Before the party there was grumbling about the high cost of the tickets which went for $125 a couple, the fact that it was a fund-raiser, that it was black tie:
"I hate to say it," said State Del. Frank Pesci (D-Prince George's), "but it's the kind of thing a Republican would do."
Yet the gala dinner-dance last week following the inauguration of Prince George's newly elected County Executive Parris Glendening, who reclaimed the seat for the Democrats after a four-year reign by Republican Lawrence J. Hogan, really was in many ways a democratic celebration, both of a political triumph and of the diversity that is Prince George's.
* Of the nine newly elected council members, three are divorced and attended the dinner with friends.
* One of the new members has been a single parent for years as well as a professional in the county government and is the kind of person who was rarely seen in Prince George's politics a few years ago.
* Four members arrived with spouses, and one, JoAnn Bell, also brought along at least one of her seven children, with whom she later took a spin on the dance floor.
* The guests who forked over $125 a couple ($75 for singles) for tickets were business owners -- ranging from Capital Centre owner Abe Pollin to independent lawyers -- teachers, union leaders and other political activists, and formed a heavily integrated group of blacks and whites. There were many professional women and men, a number of whom arrived comfortably without escorts, as well as more traditional breadwinner/homemaker couples.
Politics is still largely a man's world, however, and the men -- a rainbow of splendiferous cummerbunds and ruffles -- often seemed to outshine the women. They duly admired each other.
"Did you get a load of that outfit?" tuxedoed guests asked each other as they filed past the tables. Former county executive Winfield Kelly arrived in a tailored tuxedo with ruffled shirt and a gold county seal pin on his lapel.
Council administrator Samuel Wynkoop, a normally mild-mannered bureaucrat, wore a blue tuxedo jacket and a blue-and-black ruffled shirt, and parted his hair in a style vaguely similar to one once affected by John Travolta. "Yes, and I have my gold medallion under my shirt," he said.
All this regalia deserved an elegant dinner: It included tender prime rib, croissants, Caesar salad, chocolate mousse, and afterwards, just when a string quartet might have seemed appropriate, there was (you guessed it) disco music.
"They don't do this in Montgomery County, baby," declared Kelly, who was very active on the dance floor. "They can't do this in Montgomery County."
He was half right. Montgomery County's government, sworn in the same day as Prince George's, had no party to celebrate the event, and by 3 p.m. the reelected executive, Charles Gilchrist, was said to be home taking a nap.
Montgomery spent about $3,000 in county funds on the inaugural ceremony, said county spokesman Charles Maier. That covered invitations, postage, pastry and coffee before the ceremony and juice and cookies for guests afterward. (Glendening paid the $2,400 for invitations to his inaugural out of his campaign fund.) The poinsettias on the stage at the Montgomery ceremony were borrowed.
"We've never done a gala, as far as I can recall," Maier said, "I think it's the money, and nobody seems to be interested. This is local government after all. I mean, this isn't the U.S. presidency."
Though the real point of the Prince George's affair was to retire an insignificant campaign debt and to raise money for Glendening's political activities throughout the year, Prince Georgians had their own response to the Montgomery County line.
"[Montgomery County] is so rich they have to pretend they aren't," said former council member Gerard McDonough, a major in the Marine reserves who appeared for the affair in full-dress uniform and took some teasing. "If you're not, you have to dress up."
"I guess I can sleep well tonight knowing you're here, huh Jerry?" said one man, as he inpected McDonough's gold wings, gold buttons, gold emblems and red-striped trousers.
"Well, look. I took out a loan to buy this thing when I was a second lieutenant," said McDonough, with grand bravado. "It took me five years to pay it off. Why should I pay for a tux?"
"Everybody likes to play dress-up," added McDonough. "Besides, it alleviates the grief of actually having to serve the four years."