A group of prominent elected Democrats in Prince George's County endorsed Steny Hoyer in the 5th District's May 19 congressional election yesterday but told the former leader of the county's powerful Democratic organization that they do not want him interfering in local politics.
The two dozen elected officials included some longtime Hoyer allies but also many politicians critical of his past role in creating a powerful party organization. They presented Hoyer with their concerns after the group met privately Wednesday evening in the law office of state Sen. Thomas P. O'Reilly.
The meeting was sparked by charges from Hoyer's Republican rival Audrey Scott that Hoyer had reneged on a primary campaign promise to withdraw from a politically sensitive position on a County Council redistricting commission in order to keep his hand in local politics. Hoyer decided this week to withdraw by May 20 at the latest from the commission, which will redraw boundaries for the currently all-Democratic County Council.
At the Wednesday meeting, called by several state senators who served with Hoyer in the legislature, the 21 assembled politicians expressed their fears that the redistricting issue would rekindle old charges of "machine" politics and worries that Hoyer's election would mean a return of the type of party structure and countywide tickets that for most of the 1970s controlled Prince George's politics.
Scott has already indicated that she will make a campaign issue of Hoyer's role in forming and running that Democratic organization.
Once extremely powerful, the organization has disintegrated since 1978, when Hoyer lost his race for state office. Many of the politicians who came up under it have formed small power bases and sharp differences of opinion have surfaced over efforts to rebuild the organization as in the past.
The extent to which the old party structure is no longer working was apparent in the April 7 congressional primary when 19 Democrats, including some of the party's most prominent members, entered the race instead of rallying behind Hoyer, their former leader and golden boy.
Wednesday's meeting was even further proof, if any was needed. For when the meeting convened at 5 p.m., more than a handful of politicians who were central figures in the old party organization had come to voice concerns.
Sitting in armchairs along with O'Reilly were state senators Edward Conroy, B. V. Mike Donovan and Arthur Dorman, all of whom ran on the Democratic slate in 1978 and helped make the organization the power it was. There were also delegates William MCaffrey, Charles Blumenthal and Frank Pesci, whose names were also on the ticket.
But there, too, were four other delegates -- Timothy F. Maloney, Joan Pitkin, Thomas Mooney and Anthony Cicoria -- who had been declared outcasts by the Democrats in 1978 and had won their seats by defeating the party's handpicked candidates in the primary. All were saying the same thing: Hoyer will make an excellent congressman but they don't want him back on the local scene.
"The people in the room were Steny supporters," said Maloney. "We just wanted to say that we feel he should be a lawmaker not a slatemaker."
Said Hoyer, who met with some of the group yesterday, "Obviously the Democratic Party is going through some getting together pains." As to his future role in local politics, Hoyer said, "I won't have the same [role]. I'm going to be spending more of my time on federal issues. My primary concern is getting elected to Congress and my second concern is getting reelected."