On this last day of lobbying before the D.C. voting rights amendment was scheduled for its vote in the House of Delegates, supporters were short at least two crucial votes and were casting about frantically to find them.
"We're short and we're working it," was the court summation of Del. Nathaniel Exum (D-Prince George's), the floor leader to the bitter struggle to get Maryland to ratify the amendment, which lost by a single vote in the House on three occasions last year.
Only seven of the necessary 38 states have ratified the amendment since last August, and a dozen -- including Maryland, which supporters had hoped would be a showcase for its speedy passage -- have rejected it.
On the eve of the vote, as has been the case since the amendment was trotted out in January for its second run before the General Assembly, much of the controversy has focused on D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy, one of the amendment's prime backers, rather than on the amendment itself.
"If Fauntroy weren't their point man, I think they would have had it [the votes] by now," said Del. Paul Weisengoff (D-Baltimore). "If the amendment loses Wednesday, it's because of Fauntroy."
The Jewish legislators still insisted they will not vote for the amendment -- as they did last year -- unless Fauntroy issues a public statement "dissociating" himself from the Palestine Liberation Organization's support for the Iranians holding American hostages. The two Baltimore delegates are concerned that Fauntroy -- who they believe will become the District's first U.S. senator if the amendment is ratified -- sympathizes with PLO leader Yasser Arafat. Fauntroy met last fall with Arafat, in what Fauntroy has characterized as a peace-making mission.
Sen. Stephen Sklar, (D-Baltimore), who first talked with Fauntroy last January about the statement, said today he was still waiting for it. "It's like the guy waiting on death row for the governor to call with a commutation. We're keeping the phone lines open."
Sklar's colleague, Del. David Shapiro, however, said he would be "embarrassed" to vote for the amendment now, no matter what Fauntroy did. "Any statement by Fauntroy now would be a statement of expediency. It could easily be repudiated after the vote," Shapiro said.
Still, it appeared today that the amendment's supporters considered the two Baltimore Delegates' votes crucial. Sen. Robert L. Douglass, leader of the Senate's black caucus, tried to change Shapiro's mind last night, saying, "David, you're number 70 and Sklar's number 71," according to Sharpiro. The amendment must get 71 votes in the House to attain ratification. It passed the state Senate in February.
Since then, the backers have picked up two new votes, according to sources, but with Sklar's and Shapiro's defection, along with the wavering of a third Baltimore delegate, the magic 71 votes are still eluding them.
Late today, one of Fauntroy's top aides appeared in Annapolis and conferred quietly with the strategists in the lobbying effort, including Exum and Douglass.
Tonight, amendment supporters held a small, invitation-only reception in a suite at the Hilton Inn, where Exum had promised to bring several delegates who were updecided on the issue. The voting rights lobbyists there included two Fauntroy aides, D. C. Councilman David A. Clark and Blair Lee IV, who said he was asked to attend by former Maryland Senator Joseph Tydings. The reception was a last-ditch effort to persuade a few delegates, over sandwiches and drinks, to change their minds.
But so far nothing has worked to defeat a solid block of Republican rural and conservative legislators who said they believe that full representation in Congress for the District would result in the election of black, liberal and Democratic congressmen and senators.
Even the offer to trade the votes of the Senator's six black members and the bloc of 14 black delegates in the House in exchange for a favorable vote on the amendment has failed to work, according to one black legislator.
"There are those who have been approached who said they wanted three to five votes in return for a vote on the amendment. That's unreasonable. You can't use up that many chits on one issue," he said.
The lobbying has taken many forms. Sen. Tommie Broadwater (D-Prince George's), one of the top black officials in the county, urged Del. Francis White, also a county Democrat, to change his vote from no to yes.
"Frank is my buddy," Broadwater explained this week. "And I don't have no buddies who don't help me out when I need it. My friends come to the rescue when I say I need help."
In fact, White, who lives in a district that is now approximately 40 percent black, said today that he probably will vote for the amendment. "Tommie made some good arguments," White said today. "He said I'd do more for my constituents if I voted for it."