Prince George's County Democratic leaders, who thought they had reestablished their "breakfast club" organization as the arbiter of party patronage, lapsed into quarreling and frustration yesterday after another party group flouted the new leadership's recommendations for filling a vacant County Council seat.
Breakfast club party leaders agreed they had suffered a stiff blow in their attempts to reorganize the party hierarchy, which has been in disarray since it was branded a "machine" -- and then soundly beaten -- in the 1978 elections.
"We don't have a machine, we've got a junkyard full of old machine parts," said one party veteran yesterday.
The blow came when the County Democratic Central Committee, composed of 24 elected out low-ranking party officials, chose three final candidates for the council seat Tuesday night after about 90 minutes of closed-door debate. Their choice excluded one of two nominees of the "breakfast club."
The candidates from whom the council must now choose to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Francis B. Francois are John Lally, an attorney and aide to former county executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr.; former Bowie mayor William Wildman; and Roy Dabney, a local bank official and Chamber of Commerce activist.
Dabney was nominated for the central committee's final list at the leadership's "club" meeting on Monday along with Mickey DeVaney, the county Board of Elections chairman and longtime party activist. Party leaders had assumed that Dabney, DeVaney, and either Lally or Wildman -- whom the "breakfast club" had left for the central committee to chose between -- would be the committee's three choices.
But committee members chose to ignore the state senators, delegates, and council members who rule the "club," partly because of union opposition to DeVaney and partly, as one committee me member put it, "because some of us were not ready to roll over and play dead for the elected officials."
The confusion and shock that reverberated among party leaders yesterday was expressed most vividly by State Sen. Arthur Dorman, chairman of the county's eight senators and a leader of the new "breakfast club" Dorman said before the central committee met Tuesday, "as far as I'm concerned, DeVaney and Dabney are already before the council. It's been decided."
Yesterday, after watching the committee trample on his assumption Dorman said, "I guarantee I'm not going to invest any more time sitting down with a group like that (the central committee). They've been ineffective in all areas and they are continuing on their merry way. They obviously have no leadership and don't know how to act like a team."
For their part, central committee members said the leadership had asked too much of them after ignoring the group for almost two years. "some of the senators have been alienated from members of the committee in the past two years," said committee head Joanne O'Brien. "That's put the committee against the wall and it's going to take time to peel them off that wall and get them back in the process. It can't happen over-night."
As central committee members and state senators thus traded recriminations, other party leaders were conceding that the move to revive the party organization -- while not dead -- now would have to start over again.
"This was a missed opportunity," said Council Chairman Parris N. Glendening, who had been a leading supporter of DeVaney. "My feeling is that we are going to have to step back for a while, take a deep breath, and try to move in a more concerted direction again as a party."
The central committee's vote also left the County Council in a state of relative confusion as the politicking over the final selection vote began. Wildman, the mayor of Bowie between 1974 and 1976 and a former Bowie council member, appears to have the support of four council members initially, while Dabney and Lally each have two tentative votes.
That leaves two council members, Glendening and Sarah Ada Koonce, who supported DeVaney until he was eliminated, but are now uncommitted. They are likely to be the focus of lobbying efforts by the various candidates in the coming days.
The council could vote on the three candidates as early as next Tuesday but council members said yesterday that their final decision is likely to come closer to Oct. 5, the deadline for the council to fill the vacant seat.