Lawrence J. Hogan stands on a hill-top in the middle of a moderate-income housing complex in Laurel. Behind him is what once was a children's wading pool, now filed in with dirt and flowers. To one side is a field that children are no longer allowed to play in. To another side are some of those children, and their mothers.
They are the aggrieved. They have been told by their corporate landlord that children ar not wanted around there, that they will all have to leave their homes by the end of October.
This scene - so rich in symbolism, so black and white - is the perfect setting for a politician to score a point or two as a populist. The apparent victims are women and children; the apparent villains landlords and lawmakers. It was just this setting that Hogan, a Republican candidate for county executive in Prince George's County, management would choose to evictence at the Montpelier Town and Country Apartments.
"It think it's reprehensible that the management wouod choose to evict families with children". Hogan told about 40 women, children and reporters at his made-to-order press conference at the Montplier Town and County Apartments.
"And I think it's equally reprehensible that the County Council and County Executive Winfield Kelly (his opponent if Hogan wins the GOP primary) would pass and approve a law that would allow this to happen."
The mothers, if not thie children, had been waiting a long time for some politician to utter those words. For more than one year, they had been fighting unsuccessfully against the landlord's plan to convert the entire 455-unit complex into an "adults only" community. "At long last," said tenant Cathy Glascock, a mother of two, "we've found somebody who'll listen and speak out for us."
Hogan blamed the imminent evictions of the families with children on a 1975 county law which, he said, made it possible for landlords to convert apartment complexes into "all audlt" facilities. He argued that the law "appeared unconstitutional" by discriminating on the basis of age and recommended that the tenants sue the landlord and the county under the federal civil rights statutes.
"If I'm county executive, I'll do everything I can to have this law repealed." Hogan said. "Our county executive (Kelly) talks about the new quality in Prince George's. What kind of quality can we have without children? Where are our children going to go if we don't have apartments? The economic situation is such that young couples can't afford to buy houses here or anywhere else. If you can't live in an apartment or buy a house here or anywhere else. If you can't live in an apartment or buy a house here, you'll have to move out of the county. I don't want to lose you."
Several Democratic county officials said after the press conference that Hogan was exaggerating the situation. Kelly aide John Lally argued that the county offers "more than enough" low- and moderate-income apartment housing - about 40 percent of the metropolitan Washington supply - and that "we encourage conversions (to "adults only") to change the imbalance of our housing stock."
Kelly, in a separate interview, noted that the vacancy rate in the county was sufficient - about 5 percent - to handle those families displaced by the conversions.
"I haven't noticed any trend toward conversions," Kelly said. "But if it becomes a major issue, if the county landlords run pell-mell in this direction. I would recommend that the tenants get a longer lead time to find a new apartment."
There are no county laws that dictate how much notice must be given tenants with families who are asked to leave apartment complexes converting into "adults only" facilities. Under state law, they must be given 30 days' notice.
David Quigley, a vice president at Baltimore-based Monumental Properties, the firm that runs Montpelier Town and Country and 44 other apartment complexes from Florida to Pennsylvania, said that about 80 percent of those units were "adult only."
"There are no state or local laws that discourage this, to the best of my knowledge," said Quigley. "We do it strictly in response to the market. If the market said we should have family communities, that's what we'd have. But home building is booming these days, families are buying homes. Our market is for adults who prefer an adult enviroment."
For Hogan, the Laurel press conference was an opportunity to champion the cause of the displaced families while addressing a much larger constituency - the apartment tenants who comprise about half the suburban county's population. It was perhaps indicative of the way many tenant leaders view Kelly that Hogan was endorsed at the press conference by Larry Albert, a Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates in the Laurel district and former member of the county's Landlord-Tenant Commission.
"The county has this thing against tenants," said Albert. "They're using discrimination to control the population here. They've got it in for tenants. First they dropped rent control, then they imposed an apartment tax (in 1976 and 1977, apartment renters paid a 2 and then 4 percent surcharge) and now this. I don't see how Kelly can expect to get any tenant votes."