waste a dollar.
She also describes her husband as a family man first, public official second. The governor, his wife said, never refuses a call from his son, Raymond, an 18-year-old sophomore at West Virginia University.
Riddick and Willis both point to times when the governor stopped meetings to answer Raymond’s calls.
Indeed, the Glendenings have gone to great lengths to protect their son’s privacy. They forbid him from speaking to reporters. In response to a reporter’s request for an interview with Raymond, Foxwell said no reporter is “ever, ever, ever, ever” allowed to speak to him.
“We tried to let him be himself,” Mrs. Glendening said, “by keeping him out of the spotlight.”
She said Raymond is grateful when his professors at WVU call out his name in class and the name Glendening doesn’t register on their faces. She said it’s one of the reasons he wanted to go out of state for college.
Similarly, the Glendenings also cherish privacy for their families. “Both Parris and I signed up for this, but our families didn’t,” Mrs. Glendening said. -30-