The Prince George's County Council yesterday chose Francis White as 1978 Council chairman in an election that culminated months of intrigue and suspicion in the secluded halls of the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro.
Although White's election to the leadership post was preordained by an agreement among a majority of his colleagues, it nevertheless provoked three abstentions and some questions about the veteran councilman's conduct in office.
These questions were raised - mostly in private - by White's detractors, who included Councilmen Samuel W. Bogley, Francis Francois and Frank P. Casula. Bogley, the most outspoken of the three on the matter, said he was particularly disturbed by White's practice of holding off-year fund-raisers for what White called his "postage stamp" fund.
In November, 1975, White held a breakfast fund-raiser at the Ramada Inn at the Beltway and Rte. 450 at which 160 supporters - many of them developers, engineers and other businessmen who had dealings with the county - contributed a total of nearly $8,000 to the "postage stamp" fund.
White said he sued the money to publish a newsletter for his constituents. He said he was not required to report the collection or disbursement of the funds on county or state campaign spending reports. Nor, said White,. did he report the money on his income tax statement.
Bogley, while noting that he "had no proof that the man did anything illegal," questioned the "moral and ethical" standards of his colleague. "The money came from people who had an interest in past and pending legislation," said Bogley. "That, to me, is unfair."
White said he had no qualms with his off-year fund-raisers. "It's my view that at a $25 per person fund-raiser, no one thinks they're going to purchase official support for anything . Not for $25. I'm not a stranger to these people, you know. I've been in office for 15 years. I'm bound to have the support of many people who have reached success."
White said he was "open and honest" about the fund-raisers from the beginning. "I didn't have to," he said, "but I showed the books to anyone who wanted to see them."
The gray record book in which the contributions are listed does not include an accounting of how the funds were used. "It's all on little slips of paper," White explained. "I don't even have to list my contributors - even do this much."
Several persons listed as contributors to the 1975 fund raiser said yesterday that they were not aware that the purpose of the event was to institute a "postage stamp" fund.
"It was an unusual fund raiser," said V. Paul Zanecki, a zoning attorney. "I assumed it was for a campaign. I looked on it as a campaign contribution, I thought he was paying an old campaign debt."
White claimed that his use of off-year fund-raiser to support a political newsletter was necessary "because the office budget does not provide for communications of that sort." He also claimed that several members of the 1970-74 council, including Francois, had similiar newsletters and fund-raisers.
Francois, contacted last night, said he never held a fund-raiser for a "postage stamp" fund or anything comparable. "The only fund-raisers I've had were for campaigns. And I've always reproted every penny I ever raised at one of them."
White, 55, was first elected to the County Council in 1970 on a ticket that also including his current nemesis - Bogley. White served two terms as vice chairman of the Council and currently is chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority. He is a Professional engineering consultant.
Several members of the Council privately agreed with the Bogley's concern over White' use of the off-year fund-raisers. For the most part, their public statements on his election were vague.
Francois, who for a time was considering running for the chairmanship himself, said after the vote: "I have some personal concerns, and that's all I'm going to say about it."
Casula was equally terse. "He just
Casula's candidate was Parris Glendening, the political science professor from the University of Maryland who backed away from a challenge to White at the last minute after realizing that he did not have the votes. Although Glendening expressed private concerns about White, his public statement was conciliatory:
"This is a show of support or unity. I say give him (White) a fair chance. As chairman, he may become a different person."
Glendening was one of five Council members who were excluded three years ago when a group of six, led by Gerard McDonough, got together and divided the Council. However, over the last year Wilson became allied with the majority group and yesterday, as a result of that alliance, he was elected to serve said as vice chairman. One Council source said that Wilson was intended to be included in the original alliance. "We just couldn't find him the day we met," McDonough said.
Although Winfield M. Kelly Jr. took a public posture of indifference during the Council leadershop squabbles, his preferences were well known by the Council. The original alliance in 1975, for instance, served to his benefit by removing Francois, his most powerful opponent, from the top positions.
During this year's developments, the Council members knew that Kelly preferred Francis White for the chairmanship even though he never spoke to a Council member about it. "You just know that kind of thing," said one councilman.
Kelly's first discussion with a Council member about the chairmanship came at noontime Moday in the basement cafeteria at the administration building. There, over a cup of soup, he talked with Bogley about the councilman's intimations that he would soon resign.
"I told Sam that I had gotten a few phone calls from people who were interested in replacing him when he resigns and that those calls were the first indications to me that he would do so," Kelly recalled.
"Sam said he just lost his law partner and that he was going to resign. He also raised of some questions about the ethics of some of his colleagues.
"I indicated to him that it was his decision to make. But I pointed out that with all the aspersions that float around in this old building, the timing would be very unfortunate if he resigned on the same day that a new Council chairman was elected. I suggested that he carefully reflect on that."