The chairman of the Maryland Republican party said yesterday he will ask congressional leaders to declare vacant the seat held by Rep. Gladys Spellman if the three-term incumbent has not regained consciousness when the next session of Congress convenes in January.
Party chairman Allan Levey said he does not expect the Prince George's County Democrat, who has been in semicoma for 18 days, to be able to serve the fourth term to which she was overwhelmingly elected on Nov. 4, and even if Spellman, 62, regains consciousness in the next days or weeks he will aske her to resign for health reasons.
"I want her to recover and I think she's going to recover but I think it will be a long period of convalescence," Levey said. "If everything is as the doctors say, and it could be months before she recovers, I would ask her to step down for herself and the people of the 5th Congressional District. I'm sure she wouldn't want to serve if she couldn't give 100 percent."
Levey said he has been in contact with National Republican leaders, including the Republican Congressional Committee which helps fund local Republican races, to discuss the possiblity of a special election to replace the ailing representative and an all-out Republican effort to win her seat.
Democratic officials reacted with anger and surprise to Levey's statement yesterday.
"Shame on them," said county Democratic chairman Gary Alexander. "She has been in public service as an elected official for 18 years and it hasn't even been 18 days since election day. Just tell them to forget about it for awhile and give her a chance."
Spellman has been in a semicomatose "sleeplike" state since she was struck down by a heart arrest on Halloween during a campaign appearance at a Laurel mall. While her physicians have done extensive medical testing, they still have no explanation for her light unconscious state and have not been able to say whether she will ever emerge from it.
While Spellman's heart and other organs are functioning normally, grave concerns exist over possible damage to her brain. Last week after tests of her mental facilities were completed, her physicians ruled out for the first time a quick recovery by Spellman. They said if a recovery occurs, it could take weeks, or perhaps months.
If Spellman dies, resigns or remains incapacitated, her seat would become vacant and a special primary and general election would be held. In case of incapacitation, Congress must initiate and pass a special resolution declaring Spellman's seat vacant, a circumstance that has never occured in Congress before.
The uncertainty over Spellman's condition has prompted jockeying in both parties as leaders and hopefuls speculate whether she will pull through and what effect it would have on county politics if she does not.
Levey said yesterday that "generally speaking, people expect a special election to replace her to be held this spring. I would be shirking my responsibility if I did not prepare for the possiblity of a vacant seat, of her resigning from that seat."
He said he expects the Republicans would have "a very good shot" at winning a special election and mentioned Kevin Igoe, Spellman's unsuccessful oponent earlier this month, Bowie Mayor Audrey Scott and Lawrence Hogan Jr., the son and top aide of county executive Lawrence Hogan, as persons who have indicated an interest in running. Hogan will not be 25 -- and legally able to hold the seat -- until May.
Although there is a plethora of Democrats who are interested in the seat, Alexander said the Democratic party "is not doing anything. It's premature."