35 years close to the seat of power


April 07, 2006|By LAURA VOZZELLA

Why say it with flowers when muskrat will more than do? Del. Pauline Menes, a 10-term Democrat from College Park who is retiring at the end of the session, received a muskrat-covered toilet seat the other night at a surprise party thrown by the women's caucus and the House Judiciary Committee.

The odd gift was just like the one then-House Speaker Thomas Hunter Lowe had presented to Menes 35 years earlier. This time, the seat was meant to honor Menes, not embarrass her.

In the early 1970s, Menes and the handful of other women in the House had to put up with lots of indignities. Among them: no ladies' room in the State House and no women chairing any standing committees. Menes complained about the former, and Lowe presented her with a furry toilet seat during a legislative session. It was his way of appointing her chairman of the Women's Restroom Committee.

The gag backfired, dashing Lowe's hopes of running for Senate, Menes, 81, recalled: "The mail and the calls came down on him. It was right at the beginning of the women's movement."

Of course, the stunt couldn't have hurt Lowe's reputation too badly, since the delegates' office building was named in his honor.

Even so, Menes had the last laugh. The new seat hangs on the wall of her office in the Lowe Building. A photo of the late speaker sits in the center.

Not that easy to find on eBay

Where can you get a muskrat-covered toilet seat anyway? Grace Mary Brady, Menes' longtime assistant, said it came from Del. Adelaide Eckardt, a Republican from Dorchester County.

"She lives on the Eastern Shore," Brady said by means of explanation.

"She had three people get the muskrats. It's handmade. It's a gorgeous toilet seat."

What happened to the original? Menes says Lowe, who died in 1984, took it back. "I'm sure it went in a trash can," Brady said.

Swell threads, Your Eminence

Who's that cardinal out there, protesting development plans for St. Stanislaus Kostka Roman Catholic Church? It's Mark Walker, an insurance-industry worker and part-time Punch-and-Judy street performer who has added some color to the evening rush-hour protest near the church on South Ann Street. Where'd he get the vestments? "My best friend owns a costume shop," he says. "It really, really looks good. This isn't a cheap Halloween costume."

A sweet, but misguided, gesture

After Gov. Robert Ehrlich signed the stem cell bill yesterday, a 6-year-old juvenile diabetic on hand for the occasion tripped over a TV camera tripod. Ehrlich helped Haley Koshko get up, asked if she was OK and told his staff, "We need to give her something," according to Haley's mom, Andrea Koshko of Perry Hall.

A well-meaning staffer soon came back with a Maryland coffee mug - filled to the brim with chocolates.

"I looked at my friend and said, `Did they seriously give me a mug full of candy for my diabetic child?'" said Andrea Koshko, adding that she's just grateful that the governor signed the bill and that her daughter knew better than to dig in.

"She looked at me immediately and said, `Mom, Can I have this?' And I said, `I'll take that for now.'"

Not counted toward the final grade

Doug Duncan may have positioned himself as "the adult" in the governor's race, but his campaign sometimes looks like the only one having fun. He has an offbeat ad, a political quiz, at www.marylandpoliticalquiz.com.

"Which of the following occupations has not been held by one of the candidates for U.S. Senate this year?" asks one question. Choose from "College professor, forensic psychiatrist, circus clown, real estate developer." (Circus clown.)

Then there are the requisite zingers aimed at Martin O'Malley, Duncan's rival for the Democratic nomination. "Which jurisdiction has the highest property tax rate in Maryland? ... Which school district, where only 6 out of 10 students graduate from high school, has the highest dropout rate in the state? ... In 2004, the state of Maryland tried to take over which school district for lack of fiscal accountability?" (Baltimore City; Baltimore City; Baltimore City.)

But many questions are unrelated to the governor's race and show a sense of humor. One asks who, before Robert Ehrlich, was Maryland's last Republican governor. Was it Spiro Agnew, William Donald Schaefer or William Howard Taft?


One answer is unintentionally funny: The test misspells the last name of William Donald, who has endorsed Duncan but also is close to Ehrlich, as "Schaeffer."

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