SOMETIMES IN politics, it's hard to tell just who is courting whom.
That was the case last week as many of Maryland's best-known Democratic names gathered - a bit awkwardly, at times - for a $1,000-per-person fund-raiser to benefit the unspecified political aspirations of Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry.
Curry, who is barred by term limits from seeking to retain his job next year, is pondering a run for some statewide office - governor, comptroller or attorney general. More than 500 guests paid $1,000 apiece to attend the fund-raiser at his modern, palatial home, but the price of admission didn't include a glimpse into the host's thinking.
"You all came here to hear what I ultimately concluded, and I'm not going to tell you," Curry said with a smile. "I'm going to go around to different parts of the state and listen to what people have to say."
Those listening to Curry at the Thursday night event included Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Major F. Riddick Jr., a longtime aide to Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
The once and future candidates stood on Curry's softball field-sized lawn as he entertained the crowd with political humor.
It all seemed a bit strange, because it hasn't been sorted out who will run for what next year. Some of Curry's friends in the crowd clearly enjoyed the sight of Townsend and O'Malley - normally headliners at their own events - standing to the side as Curry controlled the microphone and the evening's agenda.
"I want you to know none of them has declared formally for any office," Curry said with a smile. He teased Townsend and O'Malley calling them an Irish-American "junta."
Townsend is an unannounced candidate for governor - a post O'Malley might seek as well. Riddick is seriously considering a bid to succeed Curry as county executive.
Others in the crowd included Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who is weighing a gubernatorial bid, former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Prince George's Democrat, Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and Baltimore bakery mogul John Paterakis Sr., a prodigious campaign contributor.
For his part, O'Malley said he attended Curry's shindig because "we've been together on a lot of issues" and to recruit minority-owned businesses to Baltimore. Townsend said through an aide that she showed up because she and Curry are friends.
But it wasn't clear who was laying groundwork at the fund-raiser, or for what office. "I'm the only one here who can be completely honest: I'm not running for anything," said former Gov. Marvin Mandel.
Parking for fund-raiser raises neighbor's hackles
Clearly, any candidate's goal at a fund-raiser, aside from emerging with lots of money, is to spread good feelings about the campaign. But it doesn't always happen exactly as planned.
A resident of Baltimore's Otterbein section became so incensed at the double-parked cars during the lieutenant governor's Wednesday night fund-raiser in his neighborhood that he complained to the police. No citations were issued.
"The entire 100 block of West Lee was filled with cars double- and triple-parked," said a perturbed Steven Harper, who lives around the corner.
The $200-per-person event was held at the home of Tom Koch, a friend of Townsend's who has been long active as a fund-raiser in Democratic politics.
"It was more successful than we thought - between 90 and 100 people," Koch said. He said there is general neighborhood consensus that it's best during big parties to do what he did: hire people to double-park vehicles. The alternative is to get special-event parking passes from the city so that guests get spots on their own - but Koch believes that takes up too many spaces.
Harper wasn't buying it. "In Otterbein, there is no free parking except after midnight and before 7 a.m.," he said.
Hollinger quits commission to protest nursing bill veto
Sen. Paula C. Hollinger is resigning from a state commission as a statement against the governor's veto of a bill favorable to nurse practitioners.
The Baltimore County Democrat, who is a nurse, had lobbied vigorously on behalf of the legislation, which would have allowed nurse practitioners to serve as primary care providers in health maintenance organizations.
The measure passed the Senate by one vote on the last day of the legislative session. But Glendening said he worried that signing the bill would permit HMOs to coerce consumers into choosing nurses over doctors.
"What was at stake out there was the future of nursing," Hollinger said in an interview. "I just feel bad for the nurses trying to hang in there and getting a message, 'Don't bother.' "
Hollinger said her time would be better spent meeting with state regulators and hospital associations to try to improve nurses' working conditions rather than continuing to serve on the Statewide Commission on the Crisis in Nursing.