Step through the looking glass into the "Alice in Wonderland" world of Prince George's County's Second Council District:
Incumbent Anthony J. Cicoria, of University Park, having won the Democratic primary while under indictment accusing him of filing false tax returns and theft of $64,324 in campaign funds, is nearing the end of his three-week trial in Circuit Court.
If the verdict on his guilt or innocence remains in doubt, his electoral fate is almost certain. By all accounts, he is a shoo-in to win a third term Nov. 6.
Cicoria hasn't attended a council meeting since June 12 and has missed 20 out of 29 legislative days this year. But his support, from senior citizens especially, seems solid. His staunchest supporters have even attended his trial, which he claims is all politics.
In the meantime, J. Lee Ball Jr., the Republican opponent, thinks Cicoria is a really good guy. If elected, he promises to keep Cicoria's staff. He says he hasn't spent a dime campaigning, and he declines to attend campaign forums or to go door-knocking to meet voters.
"I have to say my opponent is a nice man," said Cicoria of Ball, who works as an "all 'round man" for a College Park car dealership. "There is nothing I can say against him."
The Republican Party has all but disavowed Ball's candidacy. Should Cicoria be convicted and, after an appeal, be forced to give up his seat, the Republicans will fight hard for it then, said party Chairman Richmond Davis.
Of such slender threads are Republican hopes woven in this overwhelmingly Democratic county. Nowhere is this more evident than in the council races. Two Democrats are unopposed, and Republicans running against the seven other incumbents are less hopeful perhaps than they are quixotic.
Running shoestring campaigns, they are frustrated over their inability to confront the incumbents, who have mostly steered clear of candidate forums since the Sept. 11 primary.
Several of these Republican challengers are former Democrats. A lot of them think the highly touted "Prince George's renaissance" is largely political hype. And all believe the county government needs a loyal opposition.
Of 274,214 registered voters in the county, 187,742 are Democrats, 57,249 are Republicans and 27,223 are independents. In no district are Republicans a majority, although there is large block of 10,000 in the Laurel district, represented by Democratic council veteran Frank P. Casula.
But even there, the Republican candidate is the longest of long shots, a 24-year-old bank assistant who admires Casula.
"He's done a lot of good things for the county," said challenger James Douglas. "I just think he's been in there a long time and it's time for a change."
Douglas, who recently received a bachelor's degree in government from the University of Maryland, all but concedes the race when he says, "I'm going to start looking for a different job as soon as I finish the campaign. I just want to get something political, work on the Hill, something like that. I'm trying to save money to go to graduate school next year."
His views are "more liberal, more like a Democrat," but he remains a Republican "for principle" and because "monopolies breed corruption." But getting his message out isn't easy, he says.
The Republicans have shallow pockets in Prince George's County. Their treasury totals $3,500, Davis said, not enough to contribute to any of the council candidates.
A group of supporters raised enough money to print a newsletter for the Republican hopefuls but not enough to mail it.
"Treasury?" asks Theodore Henderson, a school counselor challenging incumbent Richard J. Castaldi in the Fourth District, which encompasses Bowie and Greenbelt. "It's empty. We're running on fumes right now, and on shoe leather."
Among the Democrats, a $9,000 contribution from each candidate assures the candidate a place and a picture on the party's slate literature. Only Cicoria is not on the party slate.
Anne T. MacKinnon, representing the Third District, is "working within the party" and counting on the clout of the slate to help her retain the seat to which she was appointed this spring, after James M. Herl was charged with cocaine possession and resigned.
Larry Goff Sr., of Riverdale, her Republican challenger, is counting on shoe leather to get his message across.
"I've been through three pairs of tennis shoes, by God," he said.
Roy L. Chambers, a Fort Washington Democrat until he filed as a Republican to run against council member Sue V. Mills, has another answer to the money problem. "I'm accepting no contributions whatsoever," said the semi-retired director of the Center for Abused Taxpayers. "I don't want to be obligated. I didn't think I could raise enough money to make a difference, anyway."
Karen J. Crownover, a paralegal and substitute teacher trying to unseat one-term council member F. Kirwan Wineland, says that most of her supporters are disgruntled Democrats.
She'll need them in a district with three times as many Democrats as Republicans.
The Republican Party, she says, "didn't know I existed until I registered to run. They're not doing anything for me."
She figures she has spent "about $500" and has about $500 more. "I refused to accept money from any developers," she said. "I did get an offer from one."
Like other Republicans, Crownover, a former president of the Piscataway Citizens Association, seeks to tar her Democratic opponent as representing developers instead of residents. Wineland denies the allegation, although his campaign chest -- he had received $113,268 as of the last filing date -- includes many donations from builders and developers.
"That charge is ballyhoo from what is essentially a candidate who has no issue and nothing positive to put forth," said Wineland, who also offered this olive branch: "I'm sure she's a very nice person. We've worked together on a number of issues where I've been of invaluable service to her."
Similarly, Mills said she has worked with her opponent, Chambers, on district issues. "I do all kinds of constituent work for him," she said. "He called me after he filed and said, 'Sorry, Sue, I had to do it.' I said, 'That's all right, but don't ever come to me for constituent service again.' "
Council Chairman Jo Ann T. Bell, from the mid-county Sixth District, can't quite picture her Republican opponent, James E. House, although "I've been told I've been introduced."
But Bell says she is not taking her opponent for granted. "If you're not running scared, you shouldn't be running."