A majority faction of the Montgomery County Council last week rejected County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist's nomination of Ruth Spector to the County Social Services Board, further widening the gulf between the council's warring factions and prompting fresh accusations that the majority has politicized the appointments process.
Spector, a former council member, saw her appointment to the voluntary board spiked by the three members from an opposing 1982 Democratic primary slate. Council president David L. Scull, vice president Esther P. Gelman and president pro tem Michael Gudis--who ran together as the "Merit Team"--all voted against Spector, causing a tie vote and thus killing the appointment.
The fourth "Merit Team" member on the seven-member council, William E. Hanna--who beat Spector in the Democratic primary--voted with his feet, taking a long walk when her name came up for a vote.
Gudis, summing up the sentiment of the "Merit Team" members, said in a two-page statement that there was nothing political in the vote against former foe Spector.
Gudis said the problem was that Spector is now an employe of the Housing Opportunities Commission, and county employes as a rule should not sit on citizen advisory boards.
"One of the principal functions of these types of boards is to be citizen watchdogs and critics of our county agencies," Gudis said. "It would obviously be very difficult for a county employe to join in discussion and then perhaps public accusation of their own superiors of blunders, poor decisions, unresponsive service or the other failings of government."
But Spector's three political allies from last fall--the three who voted for her appointment--said the vote was pure politics. Neal Potter, Scott Fosler and Rose Crenca, who with Spector formed the "United Democrats" primary slate, criticized the "Merit Team" members for what they described as vengeance.
"It was political," said the normally soft-spoken Potter. "I would say it was obvious, personal politics of the most indecent sort. It just seems absurd! We've never seen that before in Montgomery County. This group sees it as a Chicago-politics type of thing. They were out to get Ruth Spector, rather than outlining some lofty principal."
Since their election last year, members of the "Merit Team" have been ramming through many measures on split votes along straight political lines.
On policy issues, the votes do not always divide the same. For instance, when Scull and Hanna proposed limited employe fringe benefits, they found no support even from their allies. And a bill to limit the sale of handgun ammunition in the county had only one dissenting vote.
But on matters of power and control--appointments being just another way to guarantee power--many votes split along the old lines, exposing the extent to which the council still is divided.
That factional in-fighting has caused consternation among many county Democrats.
One Democratic party leader (not an officeholder) who watches the council from a distance said: "The 1982 election has politicized the council more than it's ever been before. Before, the council was politicized around issues, usually the growth, no-growth issue. Following the 1982 election, we now have the council politicized around factions and personalities."
Former state senator Victor Crawford, a longtime party activist now observing the combat, called the council "a snakepit."
Crawford criticized the vote on Spector's appointment, saying, "You don't kick somebody when they're down. If it were the sanitary commission, that's different because it's an important job. But the Social Services Board? Come on!"
Said party chairman Jay Bernstein, who has been trying to walk a delicate line between the factions: "On the face of it, you'd have to say it was a vindictive holdover from the primary."
Faced with a continuous split in the party--despite repeated efforts at mediation--Bernstein observed, "We've got to do something to straighten this out."