Politicians jockey for spotlight

Preakness Stakes

May 21, 2006|By JILL ROSEN | JILL ROSEN,SUN REPORTER

Buffed and brushed to a sheen, they trotted into Pimlico slowly yesterday, slowly enough for everyone to get a good long look.

These show ponies were raring to go, champing at the bit, circling the track with confidence and style, all to show the betting public that they had the stuff to take Maryland's most competitive horserace: the political one.

Fans packed the Northwest Baltimore track yesterday for the 131st annual Preakness Stakes. Those in the grandstand for the horses and the chance to win a little money. Those in the infield for a sunburned bacchanal. And those under the white corporate tents? For the pure, unadulterated schmooze.

"This," says longtime lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano with a big smile, "is what I call a target-rich environment. I don't know anything about horses. All I do is count votes and schmooze."

With the sun moving in and out all day, along with a cool breeze that sent the ladies of the Preakness grabbing to secure their elaborate hats, it was, nearly everyone agreed, a perfect day at the racetrack.

Only the day's final moments disappointed, when Barbaro, the odds on favorite to win the stakes, fractured his leg in the heat of his race and the crowd of thousands gasped collectively.

But earlier, it was storybook Preakness. Particularly in the fancy tents where the fancy people - and those trying their best to be - put down roots and more than a few black-eyed susans.

For the state's powers-that-be, those running for office, or the hangers-on of either, Pimlico yesterday was simply the place to be.

Former U.S. Sen. Joseph D. Tydings. Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller. Leggy Stacy Keibler, a Baltimore native of Dancing with the Stars fame. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. Former Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg.

Truckloads of state government officials.

And, of course, all three candidates vying for the Maryland governor's post: Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

Somehow, the three managed not to bump into one another, as tight as the handshaking and backslapping circles became.

Ehrlich, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele - a candidate for U.S. Senate - and their expansive entourage filed into the tented Preakness village just as a trio of fighter jets swept across the sky. "How's that for an entrance?" someone commented.

Ehrlich and the first lady posed for a snapshot with Maj. Gen. Bruce F. Tuxill, Maryland's adjutant general, and his wife. Crowds looked on admiringly, at the governor, breezy and jacketless, and the first lady, easy to spot in a lipstick-red hat.

"I'm glad I didn't wear the red hat," murmured Tammy Bresnahan, an official with the state's Department of Human Resources, who sported a glamorous black and white headpiece of her own.

Ehrlich strode quickly toward Bereano. "Bruce Bereano, 24/7," he joked.

It was lobbying central. Alan Rifkin, a partner in the prominent lobbying firm of Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan & Silver, was bragging about his tent's location - right next to the state's tent where the governor and his posse were holed up. "Location, location, location, that's what they say, right?" Rifkin said.

"This isn't inexpensive," he added. "But it's worth every penny we spend."

Inside Rifkin's tent, Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat, in a summery seersucker suit, was leafing through the racing form, his wife at his side. He had his eye on a horse named Kazoo. "I always bet to win," he said.

If any office-seekers stopped by Constellation Energy's tent, they didn't make a show of it. With the political turmoil surrounding the company's intent to raise electricity rates by 72 percent, it was probably a smart choice.

"Constellation is not the place to be," Duncan said with a little wink.

O'Malley arrived at midafternoon and huddled with Joseph A. DeFrancis, chief executive officer of the Maryland Jockey Club. While Ehrlich and Duncan were meeting and greeting beside the track, he was high above, lunching at the Jockey Club with his wife and executives from Magna Entertainment Corp., Pimlico's owner.

Like other politicians, O'Malley presented a trophy and made tent village rounds.

"It was a great day for Baltimore, a great day for Maryland," the mayor said as Pimlico emptied after the final race.

However, Barbaro's traumatic injury sobered the mayor's day - as it did for many. "That was very sad," he added. "I hope the horse is going to be OK."

Duncan, O'Malley's rival in the Democratic primary, made the circuit with only his son Andrew at his side.

Steele spotted Duncan near the state's tent.

"Hey, how you doin', man," Steele said, giving Duncan a warm hug. "Nice to see ya."

"I'm having fun," Duncan replied.

"You and me both, buddy," Steele said.

A few moments later, Duncan, still near the Republican-heavy state tent, said to no one in particular, "I gotta get away from people who can't vote for me in the primary."

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Doug Donovan contributed to this article.

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