The two Prince George's council members were standing in the hallway outside the council chambers puffing away on their favorite brands.
Darlene White watched as Francis White chatted with a reporter about the election of a new council chairman next week, a post for which Francis White is considered the number one candidate. She occasionally interjected a wise crack or two then grabbed White and planted a kiss on the top of his balding head. "Isn't he great!" she exclaimed to no one in particular."
In the effusive tradition that surrounds Prince George's County politics, the kiss was a symbolic act, a benediction assuring Francis White of her support for the chairmanship.
By all signs, White is a shoo-in for the election, larger because of a coalition of six votes put together three years ago on a Sunday afternoon at Andrews Air Force Base Council member Gerard T. McDonough had gathered five other council members together to plan a coup against the rule of then-chairman Francis B. Francois.
It was really quite simply McDonough had explained to his colleagues. The six month council members would stick together, vote as a block and thus hold the majority of all 11 votes on the council.
So it was mandated - David Hartlove and Darlene White as chairman and vice-chairman the first year, William B. Amonett and Ad Koonce the second. and Francis White and king-maker McDonough the last - election year.
And so it all went, each one talking his and her turn in orderly procession.
Until this year, when the coalition has begun to show signs of strain. To her colleagues. Darlene White has become something of a renegrade, buck-number of issues. And Parris N. Glendening, not a member of the original coalition, is campaigning hard for the chairman's job.
The coalition's position was becoming so precarious that McDoungh, in seeking support for the White candidacy, publicly offered a number of reasons why he had not want the vice chairmanship. He said he was "a bachelor father of two and needed to be home" and that "he taking the bar in February and wouldn't have the time.
Suddenly Floyd Wilson, the only black member on the council become the coalition's choice for vice-chairman. A vote from Wilson would assure the chairmanship for Francis White, regardless of what Darlene White decided to do.
And so Darlene White's kiss seemed to clinch it. There was never any question that she would vote for Glendening - sources say she has had harsh words with him - although council people say they are never certain whether Darlene White will show up for a council meeting. Her zealous support indicate she plan to be around for the vote.
So the White-Wilson tickets looks like the banner headline for election year. The chairmanship is really little more than a figured position - one councilman calls it a "two-bit honorarium." The chairman receives $2,500, while the vice-chairman gets $1,000 over the base pay of $19,760. White, however will lose money if he has to relinquish his position as a commissioner on the Washington Suburban Transit Commission for which he was paid $6,950 last year.
It would seem then that the real value of the chairmanship comes from the added visibility offers, especially in an election year. It moves White into a position a little abovet the pack and allows him more exposure at council functions held throughout the county.
But questions remain as to how the two men will hold up under the obligations of the chairmanship. White is a heavy smoker and in recent months has spent a good bit of time at each council session but in the hallway known as "nicotine alley." Smoking is forbidden in the council chamber and White said last week that each time he wants a smoke, he will have to turn over the chairman's slot to Wilson.
But Wilson's voting record indicates a number of absences. According to council records for this year, up until Nov. 1, Wilson missed votes on 12 out of 85 bills and 12 out 55 resolutions. By comparison, McDonough missed votes on 8 bills out of 85 and 12 of 55 resolutions. Darlene White, who had the most misses, did not vote on 53 of 85 bills and 43 off 55 resolutions.
Which is why Glendening is making his move for the chariman's seat by privately lobbying with members of the six-person coalition. Admitted ambitious, Glendening is hoping for a tie in the first round of voting so he can enter the race as an alternative.