City Hall yesterday had the air of a roomful of eager heirs totting up their inheritance even while their rich uncle clings to life.
Members of the Baltimore City Council who were victorious in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary have begun maneuvering for key council positions -- vice president, delegate to the Planning Commission and important committee chairmanships -- even though losing council members in those positions have another nine weeks in their terms.
"Everyone's ambitious, just like when I came in," said Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi, D-6th, who as one of the winners will be angling for a key council position.
"That's the nature of the beast," said Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, D-3rd, who chose to run for comptroller -- a race he lost -- instead of re-election.
In fact, the primary winners from the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 6th districts won't be sure they have council seats until they face Republican challengers in the Nov. 5 election, even though Democratic nominees in Baltimore usually have no trouble winning in the general election.
Key council positions are coveted because they impart a measure of influence to the council members who hold them. The maneuvering, done mostly behind closed doors, was set in motion by the primary, in which five council members either lost their bids for renomination or ran for other offices.
Their departures from the council will leave vacant several key positions, including the council vice presidency -- vacated by Jacqueline F. McLean, who won the comptroller's primary race -- and the chairmanships of committees overseeing the parks department, private use of city-owned land and council investigations.
Several names have emerged as potential challengers for the council vice presidency -- which is chosen by a vote among the council -- including Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, Carl Stokes, D-2nd, Martin E. "Mike" Curran, D-3rd, and Vera P. Hall, D-5th.
Mr. Ambridge said he is interested.
"I'd rather see a closer working relationship between the mayor and the council, and I would like to play a role in that," said Mr. Ambridge, who has been a frequent critic of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
Under council rules, council President Mary Pat Clarke has the right to name committee chairmanships.
Already, she has begun scheduling meetings with all 18 Democratic nominees -- including five non-incumbents who won their primary races -- to determine what committees they want.
John L. Cain Jr., who won a Democratic council nomination from the 1st District, said that while he hopes to have influence in the council, he has no illusions of gaining a power position any time soon.
"I'm not going to pretend that I know anything about government and the way the council works," Mr. Cain said. "I'm willing to take my seat in the back row."
Several council members, Mrs. Clarke included, said they would like to have the committee chairmanship selection process run more smoothly than it did four years ago, when disagreements over Mrs. Clarke's choices sparked a mutiny among council members. The council stripped Mrs. Clarke of her appointment powers, which she was unable to regain until last spring.
Mrs. Clarke said that while she does not expect -- or even want -- the council to be docile, she is trying to avoid losing control over her appointment powers again.
"I'm trying to meet with everyone possible, to keep a dialogue going," said Mrs. Clarke. "But it's always an adventure."