Politics, Prince George's Style

August 07, 1993

It's no accident Prince George's countians hold most top posts in the General Assembly. P.G. is a hotbed of political machination and intrigue -- much the way Baltimore City used to be. The county elects toughened, street-wise officials who rise to the top in a State House devoid of strong leaders.

Now the county finds itself in an internecine battle that could undermine that strength. The campaign for county executive could be so bruising and bitter it splits the county's allegiances and even affects the Democratic race for governor.

For years, P.G.'s delegation in Annapolis has been at odds with the county council over political dominance. Lurking behind the scenes has been the pervasive influence of developers and zoning lawyers in local decisions. All this has spilled over into the race for county executive, where P.G.'s new black majority is pivotal.

Four major contenders want to succeed Parris Glendening, who is running for governor. Two of the candidates are black and two are white council members. One of the black candidates, Sen. Beatrice Tignor, is a protege of U.S. Rep. Al Wynn and has the allegiance of the state senators; the other black candidate, zoning lawyer Wayne Curry, is a former president of the local Chamber of Commerce and a foe of the county's senators.

Compounding matters is the popularity of the two white candidates for executive in their councilmanic districts: former Greenbelt mayor Richard Castaldi, who wants to tap anti-developer sentiment, and an old school-busing foe, Sue Mills.

Then there is the deep rift between Mr. Glendening (his troops are aligning with Mr. Curry) and Senate President Mike Miller (a vocal Tignor backer) and Mr. Miller's further dispute with gubernatorial aspirant Kurt Schmoke because of Mayor Schmoke's ties to Mr. Curry. Mr. Miller wants badly to defeat Mr. Glendening, but he won't back Mr. Schmoke if the mayor undercuts Senator Tignor. Still another complication: Lt. Gov. Melvin Steinberg, a candidate for governor, is popular among P.G.'s senators. This could lead to a three-way split of the county's Democratic votes for governor.

Confusing? Nothing is simple in Prince George's. Yet the suburban Washington jurisdiction is one of the state's leaders not only in voting strength but also in economic development. Equally important, it is home to the largest number of black middle-class families of any county in the nation. That could have a profound impact on the direction of state politics, especially if Prince George's continues to provide most of the leadership in Annapolis. It is a county that dare not be ignored.

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