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Crashing the 'Goob's' Preakness schmoozefest


THIS IS a fabulous time to be alive and well and living in Maryland -- moderate spring temperatures, peonies in bloom, trout rising in the Gunpowder, Preakness Weekend, the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival at Sandy Point, a wine tasting in Columbia, and the Orioles playing 1,400 miles away.

Speaking of the weekend ...

Look for me in the Corporate Village tomorrow. I'll be the guy in the Groucho mask, plaid jacket and polyester pants, binoculars, pinky ring, Black-eyed Susan on the lapel, a woman named Maxine on the left arm and one named Tiffany on the right. I'm going to crash the party in the state tent, the one that's costing taxpayers $140,000. I'm going to slap the governor on the back and call him, "Goob." I'm going to knock back some cold ones with members of the General Assembly. I'm going to compliment Joey De Francis on another great Preakness and another great hair day. I'll stuff crab cakes into my pockets and introduce myself as the owner of some cutting-edge e-company looking to relocate to Rockville. I'll let you know how it goes.

Speaking of that party ...

My mail and phone calls are running about 50 to 1 against public money for the Preakness schmoozefest.

As a matter of fact, the only supporter I've heard from is Mike Morrill, press secretary to The Goob. It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it.

You should see the long and whining e-mail I got from Morrill. He complained about Wednesday's column, claimed I missed several points about the governor inviting delegates and senators to the infield tent at taxpayer's expense. This is good for business, Morrill said, and it's done every year. "It's the state's premier marketing event," he said, and it's "absolutely appropriate" for legislators to participate in efforts to lure new business to Maryland.

Sure, it is. I'm sure they'll be talking lots of shop on Saturday with guys from Fortune 500 companies. I'd pay cash money just for the chance to see Sonny Minnick hobnobbing with Warren Buffett.

Hey, the closer we can bring our lawmakers and other government leaders to the corporations for which they might have to authorize tax breaks and other incentives, the better. It's such a cozy arrangement I might have to wear my grandmother's paisley shawl.

Last year, it was deemed unethical for members of the legislature to take free tickets to sports events from lobbyists and their clients. That's why the ban on Preakness freebies this year. But Glendening's gesture -- to invite every legislator and a guest to the infield party -- undercuts the spirit of that effort and puts a bizarre twist on the whole thing. Instead of the horse industry and Pimlico footing the bill, Maryland taxpayers are going to pick up the tab. I hate to break the news to Morrill and his boss, but people are actually upset about this.

"The governor and our other elected officials might say that we don't know how government and industry work, that they need this kind of lavish affair," wrote a reader named Dave Siuta. "The point is, unfortunately, that we do know how it works, and that's what causes the disgust."

Nancy Stocksdale, a delegate from Carroll County, fired off an e-mail to protest the insinuation that all 188 members of the General Assembly would be eating and drinking under the state's tent. "I have been a legislator for six years and have been invited to the Preakness each year and never attended," Stocksdale wrote. "So please do not assume that because we are invited we all are entertained at taxpayers' expense."

Actually, about 75 senators and delegates have said they will attend the event. They can't help themselves. They're hard-core schmoozers. They need a good 12-step program.

Kindness strikes twice

In 1993, shortly after this column moved from the late Evening Sun to The Sun, one of its first subjects was Diane Griffin, who was having a rough time. Her husband had left her with two kids, and they were facing eviction from a rowhouse on North Curley Street in East Baltimore. By the time we caught up to her, she'd pawned a television set, a microwave oven, a cordless phone, her daughter's stereo, even her son's Nintendo games. What she needed -- and wanted -- was a job, and nearly 100 readers of TJI called or wrote to offer her one, or at least some advice.

It was a wonderful outpouring of help.

I heard from Diane the other day. She's doing great -- five years into a full-time job with the Baltimore Department of Social Services, renting a house in Belair-Edison and hoping to buy one. Her son is headed for the military; her daughter is getting married.

She didn't call to tell me that, but to describe a scene last week at the Kmart on Sinclair Lane that "felt like something out of some TV show."

Diane had just cashed her paycheck and had several hundred dollars in her purse. While she and her daughter were shopping, and moving between the toothpaste aisle and the cash registers, the purse disappeared from her cart. "Then, like some chain reaction, people in the store started looking for my purse -- sales clerks, cashiers and customers," she said. "It was like the whole store stopped just for me."

A sales clerk found Diane's purse in the jewelry section. Apparently, a thief had rifled through it quickly, then ditched it -- without taking the cash.

Huge luck, of course. But the impressive part was the effort people put into helping, their immediate appreciation of Diane's predicament. Which is exactly what happened last time, isn't it?

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