Prince George's County Council member Thomas R. Hendershot (D-New Carrollton) does not want to lose seven of his eight colleagues in 2002 when voter-imposed term limits are scheduled to force them out the door.

So Hendershot is launching a petition drive to ask voters to extend the limits for council members to three consecutive four-year terms, one more than the two terms they are now allowed. He needs 10,000 signatures by early August 2000 to have the issue placed on the November 2000 ballot.

Under Hendershot's proposal, the extra term would be phased in. Council members Dorothy F. Bailey (D-Temple Hills), Marvin F. Wilson (D-Glenarden) and Audrey E. Scott (R-Bowie)--whose second terms end in 2002--would not be able to take advantage of the change, although their successors would. At the same time, four other members whose second terms would end in 2002 would be able to seek a third term.

Hendershot said he proposed the phase-in to stagger the years when seats would be open. If the law is not changed, term limits will prevent seven of the nine council members from seeking reelection in 3 1/2 years. County executives would continue to be limited to two terms.

Hendershot said his aim is "to prevent the wholesale turnover of the institution, which in my view weakens the electorate and empowers the unelected appointed officials."

Hendershot would be eligible for a third term under his proposal. Under current law, he can stay in office until December 2006 if he wins reelection to a second term.

Hendershot first hinted that he might campaign to change council term limits in the fall at a party for then-departing member Stephen J. Del Giudice, who could not run for reelection.

Del Giudice, a Hyattsville Democrat, said yesterday that term limits have weakened the council. "You now have a council that is constantly turning over, that lacks seniority, that has to deal with by design a strong executive and an empowered bureaucracy."

But Judy Robinson, a civic activist who led the successful campaign for term limits in 1992, said the government has improved because of term limits.

"Our intent was to throw out 20-year politicians," she said. "We did that. . . . The county hasn't raised a tax. We have less development, and we now have people who aren't politically entrenched."

Council member Walter H. Maloney (D-Beltsville), who campaigned for term limits before winning a council seat in 1994, said he does not support Hendershot's proposal even if it would give him a chance to keep his job longer. Maloney also questioned whether staggering the terms was constitutional in Maryland.

"Elected officials get absorbed into the scenery too easily," he said. "Term limits are a way of preventing that."