Montgomery County Democrats gathered last weekend to celebrate Christmas and give thanks that they are not paralyzed by the partisan squabbles that plague nearby Prince George's County.
A little more than a year after Montgomery Democrats were able to put aside their differences and sweep almost all the county offices, party leaders toasted their newfound unity and boasted about last November's victories.
"They really have a lot to celebrate in Montgomery County," said Gov. Harry R. Hughes, who made a brief appearance at the Democrats' annual Christmas party Saturday night at the Good Counsel High School in Wheaton.
Although Democrats outnumber Republicans in the county by 2 to 1, they had been kept out of power since 1970, when the county executive and council form of government was instituted, by their inability to halt the internecine warfare that characterized post-primary elections.
"I'm delighted to say that we have a unity that has been unprecedented in the past 20 years," gushed party chairman Stan Gildenhorn. He ticked off the Democrats' achievements, including a Democratic county executive for the first time since the post was created in 1970, a Democratic congressman for the first time in 20 years and full control of the County Council.
Whatever problems Montgomery County Democrats may have had in the past year pale when compared with the bitter feud that has characterized the administration of Republican Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan and his Democratic County Council.
"The joke is that every morning when he wakes up (Montgomery County Executive Charles W.) Gilchrist thanks God for Hogan," said one Gilchrist friend.
Congressman Michael D. Barnes, who recently has been endorsed for reelection by every elected Democrat in the county, called the party's support "fabulous."
"It's the first time I've heard of anything like that," said a beaming Barnes. "The Democratic Party today is more unified than I've seen it since I've been involved in local politics."
Gilchrist, who is not given to supporting superlatives, characterized his first year in office as being "off to a good start."
At a gathering the next night in the Washingtonian Hotel in Gaithersburg, the low-key county executive shook hands and chatted with the party faithful who attended the $25-a-plate fundraiser to pay off his $14,000 campaign debts.
"I'm pleased at things that haven't happened," said Gilchrist during an interview before the fundraiser. "There were no scandals and no attacks on my reputation. In political life that's a plus in itself."
After dealing with such issues as the sewer moratorium, the rash of condominium conversions and some controversial appointments, Gilchrist said the main lesson he learned is "that you can't make everybody happy."
Most indications are that Democrats are satisfied with Gilchrist's performance during his first year. They called his administration "intelligent," described Gilchrist as "accessible and reasonable" and said he has made no major mistakes.
Privately, however, some observers said all is not well in Montgomery.
Gilchrist, they said, doesn't play politics and often plays the fall guy for the County Council.
One example was Gilchrist's move to fire Washington Suburban Sanitary Commissioner Bert Cumby after several council members complained that the commissioner was ineffective.
After Gilchrist fired Cumby, several council members reversed their positions.
"Charlie did the best for the county (by firing Cumby) but he did not get the political support he needed," said council member Ruth Spector.
Gilchrist, 43, said he has lived up to most of his campaign promises, including his pledge to "level off" government costs. Gilchrist said he has held the 1980 budget increase to 5 percent, which is below the inflation rate, and has cut the administrative fat by 40 employes, a reversal of the trend of hiring nearly 100 employes annually.
Gilchrist started off his administration by firing police chief Robert J. DiGrazia. He described himself at the time as a "bull in a china shop." j
"The days of good ole Charlie are over," he said Sunday night. "I've made some people unhappy."