[IMGCAP(1)]During the first six months of 1981, Roll Call closely followed the tragic story of Rep. Gladys Spellman’s (D-Md.) final months — from her heart attack to her bedridden condition and to a pair of House resolutions, the first securing her seat and another declaring it vacant. The drama ended with the election of Steny Hoyer (D) to succeed Spellman in the 5th district.
While campaigning in late 1980 for a fourth term, Spellman suffered a massive heart attack and remained semi-comatose in the hospital.
Despite Spellman’s absence, her staff continued on, and in January the House initially offered a resolution “assuring that the office of Rep. Gladys Spellman (D-Md.) will continue to operate.” Shortly thereafter, however, a resolution was adopted that declared her seat vacant due to an incapacitating illness.
Primary and general special elections were conducted in April and May. Reuben Spellman, husband of the Maryland Representative, campaigned for the seat, but ultimately the contest narrowed down to then-Bowie Mayor Audrey Scott (R) and Hoyer, a former state Senate President.
Scott lost to Hoyer by nearly 9,000 votes despite the help of the Reagan administration. “This race was probably as unified a political effort as I’ve ever seen,” Hoyer said. “It was a tough campaign … the President wrote a letter, [then-Vice President George H.W.] Bush came to the district.”
Hoyer, the dean of the Maryland delegation, remains in office, having ascended to the Democratic Caucus’ second highest post, Minority Whip.