Popeye's gone, and New Mexico is mum


July 21, 2006|By LAURA VOZZELLA

He goes by Popeye, but don't let the spinachy goodness of the name fool you. He has been around the block, and then some. Here in Maryland, he has family ties to a lobbyist - a lobbyist for nudists, no less. Across the country, he has picked up friends in high places. A state treasurer here. A couple of state senators there. A governor, even. And that's where Popeye's trail grows cold. Last anybody knew, Popeye was on his way to meet New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. He hasn't been seen since.

No telling what all this could mean for Richardson's presidential aspirations. But here's the fallout closer to home: Little Branden Murphy of Clarksville, who just turned 8, is the only kid in Mrs. Berlin's class at Tridelphia Ridge Elementary who didn't get his bear back.

Yes, Popeye is a teddy bear, sent around the country in an exercise that was one part geography lesson, one part chain letter. Branden and his classmates mailed bears to people in other parts of the country. Recipients wrote postcards back, then sent the toy travelers on to someone else.

"Popeye got to go to Madison, St. Paul, Tampa, Oklahoma City, where he visited the bombing site, Kansas, the St. Louis Arch, Houston, where he met an astronaut, and Phoenix," said Don Murphy, the uncle-lobbyist and former Baltimore County delegate. "For the record, he DID NOT visit a nudist resort or the Playboy Mansion."

All went well until May 1, when the bears were due back at school. Popeye was the only no-show. The last three people who acknowledge seeing Popeye alive: Oklahoma state Sen. Jim Reynolds; Kansas state Treasurer Lynn Jenkins; and Arizona state Sen. Gabby Giffords.

The search has continued, even with school out. Murphy said he has traced Popeye to the office of Governor Richardson. A Richardson staffer "said something about that he thought it was a gift," said Branden's mother, Kate Murphy.

But when I called, the governor's office said the bear never came its way. Spokesman Jon Goldstein played dumb: "This is a real bear?"

Hello, hello? Can you hear me now?

After some chit-chat with Lt. Gov. Michael Steele yesterday, WBAL's Ron Smith wound up for what sounded like his first hardball, reading the title of a press release sent out from a rival in the Senate race: "[Ben] Cardin to Vote to Override Bush's Stem Cell Veto; Would Michael Steele?" What do we hear from Steele, who was being interviewed by phone?

Static. Then, through the fuzz, "I thought I had the good phone." And then, the line went dead.

Democrats who accuse Steele of ducking the issues had a laugh, but the LG was soon back on the air to state his position: He supports the veto.

Says Steele spokesman Doug Heye: "That the Maryland Democrat Party would attack Lieutenant Governor Steele on cell phone coverage in Eastern Maryland shows how worried they are of his growing momentum and growing fundraising advantage."

Connect the dots

Finally, after nonsense like electricity rates and stem-cell research, we've got a serious campaign issue: Hairspray. Just hours after news broke that the remake of John Waters' movie would be shot in Toronto, an aspiring delegate was out with a press release. "Mike Mitchell, candidate for Delegate in the 46th District, expressed his frustration today that the upcoming major motion picture production of Hairspray will be filmed in Toronto rather than Baltimore, as reported by the Baltimore Sun," the release said. "Hairspray's departure is proof that renovating the Crown Cork & Seal building [into a sound stage would] revitalize the local economy and make Baltimore an arts destination city." ... Perfect for the shotgun wedding in your future: B&A Diamond Brokers in Glen Burnie is offering a free 12-gauge shotgun with every purchase of $750 or more. ... Who's on the steering committee for Del. John Leopold, a Republican running for Anne Arundel County executive? The answer is more interesting than you'd think. Two of the people listed on his campaign Web site are dead (former Annapolis Mayor Alfred Hopkins and community activist Bertina Nick). Another is running against him. (Del. David Boschert.) Leopold tells me he's working on getting the site updated. ... ... Sen. Barbara Mikulski celebrated the big 7-0 yesterday by spending hours in an Appropriations Committee hearing and indulging in what her office described as a "low-cal, high energy party."

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