Does anyone want to be county executive?
That is the question of the year in Prince George's. The primary election for the county's most powerful public office is only six months away, but by normal political standards the race has not begun.
As yet, there are no announced candidates. Very little money has been raised for what traditionally becomes an expensive and colorful race. In a county where the biggest challenge for lesser candidates traditionally has been winning a berth on the slate, would-be county executives must cultivate their own support.
Only a few of the potential candidates have expressed interest in the job. Of those that have, fewer still possess the kind of name recognition required to win or the organizational backing needed to get recognition.
For a county that was treated to the campaign antics of former county executive Winfield Kelly's teen-aged "Kelly Girls," who blanketed neighborhoods with balloons and brochures; or those of incumbent executive Lawrence Hogan, who campaigned as the "The Man You Can Turn To," the season has begun with a curious election-year ennui. This year's local political theater has offered only minor entertainment, namely the green and white "ABP" buttons circulated anonymously a few months ago and aimed at the current frontrunner, councilman Parris N. Glendening. What the three letters stand for is: "Anybody But Parris."
"All of us are waiting for a knight to come along on a white horse. He or she has not come forth," said state Sen. Thomas V. (Mike) Miller, of Clinton, who, despite a growing reputation for leadership in the Maryland General Assembly, insists he has no desire to become county executive.
"For one thing, I'd like to continue in government and Upper Marlboro (the county seat) is not very popular with the voters this year," Miller said. "There have been a lot of very difficult decisions this year -- with cable, reapportionment, and some unpopular zoning cases, and the public doesn't have a very good perception of the people in those jobs."
Other reasons may include the difficulty of managing the half-billion dollar corporation that is the Prince George's County government at a time when the county may lose millions in state and U.S. funding while property tax revenues remain frozen by law. The maverick Democrats, like state Dels. Joan Pitkin and Timothy F. Maloney, blame the long tradition of slate campaigning, in which a group of activists pool resources and select candidates for every elected office, for stifling the aspirations of potential new leaders. "I call it the coattail syndrome," said Pitkin, "There's a mentality that you've got to have an umbrella, that you've got to key into some inside clique."
Former slate leader Winfield Kelly takes the opposite view. A 1980 charter change, which makes slate campaigning more difficult, has contributed to the disarray of the political parties. As a result, these are "tenser times," he said. "The politics of this area have changed. There isn't a central area where people can put things together," to smooth party disagreements before they grow, or to gather the resources to elect a worthy, but not necessarily wealthy candidate, Kelly said.
Still, there are those who covet the top spot. They are people whose names are somewhat familiar to political activists, but little known to the general public. These include Glendening, Lt. Gov. Samuel Bogley, southern-area councilmembers William Amonett and Sue V. Mills, and, on the Republican side, John H. Burcham, a former Park and Planning Commissioner.
First among them is Glendening, 39, a two-term Democratic councilman who also teaches political science at the University of Maryland. Glendening's preparation for the job dates to an unusual two-year stint (1979-81) as council chairman, in which he skillfully steered the 11-member body through one of the most controversial sessions in years. He rewarded himself by mailing, under his signature and at county expense, several thousand "welcome from the chairman" letters to new residents and voters.
Two weeks ago Glendening opened his southern-area campaign office in the Allentown Mall in Camp Springs, space its owner provided rent-free for a few as a campaign contribution. As a result of a fundraising effort that began more than a year ago, Glendening says he has raised about $120,000 of the $300,000 he budgeted for his race. He also has won, he said, "a number of enthusiastic supporters," especially a finance committee that has included developer Kenneth H. Michaels and state labor leader Ernie Crofoot. Among his contributors, he counts Republican bankers Charles Dukes and Gerald Holcomb, both of whom, he said, sold tickets to a $100 per plate fundraiser in October, as well as a handful of prominent local lawyers, doctors, developers and government employe union locals.
Glendening also is respected, in the words of state Sen. Tommie Broadwater, "for being man enough to get out there while Hogan was still in the race. Nobody thought they could beat Hogan."
Name recognition outside his Hyattsville-University Park base clearly is a problem. Glendening estimates that slightly more than four percent of the county's voters know who he is. To remedy this, Glendening has signed on Washington media and polling consultant Gary South and plans a $25,000 barrage of radio commericals to run within a week of his May 8 announcement. He is not worried. "The name recognition problem, that's going to be true for everyone," he said. "Winnie (Kelly) had four percent when he announced in '74. He beat (William) Gullett."
Next to anonymity, Glendening's main problem is personality. His intellectual demeanor and calculating approach to decisions never have endeared him to his colleagues, they say."I think he regards politics as an 'I trade you, you trade me type of thing.'" said state Sen. Miller. "It kind of leaves out a dimension of warmth. He tries to make all sides happy and as a consequence nobody's truly enamored of him."
Others remember an October fundraiser, where Glendening trimmed the guest list to exclude those elected officials who, he felt, lacked sufficient enthusiasm for him. "No freebies," he explained to reporters.
Glendening brushes aside such criticism. "I think I'm a lovable kind of guy."
The true campaign issue, he said, is going to be one of "leadership, in making decisions to get things done in really hard times." Glendening wants to modify the TRIM amendment, which limits property tax revenue to the 1979 level of $144 million. "I think it's silly to put our heads in the sand and pretend there's not a problem," he said. Glendening also promises a more conciliatory relationship with the council and labor groups than now exists in the Hogan administration.
Of the other potential candidates, Lt. Gov. Bogley enjoys statewide name recognition. Bogley, soon to be replaced by Gov. Harry Hughes and already laboring under a reputation for indecisiveness, has yet to decide what he wants to run for, although he made public promises to do so by mid-January.
"My own read on it is that Sam knows what he wants to do but isn't telling anybody, including the family," said Bogley's brother-in-law and sometime adviser, Robert J. Brady Jr. As of last week, however, Bogley still appeared to be grappling with the decision and had visited several old friends and supporters to ask their advice.
As for the others, councilman William Amonett insists he still is interested but has done nothing to further the ambition beyond raising enough money to run a respectable council race. Sue V. Mills readily concedes that, "My supporters are a lot more enthusiastic about (the executive race) than I am." Moreover, she said, "I wouldn't run against Sam Bogley. I wouldn't have a difficult time supporting him and I've told him that."
Finally, Republican John Burcham, twice a congressional opponent of former Rep. Gladys Spellman and twice a loser, said last week, "As of now I don't even have a committee." Friends plan to conduct a poll for him and no decision will be made without its results, he said.
All these lackluster efforts contrast with the pugnacity of past campaigns, which were replete with genuine ideological differences. Those who hoped that incumbent Lawrence Hogan's surprise decision to run for the U.S. Senate would clear the way for ambitious newcomers have been disappointed.
"I see nobody that excites me," said former state Sen. Meyer Emanuel. "Maybe what I want is unavailable, but what I want is somebody to say, 'Let's fight!'"
Emanuel hopes that the next few months will see some activity. "If there were no competition and Parris got in I wouldn't be upset," Emanuel continued, " . . . but I cannot say that Parris inspires me."
His protege, Del. Maloney, was more blunt. "I venture to say that there's not a single goosebump about this race," said Maloney, "To a man, to a woman, the reaction is near unanimous. 'We know Parris, but who else is there?' In a county of 665,000, this is what it comes down to."