Barbara Mikulski, friends reminisce 1st Council race was 20 years ago

September 09, 1991|By Ann LoLordo

They met for dinner at Haussner's.

He wanted to thank her for helping Joe Tydings' U.S. Senate campaign in Southeast Baltimore. She had other things on her mind -- like running for City Council.

Al Figinski told his Polish cousin what she would need to beat the political machines -- 12,000 votes, "a total commitment" and the gumption to ask the organizations for their support. "Not because she would get it," Mr. Figinski said of his distant relative, "but so she would have a ready answer, when she walked the streets, as to why she wasn't on the ticket."

That's how Mr. Figinski remembers the time 20 years ago when Barbara A. Mikulski approached him about her first run for political office. What Ms. Mikulski remembers is the question her mother asked of her unmarried social worker daughter: "Why don't you run after Al Figinski?"

Memories of that 1971 campaign were recounted time and again yesterday at a 20-year reunion of the housewives and former hippies, the community activists and senior citizens, the family members and friends who helped Barbara Mikulski win her first election.

Barbara Baynes spent the summer of her last pregnancy campaigning for Ms. Mikulski and got little sympathy for her condition. "Everytime somebody asks me how long ago Barbara was elected I just look at my son Randy," said Mrs. Baynes. "I went into labor on election night."

Ina Carnes had "a sore tongue from licking all those stamps" for thecampaign mailings.

Dolores Cannoles rode through the streets of Canton and Highlandtown with a loudspeaker atop her car, urging voters to come out on their stoops and meet the candidate as she walked through their neighborhoods. When the election was over, Mrs. Cannoles' five children were mighty happy: "I was finally home to give them a good, cooked meal."

It didn't take 12,000 votes to elect Ms. Mikulski to the City Council seat -- only 10,245. From the council, she went to Congress, first the House of Representatives, and then in 1986, to the Senate.

Yesterday's reunion was staged in the same Fells Point neighborhood where Senator Mikulski still lives, and where she announced her candidacy for City Council in the spring of 1971. And she did as she did that evening -- danced to accordion music as it filled the basement of a South Ann Street residence for the elderly.

"This is what I call the bridge that brought me over," Ms. Mikulski said, pointing to the tables full of supporters at Lemko House. "We challengedthe political machines. Everybody laughed and said we couldn't do it. These people believed in me,"

Gloria Aull, whose unsuccessful 1970 bid for a state central committee seat was considered a dry run for the Mikulski council candidacy, studied the crowd and marked the passage of time.

"Mike's fatter. His hair's short. He's not a hippie anymore," said Mrs. Aull, a thinner but grayer version of her 1970 self. "Elaine, she's still tall and thin. She still has great legs."

On election night 20 years ago, the Mikulski forces celebrated their victory in the parish hall of St. Casimir's Church, one of the city's ethnic landmarks that would have been destroyed had not Ms. Mikulski and other community activists successfully fought a proposed extension of interstate highways through the historic neighborhood.

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