U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, whose district encompasses all of Southern Maryland, is positioning himself for a run at the No. 2 spot in the Democratic leadership should his party win control of the House in next year's elections.

"I think I'm going to run for whip," Hoyer told the Capital News Service. In the party hierarchy in the House, the whip post is second to the Democratic leader.

As co-chair of the House Democratic Steering Committee, which is instrumental in crafting policy and strategy for the House Democrats, Hoyer already is among his party's top 10 leaders in the House. From 1989 to 1994, he served as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the fourth-ranking leadership position. He was ineligible to run again for the chairmanship in 1995.

If Democrats recapture the House majority they lost in the 1994 elections, there is likely to be a scramble for leadership positions that would produce several contenders for the whip position Hoyer is eyeing. The post is currently occupied by Rep. David E. Bonior (D-Mich.). If Democrats controlled the House, Bonior would likely move up to Democratic majority leader, the post now held by Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), who would be in line to become Speaker of the House.

Hoyer's leadership political action committee, AmeriPAC, has been one of the most active fund-raising operations of top House Democrats. Such PACs often lend a financial hand to other candidates who, if they win election to the House in 2001, can be expected to remember who helped them get there.

"I don't think there's any doubt that if you help a candidate, they will help you," Hoyer told Capital News Service. But he noted that his first goal is to boost Democrats' bid for a majority. His own interest in becoming party whip "won't matter," he said, unless Democrats control the House.

The current House comprises 222 Republicans, 212 Democrats and 1 Independent. Gaining just six seats would put the Democrats in control.

Emergency Center Groundbreaking

St. Mary's County officials broke ground last week for a new Emergency Communications Center in Leonardtown.

The 7,100-square-foot, one-story building in the Government Center will house the county's Emergency Management Agency and the Emergency Communications Department, just created as part of a modernization of 911 and other emergency communications in St. Mary's.

Building the $1.3 million communications center is the first phase of a $10.4 million upgrade of the emergency system. Future work will include construction of new communications towers, installation of new equipment and replacement of all radios and pagers used by police, fire ambulance and other emergency personnel.

Lexington Park Gains an Advocate

Robin Finnacom, until recently an economic development specialist with the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland, has been hired by St. Mary's County to coordinate revitalization efforts in Lexington Park.

Under a two-year contract, Finnacom will begin working next week to recruit new businesses to Lexington Park's downtown area and help implement the county's master plan for development in the area.

Dyson's Tobacco Transition Hopes

State Sen. Roy P. Dyson (D-St. Mary's, Calvert) expressed cautious optimism at the end of last week about efforts to find ways for Southern Maryland farmers to continue to grow tobacco.

Dyson's office issued a statement saying that Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) has indicated that research into growing genetically altered tobacco that would produce enzymes for use in ethanol fuel production "is a fruitful endeavor" that could help farmers as the market for smoking tobacco shrinks.

Efforts by Dyson to interest the governor in the research being conducted at the Center for Agricultural Biotechnology at the University of Maryland were detailed here last week.

In a reply to Dyson, the governor said he is directing state Agriculture Secretary Henry A. Virts to monitor the work.

But the governor's precondition for supporting a shift to the genetically modified tobacco maintains his opposition to state aid for traditional tobacco products. In a letter to Dyson, Glendening said the biotechnology work should be considered "provided such tobacco could never be used for cigarettes, cigars or smokeless products."

New Strike Commander at Pax River

The Naval Strike Aircraft Test Squadron at Patuxent River Naval Air Station has a new commanding officer.

Cmdr. Ronald Weisbrook, who was the chief test pilot for the squadron, replaced Capt. Thomas Phelan as commanding officer for Strike during a change of command ceremony at the St. Mary's County base earlier this month.

Strike supports the research, test and evaluation of fixed-wing tactical aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles. The squadron conducts 3,000 test flights annually. Weisbrook will be in charge of about 350 enlisted personnel, 45 officers, 125 contractors and 35 civil service personnel.

Phelan is reporting to a new assignment with the Aircrew Systems Program Office at the Naval Air Systems Command headquarters at Pax River.

Staff writer Steve Vogel contributed to this report.