This election year, with voters throwing the bums out by the score nationwide, there's a lot of talk about an angry electorate -- a difficult trend to measure.
But one of the best yardsticks for checking the depth of voter cynicism is a look at the write-in candidates -- those folks and creatures whose names were scribbled on ballots and machines Nov. 8 as a way to send a message to those who run the state.
"I think it's unfortunate that our system is evidently so bad that voters feel that it's better to vote for a cartoon character than an actual person," said Barbara E. Jackson, Baltimore's elections administrator.
"It's sad, it really is," she said.
But the notion of that annoyingly perky purple dinosaur Barney replacing, say, Howard P. "Pete" Rawlings as a representative of the 40th District in the House of Delegates is a hoot. (Alas, poor Barney received only one write-in vote in the city and never stood a chance against the West Side Democratic machine.)
In the city, at least, the rising tide of voter cynicism seems to have reached flood level, though a respectable 43.8 percent of the city's registered voters cast ballots in the general election.
"This year, it seems like we had an overwhelming number of write-ins," Ms. Jackson said. "This is their way of protesting. But it's unfortunate that things have gotten this bad that people feel they have to go to this extreme to cast a vote."
Consider this slate for the House in the 42nd District: Mickey Mouse, Elvis Presley and Lorena Bobbitt, the last of whom is best known for mutilating her husband and being found not guilty by reason of insanity.
An organized effort behind them could have been insurmountable to the winning team of Maggie L. McIntosh, Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg and James W. Campbell.
But, of course, Mickey (who was written in for more offices than any other one vote-getter) is a Californian, Mrs. Bobbitt makes her home in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and Elvis, well, everyone knows the flag-draped Elvis already is with us, tethered like a Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade float, keeping a watchful eye on this great republic.
For Baltimore state's attorney, the city's top criminal prosecutor, voters wrote in O. J. Simpson, now standing trial in Los Angeles on murder charges; attorney Steven L. ("Let's talk about it") Miles; and singer James Brown, the Godfather of Soul who has had his fair share of run-ins with the law.
Stuart O. Simms, the incumbent state's attorney, had nothing to worry about.
In some circles, the oldies were the goodies.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who cannot run for a third consecutive term, got a couple of votes for governor, as did outgoing U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who lost the GOP gubernatorial primary.
Former Gov. Marvin Mandel picked up one vote for Congress. And some of the nation's founding fathers and heroes -- George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Patrick Henry and Abe Lincoln -- were single shot for a variety of offices.
Pope John Paul II, who received one vote for state Senate from Southeast Baltimore's 46th District, probably would not have left Rome for Annapolis if elected. But, given his current problems in Palestine, Yasser Arafat, who received one vote for governor, may have given a move to Maryland serious consideration. It's unclear how Morris the Cat felt about his one vote for governor.
For Baltimore sheriff, Wyatt Earp drew two votes, while Jacqueline F. McLean, the former city comptroller who resigned before pleading guilty to theft, got one vote, as did a guy named Moe, presumably of Three Stooges fame.
"I think people are really interested in voting, but they must be tired of the same old people being elected," Ms. Jackson said.
In Montgomery County, where the number of write-in votes this year was not out of the ordinary, the feeling about write-in shenanigans is a bit different than in Baltimore.
"There's no vote that's a wasted vote," declared Richard G. Goehler, deputy elections administrator.
"We had Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, Donald and Daffy Duck," Mr. Goehler said. "But the vote for Daffy Duck is a chance for people to express themselves as to which person or entity should have that office.
"It's a statement. And the statement is that a silly black-and-white cartoon character is better than all the other clowns up in front of me" on the ballot, he said.
After all, they voted for other actual candidates in other races.
"If they really didn't care, why bother to show up and vote?"
Cooke gets new lobbyists
Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, a man who likes to have things go his way, has decided to hire a new lawyer-lobbying firm in the hopes of getting his stalled Laurel stadium project moving once again.
Mr. Cooke yesterday signed up Dukes, Evans, Rozner, Brown & Stierhoff to replace Alan M. Rifkin, who has been the football team owner's lawyer and lobbyist almost since he first set eyes on the Laurel site more than a year ago.
In hiring the new, politically connected firm, Mr. Cooke gives his business, in part, to two of Mr. Rifkin's former partners, Gerard E. Evans and Joel D. Rozner. Members of the firm have close ties to Gov.-elect Parris N. Glendening, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, and many other legislators. "We need to redouble our efforts, but we're still going to see a stadium built in Laurel," Mr. Evans said.