For the first time in 10 years of Prince George's County politics, council member Floyd Wilson is spending his evenings putting the finishing touches on a fund-raising raffle, carefully perusing brochures of companies with names like Votes Unlimited, Arrco Buttons and Election Ideas.
"Before, I didn't deal with the individual bumper stickers," said Wilson, who was twice elected to the council as a member of a mammoth countywide slate organized, funded and directed by the county's most powerful Democratic interests.
This year, however, all the campaign decisions are his to make. Voters have approved a change in the county charter that requires each council member to run in a specific district, rather than countywide. By requiring each candidate to focus on the voters in a particular area, the change has already undermined the traditional slate, an operation that over the last 10 years has all but guaranteed electoral success for those who are chosen.
With a year to go before the next election, the change is already forcing many incumbents to scramble to master the nuances of independent campaigning, and it is raising the tab for at least some of the council races.
"I would say it's going to cost at least $25,000 minimum," said councilman Gerard McDonough, who, like most of his colleagues, spent about $4,500 for both his primary and general reelection campaigns in 1978.
"I suspect reelection given the charter changes will cost $50,000," said Deborah Marshall, who also spent $4,500 in 1978 to win a spot on the council for the first time. "In my district it's going to be lots of door knocking, lots of walking and lots of paper."
In 1978, the powerhouse slate known as "Democrats '78" formed a base for such party stalwarts as Gladys Spellman, Steny Hoyer and Winfield Kelly, raising between $300,000 and $400,000 for a field of candidates for every elective office in the county. Candidates were assessed a contribution depending on the office sought, and could raise their share by selling tickets to a giant slate fund-raiser or organizing their own money-raising event -- as long as they paid their share to the central fund and did not interfere with the committee's fund-raising efforts.
Without the countywide seats, a centrally controlled campaign serves little purpose and produces few savings -- exactly as authors of the charter change intended. Council members say it is unlikely that "mini-slates" of candidates for council and legislative posts will be formed either, since the chances are slim that the boundaries for legislative and councilmanic districts, still being drawn by a redistricting commission, will match.
"It'll be much harder from a practical point of view to run a slate, on the sheer logistics of it," said John McDonough, manager of the 1978 slate.
"Now, it's the cost of the headquarters and the mailings exclusively on their the candidates' own shoulders. Of course it'll be less because it'll be one-ninth the number of voters, since the race will cover only a district and not the whole county .
"But they didn't pay one-ninth the number, they paid maybe one-twentieth," because of the volume of supplies bought and paid for by the central command, he said.
"I wouldn't be surprised if it cost $50,000 -- $60,000 for a campaign like they're used to having," John McDonough added. "Obviously they can do it for less, but they wouldn't have the kinds of things they're used to having."
Backers of the charter change are elated about an election that they hope will bring out new challengers, people who could not heretofore compete with the organization and financial clout of the slate.
"It'll actually be much cheaper for anyone else," said Lawrence Hogan Jr., son and aide to County Executive Lawrence Hogan and co-author of the charter amendment. "Before it was too expensive for the average Joe trying to run against the machine -- which last year raised half a million dollars. How is somebody going to compete with that?"
One who succeeded in challenging the slate in the last election was Sue V. Mills, the only incumbent council member who ran independently of the slate in 1978. Mills spent about $27,000 in that campaign, but says she would spend far less if she were to run for reelection next year. In a district race, "your biggest expense is shoe leather," said Mills, who is now considering a race for delegate or county executive.
Among those who share her view is council chairman Parris Glendening, who intends to run for county executive rather than seek reelection to his post. An incumbent who has worked hard in his district, Glendening said, should not have to spend more than $7,500 to win reelection.
Nevertheless, incumbents who will run again are projecting large budgets for their next campaigns, ranging from Frank Casula's estimated $10,000 for his Laurel area race and William Amonett's planned $20,000 for a South County race to Deborah Marshall's estimated $50,000. And they are starting now, before Christmas shopping takes the edge off Democratic generosity.
"The days of raising $4,000 to run for office are over," said Casula. "Gone."