With seven weeks still to go until the primary election, it's a little early to be declaring the winners of this year's Political Dubious Achievement Awards. But there are some candidates who already have a lock on certain categories.
The envelopes, please:
* Most Outrageous Political Stunt Designed to Grab a Headline (it worked). Despite stiff competition, the award goes to Frank M. Conaway, a former legislator running again for the House of Delegates, for proposing that caning become Maryland's punishment for persons convicted of sexually molesting children.
Seizing on the recent frenzy over the caning of that American brat in Singapore, he faxed out press releases last week calling for the state to add caning as a "crime punishment and deterrent effort."
"When child sexual molesters cannot control their front sides, they need to be punished on their back sides," Mr. Conaway's statement said in part.
* Worst Old Whine, 1991 Vintage (magnum size only).
Winner: Lt. Gov. Melvin A. "Mickey" Steinberg, for repeatedly complaining about being under the despot's heel -- the one that belongs to his boss, Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
Mr. Steinberg is walking a fine line with this campaign issue, pointing to his ongoing experience as lieutenant governor, while distancing himself from Mr. Schaefer.
"As lieutenant governor, I fought to save our state from a governor who wanted to strap Marylanders with an $800 million tax increase -- and I have suffered, and continue to suffer, the results of his political revenge," he told reporters Friday.
True, after Mr. Steinberg refused to back Mr. Schaefer's tax plan in 1991, the governor slashed his staff from five to three. And, true, Mr. Schaefer stopped talking to him, in effect freezing him into oblivion. And, true, he did beat the bushes for candidates to run against Mr. Steinberg.
But Mr. Steinberg still uses the state-owned sedan, still uses the Maryland State Police bodyguard-driver, and still takes the $100,000-a-year salary.
"We're hard pressed to see how being paid well to do a job with no official duties constitutes suffering," said Page Walters Boinest, Mr. Schaefer's press secretary.
* Best Disappearing Act by a Gubernatorial Candidate. Winner: U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who since announcing her candidacy has not shown up at 38 of the last 46 nonpartisan gubernatorial forums, according to William S. Shepard, another GOP candidate for governor.
"I hear they're putting her picture on milk cartons," said one political wag.
"I think she's taking voters for granted, and the voters don't like it," said Mr. Shepard, who faced the same nonengagment tactics in 1990, when he ran against Governor Schaefer.
Of course, the voters aren't the only ones who don't like it. Without her presence, neither Mr. Shepard nor Maryland House Minority Leader Ellen R. Sauerbrey can score any points against Mrs. Bentley, who leads each of them by a 4-1 margin in the polls.
When a reporter suggested to the usually loquacious and plain-spoken Mrs. Bentley that her campaign staff must be keeping her bound and gagged in a closet until after the election, the gravel-voiced congresswoman demurely replied that he would be wrong.
* Worst New Hat on a Would-be Gubernatorial Candidate.
Winner: Stewart Bainum Jr., the Montgomery County millionaire who decided not to run for governor on the eve of his planned announcement.
Wearing a chef's stovepipe headwear, Mr. Bainum looks more like a model for the Gov. William Donald Schaefer Fashion Catalog than the millionaire chief executive officer of Manor Care Inc.
In fact, the picture of him in a toque accompanied a press release from the Baltimore International Culinary College, which recently awarded Mr. Bainum an honorary doctorate in culinary arts and hospitality management for his work with Choice Hotels International, a Manor Care subsidiary.
* Best Bumper Sticker You'll Probably Never See.
Winner: Emily Smith, Mr. Glendening's hired-gun campaign manager.
Ms. Smith, who slipped last month on the marble steps of a downtown Washington hotel, breaking her coccyx, offers: "I busted my butt for Glendening."
Runner up (nominated anonymously): "Honk if Mickey asked you to be his lieutenant governor."