Forum for candidates is more social than political Seniors: Congressional hopefuls were given limited time at a microphone at an Odenton senior center. Most of their talking was one-on-one with potential voters.

September 10, 1996|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

It's hard to turn a congressional candidates' forum into an ice cream social, but banning political speeches and throwing in live music and dancing helps.

The congressional representatives and their challengers from the 1st, 3rd and 5th districts who came to the Catherine L. O'Malley Senior Center in Odenton yesterday spent only moments on stage behind a microphone. They were limited to briefly introducing themselves.

For most of the morning they shook hands and talked issues one-on-one with nearly 200 people gathered at the center.

The strains of songs such as "I'll Be Seeing You" and "Route 66," courtesy of "Music by the 1940s," filled the center as many constituents drifted into the social from art classes, an Internet workshop or the pool room. Volunteers served cups of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream and homemade cookies.

"This isn't a forum; this is really voter education," said Ann Marie Remillard, center director. "Most of us old-timers are very wise, very intuitive. What they want is to identify with a specific congressman or a specific candidate. They want to eyeball them."

The county's five senior centers will hold candidates events through mid-October in an effort to reach 12,000 people, according to Charles C. Lawrence, assistant director of the county Department of Aging.

In a recent informal survey of 80 seniors eating lunch at the O'Malley Center, Remillard found that only 10 could name their congressional representative. "So my role has been to help them find out who speaks for them," she said.

Most of those who attended the event donned stickers identifying their district residence. Those who weren't sure of their district could look up their address on a list and match it to the appropriate district. And at least four people filled out voter registration forms at the center yesterday.

Stella Calvert of Severn wasn't shy and waved over candidate Patrick L. McDonough to her table as soon as the 3rd District Republican had introduced himself on stage. McDonough is running against Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat, who also attended.

"I was mainly interested in his feeling on this partial birth abortion," said Calvert, 78, a retired grocery store meat wrapper and weigher. "He's opposed to it."

McDonough's stance pleased Calvert, who said she may decide for whom to vote based on the controversial issue. "I like it," she said of the informal format. "You get a closer contact and feel with them. You know it's not just a machine you're talking to; it's a person. You can see the expression on their face when they're talking."

The representatives and candidates worked the room in their own ways.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, 5th District Democrat, took Doris Suresch of Glen Burnie in arm for a skillful fox trot to "Georgia on My Mind."

"He's a great dancer," said Suresch, 69, who teaches line dancing. She even joked about moving from the 1st District to the 5th, Hoyer's district, to have another chance to dance with him. She called the social "more human" than a formal candidates forum.

Hoyer's Republican opponent, John Morgan, handed out nail files, emblazoned in red, white and blue on one side with the words "Vote for John Morgan."

Democrat Steven R. Eastaugh, challenger to Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest in the 1st District, handed out "wooden nickels" with his name on them and made the event a family affair, bringing his wife, Janet, and 2-year-old son Bob.

Neither Gilchrest, a Republican, nor an aide from his office attended the event as expected, according to Remillard.

For Mildred Henson, a retired nurse's aide from Crownsville and resident of the 1st District, said meeting candidates beats reading about them. "Direct contact with anyone, that's great," said Henson, 62. "You know what's going on better than reading the newspaper, and sometimes you can hold them to their word."

Pub Date: 9/10/96

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