Since midsummer in Prince George's, there has been a seat up for grabs on the county Council, rumors about a possible vacancy in the county legislative delegation, and, best of all, a national political convention on the way that shows promise of becoming the kind of political free-for-all that Prince Georgians grow up on. Until the county's true-blue Democrats found a reason to throw a bash, get together around the beer kegs and talk it all up.
The occasion finally arrived last week, and functionaries and warhorses alike descended in packs on the long, south-county lawn of party veteran Fred Wineland.
Typically, all the handshaking and speechifying and rumor-hatching that ensued revolved around a task that only this country's Democrats would think necessary: raising $5,000 to help send the troops to New York.
Early this week, money from the $25-per-person fundraiser was still coming in, but enough already had been raised to cut almost $250 from the expenses of each of the 18 delegates and alternates from Prince George's who will attend next week's Democratic National Convention.
"We're the only group that I know of that wanted to get together on the expenses," said State Del. Charles J. Ryan of Bowie, who helped organize the event. "It shows that we have a party that can work together even before we settle disputes at the convention."
Of course, just as it was natural for Prince George's Democrats to set up a booster for their delegates, so it was predictable that Montgomery County's party leaders would take up the idea of a fundraiser for its 17 delegates and alternates, formally debate it, then vote it down.
"The central committee considered a motion to sponsor a fundraiser," said party chairman Stan Gildenhorn, a delegate who will serve as a Kennedy whip in New York, "but we voted against it.
"I voted against it myself," Gildenhorn said. "Those who ran for delegate would have had the expense of going to the convention in mind or they wouldn't have run. Besides, there aren't too many delegates from Montgomery County who find themselves in an indigent position."
Along Wineland's lawn, Prince George's delegates variously estimated their expenses for a week in New York at anywhere from $500 to twice that much.
"I think it will cost me $500," said Yvonne Armstrong, a young Kennedy alternate from Oxon Hill whose election as a delegate marked her first political activity in the county. "But, that means no nightlife -- or the minimum -- and hitting all the hospitality suites."
"A thousand," countered Tom Hendershot, a veteran political worker who will serve as a regional coordinator for Kennedy on the convention floor. But then, I don't plan to eat at McDonald's."
Meanwhile, candidates for the council seat vacated by Francis B. Francois were everywhere, shaking hands and searching the huge crowd for central committee members, who will decide their fate later this month.
And, naturally, State Sen. Edward T. Conroy was there, fresh from two press conferences, to stir up the home-county support for his challenge to Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Charles McC. Mathias.
Despite the mix of delegates, organizers and promoters from every conceivable political camp, there was little lobbying of delegates on the rules and platform votes coming up next week. Prince George's political soldiers, as U.S. Rep. Gladys Spellman pointed out, tend to stick to their generals.
"I want you to know you've elected some very open-minded people," Spellman told the crowd jokingly, after failing to find a single delegate who would admit to reconsidering his or her stand on a vote. "O.K., let's all of us shake hands and come out fighting."