Prince George's County Council member Thomas R. Hendershot does not want another Democrat to have to go through what he did when he ran for office in 1997 to fill a seat vacated by a departing member.
Because county law does not require a primary election in those circumstances, Hendershot had to stare down candidates from both parties in a crowded contest between four Democrats and two Republicans. He eventually claimed the seat, with less than 30 percent of the vote, winning by 226 votes over his closest opponent, a Republican.
Yesterday, Hendershot offered a bill that would require both a primary and general election to fill a vacancy on the council. He figures that since Prince George's County is heavily Democratic, few Republicans could survive a one-on-one with a Democrat.
The proposal infuriated state and local Republican leaders, but Hendershot (New Carrollton) was unapologetic.
"Make no mistake about it. My intention is starkly partisan," Hendershot told his colleagues on the nine-member council, which includes one Republican, Audrey E. Scott (Bowie). "The current setup gives [Republicans] the opportunity" to win.
Scott said Republicans hardly have an advantage in a county where Democrats outnumber them nearly 4 to 1. She said she favors having one election because "it allows the greatest participation of citizens."
"I don't see any reason to change the rules, and my number one reason is not partisan," she said.
Hendershot's bill was endorsed yesterday by three other Democratic council members. A spokesman for County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) said he has not taken a position on the bill, which is before a council committee.
Council member Peter A. Shapiro (D-Brentwood) called the measure "an excellent piece of legislation" that will strengthen political parties in Prince George's County. "This is righting a wrong," he said.
But Michael Steele, chairman of the county's Republican Party, denounced Hendershot's motives and called on the council member to resign his office.
"The day may come when Republicans control things," Steele said. "Some will say pipe dream, Steele. But careful the seeds you plant today. You don't know what will grow from them."
CAPTION: The bill by Pr. George's council member Thomas R. Hendershot (D) would require a primary to fill a council vacancy.