Some OK not being insiders

Campaign Culture

October 04, 2002|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,SUN STAFF

Inside the Constellation Ballroom, paying $1,250 to nibble candies with a gubernatorial candidate or $4,000 to have a photo snapped with the president may have seemed wholly rational. On the street outside the Hyatt Regency, though, the collective psychological evaluation was that a bunch of lunatics were on the loose in the hotel.

That's the way it is with political fund-raisers. You either get it - and have it - or you don't. This year is no different. Thousands upon thousands of Democrats and Republicans are reaching into their bank accounts on behalf of favored political candidates. And millions upon millions of others just shake their heads over such a choice. For all the money that goes into political campaigns and for all the reasons, the reality is that most people couldn't imagine a more peculiar use of their money.

That's why they were outside the Hyatt Wednesday when President Bush's motorcade screamed by to deliver him to a Bob Ehrlich fund-raiser rather than inside waiting to shake hands.

Katrina Shook, a Towson University junior from Indiana, was among the people shunted away by Baltimore police in anticipation of the president's arrival. A cheerful woman in jeans and with a kerchief tied around her hair, she had come downtown to interview war protesters for a political science paper and hoped she might spot the president. Paying big money to attend a fund-raiser, though, is out of the realm of either possibility or desire. "$1,250 to get inside seems crazy," she said. If she even had that kind of money, it wouldn't occur to her to spend it on politics. Maybe a vacation for herself and her husband, a Hopkins medical student.

(In case you're wondering, Shook is non-partisan in her non-attendance at political fund-raisers featuring American presidents. She also won't be attending the fund-raiser for Kathleen Kennedy Townsend later this month in which Bill Clinton will be the headliner. That one will cost a mere $1,000 to get in the door and $4,000 for dinner with the ex-president.)

On the opposite side of the hotel, two strangers, Richard Thomas, a semi-retired civil engineer walking his dog Ginger, and Jane Fastiggi, a New Yorker accompanying her husband to a medical conference in Baltimore, struck up a conversation while hoping to see the motorcade. They, too, were confounded by the amount of money involved in campaigns. "There's too much spent on elections," said Thomas, who had wandered over from his home in adjoining Otterbein, "but it's like most problems; you don't know what to do about it."

"There is something obscene about this," Fastiggi agreed. "It obviously limits who can attend. It obviously excludes most people."

"Maybe," suggested Thomas, "we could take up a collection in the neighborhood and send one person."

Fastiggi liked the idea but then frowned. "How would you decide who goes?" she asked.

Thomas was stumped but only for a moment. "Maybe," he said, "we do it as a lottery. The winning ticket gets to go."

The solution satisfied both of them.

Nearby, Kelly Carter, paused on her neon-yellow mountain bike on her way home to Federal Hill from work downtown. She said she had no objections to a fund-raiser like the one inside but she could never afford to get in - "which," she added, "is why I'm out here." On second thought, she said, she couldn't see herself spending the money on politics even if she had it. "I'd probably give it to my church to help send inner city kids to summer camp."

A few moments later, the motorcade thundered by. It comprised nearly two dozen vehicles, including limousines, vans and SUVs, all with tinted windows.

Shirley Carr had been waiting to see it for some time. Carr and her husband were staying at the Hyatt on a business trip from their home in Naples, Fla. A few hours before the president's scheduled visit, Carr, dressed in tennis whites and sunglasses, had begun positioning herself for the best view. She had started in the hotel lobby, then moved to a pedestrian bridge, and finally settled at the corner of Conway and Charles, which proved to be precisely the best spot to see the motorcade.

Carr considers herself a committed Republican and a great admirer of Bush. Still, she couldn't help feeling a little offended that to meet him, she would have had to shell out so much money. "I don't like the fact that it's $4,000 or whatever to get into this thing to meet him, because I don't have that kind of money."

The investment of those on the outside wasn't cash but time. And for that, you'd have to say they got their money's worth. Three different bystanders reported they saw the president waving to them. Each of them placed him in a different vehicle.

"I've spent a whole afternoon just trying to get a glimpse of him," said Carr, "and I'm not positive I really saw him."

To be positive, you had to cough up the $1,250.

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