Tawes clambake basically a yawner

Political event short on excitement, but food popular as ever

July 20, 2000|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

CRISFIELD - Pete Evans heard a few tidbits of political gossip yesterday, a lot of them about congressional redistricting possibilities the Salisbury Democrat hopes will make life miserable for a certain Republican congressman from the Eastern Shore.

Rainy weather kept the governor in Annapolis, but Evans greeted a few candidates, including Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who's flirting with a gubernatorial bid.

Across the way, Republican hopeful Paul H. Rappaport, who aims to unseat Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, worked the crowd as volunteers handed out campaign stickers for him and Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush.

For most of the day, Evans signed up people for a petition drive to roll back taxes in Wicomico County.

All in all, he said, the 24th annual J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clambake - usually the premier summer event for Maryland politicos and wannabe politicos - was pretty much a yawner.

Unless you consider the food.

"I don't know how much politics is really getting done," Evans said. "It's an off-year for elections, at least statewide. This is a lot more about crabs, beer and corn on the cob."

Judging by the seafood seasoning smeared over a goodly portion of the 4,500 or 4,600 participants who spread out under tents provided by corporate sponsors, political parties and various state agencies at the sprawling Somers Cove Marina yesterday, crab mallets were mandatory. Only hard-core political junkies were ignoring the food.

Even in a year that has not been kind to Maryland watermen, in a town that has seen its once-dominant seafood industry dwindle, this was a whole lot of food.

Here are the numbers: 38,000 clams (all trucked in from the Carolinas because they're a out of season in Maryland), 275 bushels of crabs and 700 dozen ears of corn. And that's not counting the fried trout and watermelon that teetered on the edges of makeshift beer box trays and paper plates.

The Crisfield Chamber of Commerce came up with the idea for the feast a quarter-century ago and named it after former governor and favorite son J. Millard Tawes.

The business group takes in $150,000 or more from the fund-raiser and will pocket as much as $70,000 to cover its operations and assorted worthy causes around the town that still bills itself as the seafood capital of the Lower Eastern Shore.

Many of the same 150 to 180 volunteers also help put on the town's crab derby every September.

The trick, said chamber spokeswoman Val Mason, is specialization.

"We've pretty much got it down to a science," Mason said. "Everybody has a job and keeps that job year after year. It runs along pretty smoothly."

As for the politics, Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest's feud with the Maryland Port Administration over dredging approach channels to Baltimore Harbor prompted much speculation.

But Gilchrest, whose 1st District covers the Eastern Shore, part of Anne Arundel County and a sliver of South Baltimore, remained in Washington for a Congressional voting session.

His opponent, Del. Bennett Bozman, said the recent brouhaha has energized what had been an uneventful race.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook from people in Anne Arundel County who are upset by his stance on dredging," said the Worcester County Democrat. "I think it's helped me in a very significant way. The port is vital to the economy of the whole state."

However, Paul Ellington, a Republican from Bowie, said the issue might play well for Gilchrest with conservative Eastern Shore voters.

"Wayne never takes a poll before he makes up his mind," Ellington said. "The health of the bay is what's important. Those ships can still get in and out of the port."

Loretta Carr, a United Auto Workers Union official and Wicomico County Democrat who'll be attending her national party's convention in Los Angeles next month, said the low-key political atmosphere hadn't dampened her spirits.

Working relentlessly on a pile of steamed crabs, Carr said she expected to see many friends and allies before the afternoon was over.

"Everybody who's anybody in the Democratic Party eventually will be stopping by this tent," Carr said. "It's a presidential year and this is still a see-and-be-seen kind of event. All these years, I've only missed one."

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