The word goes out in many ways in Prince George's County. It usually comes second and third hand, sometimes through a friend or colleague, sometimes through a reporter or secretary. When confronted, directly, the word is denied, roundly. It vanishes for weeks, then resurfaces in another form.
The word in Prince George's is that some people are on the outs. They are Democratic politicians out of favor with other Democratic politicans. Maybe they are considered too stupid, or too old, or too assertive, or too belligerent. No matter. They must get the word that the organization would prefer going about its business without them.
It is very important that the word goes out quietly in Prince George's County. That way it can be withdrawn and denied just as quickly, without mess. This is not the time nor place for messes, not with the favorite son of the county organization, State Sen. Steny H. Hoyer, working his way toward the Democratic nomination for governor.
It is also very important that the word goes out early, at least one year, or preferably two, before the next election. That gives politicians on the outs more time to return to the fold or, if there is no chance of that, to be eased out so gently that they are not quite sure how it happened.
In the last six months, in one way or another, four of the Prince George's County Council members - Darlene Z. White, Floyd E. Wilson Jr., Frank Casula and Samuel Boley - have gotten the word. "It's a strange feeling being out there with word going around that you're on the outs," said Boley. "It's never waved in your face or anything; it's just an undercurrent."
Wilson got the word several months ago. He is the only black on the Prince George's County Council. That, in itself, was enough to convince him that the leadership could not really be out to get him. But he got the word (it came first from an inquiring reporter), so he went to those in charge and asked them about it.
He asked Winfield M. Kelly Jr., the county executive. He asked Hoyer. He even asked Peter O'Malley, the attorney who did as much as anyone to make Prince George's the one-party county it is today. "They all said, 'No, Floyd. What are you worrying about? We don't know where that rumor started, but it isn't true,'" Wilson recalled. "I believe them. Why shouldn't I?"
But, last week, the word got out to Wilson again. The source of the word this time said it would be nice if Wilson decided he would be too busy to seek re-election next year. If he decided to run, he could get on the organization ticket again, but being too busy to run would be a much better idea. That would be the word, and it would make some sense, according to the word-spreader, since Wilson is sometimes too busy to attend meetings and prepare for votes.
Casula heard, third hand, that he was on the outs several months ago.
"That didn't mean a thing to me," said Casula. "The only way I'm going out is if I decide to quit or the voters knock me out. The rest of that junk I don't believe in. There's no one person out here who can tell me that I'm in or out."
Darlence White got the word even before Wilson and Casula. She didn't need anyone to tell her about it, however, since she had fought often enough with Kelly to "know that some of the folks wouldn't like all that I was doing."
White has been in the public eye more than any other council member in recent weeks, now defending her poor attendance record, now battling with Kelly over her role in pushing a new private hospital for the southern part of the county, now saying she will not run for another term, then, at a press conference yesterday, saying she will run for another term. It has been a performance that, for the most part, has angered the party leadership sources said.
"If there is one council member we wouldn't mind seeing not return," said one leader, "it would have to be Darlene."
That may sound like the word to most people, but it apparently doesn't to Darlene White. She thinks she has already gotten the word from O'Malley that all is well and good if she wants to run again on the ticket next year. It came, she said, at a meeting at Hoyer's house several months ago, about the time he and O'Malley were about the time he and O'Malley were setting up for the gubernatorial push.
That night, according to White Hoyer told the council members that he had already discussed his political plans with each of them individually and that his hope was to re-create the cohesiveness that swept them all into office in 1974.
White interrupted Hoyer right there. "Steny," said she, "I don't remember talking to you personally about the 1978 campaign."
Before Hoyer could say anything. O'Malley stepped in with the sort of response that made his reputation as a conciliator. "You know why we haven't talked to you. Darlene," he said. "It isn't necessary. Questioning your support for Steny would be like questioning my support for him."
If that statement from O'Malley isn't enough proof that Darlene White won't be on anyone's "bump list" next year, she offers a few more arguments. Her first point is that she is going to raise so much money before the Hoyer-led ticket is melded that the organization will be afraid to take her on. "That will require about $25,000," figured White. "And I'll get it."
The second point is a piece of rhetoric so popular with politicians in Prince George's County that it makes phrases like "I represent the little people" sound fresh. From the lips of Darlene White: "They couldn't hit me. I know where too many damn bodies are buried."
Bogley doesn't claim to know where any bodies are buried, but he is adept at hearing the word. "I've heard it from staff members, from fellow councilmen, from reporters, in the hallways, at the courthouse, from people you would call reliable sources who shold know about such things," said Bogley.
On the other hand, Bogley has not heard it from O'Malley, Hoyer or Kelly. "If I'm on the bump list, they wouldn't tell me," he said. "The only time I've ever heard from O'Malley was when he said a councilman would have to fall into serious disrepute to get knocked off the ticket next year."
Bogley senses that he has fallen into disrepute. The question is how seriously. He notes, much like a scorned child, that Kelly never comes to him "I'm always the last one to know what's going on in the aministration," said Bogley. "Me and Frank Casula. Maybe it's because they want us out; maybe it's because they don't need our votes. Sometimes I say to Frank, 'Frank, we might have to look for another horse to ride next time if we keep challenging them."
Bogley felt so out of it during recent budget deliberations that he gradually worked his way almost entirely out of the picture. "I didn't feel wanted or needed," he said. "Those two McDonoughs (John, Kelly's council liaison aide, and Gerard, John's brother who is on the council and is considered the administration's legislative whip) would always start (rounding up votes) at the other end of the hall. Frank and I call them Winnie's monsters."
The administration has a few names for Bogley as well, the most intriguing being "space cowboy." We think Sam has been getting paranoid about us," said one Kelly associate.
"If he wants to stay on the council, we're not going to go after him. He's just hard to figure out."
"Maybe that's because they don't talk to me," responded Bogley."