Francine M. Schaffer is the newest member of the State Central Committee in East Baltimore and she's learning just what the job is at American Joe Miedusiewski's Proven Team Family Picnic.
She's working the kitchen. She slaps a hot dog on a roll, drops buttered corn on the cob onto the paper plate and turns to the next person in line. It's a long line.
"I didn't know my duties including doing hot dogs and corn," she groans, good-naturedly.
She's officially a non-voting, at-large member of the Democratic State Central Committee of the 46th Legislative District, which American Joe represents in the state Senate.
American Joe's picnic, which was Saturday, is slightly old-fashioned and perhaps as endangered by modern times as the "shore" where it's held, but it's still pure political Americana.
The Proven Team is heir to "the old-line D'Alesandro-Hofferbert-Bertorelli -Staszak-Bonvegna Democratic organization," as one guy at the picnic put it.
Schaffer's thirty-something and an assistant principal at Logan Elementary School in Dundalk. She lives in Graceland Park, which is the last slice of the city before you slide into Baltimore County.
"I've been active in numerous political campaigns," she says, "but never in a winning campaign. So I decided to join this team."
So now she's hustling hot dogs.
The late state Sen. Joe Staszak started the organization picnic ,, years ago at the farm of a friend near Maryland Line.
American Joe revived it about three years ago and brought it down to Staten's Shore way out on Miller's Island Road about a mile from Cuckold Point on Back River.
Staten's Shore was owned by ex-state Sen. Roy Staten, a Baltimore County political power for years. His daughter and son-in-law run it now. It's a handsome riverfront picnic grove, grassy and clean and shaded by fine old oaks.
"The primary recipients of tickets are precinct workers," says American Joe, who sometimes sounds as earnest as a political science professor.
"They bring their families and friends. Basically everybody who works corners, puts signs in their windows, licks envelopes or works for us in some way."
The district's politics may not be quite the democracy envisioned in the Federalist Papers or analyzed by De Tocqueville, but it's certainly grass roots, or more accurately concrete sidewalks. This is the curbstone politics of family, friends, the street you live on, ethnic identity, church affiliation, neighborhood bars, personal loyalties and personal enmities, what you've done for me lately, how you voted last, how you'll vote next. . . .
And at this picnic, political epigrams are more apt to be Polish than French.
Working the gate is Jay Maliszewski, who's also from Graceland Park. He's 66, retired from a city job at the Civic Center and an oldtime worker who's done everything from putting out signs to counting votes.
A guy greets Maliszewski with a burst of Polish. Maliszewski translates.
"You know what he said: 'The older you get, the dumber you get.' That's an old Polish saying."
Mimi DiPietro pops through, wearing the blue "Your Democratic Team" polo shirt, which promotes him, Joe Ratajczak and John Schaefer for City Council from the 1st District.
DiPietro looks faintly out of place here walking on grass and under these trees, with only sailboats on Back River in view and not a trace of Formstone anywhere.
"I'm 86 years old," says DiPietro. "I'm not a young kid. When I get done this term, I'm going to resign for someone younger."
Frank "Beefy" Coccia and Bill Pappas set up on a picnic table near the entrance. They're going to barbecue chicken.
"He's a little late," Coccia says. "He just had a little baby."
"My granddaughter," Bill Pappas says. His daughter, Jeanine Beran, had a baby early Saturday morning. "Rachel," Pappas says.
"She registered Democrat yet?"
"She will be," he says. "She lives in the First."
"He was the big cheese on the State Central Committee," Coccia says. Pappas was chairman when American Joe was appointed senator.
"I take credit for making Joe senator," Pappas jokes. "I was the tie-breaker vote in that: three to two. He was Senator Bonvegna's pick."
So this lady from O'Donnell Heights pauses from eating some of Francine Schaffer's corn to spell her name: "M-a-c-i-j-e-s-k-i, in English. In Polish they put in a 'W,' M-a-c-i-j-e-w-s-k-i. Mrs. Regina Macijeski."
"I work the polls," she says. "Why'd I start working," she says. "I wanted to know what was going on. I was nosy. I'm nosy about it.
"I wanted to know what in the hell's going on and where the money is spent."