Prince George's County's Democratic leaders last week picked the person they would like to see become the county's new Orphans Court judge in a typical fashion: behind closed doors and with a minimum of public debate.
But for the record, the county's powerful brace of Democratic state senators allowed the Democratic Central Committee to hold a public hearing and vote on how the vacancy should be filled by Gov. Harry Hughes.
Several of the senators lurked in the hallways of New Carrollton City Hall to make sure their agreed-upon candidate would be approved last week. The fix, it seemed, was already in.
"Those are the words I was told a week before I went to that hearing," said Muriel Weidenfeld, a veteran party worker who was one of three persons who had asked for the party's blessing to fill earlier vacancies on the Orphans' Court.
Weidenfeld, 52, a paralegal currently working part-time in the University of Maryland's registration office, had been before the committee three times since 1977. Each time, her nomination was rejected either by the central committee or the governor. This time, her request was brushed aside long before she made any official request because the senators had decided to choose David Valderrama of Fort Washington.
Which brings us to the 1-2-3 of Prince George's County Democratic politics.
1. Valderrama, a businessman who was born in the Philippines, is vice president of the central committee and has nearly single-handedly registered enough Asian Americans in his southern Prince George's legislative district to assemble the type of voting bloc that mainstream politicians love to court.
2. If Valderrama is selected by Hughes for the Orphans' Court, he will have to resign his central committee seat. He is then likely, said Democratic state Sen. Frank Komenda, to be replaced by a black person who would add racial diversity to Komenda's ticket in 1986. Komenda, who is white, could use that kind of support to fend off any challenge mounted by a black candidate.
3. The Prince George's County senators, while appearing to be "The powers that be had said that David Valderrama's name shall go in. If I had known that, I would not have shown up." -- Committee member Jeanette Gordy magnanimous about allowing the public to have a say in deciding who will fill the vacancy, got the opportunity to show off a little of their considerable muscle.
This message was no doubt meant for Hughes as much as anyone else. The governor, who is considering a run for the U.S. Senate, wouldn't mind gaining a little unified support in Prince George's, where the county and state leadership is often divided.
By sending only one name to the governor, the senators hoped to narrow Hughes' choice. But Hughes appointments secretary Constance R. Beims said this week that her office will review all applications sent to the central committee, including Weidenfeld's.
She added, however, that the governor would give special weight to the central committee's choice.
"The decision was made collectively by the senators that David was the person we wanted to support," Komenda said. "It was not an unusual lobbying effort."
Not all of the elected politicians in Prince George's are happy with this formula, which some say smacks of machine engineering.
"No one minds people supporting their constituents," County Council member Richard J. Castaldi said of Komenda's support of Valderrama. "But to make it a blatant lockout just leaves a bad taste in everybody's mouth."
Castaldi, who like Weidenfeld is from Greenbelt, spoke on Weidenfeld's behalf at the hearing. For his efforts, he was scolded by committee chairman Gary Alexander, who suggested that the council explore its own relationship with County Executive Parris Glendening rather than mucking around in the central committee's dealings with the senators.
Alexander's comments, which one committee member immediately called irrelevant, spotlighted another part of the county's political formula -- the ongoing conflict between Glendening and many members of the county's legislative delegation.
"That is the sort of thing that is festering behind the scenes between elected officials," Alexander acknowledged.
The vote for Valderrama was 15 to 2, with one member abstaining. But the lopsided tally illustrated little of the conflict that accompanied the closed-session discussion. Central committee member Jeanette Gordy has already fired off a letter to the governor on Weidenfeld's behalf.
"Although I'm black I'm not for putting minorities up just because it's their turn," she said.
"The powers that be had said that David Valderrama's name shall go in," she said. "If I had known that, I would not have shown up. I could have used that gas to go shopping."
Valderrama, who became an American citizen in 1974 and has served on the central committee since 1982, sees his selection as a matter of necessary empowerment for the growing Asian American community in Prince George's.
During his speech before the central committee, he quoted Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King to support his call for what he called "power sharing."
"An apple pie with a different crust and shape is just as good," he said. "And a color other than black is also beautiful."