Council member Thomas R. Hendershot (D-New Carrollton) might be trying to extend the life of his political career, which is set to expire in a couple of years. But some of his colleagues are clearly trying to pull the plug.
A couple of months ago, Hendershot, who cannot run again for his council seat because of term limits, began shopping around the idea of changing the Prince George's County charter to create two at-large positions on the County Council.
Hendershot began his campaign at the height of the squabbling between the council and the county executive over the financial troubles of Prince George's Hospital Center.
Hendershot said the proposed charter change would give the council more voice in public affairs and provide it with stronger leadership. The top vote-getter in the at-large positions would become the chairman of the council, according to the plan. Now, the full council picks the chairman.
Some community activists and union members like Hendershot's idea so much they've started collecting the 10,000 registered voters' signatures needed to put the issue on the November ballot.
But Hendershot's council colleagues aren't as thrilled. Just in case the measure is approved, council members Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville) and Camille Exum (D-Seat Pleasant) have proposed charter amendments that would keep Hendershot from running for the at-large seat in 2006 and prohibit the top vote-getter from becoming chairman.
Hendershot said he wasn't surprised by his colleagues' move.
"I expected somebody to come up with something," he said. "That has happened every time there is a grass-roots effort -- politicians try to come up with something to undo it."
The first proposed amendment would prevent any council member elected in 2002 from running for election in 2006 for one of the at-large positions. Only two members of the council fall into that category: Hendershot and Peter A. Shapiro (D-Brentwood), who has not indicated any interest in running for an at-large position.
Hendershot said he thought it was ironic that the change in the charter, as presented by his colleagues, would not prohibit them from running in 2010, when their second term ends.
The second change would keep the leadership election process the way it is, allowing the council to appoint a chairman each year.
Exum said Hendershot's move to change the leadership selection is "ludicrous."
"It's undemocratic," she said. "In any organization, the leadership is chosen by the membership. [Leadership] should be representative of the membership."
Hendershot sees it differently. "This is nothing more than a political maneuver to frustrate the will of the people," he said.
Dionne Walsh, chairwoman of the Prince George's County Board of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), said her organization has collected 20,000 signatures. "This is about taking back the board," Walsh said. "We want someone selected by the people and for the people" in leadership.
Council Chairman Tony Knotts (D-Temple Hills) said he didn't think at-large positions were necessary because the council members and anyone who is appointed to leadership think beyond individual district boundaries.
Currently, the council is made up of nine members, each representing a single geographic district. There are no at-large seats. Montgomery County, on the other hand, has five seats based on geography and four at-large seats on its County Council.
Blizzard of Bills
Shortly after Knotts became chairman of the County Council late last year, he sent a letter to County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) with a copy of the council's legislative calendar for this year, outlining all scheduled meeting dates and the dates the council expects to receive information from Johnson on bills and resolutions he wants the council to consider.
Knotts and others have said they felt that some legislation during Johnson's first year in office had been sprung on them at the last minute, preventing them from giving the bills and resolutions proper review.
"We are hopeful that compliance with these dates will allow the necessary time for adequate review and consideration by the council as well as the public," Knotts wrote. "We remind you of the provisions of Rule 5 of the Council's Rules of Procedures, which require items to be submitted for inclusion on an agenda 14 calendar days prior to the meeting. This rule applies to bills, resolutions, joint signature letters and the like. Any exception to this rule must be requested in writing with any justification therefore."
Based on the 30-minute recess council members needed this week to read some bills suddenly dropped on them by Johnson's office, the letter didn't have much impact.
Just before the council's session Tuesday, Johnson's office sent a handful of bills to be introduced. All of the last-minute measures deal with transfer of funds for various departments for the 2004 budget.
"I'm not sure what happened," Knotts said. "Before you can take a position on anything, you have to know what it is." The council will now begin to consider what action to take on the money bills.
Who is known by many residents throughout the county, has never sought political office in the county, yet is sure to be found whenever there's a big political or business event in the county?
Need a clue?
He doesn't live in the county. But he jokes about spending so much time in Prince George's that he has an apartment here.
If you guessed Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, you guessed right.
Duncan (D), who appears to be trying to shore up support for his expected run for governor, attended a breakfast fundraiser held by U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) last Friday morning. He was also at the county Chamber of Commerce's annual luncheon the same day, shaking hands and greeting people.
Ivey Mum on Future
The purpose of the breakfast reception Friday was clear: raise money for Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey and introduce him to the business community.
What wasn't so apparent was the office Ivey would be running for.
Council member Peter A. Shapiro (D-Brentwood), who helped organize the event, joked that he wanted the attendees to participate in a poll to determine what office they thought Ivey would run for.
The U.S. Senate or the House of Representatives? Maryland attorney general? County executive?
Even Ivey wouldn't answer the question. He just grinned.
About 20 people attended the $1,000- and $500-a-head event. Spotted were development lawyers Ed Gibbs and Tom Haller, developers Mark Vogel and Leo Bruso and former Prince George's County delegation chairman Rushern L. Baker III.