P.G. Democratic slate cuts black hopes for larger role

August 17, 1990|By Gelareh Asayesh | Gelareh Asayesh,Suburban Washington Bureau of the Sun

After months of negotiations, Prince George's County's Democratic organization has picked a slate of candidates that falls far short of expectations in the black community for political advances to match their burgeoning numbers.

Only 12 of the 45 county positions -- excluding the Democratic Central Committee -- are filled by black candidates on the slate of the Democratic Alliance -- the organization dominated by state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., County Executive Parris N. Glendening and Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th.

It is a wan showing in a county where a 50 percent black population is clamoring for more power. The reason for these slim gains is twofold: an entrenched white-dominated political machine that makes concessions only slowly and an increasing division among black leaders themselves that many say has diluted their effectiveness.

While a place on the organization slate does not guarantee success at the polls, it has long been a ticket to power in this county. Because of this, the struggle for more black representation has often taken place in back rooms, not at the polls.

The county's three highest black officeholders, Sens. Albert R. Wynn and Decatur W. Trotter and State's Attorney Alexander Williams Jr. are part of the alliance and had hoped for significant gains in 1990. But advocates of the so-called black agenda see the alliance's endorsements as a setback.

Mr. Glendening says the white leadership, which helped bring about Mr. Williams' historic victory four years ago, was "prepared to make concessions," but significant gains didn't materialize because of turmoil among black leaders.

"An extraordinary amount of energy is going into the struggles within the black community," he said.

Senator Trotter, who ultimately left the slate after disagreements with Mr. Glendening over council positions, flatly disputes that claim.

"There seems to be a lack of leadership at the top," he says. He says black candidates often were not acceptable to the leadership because they were independent-minded.

"We weren't able to get any movement on the County Council ... because the county executive and his people dragged their feet on it," Senator Trotter says.

Though the slate is not the only forum for black gains, the lack of significant progress has become a campaign issue for black challengers of black incumbents.

Former Prince George's state Sen. Tommie Broadwater, who was given a six-month prison term on his conviction for food-stamp fraud and who is now trying to win his old seat back from Senator Trotter, called the ticket a "disgrace."

The black politicians who are in office did not push hard enough to get blacks on the ticket," he asserts.

Black political inroads never have been easy to make in Prince George's County. Black leaders, newcomers to a white county run by old-style politics, have always had to fight for concessions. Their successes have complicated the picture.

Just 10 years ago, Mr. Broadwater was the county's sole black senator. There were two black delegates. Today, two black senators, eight delegates and other black officials represent a widening pool of political opportunities -- and rivalries.

The rivalries are suppressed in key races. This year, as in 1986, blacks are united behind State's Attorney Williams as he works for a repeat of his victory of four years ago over 24-year white prosecutor Arthur "Bud" Marshall, now running as a Republican.

But black-on-black challenges abound in virtually every other arena. The county's two black senators both face black challengers, as do most black delegates.

Many expectations have been unfulfilled because of the embedded loyalties of the white machine. Butinfighting among blacks, much of it spillover from the Trotter-Broadwater conflict, has also played a role:

*The 6th District council seat representing an increasingly black population has been viewed as a logical place to add a third black to the nine-member County Council. But the white incumbent, Jo Ann T. Bell, prevailed in part because black incumbents were at odds with her strongest black challenger, Bennie L. Thayer -- a Broadwater ally.

*The strongest black-white contest in the county involves Delegate Gloria Lawlah and Sen. Frank J. Komenda. At stake is a third black Senate position -- a significant goal of the black agenda.

But black efforts to put Ms. Lawlah on the organization's slate instead of Senator Komenda, a party faithful made vulnerable by his anti-abortion stand, were not unified. Mr. Williams and Senator Wynn are supporting Ms. Lawlah independent of the slate. Senator Trotter is supporting Mr. Komenda.

Other setbacks have reflected poorly on Mr. Williams, the only black countywide office holder, who needs both black and white support -- especially in the face of the challenge from Mr. Marshall. He has been reluctant to assume a more militant approach, perceiving his role as a consensus candidate who can help avoid racial divisions in the county.

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