As he travels the campaign trail, Bill Clinton has been getting a lift from unionized government workers from Anne Arundel -- literally.
During his recent pre-primary swing through Maryland, the Arkansasgovernor trusted his presidential presence to six Anne Arundel residents, all members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 67. The AFSCME workers were charged with meeting Clinton at BWI Airport, then chauffeuring him and his entouragewherever they wanted to go.
"It was great," said Glen Burnie utilities worker Jim Bestpitch, vice president of Anne Arundel's largest AFSCME unit, Local 582. "Allthe union drivers can't wait to do it again."
Driving Clinton were Bestpitch and three other Local 582 workers: Marty Womble of the utilities department and Ernie Demby and Buck Anderson of the county garage.
Initially recruited by Council 67 to transport Clinton to a union rally, the workers seem to have secured a niche as the candidate's regular Maryland drivers. "He told us every time he comes back tothis area, he's going to have us drive for him," Bestpitch said.
The AFSCME workers first met Clinton Feb. 21, a Friday, picking him up at BWI Airport and ferrying him to a hotel in Washington. (Actually, they transported his campaign crew and the press corps. Clinton is driven by a Secret Service agent. Bestpitch said he drove a van full of ABC and CNN news staff.)
On Saturday, the AFSME crew took Clinton to Baltimore, where he attended a Council 67 rally and visited a West Baltimore church and housing project.
On March 1, the Sunday before the primary, the union crew met Clinton at the airport at 11 a.m. At 6 p.m., they took him to a televised debate in College Park. Then, it was on to the nearby Santa Fe Cafe for a post-debate rally. Then to the Baltimore Arena for the Metro Classic high school basketball championship. Then to Little Italy. Then to an East Baltimore pub. Then to his hotel in New Carrollton.
Monday, the Clinton entouragestopped at the Glen Burnie Dunkin' Donuts on its way back to the airport. The candidate ordered a large decaf, black, and an apple fritter.
If he wasn't before, Bestpitch now is a true Clinton believer.
"He doesn't talk over people's heads," Bestpitch said. "He's down home. He's an average guy. He had good luck, got scholarships and made something of himself. He comes off to me as an ordinary type of dude."
A Vietnam veteran, Bestpitch said he told Clinton to keep fighting negative press about his lack of service in that controversial war. "I told him nobody could ever put any blame on him, that he didn't make it (to Vietnam) because he had a high number."
Though Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, who pulled out of the presidential race Monday, had billed himself as the candidate of organized labor, Clinton has emerged as the darling of the unions.
Last week, AFSCME locals in Florida chauffeured Clinton to debates there. And in Clinton's home state,AFSCME units strongly recommend him, Bestpitch said.
"They rave about him, and they should know better than anybody," he said.