Real Politicking Begins Now That The Election Is Over Council Members Jockey For Position In Race For The Chairmanship

December 03, 1990|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

The election may be over, but politicking on the County Council has just begun.

No sooner had the ballots been counted in the Nov. 6 general election than four of the seven council members began jockeying for the council chairmanship. Tonight, the first order of business for the new council will be to decide who the chairman will be.

After that, expect council members to start jockeying again, this time for their own pet projects, which range from gypsy moth spraying to a festival arts center to ballfields.

Political observers predict tonight's meeting will mark the beginning of a lively four years for the County Council for a variety of reasons, the most obvious being that the panel now includes four new faces and a wide range of personalities and political philosophies.

"Stay tuned," said Republican Diane R. Evans, councilwoman-elect in the 5th District, "because you're going to see some interesting things in the next four years."

The precarious economic situation almost certainly means more competition among council members for money for projects and programs. And with County Executive Robert R. Neall pledging to pare the county budget, there should be less money for legislators to vie for.

"Everybody is not going to be able to have all the projects they want.

It's just not going to happen," said Evans.

Evans and Carl G. "Dutch" Holland, who defeated four-term incumbent Edward C. "Buddy" Ahern in District 3, are the first Republicans to sit on the council in 20 years. Though the GOP was thrilled with those gains and made much of breaking the Democratic monopoly, "I think there will be much less Republican-versus-Democrats controversy than people anticipate," said Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis.

One of the four newcomers, 1st District Democrat George Bachman, is not really new. He sat on the council for 18 years, from 1964 to 1982, when he lost a bid for county executive to O. James Lighthizer. Observers expect Bachman, who led the council as chairman for nine years, to provide continuity and balance between the new members and the three returning from the previous council.

Bachman is the only newly elected council member who has been lobbying for the chairmanship, a job which includes running meetings, setting council policy and serving as a spokesperson. He said he'd like to change the "style" of council meetings to a more informal, open forum.

Bachman would be a good "compromise candidate," Ahern noted, since he has experience but has been detached from the three returning members -- current Chairwoman Virginia P. Clagett, D-West River, Lamb, and David G.

Boschert, D-Crownsville -- who all want the position.

"Each of them wants it very much, I can say that. The lobbying is intense," said Evans -- though Lamb said Thursday she'd just about resigned herself to not getting the chairmanship.

"If you want to say who should have it, I should have it. I deserve it," Lamb said. "But I am not going to break my neck to get it."

With the Annapolis landfill issue and other problems to solve, Lamb, starting her third term today, is concerned about not having enough time to devote to the chairmanship. However, she said she would not refuse the job if chosen.

"There's a lot more power in the chair than I realized," she said.

Clagett, who is starting her 17th year on the council, has been chairwoman for six years and faced few challenges to her position in the past. But since most council members said they support rotating the chairmanship, she may not be chosen again.

"Virginia has spent nine years as chairman, and I don't think any individual should be in leadership forever," Boschert said.

Clagett could not be reached for comment.

Boschert, widely viewed in county government circles as the most political of the council members, said he wants the job "because I have something to offer in leadership."

Appointed to the council in 1984 after the death of then-chairman Wallace "Chunky" Childs, Boschert kept a low profile through most of his first elected term. Expect him to start becoming a more visible presence, observers say.

Ahern said Boschert probably would be a better chairman in a year or so.

"Dave's still trying to get a job," he said, referring to Boschert's lost job at Severn Savings Bank last July because of economic cutbacks.

"Being chairman takes up a lot of time. I think he should wait a year."

Except for Bachman and possibly Clagett -- the two who have held the chair for long periods -- council members support rotating the chairmanship each year.

As it is, council members choose their chairman and vice chairman annually, voting on the matter by resolution. But historically, one person has monopolized the position for years at a time.

For example, Ahern challenged Clagett for the chairmanship several years ago, but he said he took so much heat for it, both from the press and from other council members, that he withdrew.

Throughout the last nine years, "Virginia certainly didn't want to give it up," Lamb said.

Should she lose the chairmanship today, Clagett's annual council salary will drop by $4,000. The chairman makes $27,000, the vice chairman $24,500, and the other members $23,000.

As of Friday, Evans, Holland and 2nd District newcomer Ed Middlebrooks, a Democrat, would not say who they will support as chairman.

The decision probably will be made this afternoon, in a closed session, after council members are sworn in at 3 p.m. at the Arundel Center in Annapolis. A formal resolution will be passed at tonight's meeting, set for 7:30 p.m. at the Arundel Center.

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