In Prince George's County, where the political season starts early and runs long, no one was too surprised last week to hear that Parris Glendening, chairman of the all-Democratic county council, was hosting a fund-raiser to signal his interest in entering the 1982 race for county executive.
While the race is more than two years away -- Novenber 1982 -- it has been an object of discussion among Democrats since Republican Larry Hogan trounced Democrat Winfield M. Kelly Jr. for the county execituve's seat in 1978.
But in the last few months, the talk of political options has increased, as have fund-raising efforts -- a few weeks ago by Hogan and, now, by Glendening. Several other aspirants are expected to stage fund-raisers before the end of the year.
While Hogan may be the only Republican who is capable of winning the county executive's position in this solidly Democratic county, there is a large field among the Democrats. And if Hogan decides to run for governor or senator in 1982 -- an idea he is currently considering -- the Democratic field is expected to grow even larger.
In addition to Glendening, several other council members are frequently mentioned as possible contenders in a 1982 county executive race.
The two most likely possibilities are council member Francis Francois, whose name surfaced before the last three executive contests but who has never run for the office, and council member Sue V. Mills, whose vigorous and vocal denunciations of court-ordered busing in 1972 and afterwards brought her countywide recognition and a large and loyal following.
Mills also is widely believed to have the best political instincts and the greatest sense of how to score political points of any elected official in the county aside from Hogan.
Also mentioned frequently is former state Senate president Steny Hoyer, for eight years the man Prince George's Democrats focused on as their ticket to state power until he was defeated for lieutenant governor in 1978. Unlike the others, however, Hoyer regularly has denied any serious interest in the post.
Among the various contenders, Glendening has been the most aggressive so far in his pursuit of the county's most powerful political office. In addition to the June 17 fund-raiser -- officially labeled "Prince Georgians for Glendening Birthday Party" -- the University of Maryland professor has spent many weekends in the last two years "door-knocking" in his district and around the county. He regularly clips the "homes sold" section of local newspapers to send those new residents -- and new voters -- letters welcoming them to Prince George's. nThe letters bear his signature and are paid for by the county.
No other council member devotes as much time in a noncampaign year to such election-oriented activities.
The activities, coupled with Glendening's frequent parrying for political points with Hogan, have not always earned Glendening the affection of his colleagues in the Democratic Party. In Democratic party circles the "word" on Glendening is that he is too ambitious, too opportunistic. Said one well-connected Democrat recently, "Parris wears his ambition on his sleeve. People don't like that. But he's in a hurry to be in Congress or president and he's already behind schedule."
Added Larry Hogan Jr., son and top aide of the county executive, who has feuded frequently with Glendening, "We would love to see Parris run. He'd be the easiest to beat and we'd accomplish two purposes. We'd win re-election and we'd get Parris off the council. Our polls show that he has the least popularity of the councilmen. People don't like him; he's obnoxious. People in his party don't even like him."
Glendening, needless to say, takes exception to that analysis of his chances. According to the council chairman, he has received a surprisingly supportive response to his desire to run for county executive and to his June 17 fund-raiser. "The fund-raiser was intended initially as a small thing -- seed money (about $10,000) for a campaign -- but the response was good enough that we've planned for more," he said.
Glendening also said that he is realistic about the whole issue. "I have no doubt that if the election were held Tuesday, Hogan would win, but I also have no doubt that there is a rising tide of discontent," he said. When and if the waters swamp the beach, Glendening wants to be in a position to convince the Democrats -- either in a primary race or behind the scenes -- that he is the best candidate to run for executive.
Francois sees similar discontent but also believes he would be the best candidate to take on Hogan.Because of his vote-getting ability in the past, (Francois and Mills were the largest winners in the 1978 council races) many Democrats would agree with Francois' assessment.
"I think the strongest possible candidate would be me," Francois said. "I am pondering it now and expect to make some decision fairly soon."
But, like other Democrats, Francois said that the political season is only just beginning in Prince George's: "It's a little premature yet to be making a move toward county executive for anyone. Between now and then, we will no doubt see many rumors and many names."