On July 1, 1978, Prince George's County Council Chairman Francis W. White signed an oath certifying that he met all the state requirements to the Maryland House of Delegates in the 26th Legislative District.
In a one-page certificate of candidacy filed with the state elections board in Annapolis, White swore that he was at least 21 years of age, had lived in Maryland for at least one year, and had resided in the district in which he was seeking office for at least six months before the date of the election.
There is no dispute that White, born in 1922, is at least 21, or that the veteran councilman has lived in Maryland for the last year. But the statement that he has lived for at least six months in the 26th District specifically at 33 Thurston Dr. in Ketting - has been questioned by several of White's political opponents, at least one of whom plans to challenge the residency in court.
For most of the last 20 years, White lived with his wife and three children at 42 Lakeside Dr. in Greenbelt, a town located in the 24th Legislative District. That was his residence when he served as the mayor of Greenbelt and when he was elected twice - in 1970 and 1974 - to the County Council.
Accordingto white, he separated from his wife in July 1977, and within one week moved in with old friends, Richard and Carol Spencer, at their home at 33 Thurston Dr. in Kettering.
"I have lived there continously since then," White said in a recent interview. "I lived there. I go to sleep there. That is where I reside."
Public documents indicate, however, that White has only recently changed his official residence from Greenbelt to Kettering.
White did not register to vote in the 26th District until late June, nearly one year after he says he moved into the district.
White did not change his motor vehicle registration from Greenbelt to Kettering until Sept. 8, 1978. State law requires residents to change the address on their driver's license within 30 days of a move. White said his failure to do so was "an oversight."
White's payroll checks from the county are still being sent to the Greenbelt address. He explained that he did not change the payroll address "because I still use the home as a personal office."
The state election laws do not delineate what sort of oroof is required to show that a candidate has lived in a district for at least six months. In fact, the state and county boards of elections are not empowered to investigate residency qualifications.
"We cannot go behind the oath that every candidate signs," said state election supervisor Willard Morris. "We have neither the power nor the resource to check out the validity of those oaths. The only they can be challenged is in court."
George Nilson, a deputy attorney general in Maryland who specializes in election law, said the courts have yet to establish specific guidelines for proof residency. "They look at a whole lot of things," said Nilson. "Every case can be handled differently."
White said he would be willing to supply "affidavits from the Spencers and myself and other bills and documents to prove that I have lived in the 26th District." Said Carol Spencer: "Mr. White has been here every night for the last year, except for a couple of times when he went out of town on country business."
Several other people familiar with White dispute that statement. White's own daughter, 21-year-old Sandy White, who lives with the mother in Greenbelt, said she has often tried to reach her father at the Spencer's home, without success. "One time I called for him there at 5 in the morning," said Sandy White. "Mrs. Spencer said: 'Sorry, sweetie. He just stepped out.'"
An aide to another member of the County Council said she had more success reaching White at an address in Mitchellville, in the 24th district, than at the Spencers home in Kettering. "When I called the Spencers once they told me he (White) checks in periodically," said this aide. "They said they take messages for him."
A fellow Democratic delegate candidate in the 26th District offered this account: "I live in Kettering, a few blocks from the Spencers, and I never saw Francis around here until a few weeks before the primary, when the rumors started going around. Those last few weeks he'd honk his horn or wave or do something to let me know that he was staying the night on Thurston Drive."
White, in response, invited reporters to visit the Thurston Drive home, talk with the Spencers and inspect his room. "That will give you all the proof you need," he said.
Carol Spencer showed a reporter White's room last Thursday. It was a small room with one bed and a dresser. There were several stuffed animals on the dresser. The walls were painted purple.
"The stuffed animals have been there since I moved in and we laugh about them a lot," said White. "The Spencer family is great at bingo in Ocean City and has stuffed animals all over the house. I find them delightful."
Frank J. Broschart, one of the 26th District Democratic delegate candidate defeated by White in the Sept. 12 primary, said yesterday that he is preparing to challenge White's resident qualifications, in court.
"I think White's a carpetbagger," said broschart, who finished about 200 votes behind White in the primary. "The only reason he ran in this district is because he calculated that it was an easy place for him to win.
Despite his stature as council chairman, White lost favor with the Democratic establishment in Prince George's this year and was denied a spot on the organization ticket in the primary. He first wanted to seek re-election in the council, but opted for the delegate post at the last minute after the Democratic organization dumped him.