Newcomers to Assembly get advice and etiquette tips


January 10, 1991|By Jean Marbella

Ah, the pitfalls of being a freshman: getting a bad seat assignment, losing your way in the halls or -- worst of all -- falling into a nerd crowd that dooms the next four years of your life.

It's the same whether you're talking about high school or the state legislature.

So, to help out the 46 new state delegates and senators sworn in yesterday at the start of 1991 General Assembly session, we asked some insiders to advise these freshmen on how to make varsity.

Superlobbyist Bruce Bereano recommends that newcomers to the Assembly remember what their parents told them when they left for camp.

"They told you to share, to put things back where you found them and not to hit anybody. Those rules are still applicable here," Mr. Bereano said with a laugh.

Like camp, politics is mainly about making friends. And when you're making friends, forget politics, Mr. Bereano said.

"Befriend a senior legislator whom you come to like and feel comfortable with and respect so that you can learn from that person," he advised. "We're talking about human characteristics, personality. Geography, politics, philosophical compatibility is not relevant."

Another thing Mom was right about was the importance of eating a good breakfast.

In Annapolis, that means an order of politics, over easy, preferably at the legendary Chick and Ruth's Delly. There, you don't have to be a ranking member of the legislature to merit Charles "Chick" Levitt's attention and recommendation for how to eat right for a full day of lawmaking (the chipped beef, "which is delicious").

Gov. William Donald Schaefer comes in often -- "as often as a governor can," Mr. Levitt qualifies -- as do former governor Marvin Mandel, judges, legislators and local officials.

"This is where they make their decisions, that's what they tell me," Mr. Levitt said of his 25-year-old downtown eatery.

While some ambitious newcomers may lust after good committee assignments and higher office, having a sandwich named after you at Chick and Ruth's is perhaps the true measure of having arrived in Annapolis.

How to merit the honor? Power helps, which is why Senate President Mike Miller has one. Local ties help, with the list heavy on Annapolis and Anne Arundel County officials. But, as with genius, 90 percent is just showing up, according to Mr. Levitt: "You don't have to order anything, just come in so we can see you."

Other breakfast hot spots are hotels favored by session attendees, such as those in the Historic Inns group, and the legislative cafeteria, insiders say.

But newcomers might want to skip breakfast entirely and get to work early.

"I'm an early bird, so they can usually get to me in the morning, one hour before session," says Delegate John Arnick, D-Baltimore County, chairman of the Judiciary

Committee and former Majority Leader.

And after session, he and other politicos often drop by Fran O'Brien's Steak and Seafood House.

You'll usually find them on the dining rather than dancing side of the restaurant, the better to schmooze and be heard. One lobbyist always requests table three, but even a newcomer can rate that prime spot if he hasn't claimed it that night, says a former waitress who asked that her name not be used.

"You can see everyone who comes in from there," she said.

The waitress, who has worked several sessions, advises new members to "socialize, mill around and table hop." And not to worry about the bill. "Usually, a lobbyist will pick it up," she said.

While legislatures tend to have a pecking order based on seniority and power, the media is not as class-conscious -- so even the lowest ranking member of the Assembly has a shot at the 11 o'clock news.

"Television doesn't like to use the same person over and over again," said Lou Davis, WMAR-TV's man in Annapolis for the past eight sessions. "So we're always looking for new faces."

But don't confuse the TV camera with the Assembly floor -- meaning, keep statements to the press simple, Senator.

"No longer than 20 seconds," Mr. Davis ruled. "Realize when you're speaking that only one thought is going to make it over the air."

And learn from the masters of the media in Annapolis, Mr. Davis said -- such as Gov. Schaefer; Mike Miller; Sen. John A. "Jack" Cade, R-Anne Arundel County; Delegate Charles J. "Buzz" Ryan, D-Prince George's County; and Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery County.

This being a democracy, after all, no one believes a new legislator has to spend freshman year deferring to the upperclassmen or waiting for them to make the overtures of friendship.

"Anybody can invite anybody to dinner," said etiquette expert Charlotte Ford. "You need to cultivate friends who will then introduce you to other people, and then you will be invited by them."

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