- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 12, 2002

The chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party is considering stepping down after a GOP election surge broke the party's 33-year grip on the state's powerful governorship and fueled a massive leadership turnover in the General Assembly.
Chairman Wayne L. Rogers will meet this week with party leaders to discuss his resignation and candidates to replace him, a top Democratic official told The Washington Times.
Maryland Democratic Party spokesman David Paulson said he was not privy to discussions about Mr. Rogers' resignation. "That has not been a part of the staff discussions here," he said.
Susan Turnbull, who represents Maryland on the Democratic National Committee, denied the report. She spoke with Mr. Rogers yesterday, she said, and he did not mention resignation plans but focused on the changes under way in Annapolis.
Mr. Rogers did not return calls yesterday.
His resignation would magnify the void left at the top of the state Democratic Party after voters turned over the state's top post to Republican Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., ousted longtime House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and helped retire a generation of powerful Democratic committee chairmen in the state Senate.
Lt. Gov.-elect Michael S. Steele, who previously served as the Republican state chairman, said earlier that the responsibility to rally Democrats behind a new leader should fall to Mr. Rogers.
"He's got to be the one to pull it together," Mr. Steele said. "His problem is that he has some strong personalities to deal with. That's going to be his challenge."
The challenge may now rest with another party chairman as Democrats look for a new standard-bearer to replace Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
The Democrats still control the General Assembly and outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 in the state. They have both U.S. senators and six of Maryland's eight congressmen. Democrats also hold the top offices in six of the seven most populous jurisdictions.
Whoever becomes the party's new elected front man, however, will play a much different role than when political power in Maryland was a Democratic monopoly, said party leaders.
"The people spoke. They split tickets and voted both ways," said state Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, the majority whip who was recently named chairman of the Education, Health and Environment Committee.
"After an election like this, you really have to see who emerges and who really wants to take on that role," said Mrs. Hollinger, Baltimore County Democrat. "I think it will be a lot of people. We are certainly very fortunate in Maryland, we have [Democratic] stars everywhere."
Like most of the state's politicians, Mrs. Hollinger looked first to popular Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who raised his profile leading news conferences during the Washington-area sniper attacks.
But Mr. Duncan, at least, isn't ready to put himself forward as the state's leading Democrat or to publicly talk about a 2006 gubernatorial run. "It's way too soon," he said. "We just finished an election, and I think the people are saying, 'Let's put politics aside and get down to business.'"
Mr. Duncan looked to longtime U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes to lead the state party, based on their statewide positions. But he also said it would be up to elected officials throughout the Democratic ranks to retool the party.
"I think you are going to see Democrats around the state of Maryland take up the challenge brought by the voters," he said. "We have a two-party system for the first time in a long time in this state."
Mr. O'Malley was out of town and unavailable for comment yesterday.
Besides the two senators, Maryland Democrats have a large roster of national leaders who could top the party's slate. Among them are U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, who is in line for the party's No. 2 leadership position in the House, and U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a popular Baltimore politician and leader in the Congressional Black Caucus.
There are also two new Democrats in Maryland's congressional delegation. State Sen. Christopher Van Hollen, who defeated longtime Republican Rep. Constance A. Morella in the 8th District, and Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who won the 2nd District seat vacated by Mr. Ehrlich, may step up to the plate with broader ambitions.
Meanwhile, the party will look to the new House speaker and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. to set the tone in Annapolis as the state sizes up the new Republican governor. After that, leaders and officeholders said they will wait to see which Democrat rises to the top.
"It's not a mad scramble. It is more like, 'Let's decompress and figure this out,'" said Mr. Paulson, the party spokesman. "Only time will tell, and other cliches like that."

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