The political parade began ten days ago: Ted Venetoulis, Leonard Colodny, Sylvester Vaughns, John Lally, Tommie Broadwater, and finally - the biggest surprise of all - Prince George's County Executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr.
One by one the political candidates appeared - figuratively hat in hand - at the Fraternal Order of Police lodge to ask for the endorsement of the Prince George's County police in the fall election.
It was an exhilarating experience for the police, because Colodny, Vaughns, Lally, Broadwater and Kelly have all been severe critics of the Prince George's Police Department.
"Winnie Kelly coming to the cops for an endorsement." one policeman said in disbelief. "It's like Nixon going to The Washington Post."
But in 1978, a year when 458 candidate are running for office in Prince George's and Montgomery counties, the newly formed police political committees in the two jurisdictions are finding that virtually everyone - even a long-time enemy - wants to be a friend.
"When we first formed the committee we planned on two days of interviews because we figured we would have about 35 people signing up," said Laney Hester, president of the Prince George's Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). "We never thought we'd get a response like this."
In all, 97 people were interviewed by the Prince George's police. Montgomery County's police force, which is smaller than that of Prince George's, decided to limit its endorsements to three race - county executive. County Council and state's attorney - and will interview 33 candidates.
"I think the reason so many people are going out to try and get the (police) endorsement is that no one knows how much influence they can have," said F. Anthony McCarthy, a Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates in Prince George's. "Until they're shown to be ineffective or lacking in influence everyone's going to be scrambling for their support."
Nevertheless, even the police have been surprised by some of those who have chosen to scramble.
One of the biggest surprises was Vaughns, leader of the county's branch of the NAACP and a Republican candidate for County Council. He had fought openly with the police, calling many officers racists. But not only was he interviewed, he scored respectably with the 10-man interviewing committee.
Lally, Kelly's chief aide and also a council candidate, has sharply criticized the FOP in the past and been criticized in return. He called his interview "a lot of fun."
Broadwater, an incumbent state senator, has also been at odd with the police, often over racial matters. He said he did not want the police endorsement but felt an obligation to meet with the committee anyway.
Colodny, an independent Democrat has gone to court against the FOP in his former role as a member of the county's Human Relations Commission. He not only was interviewed, but is thought likely to receive the police endorsement in his face for the state Senate in the Laurel - College Park area, according to committee members.
Baltimore County Executive Venetoulis would not seem likely to care about a police endorsement in Prince George's County. Yet, he met with members of the committee and sent runningmate Ann Stockett to Upper Marlboro for a formal interview last week.
One man who seems destined to receive a police endorsement, Republican county executive candidate Lawrence J. Hogan, sees a logical reason for all the attention the police are receiving.
"There's an old story about a senator who had received the official support of a guy who was a communist." Hogan said. "Some reporters went to him and asked him how he felt about that, if it bothered him to have that man on the record as supporting him.
"Well, the senator leaned back in his chair, thought a minute and said, 'you know fellas, I've thought about it a lot and really, I can't think of anyone who I don't want to support me.'"
Hester, who spearheaded the drive to form a committee this spring along with committee chairman Mike Knapp, thinkgs there's more to it than that.
"We've got over 1,500 men available to work for the candidates we decide to support," he said. "The candidates know we're well organized and they know we've got a lot of manpower, that we can get a lot done. And they know that overall we have a good deal of respect in this county."
The Prince George's group consists not only of the county police but the city and municipal police within the county and the sheriff's department.The Montgomery group is smaller and not as heavily involved.
"We're just concentrating on the three races which will affect us the most," said police association president Jerry Boone. "We feel that our organization will be most effective if it concentrates on a smaller area, less candidates."
The Montgomery committee will conduct its interviews - 33 in all - on weekends during the rest of this month and announce its slate the last week of the month. The Prince George's slate is expected to be announced next week.
"I just want as many endorsements as I can get, I'd like to get everyone's endorsement," said Venetoulis in explaining his interest in the Prince George's committee. "If they want to meet with me and talk with me. I'm certainly willing to talk with them."
In Prince George's where every candidate running on the Kelly-headed Democratic organization slate starts out as an underlog, the police endorsement can be one way to gain exposure. Venetoulis is not endorsed by the Kelly organization. Steny Hoyer, an organization stalwart is the running mate of one of Venetoulis' opponents, Acting Gov. Blair Lee III.
A month ago, Kelly's chances for a police endorsement were considered about as good as the chances for now in July.
He and Hester exchanged angry words in public during the dispute between the FOP and the county over the police officers contract. The rank-and-file membership unanimously passed a vote of "no confidence" in Kelly at the height of the dispute and Hester called him a "hypocrite," for attending the funeral of two slain police officers the day after negotiations broke down.
But Thursday morning Kelly not only was interviewed by the police committee but now appears to have some chance of taking the endorsement away from Hogan.
"I think I deserve the police endorsement," Kelly said. "We've had our differences but thats bound to happen with any labor group.
"The county police department has gotten better since I've been in office and since John Rhoads has been chief." he said. "The men have an excellent new contract. Why should I concede their endorsement to anyone?"