Politics, Prince George's County style, is not what it used to be.
Throughout the county there are tales of political hostility among the Democrats, friends running against friends, skirmishes and squabbles on every corner. In short, there is acrimony everywhere, the kind that Prince Georgians used to laugh at as they watched it run rampant in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.
Everyone agrees it has raised the costs of campaigning and created a lot of anger and frustration, resulting in scenes like the one 10 days ago when Rita Bogley, wife of Lt. Gov. Samuel W. Bogley, confronted Congressman Steny H. Hoyer in public.
Hoyer, the county's delegate in the House of Representatives who is supporting Gov. Harry Hughes for reelection, had arrived late at an Upper Marlboro fund-raiser for gubernatorial candidate Harry J. McGuirk. Working the tobacco barn, he got to Mrs. Bogley, whose husband is McGuirk's running mate.
"Rita, how are you?" Hoyer asked, shaking hands.
Rita Bogley glared at Hoyer and, her hand still in his, turned her back. "Would you like to take the knife out of my back now, Steny?" she said. "Or do you just want to leave it there where you put it?"
Throughout the 1970s, the Democratic organization dominated Prince George's County. But in 1978, Peter F. O'Malley, a political strategist, began cutting back his involvement and political leaders Hoyer and county executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr. lost their elections. With the three main figures in the organization gone, those who were left decided to let the patient die quietly.
"The organization died because a lot of people who had busted their butts to make it work got tired of the abuse they were taking," said County Council Chairman Gerard T. McDonough. "The agony we were put through wasn't worth the fruit it was bearing. So, people said, 'Okay, guys, check it out. You're on your own.'
"It's a microcosm of what happened to the Democratic Party all over the country. You had this coalition of very different types, liberal, conservative, urban guy, farmer, black, white, held together by a common desire to get elected. That's fragile. Sooner or later it falls apart."
As often happens when a tyrant (in this case, the organization) departs, anarchy took his place.
"You need some kind of centralization or you have chaos," Hoyer said. "That may sound self-serving but it's true."
Even though Hoyer is cruising to what appears to be an easy reelection, he has had a tumultuous summer. In one state Senate race he has been caught between two old friends. In another legislative race he has written a letter endorsing three opponents of someone he calls "a superb delegate."
A lot of the county's politicians shake their heads sadly, look back at "the olden days" and say, "It couldn't have happened in '78."
That year was the last in which the so-called "blue-ribbon" panel anointed county Democrats. If you wanted to hold office in the county your best chance was to go to the panel and request a place on the ticket.
Those who didn't get on the ticket ran as "independents," decrying the "machine." The independents vs. machine theme was as much a part of the county's political tradition as walk -- around money was in Baltimore.
This year, Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller, the head of the county Senate delegation, has worked since the legislature convened in January to form a new coalition. He has tried, with mixed success, to keep the senators together, feeling that will keep the county together.
He has held weekly meetings of the senators and they did agree to common literature. But each senator is running his own campaign and, in most of the districts, the senator's slate, if not the senator, is in a struggle.
Sen. Frank J. Komenda, who is in the fight of his political life with Del. Charles S. Blumenthal, sums up the change this way: "Campaigns used to be fun in this county. This one has just been a lot of hard work and long days. In the old days people worked to get US elected. Now, everyone is working to get ME elected."
Example: For years Sen. Arthur Dorman and former Del. Andrew O. (Sonny) Mothershead have been antagonists in the 21st District encompassing Hyattsville and Beltsville. Dorman, as the incumbent, always had the Democratic organization backing him. So, Mothershead never challenged him.
But this year, the organization gone, Mothershead began calling in political chits early, including those owed him by Hoyer, whom he supported for Congress in 1981. When Mothershead announced his candidacy, Hoyer was present.
Dorman was furious. Hoyer told Dorman he was not endorsing either one of them and they could both use his name on their literature. That left both men less than delighted.
"The old Steny wouldn't have let this happen," said Del. Kay G. Bienen, who is running for the Senate in a new district. "He would have sat one of them down and said, 'Look I'm endorsing your opponent and here's why.' But he's trying to stay in the middle and in this case, it didn't work."
Hoyer admits the race in the 21st has been uncomfortable. When he was Senate president he was always involved on one side or another. "That's my nature," he said. "Pick a side and go to work."
There have been no easy decisions for Hoyer this summer. In June Hoyer had to tell Del. Lorraine Sheehan, a longtime supporter and one of the county's most respected delegates, that she would not be appearing on his literature this year.
The reason was Sheehan's fight with O'Malley, who though no longer a central figure in county politics remains involved as a counselor and adviser to political friends.
O'Malley and Sheehan had disagreed bitterly over the Branch Avenue subway line. The political dispute had turned personal and O'Malley was vehement about not wanting Sheehan on Hoyer's literature.
"Lorraine Sheehan is a superb delegate," Hoyer said. "Splitting with her has been very difficult for me. But the decision had everything to do with personalities and nothing to do with politics. I will be glad when Sept. 14 primary day comes and goes. I consider Lorraine Sheehan a friend."
Sheehan bristles at Hoyer's words. "My friend Steny Hoyer is sending out a letter endorsing three of my opponents," she said. "My friend Steny Hoyer is staying neutral in almost every county race. But not mine."
The governor's race has also caused Hoyer some discomfort because McGuirk is a man Hoyer respects. "I served in the Senate with the three major candidates in this race," Hoyer said, referring to Hughes, McGuirk and Republican Robert A. Pascal. "There's no doubt in my mind the most able of the three was Harry McGuirk. But if he were in my shoes he would be doing exactly what I'm doing."
Hughes became the endorsed candidate of Hoyer and the Senate coalition after often bitter negotiations that culminated in a meeting in Hughes' office. There, Hughes confronted Sen. Thomas P. O'Reilly, who had urged his colleagues to endorse McGuirk.
"Well," Hughes said, a newspaper article with O'Reilly's pro-McGuirk quotes sitting on his desk, "are you with me or against me, Tom?"
"With you, governor," O'Reilly answered.
That created yet another irony: O'Reilly's opponent, Del. Robert S. Redding, the head of the Prince George's delegation, is one of Hughes' favorite legislators, O'Reilly one of his least favorite. Yet, Hughes and O'Reilly are slate mates.
The races for County Council are equally fractious--and expensive. Incumbent council chairman McDonough is a prime example. In each of the last two elections he estimates he spent about $4,000. This time he will spend $40,000.
"What has happened," said one politician, "is that we've come full speed ahead and reached 1966. That was the last year expenses went crazy and big battles were fought."
The end result?
"We lack leadership right now," Del. Bienen said. "Because of the organization, most of the politicians in this county have only been taught to take orders. That won't bode well in Annapolis next year."
One of the major reasons for concern about future leadership is the departure of Redding as leader of the delegates. Almost everyone agrees that Redding had a unique ability to bring factions together within the delegation.
The circumstances that brought about his leaving best sum up Prince George's politics this year.
Redding, a quiet, pipe-smoking man, had no interest in returning to Annapolis. What he wants is an appointment to the workmen's compensation commission.
But 24 hours before the filing deadline, Sen. O'Reilly infuriated Redding by arguing against Redding representing the delegates at the senators' meetings. The next night, minutes before the deadline, Redding filed against a shocked O'Reilly.
When Senate delegation chairman Miller heard the news, he shook his head in disgust. "Now what am I going to do?" he asked. For the next 10 days, Miller looked for a solution. He thought he had one: Hughes would agree to appoint Redding to the workmen's compensation commission when a vacancy occurred in December. Redding would withdraw from the race and run Hughes' campaign in Prince George's.
But the final connections were never made and Redding stayed in the race. "Now, when the campaign is over, I don't know what's going to happen," Miller said. "It just means we've got one more headache to deal with."
In Prince George's, it's been that kind of summer.