Politicians party, and taxpayers foot the bill Taxpayers pick up Preakness party tab Governor's off to races with taxpayers' money

This Just In...

May 17, 2000|By Dan Rodricks

FORGIVE ME. I'm a little teary-eyed today. Did you see what our nice governor went and did? He's ordered up a lavish party at the Preakness this year and invited all those state delegates and senators who have been pouting about not getting free tickets to the big race and the traditional stuff-your-face infield fling.

The governor -- bless his li'l heart -- is renting a hospitality tent and offering crab cakes, roast beef and, ahem, beverage to all 188 members of the General Assembly, one guest each and several hundred business types.

Isn't that sweet? And it's only costing $140,000 in taxpayers' money.

Parris Glendening -- what a guy. As I've long suspected, under that starched shirt is a party animal with a big heart.

A little background:

Because our delegates and senators are sometimes called upon to consider legislation that would help Pimlico -- you know, so Joey De Francis can keep the place up to code, and the electricity won't go out -- it was finally deemed unethical of them to accept free tickets to the Preakness from the track's ownership. This is the first year of the ban on freebies.

Talk about your party pooper. All that ethics-schmethics got in the way of what had been, since before Bill Shoemaker was an apprentice, a good thing.

Legislators love a schmooze-fest. Many of them live to schmooze. And they've always considered the Big Schmooze at Pimlico on Preakness Day a perk of their jobs, maybe the best perk of all. They get duded up in summer suits, pin on their oversized nameplates, bring their wives or husbands into the tent, shoot their cuffs and make a beeline for the shrimp cocktail. They hang out, shake hands, knock back a few Black-Eyed Susans and maybe meet a celebrity like, say, Randolph Mantooth.

Man (tooth), it don't get much better than that!

(I know. Some of you are wondering right now who Randolph Mantooth is. OK, he's the guy from the old TV show "Emergency," and he was grand marshal of this year's Preakness parade. Not the biggest name in show biz, but we apparently couldn't get Joey Heatherton.)

But what happened?

Those ethics prigs in Annapolis came along and pointed out the inherent conflict in pols taking freebies from Pimlico, the oiliness of it all. So, amazingly, a law went on the books banning members of the General Assembly from taking, among other things, Preakness freebies from De Francis.

Whatever happened to fun, right?

You want to see a guy pout, check out the puss of the state delegate or senator who doesn't get to sample the booze in the Preakness Corporate Village.

So the governor, sympathetic to this, decided to turn those frowns upside down. He invited members of the General Assembly to party hearty anyway, courtesy of Maryland taxpayers.

So, you get this, friends? Instead of Joey De Francis paying for it, we're paying for it. That makes it clean. It's a public-funded schmooze-fest.

Beautiful, isn't it?

Look now, if the governor wants to entertain effectively on Preakness Day at taxpayer expense, then he at least should invite big shots who can make decisions that will actually help the state. If the primary role of government is to support, even subsidize big business -- Democrats and Republicans pretty much agree on that these days -- then Glendening should get some heavyweights on his invite list. Bring in some Fortune 500 dudes. Isn't Microsoft about to break into a thousand little bits? Invite its executives. Schmooze them. Schmooze corporate leaders who might leave the Preakness so giddy and happy and dazed by heat stroke that they'll want to relocate their businesses here.

But don't give us a bunch of politicians who are just there for the party. And don't try to tell us, as the state Senate President Mike Miller suggested in yesterday's Sun, that legislators need to come to Pimlico on Preakness Day to appreciate the significance of Maryland's horse industry. How many times have we heard that one?

There's a much better way for the governor to get delegates and senators to the Preakness, anyway. Instead of a $180-per-person formal party under a tent in the Corporate Village, P.G. should host an infield party on the other side of the chain link, where the real people are. Throw down some blankets, carry in a few dozen coolers of Natty Boh and some Freeze-A-Margarita buckets, hire a couple of guys from Big Al's on Pulaski Highway to do pit beef, get some 100-piece buckets of fried chicken from Tyrone's, and there you go. Delegates and senators can bring beach chairs and boom boxes. The governor could take his shirt off and get down. He could play Twister with members of Judicial Proceedings.

Ten bucks a head, tops.

Nobody pouts. Everybody goes home happy.

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Rodricks can be reached by e-mail at TJIDAN@aol.com, or by phone at 410-332-6166.

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