At first, Rep. Gladys Noon Spellman (D-Prince George's) said she was amused and complimented by the number of county politicans who seemed prepared to "walk over my body" to get her seat in Congress. But then, after two recent hospitalizations, so many people expressed concern about Spellman's health that she felt compelled to "dispel premature reports of my death."
Looking healthy and trim, the 61-year-old, three-term House member said yesterday that she has recovered from a lingering case of pancreatitis and is feeling well.
"I will run," she said, "for a fourth term next year."
With those words, the political ambitions of many a Prince George's Democrat were thwarted for at least another two years.
Prime among the would-be candidates was state Sen. Edward T. Conroy of Bowie, who had said that he was "praying for Gladys," but "if for any reasons she retires or the seat becomes vacant, I will seek the nomination."
Conroy's angling for the job did not go unnoticed in his hometown. The weekly Bowie News recently ran a cartoon that showed him kneeling at Spellman's bedside, praying: "Now I lay me down to sleep/I pray Rep. Spellman her seat to keep/But if that don't happen when I wake/I swear by George her seat to take."
Others said to be interested in the job, should Spellman retire, include Del. Gerard T. Devlin of Bowie, and council members Francis Francois and Parris Glendening. And Lawrence Hogan, the Republican county executive, half-jokingly told associates that if Glendening, his arch-enemy, sought the nomination, Hogan would quit his county job in midterm to run against him.
Spellman, interviewed yesterday in the Speaker's lobby outside the House chamber, quipped that Conroy's "prayers are working. I'm feeling fine."
Her physician, Dr. Barry Epstein, chief of the gastroenterology department at Prince George's General Hospital, said the cause of Spellman's pancreatitis may have been medication she had been taking regularly for about 15 years.
Epstein said that after extensive tests, he determined that the acute stomach pain the congresswoman began suffering last summer resulted from her prolonged use of Premarin, an estrogen-like hormone.
Pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the gland that filters carbohydrates, proteins and fats to the intestines from the stomach, most often is caused by either alcoholism or a gall bladder problem, Epstein said. The physician said the congresswoman "does not have either one." Spellman added that she is a teetotaler.
The disease also can be caused, 1 or 2 percent of the time, by an underlying cancer, but Epstein said there is "absolutely no chance" that Spellman has cancer.
Spellman was a patient at Bethesda Naval Hospital from June 26 to July 13, and at Prince George's General from Aug. 27 to Sept. 6