Icing on candidate cake Volunteering: From baking to driving a firetruck, enthusiasts find inventive ways to promote their choices.

September 12, 1998|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

On her busiest days as a campaign volunteer, Mary King Lyon often ends up with a cramped hand. Not from stuffing envelopes. From decorating sugar cookies.

Twelve dozen of them. Maybe more this weekend.

Made from scratch, cut in the shape of elephants. Her final flourish is the wrist-killer. With a cone full of teal-blue frosting, she writes "Ecker" across each one.

Her personalized sweets are just one of Lyon's efforts to help her choice for governor, Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker. Lyon, 53, who was a Democrat before she joined Republican Ecker's campaign, even vacuums the office. This weekend, she is baking an extra batch of her elephant cookies -- for everyone to nibble nervously as the results come in Tuesday night.

"My kitchen looks like the elephants have taken over," Lyon jokes. "Once I started making them, I couldn't stop."

She is among the dedicated few whose work for Maryland's politicos goes beyond the ordinary.

Some may be content to answer phones and address mailings. Others may be satisfied to put up lawn signs. But the super volunteers do far more -- lending their cars, donating supplies, bringing in baked goods.

Their help can be critical -- especially in the final days before Tuesday's primary -- or just add a little fun.

In Baltimore, Jerry Rauch, 73, a retired computer programmer, spends hours analyzing the precincts in Democratic Del. Salima S. Marriott's district. Campaigning to retain her seat, Marriott relies on his data to make a special effort in areas with the highest voter turnout rates.

In Anne Arundel County, Greg Evans, a 33-year-old firefighter, tools around in a fire engine that he owns and has covered with campaign banners. He is a fan of Diane R. Evans, who is not a relative but a Democrat running for county executive. Her supporters pile into the 32-foot firetruck -- appropriately named "Evans" -- for parades and weekend trips.

"I have really big toys," Greg Evans says with a chuckle. "I love showing it. Everything works, every light bulb, every wire. Sometimes, I just drive around with the banners on, and park somewhere and talk politics with all the people who come up."

Other volunteers have come up with attention-getters of their own.

In Howard County, the friend of one Republican candidate showed up in a gorilla suit at the Howard County Fair. Not to be outdone, the father of the opponent arrived the next day in a Santa Claus hat.

"We laughed. There we were in neighboring booths," says Allan H. Kittleman, a Republican who is seeking a seat on the County Council.

His primary rival, Gail H. Bates, teased him: "You've got the gorilla. I've got Santa Claus."

Having a good time can inspire a moneymaker. Two longtime supporters of Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the Republican gubernatorial front-runner, recently published a "Friends of Ellen" cookbook. It features 150 recipes (including Sauerbrey's pineapple bread pudding) and sells for $15. The first 300 copies were snapped up in two months, and the cookbook is in a second printing.

"Unlike a hat or a T-shirt, when we go to pull this out of the cupboard to make a recipe, it's going to bring a flood of memories for those who worked on the campaign," says Noreen Hamner, 39, who put the cookbook together with Rose Dykes, 77.

The idea grew out of recipe-sharing while volunteers addressed mailings for Sauerbrey during her first run for governor in 1994. Sometimes, Dykes would bring in a treat -- her apple dumpling pie, baked in a skillet.

"They wanted my recipe, and other volunteers were bringing in cakes and casseroles to keep us all going," Dykes recalls. "We started exchanging recipes, and we talked and said, 'Why don't we put these together?' "

Down-home volunteer work is less common as even the most local campaigns get increasingly sophisticated. Modern technology has eliminated some traditional chores -- searching through voter registration lists or sorting mailings; it's now done by computers.

"The nature of the political campaign has changed," says George Shenk Jr., campaign treasurer for Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary, a Republican seeking a second term.

"It's become more automated, more of a science, more professionally run. We used to rely on volunteers to label mailings, but now it's automated, and it costs 11 cents, compared to a regular stamp," Shenk said.

But supporters still want to feel a personal connection to their candidate. They still want to get swept up in the excitement of elective politics. That's why a few are coming up with campaign approaches of their own.

Four years ago, Betsy Thompson thought of a scavenger hunt as a fund-raiser for Douglas M. Duncan, then the Rockville mayor seeking to become Montgomery County executive. She organized "The Executive Search," which featured trivia questions, including the names and ages of Duncan's five children.

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