The Prince George's Democratic Central Committee, after six hours of emotional debate early into yesterday morning, selected Jerry Eileen Perry, from Upper Marlboro, to fill a vacant House of Delegates seat in the 25th Legislative District.
Perry, 38, a conservative-leaning housing consultant who ran unsuccessfully for a delegate seat this fall, becomes the second black delegate from the district, which threads its way from Suitland to Largo and is approximately 62 percent black. She replaces former Del. Lorraine Sheehan, who was named secretary of state two weeks ago.
Perry was one of nearly a dozen candidates vying for the vacancy, most of whom were aspirants for the House and Senate in last fall's equally crowded Democratic primaries. Her selection early yesterday morning capped days of furious lobbying over the seat, spearheaded by the district's Sen. B.W. (Mike) Donovan, considered one of the county's most conservative legislators, and Sen. Tommie Broadwater, the county's only black state senator, who hails from the 24th District.
Central committee members said they selected Perry, who was Donovan's second choice and whom Broadwater opposed as too conservative, as an attempt to strike a compromise between white, black, liberal, conservative and feminist factions of the Democratic Party. It was one of the most public and explosive party disputes in years, they said.
"She's the compromise candidate," said committee member Gloria Lawlah. "She's the second choice of the senator and I think it's very, very important that we give him the privilege of having input . . . . I think the other senators will support her if she is the black of Mr. Donovan's choice . . . ."
The committee's choice now goes to Gov. Harry Hughes for confirmation.
Dozens of people appeared at the hearing Thursday night. At one point, most of the predominately black members of the audience jumped to their feet in an ovation for Broadwater after he demanded that a black be appointed in recognition of black-voter loyalty to the Democratic Party.
Others testified on behalf of Martha Weber, a white and longtime party activist, saying she deserved the seat because of her stands on the liberal side of many issues. And Perry, who positioned herself as a compromise candidate, tried to defuse criticism about her association with Donovan in an equally emotional speech. "I don't believe that one has to hate one side to advocate justice for the other side," she said.
In the end, several committee members said, blacks voted for Perry, who counted the vote with tears welling up in her eyes, in order to get a black, and whites in order to preserve the seat for a woman.
Originally, Donovan had supported Weber, 36, a Forestville real estate manager. Donovan, along with the other senators and U.S. Rep Steny Hoyer, pushed Weber, because she ran unsuccessfully on Donovan's ticket last fall for one of three House of Delegates seats and finished only 132 votes behind the third winner.
But Broadwater, in a strongly worded speech to central committee members Thursday night, denounced his fellow senators, as well as his longtime ally Hoyer, for failing to take into account concerns of the growing black population.
"Steny Hoyer was a dead politician in Prince George's County. We resurrected Steny Hoyer in the 1980 special congressional election ," he said. "We have many leadership positions in the House and in the Senate. Do you know who made that possible? Black folks . . . . We did everything you asked us to do. We put conservative Sen. Mike Miller in office. We voted against our own for Mike Donovan . . . . We did that because we were asked to."
But Broadwater's position was undercut by his inability to find a black candidate upon whom all could agree and by his refusal to support Perry, in part because of her "pro-life, pro-death penalty" views, he said.
Over the past few days, according to Senate sources, the senators met several times in an effort to reach a compromise. In a meeting Wednesday afternoon in Miller's office, the senators, with the exception of Broadwater, voted to support Weber.
Other candidates were John Church, 32, of Capitol Heights; Ulysses Curry, 45, of Capitol Heights; James Easter, 33, of Largo; Franklyn Henderson, 42, of Largo; Horace Hillsman, 43, of Suitland; Alexander Reid, 61, of Suitland; former Del. Francis White, 60, of Largo; and John Williams, 49, of District Heights.