Every political organization has its own way of doing things. The Democrats of Prince George's County say their way is by consensus. They say that when there is an appointment to be made, a political strategy to be decided, they talk among themselves - openly, freely, without fear of reprisal - until a consensus is reached.
It has been that way since the early 1970s, when a triumvirate of political strategists - Peter O'Malley, Thomas Farrington and state Sen. Steny H. Hoyer - instituted a regular format for the discussions - the Breakfast Club.
The club, a composite of all the Democratic officeholders in the county, meets every two weeks in a conference room at the Sheraton Beltway. Led by Lance Billingsley, chairman of the party's central committee, the club operates with a method all its own, without Parliamentary order, without votes.
Consider, for example, the club meeting last Thursday. The Democrats arrived at the Sheraton to consider one item - the apppointment of two judges to the family section of the 7th Circuit Court. The club does not make such appointments; it merely makes recommendations to the governor.
In the old days, when Marvin Mandel held that job, whoever the Prince George's Democrats recommended got the appointment. But for the last 10 months, since Blair Lee III has been acting governor, the arrangement has been less certain.
Before the Democrats got together last Thursday, it had become fairly common knowledge that Lee already had two people in mind for the judgeships - Audrey Melbourne, a district court judge from Laurel, and Del. David Gray Ross (D-Prince George's). The word was that Melbourne would be appointed later that day; Ross, after the General Assembly adjourned in April.
But the Breakfast Club members went about the business at hand as if Lee waited with bated breath to get their recommendations.
Billingsley noted that he and Lee had reached an "understanding" on such appointments: Lee would abide by the county recommendations, or let everyone know well ahead of time if he would not. State Sen. Arthur Dorman suggested that the club recommend three persons for the two posts - Melbourne, Ross and James Kenkel, an attorney from College Park. State's Attorney Arthur A. (Bud) Marshall put in a strong plug for Kenkel, who once worked for him in the prosecutor's office, saying that he was the most qualified applicant. State Sen. John J. Garrity said he, too, was impressed by Kenkel's credentials, noting that Kenkel had received the most support in a vote by the Prince George's Bar Association.
That was it. There was no vote; Billingsley simply announced that the club would recommend all three candidates. Later that morning, he placed a call to Maurice Wyatt, Lee's appointments secretary, to forward the recommendations. By then, Lee had contacted Melbourne, telling her she had the job.
The Democrats of Prince George's take their role quite seriously, saying - publicly, at least - that it represents democracy at its finest. Lee, who is a gubernatorial opponent of Hoyer this year, makes light of the Prince Georgians whenever possible. The press conference at which he announced Melbourne's appointment was one such occasion.
Lee noted, with some sarcasm, that qualifications and connections are well and good, but the real way for a Prince Georgian to become a judge is to wear "the Borelli medal." Francis Borelli is a Prince George's Republican who flirted with fame several months back when Lee appointed him to a judgeship, an action that shocked the county Democrats and sent Billingsley out in search of his "understanding" with the acting governor.
As Lee told the story, on the same day that he informed Borelli of the appointment, Borelli received a mail-order medal from the postman. One side of the medal read, "Ask, and you shall receive."
Another county attorney who had almost made a career out of trying to be a judge, Bond Holford, heard about Borelli and his medal and asked if he could wear it for a while. He was given it and, sure enough a few months later he, too, became a judge. Weeks later, Borelli and Holford were arguing about whether or not the medal should be returned, when Audrey Melbourne approached them. She said it was her turn. Holford dutifully turned it over to her.
The rest, Lee said, is history.