Gov. Parris Glendening had profound effects on the SGA staff

As former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening begins his transition away from Smart Growth America after nearly 20 years of service to the organization, we wanted to share a few reflections from our staff about how the Governor has affected us and influenced our approach to smart growth.

President and CEO Calvin Gladney

When Governor Glendening departed the Government House in Annapolis back in 2003, he surely had no shortage of lucrative job offers awaiting him in the private sector. That Gov. Glendening chose instead to lend his credibility and spotlight to the country’s first national smart growth organization—a plucky, young, small nonprofit in those days—is evidence of his commitment to the principles he espoused so publicly while in office. His willingness to join SGA in that pivotal moment helped catalyze smart growth into a national movement and accelerated positive changes in towns, counties, cities, and states across the country. In those early years, there was no corner of the country that he wouldn’t visit to give a speech telling the Maryland story and encouraging others to join the movement to build better places. I’m thankful that I’ve been fortunate enough to personally benefit from his guidance and advice as one of the leaders in the smart growth movement, and we wish him all the luck in the world as he transitions into this fourth act, as he puts it so well.

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Elizabeth Schilling, director of finance and administration

In 2000, the panel of reviewers for Harvard’s Innovations in Government awards asked representatives from Maryland whether their two-year-old Smart Growth and Neighborhood Conservation program had any success yet. Had sprawl stopped? Were there any other measurable results? I remember squirming in my seat, frustrated with the question, because of course not! We were doing our best! It was still cutting edge! What the heck?!?

Over the years he spent promoting, expanding, and defending the smart growth program he created, Parris Glendening never seemed affected by that kind of impatience with the cynicism or skepticism of questioners. Maybe it was the time he spent teaching, prior to being elected to his first full-time position in local government, but he was always the best spokesperson a movement could ask for: patient and vivid and optimistic.  While he was still Governor, we used to debate whether he was really as committed to the policies as he sounded, or if Maryland’s program was just a really good political solution to a persistent tug-of-war among the state’s rural and urban communities, and municipalities and counties. Now, after occupying a desk down the hall for most of the last 20 years, even continuing to help write his speeches for a bit, I am embarrassed to admit that. I’ve never worked with a leader, elected or not, who was so deeply committed to the policies he champions. And we still need that commitment, because if we had to answer those results-seeking panelists today, we would have to be honest that palatable public policy can only achieve so much. I look forward to witnessing and supporting the Governor’s continued leadership and advocacy for many years to come.

Steve Davis, director of communications

My very first job at Smart Growth America back in 2006 was helping to write speeches for the Governor. As a journalist who had caught wind of the smart growth message in the early 2000s and changed careers to come to SGA, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit intimidated to be working so closely with a smart growth godfather! Back in those days, he was still working a furious pace and it felt like he was giving at least two speeches a week, which was a crash course for me in learning and writing about smart growth. But I was put at ease by the Governor’s gentle working style, his deep and abiding passion for the issues, and his willingness to entertain whatever “great” ideas I had for material he should consider including. While he is no doubt a committed, lifelong democrat, he is absolutely and completely devoted to speaking respectfully of and to those he disagrees with. He has modeled the importance to me of finding shared values, of finding things to agree about, even when the disagreements are strong. We have more that binds us together than keeps us apart.

But after more than 16 years working together, I think the thing I’ve most appreciated is watching how the Governor has continued to evolve—never letting his thinking become static or stagnated as the world changes and the movement evolves. He has always been a champion for the marginalized, but he’s also been quick to realize that the smart growth movement needed to evolve as well, making climate change, equity, and racial justice more central to the ongoing work to curb sprawl, protect the environment, and build great places for people.

I am deeply grateful and thankful for all I’ve learned from the patron saint of smart growth. 

Beth Osborne, director, Transportation for America

Before coming to Smart Growth America, I worked with another SGA—the Southern Governors’ Association—and that is where I first met Gov. Glendening. He partnered with then-Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas on an initiative about the kind of communities people want, what we are now calling the 15-minute neighborhood. I was completely taken by the initiative and soaked up everything he said.

I talked about all of it with my friends and family and, one day, my sister in Maryland called to tell me about a nascent organization called Smart Growth America. A year after joining SGA and becoming the policy director, Gov. Glendening ended his 2nd term as Governor of Maryland and came to work with us. That same sister called my office one day only to have her former governor answer my phone and take a message, which blew her away. But that tells you all you need to know about him. He is a visionary and inspiring leader who is willing to share an office with a young policy staffer and take messages for her. I left SGA but came back 10 years later, eventually sharing an office with him again. It is hard to say what I will miss most when I don’t see him in the office most work days. We have had so many fun conversations, including great stories about his time as governor and county executive. We have shared time bragging about our kids.  And he has offered incredible advice when I got stuck and reminded me to take care of myself when I needed to hear it.

Gov. Glendening brought me to smart growth and has been a big part of my career in the movement. I am sure he will continue inspiring people to think differently about our built environment and how it can be constructed to connect people to the things they need no matter where they come from, what they look like or how much money they have. But I will miss having him at the desk next to me.

Jeri Mintzer, deputy director of economic development

I wouldn’t have guessed that learning about smart growth in my high school government class in Maryland—which then guided my choice of major and post-grad internship—would lead me to the person both responsible for that curriculum and the leader of the smart growth movement: Governor Glendening. After a few years at SGA, I began working on state policy with the Governor. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to craft many of his speeches and watch him in action as we travelled the country and worked with local leaders, governors, and state agencies. Beyond the fun of working with him, I’ve benefited from the Governor’s genuine investment in his colleagues and generosity with his time. His example is one I can only strive to emulate.

Chris Zimmerman, vice president of economic development

It is often said that it’s dangerous to meet your heroes, given the potential for devastating disillusionment.  But that was not my experience.  I got to meet, and then work with, someone by whom I was inspired from afar, and then had the great fortune and privilege to learn from and collaborate with him first hand. 

I first knew of Parris Glendening as a professor at the University of Maryland, where I was a graduate student in economics, who got elected as Prince George’s County Executive.  He was a first-term governor when I was elected to the Arlington County Board.  As a nerdy sort of politician myself, the academically-rooted, political scientist, Chief Executive of Maryland was a natural role model for me.  Then Gov. Glendening and his administration in Annapolis gave a national voice—and name—to the very thing I was trying to advocate for in my community.  “Smart Growth” turned a rather technical policy idea into a movement.  A movement of which I was a member before I even knew it. 

I’d worked with members of the Glendening administration on regional transportation policy (on issues like making sure the new Wilson Bridge could someday accommodate Metrorail), but I only met him personally as a result of a speaking engagement on the UMD campus.  I was invited as a representative of the local level of government; the other speaker was Parris Glendening, then in the last year of his gubernatorial tenure, a national figure in politics, and a respected voice on environmental concerns.  For me it was a treat to share that stage.    

A couple years later I was asked to join a meeting led by now-former Gov. Glendening to discuss an idea for a state-level parallel to the Mayors Institute on Community Design.  Another decade on, I found myself the director of the Governors Institute at SGA, working closely with its founder and president both in DC and traveling around the country.  Which is when I really came to admire the Governor.

Working with Parris Glendening is inspiring.  His combination of academic insight, practical policy experience in both local and state government, and political nous is a tremendous source of knowledge to learn from.  His boundless energy and unflagging optimism is a marvel, as is his seemingly limitless goodwill.  Decades of hard knocks somehow have only strengthened his passion to fight for positive change, while maintaining his resolve to do so with equanimity.  At a time when political discourse chokes in a toxic atmosphere, Gov. Glendening persists in relentless civility.  Having reached great heights in American political society, he assiduously treats everyone with respect, regardless of their “rank” or “status.”  That is a powerful example, not lost on those around him.  It sets a tone, which has been part of the culture of Smart Growth America, and that is part of the reason so many have wanted to be part of the organization and to continue working for the movement.  I know I am just one of many he has inspired, and will continue to inspire.

Marta Goldsmith, director of the Form-Based Codes Institute

I first met Governor Glendening many years ago when I was managing the Urban Land Institute’s smart growth program. At Governor Glendening’s invitation, ULI organized the first Partners in Smart Growth Conference in Baltimore where the Governor’s opening remarks inspired a diverse audience of developers, environmentalists, government officials, community activists, and others. He inspired each of them to see the value and opportunity that smart growth held for their own interests and to “get on board” with this new vision for growth and development. His unique ability to rally people of very different perspectives around this common goal set the movement on the inclusive path that it continues to enjoy today. Now, as then, the Governor is a master at meeting people where they are and helping them to see how the common good can serve their own needs and interests, to the benefit of all. SGA and the Form-Based Codes Institute have been the beneficiaries of this very special and admired quality. We look forward to seeing how he continues to engage people of all stripes in his future work.

Share your story about Gov. Glendening

We want to hear from you. Do you know the Governor? Did he affect the trajectory of your career in some way? Have a story to share? Send us your reflections and we will share some of them here on the blog soon.