Republican County Executive Lawrence Hogan, in an unusual act of contrition, walked down to the Prince George's County Council chambers yesterday and apologized profusely for his past combativeness.
"I came to bring an olive branch and eat crow," said Hogan, asking the all-Democratic council to accept his truce offering after a summer of political attacks, threats and demands.
"I apologize for my intemperate statements," he continued, as the council members listened in stunned silence. "Let us put aside the saddle of partisanship that divides us and put on the harness of public service."
Hogan said he did not regret the times he stood up and fought with the council this summer, but had simply reached the conclusion now that the time had come for them to work together again. Many council members said they, too had few regrets about the past squabbles, and some of them dismissed Hogan's apology as merely a public relations move.
In his appearance before the council yesterday, Hogan displayed a calm manner, quietly explaining his positions on several crucial issues that divide them, including the appointment of a new police chief. He asked the council to call him at any time, meet with him whenever they desired, and, most of all, accommodate him.
What he wanted, Hogan said, was a return to the days after his election last December when he and the council seemed to work as one. "I'd like to return to the harmony we had after our inauguration and have another honeymoon," he said. "Then, six or eight months before the next election, we can have at each other again."
The council's reaction to Hogan's plea was as mixed as the metaphors he used in making it. Most council members said Hogan showed "political guts" by apologizing to them, but they predicted that neither side would soften in their disputes over the police chief, other appointments and the course of county development.
"I think his statement was a mixture of good politics, public relations and a desire for real cooperation," said Parris N. Glendening, whose personal battles with Hogan -- public and private -- have created most of the newspaper headlines and hallway whispers in Upper Marlboro.
"Let's face it," said another council member, "Hogan was hurting. He had to heal some wounds, and so he was smooth. In the course of all the headbutting, he had lost every friendly voice he had on the council. Everyone was against him, and he knew it."
This lingering bitterness among council members despite Hogan's attempts at conciliation reflected the nearly opposite perceptions the council and Hogan have about why and how they started squabbling in the first place.
From Hogan's point of view, his public criticisms of council members beginning in June were necessary to show the county's Democratic establishment that he did not intend to submit quietly to four years of partisan bullying on appointments and other issues. Now that the point has been made, Hogan believes, he is ready to bury politics for a while.
To council members, however, there has been little partisan manuevering in the last few months -- only, they say, a continuing refusal on Hogan's part to budge from his positions and compromise. The apology yesterday, they contend, may not really mean a change.
"He always comes and apologizes and says he wants to work with us," remarked one bitter council member yesterday. "But then it always comes down again that he only wants it his way. And if we disagree with him on any point, he calls it a partisan shot."
The council's resentment was fueled by increasingly bitter confrontations that filled the summer months. Glendening, in particular, was singled out for two public blasts by Hogan for his political ambitions and supposed partisan motives in one appointment struggle.
But it was an unreported incident during a Maryland Association of Counties Convention in Ocean City 10 days ago that most irritated some council leaders. There, as public officials from across the state casually munched crabs during a social event, Peter O'Malley, a county lawyer and long-time Democratic party strategist, found himself between Hogan and Glendening, thrust an arm around each of them, and attempted a reconciliation.
According to Glendening and others familiar with the meeting, Hogan responded with a tirade, accusing Glendening of unfair criticism and threatening to publicly embarrass him. Glendening said Hogan had nothing to embarras him with.
Hogan, who has maintained that Glendening is already running for his job and has thus consistently attempted to attack Hogan's integrity, refused to comment on the details of the discussion yesterday.
"Candor is something that is in very short supply in politics," Hogan said. "Usually a politician simply smiles and shakes your hand and then reaches around to stab you in the back. I'm not like that. So I made the point very clearly to Parris that I knew what he was doing and I was not going to stand by without counterattacking."
Glendening and Hogan say they are willing to meet with each other and start over. But even Glendening is quick to point out that beyond the personal bickering of Hogan and the council are substantive philosophical differences.
Yesterday, Hogan spent much of his time before the council pleading that he be allowed the flexibility to choose a new police chief from outside the county department if he wished. In recent public statements, council leaders have said they would not accept a new chief from outside the county.
"I urge you not to tie my hands with that restriction," Hogan said. "It would really cause problems for us. Many of the senior members of the police department have retired. We have some very capable young men coming along, but whether they are capable of assuming the responsibilities of chief at this point is questionable."
Most council members remained untouched by Hogan's request. "I haven't changed my stand," said council member Gerard T. McDonough, who supports an insider. "Just because he came down to state his view, I'm not going to change my mind."
Then there was the issue that began the feud, the appointment by Hogan of another commissioner to the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. Hogan believes that it is his prerogative to have his own representatives working on the crucial issues of bi-county development facing the WSSC. Council members would prefer to keep the two remaining commissioners appointed by Hogan's Democratic predecessor, Winfield M. Kelly Jr.
Yesterday, Hogan pleaded with the council either to agree, sometime in the future, to accept John Chesley, the engineer the council rejected for the WSSC last June, or to accept a new nominee that Hogan said he is ready to submit to the council.
Once again, the positions of council leaders seemed firm. "Well, maybe we will (accept a new commissioner) later," Council Chairman William B. Amonett said, only half-joking. "Like in 1982."