Adolph Scagliarini was taken aback. Here he was at a political fund-raiser, where there is usually as much boozing as schmoozing going on, and the bar wasn't serving anything stronger than soft drinks and coffee.
But Mr. Scagliarini didn't seem to mind.
"I didn't come for the open bar," said the West Laurel man, who had turned out to show his support for Delegate William C. Bevan, D-Howard County. "It doesn't make that much difference to me."
Alcohol-free fund-raisers have been changing the face of politics in Howard County this year as more and more candidates, encouraged by the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, have started banning alcohol at events that cost as much as $25 a ticket.
To hear the politicians tell it, the lack of beer kegs and tables full of gin, bourbon and scotch has not made much difference in the turnouts. In fact, it may have helped raise money.
"By cutting out alcohol, you can cut your costs," said County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, pointing out that alcohol is one of the most expensive items on the bill for a fund-raiser.
Most people who attend such political affairs don't go for the liquor, they go to support their candidate, said Ford A. Anderson, a lobbyist for Maryland Classified Employees Association and veteran of more fund-raisers than he cares to think about.
Quinton D. Pinckney, another MCEA lobbyist, said he appreciates alcohol-free fund-raisers. It's easier to drive home after a long day at work and a long night on the political circuit if you've only been drinking soft drinks, he said.
The dry fund-raisers were the brainchild of George Layman, the county MADD chapter's legislative director, who sold the idea to Councilwoman Angela Beltram, D-2nd.
"She thought she didn't want to have alcohol at her fund-raiser, and I told her we'd supply the bartenders if she didn't have alcohol," he recounted. "The message we want to get out is you don't have to have alcohol at a fund-raiser. And it sets a good example."
It's hard to tell your children not to drink and drive if you go to political gatherings where people drink and drive, Mr. Layman reasoned.
Mrs. Beltram, who says she rarely drinks, said she came on the idea of alcohol-free fund-raisers two years ago when she was not allowed to serve alcohol at the Rockland Art Center in Ellicott City because it was owned by the Board of Education.
"One person complained that there wasn't any beer, and another said it wasn't too bad," Mrs. Beltram said. "But there was no difference in the size of the crowd."
As far as anyone knows, Howard County's MADD chapter is the only one in the nation to offer bartenders for alcohol-free political events, said Marla Chaloupka, assistant director for public affairs at MADD headquarters in Dallas.
"We think its a good idea," she said. "We've published information on it in our newsletter, and now that the other chapters are aware of it they might try it."
Since Mrs. Beltram's fund-raiser last spring, another dozen or so candidates have taken up MADD members on their offer, staging fund-raisers either with alcohol-free beer and wine, or only soft drinks, coffee and maybe mineral water, Mr. Layman said.
"We think it's been very successful," he said.
At Mr. Bevan's fund-raiser two weeks ago, some 50 supporters crowded into the meeting room of a motel on U.S. 1 in Laurel, sipping soft drinks, munching celery and sandwiches, and talking quietly among themselves.
Six MADD members were lined up behind a long table covered with a white cloth pouring cola and ginger ale from plastic bottles into paper cups. They were not doing a land-office business.
Penny Emery, one of the soft-drink tenders, guessed they had gone through about two dozen 2-liter bottles during the previous two hours.
"We're hearing a lot of positive comments," she said. "People think it's a good idea."
"Oh, it's a great idea," agreed Walter Eanes, a neighbor of Mr. Scagliarini's. "But I'd like to have a beer."