The Prince George's Democratic party is still reeling, without organization, leadership or spirit more than a year after a general election that spelled defeat for former party leaders, according to county party workers and elected officials.
Marcia Krasnick, former executive director of the Democratic Central Committee, said that since 1978 when former County Executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr. was defeated, there has been no figure for party workers to rally around.
Defeated along with Kelly was another central figure in the Democratic organization, the charismatic Steny Hoyer, former president of the state Senate, who lost a bid for lieutenant governor.
The 1978 election also spelled the death of the old Breakfast Club. Criticized as a machine during the 1978 campaign, the select group of elected officials met Monday mornings over Danish pastry and coffee to hammer out party policy and decide on patronage appointments.
No organization has taken its place and as a result, Krasnick said, elected officials are hampered by a lack of communication.
"We're still struggling," said Del. Robert S. Redding (D-Prince George's), chairman of the county delegation. "We're trying to find the magic. All the people are there. We're trying to find the kind of magic to try to bring them all together."
Redding's comments were made at last week's Ploughman and Fisherman dinner, the party's major annual fundraiser, priced at $100 a ticket. Turnout for the dinner was the lowest in recent memory, with fewer than 100 persons on hand and a total of 101 tickets sold.
Last year's dinner drew more than 300 people. Krasnick said the number was higher because 1978 was a gubernatorial election year. In a bad year, though, Krasnick said, 175 tickets might have been sold.
As in the past, Krasnick will continue soliciting for Ploughman and Fisherman "memberships," which cast $100. She has not received a bill for the dinner expenses, but with the money raised so far, she said, she hopes to "pay for the dinner and pay outstanding debts. That's it."
There is no money to spend on new expenses, although Democratic Central Committee members had hoped to raise enough to start a newsletter and finance an upcoming caucus to elect delegates to the national presidential convention.
In past years, the dinner has paid for a variety of expenses, including an office, closed for lack of money last August; a newsletter, and a paid executive director.
Those who did come to the dinner came in a futile search for the old party spirit, Krasnick said.
"It's like a lost love affair. When they realize what they have lost, they might put something else together. There is no leader though. That's the sad part about it."
"The party is a riderless horse," said Judith Wheatley, a member of the Democratic Central Committee. "They don't realize if they don't pull together, we'll all fall."
Krasnick views the lack of organization and leadership as something that could leave Democratic candidates vulnerable to Republican opposition in a county where Democrats have swept nearly every elective office for decades.
Others see the current "state of flux" as healthy -- a state that will lead to the formation of new, more open leadership.
Parris Glendening, the newly elected chairman of the Prince George's County Council, likened the party to a "large stack of feathers, blown by the wind and going in every direction."
In one sense, that means an open, uncontrolled party that freely represents all kinds of interests, Glendening said.
"In another sense, to be effective as a party, we do need some kind of leadership. That Leadership will emerge, I don't think in one person, but in a cluster of individuals who understand one another and consult with one another.
"Hopefully we will develop some kind of working caucus so we won't continue to have bickering and fighting for the next four years," said Joanne O'Brien, chairman of the Democratic Central Committee, now the party's only policy-making body.
Expanded in 1978 from 11 to 24 members as an anti-machine reform, the Central Committee was once hailed as a group that could provide party leadership and be more diverse and representative than the old Breakfast Club.
Instead, several committee members said it has been impotent, hampered by a high absentee rate and frequent bickering.
Members voted against staging an annual Dollars for Democrats fundraising drive last fall because a majority were not willing to work, going door-to-door collecting money, Wheatley said.
"The party does have a problem with a lack of leadership but the present system of diverse leadership is working pretty well," said Sen. Arthur Dorman (D-Prince George's).
Dorman said he is communicating with his fellow elected officials in the 21st District, encompassing Laurel and Beltsville. O'Brien said such communication is the exception this year.
"Some look at the demise of the party as the best thing that could ever happen," Krasnick said. "But if you finally come up with a candidate you believe in, a candidate you want to get elected, it (organization) can only help."
"Some individuals despair," Glendening said. "My reaction is that there's no reason to despair. I think the party's kind of healthy because it is constantly changing."