Montgomery County Democratic leaders, reflecting a growing partisan interest in county school issues, are considering dropping their traditional hands-off policy toward school board elections.
Stan Gildenhorn, chairman of the county Democratic Central Committee, yesterday blamed Republicans for "politicizing" the nonpartisan board contests and said that Democratic officials are "rethinking" a policy that now bars precinct officials from activity in school board campaigns.
He said the Democrats are considering the policy change because of their "grave concerns" about recent actions by the school board's conservative majority.
Earlier this week the 18-member central committee, in response to what it called "the outcry of the citizenry," adopted a resolution expressing concern over what it described as allegations that the board had displayed "racism, favoritism, elitism, and opportunism" in its handling of controversial school closings last month.
Gildenhorn charged that Republican Party activity in the last two school board elections enabled conservatives to take over the seven-member school board.
Paul Clark, the county Republican Central Committee chairman, promptly returned the charge and accused the Democrats of "making a much bigger thing of this because of all the school board news in the papers."
He denied that Republican precinct officials had been active in school board elections, and said that "only a handful" of officials in the county's 190 precents had endorsed school board candidates. In each of those cases, Clark said, the endorsements were made independently of the party. He conceded, however, that some of the individuals who promoted school board candidates were well-known Republicans.
"They [the Democrats] are politicizing the process of nonpartisan elections because a handful of well-known Republicans have been active," Clark said. "They are trying to get involved in school board politics because that is where Democrats aren't winning elections."
Both sides claim that they do not want to increase partisan involvement in school board elections; each accuses the other of escalating partisan activity.
During the past month the Democrat-controlled County Council and Democratic County Executive Charles Gilchrist became involved in school board issues for the first time. Gilchrist urged the board to reconsider several school-closing decisions involving Silver Spring and Takoma Park, but denied that his motive for speaking out was to rally political support as the election year approaches. He maintained that he was merely concerned that certain school board decisions would have an adverse impact on business, employment, and real estate in the county.
Gildenhorn charged that the so-called "Green Machine," Greenblatt's political organization, "is nothing more than the Republican Party machine."
Several sources close to Greenblatt's campaigns say that in 1976 the Republican Party provided voter registration printouts to her campaign committee that saved money and helped identify the county's voters. But Clark, the Republican chairman, denied any direct party involvement in Greenblatt's campaign.
Two of the five conservatives on the board, Eleanor D. Zappone and Suzanne Peyser, are Democrats. Marian L. Greenblatt, the first of the conservative group to be elected, in 1976, was a Democrat until switching parties last July. Board president Carol F. Wallace previously was a Democrat, but has been a Republican during her entire tenure on the board. Conservative member Joseph R. Barse, elected on a slate with Wallace and Zappone in 1978, is a Republican.
But the board's vice-president, Elizabeth Spencer, considered a liberal on most issues, is a Republican, while one of her frequent allies, Blair G. Ewing, the most outspoken critic of the conservative majority, is a Democrat. the most outspoken critic of the conservative majority, is a Democrat.