xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement

Once host to figures like Barbara Mikulski and John Kerry, aging Eastport Democratic club seeks a way forward

Eastport Democratic Club members Malinda Hamilton and Edie Segree discuss some of the guest speakers the club has hosted over the last 30 years. The club ran into financial issues due to declining attendance in recent years. They voted Friday to increase the cost of the weekly breakfast and agreed to keep holding meetings through the end of the year.
Eastport Democratic Club members Malinda Hamilton and Edie Segree discuss some of the guest speakers the club has hosted over the last 30 years. The club ran into financial issues due to declining attendance in recent years. They voted Friday to increase the cost of the weekly breakfast and agreed to keep holding meetings through the end of the year. (Brooks DuBose / Capital Gazette)

Over the last 40 years, a group of well-informed, political junkies has met weekly at various locations throughout Annapolis to discuss the most pressing political matters of the day.

Unofficially, they call themselves the Almost 7:30, Almost Democratic Club. The name references their early start time — 7:45 a.m. every Friday (though people arrive early to chat) — and their penchant for accepting anyone, not just registered Democrats.

Advertisement

“We are the oldest, most active club in terms of Democratic political issues,” said Malinda Hamilton, one of the organizers of the group that’s operated since 1979.

The club has hosted elected officials, political appointees and experts of all stripes. Former U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, made an appearance in the 1980s. Former presidential candidate John Kerry fielded questions from the group in 2004. In 2018, all eight Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidates attended meetings throughout the primary campaign.

Despite its rich history, some club members have mulled shutting down the club because of recent financial issues mostly due to declining attendance in recent months.

But after some discussion Friday, the group agreed they would continue meeting through at least the end of the year. They voted nearly unanimously to increase the weekly fee for each member, which pays for breakfast and renting the building, from $7 to $8 to help bolster their finances.

The club, which isn’t an official Democratic organization, doesn’t have a leadership structure or titles. It needs about 30 to 40 members to attend meetings each week to cover its costs but only about 23 have shown up on average in the last several months, Hamilton said.

“That doesn’t pay our bill,” said Hamilton, who is retired but works as a receptionist at the State House during the General Assembly legislative session.

On Friday, about 30 members sat around tables inside the Eastport Democratic club building on State Street — a space they’ve occupied since 2009 — munching on pastries and sipping coffee as they discussed the future of the club. Some members said they were eager to stay informed and engaged during a critical presidential election year.

Lester Prosser, an Edgewater resident, has been coming to club meetings for three or four years. He wants to keep attending mainly to get away from friends and relatives who are Republicans.

“I’m surrounded by Republicans,” Prosser said. “I come here once a week just to get some sanity.”

For larger countywide political clubs, attendance waxes and wanes around election years.

The District 32 Republican Club has seen a steady increase in meeting attendance since the 2018 elections, said club President Steve Reigle. The numbers dipped in 2019 but have rebounded in 2020, Reigle said.

Brooks Schandelmeier, president of the District 30 Democratic Club, said attendance at their meetings depends on how close they are to elections.

After the 2016 election, 120 people attended their December and January meetings. Those numbers slipped in 2019 but inched up close to 60 now that it is an election year, Schandelmeier said.

One of the issues the Eastport club faces is an aging membership. Nearly all of Friday’s attendees were of an older crowd. Some members have moved away. Others have died and new membership has failed to fill the gaps.

Advertisement

“We have to appeal to a younger crowd,” said Ward 8 Alderman Ross Arnett, a Democrat, who represents Eastport.

Arnett said he tries to attend the club’s meetings as often as he can, particularly to hear from a range of interesting speakers. He pointed to an appearance a few weeks ago by Andrew Pruski, chair of Anne Arundel County Council, as a notable example.

“You get a wide variety of different kinds of speakers. I do think they should have more politicians,” he said. “There was a big crowd. So I’m not saying exclusively politicians but if you want to talk about politics, talk to the politicians.”

One of the younger attendees was Anne Arundel County Associate Judge Pam Alban.

Coming to clubs like this one is new for Alban because she has small children and her job prevented it, she said.

“I’ve been on the campaign trail this year and I’ve gone to a lot of different groups and this group is one of my favorite groups to attend,” said Alban, who was appointed in October 2018. “I enjoy it because of the diversity of the speakers that you have. I candidly would still love to come.”

Kurt Riegel, a former candidate for alderman, pledged to help increase the group’s presence on social media by creating a Facebook page and posting a notice on the Annapolis Democratic Central Committee website to draw younger members.

“This is the best and most dependable forum in Annapolis,” Riegel said. “I want to see it continue.”

Edie Segree helps schedule club’s speakers. Segree has held the job since 1991 and she keeps all the lists of old speakers in a battered blue folder. After nearly 30 years, she is looking for someone to replace her, said Segree, who was a legislative aide for former Maryland House Speaker Mike Busch for many years.

“I love doing it," she said. “It’s fun, but I’m getting older.”

In 2019, Segree scheduled 42 speakers from a range of backgrounds and expertise. Del. Alice Cain, D-Annapolis, came in May. Al Redmer, a Republican and former Baltimore County executive who now serves as commissioner of the Maryland Insurance Administration, spoke in July. Annapolis Harbormaster Beth Bellis spoke in August.

Friday’s speaker was Pete Baron, a government affairs officer for Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman. He shared some of the county’s achievements and legislative goals for the year.

The group plans on hosting Anne Arundel Circuit Court judges who are up for election this year, Segree said.

Hamilton said she hoped to secure visits from U.S. senators Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, and Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, to discuss the impeachment of President Donald Trump, once that process is complete.

“Come and check it out,” she said. “It’s different from anything they have in the county. If they check us out and they’re not interested in the speakers that’s fine but most of them are political and they’re going to be interested.”

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement