Baltimore Sun

Blue Man joins the Landers campaign trail

Blueman, a mysterious figure in a full body Spandex suit, is helping mayoral candidate Joseph T. "Jody" Landers with his weekday morning car waves.

Bluer than Democrat-rich Baltimore! Able to distract morning commuters with a single wave! Look! On the street corner with Jody Landers! It's actual fun in this year's mayoral campaign!

Blue Man, a mysterious figure in a full-body Spandex suit, has swooped in from who-knows-where to help former City Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers with his weekday morning car waves.

There's no telling if the seeming superhero can help Landers in September's Democratic primary, but he has already succeeded in injecting some zip into an otherwise snoozy race.

"All he needs is Aquaman and Captain America, get them all out there; he could get the comic book bloc," said Del. Keiffer Mitchell, who has endorsed Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake but applauded Blue Man as political theater.

"Off-year elections, you know, when you're sandwiched between a presidential and a gubernatorial election, they tend to become yawners. Challengers need to do anything they can to get attention. If Blue Man's the one who gets attention, God bless him."

With Rawlings-Blake enjoying the advantages of incumbency and a big fundraising lead, Landers and other challengers need to find ways to grab voters' attention, political observers say. But for the most part, they haven't, said Barb Clapp, founder and CEO of Barb Clapp Advertising & Marketing.

"If anybody's going to beat Mayor Rawlings-Blake, they need to step it up," said Clapp, who is not working for any candidates in the race. "There's a lot of people flying under the radar in this race. I don't even think people are aware they're voting in September. It's just been sort of blah."

A little blue spandex might be just what Baltimore needs, Clapp said.

"You have to make some noise somehow," she said. "I think it's cute. I really do."

Not everyone agrees that wacky costumes and mayoralty mix, even in Baltimore, where they were a staple in William Donald Schaefer's shtick.

Baltimore City Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway, who is also in the race, was dubious after a reporter described Blue Man's appearances with Landers.

"And he wants to be mayor?" he said. "It sounds weird to me."

This, from a man who in years past has given away whole chickens on the campaign trail, run with other office-seeking family members as The Three Bears, had the family's images plastered on a van, and toured neighborhoods on a Stand-N-Ride electric scooter. A week ago, Conaway had an airplane towing a campaign banner fly over Artscape.

But Baltimore is used to characters in general and to Conaway in particular. Even the plane barely created a buzz.

Blue Man, however, is something new.

Dressed head to toe in a royal blue body suit that even covers his face, he does jumping jacks, dances and otherwise draws attention to Landers and his campaign crew as they hold signs and wave at cars. Landers and Blue Man were at the corner of York Road and Cold Spring Lane during Friday's morning rush hour, drawing stares and laughs from passers-by.

"It's just good fun," Landers said. "And it really does get attention, as you can see."

Frank DiVenti, media and operations director for Landers, said he loves watching people's reactions.

"The people, you can tell, are half asleep, going into work, and it's like that jolt of caffeine that hits them," he said.

A campaign staffer came up with the idea of using a guy in a full body suit, a popular costume at Halloween and sporting events that is available online for about $50. If there is any symbolism behind Blue Man, the campaign is clearly making it up in retrospect.

"He's out with Jody because he believes Jody's platform is true blue and he wants all the other candidates to be blue with envy," DiVenti said.

Landers' campaign colors also happen to be blue and white.

Blue Man's real purpose, DiVenti said, is to inject a little levity into a campaign that is otherwise earnestly focused on cutting property taxes, addressing the foreclosure crisis, improving city services and reducing crime.

"We have somebody we're trying to get into City Hall as mayor of Baltimore, a very serious thing we're doing, but we need to also have a little bit of fun," DiVenti said.

The campaign isn't saying who wears the suit; that would ruin the mystique. DiVenti did reveal that two people, both with the campaign, take turns in it. Whoever played Blue Man Friday greeted a reporter with a theatrical handshake and slight bow but declined to speak. He was very sweaty.

The two Blue Men have "just about the same build and both have a lot of animation in their bodies," DiVenti said. "They are young."

They would have to be to survive in the suit during recent scorching weather.

Blue Man's heat stamina has won him respect from some campaign-trail veterans, including city liquor board Chairman Steve Fogleman, who pined for a business suit made out of Under Armour's famously wicking fabric when he ran unsuccessfully for Baltimore City state's attorney in 2006.

"That's worse than being stuck in an Elmo costume up in Sesame Place," Fogleman said.

Blue Man even has some of Landers' rivals talking. Not always approvingly, but talking nonetheless.

"The guy's wandering around in 105-degree weather in a blue Spandex suit. Really?" said Dan Fee, campaign manager for Otis Rolley, a former city planning director who is running for mayor. "And how does he go to the bathroom? The logistics are just staggering."

The race has been distinctly short on funny, despite the early involvement of Bill Cosby.

Cosby came to town back in January to endorse Rolley and perform at a fundraiser. That brought Rolley some early attention, as did the promise that Cosby would campaign door-to-door with him closer to the primary. But so far, no plans have been firmed up for Cosby's return.

Landers might seem like an unlikely candidate to inject humor into the race. He is a buttoned-down business type who was vice president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors. When Rawlings-Blake dismissed calls for sharply lowering property taxes as "pie in the sky," Landers responded with a 104-page report from a tax committee he'd co-chaired in 2007. He did playfully superimpose the words "Pie in the Sky?" on the report's cover, but it was an utterly serious response.

Blue Man works for Landers precisely because he is "a very reputable guy," Clapp said. A goofy stunt associated with a goofy candidate wouldn't go over quite so well, she reasoned.

Which isn't to say she predicts Blue Man will be a game-changer. And she doesn't think it would help to have Landers himself slip into Spandex.

"I think crazy tactics get press and publicity and they might even close the gap a little bit," she said. "But I don't think people are ready to vote for guys in Blue Man suits."