For the last two months, Prince George's County Council member Gerry McDonough has been lobbying other council members to appoint his lawyer to a committee. Council member Debbie Marshall has told other council members that she would like her former boyfriend on the same committee "because he is a minority."
The other nine council members also are intensely interested in this committee's composition. Unlike their previous battles over appointments, what is at stake here is not friendship or philosophy, but political survival.
The committee that the committee appointees named will draw lines on a county map, forming the districts from which council members will be elected in 1982. With a few marks of a pen, the committee members will render meaningless the present system, in which council members represent the entire county.
Ever since the voters passed a referendum in November mandating that candidates for the council be elected from districts, members of the all-Democratic council have had nightmares that the new boundaries could imprison them in the same district with a current ally on the council, forcing them to run against each other in the primary, or move, or find another career. t
Council members McDonough and Ann Lombardi wish their homes were more than seven miles apart. Council members Ada Koonce, David Hartlove, Debbie Marshall and Bill Amonett live less than 10 miles apart in the southern part of the county. The only thing some council members seem to fear more than being painted into a district with an ally is to land in a district with council member Sue Mills, who disagrees with them on most issues and who was the second biggest vote getter in the last council election. She lives near council members Koonce and Marshall.
"Running against Mills," said one council member, "would be suicide."
For her part, Mills worries that the committee appointed by the council will try to sabotage her political future by including several black neighborhoods in her district. Mills is a staunch opponent of school busing who does not find most of her constituents in black neighborhoods.
In moments of depression, Mills envisions that her district will look like a "giant sausage" from Oxon Hill, which is predominantly white, to Seat Pleasant, which is predominantly black.
But other council members say that the committee is unlikely to give Mills that "sausage" of black neighborhoods, not just in fairness to her but because Debbie Marshall, who is black and lives a few miles from Mills, needs such a district.
The only council members who do not seem to be in any political danger are chairman Parris Glendening of College Park and Frank Casuala of Laurel, who have strong constituencies in their neighborhoods and no colleagues living nearby. McDonough appears to be in the most dangerous position, because he does not have a strong constituency in his neighborhood and lives near Lombardi.
The Democrats mentioned as contenders for the line-drawing committee will try to follow the guidelines, council members say, of giving each council member his or her own district, and keeping in mind each council member's strongest constituency.
The Republicans who are mentioned for the committee see things differently. They believe the districts should follow the outline of school board districts, regardless of the effect on council members. There are five council members who live in two school board districts.
The council will choose the committee from two lists, each list containing five names, with one list submitted by the Republican Central Committee and the other by the Democratic Central Committee.
The Republicans would most like two persons on the committee who campaigned for the referendum -- the county executive's son, Larry Hogan Jr., and a member of the Board of Elections Supervisors, Charles Deegan. But council members say those two are too "political," and so the council probably will not pick them. Instead, they probably will choose former county executive William Gullett, or Ella Ennis, Hogan's liaison to the General Assembly.
Those most frequently mentioned for the three Democratic slots on the committee are Wayne Curry, a lawyer who was former county executive Winfield Kelly's aide; Thomas Hendershot, McDonough's lawyer; Jeanne O'Neill, an aide to former state senator Steny Hoyer, and Charlie White, a longtime party activist.
Maverick Democrats and Republicans who supported the referendum maintain that forcing council candidates to run from districts will make the council more responsive to the electorate, since council members will have to focus on a smaller group of people in only one district.
As a result, they say, voters will be more interested in who they elect to the council, and may break their habit of simply voting the slate. For years in Prince George's voters have had a habit of voting for Democratic candidates on a slate. All of the present council members except Mills ran on a slate in 1978.
"Most of these people have no political base," charges council member Mills, referring to her colleagues on the county council. "They exist because of the grace of the political machine, and that was cremated through [the referendum] Question K."
Those who battled against the referendum, especially council members, say that the new system will remove a countywide perspective on the council and lead to parochialism and vote-trading.
In many ways, the referendum is a reaction against the way things have worked in Prince George's County. For about 20 years, a certain group of Democrats held virtually all the elected offices. These Democrats, who ran on a slate, were organized by lawyer Peter O'Malley and former state senator Steny Hoyer, who kept fairly tight control over the group's decisions once they were elected.
Democrats who were not "in" with the organization had difficulty getting elected, since the strategists passed out sample ballots listing the slate candidates as the "official" or "Blue Ribbon" Democrats. Republicans also had great difficulty getting elected, since more than 80 percent of the county's voters are registered Democrats.
In 1974, for example, Democrats who ran on a slate won every elected office in the county, from county executive to clerk of the circuit court. In 1978, these same Democrats again swept up the county offices, but with two important exceptions. Larry Hogan, a fiery Republican, took the county executive seat, and Mills, a Democrat who was not part of the organization, captured one council seat.