June's the harvest season for political fund-raisers

At friendly Md. feeds, just bulls get roasted

June 12, 2000|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

To Del. Jim Rzepkowski, the bull roast he held by the Chesapeake Bay yesterday was about more than money.

Part family reunion, part pep rally, his fund-raiser found him basking in the support of more than 200 people who paid $30 apiece to come out in 98-degree heat to eat hot beef, drink cold beer and support his political future.

"It generates excitement. It generates support, and I can count on these people for yard signs, I can count on them to stuff an envelope for me," the Anne Arundel County Republican said in between hugs and handshakes.

Rzepkowski's event at Kurtz's Beach was one of dozens scheduled by Maryland lawmakers and other politicians this month. June might be better known for weddings and graduations, but it is also high season for another all-American social event: the local political fund-raiser.

June is a big fund-raising month because it comes after legislators have recuperated from the rigors of the three-month legislative session - a time when fund-raising is forbidden - and before vacation season.

So all over the state, bulls are roasted, crabs are being steamed and drives are being shanked off the fairway in preparation for the next election -- not that sideshow involving the presidency this November, but the one in 2002 when Maryland's state and county governments will be up for grabs.

Last week you could find city Del. Brian McHale entertaining supporters amid the food stalls at the Cross Street Market, Baltimore County Del. Diane DeCarlo holding a Hawaiian luau in Canton and Del. Carolyn Howard holding an old-fashioned fish fry in Prince George's County.

If Rzepkowski's conservative politics were not to your tastes yesterday, you could go a few miles up the road and eat liberal portions of Democratic beef with Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens. The tab was the same: $30, but it was a lot cooler in the air-conditioned comfort of the Stoney Creek Democratic Club than it was at the Republican picnic.

If you preferred something a little more high-toned, you could have chosen South Baltimore Democratic Del. William Cole's $100-a-ticket dinner reception last night at the Baltimore Museum of Industry.

Tomorrow night will bring the most celebrated fund-raising bash on Maryland's political calendar. Virtually every lobbyist and political potentate in Maryland will be down at the Bay Cafe for Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell's annual Jamaican Me Crazy Party.

As chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, Bromwell could easily raise tens of thousands of dollars by sponsoring a predawn boot camp with soggy doughnuts. But the fun-loving Baltimore County Democrat is noted for throwing a party that is actually worth the $150 price of admission.

"His fund-raiser is like the Super Bowl of American politics. Everyone wants to be there," lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano told a reporter at the DeCarlo event Thursday.

Bereano, one of the most colorful and controversial lobbyists in Maryland, should know. He was at McHale's. He was at Rzepkowski's. He says he goes to all of them - Republican or Democrat. He planned to hit five of them yesterday alone.

"They're educational to me. They help me understand the politics of that area," Bereano said. "The only bad thing is they make me fat. Other than that they're wonderful."

At low-cost events sponsored by junior members such as Rzepkowski, the lobbyists are outnumbered by party activists such as Donald Barr Sr.

Barr, who lives in Bowie but is a member of an Anne Arundel Republican club, said he spent a full day accompanying Rzepkowski around Annapolis last session and was impressed.

"He tries to do the best job he can as he sees the issues," Barr said. A horse trainer, Barr said he also appreciates the delegate's support for the racing industry.

Barr's companion, Carol Swandry of Olney, said she came because "my ticket was paid for." A Democrat in the political lions' den, she said she plans to vote for Vice President Al Gore in the fall.

"No, you're not," winced Barr.

"He thinks he can bribe me with food and a little beer," she said.

Like Rzepkowski's bayshore picnic, McHale's Cross Street Market even was tailored to reflect his district. "To me this is almost a perfect place to hold an event like this," the South Baltimore Democrat said.

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