When the whole corporate casual thing swept America, government held out. Presidents and governor and mayors and their top aides still go to work every day in suits and ties. And no wonder. What's an Empty Suit without the suit? What's a bureaucrat minus the cravat?
Except, it seems, on Casual Wednesday.
That's the day after Election Day, when politicians who have just landed or lost the biggest jobs of their lives show up in public dressed for the neighborhood block party - or garage sale.
Martin O'Malley, just handed the keys to Government House, signaled that he was up for the task by making his first appearance as governor-elect in jeans and a John Kerry-ish barn jacket. He paired that with the classic I-stayed-up-too-late fashion accessory: an oversized coffee mug. Granted that that was just in the morning, when O'Malley was waving at cars.
He stepped it up later, appearing at a formal news conference in a jacket and bright blue shirt - but still no tie. At least Anthony Brown had the sense to show up in a suit, white shirt and tie.
Bob Ehrlich conceded the race for governor in a mock gray turtleneck and a tan windbreaker, a get-up perfect for all those household chores he offered to do in state tourism ads. Running mate Kristen Cox paired casual pants with - just one step up from the boss - a genuine turtleneck.
And these are people who are looking for work! Maybe they didn't want to put on airs in front all the homeless Philadelphians who were so wowed (and paid and fed) by Republicans that they schlepped to Maryland and handed out deceptive campaign literature.
Ben Cardin and Michael Steele agreed on little during the Senate campaign, but Mr. All- Substance-No-Style and Mr. All-Style-No-Substance were in step with the morning-after look: dark jacket, blue shirt, no tie.
I can see Steele going the open-collar route, since he spent so much time in the campaign handling puppies and trashcans. (He'll have to get spiffed up again, though, if he lands a new political gig. Rumors say he might become HUD secretary, or perhaps replace Ken Mehlman as head of the Republican National Committee. No confirmation from the Steele camp.)
But Ben Cardin? The stuffiest guy on the ballot? Somebody who looks like he actually enjoys wearing a tie? No doubt next time we see him, Maryland's junior senator will look good enough for government work.
Ms. Mayor-to-Be, meet the `Mayoress'
So you think Sheila Dixon is about to become Baltimore's first female mayor. Think again. That distinction goes to L.T. Barrie, who took the reins of City Hall for the day on Dec. 12, 1918.
"City Has Mayoress," the Evening Sun headline read.
"A woman is in supreme charge of the Mayor's office for the first time in the history of Baltimore," the story began. "With Mayor [James] Preston representing the city at the naval pageant in the harbor this afternoon, and with one secretary sick and the others in attendance upon the Mayor down the bay, Mrs. L.T. Barrie, 2542 Madison avenue, is in absolute charge of the office."
Mrs. Barrie presumably was some sort of City Hall employee, though the article doesn't say.
"In her first official interview, the `Mayoress' said that if anyone came in to ask a favor of her she would `sit tight, but talk sweet.' Surely, the most seasoned veteran could do no better by the hungry officeseeker!
"If anyone calls to discuss the proposed memorial to soldiers and sailors, the city's garbage contract, or the Matrimonial Bureau which Mayor Preston expects to install as one of the regular departments in City Hall, the `Mayoress' will say `I'm neutral.' And neutrality, it has been said, is of the essence of off-season politics."
The story goes on to note that Barrie was not a suffragist. And it suggests that, like Old Glory over Fort McHenry, the mayoress might inspire "a future poet to sing in stirring strain - Listen my children and you shall hear/ Of the first Mayoress in Baltimore near!/ The color of her eyes, the color of her hair,/ The color of the clothes that she did wear."
Surely a female mayor will get more respect these days. Right?
Said Ruffin Brown, Dixon's executive director: "You've come a long way, baby."
Connect the dots
The normally garrulous Bruce Bereano was mum yesterday, when I asked what Martin O'Malley's victory means for his business. During the campaign, the mayor said that neither he nor Anthony Brown would meet with lobbyists who are convicted felons. (Two prominent lobbyists fit that description: Bereano and Gerry Evans. They also happen to be Friends of Bob, but that's a complete coincidence.) Bereano said he was "not in the mood for conversation." ... Paula Johnson Branch, perhaps the quietest member of the Baltimore City Council, threw her hat in the ring for council president in an e-mail to colleagues yesterday. "I understand that several of you aspire to become the President of the City Council, but may have some difficulty acquiring the needed votes to do so," she wrote. "I am offering myself as a `compromise' candidate for the position - one who has no aspiration to run for the position in the 2007 election." There's a winning slogan: Vote for me! I don't want the job.