The scramble for power in the Maryland senate, thought to be over, is apparently just beginning. And, as so often happens in state senate battles, the delegations from Montgomery County and Baltimore City are smack in the middle of the controversy.
Only days after he had apparently been anointed as the new chairman of the senate's budget and taxation committee, Baltimore Sen. Clarence W. Blount met Sunday night with the Montgomery delegation, and according to the Montgomery senators, said he was willing to relinquish that post to Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery), who has been chairman of the committee the last four years.
The reason: Blount, who has been Levitan's vice chairman, was told that his elevation to chairman would break the often-shaky alliance between Montgomery and the city. What's more, Blount isn't sure he wants the job.
The scrambling came about because Sen. Melvin A. Steinberg (D-Baltimore County) has decided to challenge incumbent Sen. James Clark Jr.(D-Howard) for the Senate presidency. Steinberg, with the aid of Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller, the head of the Prince George's delegation, has pieced together a coalition that apparently has more than enough votes to unseat Clark when the Democratic caucus meets in December. It includes seven votes from Baltimore County, seven from Prince George's, two from Anne Arundel County and six from Baltimore city.
Steinberg got the city votes by guaranteeing Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer that Blount would chair Levitan's committee. Steinberg said he agreed to the deal only after Levitan refused three times to support him in exchange for retaining the chairmanship.
Levitan said he turned down Steinberg because "Jim Clark made me the chairman. I felt an obligation to wait and see what happened."
But while Steinberg and Miller -- who would be majority leader in a Steinberg-run senate -- thought their work was done, Clark is still battling them.
"The situation is fluid again," Levitan said yesterday. "All along we (Montgomery) said our delegation and the city should act as a block, talk to both candidates before we made a decision. Now, we can do that I hope. I don't think the city wants to make an enemy out of Montgomery County."
At the Sunday night meeting with the Montgomery senators, at Sen. Margaret C. Schweinhaut's home, Blount reportedly said that both the city delegation and the five-member black caucus were willing to compromise with the Montgomery delegation. Clark, whose district includes a small portion of Montgomery, arranged and attended the session.
"Clarence is up to something but I don't know what it is," said Del. John A. Pica Jr., a tentative Steinberg supporter who is seeking to move to the Senate in the November election. "I guess we're back in neutral and we're just going to have to meet again to decide what to do next."
Steinberg and Blount were reported to be in meetings and did not return phone calls yesterday. Clark was also reported to be at a meeting.
"Somebody told me that we had cut our deals too early," Miller said yesterday. "And someone else told me that if we cut Montgomery County out we'd spend the next four years counting votes on every crucial issue. If Jim Clark can pull this off, well, God bless him. We lived in hell for four years with his incompetency, I suppose we can live for four more years with it if we have to."