TWO MONTHS BEFORE primary election day, the city of Baltimore has already suffered its first political loss. The legendary Eugene "Reds" Hubbe, who filed to run for a City Council seat, has dropped out. The biggest loss for everybody is the sound of laughter.
Reds goes back to the days when politicians ran for office and sometimes ran from the law, and never took themselves too seriously. He might be the only candidate in history who got himself arrested on Election Day. It was a hot day, so he handed out booze instead of walking-around money. That was 30 years ago. When he filed last month, he announced, "I run not to get arrested."
But Reds pulled out of the race last week for reasons owing nothing to laughter. He's received a diagnosis of throat cancer and has started radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
"I'm gonna beat this thing," Reds said the other night after a visit to his doctor's office. "And then we'll think about running in the next election."
His friends are all pulling for him. A bunch of them persuaded him to run in the first place. For the past six years, lumber magnate Louis J. Grasmick has gathered a dozen or so guys for lunch every month at a Southeast Baltimore hotel, and it was their enthusiasm that persuaded Reds to run. Nobody expected him to win, but everybody understood the instinct behind the gesture: Politics should be fun.
In fact, when Reds filed for a City Council candidacy at the Board of Supervisors of Elections last month, he said, "I want to be the Polish Mimi DiPietro."
The late Mimi, for those lacking historic perspective, was the longtime east-side councilman known for two things. The first was making linguistic history whenever he spoke. He thought the courts had too much "flea bargaining." He liked it when he gave a speech and got "a standing evasion." He enjoyed the singing in the "church quarry."
Sometimes forgotten, though, was Mimi's real legacy: He paid attention to his constituents' problems.
"That's the Mimi we need," Reds Hubbe said.
Standing outside the board of elections office, he talked about police and fire coverage. He talked about clean neighborhoods, and alleys with trash amid the potholes. It sounded like an echo of DiPietro, who once met President Jimmy Carter and urged the leader of the free world to look into potholes in Highlandtown.
"People laugh," Reds said, "but it showed he cared about the people."
"That's the thing about Reds," Lou Grasmick was saying yesterday. "I encouraged him to run because this guy cares about people. All he's done is give people good times and laughter. There's not a mean bone in his body. We figured he'd bring to politics his sense of fun."
For Reds, who worked for many years for the U.S. Postal Service and later as a longshoreman, politics is a variation on a theme: crashing the party. He's always been one of the great crashers. He'd crash dances where he didn't have a ticket. He'd get dressed up and crash weddings and find somebody to wave to, such as the groom, so everybody thought he belonged there.
For 14 years, when he didn't have a football ticket, Reds and Bill Gattus crashed Colts games and helped orchestrate the madness at Memorial Stadium, parading around the field to lead cheers and becoming local legends in the process.
He rode that legend to a City Council candidacy in 1972. He raised a total of $72 in campaign contributions. But, in a field of 28 candidates for a 1st District seat, he managed to get 1,026 votes. This, despite his little Election Day troubles, when he sat across the street from the polling place, School No. 6 at Ann and Aliceanna streets, and got himself arrested.
"I gave a couple of drinks to people," Reds recalled the other day. "I didn't have no walking-around money, and I couldn't afford to hire anybody to hand out literature. So I gave Seagram's 7 shots to a few people. It was the least I could do on a hot day."
A neighborhood cop spotted him and called in a crossing guard for backup. Moments later, Reds recalled, "thirty police cars surrounded us, like we'd robbed a bank or something." A couple of guys from the carpenters union raised money to bail him out.
When he emerged from jail, he grandly announced to reporters, "The only reason I got arrested was I was coming on strong and my opponents needed to stop me."
He finished far out of the money but had himself a swell time. That's what the city loses with his withdrawal from the City Council race: a sense of good cheer. But Reds Hubbe's got a new opponent now. His friends are cheering him on. If laughter's the best medicine, Reds is a definite winner in this competition.