The Prince George's County Democratic Central Committee announced yesterday what county political observers have known since September: that the party's much publicized -- and vilified -- party machinery has been junked.
Lance Billingsley, committee chairman, announced both the end of the machine and the beignning of a "new era" for the party and its tatted leadership.
For some other prominent county Democrats, it was more, in the words of one, "Lance's move to step into a leadership vacuum."
One recently elected committee member, John Gianetti from the 21st Legislative District, gave this description of yesterday's committee press conference: "I don't want to call it a public relations effort, but it comes down to that. The party has had a terrible image with the public, and we've got to become more conscious of our communications with them."
Indications that the party's image has suffered are the growing independence of Democratic office holders and the election losses of Democratic leaders Winfield M. Kelly Jr. and Steny H. Hoyer, formerly county exective and state senate president, respectively.
Billingsley reported that the "breakfast club," a weekly gathering of prominent county Democrats who determined most party patronage and policy, will no longer meet.
"The public misunderstood the breakfast club," Billingsley explained in an interview, "and a lot of elected officials thought it was centering political power on too few people."
The central committee, Billingsly said, will now make its own recommendations to the State Liquor Board and State Elections Commission, and Will serve as a "collection center" for recommendations for other state and county appointments.
To demonstrate its new responsibility to the citizens, the central committee has scheduled a public meeting for Dec. 19. All persons interested in obtaining patronage appointments -- from the State Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers to the State Human Relations Commission -- are welcome to attend, speak, and submit a resume.
"What has really happened," Billingsly said, "is that the various bodies who made up the old leadership have drifted apart.
"What killed the breakfast club is that it was too successful," Billingsly said. The leaders weren't working hard enough." He added: "We all need to go off and get our houses in order."
The degrees of concurrence and dissent among county Democrats with Billingsly's theory indicated that the chairman is right, at least in seeing a parting of the ways among party groups.
Robert Redding and Peter Bozick, the chairmen of the county's all-Democratic state House and Senate delegations, took a gloomy view of the central committee's announcements.
"I'm willing to give (the central committee) every opportunity to do its own things," said Redding. "The thing that is strange is that they have gone off on their own. "There's a political vacuum and apparently they intend to fill it."
"The problem with the breakfast club," mused Bozick, "is that there were too many people following their personal ambitions -- like Lance seems to be doing now."
"I don't think any one group or person could take sole power now," Billingsly responded. "I don't think the breakfast club's power can be supplanted. It will be drivided up."
Others agreed with him. "The central committee is perfectly correct in wanting to take on more of their role," said Council member Gerard T. McDonough. "Face, it, there aren't any Winnie Kellys or Steny Hoyers running around now. Nobody's going to take over the party. Nobody could, at this point."