Strange as it may seem, Francis B. Francois, Prince George's County's most popular politician, says that he has never cared for campaigning.
"I've always dreaded elections," says Francois, 46, the highest vote-getter in the last two county elections. "When they are over, I breathe a sigh of relief and say, 'Thank God I'm elected and can go on with the government serve the public.' Some people really revel in the idea of running for office, but I don't."
While this would sound implausible coming from many popular politicians, coming from Francois -- an engineer and a patent attorney by profession and a problem-solver by inclination -- it all seems not so far-fetched.
In truth, Francois says, his aversion to politics and his interest in trouble-shooting were the main reasons he decided to quit the County Council to join the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials as executive director.
The association is drafting a national transportation policy at the same time lobbying the Washington for state highway and transportation departments.
"In the new job I'll get a chance to use all of my skills as an engineer, lawyer and public official," says Francois, a short, squat, bearded man who resembles Orson Welles. "What's even better, I don't have to run for office to hold down the slot."
With a wife and five children, he admits that money was also a factor. As a councilman, he earned $24,000 a year -- supplemented minimally by his parttime work as a patent attorney. In his new job, he will earn $55,000 a year.
Public service plaques and trophies surround Francois as he sits in his council office, looking very much like a scholar-historian lost in his thoughts. But if he is a scholar, he is also an adopt legislator -- at home with parliamentary procedure and capable of silencing or confusing opponents with eloquently stated facts.
His awards testify to his success both at the council table and at the polls in selling much of his agenda, which has included enviromental, social service, health and develomental concerns, to council colleagues and Prince George's voters.
"Once he makes up his mind what he wants, he is usually very skilled at getting it," said Gerard McDonough who has served on the council with Francois for six years.
"He understands the political dynamics of a situation very well and usually knows the issues and how to strike a compromise that will work. He is not like a lot of politicians in this county who won't compromise and don't mind letting the county go to hell in a handbasket."
"When you go up against Francois, you had better have all your freight in your bag," said council vice-chairwoman Ann Landry Lombardi. "He's quite an opponent and it is not because he pulls shenanigans or dirty tricks.He just knows the council members and the issues backwards and forwards. I've seem him play this council like an orchestra."
Another council member added: "He's a politician too, but he can fool you with his well-marshaled facts. I've seen him make things that would look sleazy, if done by another council member, look well-intentioned. You really have to be on your toes when he is talking, especially if iths a zoning application being examined. He knows zoning law like the back of his hand because he wrote it."
Said still another council member: "This council isn't known for its brainpower, but Francois is highly respected by the staff because he doesn't eat up evrything they put in front of him. He's awesome as a cerebral being and he has a great sensitivity to what makes this county tick."
During his 18 years in office, Francois has earned a reputation for being an all-purpose reformer, the county's political version of Mr. Goodwrench. From the county government to the Democratic Party, few institutions have escaped his influence.
When the county Democratic Party took a great fall in the early 1960s, Francois helped to put it back together again. As the first lawyer elected as a judge of the Orphan's Court (1962), he established formal legal procedure for the court.
His reform work continued when he was elected to the county commission and later the County Council. In 1966, he joined forces with Gladys Spellman -- now a U.S. representative -- to reshape a county government that, although it was one of the fastest growing in the nation, had trouble delivering basic services.
During the early 1970s, Francois led the fight to revamp a zoning system that he felt was being run by the developers for their own benefit. His legislation created a land-use system which derives much of its strength from the use of master plans and sectional map amendments and calls for substantial public input.
For the past 10 years, Francois pet project has been regional government. He has served on practically every major multi-jurisdictional board that exists in the metropolitan Washington area.
He has been a member and chairman of the Prince George's County Council, the Council of Governments, the Washington Suburban Transit Commission, the Water Resources Planning Board and the National Capital Interstate Air Quality Planning Committee. Francois also recently completed a one-year term as president of the National Association of Counties.
"Much of my work on the various boards had a lot to do with my work as a councilman," says Francois, who has been a member of the county commission or council for 14 years." "I don't think any good councilman can think that his problems end at the county line. To come up with effective long-term solutions, a regional approach is absolutely essential."
Francois entered politics in 1962 when he managed the Prince George's campaign of an independent candidate for governor. That same year, disgruntled independent Democratic persuaded him to run for chief judge of the Orphans Court when they set out to challenge the county machine.
Gladys Spellman led the independent forces at the polls and later became Francois' closest ally in fights to reform the party and the government. By 1971, the two had succeeded in persauding the commission to change from a commission form of government to a charter government led by an executive and an 11-member council.
"We were really pleased to get commissions to handle landlord-tenant disputes, human relations and consumer protection complaints," said Francois.
"I think we now have a modern, effective government capable of dealing with a broad range of problems. The tools and the structure are there. Now all people have to do is use them."
"I've always enjoyed working with problems and desgining systems to handle problems," says Francois. "Once the system is working, though, I lose interest." graduated from Iowa State University with an engineering degree in 1956, Francois earned a law degree from George Washington Univeristy Law School in 1960.
Through the years, Francois has proven to be a survivor -- escaping development scandals in the 1960s and a close election race in 1970, and -- while council chairman -- surviving a running battle with former county executive Winfield Kelly.
Without the support that he received from the black community and voters in Greenbelt in 1970, Francois may well have been retired from politics a decade ago. In that election, he lost in his own election district in Bowie because of his support of a controversial Bowie air park.
"Politics has never been the driving force in my life," says Francis. "I'd have to say public service and the desire to help solve problems has been the key for me. Since ther is now at least a system for solving many of the county problems that I saw when I first ran for office, I feel good as I leave elective office."
As for the future, Francois says that he has no plans to seek office in 1982 but has no idea what may happen further down the road. "No politician ever says never," he added with a smile. His Track Record
Elected chief judge of the Prnce George's County Orphan's Court, November 1962, served until 1966. The court supervises probate and child guardianship matters.
Elected to Prince George's Board of County Commissioners, 1966, serving until commission replaced by County Council under new charter government in 1974. County Council member 1974-80.
President, National Association of Regional Councils, 1972-73, a public interest group representing regional government associations nationwide.
Chairman, National Capital Interstate Air Quality Planning Committee, 1972-74. The committee is responsible for drafting air pollution control plans, and for other allied planning.
Named "Washingtonian of the Year for 1973" by Washingtonian magazine.
Chairman, Prince George's County Council, 1973-75.
Highest vote-getter in the 1974 and 1978 elections for the County Council.
Chairman, Water Resources Planning Board, 1975-77. The board is a regional organization responsible for water resources planning.
After much speculation about his intentions, Francois announced in a 10-page statement that he would not be a candidate for Democratic nomination for county executive against Winfield Kelly in the fall of 1977.
President, Maryland Association of Counties, 1978, a public interest group lobbying for and representing the Maryland counties.
Member, board of directors, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, 1978-80. The agency is responsible for the Washington area subway and bus system.
Chairman, Washington Suburban Transit Commission, 1979, which coordinates transit planning for Montgomery and Prince George's and serves as bi-county conduit for local, state and federal funds to Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
President, Community Associations Institute, 1979-80, a national clearinghouse and research center for community associations.
President, National Association of Counties, 1979-80.
Francois resigns from County Council to take over as executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, summer 1980.