BALTIMORE (AP) _ A former top business aide to Gov. Parris Glendening today enthusiastically endorsed the governor's Republican opponent as someone who can reverse the perception of Maryland as a ``business hell.''

The defection comes while Glendening is working to shore up his own support. A month after snubbing President Clinton, the governor joined the president and Democratic congressional leaders at a Silver Spring elementary school Tuesday to criticize congressional Republicans on education issues.

Glendening was rewarded with some kind words from Clinton, who called him ``one of the most innovative state governors in America.''

But James Brady, who served Glendening more than three years as business and economic development secretary before quitting in April, said today that he shares GOP challenger Ellen Sauerbrey's goals of improving education and transportation statewide to boost the economy and create jobs.

``How bad would it have to be in Maryland not to have job growth during one of the most explosive economic times in history?'' Brady told a standing-room only crowd of 250 business leaders. ``We would have to be worse than a business hell.''

Glendening is in a neck-and-neck race with Ms. Sauerbrey, according to recent polls. While the state has a record number of jobs, unemployment is at a nine-year low and income taxes are being cut 10 percent, business leaders have criticized Glendening as unreliable and ineffective.

Brady's is the latest and perhaps most prominent defection from the governor. Democrats such as former Lt. Gov. Melvin Steinberg earlier endorsed Ms. Sauerbrey. Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke endorsed Glendening only last week after backing a Democratic rival in the primary election.