Campaign trinkets come up for a vote Elections: Office-seekers disagree on the value of key chains and refrigerator magnets to keep their names before the voters.

October 05, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The late Louis L. Goldstein isn't on the ballot anymore, but Marylanders are still asking the state comptroller's office staff for the gold anodized aluminum campaign coins he gave out for years, bearing his slogan, "God Bless You All Real Good."

Janice Piccinini is no longer a state senator from northern Baltimore County, but Kathleen Beadell, of Timonium, still has her soiled, oft-washed Piccinini campaign pot holder.

This year, the ubiquitous campaign giveaway is back, pictured and priced in numerous commercial catalogs that offer personalized names, colors and clever packaging to impress the voters.

Political trinkets are a tiny part of the $12-billion-a-year specialty advertising industry composed of 16,000 small firms nationwide. But they are a tightly focused segment of that industry, allowing candidates to tailor items to their individual tastes -- and budgets.

For example, 1,500 emery boards bearing a candidate's name cost $189 from Votes Unlimited in Ferndale, N.Y. Looking for 1,000 fully assembled, double-sided lawn signs, 14-by-22 inches? They cost $1,640 in one color, $1,860 in two.

Some candidates, such as Gov. Parris N. Glendening, say they disdain trinkets. "It's quite expensive, and it produces litter," Glendening said. Yet even he gave out pencils bearing his name at an elementary school visit near Towson one recent morning.

And many office-seekers are convinced that a refrigerator magnet or a pack of flower seeds can help keep their name before an often apathetic voting public.

"They become sort of a permanent mark on the political landscape," says Len Foxwell, an Eastern Shore native.

Foxwell, who is Glendening's campaign spokesman, still remembers the little nail files his mother used. As a child, he thought were called "Tawes's" because that name -- Gov. J. Millard Tawes (1959-1967) -- was stamped on each one.

The variety increases each year, from defeated Anne Arundel county executive candidate Diane Evans' red plastic, hand-shaped "rapper" noisemaker to the bandages given out by Dr. Dan Morhaim, a Democratic state delegate from Owings Mills.

"Band-Aid's are great. People really like them. They're doctor-related, and young families always need them," said the smiling emergency room physician.

Bandages aren't just a doctor's shtick, though. David DeAngelis customized the boo-boo fixers for his County Council campaign in Anne Arundel County.

"Don't put a Band-Aid on the problem -- solve it," is his slogan.

Both he and Morhaim recycled their giveaways from 1994 campaigns -- a trick that may not work as well for some others.

Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Baltimore County councilman running for re-election in his Pikesville-Randallstown district, is giving away Forget-Me-Not flower seeds that say on the package "Packed for 1994." Asked if voters might be offended to get old flower seeds, he shrugged. "At least it's truth in packaging," he joked.

In most cases, candidates give out stock items chosen from one of the catalogs, which offer a dizzying array of campaign clutter: pencils, pens, message pads, key rings, fly-swatters, combs, matches, even lollipops and fortune cookies.

There are even a few specialty items -- such as the pencil with a two-headed, gavel-like eraser made for judicial candidates, or the badge-shaped items and coloring books on 911 emergency calls for candidates for sheriff.

But few of those items are as personal as the late Louis L. Goldstein's campaign coins -- patterned after the imitation gold doubloons tossed about during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, said Marvin Bond, Goldstein's longtime spokesman. Coins, of course, fit perfectly with the financial nature of the comptroller's job.

"It's the same as in any direct advertising done in a way that's not going to be thrown out," Bond said. "Gold coins sort of resonated with people."

Yet as much stock as Goldstein put in campaign tchotchkes, others dismiss them as useless.

John Gary, the Anne Arundel County executive running for re-election, says he thinks the stuff just doesn't work.

"Does somebody vote for you just because you've given them an emery board? It does not make a whole lot of sense," he says.

But then he pauses, and reflects.

"The only one I ever saw that was effective was the little mirrors Joe Alton [a former Anne Arundel executive] used to give out to women. They said, 'The person on the other side is very important to me. I hope you'll vote for me,'" Gary said.

Wanda Hurt, a Republican running for Howard County Council, believes in refrigerator magnets, one of the most popular items.

"Pencils run out of lead and pens run out of ink. Refrigerator magnets last. I run into people who tell me, 'I still have your magnet from six years ago,' " she said.

Harford County Council president Joanne Parrott agrees. A Republican candidate for the House of Delegates this year, she gives out red magnets adorned with a four-color parrot that complements the huge parrot stuffed animal she often straps in her car.

And while twice Maryland governor and would-be comptroller William Donald Schaefer isn't giving out trinkets this year, he's a great believer in their value.

"Absolutely. I think they're good, worthwhile, people remember you," he said -- as if anyone could forget Schaefer.

He's only refraining this year because of his late friend Goldstein's reputation for giveaway items. "I didn't want to capitalize on Louis," he said. "I felt bad about doing it."

Pub Date: 10/05/98

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