If Rep. Steny Hoyer thought his recent vote for the MX missile would be a vote for peace, he didn't take into account Sammie Abbott, mayor of the nuclear-free zone of Takoma Park.
When Abbott heard the news, he got on the telephone and told Hoyer aides that the Prince George's County Democrat was no longer welcome to speak at a Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration in Takoma Park this week. Abbott expressed his disagreement "in very strong terms," then withdrew the speaking invitation and "slammed down the phone," Hoyer spokeswoman Karen Johanson said.
But several City Council members publicly accused their mayor of rude behavior and sent Hoyer a letter of apology. "Sam's behavior was inappropriate and an embarrassment to the city," said council member Carlton Iddings, who noted that he and most council members also oppose the MX.
Such disputes are common in the volatile politics of Takoma Park, a city of about 16,000 that straddles the border of Prince George's and Montgomery counties. The real question, many said, is whether Hoyer's vote supporting the nuclear missile system will hurt his chances for reelection.
Hoyer has acknowledged that his MX vote may be less than popular among his constituents. Johanson noted that Hoyer has supported MX, "with reservations," since entering Congress in 1981 and has been reelected twice since then. Last year, Hoyer got 86 percent of the primary vote and 72 percent in the general election.
"Obviously, some people are angry and disagree with him," Johanson said. " . . . But I don't think it's going to cause any problem for Hoyer politically, or with his relationship with Takoma Park."
Bennie Thayer, a county businessman who headed the Rev. Jessie L. Jackson's campaign in Maryland, said Hoyer's stand for MX had made him vulnerable in Prince George's. Thayer is viewed as a possible candidate for Hoyer's seat next year.
"People I talk to who are politically active are very concerned" about Hoyer's MX vote, said state Del. Albert R. Wynn (D-Landover). The $1.5 billion MX missiles would hurt the county by pushing the nation deeper in debt, leaving less money for nonmilitary programs, he said.
"Given the fact that we are already looking at federal cuts, it will impact us directly," he said. "This can only worsen it." When Hoyer next stands for election, Wynn said, there is "no question people will remember."
However, Del. Gary R. Alexander (D-Fort Washington), chairman of the county's Democratic Central Committee, predicted that Hoyer's MX vote would not affect Hoyer's popularity. "I think people in Prince George's identify more with the local issues," he said. Hoyer remains good at "bringing home the bacon, Metro funding -- issues that people here really see as significant," he said.
The mayor of Takoma Park, Alexander said, is "a lonely voice in the wilderness."
Abbott described himself differently. "I'm not your typical pragmatic mutual back-scratcher," he declared, referring to the council members.
"If we are going to condescend and depart from principle just so we don't rub somebody the wrong way, we don't belong in office, as far as I'm concerned," he said. "Hoyer is going to need us more than we need him."
Abbott maintained it would be "highly inappropriate for a supporter of the MX nuclear weapons system to speak" at the commemoration of a man who won the Nobel Peace Price -- especially in a city that has declared itself nuclear-free.
Whatever the long-term affects of Hoyer's MX vote, he remains uninvited to Takoma Park's King commemoration. Roscoe Nix, president of the Montgomery County NAACP chapter, will speak instead.
Nix said Abbott never asked him what he thought of the MX missile and that he would rather not state his position. "We just had one person uninvited because he took a position on the MX," he explained. " . . . It's a situation that's fraught with booby traps."