It was 7:30 a.m. on the Fifth of July. In a hotel room in Prince George's County, the weekly meeting of the county's senate delegation was beginning. For several weeks now, the six senators seeking reelection and their two slate mates, Del. Kay G. Bienen and former Del. Leo Green, have met here each Monday morning to make their plans and discuss their political headaches.
The six senators, along with Green, the heir apparent to the late Edward T. Conroy's seat, and Bienen, who is running for the senate in a new district split between Prince George's and Howard counties, began these meetings last month. This is not the old breakfast club, the group that made all of the county Democratic Party's political decisions throughout most of the 1970s. Perhaps it could be called the coffee klatch.
Yesterday morning, the klatch was visited by Baltimore Sen. Harry J. McGuirk who is challenging Gov. Harry Hughes in the Democratic primary. For the senators--Thomas V. Mike Miller; Arthur Dorman; Thomas P. O'Reilly; Tommie Broadwater Jr; B.W. (Mike) Donovan and Frank J. Komenda--this was an awkward situation. All have served with McGuirk and all like McGuirk. But politics is a pragmatic game, not a sentimental one, and pragmatism means sticking with an incumbent who looks like a winner 10 weeks before the primary.
McGuirk's pitch was direct: "A lot of people didn't believe I was a candidate. I am. I've been campaigning for a year . . . . There are a lot of non-Hughes votes out there. I think this race will go to the wire. It won't be easy for me to win, but it could be easy for Hughes to lose . . . . I'm not necessarily asking for an endorsement. I am asking you, as friends, to at least go for no endorsement and let the people of Prince George's County decide who to vote for."
McGuirk's voice was soft, but urgent. Montgomery County already has an incumbent slate headed by County Executive Charles Gilchrist that is backing Hughes; Baltimore County is in the process of doing the same thing led by Executive Donald B. Hutchinson. McGuirk's campaign needs a breakthrough.
One of the senators, O'Reilly, has been pushing the other members of the group to go with McGuirk. O'Reilly feels that Hughes has not played ball with the senators, that he has usurped much of the power they wielded when Marvin Mandel was governor and the word of the breakfast club was law in county politics.
The others are less sure. They asked McGuirk how much money he plans to raise ($450,000 for the primary, he said); they asked him where he thought his votes were ("I'm going to win the city. If I had your support here, I would start feeling confident").
The most skeptical listener was Miller, the chairman of the delegation. "You know, since January, we've had a pretty good relationship with Harry Hughes," he said to McGuirk.
"You also know that, long before January, some of us were fighting for Prince George's on the floor of the senate," McGuirk replied.
O'Reilly had a few final words: "What has Hughes done for us the last four years? The Jack Garrity appointment to a judgeship should have been worked out long before it was. He chopped us up in redistricting. We'll be down to seven senators unless Kay can win in a divided district."
As McGuirk left, he thanked the senators for meeting with him. "If you can't talk to your friends, who can you talk to?" he asked.
"We are your friends," Miller said, almost regretfully, "your very close friends."
With McGuirk gone, the question was what to do next. No vote on whether to endorse, not to endorse or to independently endorse would be made until after a meeting with Hughes. In addition to the senators, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer; Del. Robert Redding, the chairman on the house side, and central committee chairman Gary Alexander would be invited.
"Ask Pete, too," said one senator, referring to Peter F. O'Malley, the long-time political major-domo of the county.
"He won't come," said another.
"Yeah, but you got to invite your power broker when the governor comes to talk to you."
Settled. O'Malley would be asked.
Yesterday, another factor crept into the gubernatorial equation: the news, received last Friday, that Hughes was planning to name County Council member Sarah Ada Koonce as secretary of state, at least until the end of this term. None of the senators have anything against Koonce but, because they believe the only county person contacted about the appointment was outgoing secretary of state Fred Wineland, they were angry.
"If Hughes is going to make Fred Wineland his man in this county . . . ," said one senator. "I'm not going to sit here and have Fred Wineland tell me what the governor's going to do in my district."
One person who had sought Wineland's old job was Donovan, who had spoken to Hughes about being appointed. Another was former Sen. Meyer Emanuel, who came to yesterday's meeting to ask for support next January when Hughes, if reelected, makes a permanent appointment. Whether Emanuel was mollified, the senators did not know. He had talked about filing for county executive before tonight's 9 p.m. filing deadline and the possibility still hung in the air after he left.
The Koonce appointment left the group unsettled. They felt it created more problems than it solved. They did not like Wineland's role as middle man. The meeting dragged on until almost 10:30 a.m. The mood was grumpy.
"Everyone's uptight because of the filing deadline," Miller said. "And some of them are angry at me for letting a reporter into the meeting."