Tony Cicoria is a Hyattsville man who sells bowling trophies for a living. He spends much of his time in a close-sized office at the back of his Baltimore Avenue shop, talking politics on the telephone. His sentences often come in the form of questions, the most frequent of which is this: "Who in the hell are the party regulars to say we're all nuts?"
It is a question that a number of maverick democrats in Prince George's County are asking these days.
They are liberal and conservative, right-to-life and pro-abortion. They sell bowling trophies, distribute liquor, organize women's groups and lead petition drives. What they have in common is that they plan to run against the Democratic organization slate in the Sept. 12 primary.
Since 1974, when the organization's Blue Ribbon slate won all but three contests in the county primary, there has been an accepted premise among the party leadership that any Democrat with brains, talent, energy or a real following supported the dominant organization and was, in turn, embraced by it.
The others, the outsiders, are generally ignored or dismissed as losers and rejects. They are said to have obvious deficiences. There are stories floating around about every one of them, stories that are meant to explain away their criticisms as the utterings of the jealous and the misbegotten.
This attitude was articulated recently by Maryland Senate President Steny H. Hoyer, a leader of the party organization, when he encountered a maverick Democrat who was protesting a party function at the community college in Largo.
"People like you are just losers," Hoyer snapped at the fellow, who was holding a sign that referred to the organization as a political machine. "You're just sore 'cause you couldn't make the team."
The outsiders are admittedly sore, and many of them have indeed tired and failed to make the organization team. Whether they are as sorry a lot as the party regulars portray them to be is another question.
"We are like the fools of old England," said one. "The powerful laugh at us, but everyone knows there is some truth to what we say. There might not be so much laughing after September."
Most of the outsiders can be found in the legislative districts north of Central Avenue. They include 5th District congressional candidate Davis Tomasin; Leonard Colodny, Tim Maloney, Bill Herndon and Jim Forsythe in the Laurel-based 21st district: Claire Bigelow, Cicoria, Tom Mooney and Tom Neal in the Hyattsville-based 22nd; Bill Goodman and David Bird in the New Carrollton-based 23rd and Leo Green in the Bowie-based 24th.
Of those, Green is afforded a special, almost revered, status. He was one of the three outsiders who beat the organization four years ago for a General Assembly seat. The other two successful mavericks, Del. Kay Bienen and state Sen. Thomas P. O'Reilly, have made peace with the organization over the past four years and plan to run this time on the party slate.
Green is challenging incumbent Edward Conroy for the Bowie region's state Senate seat. "It takes a lot of guts to go against them again," said Maloney. "You've got to admire Leo for that."
Aside from Green, however, there is no one outsider candidate who the others look at with unanimous admiration. They have a tendency to ridicule one another almost as much as the party regulars do. Colodny is said to be too short. Maloney too young, Bigelow and Goodman too liberal, and ther others too unknown.
Sometimes, one outsider can be heard denouncing a colleague with what, in world, is the most biting insult: "Deep down, I think that guy would like to sell out and go with the machine."
"We all meet once in awhile and go through an elaborate mating dance," said Maloney, 22, who organized a petition drive against the county telephone tax last year. "But I don't see any coalition for a lot of reasons. It would be hypocritical to replace one slate with another. And, anyway, we're not all that compatible."
Goodman, who was the slate senator in the 23rd District until the organization dumped him in 1974, offered a similar appraisal: "There are some kooks among us and there are a few good people in the organization. You don't lump us all together."
But the outsiders do share a common optimism. They believe that several factors give them a chance this year to at least make a dent in the organization's control of county government.
This year, for the first time in more than a decade, there is an open gubernatorial primary. The outsiders have a chance to join forces with a statewide organization, and many of them - Goodman, Green and Bigelow - have already come out for Baltimore County Executive Theodore Venetoulis. The organization is supporting Acting Gov. Blair Lee III and Hoyer, his candidate for lieutenant governor.
"There is more support for Venetoulis in Prince George's than the organization thinks," said Goodman. "He has the potential of helping us here, and we can help him. I would say the situation is comparable to 1962, the last time an entrenched organization was defeated in Prince George's."
The outsiders are also hoping that a referendum movement to freeze the total property tax levy in the county at the 1979 level will serve as a rallying point for independent Democrats. The referendum drive, organized by Goodman, began last week and has attracted the support of most of the challengers.
Finally, the outsiders believe that in several north county districts the party organization has antagonized its own rank-and-file workers to the point of rebellion. As an example, they point to the 23rd District, where most of the precint chairmen and pollworkers formed a caucus last month and nominated someone - Bronson Row - to serve on the selection committee that picks the organization slate.
The organization ignored that recommendation and chose instead a member of the Democratic Central Committee, John Foran, to represent the district on the selection group.
"The organization is like an occupying army around here," said one 23rd District precinct chairman. "More and more people are ready to fight it."