Hundreds of Maryland politicos gather on a parking lot every July to eat crabs, talk politics, sweat, sweat some more, and honor a long-gone governor.
OK, nobody spends a whole lot of time paying tribute to Gov. J. Millard Tawes at his namesake crabfest in Crisfield.
But when the event rolled around the other day, the guy who ran Maryland from 1959 to 1967 got more attention than usual. Marylanders United to Stop Slots used the occasion to remind everyone that the two-termer ran slots out of the state.
"[I]t was J. Millard Tawes who stood up to the gambling special interest and organized crime and drove slots out of Maryland in 1963," a news release from the group states.
Perhaps that's why Comptroller Peter Franchot, arriving as the final 60 minutes of Tawes were ticking down, was determined to seek out the late governor's grandson, rumored to be working the french-fry tent.
Jay Tawes - direct descendant of Maryland's 54th governor, the first south of the Mason-Dixon to ban discrimination in state jobs, the only person to serve as Maryland's state treasurer, comptroller and governor - was, indeed, tending boiling vats of oil, wielding metal fry baskets as deftly as Grandpa did the levers of government.
If others spent the day invoking the Tawes name to stop slots, Jay Tawes seemed unaware. Too busy turning frozen potatoes, onion rings and clam strips into trans-fat-filled glories.
A car-wash owner, insurance agent and real estate salesman when he's not frying at the event named for his forebear, Jay Tawes said he has no interest in politics. (And he sounds like a guy who might enjoy a night at a casino, in Maryland or elsewhere.)
"I've had a very fast life," he said. "I can't be a politician."
A fight over which one shows his true colors
The rivals for Maryland's 1st District congressional seat have nearly identical campaign colors - Harris has gold and navy blue, Kratovil gold and black - and you couldn't miss them on the billboard-size signs along the roads into Crisfield.
The candidates disagree, however, over who's copying whom.
Kratovil, the Democratic state's attorney in Queen Anne's County: "I've had these colors since I first ran for office. I always thought the bright yellow and black were distinctive."
Harris, a Republican state senator and anesthesiologist: "I've been running for public office for 10 years and have always" used gold and navy, the latter being a nod to his Navy service. "I think Frank Kratovil started running for office after me. I guess it shows he has good taste."
I think both candidates are taking their colors from Weichert Realtors, whose Eastern Shore office had a tent at Tawes. Real estate agent Matt Bogdan manned the tent but was too chicken to comment about pols borrowing from his gold-and-black signage.
Neither campaign took credit for the two huge green-and-white placards meant to hitch Kratovil's wagon to Martin O'Malley's. In a bad way.
"Like O'Malley? Then you'll love Kratovil," one read.
The other: "O'Malley and Kratovil. Go together like Tax and Spend."
Claiming points because, well, he showed up
Governor O'Malley was a Tawes no-show. Not a complete shocker in an off election year. But after skipping all of the Baltimore-area Fourth of July parades - Dundalk is still steamed - O'Malley's absence was noted.
C'mon, even Marvin Mandel made it, and he's been out of office since 1977, or 1979, depending on your point of view.
Logistics were a problem for O'Malley. The governor had the Board of Public Works meeting that morning. Comptroller Franchot, a fellow BPW member and fervent Tawes fan, tried to have the meeting moved to the Lower Eastern Shore so they could make it to the afternoon crab-a-thon. But State Treasurer Nancy Kopp said the bond sale could not be moved.
Izzy Patoka, O'Malley's director of intergovernmental relations, attended on the governor's behalf. But Franchot hit the highway as soon as the meeting was over. He arrived about 3 p.m., an hour before the event shut down. Plenty of time to press some sweaty, Old Bay-seasoned flesh.
"I'm delighted to be here. It's ground zero for Maryland politics," said Franchot, who, incidentally, made the Dundalk, Catonsville, Arbutus and Towson parades on the Fourth.
Connect the dots ...
Hottest guy at the Tawes: Tom Zolper, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation staffer under the curly wig and fake beard. Zolper was impersonating Capt. John Smith. His shtick: The 17th-century bay explorer has come back to run for president to save the bay. How did the dress-up gig fall to Zolper? "I'm the new guy." ... Most impressive Tawes spread: At the tent of lobbyist and indefatigable Tawes booster Bruce Bereano, naturally. Along with the crab dip and chicken kebabs, Bereano served Maryland's newly designated official state cake, Smith Island cake, baked by Mary Ada Marshall herself. Legislative aide Chris Satterfield was at the dock at 8:30 that morning to meet the Smith Island ferry, laden with seven of the 10-layer confections. "Can't get more authentic than that," Bereano said. ... Harris and Kratovil weren't the only pols angling for votes at Tawes. Al Redmer, the former Republican state delegate and ex-state insurance chief, and Republican Del. J.B. Jennings, would both like Harris' state Senate seat if he wins the race for Congress. Both were schmoozing state Central Committee members, who would fill the vacancy. ... Harris volunteer Rick Bartels of Catonsville detected a swag deficit at this year's Tawes. Maybe it's the economy. Or new-found eco-awareness. Or - far-fetched as it may seem - heightened ethics. Whatever the cause, Bartels lamented not getting his usual haul of free T-shirts, plastic cups and lunch pouches from corporate tents like Comcast's. "I go in for that free stuff."